Game of Thrones
(SPOILERS) How many TV series that rely on ongoing plotlines – which is most of them these days – have actually arrived at a wholly satisfying conclusion? As in, one that not only surprises but pays off the investment viewers have made over (maybe) seven or eight years? I can think of a few that shocked or dazzled (Angel, The Leftovers) and some that disappointed profoundly (Lost) but most often, they end on an “okay” (reasonably satisfying, if you like) rather than on a spectacular or, conversely, enormously disappointing note. Game of Thrones may not have paid off for many vocal fans who’d accept nothing less than note-perfect rendering of certain key desired developments, but much of the season unfolded in a manner that seemed just the kind of thing I would have expected; not, on the whole, shocking, blind-siding, or (give-or-take) spectacular, but okay, or reasonably satisfying.
These okay results, though, have been an unforgiveable betrayal for some, to the extent of petitioning for the season to be remade (good luck with that) and seemingly failing to recognise that not doing what you’d hope for has been George RR Martin’s modus operandi from the first. So all those so invested in Dany’s symbolic – as a feminist icon, in a show that, per HBO mandates, has been awash with objectifying imagery from the off, ironically only curtailing such behaviour slightly in later, more vilified seasons – rise to power that they failed to pay attention to her abiding ruthlessness and dangerous sense of entitlement, were left stunned by her snap. So on that score, I have little sympathy for the idea that her “turn” needed more of a build-up to make it palatable – it wouldn’t have been as devastating if it could have been seen coming when and where it did, and the show’s remit, at least since Ned had his head chopped off, has been to shock (if that seems a contradiction to my thoughts in the first paragraph, it’s a matter of degrees; that she would turn wasn’t a shock, how she did it could be).
Which is not to say the breathless charge forward of the last two seasons hasn’t resulted in sometimes perfunctory plotting and characterisation. But nothing in Eight seemed remotely on the level of stupidity as Season Seven’s Beyond the Wall. And the slow pace of the first two episodes was welcome, allowing for reunions that, in some cases, we’ve been waiting a batch of seasons for. The perceived disappointment of The Long Night? Well, the mistake would be assuming the Night King was everything to the show in the first place, rather than a convenient device to up the stakes and then dispense with in order to get back to the main thrones-jostling business. That much should have been clear back when his origins were related with borderline flippant casualness in Season Six. And then only compounded by the discovery that, if you Phantom Menace the Night King, all his minions go to sleep.
Certainly, there was a sense of slowly building scenarios and gambits gone adrift once Benioff and Weiss went off books – although the most persistent culprit has been dialogue reduced to the level of the frequently banal; for those who complain about SF or fantasy shows failing to reflecting how people actually speak, this is the price you pay when they do – but there’s also the reality of pushing a boulder up hill and having to allow for its unstoppable momentum once released. Yes, they could frequently have shown more flair and dexterity, and nuance and wit, but relatively few events – that Beyond the Wall episode aside – had me thinking they’d seriously misstepped. The Jon-Dany romance, for example, was never going to take flight once it became clear Emilia Clarke and Kit Harington had zero chemistry (which doesn’t rely on being the greatest thesps ever, so that wasn’t the issue), so spending as little time as possible on it was the only sensible decision.
There’s Tyrion, of course, characterised as the brightest of the bright but in the last couple of seasons progressively made to look like he’s going to out-lap Jon Snow in the “you know nothing” stakes (ending up in the Winterfell crypt being maybe the worst indignity to his faculties). How he managed to turn events around in The Iron Throne is a mystery only the writers can truly answer (the same with Grey Worm having the restraint not to kill Jon as soon as he discovered what the latter had done; that they left this off screen speaks volumes). The council meeting certainly wasn’t the writers’ finest hour; if the choice of Bran as king (shouldn’t his first edict have been to stop anyone calling him “the Broken”?) satisfied in terms of arriving at someone not at least partially objectionable (and his “foreseen it all” element had an appealing touch of manipulation, whatever his nobler designs may be), he still manages to allow himself to be instantly undermined by stroppy Sansa before he’s even begun his reign.
I can’t say any of the season’s deaths had an enormous impact, since most of those exiting seemed to have run their course. Sir Jorah being faithful to the last, the inevitable clash of brothers seeing Glegane’s demise, and Cersei and Jamie buried under some rubble. I liked the undercutting of the latter, but could have done without the Jamie vs Euron fight (I could have done without Euron full stop); part of the problem Cersei has encountered is that, since her walk of shame, she’s had scant interesting plotlines, and during this final season in particular she just waited around for others to do all the doing. Actually, Varys’ demise was sad, and quite touching (Tyrion shops him but still offers a comforting hand), and nice that they remembered to give him a decent episode in The Last of the Starks (again, after a couple of seasons forgetting about him).
As for the survivors, the reveal of the members of the Small Council is entirely too neat, the sort of thing Joss Whedon would come up with, where everyone we know now has a position of importance regardless of suitability. Jon heading off beyond the Wall with Ghost and Tormund seemed fitting, as does Anya – the most engaging character of the season by far – setting off solo, hoping the producers don’t give her a spinoff, or that at very least George RR has plotted it in its entirety first if they do.
Far from Season Eight being the worst of the run and the retroactively ruining the entire show, I’d rate it ahead of both Five and Seven. Only the fourth and final episodes featured elements that fell below par, and they were still largely engrossing. The prize goes to the one that provoked the most gnashing of teeth, though, Dany’s holocaust hour in The Bells. As zeitgeist-seizing series go, Game of Thrones was blessed to avoid the kind of fate that befell Lost or Battlestar Galatica, where acceptance or denial come the finale was based on how well received the answers (or otherwise) to the mysteries were. Game of Thrones had no secrets left to unveil, save the fates of its characters, not that this staunched fan theorising in exactly the same manner of those preceding shows. Indeed, the biggest reveal came about three seasons back; that Benioff and Weiss’s legacy would be exposing as pulp a series that had hoodwinked viewers into believing it was adapting great literature. With such credentials, they’re probably ideally poised for their forthcoming Star Wars trilogy.
Agree? Disagree? Mildly or vehemently? Let me know in the comments below.