We’ll get back to John Wick at some point, but for now, a much more pressing matter has come up: the final season of Game of Thrones…
RELEASED: April 14th 2019 – May 19th 2019
SHOWRUNNER: David Benioff & D. B. Weiss
WRITTEN BY: Dave Hill, Bryan Cogman, David Benioff & D. B. Weiss
DIRECTED BY: David Nutter, Miguel Sapochnik, David Benioff & D. B. Weiss
MUSIC BY: Ramin Djawadi
STARRING: Peter Dinklage, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Lena Headey, Emilia Clarke, Kit Harington, Sophie Turner, Maisie Williams, Liam Cunningham, Nathalie Emmanuel, Alfie Allen, John Bradley, Isaac Hempstead Wright, Gwendoline Christie, Conleth Hill, Rory McCann, Jerome Flynn, Kristofer Hivju, Joe Dempsie, Jacob Anderson, Iain Glen, Hannah Murray, Carice van Houten, Richard Dormer, Ben Crompton, Daniel Portman, Bella Ramsey, Vladimir Furdik, Pilou Asbæk, Anton Lesser, Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson, Gemma Whelan, Tobias Menzies & Lino Facioli
In the final season of Game of Thrones, the Stark forces in the North, led by Jon Snow, Sansa Stark and Arya Stark, come together with the foreign legions of the ‘Mother of Dragons’, Daenerys Targaryen, to fight the Night King and his forces of the Undead in the ‘Great War’.
However, even with abysmal prospects ahead of them, Daenerys still has her eye on travelling south to King’s Landing for the ‘Final War’ against Cersei Lannister, where she hopes to reclaim the Iron Throne for the Targaryens. However, the revelation that Jon Snow is secretly the son of her brother Rhaegar Targaryen and Ned Stark’s sister Lyanna means that she is no longer the one with the greatest claim to the throne…
You’ve probably heard by now, but this season hasn’t gone down all that well with the majority of watchers. The reasons have been discussed online ad nauseam, but I’m going to discuss them again anyway because they’re pretty crucial to reviewing this season.
First off, there’s a lot going on in this season, and arguably not enough time to deal with it all. After season seven only producing seven episodes, season eight makes the bold attempt at wrapping up years of storytelling in only six episodes. The end result is a series that is slightly disjointed and very rushed. So much so that some storylines seem to be completely dropped, and other characters (quite major ones like Cersei Lannister) are barely given any screentime and become pretty superfluous to the show.
Personally, I believe the first three episodes, wherein our heroes deal with the threat of the Night King and his army of the dead, should have been the last three episodes of season seven, and then the final three episodes, which focus on the final battle for the Iron Throne, should have been its own season, bulked up by, say, five extra episodes, to make it a clean eight.
But unfortunately, that is not the case, and so what we do get seems like a very rushed season, which for many, is quite lacking.
The Night King plot, for one – a story that has been built up since the very first scene in the series – has a rather lacklustre end. Two episodes are spent preparing our heroes for the battle, before episode three, ‘The Long Night’, shows a massive battle (more of a slaughter, really) between the armies of the Living and the Dead in and around the Northern domain of Winterfell. That third episode is pretty much one long action set piece, but one that feels like it’s missing what truly makes Game of Thrones great. Previous episodes with memorable battles, like ‘Hardhome’ or ‘Battle of the Bastards’ aren’t wholly focused on the action, and have respite in the form of meaningful dialogue and character progression, both of which are lacking from this episode (and, many would argue, this season as a whole). Because there’s no time to examine the situation properly with the shorter season runtime, the threat has to be resolved in episode three – which means there’s less tension, for us, the viewers, as we know the Night King will be dealt with soon enough so that the battle for the Throne can resume. Furthermore, the way the Night King is defeated is so sudden and random that it makes him feel like less of a threat.
Even worse is the fact that the episode is shot in such weird lighting that most of the events are imperceptible. It’s such a strange choice that you would make one of the defining moments of the story so dark that people can barely tell what’s going on. And a lot of what you can tell is going on is later retconned to not be what you thought it was. Which, frankly, is both poor storytelling and cinematography. If you’re using a visual medium, you have to take care of what you put on screen. You can’t show something, then go contradicting yourself the very next episode unless you’ve written yourself an ‘out’, which the creators here do not.
Fortunately, in my opinion (obviously, it’s my blog), the season improves from here. While many may bemoan the fact that Starbucks cups and bottles of water make it onto the shot, I think episode four, ‘The Last of the Starks’, is much more in line with classic Thrones (many would disagree with me though, I imagine, as the episode holds a score of 5.7/10 on IMDb) as the focus is (briefly) returned to the characters,. They have meaningful conversations that seed events in later episodes, and things manage to be both heartfelt and solemn. Personally, this is one of my favourite episodes of the season.
However, even though it is perhaps more character-focused than its direct predecessor, it still continues the problem that the series faces overall. With the knowledge of where the story is going, showrunners and writers Benioff and Weiss seem more concerned with hitting the major plot points than they are allowing the characters to linger in the dire situations like they did in seasons one – four.
Episode five, ‘The Bells’, makes this even more apparent, as it sees a character turn for the sake of plot that, although seeded for seasons, feels unearned, due to the subtle nature of said seeding, before the rather explosive twist. The hints have been there, but they haven’t been developed enough to blossom the way they do and achieve an organic progression. Many mistake this as a left-field event, which I would disagree with, as I assumed this was the way the show would go, but I will agree that it is a rather drastic change of pace, and with extra episodes, the story would have flowed at a more natural rate.
But when it comes to general audiences’ disappointment, the failures of those episodes pale in comparison to the critical response to the final episode of the show, ‘The Iron Throne’.
I, however, quite enjoyed it. While there are some moments that beggar disbelief due to a lack of character development (or frankly, common sense in some cases), Game of Thrones ends in a much happier way than you would expect. A new ruler is crowned and conflicts are resolved, new stories are hinted at and the surviving characters learn to make the most out of what they have left. The general cinematography, music, set design and (one that I haven’t really mused on before) costume design are all excellent throughout the series, as are the performances from the majority of the cast.
If you were to pick a hole in the final episode and try and argue with me why it was bad, I doubt I’d be able to justify the events depicted on screen. The story, as I said, doesn’t flow naturally, and liberties are taken to end the show as quickly as possible. It’s not clean, it’s not intelligent. It just is. But if you allow yourself to look for the good in it, I think you can find it.
However, after a season where care has very rarely been taken to craft the ending this show deserved, I can understand why you might be inclined not to.
So even though I was fine with episodes one and two, quite enjoyed episodes four and six, and could appreciate five for what it was, taking everything else into account, I give the final season of Game of Thrones:
It may be the worst season, as everyone says. But with a bit more time and commitment, it could have been one of the very best.
But as I said, I quite enjoyed the last episode, so it hasn’t left me in that ‘it was all for nothing’ mindset that it has a lot of others. In fact, it’s spurred me to get back to reading the books and finally finish my Westeros puzzle that is half-done downstairs. I’ll update you on those later.