For years, Game of Thrones was considered one of the best shows on television. It was well paced, had amazing production values, and its consistency was key to its popularity. Sadly, cracks were beginning to surface in Seasons 6 and 7 as those seasons saw a drop-off in writing quality as this is when the series began to deviate from its source material. George R R Martin has yet to finish the book series and this would require the creators of the show to craft their own narratives while remaining true to the characters and the various plot threads established in earlier seasons.
Expectations going into Season 8 were high as every confrontation would be coming to its conclusion. Episodes were going to be longer and there was hope that character arcs would meet their proper end. The first two episodes were strong starts to the season. The first would see all the key players gathering at Winterfell in preparation of the Night Kings arrival and it would also showcase the uneasy alliance between Daenerys Targaryen and Sansa Stark.
Episode 2 was a love letter to almost every character in the show and featured a number of powerful interactions, which seem to raise the stakes for the upcoming battle. Brienne getting knighted by Jamie felt like the perfect ending to her arc and opened up the possibility of future romance if they happened to survive. A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms was easily the best episode this season and felt like a throwback to the earlier seasons, when character dialogue was at it’s most nuanced and complex.
Game of Thrones could never be characterized as your average fantasy show. Even in its biggest set pieces, such as the Battle of Blackwater or the Battle of the Bastards, everything always felt grounded, as if things could turn for either side and anyone could perish. The issue with this episode was that it that felt very much like a Hollywood action film. Which is strange due to the shocking opening in which the Dothraki horde is practically wiped out by the White Walkers. This would give off the notion that every character that you have to come to love and embrace is possibly fighting their last battle.
Instead, the episode plays out with so many fake-out moments that it lessens the impact of when a known character meets their end. There are at least three separate moments where it looks like several characters were going to be killed only to be saved at the last moment. This extends to practically everyone: Jon, Sam, Tyrion, Tormund, Arya, Sandor, Jamie, all had near-death experienced only to inexplicably survive. While I personally enjoyed the episode because of it was well choreographed and had some truly memorable moments, it wasn’t as impactful as it could have been.
In the end, the Night King was slain by Arya, which was hinted multiple times during the episode and while this was fine, it killed all momentum that was created by episodes like Hardhome in which it felt like Jon Snow and the Night King were destined for a head to head confrontation. Somehow Arya got the jump on the Night King and stabbed him in the heart, ending the threat of the White Walkers and their undead horde. It felt anticlimactic and rushed as if the Night King’s only purpose was to nerf Dany’s forces before her inevitable March on King’s Landing.
Now, I can forgive episode 3’s shortcomings as long as the losses were addressed in the following episodes. It literally looked as if the combined Targaryen and Northern forces were decimated so it would be interesting to see how this would be addressed. Unfortunately in episode 4 it seemed as if those losses didn’t matter because there was still, somehow, more than enough soldiers to march on King’s Landing. This could be forgiven if it were explained in previous episodes, but it wasn’t and this was the first big example of lazy writing that would plague the rest of the season.
Episode 4 was a mess. There was no explanation of time lapses, characters were making stupid decisions to further the plot or reverse their own arcs, and worst of all, two major characters were killed for shock value. The first was the dragon Rhaegal, who got sniped out of the air by the Iron Fleet led by Euron, who just happens to magically appear when the plot wants to force confrontation. How Dany never saw them being so high up in the air was mystifying and made no logical sense. What made even less sense was that Dany’s fleet never saw their enemies even though during the episode they were perfectly in view.
Somehow, through all the chaos, Missandei, was the only key character captured, which was improbable seeing how the Iron Fleet was in prime position to capture everyone. Within the next few scenes Euron is back in King’s Landing and Cersei now has leverage and firepower over Dany. The episode ends with Dany and a very small landing force confronting Cersei, demanding the return of Missandei and the surrender of Lannister forces. Cersei scoffs at this notion and then the Mountain executes Missandei, which then angers Dany and ends the episode.
What’s so strange is that Cersei had the upper hand, she could kill Drogon, the last remaining dragon, and then force the Golden Company to capture Dany and her landing team. Instead, she let’s them go and this sets up the confrontation in episode 5. This episode, titled the The Bells, is an even bigger mess, but only because it handles Dany’s villainous turn sloppily. It’s a well shot and beautifully chaotic episode, but it doesn’t mask the poor writing.
Varys, who up to this point is one of the most careful and brilliant characters on the show, makes his treason known practically publically and this ends up with Tyrion betraying him and ultimately executed. Tyrion then betrays Dany a few scenes later by releasing Jamie, who happened to be captured offscreen for trying to return to Cersei. They share an emotionally powerful moment before Jamie heads into the city. At the same time, The Hound and Arya are arriving to assassinate Cersei and kill the Mountain and even though they are questioned about entering the city, they are shown no resistance and allowed to pass.
Before the battle begins, Dany destroys the Iron Fleet with Drogon and proceeds to eliminate all of the defenses along the walls. Somehow, the Iron Fleet and Lannister forces can’t hit Drogon even though they could not miss when aiming at Rhaegal. The Golden Company is also easily destroyed by Drogon and now Dany and Jon’s forces can begin sacking the city. Cersei is forced to watch her city fall and the Lannister ground forces call for the bells, which signals surrender and victory for the invading forces.
Here is where the show goes completely off the rails. As instead of directly attacking the Red Keep where Cersei is, Dany instead goes on a rampage, slaughtering the citizens of King’s Landing with almost no justification. It was a shocking moment, but one that was unearned for Dany as while she showed grief early in the episode, there was no indication that she was truly lost. It felt like the writers were trying to have you hate a character that many people idolized for a number of seasons, because they needed a new big bad because Cersei was at her end.
Amidst the chaos, Arya and the Hound make their way to the Red Keep and just before ascending, the Hound tells Arya she shouldn’t follow his path of vengeance as it will lead to her death. Arya agrees, even though she was hellbent on killing Cersei and decides to take her leave. Before she departs Arya shares a touching moment with the Hound calling him by his first name. While this moment was enjoyable, it felt out of character for Arya who had developed into a stone cold assassin. She then becomes a point of view character to showcase the carnage of Dany’s actions. Its effective but unnecessary because the viewer can see how fucked up everything is just fine without the needless insertion of a main character.
Meanwhile, Jamie has to take multiple detours to find the hidden entrance into the Red Keep where surprise, surprise, Euron Greyjoy, who had just been blown off a ship miles off the coast has miraculously appeared with the intent of eliminating the Kingslayer. They fight, Jamie gets mortally wounded, but somehow kills Euron, even with only one hand. I mention this as pretty dumb as Euron is a feared fighter who single-handedly killed the majority of the Sand Snakes by himself in Season 7. Regardless, Jamie makes his way up to the Red Keep, where he finds a hysterical Cersei. She is relieved and both try to escape the city.
Both however, are trapped due to the chaos and are then killed by falling debris. They die in each other’s arms, which is poetic, but unsatisfying due to Cersei being one of the most hated characters in all of television. The episode ends with Arya making her through the chaos and riding off on a white horse that just happened to survive all of the carnage. Once again, this episode is a visual marvel with the perfect blend of practical and CGI effects, it just happens to feature incredibly lazy writing that explains next to nothing and somehow main characters have plot armor that can save them from dragonfire.
With the penultimate episode out of the way, fans have found themselves at the end of the road. Episode 6 is the series end and it was almost guaranteed to show Dany’s death, Tyrion’s trial or death, and the coronation of a new King or Queen. While the series end was better than the previous two episode, it was still lackluster and felt flat. Dany’s death was supposed to be this incredibly dramatic and impactful moment. We are talking about the death of a character whose journey has been followed for ten years. She has been ruthless, but never heartless, and it felt as if the writers still couldn’t determine who she was in the end.
I never felt for a moment that Dany was the crazed murderer they intended her to be and her final conversation with Jon was an indication of this. I expected forceful and maniacal dialogue, but instead she seemed like the Dany that was present the last seven seasons. Her death just didn’t resonate, it was tragic, but more so because the writers didn’t nail the madness aspect of her character. Sadly, it ended up being a fairly hollow moment. In fact, Drogon appearing and nudging her lifeless body was more impactful than Dany’s actual death.
Now, you would think that after committing regicide, Jon would be killed, either by Drogon or Grey Worm, but you would be wrong. Drogon torches the throne in an awesome sequence, grabs Dany’s body, flies away and the screen fades to black. It is later revealed that Jon was taken prisoner but Tyrion’s trial takes precedence for whatever reason. He meets with a council comprised of all the Lords of Westeros and gives an impassioned speech about who should be King. To just about everyone’s surprise, he chooses Bran. Why Tyrion was allowed to give an impassioned speech in the first place is beyond logic, he is a war criminal, but I will say choosing Bran actually makes sense.
Tywin Lannister once told Tommen that a good King is wise and listens to their advisors. This just happens to make sense for Bran as he is the most knowledgeable person in Westeros and possibly the known world. The problem with this scene is that the dialogue is laughable. Bran, who has admitted in previous episodes that he does not want anymore or that he is something else, doesn’t disregard the notion of becoming King. Instead, he proclaims that this why he is here, which would then conflict with Bran’s original purpose in the narrative as his importance was acting as the foil for the Night King, not to become the King of the Seven Kingdoms.
That aside, Tyrion moves to vote and everyone agrees except for Sansa, who proclaims that the North should be independent as they have been in years past. This moment should’ve squashed the vote for Bran entirely because now every Lord is aware that they too, can be independent. But nobody, not Yara or the new Prince of Dorn say a damn thing, which makes the entire council scene unintentionally hilarious. What’s worse is that Jon is forced to once again take up the Black and become a member of the Nights Watch, even though their entire purpose ended in episode 3.
Tyrion is appointed by Bran to be his hand, but Tyrion correctly objects as his decision making has been known to be porous. Greyworm is at first visibly upset but for whatever reason gives in and then the epilogue begins. The new council is introduced with Sam, Davos, Brienne, and Bronn serving on it. The Stark children are all separated once again as Arya will travel west, Sansa is now Queen of the North, and Jon is north of the wall. Game of Thrones ends on a hopeful note, leaving itself open for various spin-offs if those come to pass.
This season was so stunningly lackluster because of its rushed pace and poor writing. A lot of shortcomings could have been overlooked if there was proper buildup. Why the creators of the show felt that the end of the story could be told in six episodes is beyond me. What makes things worse is that the behind the scenes segments show the writers contradicting themselves in the very same episode. Luckily, the series ending wasn’t terrible to where it completely tarnished all the good that the series had done up until this point. Yes, there are a lot of dead ends and unsatisfying character arcs, but it still doesn’t diminish what Game of Thrones has accomplished for television. It has opened the door for the fantasy genre and has shown viewers that with enough care and attention to detail, these types of series can flourish.
All good things must come to an end, even if that end wasn’t as strong as its beginning.