A Stark Future Lies Ahead?
Game Of Thrones came back for its eighth and final season five Sundays ago, and here’s Tripwire’s senior editor Andrew Colman with his review of the final episode. Warning: major spoilers ahead…
The Iron Throne
Directors: David Benioff and DB Weiss Stars: Peter Dinklage, Kit Harington, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Emilia Clarke, Sophie Turner, Maisie Williams, Isaac Hempstead Wright
And they all lived happily ever after.
As you may have heard, there’s been a wee bit of opprobrium regarding the final series of GOT, involving online petitions and considerable column inches from outraged and disappointed fans devoted to the “downfall” of the show. Benioff and Weiss, showrunners since the pilot and the object of most of their ire, predictably conclude matters as both writers and directors, apparently using notes from George R.R. Martin for neatly tying the bow for all the remaining storylines.
And providing that sort of closure in eighty minutes inevitably has led to a travelogue version of the show, a second generation work that sketchily hands us the odd pay off before getting back to logistics. There’s barely any magic here, or drama – everything has to be wrapped up, couched as it is in declamatory, irony-free tones that jar so much with the remit of this series. But as was said in the previous review, it could only sail through on a sea of compromise. So no tour de force, or unbridled misanthropy from members of the ensemble still on board – everyone is on their best behaviour after the aftermath sequence, all altruism and stridence. It wouldn’t have mattered quite so much if that had been acknowledged in the script, but Dan and Dave are preparing to get cosmic elsewhere, so they play everything with a straight bat.
So Dany imprisons a defiant Tyrion for freeing Jaime. Jon visits Tyrion, who, riven by remorse about betraying his best friend Varys and rejecting his entreaties, persuades the erstwhile Aegon Targaryen to prevent Dany from continuing her quest to rule the planet through brute force in the name of her “good”. Within sight of the Iron Throne (miraculously intact despite Drogon’s exhaustive decimation of Kings Landing), Jon tearfully kills Dany. Drogon suddenly appears, and rather than killing Jon, carries his mother away, but not before reducing the Iron Throne to bubbling lava. Three weeks later, Jon and Tyrion are still in prison thanks to Grey Worm when the latter is summoned to a meeting with Sansa, Bran, Davos, Arya and other vassals of the Starks.
In one rather twee three minute monologue, Tyrion solves everything to the satisfaction of most of the players, nominating Bran as King of Westeros, while offering the vengeful Grey Worm lands elsewhere. Sansa insists on the North’s independence as queen, Arya decides to explore other territories, Bran saves Tyrion by making him the King’s Hand (yet again) and in order to mollify the Dothraki and Unsullied, sentences Jon Snow to Castle Black. Simples. Job done. There’s your denouement, your finale, your wrap up. Shut down stage one, say your farewells to the good folk of Dubrovnik and Belfast, see you at the after show party. Oh yes, there’ll be a nice cookie cutter montage at the end as all the surviving protagonists glibly forget yesterday’s bloodbath and enmities and proceed to cosily rebuild Westeros or head off into the sunset, staring heroically into the middle distance.
There are some worthwhile moments in this last ever episode – Dany’s brief moment of triumph in her rally is replete with fascistic overtones, plus there’s the tense stand-off between Jon and Grey Worm at the beginning. And then there’s Tyrion. The best scenes involve him grieving over Jaime and Cersei amidst the ruins, or when memories of previous encounters are triggered upon entering the council chamber – Dinklage is such a fine actor, and the one conduit with the audience here, but he isn’t given a great deal of time to emote. Anyway, he was always far more in his element as a foil for pompous martinets like his dad. Shame there were no flashbacks of Tywin – the series lost a great deal when he departed on his throne.
And so the series draws to its end with this closer – and at an hour and twenty minutes it still feels somewhat padded, with broad characterization and scenes that are entirely out of kilter with the spirit of the show – the way that Bron suddenly reappears at the council meeting, equipped with the usual snide badinage, borders on trite, as does most of the dialogue in that sequence. And Bran’s explanation for accepting his position as King is straight out of Harry Potter. Plus there’s the underlying dissonance with all the plot outcomes – why wasn’t Jon made King of Westeros? In the very first episode, he is the outcast, rejected by Catelyn and not permitted to join Ned and Robert’s feast. Surely his arc and true lineage required him to end up on the throne? And why did Grey Worm back down so easily after losing his saviour and leader?
One could argue that all Game of Thrones fans are occasionally forced to be apologists for this series, with much of the criticism or rejection coming from people who have never watched the show at all (and seem proud of it, of course, as if it were a lifestyle choice). And the resistance is understandable to an extent – there will always be prejudice against genre, especially fantasy, which is perceived to be the nerdiest strand of all. My stock answer has always been that at its best Game of Thrones is transgressive, ironic, and keen to dispense with convention while relying on tropes that have little to do with sword and sorcery or what have you, such as social realism, sophisticated political intrigue, philosophy and barbed, dry humour. It managed for most of its run to retain a modern sensibility while evoking the psychotic ruthlessness and self-interest of the age in which it is set, when anyone is dispensable. To invoke the old canard once again, the show is The Sopranos spliced with Middle Earth, and I would say it has been at its best when it has been more like the former. George RR Martin’s source material did a titanic job in balancing myriad character arcs, his ambitious work taking decades to finish.
But the show didn’t have decades to satisfy all the needs and expectations of fandom, nor of the build-up to its finale. Could the show have been done better, considering that at some point an elegiac, reverential episode such as this one was unavoidable? Would giving the fans what they want and mechanically fulfilling all the foreshadowing (such as Arya killing Cersei, or Jon defeating the Night King) been preferable? It is hard to claim one way or the other what could have been done to improve matters given the constraints and the immense difficulty in resolving everything anyway. George R.R. Martin wanted another two series after this one, but Benioff and Weiss (with some rationality) felt that audience fatigue might’ve set in with such an extension. I agree at least moderately with fan opinion, but certainly not enough to sign any petitions. To be fair, there was notable cynicism creeping into the mix regarding the need to truncate everything. Ultimately this was not what I had hoped for, but endings are the hardest thing for a show of such stature to pull off, and HBO has never been about crowd-pleasing. David Chase (sorry for bringing him up again) understood this and almost succeeded, although his cast list was nowhere near as vast as GOTs. One wonders if Benioff and Weiss had paid more heed to that maxim about being more concerned with pleasing oneself first and hoping the audience will go with you. But of course that point is now moot.
Here’s the trailer for this episode
Game Of Thrones just ended on HBO and on Sky Atlantic this week.