GAME OF THRONES gets 6/10 And now our watch is over

Season 8

Created by David Benioff and D.B Weiss
Starring Peter Dinklage, Emilia Clarke, Kit Harington, Sophie Turner, Gwendoline Christie


The biggest (fantasy) show on TV, Game of Thrones, finally reached its conclusion with its eighth season. Set adrift in an endless grass sea of possibilities, showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss have struggled for direction in these last two seasons, having exceeded the current source material of A Song of Fire and Ice (with no release date as yet scheduled for George R. R. Martin’s two concluding books). As such, character, motivation and plot have been far less impressive than at the start. However, Benioff and Weiss have still been able to deliver those large emotional moments, as they aimed towards a dramatic conclusion. Here in the last season they achieved that, but only to a point, and at some cost, charting the final confrontation with the forces of the Night King, and the conclusion of the civil war that gripped Westeros.

So let’s go through the good and the bad, but be warned: the night is dark and full of spoilers.

The good, as stated, is the large dramatic moments, those culminating events or the small personal character moments that Game of Thrones constantly delivers. There’s a lot of those on display in this season: from the Battle of Winterfell locking audiences in a nail-biting siege, to the much hyped Clegane-bowl, to that big face heel turn in The Bells (s8 ep5) and the fiery cataclysm that followed. Each of these excited or shocked audiences, and provoked strong reactions from the internet community. We also had those subtle character moments, be it the Sansa (Sophie Turner)/ Theon (Alfie Allen) reunion we never knew we needed, to Brienne’s (Gwendoline Christie) tearful smile as she is knighted. The entire A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms (s8 ep2) is dedicated to catching up with those characters as they prepare for the battle ahead, clearing the decks to concentrate on the battle in the following episode, and honestly may actually be the high water mark for emotional content in season eight. However, in giving us both those large dramatic moments, and those small character-driven moments, the final season delivered what fans required from it.

Yet the bad is equally visible, and even putting aside the odd mysterious appearances of modern beverages in shot, those negative aspects are perhaps more blatant this season. The small moments of character development were the exception rather than the rule, and in the rush to get to some big dramatic developments, there were a lot of things that were mishandled. To be truly effective in storytelling, you should see the connective tissue between those plot elements. The showrunners’ selling of the final seasons didn’t really build up to those points. There was a lot of shorthand or skipping ahead, so everything, especially in the final season, seems very rushed. We never see the process of Varys (Conleth Hill) losing faith in his queen, and receive little explanation why Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) and Sansa instantaneously enter into a not-too-subtle power struggle. That really hurt the season, especially in that crucial moment in The Bells.

Daenerys’ descent from hero into villain was perhaps the poorest handled of all the events in this season (which, given the disappointing conclusion to the Night King in The Long Night, really does say something). It was the most dramatic twist, a moment central to the season, and what should have been the biggest shock of the entire series, yet it read as a somewhat arbitrary act. Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) is right with his assessment of her, as he spells out her list of atrocities in the following episode, but that also points out the issue with the handling of it in the script. The fact that it needs to be explained in detail after the events demonstrate the bad character work in place up until that point. Certainly it should come as a surprise, certainly, it should come as a shock, but it should feel earned. Despite Clarke’s excellent facial expression, despite the amazing vocal montage at the beginning of this episode (as Daenerys watched Missandei executed), and despite it obviously heading this way for the entirety of this season (as the Mother of Dragons is isolated in the North, and suffering losses in her army and compatriots), it still feels arbitrary. At that moment the writing feels more an exploitation of the shock value than driven by the character.

Factor in Game of Thrones’ treatment of women, and it gets even worse. It is meant to play into the central thematic of power corrupting, with even the best of intentions leading to unspeakable acts of death and destruction. Yet as two queens battle against each other, it also reeks of misogynistic undertones: one woman too emotional for power, the other too cold, cruel and calculating to maintain it. There’s no suggestion that this was the writers’ intent, but neither is it that much of a stretch to make that assessment of the characters. Thankfully, this wasn’t compounded by having Jon (Kit Harington) assume the throne, avoiding another “chosen one” narrative, but it still was a disappointing conclusion to a number of character arcs built throughout the series.

So, did our dragon show suck? Well, no. Game of Thrones delivered some epic fantasy in the golden age of the small screen and gave us some brutal shocks along the way. In the end it may not have delivered as transgressive and rebellious a narrative as those first few seasons promised, ending with a not too subtle nod to the granddaddy of the genre, Lord of the Rings, but the tale did wrap up in a mostly satisfactory fashion. For now, we just need to wait to see how the novel series ends, and if Martin will give us something different.