Saturday, December 21, 2019

Game of Thrones: An Ending

Lana and I just finished watching the final season of Game of Thrones last night. It seems like everyone else in the world has already shared their disappointment with the finale, so I’ll do my take. Warning: Spoilers ahead.

I had zero interest in Game of Thrones when I first heard of it. I hadn’t read the books and hadn’t been in the mood for what I thought would be “High Fantasy” for years. But Lana, my wife, was captivated. She kept telling me I’d like it, and at some point I sat down and watched an episode. I was immediately hooked. It wasn’t High Fantasy, but some semi-historical combination of High Fantasy and Sword & Sorcery. There are folks who’ve told me they don’t like Game of Thrones. They’re entitled to their opinion and I’m entitled not to care.

The settings, the characters, the ambience were all excellent. The acting was terrific. There was tons of intrigue but it never got in the way of moving the story forward. I quickly developed strong attachments to the characters. Some I empathized with and came to love, like Tyrion Lannister, and some I came to hate, like Cersei Lannister. Some went from one extreme to the other, and sometimes back again, like Jamie Lannister, Arya Stark, Sansa Stark and Grey worm.

Then came Season 8. I certainly empathize with the writers who had to try and bring this sprawling epic to a satisfactory close. They were working without a net by now, having gotten ahead of the books by George RR Martin, and there were numerous plotlines to bring together. Many viewers have described season 8 as feeling rushed, and I agree. There was so much to get done and some of it did not get its due. This is one reason I was particularly irritated by some of the “wasted” time in the final season. There were long, long scenes of characters mourning, of characters waking up and trying to figure out where they were, of characters staring in shock. The mourning scenes and shock scenes were necessary but far too prolonged, and this time could have been better used.

The most difficult part for me to deal with in season 8 was the change in some of the characters. Tyrion suddenly becomes a bumbling, love-sick fool, Daenerys Targaryen—an awesome character—takes a 90 degree turn into viciousness, Jon Snow seems to periodically lose his spine. Oh, there was some justification given for all these changes, but it felt very cosmetic and…contrived. I think the problem was, in large part, that they killed the Night King fairly early in season 8 and then needed another villain. Cersei was available but her movements were constrained, and so they had to make Daenerys a villain—or felt they had to. (See my last paragraph here for another possibility.)

Despite these complaints and the somewhat ham-handed forcing of the characters into awkward actions to close the storyline, I thought there was quite a bit of good in the final season. For example, Arya using an assassin’s trick to kill the Night King was perfect. I heard one critic say it should have been Jon Snow, and Jon was used poorly in the end of that episode, but it was right to have Arya do it. It should have been Jon clearing the way for her to reach the Night King, however. In addition, the ending of the Hound in conflict with his brother was spot on, I thought. And I thought it appropriate for Cersei and Jamie to die together, buried by rubble in the depths of the castle that Cersei had ruled for so long and so monstrously. I thought the end of Jon’s story was also right, even though it was emotionally painful for the viewer—at least this viewer. He was kind of a Moses character in some sense and thus could never quite reach the promised land. I liked Arya sailing off to chart new lands. I liked the bantering and bickering among the new King’s council near the end. It sounded just right to me.

And finally, Daenerys’ end. It seems to me that Game of Thrones was her story. She was truly a doom-driven hero, and her descent into madness was perfectly suited to drama, even if it was both hard to watch and so rushed as to make it hard to believe. In the end, having Jon Snow kill her the way he did was the only choice left to these characters. And to have her carried off by her last surviving dragon was a nice touch. So, I watched Game of Thrones. I don’t regret it. It won’t be easily forgotten in the years to come.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Just came across your post on Game of Thrones. I was probably more disappointed than you, since this show alone forced me to keep HBO a year longer than necessary. It was so well done for so long, just to see it wasted by poor plots and maddening character fails...quite frustrating, right up there with the end of LOST. Between those two, I’m leery of long-form series now.

The show started to tank well before the horrid eight season...mainly I’m thinking of the utterly stupid trip beyond the wall to kidnap a dead man. All sense of space and logistics were tossed out the window...characters started flitting around Westeros like they had a teleporter, one minute they’re in the south, then they’re at Dragonstone, now north of the wall, now back in the south. That raid could’ve been handled well with strategic use of the dragons, but by that time it seemed like Benioff and Weiss were throwing crap at the wall to see what would stick.

Battle of Winterfell was the series downfall. If that had lived up to expectation, the rest could’ve been forgiven. Should’ve included the following…

- The night before the battle, Arya being pulled aside by a creepy band of peasants who turn out to be the Faceless Men led by Jaquen H’ghr...if the Night King wins there will be only one face, Death, and the Many Faced God cannot allow that, so he has sent them to stand alongside the others (kinda like the elves arriving at Helms Deep…). After that, we lose track of Arya and them for the majority of the battle, as it should be. Keep them in the shadows where assassins belong...

- At least one scene of Bran warging into a dragon would’ve been nice.

- Beric Dondarion is struck down; he takes Sandor Clegane’s hand and then dies. Later, when fighting the hordes, the Hound’s sword suddenly bursts into flame as if the power had been passed along by Beric. Something poetic about the guy afraid of fire having to wield a fiery sword…

- Jon gets outright hosed by the dead dragon, but as a Targaryen he can’t be burned by fire, right? So for a moment we think he’s dead, but he walks up the cone of fire and chops the dragon all to hell, leaving him naked and steaming in the cold air. [This is a much better way for people to discover he’s a Targaryen also, rather than characters promising to keep secrets and immediately tattling like a bunch of catty high school girls...]

- Jon marches toward the Night King who calls for his lieutenants and scores of the dead to protect him. But the dead rip off their masks to reveal Jaquen H’ghr and the Faceless Men have infiltrated the night’s army. They quickly take out the White Walkers, leaving Jon and the Night King to fight, but the naked Jon starts to succumb to the cold and is defeated; he can only watch as the Night King goes to the Weirdwood tree and turns Bran’s wheelchair...only to find Arya in his place, who stabs the villain and saves the day.

I don’t know how the show should’ve ended, who should’ve been left on the throne (definitely not Bran!). But from the jump I always pictured the final scene to be Littlefinger and Lord Varys drinking wine and playing a game of chess. Each recounts all their behind-the-scenes machinations, major plot points that we never suspected were instigated from afar. In the end Littlefinger gloats that his puppet now sits on the throne so he’s the winner, and that’s when Varys pulls off his face to reveal Arya and she cuts Littlefinger’s throat. Now that’s how you play the Game of Thrones... :-)