And Now Our Watch Has Ended…
(Warning! This review contains FULL SPOILERS for everything in Game of Thrones! If you have not seen it, go give it a look and then come back!)
Game of Thrones has been one of the most talked about TV shows of the past decade and received both critical and popular acclaim for its story, direction, writing, characters, action, suspense, shock, and overall enjoyment. The show has definitely been one of the best shows ever ranking up with the likes of Mad Men and Breaking Bad. Over the past 3 years I have caught on to the hype train and have enjoyed the show thoroughly throughout its runtime. The action sequences and suspense are all great, but I also have loved the character development and the slow moving parts of everything to build to truly satisfying moments. It’s a rare feat for TV shows to accomplish and retain, but the showrunners have done a good job for the most part of keeping the show at its essence even when it has surpassed the source material. That is…until Season 8…
Before I get into the details of season 8 and in particular the finale which I definitely have a lot of thoughts on, I wanted to just give some background on where I come from with Game of Thrones and my overall thoughts and impressions since I have not reviewed it before on this site: I am not a super fan of Game of Thrones and definitely would not call it one of my favorite shows, but I do heavily enjoy it and admire it for being different than most shows. When I say I am not a super fan I mean I have not read any of the books, I don’t watch theory videos, I don’t get too caught up in predicting and expecting what’s going to happen, I just sit, watch, and enjoy the show for what it is. Suffice to say, it is excellent television rivaling that of a cinematic experience.
I have been watching the show for 3 years so I essentially binged watched the entire first 6 seasons back to back and did not have to wait in between seasons until the last two season came about. I was able to stay away from spoilers for the most part so it was good to have everything still be a genuine surprise and feel the weight of events such as The Red Wedding, Jon Snow’s death, and The Battle of the Bastards (easily my favorite episode). What I have really grown to appreciate about this show is the way it took its time to build to those shocking yet unexpected moments. There was time taken to develop these characters and for us to see what truly motivates them. Even further when a character unexpectedly died and after you got over the initial shock of it all, in reflecting back you realize that their arc had wrapped up albeit in a tragic manner. The moments in the show felt earned and I loved it.
I loved the entire “Game of Thrones” aspect of the show, all the plotting and the scheming going on behind the scenes. While the great battle episodes of Hardhome and Watchers on the Wall were great, standout, 10/10 worthy episodes, it was the characters and intrigue that kept me going. I liked seeing how these characters were thinking, what motivates them, why they are so evil or why they stand so nobly, and the actions they were talking to achieve what they wanted. It was fascinating to watch characters such as Arya and Tyrion grow and evolve over the course of the season and seeing how things shifted around in terms of their arcs. It drew me in closer to see where they would go next, especially when you never know which characters will drop dead next.
I would say I enjoyed all 7 seasons of the show leading up to season 8 with season 4 being my absolute favorite from start to finish and season 5 being my least favorite as there was too much monotony going on. I was excited for the conflict with the Night King, I was excited to see how Cersei would react to the the conflicts, I was excited to see who would take the throne, and I was excited to see how my boy Jon Snow would end up in this entire conflict. The set up going into season 8 was great with all the pieces laid down to bring an exciting resolution to a fantastic series. Season 7 did feel rushed at times, but there was still time here and there for slow character moments to build and set up the conflict to come.
With there being only 6 episodes in Season 8, I was curious to see how so much story could get wrapped up in such a small amount of time yet deliver character resolutions that felt earned and large scale battles that made your jaw drop. Previous seasons were able to do that with 10 episodes which I personally felt was the perfect amount of time needed to tell a season long story. How could the showrunners epically and satisfactory conclude this phenomenon in just 6 episodes? The answer: they couldn’t…
If I could describe Season 8 in two words it would be “underwhelming” and “rushed”. This season had so much potential with the conflicts and characters they have brought to this stage and while these conflicts did happen, the path in getting there was so quick leaving no room for thought. It seemed as if the writers were just checking boxes instead of meticulously taking their time to brew certain decisions and conflicts. For a show of this scale and caliber it deserved more.
Let’s start out with the first three episodes as that established the Night King conflict that has been brewing since about season 2. The path in getting to episode 3 was painfully slow in trying to position all of our characters together. While I did say I do like the slow building of the characters, the moments that were shown were not advancing the plot or giving us insight into things we already knew. The characters would get drunk, talk about their impending death, plan out their battle strategy while flirting, these aren’t character moments this is just filler and when you have only 6 episodes no second can be wasted. Seeing Brienne being knighted is definitely a great character moment that deserves to be there and is satisfying to both the story and fans. Watching Tyrion and Varys get drunk, seeing Arya and Gendry kiss, talking about whether Jamie should join the fight, this is all filler that didn’t give us the tension we needed going into the battle with The Dead which is why the first half of season 8 felt poorly paced and underwhelming. The big battle could have happened in episode 2 maybe if they were so keen on keeping the six episode structure.
Speaking of that big battle, did you guys SEE how epic that was? All jokes aside about the poor lighting and everything, the techniciality and direction of the battle was classic Game of Thrones that we have come to know and love. The intensity, the action, all great aspects but thematically and the payoff was underwhelming. This is what the characters have been fretting about and preparing for the entire series and it all goes down in one episode? Shouldn’t the conflict have lasted a little bit longer with some more serious stakes? The characters seemed to have “plot armor” the entire duration which took a lot of the tension and weight of the battle away. Everytime you thought that Arya might die while being chased in the library, she somehow came out alive. Jon is being pinned against a wall by an undead dragon, yet he is still able to expertly dodge attacks. Jamie and Brienne are literally face to face with zombies and barely even a scratch on them. Game of Thrones was so great about putting our favorite characters in moments of peril where we truly didn’t know what could happen. Now, with just smaller deaths it felt underwhelming since all of our main heroes came out on top. So long Jorah Mormont, Lady Mormont, and some friends from the Night’s Watch.
What really made me upset was just how quickly the conflict got resolved with Arya jumping out of NOWHERE and slicing the Night King away. After that, all the undead just drop dead like they said they would but it felt weird for that conflict to just be over. Also why didn’t Arya use one of her cool assassin abilities that she spent an entire two seasons learning to defeat the Night King. I am all right with Arya killing the Night King, but apparently the previous abilities she had learned weren’t a factor here which kind of feels like the writers just forget about them. Either way, I was expecting a big showdown between Jon and the Night King in like a sword battle of some sort but alas that’s how the conflict wrapped up all in one episode. It just felt off because it was just over not in that like “oh what do we now” feeling, but more like “that was it??”. Just my opinion on the matter though, I know some people who did enjoy that final battle.
Moving on to the second half of season 8 with the King’s Landing battle approaching, this is where the series started to get more divisive and start taking a downhill dive. Not only was it weird that they just moved on to the King’s Landing conflict without taking a moment to breathe from the Night King battle, but this is where questionable and rushed character decisions started to be made.
Let’s start with Jamie. Jamie Lannister has had a huge redemptive arc over the course of the series since he first pushed Bran out the window in the series premiere. He has been in conflict over what is good and bad, trying to fight for what was right but also being madly in love with his true queen, Cersei. It has been a fascinating character dynamic to watch and when he showed up to fight for the Northerners in episode 2 of the season, you started to feel he had turned away from Cersei’s villainous and cruel tendencies to something more for the good of the realm. He even gets with Brienne and it looks that they might start a relationship together that is honest and good leaving bad his bad past. But then he just ends up going back to Cersei to save her and leave everything behind for just themselves? It feels out of character and completely out of left field from where the trajectory was going. The show had been slowly building for Jamie to betray Cersei showing us just how much Jamie had changed and grown apart from Cersei and now he feels some sort of love and sympathy towards her before the final conflict. It’s not that the character decision doesn’t make sense, it’s just there was no build up to that decision and that’s what’s so frustrating. We know that Jamie has feelings for Cersei, so show us more of that excellent dichotomous conflict that has been brewing within him and don’t just send him off randomly after making out with Brienne! I felt it betrayed Jamie’s character arc and I felt hurt watching one of my favorite character’s go down this path without any reason other than there was only 6 episodes to wrap up this story.
Next there is Tyrion (yes I will get to Daenerys soon), who this entire time has been built up to be one of the wisest, smartest, and most cunning people on the show. He takes the time to think through decisions, provides sound logic, and started to stand up for what is right. Now at the end of the series, he is making stupid decision left and right about trusting certain people and advising Daenerys on poor strategies. He seemed to really believe that after all that he’s messed up that people would be good. Even we knew that isn’t the case, heck we have been watching this show for over 8 years and we know that everyone no matter how honest or good they may seem is some sort of slimeball in a way. Tyrion started to come off as naive and stupid rather than the smart and witty character we had grown to love. It’s not that I needed Tyrion to be right all the time or for everything to work out for him, characters do need to be wrong and feel conflict at times. It is that at the end of the series is where they have him making stupid decision after stupid decision, trusting Varys, thinking Dany would yield, believing that Cersei would bow down. All though I liked where Tyrion eventually ended up, I didn’t like that they started to treat him as someone who didn’t know anything. That’s more for Jon Snow 🙂
Finally we get to Daenerys and oh boy is there a lot to say here. She went from being a harsh but just queen to someone who slaughters innocent people including children in the snap of a finger. She had a complete 180 degree turn into complete villainy for no good reason. She had won the battle, the city had yielded, yet she still chose to slaughter millions. That is just irredeemable. While it was a shocking moment and something that really divided fans, it’s not to say it come completely out of nowhere. Daenerys the entire series has been oppressed and fighting for liberation. We have seen the anger and frustration build up in her and how she has slaughtered people. We have seen her be harsh and cruel towards those that have opposed her. Never to the innocent however, but definitely have seen her be cruel. It was even teased all long ago that she would end up like The Mad King and slaughter millions. We would hear the scheming of how she could turn out to be just like The Mad King which is why she had to be on watch. So it’s not to say this decision come completely out of character or nowhere.
What really is the problem to me is that there was absolutely no buildup into the decision she made to burn everyone to ashes. We didn’t get time to see what she was thinking, we didn’t know how she felt about the conflict, we didn’t know her motivations going in, we didn’t get any character moments with her to make it feel like that decision was justified and true to her character. It just happened, she just snapped? That is not Game of Thrones at all, that is just rushed and lazy writing. You can’t have a character go from three dimensional hero to one dimensional villain just for the necessity of the plot. In previous seasons we would have time to rest with our characters and see what emotions they were going through especially with someone as pivotal as Daenerys, but not Season 8. Nope we are just checking boxes here to be done with the show yup yup yup. It feels so unearned and that’s why I was so shocked and appalled by this decision. Granted the technicality and direction of all the destruction was fantastically well made, the reasoning why it was all happening just wasn’t. This moment was shocking for the sake of it being shocking, not shocking for the sake of the story as with previous big moments such as the Red Wedding.
Then we get to the season/series finale, which had the insurmountable task of wrapping everything up in just 90 minutes. Given with how poorly the rest of the season went, I went in with some hesitation to see how the writers would pull everything together and in essence I would say they did a fine job of pulling it together but definitely felt underwhelming just like the rest of the season.
Jon killed Dany, yea there was no redeeming her character at all after that and it was a great moment with Drogon but then that was it. That was the end of that huge bit of story. It just further justifies the point that this season needed more episodes. I wish there was more time to see Jon wrestle with this and maybe have a few conversations with Dany before killing her. At least let us see what she was thinking?? Or more on how Jon was processing?? There was so much potential here but minimal effort into the execution. I am fine with it, but there could have been more and this is coming from someone who has very minimal expectations and investment in this show compared to the majority.
I am fine with Bran being chosen as the King of the realm. Tyrion’s logic did make sense with me a little bit but it still did not feel earned in any way especially just given the characterization of Bran over the series. He has been so stoic, cold, and distant throughout the series, heck he was even absent for an entire season and nobody seemed to miss him. This doesn’t feel like a character who earned his way to this spot. It doesn’t make sense thematically with the overall story.
This was a continued problem with season 8, it assumed that hints and subtleties equaled character moments. Sure it may have been hinted that Bran could be the King or that Dany would turn evil, but that does not equate to good development and payoff when those moments happen. Game of Thrones has been known for its slow and methodical planning for better or for worse and that’s one of the reasons it has stood out as one of the best shows ever. This was all abandoned here in the final season simply because the showrunners have other projects to work on and wanted this one wrapped up.
You see the best television shows are like setting up dominoes. When you set a huge amount of dominoes, it takes time to place everything and make it so all the pieces fall together exactly how you want it to in a satisfying methods. Once you have all the dominoes in place lets say 1,000 it is super satisfying to watch them all fall down one after another and you feel the accomplishment in seeing that. Season 8 of Game of Thrones is like setting up 10 dominoes, not nearly as meticulous in placing them and not nearly as satisfying to watch them fall given that you have already done 1,000 dominoes before.
In the end, Tyrion ends up hand of the king, Sansa is queen of the North, Arya goes west to explore, and Jon goes north of the wall with the Night’s watch. All of these I am fine with at the end of the day and it gave a bittersweet feeling watching our favorite characters enter this next stage. And that’s how I feel about most of the conclusion, I was FINE with it. I wasn’t completely alarmed in the finale nor was I outraged at how things turned out, it was just alright. Nothing major, everything turned out a little too neat and wrapped up and I guess I was okay with it.
Looking back now at the entirety of Game of Thrones, it’s hard to pinpoint just how I feel about this show. Now that you have all the pieces and know how it wraps up it changes your perspective when you watch some of the earlier episodes. Those earlier seasons are still great, it will just feel different knowing how rushed and underwhelming the conclusion was. The writers really needed to land the final season and unfortunately they failed. While there were some spectacular moments of action, the character development and story fell through due to everything being way too rushed. George R.R. Martin would have been glad to have it go another few seasons, HBO even offered to have two more full seasons to wrap everything up, but no the showrunners were done and just put everything together as haphazardly as they could and it tragically shows and leaves many, myself included, feeling disappointed.
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