“Sometimes Duty Is The Death Of Love. You Are The Shield That Guards The Realm Of Men….”
When it comes to the art of storytelling, one thing is for certain that whenever there is a beginning, there is always inevitably an end point, and whether that be forged by the written hand on paper or directed upon the big or small screen as a visual companion, certain works are always going to be judged by how exactly their own select story plays out. When it comes to television, you do not have to look very far away from Game of Thrones in order to see how certain conclusions immediately evoke discussion from audiences, with the likes of The Sopranos and The Wire, shows both helmed by HBO and regarded as the best of contemporary visual drama, each proclaimed as masterpieces in their own right but when highlighting both their final chapters, immediately causes particular viewers to engulf in a raging fit of dissatisfaction after years of building relationships with the show’s characters and ultimately handed a conclusion they personally might not agree with. Step in “The Iron Throne”, the long awaited final episode of Game of Thrones, and once again we are dealt a bookended chapter which for some may be the perfect swansong for a show we all knew would end this year and for others, is the ultimate sacrilege as it fails to pull out the hat every single piece of fan service ever seen on social media or news article in a manner which would have spanned at least another eight seasons. For me personally, Season Eight of Game of Thrones was no means perfect, with an obvious sense of drop and run from the showrunners resulting in a rather eclectic pacing and particular endgame decisions which don’t entirely make complete sense, but with enough technical craft and an emotional farewell to cap off the greatest show of recent years, “The Iron Throne” was in some ways the only way such a gargantuan show could finally come to an end.
Let’s face it, the shocktastic twist of Daenerys going full Al Pacino circa The Godfather was something of which that was always going to occur, with small moments of madness creeping up in the seasons which came before resulting in a extending sense of detachment the more time I spent in the dragon Queen’s company, and whilst the moment itself could have been handled slightly more delicately, Season Eight’s “Baelor” or “The Rains of Castamere” moment was still a good old fashioned Game of Thrones narrative turn, resulting in an even bigger turn when Jon’s decision to murder the once innocent victim sending streams of fans into fits on enraged madness, well at least on Twitter and IMDB. As for me, sure it kind of made sense, with Dany’s death in a roundabout sort of way actually managing to create in full Aladdin style, a whole new world, albeit at the expense of her as Queen as she was whisked away by the world’s last remaining dragon who decided to not only burn the titular Iron Throne down completely but fly off to a location unknown in order to seemingly live out the rest of his days pecking at his dead mother. Ironically, the most depressing moment of the finale was witnessing Jon pay for his betrayal by being sent back to Night’s Watch, a somewhat now defunct organisation considering the now removed threat of the Night King, in a fashion which made the show at least come completely full circle, and with the remaining Stark’s getting the happiness they deserve and King’s Landing left in the hands of more reliable characters, Game of Thrones surprisingly ended on a heartwarming and upbeat note, and whilst the execution was by no means perfect or completely satisfying enough to proclaim it as anywhere near masterful, “The Iron Throne” was still an excellent way to tie up a show which ultimately suffered from how big it became, and whilst many will whimper at the bold narrative choices and throw their once loved DVD collections in the bin as they proclaim to never watch the show ever again, maybe it’s time to take a breather and reminisce at a show which we will never see the likes of ever again. It’s been an emotional journey Game of Thrones, thank you for everything.
Overall Episode Score: 8/10
Overall Season Score: 8.5/10
“Far More People Love You In Westeros Than Love Me. I Don’t Have Love Here. I Only Have Fear…”
With the penultimate episode of previous seasons of Game of Thrones infamously being the designated chapter for when stuff truly goes down, one could argue that the blockbuster, non-stop action which has been constant throughout Season Eight thus far doesn’t really offer the same sort of salivating desire fans previously would expect, with the show’s final curtain being laced with death and destruction from the offset with no real time for contemplation or mulled thought. With the attack on Cersei and King’s Landing an inevitability as soon as Daenerys and her forces landed on such a side of the Seven Kingdoms, “The Bells” brought to life one of the most explosive and murderous rampages seen on the show’s entire run, an eighty minute cinematic spectacle which completely abandoned the early philosophy of the show’s run by harbouring the death of leading characters as a slight, off-hand side note, but made up for such weaknesses with a sure handed technical savviness and narrative choices which although have sure been divisive amongst both fans and critics alike, served an absolute purpose which for me personally, made complete narrative sense. At the end of the day, Game of Thrones is simply a television show with boobs, dragons and zombies which just happens to have millions upon millions of die hard fanatics, and whilst many may see the events of “The Bells” as simply a step too far in the wrong direction, I thought the second to last episode of the show was pretty damn fine indeed.
Whilst it would almost take the length of a dissertation to wade through each individual character arc which ended in deathly fashion this week, the opening act in which the conniving treachery of Varys finally came to a fiery end was something of which was always going to come to fruition, and whilst in hindsight, the bald headed eunuch may indeed have been correct about the stability of his once lauded after Dragon Queen, now really wasn’t the time to start a royal coup in any shape or form. With everyone now seemingly well aware of Jon’s true heritage and Tyrion once again betraying his Queen as he solemnly and rather beautifully aids Jamie’s escape in order for him to see Cersei one last time, the combination of hardship and distrust which has built up in Daenerys for so long finally blows over by the time we finally arrive at King’s Landing, where even with her most loyal aids pleading with her to embrace mercy at a time of great peril, the Dragon Queen finally becomes the Mad Queen with one swift dragon-fuelled rain of fire which turns King’s Landing quickly into ash.Was such a rash course of events something out of the blue I hear you ask? For me, absolutely not, with Daenerys showing signs of hardship, cruelty and at times, an unhinged desire for power no matter the cost, with her temperament, personality and whole character so clearly destined for such atrocities for quite a significant while now. As we all say farewell to some significant players from the show, no matter what you may think of “The Bells” on a narrative front, the technical side of the episode was absolutely stunning, with the effects, the deft, one-shot camera movements and the sound all combining in a masterful synch to create an episode which is as memorable as it is thoroughly divisive.
Overall Episode Score: 9/10
“You Are My Queen, Nothing Will Change That. And They Are My Family. We Can Live Together…”
Yep, that’s right, get over it. No matter how many times I read a somewhat negative perspective on last week’s spectacular ninety minute battle, the fact still remains that now winter has come and gone, such a resolution was always going to satisfy particular viewers whilst actively enraging the rest who wanted this theory to come true to and this person to do that, and whilst Game of Thrones Season Eight undeniably seems to be suffering from The Last Jedi syndrome of not giving in to the wishes of the disillusioned hardcore who are determined to see their beloved show end exactly the way they want, the closer we get to the final endgame of the narrative, the more I am actively enjoying it. Beginning with a fiery farewell to the fallen, the mourning survivors are given absolutely no time to rest, or in one of the more infamous goofs of the show so far, enjoy a tasty Starbucks (registered trademark) and whilst the wine, the jokes and the erm, unexpected romance and marriage proposals threatened to push the show into soap territory, “The Last of the Starks” managed to jumble together some of the most interesting and tense-lade set pieces of the series so far. With the show in its’ early years criss-crossing a dramatic blend of The West Wing meets Lord of the Rings, the fourth chapter in this divisive concluding season actively felt more “classic” Game of Thrones, utilising genuine surprises and interesting developments to make an eighty minute runtime once again absolutely fly by.
Of the more interesting narrative threads, the war is over but another one has just begun, and whilst it seemed for a time that the Northerners and the Dragon Queen would indeed be successful at playing some low-key form of happy families, her precious dragons and depleted armies seemed to mean absolutely sod all to the ever-annoying Sansa, who in her power playing game of frowning her way through the remaining episodes seemed to either have missed out on her daily dose of antidepressants or has been directed to come across as the most unlikeable Stark ever to have lived. With Jon’s heritage exposed quicker than a celebrity nude in the Twitter generation, what an absolutely dire mistake it seemed to be to make even one person aware of his true bloodline, with not only the whole of the North seemingly made aware within the space of one episode, but Tyrion and Varys too, with the latter once again chopping and changing allegiances quicker than Littlefinger in the hope that after all this time, Jon may actually be a more efficient ruler. Speaking of chopping, alongside the return of the cocky, murderous Bronn which brought the episodes most interesting set piece, let us all take a minute and wave a fond farewell to Nathalie Emmanuel, whose understated and charming performance as Missandei ended in proper Game of Thrones fashion with a battle-ready final line and of course, one less head, and whilst the show has lost one of the more innocent and harmless central characters, her death signifies a turn in the tide with there now no room for bartering, no cares for surrenders and as we all pretty much expected, war, lots of war.
Overall Episode Score: 9/10
“It’s The Most Heroic Thing We Can Do Now. It’s Time To Look Truth In The Face…”
Ah, here we are at last. With just under two house of interesting, melancholic and foreboding buildup to kick off the show’s final season, Game of Thrones took the plunge into epicness this week as we were finally treated to the long awaited battle between the living and the dead, between the survivors of wars aplenty and those already fallen, between the Night King and Lord Snow, all against the backdrop of the chilly and incredibly dark siege of Winterfell. With two preceding chapters which in early hindsight can already be classed as bottle episodes, “The Long Night” took no time in boasting the financial support HBO has poured into its’ flagship show’s final farewell, with an eighty minute episode which managed to transcend the realm of television and bring spectacle to the small screen in ways that left both my jaw dropped and my head fuzzy as I sat through an extended battle sequence that was indeed filled with glorious technical achievements and beautiful designs, but one which too seemed to fall slightly short of being a full blown masterpiece. With pretty much the entirety of the show building up to such a grandiose set piece, “The Long Night” was always going to be an episode which would certainly be divisive in a way which the most popular franchises and stories always are, and whilst certain narrative decisions did indeed seem particularly jarring and anti-climactic, there is no doubting the sheer effort and sense of scale which the episode evoked, one which although failed on first watch to hit the lofty heights of “The Battle of the Bastards”, is still up there with the more impressive episodes of the series thus far.
With an opening one-shot camera movement which follows different characters as they prepare for the oncoming battle, the technical proficiency of the episode is clear from the offset, and whilst particular, non high definition televisions may have to be offset for brightness control due to the almost David Fincher influence level of darkness, the brooding, nightmarish cinematography does ultimately fit the tone of the episode rather well, suitably matching the almost survival horror aesthetic of the episode which at times, does feel like Game of Thrones meets World War Z. With Avengers: Endgame proving how on the big screen, years of backstory can indeed equal worthy payoff, the similar superhero style team-up of leading characters is a rather epic sight to behold as you witness numerous characters the show has taken its’ time to mould and care for be faced with the biggest threat yet. With the promise of death, lots of death, one of the main detractors of the episode is that whilst particular important characters do ultimately meet a sticky end, not one really felt incredibly impactful or indeed surprising, with the likes of Jorah and Theon in particular seemingly falling to their death for no other reason than to complete their own particular arc of redemption, and in a similar vein to “The Watchers on the Wall”, “The Long Night” felt like an episode which although everyone knew was coming, still didn’t exactly hit the emotional heights the storytelling on the show is renowned for. Whilst “The Long Night” does have minor flaws, for an eighty minute spectacle, I was completely hooked, with my eyes never leaving the screen as I observed gorgeous dragon battles, the dead falling from the sky like leaves and come the end of it, a certain female winning the day for the good guys, a positive outcome which on a show like Game of Thrones, is actually quite rare to see.
Overall Episode Score: 9/10
“I Promised To Fight For The Living, I Intend To Keep That Promise…
With the season premiere out the way and the subsequent week resulting in having to handle the burden of listening to your work colleagues and friends witter on about “how boring the opening episode was”, such concerns should immediately be wiped away with one stroke of your sword-wielding hand, with long-term fans of the show being well aware that Game of Thrones is not the type of programme which tends to dive in head first into spectacle without important characterisation and depth coming rightly just before. As with this season’s opening hour, “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms” once again felt comfortable in saving the death and destruction for week three and beyond, a second contemplative episode out of two which successfully blended interesting and emotionally fulfilling character reunions and interactions whilst setting the stage up nicely for a hotly anticipated battle sequence which has pretty much been teased ever since the show’s inception. With Jamie returning to Winterfell for the first time since the show’s opening hour almost exactly eight years ago, the judgemental glances of pretty much everyone this side of the Northern line in Westeros seemed to emphasise the central predominant theme in this season so far; forgiveness for the sake of the greater good, and whilst it would have been more than satisfactory to see offspring of the Stark clan successfully claim their revenge by murdering the golden-haired Kingslayer back in the early days of the show, Jamie’s own journey and development throughout the show has undoubtedly been the most surprising, with the cocky Lannister shifting from being the most hated character on the show to one of the most revered and let’s face it, utterly charming.
Whilst in previous seasons characters would have taken several episodes to kiss and make up after their past discrepancies, with Ser Jorah in particular probably wishing he had the writers this season to seek redemption just a tad quicker, the sight of both Dany and Sansa outlining the many different reasons why they found Ser Jamie utterly repulsive didn’t exactly last for too long, with Jon and Brienne in particular saving the day by reminding everyone that a much bigger threat awaits just around the corner. In narrative developments elsewhere, the steamiest moment of the episode strangely belonged to the usually cold-hearted, slight stature of Arya, whose relationship with Gendry went, let’s just say up a slight notch, whilst with Jon deciding to drop the black hole sized bombshell regarding his heritage on Daenerys just before potentially succumbing to the will of the Night King, such an exchange was greeted with an immediate look of confused disdain from the Dragon Queen, a particularly queer but sort-of-expected reaction from a character who after all these years of torment and war is brought back to a reality where she ultimately is not the destined leader of the Seven Kingdoms after all. With oodles of character interactions both knowing and interesting throughout the episode, Game of Thrones is the type of show which knows die hard fans will crumble at the sight of the slightest and most subtle character developments, with “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms” a rather touching, sentimental, and at many particular points, rather hilarious hour of rewarding television aided predominantly by brilliantly written dialogue, and as we head into next week’s episode in which we see our beloved heroes seek success against the most unwinnable battle in the show’s history, the Lord of the Rings style overhead sing-song to the backdrop of oncoming death means that it’s time to buckle up and prepare yourself for what’s about to come next.
Overall Episode Score: 8/10
“I Warned You, Northerners Don’t Much Trust Outsiders…”
Here we are at last. With the gap between Season Seven of Game of Thrones and the hotly anticipated concluding chapter seeming as elongated and extended as the Brexit negotiations, a joke I will continue to utilise without shame for the foreseeable future, HBO’s flagship fantasy drama finally returns this week as we start our descent into the beginning of the end. Eight years in the making, George R. R. Martin’s iconic and culturally majestic written word may have slightly changed during its’ transition from the page to the small screen as we hit the final season, but with anticipation verging on the edge of volcanic heading in, one of the more interesting aspects is how on earth a show with so many dedicated followers can possibly satisfy every single viewer before dropping the curtain down on what has been a contemporary social phenomenon. Opening with the straightforwardly named, “Winterfell”, Season Eight might only have six episodes to get the job done but it’s fair to say that it’s beginning hour will undoubtedly be the most low-key and reflective, a dramatic kickstarter which spends the majority of its’ runtime in the heart of the North as we are treated to character reunions, ominous foreboding and narrative reveals, and whilst many would have expected fireworks from the get-go, the decision to play the action cool for the time being results in a particularly excellent and emotional season opener which simply flies by.
Beginning with absolutely no sign of any series recap whatsoever, Game of Thrones is the type of show which expects its’ audience to know every single minute detail heading in, even after an extensive two year gap, but with slight changes to the opening titles including the infamous sight of the now defunct and very destroyed Northern wall, “Winterfell” begins in very icy conditions indeed, with the titular stronghold welcoming the return of Jon Snow, Queen Daenerys and of course, two humongous fire-breathing dragons. Whilst Jon and the majority of the audience understands the importance of such alliances heading into the inevitable battle against the Night King and the army of the dead, Thrones still finds time to imbed political and personal tensions within the narrative, with Sansa’s slightly immature behaviour towards the golden-haired Queen particularly jarring, and whilst the show would seem slightly lost without such stakes, it’s fair to say that Sansa’s concerns about supplies did seem a tad minute in comparison to you know, a zombified dragon and it’s seemingly invincible leader. With a slightly cheesy, Aladdin inspired dragon ride, Cersei still finding the time to guzzle down wine even when we are meant to believe she’s somehow pregnant, and a whole catalogue of camera pans when particular characters finally reunite after time apart, Game of Thrones returns with an opening hour which is indeed low on action, but when the dialogue is this rich, the effects this good and with only five episodes left to go, Season Eight reminds us that HBO’s leading ticket seller remains the best thing on television. By quite a far margin.