I didn’t hate it. I don’t hate it. I even like it. It’s Game of Thrones. Unless David Benioff and Dan Weiss betray a character unforgivably for me, I’m not gonna hate it. You might think they did, but they didn’t (more on that later). Your worst fears might have been fully realized in this episode. Your hopes and dreams were crushed, and your greatest hopes were probably quashed beyond compare. Your experience of this episode and of the final season of GOT is living up to everything you thought it would be and more. But these are all just the expectations you’ve set forth. And here’s where it’s ended up for me: I wondered why it was only renewed for 7 episodes three years ago, and I wondered why it was announced that the final season would be a paltry 6. I wondered why a show that had long adhered to the principled, rarely bedeviled show of 10 episodes per season was cutting and running with such an abbreviated count. So, my expectations have long been tempered, and for me, it was always going to end like this. Of course, when I say “like this” I mean a storyline at a hastened, rapid-fire pace, not the slow burn drama we were used to forever. And I don’t hate the writers for it. I’ve long made peace with their bizarre choice to abruptify (fuck it, it’s a word tonight) their ending, so I didn’t take issue with what ultimately befell tonight’s episode. It doesn’t mean I ever understood their long-ago decision, but it means I’ve been prepared for it. What should have happened, in my opinion? Season 7 should have been 10 episodes and ultimately dispatched with the Night King by season’s end. And season 8 shoulda been at least 8, if not 10 episodes over the war for the throne, as Daenerys and Cersei outpoliticked each other, while Sansa would play the wildcard. But that hasn’t been possible for two years – hence why I’m not mad – and I’ve been writing about a different show. So let’s talk about the show that actually exists, and by show, I mean the battle
This episode was a slow (yes, slow!) buildup to BATTLE ROYALEEEEE. The first half was about as slow as this season has ever allowed it to be. Plans were made, words were exchanged, and Spiders were executed (all deaths relegated to the bullets below). I just wanna chat battle and all that it entailed. I know all the pre-season hype was for the Battle of Winterfell, but real talk, I think I enjoyed the Battle of King’s Landing more. It seemed like more emotions were at stake, and when emotions are involved, you know the shit hitting the fan is gonna feel more justified. Case in point, Grey Worm is UNLEASHED and pissssssed. And I get it. He is loyal as ever to his queen, and if she’s not gonna surrender to the sound of some silly ‘ol bell, then like hell he is. He charged headfirst into battle even though the enemy had surrendered. When your enemy fights for the people who murdered your girlfriend, I get it. I just loved the brutality of it all, and I imagine the prosthetics people had a field day what with all the maiming, hacking, and burning. Love it.
Meanwhile, Daenerys is busy Cleaning. Up. Shop, as she eviscerates the Iron Fleet, now that she knows to be wary of all those pesky scorpions. Fool her once, shame on Rhaegal, fool her twice, bye bye everyone else. Emilia Clarke kills it as ever up there on Drogon’s back (well, in a studio on a CGI-enhanced saddle). Director Miguel Sapochnik brings the heat both with Drogon as well as to the episode. He fully captures the horrors of war by tracing the lives and deaths of various peasants. One of the things I’d forgotten to mention a few weeks ago, but I can now say that, full circle for this abbreviated season, I really like how they’ve shown the horrors of war not just on our main characters, who frequently are too busy squabbling over matters of nobility, but the devastation enacted on the innocent.
The real standouts of all the battle for me were simply Arya’s scenes. Maisie Williams acts her pants off just running around stuff. Her final scene with The Hound (“Sandor – thank you”) is already a winner for me. What didn’t work for me in The Battle of Winterfell was how many times we saw characters imperiled beyond compare, only to never see how they made their great escape. What did work for me in The Battle of King’s Landing is that, however endangered Arya became, we actually saw what she did and how she got out. She was heroic and brave and I never felt it broke character. I was glued to my seat when she ran around the Winterfell library and I was glued to my seat as she ran around the burning rubble of King’s Landing. Well done.
OK – those are generally my thoughts on the battle. With that out of the way, let’s talk deaths and other stuff!
- Varys’ slow march to the grave, hauntingly lit amidst the darkness of a Dragonstone chamber, and on one of its beaches is absolutely gorgeous. The Master of Whisperers is the first casualty of an episode with deaths a plenty. Thank you to Conleth Hill for truly making Varys come to life.
- Harry Strickland – lol who? I like how Grey Worm had to be the one to kill him just cause why not I guess. That, for me, was just silly.
- Euron’s and Jaime’s duel was entirely unexpected for me, and I’m glad I didn’t see it coming. I think their fight could have been edited a little better, though. In an episode with so much care put into the battle overall, their fight involved a lot of close ups and cutting. That said, if Jaime had escaped (details below), I think he would have bled out. So, I’m willing to accept that Euron Greyjoy was ultimately responsible for the death of Jaime Lannister. Shout out to Pilou Asbæk for killing it, of course.
- Maester Qyburn had perhaps the most abrupt, and consequentially, most satisfying death of any character for me. He just kinda got #Mountained. Thanks for the ride, Anton Lesser. I don’t think anyone expected him to last this long. Remember when he saved Jaime’s arm?
- As for #Cleganebowl, I gotta say – phew, I’m glad it was smaller than it was needlessly hyped up to be. I’ve never been one to advocate this silly brawl of theirs. Except for when he fought Brienne (the single best scene in Game of Thrones history), The Hound is best utilized as a wordsmith, and not as a muscle. His scenes with Arya are some of the best character interplay. His scenes with his undead, mute brother? Less so. So, I’m glad that many of you will feel deflated by this scene. I don’t mean that I’m cheering for your unhappiness, but I am happy that they didn’t just try to make their fight into some big, ridiculous 15 minute long duel. They just sorta sparred on a stairway for a few scenes (awesomely paired with Arya’s nightmarish firefighter training), and then, after swords didn’t work, they toppled out a window. I know I keep saying everyone’s great, but Rory McCann is so top notch. He took a gruff baddo and made The Hound a household name. As for Mountain actor man – He’s accused of domestic violence by far too many women. He’ll get get no such recognition from me. Fuck that guy.
- And then our two big ones – Cersei and Jaime. They came into the world together, and they leave it together. I was almost upset that their escape was caved in, but it worked for the ending they ultimately had. They were never going to make it out alive, and I think we all knew this. I’ll talk more about Cersei below, but right now I just wanna focus on how Nikolaj Coster-Waldau is Jaime Lannister. I read the books 10 years ago for the first time, and I cannot imagine another person in this role. He was the malicious shit you hated in the first couple seasons, he turned into the bratty pest you loved to hate in season 3, and he became a redeemable figure by the end of 3, going into 4. I’ll miss him.
Let’s check in on some final, lingering thoughts:
- Tyrion’s and Jaime’s last scene hit home for me. I get that it might not have for you but I just love Nikolaj and Peter Dinklage so much (ugh we’re so lucky with the cast, guys) that it worked for me.
- As I mentioned in the opening paragraph, my expectations were always set going into this final season, but it doesn’t mean I don’t have feelings on it. And here’s where I discuss who got the short shrift. Aside from the many casualties in episodes 3 and 5, the biggest casualties of season 8 have been Cersei and Daenerys:
- Cersei has barely even been in this season. Since the (exceedingly brilliant) end of season 6, Cersei has had hardly anyone other than sycophants to interact with in King’s Landing. The shorter episode counts of the last 2 seasons have meant that the great Lena Headey got fewer scenes than ever before. I have no doubt that there are scenes somewhere out there of Cersei ruling – presumably failing badly at it, but ruling nonetheless. But they never made it to air. She was the ultimate villain, the one who stood in our “hero”‘s way – But by failing to have her do much of anything these last 2 years, her arc largely stalled. As mentioned above, it was not the character; it was the scenes of her character that were missing. She was always destined to go out like this, but watching the decline would have been way more satisfying. As far as I’m concerned the last truly great scene for Cersei was at the end of season 6.
- Which brings me to Daenerys. She has always been destined for madness, like her father and brother before her. Power consumes you. No matter who you are, no matter whom you freed, no matter what you intend. And when all of your advisors, including the best character on GOT are dead, you have no one left to hold you back. Daenerys has been acting alternately impulsively and calculatingly since season 3 when her agency gained experience points. I am sick and tired of the Internet endlessly chanting how terrible it is that Dany suddenly turned mad out of NOWHERE. No. Just no. Stop it now. What I will agree with you on is that we could have, again, used more episodes to flesh it out, but stop it with the ‘that was out of character’ nonsense. It’s just hogwash. Last season, she burned Randyll and Dickon Tarly alive, despite Tyrion’s pleas to the contrary. She’s had one goal and one goal only since season 1, and she is being consumed by her worst impulses.
The story is what is what it was always going to be. The pace of that story was an avoidable thing, and it’s something that was abandoned long ago. I am not retroactively upset about it, as it was something I was upset about at the time. I’ve made my peace with it now. Unlike the torrent of backlash and hatred we’ve seen the last few weeks, I get that the chess pieces need to capture the king. I just wish we got to see how they got there.