Well, we’ve reached the end. The big finale, which caused so much gnashing of teeth and rending of garments you’d think Emilia Clarke came into your house, beat you up, kidnapped your cat, and drank all your Dr. Pepper. I mean, come on, people it’s just a television show! But I know you’re thinking, “But Greg, what did you think of the final season of Game of Thrones?” Luckily, I’m here to tell you! Featuring so many SPOILERS it’s not even funny! Let’s get to it!
Season 8, Episode 1 (68), “Winterfell” (first aired 14 April 2019). I’m into uncharted territory now, as this is the first episode I haven’t seen twice, so I have no idea what’s coming. So I was a bit taken aback by the new opening credits, which show a wintry landscape and go very in-depth into Winterfell and King’s Landing. I don’t particularly like the new credits, but they do seem to imply that we’re staying near those two poles for the final six episodes. So let’s go! We begin with Jon and Daenerys and their forces marching into Winterfell while the people of the village, along with Arya, watch sullenly. Only Arya is thrilled when the dragons fly overhead. Everyone meets everyone else, and it’s clear Sansa does not like Daenerys. When they have a council later, Lyanna Mormont expresses her disappointment that Jon knelt to Daenerys, and Jon stresses again that he doesn’t care about being king, just protecting the North. Tyrion tells them that the Lannisters are going to help, which doesn’t make anyone happy – they already don’t like Targaryens, and they definitely don’t like Lannisters. Later, Sansa even teases Tyrion about believing his sister, because she knows Cersei lies about everything. Arya and Jon have a nice reunion, and Arya reminds Jon that family is important. I wonder if they’re going to get around to telling Jon about his real family, because they’re not being subtle about it! Down in King’s Landing, Cersei is perfectly happy to hear about the breach in the Wall. Euron returns with the eastern mercenaries (no elephants, though, which disappoints Cersei), and she finally deigns to have sex with him. She also sends Qyburn to offer Bronn a lot of money if he’ll kill Tyrion and Jaime. Bronn likes them both but he also likes money, so we’ll see how that works. Theon actually does something heroic and rescues Yara, and she tells him it’s okay if he wants to go back to Winterfell to fight with the Starks. Back in the North, Tyrion, Varys, and Davos discuss the possibility of a marriage between Jon and Daenerys, unaware of their familial connection, and as they watch, Jon and Daenerys check in on the dragons. Rhaegal lets Jon ride him, which should clue her in that he might be a Targaryen (supposedly only that family can ride dragons), and they have a nice romantic moment. Later, Sansa argues with Jon about his choice to give up his crown, and he again says that all he wants is to protect the North. Arya, meanwhile, reunites briefly with the Hound – who respects her now – and Gendry, whom she asks about forging her a weapon out of obsidian. We also get a scene in which Tormund and Beric (who survived the Wall’s collapse, as we knew they would) linking up with Edd and the Night’s Watch at the Umber stronghold, where the Zombie Army has already killed everyone, including the child Lord Umber, who went back there earlier in the episode. In Winterfell, Daenerys wants to meet Sam because he saved Jorah’s life, but during their conversation she finds out he’s a Tarly, and she has to tell him that she killed his father and brother. Sam gets upset and leaves, running into Bran, who says he has to be the one to tell Jon, and right now. Sam finds Jon in the catacombs and tells him that he’s the rightful heir (he’s the child of the rightful heir, so he has a slightly better claim than Daenerys – Google “John of Gaunt” if you want to know more!). That’s going to be an issue! The episode ends with Jaime riding into Winterfell, and of course the first person he sees (because he knew Jaime was coming) is Bran. Awkward! This is a good premiere, setting things up nicely. I worry that not enough happens, because they only have six episodes to resolve two major plots, but as an episode, it works perfectly well.
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆
Season 8, Episode 2 (69), “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms” (first aired 21 April 2019). This episode is pretty much all talk, as the principals at Winterfell prepare to meet the Night King and the Zombie Army and certain doom. In the past, the best episodes of the show had to have some action in them, because despite some excellent actors on the show, occasionally the writing wasn’t great or there would be scenes between characters we didn’t care about, and action helped smooth that over. But the sprawling cast has been winnowed down a bit and everyone is in the same place, and the weight of history is pushing on everyone, so even if the actors aren’t the greatest (and Kit Harington and Emilia Clarke, while game, aren’t the greatest), the stakes feel higher and each conversation is freighted with the shared histories of the characters and fraught with the possibility that this is the last conversation they’ll ever have. At the beginning, Jaime is brought before Daenerys, who learns that Cersei is sending no army, and she is only convinced not to kill Jaime by an impassioned speech by Brienne, who remains (I think) the only person who knows the circumstances of Jaime’s murder of Daenerys’s father. Daenerys seems to be leaning away from Tyrion as her Hand, but Jorah convinces her he’s a good adviser. Jaime finds Brienne and offers to fight on her flank, which she accepts. He also apologizes to Bran, but Bran is beyond his concern, pointing out that Jaime pushing Bran out the window led them both here, so maybe it was a good thing? Bran is weird, yo. He needs to go back to his Bauhaus CDs. Daenerys, following Jorah’s advice, tries to make nice with Sansa, and it seems to work, but then Sansa stupidly brings up the fact that the North wants to remain independent. Um, Sansa, there’s a Zombie Army about to attack you and this nice lady has brought her dragons to help you fight them – maybe get political AFTER they’ve been destroyed? Then Theon shows up, and Sansa hugs him. That’s nice. Then Edd, Tormund, and the remnants of the Night’s Watch show up, bringing the bad news about the Umbers and saying that the Zombie Army will be there before dawn. We get a big war council, and Bran says the Night King will come for him (after Jon makes the logic leap – not bad one, just a leap – that if you kill the Night King, all of them will fall), so he (Bran, that is) will wait for him by the fancy tree to lure him out. Theon immediately volunteers to guard Bran, which probably means Theon isn’t long for this world (although, knowing Theon, he’ll probably survive somehow). Up on the parapet, Arya finds the Hound, and when she says he’s never fought for anything but himself, he reminds her that he fought for her. She leaves when Beric Dondarrion shows up, and she finds Gendry and tells him she wants to have sex in case she dies in the battle. So they have sex. I guess a lot of people were upset by this because Arya was a pre-teen when we met her, but people grow up, you know. Maisie Williams was 21 when the scene was filmed, and even her character is 18 (not that that should matter, but I guess it does). So those people need to shut it. In a large hall, a group of people have gathered: Tyrion, Jaime, Brienne, Tormund, Davos, and Podrick, and Jaime decides to make Brienne a knight, as the only reason she isn’t one is tradition. Jaime knights her, and Brienne is happier than she’s ever been on the show, which probably means SHE’S going to die soon, too. Podrick sings a song, and we get brief scenes of everyone preparing. Then we get the BIG SCENE: Jon tells Daenerys who he really is. Before they can get into, a horn sounds, because the Night King has arrived! That piece of information is annoying, because Daenerys is literally the only person in Westeros who cares about the Targaryen line of succession. Everyone else just wants the wars to end. Jon doesn’t even care! So they make it out like it’s a big deal, but no one cares. We’ll see if they both survive the battle so they can hash it out! Overall, this is an excellent episode. Just a bunch of talented actors talking. Who’da thunk it?
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆
Season 8, Episode 3 (70), “The Long Night” (first aired 28 April 2019). The culmination of the Night King story and the battle with the Zombie Army is a terrific episode, full of big moments, expected deaths (sorry, but the people who died were fairly easy to suss out, with maybe the exception of one person), and a great, tense atmosphere. It has its problems, of course – Jon Snow remains a terrible military commander, as he loses what seems to be the entire Dothraki horde for no reason – but overall, it’s a good way to bring that massive plot to an end. We get the fear of each participant, not only before the battle but during it, as we get ebbs in the action so that people can assess what’s going on, and none of it is good. Early on, Melisandre enflames the sickles of the Dothraki, which makes everyone feel pretty good, and then the Dothraki ride into the darkness to do battle. Why they didn’t wait until the day broke a bit or at least until the zombies were a bit more visual is anyone’s guess, but the actual visual element of that part of the battle overrides any tactical concerns. We see them ride into the darkness, then a brief shot of the zombies leaping forward, and then the point of view from the infantry back at Winterfell as their flaming sickles slowly blink out. It’s a chilling moment, especially because we’ve seen how formidable the Dothraki can be. Daenerys, who’s supposed to wait with Jon until the Night King shows up, decides to get on her dragon and avenge the Dothraki, which Jon disagrees with but reluctantly goes along with. The zombies attack the front lines of the living, and the action is fierce and brutal (and poorly-lit; for the most part, we can tell what’s going on in this episode, but the bad lighting deliberately makes it a lot harder), as the zombies rip into their foes, the living hack them up, and the dragons fly overhead barbecuing the undead. It doesn’t help that a blizzard whirls in (we’re all assuming this is created by supernatural forces, right?), so Daenerys and Jon can’t see too well up in the clouds. Sucks to be them. On the ground, the first character we care about to die is Edd, who gets stabbed in the back after helping Sam up off the ground. I was kind of hoping that Edd survived – he’s the perfect disposable character, of course, as he’s unimportant to the larger scheme but also memorable enough that his death makes us feel bad, but it would have been fun to see him live a long, happy life. Maybe they’re saving that fate for Bronn, another unimportant character who’s more memorable than Edd. The Unsullied and the rest of the infantry have to retreat back to the castle, and Grey Worm’s men hold the line so the others can make it. When they get past the trench they dug, Davos signals for the dragons to light the wood in the trench on fire, but through the clouds, Daenerys and Jon can’t see anything. So Melisandre comes out and sets the wood on fire by touching it and praying, which is nice of her. That stops the zombies momentarily, allowing a brief lull in the battle. By the fancy tree, Bran puts his mind into a raven and goes searching for the Night King, whom he finds riding his Zombie Dragon. The King gives some kind of mental command and a bunch of zombies throw themselves on the fire, creating bridges so the others can cross over. That has to suck. The zombies manage to storm the castle, and the fighting gets even more brutal. Arya is flying all over the place killing zombies, but the Hound is paralyzed with fear of the fire. A zombie giant manages to break the doors and run into the courtyard, where he grabs Lyanna Mormont and begins to crush her. She kills it by stabbing it in the eye, but it’s her last act before she dies. TINY GIRL IS DEAD, AND THE WORLD MAKES NO SENSE!!!!! Far above, the Night King finally attacks the other two dragons, and Daenerys barely escapes the blue flame. Down in Winterfell, Arya is playing a cat-and-mouse game with the zombies as she tries to avoid them. She meets up with Clegane and Beric, and they fight their way down hallways, looking for refuge. They reach the main hall, but Beric has been wounded too much, and he dies. Melisandre is in the hall waiting for them, and she reminds Arya that we say “Not today” when we meet the God of Death. Arya zips off somewhere. In the forest, Theon and his men are holding off the zombies with flaming arrows. Up above, they manage to knock the Night King off his dragon, but Jon’s dragon tires and crashes (it’s not clear if it dies), throwing him off. Daenerys decides to try burning the bad guy, but the Night King is impervious. Well, dang. He starts to walk toward Winterfell, and Jon chases him, but before Jon can get there, the Night King raises all the newly dead, including Edd and Lyanna (I wonder what happened to Beric?). Jon has to fight them, and the King walks on toward Bran. This event sucks, because it means all the Stark dead in the crypt rise up, so the people hiding there are no longer safe. They start dying as well. Daenerys flies too close to the ground and the zombies swarm over Drogon, and she has to get off her dragon as well. Drogon takes off again, shaking undead things off of him (he definitely survives). Jorah shows up to defend Daenerys, but they’re in trouble … like everyone else, I guess. Jon manages to get inside the castle, but he can’t get past the courtyard. Zombie Dragon crashes into the walls and is just spewing blue flame everywhere, and Jon is pinned down, much like everyone else, who are still fighting but things are getting really dire. By the fancy tree, Bran is back in his body, but Theon is the only one left defending him. The Night King shows up, Bran tells Theon he’s a good dude, and Theon charges the King, getting killed in the process. He’s another character I was sure was going to die, because his story is pretty much over, too. The Night King strides toward Bran, and Jon is still pinned down in the courtyard. Suddenly, out of the dark leaps Arya, but the King senses her and grabs her by the throat, holding her high over his head. She can’t reach him with her left hand, so she drops her dagger (which, we know, is made from Valyrian steel!) into her right hand and shoves it into the Night King’s heart (or, I guess, where his heart used to be). He shatters, the White Walkers shatter, and all the zombies collapse. Hooray! Of course, Jorah is dead – another unsurprising casualty. Melisandre takes off her choker, revealing her true ancient self, and walks out into the snow, collapsing and dying. But hey, at least the zombies are gone! I guess some people were angry that Arya killed the Night King instead of Jon, but I guess they missed the part where she became a really good assassin, and there are plenty of Valyrian steel blades to go around, so it’s not like it was the person who did it as long as they had the right weapon. It’s still a really exciting, occasionally frightening, gut-wrenching (TINY GIRL, NOOOOOOO!!!!!!) episode, and we’ll see where it goes from here!
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Season 8, Episode 4 (71), “The Last of the Starks” (first aired 5 May 2019). One thing that always annoys me in fiction is when writers make the characters act in a stupid way simply to advance the plot. I get that sometimes characters do stupid things because they’re genuinely dumb or because they have no choice or some other intrinsic reason, but characters doing dumb things just to keep events moving where you want them to go is annoying, and it happens far too often in fiction (I want to call this the “Blue Beetle Rule,” because in Infinite Crisis, Blue Beetle refuses to join Maxwell Lord – even to save his life and maybe work to defeat him from the inside! – and gets a bullet in the head for his troubles … always say “yes” to the supervillain, you idiots, because you can always figure out a way to leave later!!!!). It happens all the time in sitcoms, but sitcoms are set up just for the joke, so the characters rarely act consistently throughout the show’s run, but in “serious” drama – which Game of Thrones is – it’s far more annoying. So in this episode, which begins with the mass funeral of all the people who died in the Battle of the Zombies, we watch as the characters in the know grapple with the fact of Jon’s identity. Jon doesn’t care about the throne, and tells Daenerys that, but she says that others do, and if people know he’s both a Stark and a Targaryen, the northerners will accept him as they will never accept her. She realizes this at the banquet held after the battle, where she makes Gendry a lord (a nice gesture) but still doesn’t endear herself to the northerners, while they crow over Jon riding a dragon even though she’s been doing it longer and better. So she knows what will happen if the secret gets out, but Jon says he wants to tell Sansa and Arya because they deserve to know. Has he not seen what’s going on with Sansa and Daenerys? He’s standing right there at a council when they throw barbs at each other – Daenerys wants to fight Cersei immediately, while Sansa, wisely, wants to give the fighters time to recover (Daenerys is scornful of the northerners for wanting to rest, but Sansa points out that half her own army is gone, too) – so he knows that Sansa will use any advantage she has over Daenerys. He hasn’t seen Sansa in years, it’s true, but he’s seen enough of her since their reunion to know she’s become a shrewd political operator, and while I get that Jon is all noble and wants to tell them, it’s still stupid. So he does it anyway. And of course Sansa can’t keep her damned mouth shut and tells Tyrion, who tells Varys, who thinks putting Jon on the throne is a good idea because Daenerys has been acting a bit cray-cray recently. Man, Jon is so frickin’ stupid. Also, I like how Sam hasn’t told anyone, and Bran hasn’t told anyone – well, he tells Sansa and Arya, but only because Jon tells him to, and Arya could not give less of a shit about it, so it’s all Sansa’s fault. She’s supposed to be smart now, but what will telling anyone about Jon’s true parentage do for anyone? It will lead to more war and more stress on the North, which she claims to love. We’re supposed to believe that she learned a lot from Littlefinger, but Baelish would have held onto the nugget of information for years before using it when it would be to his best advantage, but Sansa just blurts it out to the first person she sees (to bad the first person wasn’t, I don’t know, Brienne). Sansa is far more like her mother, Catelyn, who was a terrible advisor and got herself and her son killed. Way to go, Sansa!
Then, more stupidity. Daenerys and the fleet sail down to Dragonstone while Jon and Davos ride down, and while the ships are sailing, Daenerys is flying. They KNOW Euron has already surprised them TWICE with ambushes, they KNOW Cersei hasn’t been idle while they’ve been fighting, and they have the equivalent of the only airplanes in the universe, but Daenerys and her two dragons are just flying along without a thought of danger, when Rhaegal – the one Jon had ridden – gets killed by the giant crossbow bolts that Qyburn invented. Euron was waiting for them – who could have seen that coming!!!!! Daenerys should have been flying higher and scouting ahead, because she can see over islands – Euron was hiding behind an island – and she and the dragons could have attacked the fleet from the rear – the crossbows are mounted on each ship’s bow – to minimize their efficacy. Didn’t they think Qyburn would improve his design after she destroyed the one last season? So Rhaegal dies, half the fleet gets destroyed, and Missandei is captured. Well, it was nice knowing you, Nathalie Emmanuel, because we don’t think Cersei will let her live, do we? Of course not! They have a parley to end the episode, and when Daenerys doesn’t capitulate, the Mountain decapitates Missandei. Boy, Daenerys looks pissed, which I’m sure will make her do … something stupid. Gaaaaaahhhhhh!!!!!
The other parts of the episode are pretty good. There’s a very weird Bronn scene, in which he extorts Highgarden from the Brothers Lannister (weird because it’s in the North, and why would Bronn go all the way there when he probably assumed they were both coming south?). Gendry wants to marry Arya, and she tells him, rightly, that she’ll never be a lady. After hearing Jon out, she joins the Hound as he rides south to, presumably, deal with his brother. Unfortunately, they won’t let Arya kill Cersei because she already killed the Night King, but she would probably have the best chance at it. Brienne and Jaime finally bang, and it seems like they might be happy, but then Jaime finds out about the attack down south and he leaves. Brienne tells him that he can stay, but he lists some of the horrible things he’s done for Cersei and says he’ll never stop being obsessed with her. It’s a nice, poignant moment, because while Jaime is acting stupidly, it’s a stupidity that comes from his character, and it’s clear he doesn’t believe he deserves anything better than Cersei. That’s why his stupidity makes it a great scene. The other stupid stuff that happens … not so much. Sigh.
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆ ☆
Season 8, Episode 5 (72), “The Bells” (first aired 12 May 2019). This is an intense episode – it should be, given that it’s the penultimate one, right? – as Daenerys finally attacks King’s Landing. I haven’t read the on-line reactions to the final season, preferring to stay away from them (by the time I post this, I will have), but I guess people haven’t been happy with it. I don’t know – I get that sticking the landing is important, and I haven’t watched the final episode yet, but I think this has been a very good season. Yes, some things are lost by the frenetic pace of the final two seasons. The Westeros Teleport System has been overworked a bit – not necessarily in this episode, but overall. Characterization has sped up, which I think a lot of people are upset about, but when you’ve had so long to establish the characters, do you need to spend more time with it when there’s plot to burn? The big moment in this episode is when Daenerys freaks out. She’s basically won the battle – the queen’s army has surrendered and the Surrender Bells are ringing. Tyrion asked her to give them a chance to ring the bells so that she wouldn’t have to destroy the city, and she agrees. Then, while the bells are ringing, she sits on Drogon and stares at the Red Keep and freaks out. She starts burning everything, and Grey Worm joins in the fun by hurling a spear through one of the soldiers who’s already thrown down his sword. So a wholesale slaughter begins, and it’s incredibly intense.
I get the rage. I’m still a bit uncomfortable – as I’m sure many people are – by the fact that the “exotic” troops, by which I mean the non-white ones – are leading the slaughter, but it’s mitigated a bit by the fact that the Northerners – Jon Snow’s own troops – heartily join in. But I assume most people aren’t happy with Daenerys’s decision, because it’s such a heel turn. But you have to remember that she’s always been this way. For all her talk of justice for the downtrodden, she’s much more focused on the royal prerogative she has to rule. She didn’t blink when he own brother was smothered by molten gold – true, he was a dick, but that’s a bad way to go – and she crucified hundreds of slave masters because she was mad at them. The clever thing the show has done is to show her doing this to people who deserved it, so the audience was on her side. We wanted Viserys to die, because he was a douchebag. We wanted the slave masters to die, because they owned slaves. The way she did it (or, in the case of Viserys, just approved of it) didn’t matter, but the showrunners were laying the groundwork for her actions in this episode, because it’s not too big a leap from crucifying slave masters to destroying a city that just doesn’t get that you’re supposed to be the queen!!!! Her rage at Cersei boiled over, and we’ve seen that Daenerys allows that rage to overwhelm occasionally. Everyone she’s ever loved or truly trusted is dead (well, Daario is still alive, presumably, but she deliberately threw him over), and Tyrion certainly couldn’t stop her because he still has a weird soft spot for his sister. What Daenrys does is horrific, but it’s not unprecedented. Even earlier in the episode, she barbecued Varys because he was plotting against her. Sure, he betrayed her, but it was still pretty extreme. We saw this with Sam’s brother – sure, Lord Tarly probably needed to go, but poor li’l Spaceboy? Daenerys has shown that she believes in extremes, and the more nuanced world of Meereen or Westeros is beyond her. And so King’s Landing burns.
There’s a lot going on, of course. Daenerys finally figures out how to use Drogon effectively, and she torches Euron’s fleet, knocking him into the water, from which he later emerges. Tyrion releases Jaime, who had of course been captured, so he can try to convince Cersei to leave the city and avert the slaughter. Jaime gets delayed by the crowds and then by Euron, who manages to stab him very severely before Jaime finally kills him. So Jaime manages to get into the crypt and find Cersei, and they die in each other’s arms as the crypt collapses on top of them. This is another place where I’m sure controversy ruled – Cersei deserved to die horribly, damn it! Well, yes, but it’s sad if people are angry that the pregnant woman didn’t get butchered. Cersei had turned into a monster, and she was never sympathetic, but once again, the showrunners had done a nice job showing how her entire world crashed around her, largely due to her own stupidity and stubbornness, so the idea of her being crushed by the weight of the Red Keep is fitting. As for Jaime … is this controversial? I wrote about this last time, as he hates himself so much that he doesn’t think he can be happy, so he willingly dies because it’s the only thing he can think of to do. It’s perfectly in keeping with the way he’s been portrayed throughout the show – someone who wants to be better but doesn’t think he’s worth it, and someone who’s so obsessed with his sister that he can’t see past it.
Finally, there’s Arya and the Hound. Sandor doesn’t let her come with him deep into the Red Keep, and she finally understands what her constant drive for revenge might do to her, because he’s staring her in the face. She manages to get out, but not before we see much of the destruction of King’s Landing through her eyes, as she’s desperately trying not to die even while people around her are. As for Sandor Clegane, he finally gets to fight his Zombie Brother, and it goes about as well as you expect. After a brutal fight (with Qyburn an early casualty, as Zombie Gregor is done listening to his Dr. Frankenstein), the Hound manages to push the Mountain through a crumbling wall and they both tumble to their deaths in the flames far below. It’s an amazing visual, and really the only way it could have ended.
So this was an astonishing visual feast, and intense, horrifying battle, and the destruction of a person’s soul. What’s not to like?
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Season 8, Episode 6 (73), “The Iron Throne” (first aired 19 May 2019). And so it ends, with a very solid, not excellent, final episode. I don’t see what all the fuss was about with people going nuts over the finale and the final season, unless they were mad because they named their kids “Daenerys” or “Khaleesi” years ago, which was stupid anyway. In this final episode, Jon has to reckon with the fact that he’s hitched his wagon to a megalomaniac, one who throws Tyrion in prison at the beginning of the episode for betraying her by releasing Jaime and who orders the execution of surrendered soldiers in the streets. Jon goes to see him, and Tyrion has to spell out what the showrunners have left subtle, presumably because people are stupid: He tells Jon that if someone is convinced they’re right and good, they’ll do anything to get what they want, and whoever stands in their way is an impediment, plus we’ve already seen Daenerys do horrible things, but she killed “bad people,” so we cheered along. He might as well have turned to the camera and spoken directly to the audience. Later, when Jon confronts Daenerys, she tells him basically the same thing: She’s right, and anyone else who thinks they’re right is, well, wrong. It’s funny to do this when the subject is cotton candy grapes (those who like them are so, so wrong) or Grant Morrison’s Doom Patrol run (those who don’t like it are so very, very wrong), but when it’s the fate of millions of people, it’s less funny. So Jon, who takes oaths seriously, breaks his and stabs her through the heart, and she dies meekly. Drogon flies up and gets peeved, having a fiery temper tantrum all over the Iron Throne, which melts to slag (not a bad idea, actually). He then takes Daenerys in his claw and flies away East, where they were both far happier. Why doesn’t he barbecue Jon? I assume it’s because Jon is a Targaryen, and even Drogon knows this, and while he’s pissed off at Jon, his breeding won’t allow him to fire up the Know-Nothing SOB. So, problem solved, right?
Well, Tyrion gets out of prison a few weeks later and finds that the Unsullied are still in charge of King’s Landing, but the heads of the great houses have gathered to decide what should happen to him and Jon, who’s also in prison. Tyrion convinces them to choose a ruler rather than rely on birthright, and he makes the case for Bran. Everyone agrees except Sansa, who tells her brother the North will remain independent (Sam tries to argue for democracy, which gets shot down quickly, and poor dumb Edmure Tully, released from Walder Frey’s dungeon, puts himself forward briefly before Sansa tells him to sit down like she’s the mother of a toddler). Bran takes the job and names Tyrion his hand, telling him that he’s made a bunch o’ mistakes but now he can start rectifying it. They decide that the monarch will no longer be a hereditary position but an elective one, which works in theory but could easily turn into a Habsburg situation (that sounds like a Robert Ludlum book, doesn’t it – “The Habsburg Situation”). For now, it’s fine. Grey Worm wants to kill Jon, but they decide that he should … join the Night’s Watch! It’s an inelegant solution because do they even need a Night’s Watch anymore (Jon even wonders that very fact), but he’s off to the North! So we wrap things up – the Small Council – Tyrion, Davos, Sam, Brienne, Bronn – gets down to business, with Bronn arguing for the importance of brothels because of course he does; Tyrion, it seems, finally gets to tell his joke about the jackass and the honeycomb (although we don’t get to hear it); Brienne writes a moving eulogy to Jaime in the Big Book O’ Westeros Knights; Grey Worm takes the Unsullied (and presumably the Dothraki) away to Naath, because the told Missandei they’d go there and where the hell else is he going to go; Arya decides to go West off the map, which sounds fun; and Sansa becomes Queen in the North. Jon, it seems, decides that the Night’s Watch isn’t for him and heads North of the Wall with Tormund and the Wildlings. He always seemed happiest hanging out with the Wildlings (banging a hot redhead probably had something to do with that), so this isn’t surprising. And so it ends.
It’s not a terribly shocking ending, but it’s a good one. Daenerys couldn’t “break the wheel,” but Tyrion and Bran and some of the other nobles realized they needed to make some changes, which isn’t a bad way to go. The North was always the most independent of the kingdoms, so it’s not surprising that Sansa wants to go her own way. And while the final two seasons of the show shrank the cast a bit extremely, it’s good to see people like Edmure Tully and Robyn Arryn (and even Gendry, who’s there at the council) to remind us that society hasn’t crumbled completely. That’s nice. It’s not one of the greatest final episodes of all time, but it’s a good way to send the characters into the void.
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆
Let’s rank the episodes before summing up!
1. “The Bells” – Holy cow, Daenerys goes scorched earth on us … literally!
2. “The Long Night” – Questionable military tactics aside, this is a gripping episode.
3. “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms” – Lots of talking, but what good talking it is!
4. “The Iron Throne” – Not the best series finale, but not the disaster people think.
5. “Winterfell” – A good set-up for the final season, and the best season premiere the series has had.
6. “The Last of the Starks” – Far too much stupidity from everyone to make this a great episode!
Average Rating: 8/10 stars
Median Rating: 8/10 stars
The final ranking of the episodes!
1. “Blackwater” (S2E9)
2. “The Rains of Castamere” (S3E9)
3. “The Bells” (S8E5)
4. “The Long Night” (S8E3)
5. “The Battle of the Bastards” (S6E9)
6. “The Lion and the Rose” (S4E2)
7. “The Winds of Winter” (S6E10)
8. “Hardhome” (S5E8)
9. “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms” (S8E2)
10. “The Spoils of War” (S7E4)
11. “The Door” (S6E5)
12. “The Dance of Dragons” (S5E9)
13. “Mother’s Mercy” (S5E10)
14. “And Now His Watch Is Ended” (S3E4)
15. “Baelor” (S1E9)
16. “Kissed by Fire” (S3E5)
17. “The Laws of Gods and Men” (S4E6)
18. “The Mountain and the Viper” (S4E8)
19. “Beyond the Wall” (S7E6)
20. “The Dragon and the Wolf” (S7E7)
21. “Fire and Blood” (S1E10)
22. “No One” (S6E8)
23. “The Wolf and the Lion” (S1E5)
24. “A Golden Crown” (S1E6)
25. “The Iron Throne” (S8E6)
26. “Walk of Punishment” (S3E3)
27. “The Watchers on the Wall” (S4E9)
28. “The Children” (S4E10)
29. “Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken” (S5E6)
30. “Dark Wings, Dark Words” (S3E2)
31. “A Man Without Honor” (S2E7)
32. “Winterfell” (S8E1)
33. “The Old Gods and the New” (S2E6)
34. “Lord Snow” (S1E3)
35. “You Win or You Die” (S1E7)
36. “The Bear and the Maiden Fair” (S3E7)
37. “Kill the Boy” (S5E5)
38. “The Gift” (S5E7)
39. “First of His Name” (S4E5)
40. “The Climb” (S3E6)
41. “Mockingbird” (S4E7)
42. “Book of the Stranger” (S6E4)
43. “Second Sons” (S3E8)
44. “Valar Morghulis” (S2E10)
45. “Stormborn” (S7E2)
46. “The Queen’s Justice” (S7E3)
47. “Eastwatch” (S7E5)
48. “Blood of My Blood” (S6E6)
49. “Home” (S6E2)
50. “What Is Dead May Never Die” (S2E3)
51. “The Kingsroad” (S1E2)
52. “Dragonstone” (S7E1)
53. “Garden of Bones” (S2E4)
54. “The Ghost of Harrenhal” (S2E5)
55. “The Pointy End” (S1E8)
56. “The Broken Man” (S6E7)
57. “Sons of the Harpy” (S5E4)
58. “Two Swords” (S4E1)
59. “Valar Dohaeris” (S3E1)
60. “The Last of the Starks” (S8E4)
61. “Oathbreaker” (S6E3)
62. “Breaker of Chains” (S4E3)
63. “Cripples, Bastards, and Broken Things” (S1E4)
64. “The Prince of Winterfell” (S2E8)
65. “High Sparrow” (S5E3)
66. “Oathkeeper” (S4E4)
67. “Winter Is Coming” (S1E1)
68. “The Red Woman” (S6E1)
69. “The Night Lands” (S2E2)
70. “Mhysa” (S3E10)
71. “The House of Black and White” (S5E2)
72. “The North Remembers” (S2E1)
73. “The Wars to Come” (S5E1)
Average Rating for Season 1: 7.1/10 stars
Average Rating for Season 2: 6.9/10 stars
Average Rating for Season 3. 7.35/10 stars
Average Rating for Season 4: 7.3/10 stars
Average Rating for Season 5: 6.95/10 stars
Average Rating for Season 6: 7.35/10 stars
Average Rating for Season 7: 7.5/10 stars
Average Rating for Season 8: 8/10 stars
Median Rating for Season 1: 7.25/10 stars
Median Rating for Season 2: 7/10 stars
Median Rating for Season 3: 7.25/10 stars
Median Rating for Season 4: 7.25/10 stars
Median Rating for Season 5: 7/10 stars
Median Rating for Season 6: 7/10 stars
Median Rating for Season 7: 7/10 stars
Median Rating for Season 8: 8/10 stars
So there you have it. In order, in case you don’t want to figure it out, here’s how I rank the seasons:
1. Season 8
2. Season 7
3. Season 3
4. Season 6
5. Season 4
6. Season 1
7. Season 5
8. Season 2
How could I be so wrong, you might ask? Literally no one likes Seasons 7 and 8, and even if they do, they wouldn’t put them at #1 and #2 on their rankings list! I mean, you must be crazy, Burgas!
Well, I might be. But I would still argue for the quality of those seasons, mainly because while every season had great episodes, the truncated nature of the final two seasons meant that we didn’t get the meandering episodes of earlier years that dragged down the overall grade. Let’s consider how many seasons appeared in my Top Ten and Top Twenty:
Top 10: S1: 0; S2: 1; S3: 1; S4: 1; S5: 1; S6: 2; S7: 1; S8: 3.
Top 20: S1: 1; S2: 1; S3: 3; S4: 3; S5: 3; S6: 3; S7: 3; S8: 3.
Those are pretty great episodes, too: “Baelor” (Ned Stark’s death), “Blackwater” (still the best episode of the series!), “The Rains of Castamere” (big shocker!), “And Now His Watch Is Ended” (Daenerys destroys Astapor), “Kissed by Fire” (Jaime and Brienne take a bath), “The Lion and the Rose” (the Purple Wedding), “The Laws of Gods and Men” (the trial of Tyrion), “The Mountain and the Viper” (Oberyn versus Gregor Clegane), “Hardhome” (the peak of the Night King’s menace, perhaps?), “The Dance of Dragons” (Drogon returns to Meereen in the nick of time), “Mother’s Mercy” (Jon dies), “The Battle of the Bastards” (an epic battle), “The Winds of Winter” (Cersei kills everyone), “The Door” (Hodor), “The Spoils of War” (Daenerys destroys the “loot train”), “Beyond the Wall” (okay, the idea was shit, but the actual mission was intense), “The Dragon and the Wolf” (Petyr Baelish meets his match!), “The Bells” (holy shit, what a massacre), “The Long Night” (another epic battle), “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms” (actors doing their thing magnificently). Do the episodes from Seasons 7 and 8 not belong, even if you might think I have them ranked a bit too high? I don’t think so, but you might. And remember: some of the season premieres were kind of dull, and even some of the great episodes (“Baelor” comes to mind, but there are others) have some dead spots. I can deal with the Westeros Teleportation System and the utter stupidity of some of the characters in the final two seasons if we get the epic scale of the episodes. But that’s just me.
So why was there such a backlash against Seasons 7 and 8, and especially the final one? I’ve read quite a bit about the final season, and I can glean a few things. Some are valid criticisms: the speed with which characters whooshed across a landmass that we’re supposed to believe is about as big as the United States, and without the benefit of engines, is something that is annoying, but a bit overblown. In Season 7 it was a problem because timing was important for when things happened, but it wasn’t as big a deal in Season 8. I can buy that criticism, but it does seem a bit ticky-tacky. The stupidity of the characters is another valid criticism: Daenerys “forgets” about Euron’s fleet, really? Sansa decides to push Northern independence when there are zombies mere hours away from overrunning the North anyway? Jon tells Sansa his true identity, and Sansa tells Tyrion? You people can’t keep your mouths shut until Cersei is defeated and things calm down a bit? Sheesh. Jon’s entire strategy at the Battle of the Zombies was a bit sketchy, too, but one thing the showrunners have always done is shown that Jon is just not very bright, so getting upset at it in Season 8 seems a bit silly. The Council to decide the new king is not great, either, and probably the nadir of this season. I get that they want to choose a king who doesn’t have dynastic ambitions, and Bran seems perfectly happy to get good advisers (whether his new Small Council is good or not we’ll have to see) and leave them to it, but it still seems like an odd choice, especially as Bran doesn’t really have “the best story,” as Tyrion points out. Hell, Tyrion might have a better one than Bran, and Sansa, Arya, and probably freaking Gendry have better ones than he does. It’s not a great scene, but it doesn’t ruin the episode, the season, or the series, especially when it’s clear that ultimately, it doesn’t really matter who rules. I mean, that’s kind of the point of the series: keep the power from being too concentrated, because that will fuck you up.
The speed of the final seasons bothered people, and I get that. Not for the reasons they whine about, which I’ll get to, but because we lose the sense that there are other characters other than the principals. I mean, in the finale the Prince of Dorne shows up, and never gets a name, and we don’t know what the hell’s been going on in Dorne. Dorne was never a good addition to the show (I understand in the books it’s handled much better), but still – a longer series could have addressed it, even a little. Robyn Arryn (who “Longbottomed” in the years since we’d seen him) is another person we could have checked in on. I get that a lot of nobles were killed, but if the series had been longer, we could have found out who’s ruling the various places in Westeros and how they might feel about the new elective monarchy. When Lyanna Mormont (POUR ONE OUT FOR TINY GIRL!!!!!) was introduced, we got a sense of what had happened to put her in charge – Jorah, we knew, had been disgraced, and her mother had died fighting for Robb Stark. It wasn’t much, but at least we got a sense of what was happening in other places on the continent that weren’t directly connected to the main story. The shortened seasons meant the world of Westeros felt smaller, and therefore not as real. At least to me.
I’m not sure why the showrunners shortened the seasons. I know that Benioff and Weiss wanted to do their Civil War thing which has now been kiboshed, I guess, but I’m not sure if that was the reason for it. I don’t know if we’ve been given an official reason for it – I can’t believe HBO would want to shorten it, given what a cash cow it was, and for the same reason, why would the showrunners want to shorten it? If you’ve seen the documentary about the final season, you know that working on the show was grueling and long and exhausting, but presumably it was always that way, so why would that be bothering people in Seasons 7 and 8, unless it was just the build-up over the years. I mean, HBO could have delayed Season 7 until 2018 and Season 8 until 2020 and the ratings would still have been through the roof, but they didn’t. Were the actors chafing against the restraints the show placed on them, in terms of doing other things? Some of them have become bigger stars thanks to the show, and maybe they were tired of it and HBO didn’t want to have to start paying them a lot more just to keep them around a bit longer. I get that, too. But I’m not sure if we’ve ever found out why the seasons were shortened. I’ve found some things that say Weiss and Benioff wanted to move on, and HBO honored their wishes (of course, now they left for Netflix, so screw you, HBO!), but that seems a bit odd, considering that shows have switched showrunners and not missed a beat, and HBO could have done that pretty easily, I reckon. So while it’s easy to throw Benioff and Weiss under the bus, I’m not sure if it’s completely their fault. It might be, but I bet there’s a lot more going on that we don’t know about. It’s still frustrating. Eighty episodes was within reach, probably, and that would have cleared up some of the annoyances people had with the final seasons.
What I don’t get are some of the other objections to the final seasons. The biggest thing is Daenerys’s heel turn, which made, it seems, a lot of people angry. You had people whining that they destroyed a Strong Female Character, and the big fight came down to two evil women and Boring White Dude Jon Snow was the hero. That’s a lot to process. Those people who complained that Daenerys destroying King’s Landing came out of nowhere weren’t watching the rest of the show, were they? Daenerys has always been a bit loopy, beginning with the satisfying look on her face back when Drogo poured molten gold onto her brother’s head. As I have mentioned before, Viserys was a scumbag and deserved to die, but Daenerys didn’t have to look so smug about it. It seems like every three episodes or so, someone is telling Daenerys that, yeah, maybe burning all those people won’t solve your problems. She burned a lot of people alive, she crucified a bunch of people, she didn’t care about learning how to rule instead of just conquering, and she just assumed that everyone would fall down and worship her. I hear there’s a Targaryen pretender in the books, and he might have been useful in the show, because almost no one cares that she’s a Targaryen, and her insistence that she’s the rightful queen is silly, as the people of Westeros don’t seem to care who’s ruling, as long as random armies don’t move through their territories every few weeks killing everyone. Jon Snow certainly doesn’t care, and while Varys seems to, he’s alone, and if there had been someone with whom he could connect, it would make her insecurity about Jon claiming the throne a bit more plausible. But her madness doesn’t come from nowhere. She believes it’s her right to rule, and whenever anyone challenges her, not even about her right but her way of going about it, out come the dragons. She learned to be a “white savior” in the East, and when she arrives in Westeros, she can’t believe no one cares about her. In Daenerys’s mind, the world is divided into “masters” and “slaves.” She is the true master, so she must kill all the other masters, and the slaves will naturally give her the credit for their freedom. But in Westeros, there are no slaves, and Daenerys can’t just show up, kill a few “masters,” and have everyone fall in line. That’s her tragedy, and while her hatred for Cersei leads her to the burning of King’s Landing, it’s also the thought of the audacity of the people of King’s Landing, who didn’t immediately rise up against Cersei and welcome her as a savior. That was her role, and being shut out of it made her go over the edge. I don’t think it’s that hard to parse, but apparently, it made people really angry. I just think they were pissed that they named their kids after a vicious tyrant. Sucks to be you, hipsters!
Another thing that people got made about was Tyrion becoming stupid. He was the smartest dude around in Seasons 1-4, and then he went East and lost his brain. This is also easily explained if you were paying attention. The first glimpse we get of it is when Jorah is taking him to Daenerys. Jorah speaks about Daenerys in messianic terms (which many people do, feeding her megalomania), and then Drogon flies overhead. It’s an impressive sight, and Tyrion is actually moved by it. Jorah tells him about losing his own cynicism when confronted by Daenerys, and once Tyrion comes into her presence, he begins to believe in her, too. It’s then that he becomes a dummy. The show makes it very clear that he becomes more of an idealist when he meets Daenerys, and that loss of cynicism makes him make some bad decisions, because he starts to believe in people again. It didn’t just happen because they wanted to make Tyrion a dummy, it happened as a consequence of him having hope for a better future, and in the world of Game of Thrones, that is a dangerous attitude to have. It’s so obvious I’m surprised that people are angry about Tyrion, because it’s pretty clear why he starts doing dumb things. This leads into the show’s entire critique of religion, which is both subtle and obvious in different places. Religion turns Stannis from a tough but fair soldier and a fairly decent father into a monster. Cersei uses religion to further her own political ends, and then it turns on her, causing almost her collapse. When she gets revenge, she basically wipes out an entire religion in the capital to do it. Religion means the Brotherhood would rather sell Gendry to a priestess than be decent and allow him to stay with them. Religion turns Faceless People into assassins. In the East, where in the “real world” the three major religions grew, religion turns Daenerys into a megalomaniac, as her savior complex becomes something she can’t turn off. Tyrion isn’t immune to this, and that’s why he’s not as bright in the second half of the show as he was in the first. Sansa, who was raised with the Old Gods and the New but also in the hard North, where (if we’re feeling like cross-pollinating mythic epics), you get gods like Crom, who doesn’t give a shit about anyone (as Conan often tells us), can see that Tyrion has gotten dumb, and she’s suspicious of Daenerys and her savior complex. I thought that, too, was obvious.
Jaime’s abandonment of Brienne and his subsequent death, along with the “unsatisfactory” nature of Cersei’s death, is another thing that people are all bothered about. Again, I don’t see a problem with it. It’s pretty clear from early on in the show, and definitely from the moment that Jaime confesses to Brienne in the bath, that he hates himself, and nothing he’s done has really changed that. Yes, perhaps if Cersei had died in some other fashion, he might have escaped her clutches and made enough amends to begin to heal, but she never did and he never did, despite Brienne’s presence in his life. As he notes, he pushed Bran out the window, killed his own cousin, broke several vows (despite claiming he took his vows seriously), and did horrible things, all for Cersei. He can’t escape the guilt of allowing Tyrion loose just so Tyrion could kill Tywin – whatever they thought of Tywin, family is important in this world – and he simply doesn’t feel like he deserves anyone better. He’s not in love with Cersei, as he notes, because fiction writers always confuse lust/obsession with love, but he is obsessed with her, and he can’t break free. His tragedy, like many people’s, is that he only sees the bad things he does and dismisses the good things. Yes, Jaime had done some redemptive things (possibly not enough, but that’s for everyone to decide on their own), but the point is that he himself couldn’t see them. He didn’t think of rescuing Brienne from a freakin’ bear as heroic. He didn’t think of releasing Tyrion because he knows he didn’t kill Joffrey as heroic. He probably doesn’t even see riding north to help fight the Night King as heroic. As for the way Cersei died, why did someone (Arya, Daenerys, even Jaime) have to kill her? Are we as an audience really that bloodthirsty? Did no one care about the symbolism of everything in her world finally crushing her? She was never an absolute monster, but ever since Joffrey’s death, the world was closing in on her, and while most of it was because she couldn’t change herself, it was still a tragedy, and her world coming down on her head was a perfect ending for her.
There are other things that bug people – the fact that the Night King was ultimately not much of a threat (I never thought he was; he was like a natural disaster – he killed a lot of people but you had to figure out a way to survive it); the fact that Jon Snow is an idiot (he was always an idiot, people!); the fact that the one woman of color got her head chopped off (given this takes place in “medieval England,” the fact that there were any people of color with any kind of roles was impressive); the fact that the two most powerful women went nuts and became monsters (again, neither was a true monster, and if you want a lot of female roles, you’re going to have to deal with some of them breaking bad; no one mentions Arya being the best, Sansa being the best, Gilly being just as smart as Sam, Lyanna kicking so much ass it’s just not funny, Yara ruling the Iron Islands – lots of great women in this show, folk!); the fact that Varys kind of got short shrift in the final two seasons (okay, fair enough); the fact that some characters got plot armor after years of Martin and the showrunners being unafraid to kill them off (which, I guess so, but at some point you have to keep characters alive or there won’t be any left!). But those are extremely minor complaints, and don’t detract from the epic nature of the final season.
I think, ultimately, what bugged people the most is that it didn’t end the way they wanted it to. Whether it was because they wanted Daenerys on the throne, Daenerys and Jon to stay together, Arya to kill Cersei – whatever, it didn’t conform to the fantasy they had erected in their heads. That’s why endings are hard. In the beginning, you could have a scene with two characters talking about something cool, and you’d say, “Hey, that’s cool!” and you would instantly come up with dozens of scenarios about where it could go. But when it comes time to wrap things up, you can only go one way, and if it’s not one of the ways you imagined, you feel betrayed. Our own imaginations are always better than what we see, because they’re our fantasies. So people got mad because the show didn’t conform to their own thoughts. That’s, to sum up in one word, stupid. But there it is.
Anyway, those are my thoughts. I’m sure you can find rankings on the interwebs that conform more with your hatred of Seasons 7 and 8 (if you do indeed hate Seasons 7 and 8), but these are mine. Love them or hate them, that’s what we do around here! Thoughts?