My Thoughts on Game of Thrones Season 8

I am going to take a quick break from my busy work at the farm (of remote data science work, farm and garden work, packing for my trip, unpacking from moving, cycling things, and more!) to discuss my thoughts on Game of Thrones Season 8.

To get things started, my overall impression was: hmmm, good. I think many of the fans, and to some extent myself, were expecting amazing, incredible things. Yet at the same time, we had already in our heads worked out just about any possible scenario. Thus, the ending was going to be predictable, and amazing was impossible. But fairly good was still doable, and I think that is where the show ended up.

Also an aside, spoiler warnings are way overused. Seriously, if an article has “GAME OF THRONES ENDING SOMETHING….” it’s probably got spoilers. If you won’t want spoilers, don’t click on articles discussing what has happened in the show. Most things that happen in TV shows are fairly predictable anyway. And with a show like Game of Thrones, spoilers might actually be helpful: instead of focusing on the plot, you can focus on the absolutely beautiful locations, set, actors/characters, themes and everything else that Game of Thrones does really well.

The Bad:

  • The Battle of Winterfell (sheer tactical stupidity)
  • A General ‘Rushed’ Feeling to the Season, too much in too little time
  • Along with the above, very few of the charming side conversations and quirky events that used to occur along roads and on ships as people slowly traveled around the world.

The Good

  • Excellent visuals
  • Good ending by TV show standards (I felt that Daenerys’ actions were in line with her earlier character, and some surprises, like Bran becoming King, were actually surprising but not completely random).
  • Rich and compelling themes (perhaps harder to see because of a rushed narrative)

The Maybe

  • The show needed more of an epilogue, or at least a slower denouement. Fight, fight, fight then council and everything is decided *poof* without much trouble. I can see reasons why they didn’t do a more complicated ending, but at the end of the day I think it would have helped give people a sense of finality for the show.

In thinking about ‘the bad’ of the show, I wonder if perhaps having two major plots to finish up was rather the problem. You’ve got the night king to destroy, and the kingship of Westeros to decide. The show decided to conclude both in only six episodes by marching armies north, fighting, then marching south, and fighting. That’s probably fairly realistic, it reminds me of the Battle of Stamford Bridge followed by the Battle of Hastings in 1066 AD. The English army under Harold marches north, crushes a Viking/Danelaw army, then marches south and gets crushed in turn by a Norman army under William, thus beginning the modern English royal dynasty. Notably Harold won one battle, but then lost the next with his tired army.

And there’s a problem, I don’t actually feel like the Targaryens should have won two large battles in a row. Yes, they had dragons, but still… Did you see the Battle of Winterfell? I was wincing continually: here we have veteran fighters of many battles doing absolutely stupid things. The primary order of battle seemed to be to put the soldiers into the most exposed positions possible and watch them die. Instead, wasn’t the plan to buy time? Time is bought with more layers of defense, defenders retreating progressively to each new line, with enfilading fire from artillery positions (here the artillery did one, pretty salvo and that was it). The army of the dead seems to be pretty tactically simple: charge in mass waves. There’s no reason why the defenders couldn’t have done endless more clever things… Better obstacles, more fire trenches to slow them down (except when sprinting at a million miles an hour, the undead seem to be pretty easily killed and when faced by an obstacle are happy to burn time just staring at it). I also feel like greek fire, or whatever the show called that explosive napalm substance which was equivalent, and that was used quite prominently at the Battle of Blackwater Bay and in blowing up the Sept of Baelor, would have been brought a short and fiery end to the skinless masses.

I could go on for a long time about the inept stupidity shown in that battle, it is by far my greatest bit of discontentment. But it’s not actually a big problem, that’s something else…

In talking about the rapidity of the final season, I do agree with many commentators that another two or four episodes would have helped the show immensely. It would have given more time for the interesting side action that has occurred before – episode two of this season was many people’s favorite because it had the most of that, although not mine (my favorite was episode five, with the dramatic and tragic burning of the beautiful city).

But, a better improvement might have been to bring the Night King and the True King plots together. Have the Night King kill Cersei somehow, and leave the throne open to the survivor John Snow (or Bran, or Sam, or whoever). To begin with, that means having most of Daenerys’ army still in the south (because marching north takes a long time) and having Winterfell fall to the undead (but with heroes’ dramatic action allowing many to escape), then having a massive Night King battle in the south where Cersei is killed (perhaps by her own people, who realize she failed to prepare for the real threat of the dead), and at which all parties (from Northmen down to Dornish) can more realistically assemble at due to the more central location. Perhaps with a bit of denouement action where Euron Greyjoy has to be killed off or some such. I think the ultimate problem with season eight was the rushed resolving of two massive plots, and I think the best solution would have been to have brought them together into one more cohesive narrative.

But that’s just me, what do I know?

In some ways, the less-than-admirable ending of season eight was good because it generated lots of discussion. Even my parents were chatting about it. And lots of discussion means lots of viewers and lots of money… Perhaps a decrease in DVD sales, but maybe this method was actually the most profitable for HBO overall. HBO did say they expected the ending to be ‘controversial’ implying they intended just such an outcome. That said, they could have been controversial (Daenerys killing everyone) but with a more cohesive plot as well.

And to conclude with, I will spend a little time on ‘the good.’ The good here was, of course, just how beautiful the show appears, how good many of the actors are, and how impressive the CGI is. I loved the Renaissance city of King’s Landing, in all its beautiful detail, filled with actors genuinely showing (and appropriately) mixed and powerful reactions, and topped off with a dragon raining fire down. Episode Five was a great and powerful drama, regardless of whether you thought Daenerys’ actions were appropriate. Arya’s killing of the Night King, then decision not to kill Cersei were also well done.

I also liked the tensions between the Unsullied armies and the Northmen. The mixed distrust but mutual need felt like a powerful undercurrent to the first episodes. It reminds me of such tensions in ancient Rome: I like how modern political questions (immigrants, foreign superpowers) can also be shown and were felt in the past, a reminder that the past is far more complex than many give it credit for. As you saw with my review of Mortal Engines (which was similar in many ways to GOT S8, great themes and visuals obscured behind a rushed plot), I really enjoy when a production can stretch our modern views across time and place them in perspective. Humans + cities + competing cultural views = drama and innovation. The terrible beauty of strong human will with the power behind it to make things happen.

Game of Thrones has done quite a good job, across its lifespan , and in season eight most of all, of showing the teetering, almost impossible balance between greatness and destruction.

Perhaps it could be said that a major theme of Game of Thrones is that ‘greatness comes at a price.’ (A Lannister will always pay his debts, chaos is a ladder, all men must die). Ironically then, I think that Season 8 of Game of Thrones sought to reduce the risk of its own failure, and in doing so reduced the greatness it could achieve.

Money was made, a story was told, but yet I’d be willing to bet Harry Potter will last longer in the popular imagination than Game of Thrones.

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