Ian Thomas Malone

A Connecticut Yogi in King Joffrey's Court

thrones Archive

Monday

27

May 2019

3

COMMENTS

Game of Thrones’ Final Season Was a Frantic Mess

Written by , Posted in Blog, Game of Thrones, Pop Culture, TV Reviews

The image of Daenerys Targaryen’s massive armada sailing to Westeros at the end of season six ended up being the high point of her time on the series. After spending years building her up as the apex player destined to “break the wheel,” seasons seven and eight largely focused on tearing her back down, slowly eating away at her army until her opposition established a believable sense of equal footing. Dany may have taken King’s Landing with brute force, but her cause was lost with waiting, heeding Tyrion’s advice not to sack the capital at the expense of most of her original Westerosi allies.

Season eight sought out to complete Dany’s downward spiral, along with defeating the White Walkers and providing satisfactory conclusions for many of the show’s large ensemble. All in six episodes, a choice made by creators David Benioff and D.B. Weiss. To call this season rushed would be an understatement.

The first two episodes largely concerned themselves with table-setting for “The Long Night.” Episode two, “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms,” stands out as one of the best of the series for its focus on the complex relationships between the many characters, an immensely satisfying episode that functioned as a bit of a finale in its own right. The calm pace of the first two episodes contrasts with the frantic nature of the final two, which barely took a moment to breathe, more than understandable given how much needed to be done before the end.

A six-episode season was never going to be enough to wrap up such a complex series, but a bigger issue was the fact that the show dedicated half its final run to an underwhelming villain who didn’t even factor into the endgame. The White Walkers may have been a presence in the show since the first episode, but the underwhelming battle of Winterfell failed to reflect the Night King’s billing as an arch villain. Considering how rushed the final three episodes felt, it’s clear that the Night King should have been disposed of last season, giving the show a bit more wiggle room to focus on its endgame.

The first four episodes all built up a feud between Daenerys and Sansa that ended up pretty much going nowhere. You could argue that Sansa’s feelings toward Dany helped turn Jon, Tyrion, and Varys against her, but the Northern territorial disputes were hardly needed in that regard. Dany’s burning of King’s Landing superseded any of the peripheral politics.

The show struggled to portray Jon and Dany’s relationship, complicated by a few reasons. Putting aside the incest, Kit Harrington and Emilia Clarke didn’t have much natural chemistry, exacerbated by the show’s reluctance to give them scenes alone together. Jon’s stabbing of Dany made for beautiful cinematography, but the gravity of the moment failed to accurately reflect the underdeveloped nature of their relationship.

For a show ostensibly about the mechanics of power, the idea of having Bran end up on the show is complicated to say the least. His abilities helped turn the tide of the Battle of Winterfell, but the three-eyed raven stayed out of the conflict in King’s Landing. We don’t know if he made the decision based on the knowledge that he’d become king, but we don’t necessarily need to in order to recognize that a monarch shouldn’t possess that kind of absolute power.

The finale acknowledged Tyrion’s mistakes, suggesting he’d spend the rest of his life fixing them, but such a “punishment” perhaps fails to truly acknowledge his role in Dany’s decline. It’s hard to find a single moment in his time as Dany’s Hand where he offered good advice. Why would he be rewarded for such incompetence?

Cersei felt weirdly irrelevant for too much of the season. For all the excellent villains we’ve seen on the show over the years, Cersei has always been the best. The show made the right move placing her as the final big bad over the Night King, but it didn’t give her many opportunities to shine. Instead, she mostly stood around giving orders and not doing much else with her time. The show’s finest manipulator of politics sat on the sidelines for its final stretch, perhaps the strongest encapsulation of the issues with season eight.

The show did offer satisfactory conclusions for many of its key characters, including Arya, Sansa, Brienne, and Jaime. “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms” worked so well for its focus on characters and not on moving the plot forward a mile a minute. We spent almost a decade with these people. The final season had its share of payoff for that investment, but it was constantly undercut by the rapid nature of the plot.

Finales are difficult to pull off under any circumstance. TV is generally much better at maintaining the status quo than concluding it. With so many loose strands heading into season eight, it seems unlikely that four more episodes would have been able to wrap things up much better than six did. That doesn’t really change the fact that this season spent much of its time poorly, a product of needing to do too many things at once.

Season eight made the regrettable mistake of giving half its time to an underwhelming villain at the expense of the characters who made the show special in the first place. For all the ways this series has felt larger than life over the years, becoming a worldwide phenomenon, its conclusion constantly felt unnecessarily rushed. These characters deserved better.

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Monday

15

April 2019

0

COMMENTS

Game of Thrones Season 8 Recap: Episode 1

Written by , Posted in Blog, Game of Thrones, Pop Culture

It’s the beginning of the end! Table setting and reunions seemed to be the themes of the first episode of Game of Thrones’ eighth and final season. With only five episodes left, it made sense to take stock of where the major players found themselves heading into the final battles of the series. While the season might be shortened, six episodes still leaves a fair amount of time for things that don’t involve bloodshed and resolution.

The throwbacks to the first episode were apparent throughout the episode. The procession into Winterfell looked a lot like one that Robert made to visit Ned, and Jaime’s arrival harkened back to his first steps into the castle. It’s always fun when a show entering its final season takes everything back full circle.

The antagonistic relationship between Daenerys and Sansa makes plenty of sense for a lot of reasons, but few of them were on display in the episode itself. The Northerners have every right to be miffed at Jon for bending the knee not long after they gave him his crown, but politics contrasts with the dire nature of their situation. Questions of monarchy seem out of place in a region that’s currently being evacuated for the first time in either the books or the show. I get that the show needs additional conflict besides the Night King, but it still seems kind of weird that the Northerners are so hostile to a woman whose army is their best shot at survival.

Sansa’s scene with Tyrion was my favorite of the episode. Sansa has been underestimated by many in the show, as well as the fandom, but she’s been a survivalist all these years. As the natural choice to lead House Stark moving forward, Sansa did a great job throughout her scenes making sure that her family would remain power players even if Jon was willing to bend the knee.

The scenes with Jon and Dany also made a lot of narrative sense, as fans responded with lackluster enthusiasm to their pairing last season. Kit Harrington and Emilia Clarke don’t have a ton of natural chemistry, but it’s good to see the show try and put in the effort to make their relationship seem convincing. The CGI dragon ride was well put together and sort of made up for the lack of elephants brought to Westeros.

As much as the Cersei/Euron pairing looks born out of convenience, it’s a lot of fun to watch. Lena Headley is perhaps the best actress in the series and is always a delight to watch, even in filler scenes. Euron is similarly delectably evil, aided by a standout performance by Pilou Asbæk.

Bronn’s plotline is a total mess.  While Jerome Flynn and Lena Headley aren’t on speaking terms, which explains why they’ve never shared a scene together, it doesn’t make a ton of sense to have him carry out some farfetched revenge plot against Jaime and Tyrion that the viewers know isn’t going to go Cersei’s way. If this is all they have planned for Bronn, they should have sent him to the North with Jaime.

Arya had a few great scenes this episode, but the best was her reunions with Gendry and The Hound. Arya and Sandor have been through quite a lot since their days roaming the Riverlands, but clearly still maintain at least some degree of affection for each other. Gendry looks at home as a blacksmith, unlike his stint at a marathon sprinter beyond the Wall.

Poor Sam. It’s bad enough to have to share a scene with Ser Jorah, but the news of his family’s demise was pretty brutal. The one positive thing that came of it was that the senseless Tarly loyalty displayed to the Lannisters last season appears to have in service to this scene. At least Dickon died for Sam’s tears!

Bran is a weird dude. There’s not enough time for small talk, but plenty to sit around the Winterfell courtyard. We don’t really know how much he knows, but the show is doing a good job treading carefully with a character who can deus ex machina whenever he wants. I’m a little bummed that he didn’t get to have a chat with Jaime but I’m sure we’ll see the two of them together next week.

Who could blame Yara for wanting to go back home to her nice island that’s far away from the ice zombies? I hope Theon heading North means that he’ll die in the Battle of Winterfell. I used to think Jaime would be the first major character to go, but apparently, he’s needed for the ever-important Bronn subplot so maybe it’s time for Theon to stop beating himself up for all the bad things he’s done.

Did the Night King preserve the arms in a Tupperware container to prevent them from becoming zombified as he made his mural? Does the fact that he knew there would be people left in the deserted far North to see poor Lord Umber strung up there mean he’s omniscient? I don’t know, but that creepy scene provided much food for thought. Always fun to see Beric and Tormund, though we don’t much clarity as to how they’re still alive after the wall blew up.

Jon finally knows the truth. I liked that the reveal happened in the Crypts of Winterfell, the only logical setting. It was weird to see Sam rail on Dany before dropping the news, but it’s understandable given the whole burning of the family situation. Jon took the news better than I’d expected, but it looks like they’re setting up a power grab between Dany and him. As much sense as that makes, it seems weird for them to fight while the show is simultaneously investing in their relationship.

That’s it for this week. Very strong episode, despite the abundance of lazy eunuch jokes. Quick programming note, if my written recaps aren’t enough you can catch me right after the show on Facebook for my live recaps, or on my new podcast every Tuesday for in-depth analysis. Thank you for reading and see you next week!

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