Written by David Benioff & D. B. Weiss
Spoilers ahead... but you've already seen it anyway so who cares?
DUUUUUUUUUUHHHHHH, dUUUUUUUUUUhhhhhh, duuuuuuuuuuhhhhhh, duuuuuuuuuuHHHHHH, duuuuuuuuuuhhhhhh, DUUUUUhhh-duuuuuhhh Duh Duh, Duhduh-duh Duh, Duhduh-duh Duh, DUHDUH-DUH DUH, Duhduh- twinky-twinkle, twinky-twinkle, twinky-twinkle...
You know those TV specials or TV films that come out a decade or so after the original series (or film) had first aired? You know the ones: they’ll have almost all the original cast and it’ll be an anniversary reunion or a comic relief thingy or something like that. Love Actually did one, Heroes, Firefly; half of the American sitcoms from the mid-century have a reunion of sorts some time down the line. Yeah, you know the ones. They never quite feel the same as the original, do they? Even if all the old writers and directors are back, their hearts will be in different places, they’ll have moved on, they won’t be able to bring back the feel that drew everybody to the show in the first place. Watching the finale of Game of Thrones was like watching one of those shows, and it is all the worse for it.
The characters have become odd caricatures of themselves, whittled down to half-remembered archetypal tropes. Daenerys is ruthless and proud, Arya is a super-human assassin, Varys is scheming, Bronn likes whores and money, but everything else the show built them up to be had been left behind. Plot arcs have been bent and broken to fit the limited screen-time as if they were luggage being forced into the boot of a car.
Actions in previous seasons have occurred organically, as direct consequence to all the actions before it. It was moment to moment storytelling akin to a game of chess that brought with it a wonderful sense of tension and momentum. Unfortunately, with Martin’s direction gone, Benioff and Weiss either don’t know how to play chess or are too bored to give it their proper attention. They know snakes-and-ladders however… Everyone likes snakes-and-ladders! It’s a game about going straight to the end, it’s not particularly complicated and its full of easy shortcuts.
Now I’m all for creatives to spend their energy however they want to. If George R. R. Martin didn’t want to write another Ice and Fire book, I’d be saddened, but in the end, it would be his decision. The showrunners turned down the option to make more seasons of Game of Thrones which is fair enough, but it does mean the ending feels unmotivated and unsatisfying. The ideal solution for me would have been to pass the torch to those more enthusiastic rather than rush it and have it over with.
As far as the main beats go, I quite like where the show went, and I think it follows closely what Martin may have had in mind. I think it was always going to be the case that Daenerys torched King’s Landing, that she would return to the capital and bring the same horror that first forced her to leave; it was always the case that Bran would be king, that the lowliest character who didn’t even have bodily autonomy would grow into the most powerful; and it was always the case that the wheel would be broken, and democracy would be formed amongst the lords of Westeros in the wake of the war. I can see the themes of the story leading in that direction; it’s the way they led us there that left a hollow feeling.
In another version of the story Deanery’s wreaking dragonfire on the people of King’s Landing would have been horrific yet feel completely narratively (if not morally) justified. Imagine if they had postponed Rhaegal’s death for this climactic battle, that shortly after the bells had rang and the people surrendered Dany would see her child fall to a bolt fired from the centre of the city by Euron or another soldier who did not want to stop. The rage stirred by that one act could have been the action that pushed her over the edge and thus enact her retribution on the city. Or, maybe there were no bells or surrender at all, and Dany kept up the assault because the soldiers would rather die than bow to her. Maybe her people, wounded and weary were losing dreadfully, and Dany needed to step in so that the battle could be ended as swiftly as possible. Either way, the biggest sin in this action in the show was that she didn’t feel remorse.
Throughout the series she has sworn not to go the same way as her father, that she was going to be just and loved. Although she has never been fond of compromise, (she disliked the agreements she made with the Meereenese, and that arc ended with her throwing compromise to the wind) she was always sympathetic to the small people. If she had shown slight regret or doubt, even if she had decided herself to be in the right at the end, it would have maybe felt just a little more right.
It’s a shame, in every aspect aside from story the last two episodes were excellent. The cinematography was as good as any feature film (something that five or six years ago would have been unheard of), the effects, costumes and score were all great, the ending shots were fun. The only bit that seemed cinematically over the top was the much-awaited fan-pleasing ‘Clegane-Bowl’ which is something I already thought was a bit too much even in concept. The Hound’s arc should have ended with him leaving it all behind and retiring, as he did halfway through. If he must fight his brother, he could have at least used fire as a weapon showing some sort of poetic retribution as well as growth in character. Episode five, with the edition of another season before it, could be completely unchanged and at the same time far better. The characters were simply not at the right stage in their development for this episode to work.
But I know what you’re thinking: Benioff and Weiss are writing veterans with almost thirty years of screenplay writing experience between them, whereas you are an untrained amateur who has written a meagre handful of short stories over the past half year and no formal training. You have in no way near the level of experience that they have when it comes to closing up a narrative, let alone one as large and sprawling as Game of Thrones, a story so immense that has been in production since before you could even put a full sentence to paper. Tell us how you would do it better. Well, I’m glad you asked.
First off, Arya and Bran need to use their powers in some way, else there would be no narrative reason for them to gain them. After Daenerys destroys Kings Landing, Arya, adding one last name to her list, not for revenge but for the good of the people, will take the visage of either Grey Worm, or Missandei and attempt to assassinate the new Queen. Jon will hear of this attempt, and, unable to talk her out of it, beat her to the punch, in much the same way as in the show, stabbing Dany in the ash covered ruins before the Iron Throne. I mean, Arya riding upon an ashen white horse by Dany’s making is very much setting her up to be an embodiment of death, at least that’s what I thought it was.
Then, Bran’s powers should come into use during the Battle of the Long Night against the Night King by either warging into the undead Viserion, the nearby wights or, by locking the Night King into an abstract battle of the minds bouncing back and forth through their history while a crippled and dying Theon (Yes, Theon) crawls up behind and finishes him with the dragonglass dagger.
Going back to the Wall to help the Wildlings should have been Jon’s suggestion, as should have democracy (with some inspiration for it from Tyrion). They respect his wishes as he is technically the rightful King (a fact that for some reason isn’t that important to the last season’s plot beyond creating friction between Dany and Jon. It was the biggest twist reveal of the entire show, the lie of Jon’s parentage is built into the very core of the whole story, why didn’t it come to anything!?) and Dany’s followers are satisfied so long as he doesn’t return south.
Also, Bronn isn’t on the council. Bran's council were all there because they were recognisable, not because they made any sense to be there. And I do like him but Bronn really should have stayed in the castle he was given several seasons ago. He didn’t need to be brought back. Neither did Gendry, or Sandor... Whatever, I’m done now. Point is, there were multiple threads and set-ups that never led to anything significant while other ones were focused upon that shouldn’t have been. Indeed, no single unanswered question was acknowledged in the final season except ‘How does it end?’
Overall, I’m not as hurt as a lot of other people seem to be. I know the books will be different, and unlike most people on the internet I don’t believe George R. R. Martin will die within the hour of anyone mentioning him. He’ll finish Winds of Winter at the least, and if not, there’s enough material and demand that someone else would likely take the reigns and finish it as Christopher Tolkien did. A more satisfying end will come, in time. This version of it is over, that is all. And all things considered, they did a pretty good job of bringing one of the most sprawling and complicated book series to the TV. It’s a great achievement, a landmark in the cinematic art of storytelling, and it wouldn’t have happened without Benioff and Weiss. If their efficient storytelling that made it possible to bring to television in the first place, but when all needed to come to a close, it was also the show's downfall.
I give these episodes a 3/7 for being a disappointing end to a great televisual achievement, but the series as a whole gets a big’ol 6/7
Written by David Benioff & D. B. Weiss
Some spoilers ahead, but not all of them (Meaning I tried to make this spoiler-free but gave up half way through).
'DUUUUUHHHHH, duhhhhh, duhduh-DUUUUUHHHHH, duhhhhh, duhduh-duh duh, duhduh-duh duh, duhduh-duh duh...'
The first move made in the Battle of Winterfell was to send the Dothraki horselords ahead to meet the legion of the dead face to face. Led by Ser Jorah Mormont, their swords set ablaze by the red priestess; they charge forwards into the darkness. As they gallop towards their futile yet heroic demise they shriek and holler with the thrill of the fight, as is the Dothraki way, loyal to their Khaleesi to the very end. From the viewpoint of the battlements, our heroes watch with fear and unreadiness as the sea of lights that signify the Dothraki hoard slowly flicker out of existence like a dimming fireplace, wonderfully conveying both the power of the opposing forces and the fragility of their situation. The lives of all men rest in their hands now, it will not be long before their lights too are snubbed out by the winds of winter. It’s a beautiful scene…
…but it’s so incredibly dumb.
Why did you send your cavalry to meet them head on like that Daenerys!? They could’ve worn down the flanks or patrolled behind a barricade, picking off any wights that broke through. I know their relevance to the plot has since passed but they could have still been useful in the battle. I half expected you to start sending each military unit one after another like lemmings. ‘Well, that’s the last of the Night’s Watch dead. You’re up next Theon.’ And I’m no military tactician, but I have played a few tower defence games in my time, so I’m a little bit baffled as to why you put your only barricade behind the infantry!? Surely it would have been better in-front of them so they wouldn’t be so easily overwhelmed. Indeed, by putting it behind them, all you achieved was to hinder the retreat, causing far more deaths in the process. And don’t get me started about putting the trebuchets on the front-line.
That being said, tactical farts aside, I did quite enjoy this battle. It was very pretty, or at least I imagine it was (it was very dark), and it sounded pretty too. There was very little dialogue, especially so for a TV show like Game of Thrones, so the soundscape was mostly a chaotic percussion of grunts, growling and gutsy splooshes with a nice melancholic instrumental section creeping in for the climax. With the gap in the curtain positioned so perfectly that there was an ugly square of glare right down the centre of my Mum’s TV, I had to use these sounds to figure out who I was watching. ‘That sounds like Tormund to me. Doesn’t sound like he’s in agony though, so he’s not dead yet.’ I’m not blaming the show-makers for this of course. They had a lot of considerations to occupy their creative decisions already, so I can understand why the position of the sun relative to my Mum’s window was low on their list of priorities.
There were a few deaths of course, and though I wasn’t too saddened by them, they felt fitting. Each of the named characters that fell carried with them an impact which brought their arc (if they had one) to a satisfactory end. This neatness, however, is quite divergent from how death has been treated in previous seasons. Mostly, each named character death has been sudden and disruptive, a consequence of some person’s action or inaction that brings with it a whole new set of counter-consequences. Even Joffrey’s death wasn’t completely satisfying; though it was good to see an inarguably immoral character get his arguably just rewards, it did put characters like Sansa and Tyrion in a tricky position. The character deaths in this episode though fitting, are also very tidy, and bring no complications to the continuing plot. But then again, these arcs and plot threads need to come to an end at some point; if everything had a consequence the show would not end.
However, this is not to say there are no complications whatsoever. The next episode thankfully brought the politics back, and also the consequential deaths. I was very glad to see characters like Tyrion, Varys and Sansa weighing up the different angles of approach, with treachery coming up as potentially the most noble action. These debates and conflicts within the dialogue have intrigued me towards the events of the episodes to come, which I’m now very much looking forward to.
This fourth episode also unfortunately brings its own awful tactics again. Dragons are the best sorts of scouts one can hope for, they can scan the field ahead from high above, far beyond the range of any arrow or ballista and know the lay of the land hours ahead of the rest of an army. Yet they fail to spot an ambush of an entire fleet of ships hiding behind a cliff!? It’s easily the most unintentionally laughable decisions of the series so far. Characters have made bad decisions before but this one was made with no reason behind it. That’s not to say an ambush couldn’t have been sprung well and effectively within the context of the story. The dragons could have been closing in on a small group of what they perceive to be Greyjoy supply ships moored on the beach (as per the plan decided upon earlier in the episode), only for the Greyjoy crew to then reveal the ballistae hidden amongst the sand. They could then rein fire upon the dragons, when they’re already very close, and more believably bring them down when the rest of the Northern ships are too far away to help. It would be an attack sprung in direct consequence of the dragon’s/Daenerys’s actions rather than some random pot-shot that should’ve been seen a mile off.
The state of mind Daenerys has been put in from this however sets the final two episodes to be a rollercoaster. And, aside from ‘bittersweet’ I have no idea how it all should end. I’m pretty sure that Daenerys is going to go a bit murdery like every other one of her ancestors and I’m pretty sure the climax of the story will be of her demise; but what should become of the throne or Westeros as a whole, I can’t say.
What did surprise me is that the Others will play no part in it. My money was on this story to end with them, considering they were the first things to be introduced in the very first scene/chapter of the series. But the entire Winter is Coming thread came to an end in episode 3 with the entire Army of the Dead getting ‘Phantom-Menaced’ by Arya. I will say, I did quite enjoy this climax to the battle at first; but that was before I remembered the existence rest of the series. A thread since the start of the books and show has been the prophecy of Azor Ahai, The Prince that was Promised, the concept of a legendary figure common all across Westeros and Essos (Especially among the Red Priests) who will wield a red sword named Lightbringer and hold back the darkness. Many characters have been believed to be Azor Ahai throughout the story, Daenerys, Jon, Stannis, but the show seems to indicate it was Arya all along. The only foreshadowing for this whatsoever happened earlier in this very episode. Prophesies have been misread countless times before in the world of Game of Thrones but they’ve always fitted. There are numerous prophecies regarding Azor Ahai which could be interpreted in just as many different ways, but Arya simply doesn’t fit them at all. I get the feeling they chose to do what they felt would be better for the moment than better for the story as a whole.
The same goes for Bran and the Three-Eyed-Raven. I mean, what exactly was the point of his journey in the end? Yes, he saw the truth of Jon’s parentage, but Samwell found the exact same information in Oldtown. He was set up to be so important to the ‘higher’ conflict of mankind and the White Walkers but he ended up being used as nothing more than bait. I get the feeling they’re done with the magical otherworldly side of this universe and that we’re not going to get any more world building or questions answered regarding the Children of the Forest, the Others (White Walkers) or the Three-Eyed-Raven. I’m willing to be wrong, and it’s a shame that we won’t get to learn more, but it looks to me that magic has been taken out of the picture.
Maybe Bran still has a part to play, maybe the real darkness is Daenerys, and Jon Snow is still Azor Ahai. Will the following two episodes be able to answer all the biggest questions posed by the two prior? I hope so.
The writers have an ending to reach that has been set in stone (or at least, fairly dry clay) since the conception of the series and they have limited episodes to reach it. They’re making a b-line to the end out of necessity; the contracts of the major actors are almost up. But unfortunately for us the direct path is full of road bumps and plot holes which the writers are having to make leaps of logic to over-come. I am far too proud of that last line for my own good, I need to be stopped. Will they be able to tie up the loose ends together into something whole and satisfying, or, will they concoct something messy and unearned leaving us all with an empty pit in our stomachs? At this rate, the answer is yes.
I give these episodes a 5/7 for being being fairly good in their own right, but falling short in some tactical decisions on both the parts of the characters and the show-runners
Edit: I have a new theory that the third head of the dragon, the Prince that was Promised and the true heir to the throne will be revealed to be Hot-Pie. My reasoning? 'He shall be born amongst smoke and salt' - sounds like a kitchen to me, and Lightbringer could be the pair of tongues he used to take the pies out of the oven. Also, Gendry and Arya were both lordlings in hiding with secret identities so it makes sense that Hot-Pie was as well. He's Rhaegar and Elia Martell's son, the real Aegon Targaryen. The timeline adds up. I've figured it out. He's also the Night King because why not