Jokerside’s occasional review sets can’t resist a game, not least the end of the Game of Thrones. The genre TV phenomenon of the 21st century set itself a steep challenge for its eighth season. Long removed from its ongoing prose source, was there any chance it could end the Game in a way that lived up to its previous highs?
We were there every week with a full review of each episode – here’s our summary of its final year.
Jump to the collected, complete reviews. *The full reviews and below summaries are riddled with spoilers, so best consult a Maester if you’re worried.*
IF THERE IS TRUTH IN ANYTHING IN WESTEROS, IT’S THAT GAME OF THRONES NEVER HAD A DRAGON IN THE NORTH’S CHANCE OF BRINGING ITS EXPANSIVE SAGA TO A CLOSE IN A WAY THAT SATISFIED EVERYONE. It’s delayed arrival, shortened episode count and boosted set of near-feature length closing chapters didn’t help in the prolonged run-up. For all the regular shocks, which lasted as the sex and violence waxed and waned, the show’s previous seven years had taken their time reaching an end game.
With that end in sight and two wars on the boil, characters with targets on their back were increasingly hard to find. Morbid as it is, abrupt deaths and the peeling of characters from the plot were integral to the show, and Thrones had carefully constructed a reputation for surprise and shock. After this season opened with two exquisite hours of build-up to man’s great battle (The alive versus the dead), the deaths that came were naturally more predictable, less heart-wrenching, and more plot-grinding. The build-up to Winterfell’s finest hour, stretching back far longer than those two opening episodes of preparation, chat and reminiscence, put it on a high pedestal. But the epic battle that took over a month to film exceeded expectations, matching surprise with survival horror and proving one of Thrones‘ true successes: introducing elements of horror and fantasy to audiences who’d normally steer clear.
Funnily enough, the expected anticlimax was derailed. Logic dictated that the Army of the Dead would be halted in their tracks in the North, but the fine-tuned, distilled battle of the Queens in the south didn’t quite engage with the expected focus.
Winter of Discontent
In the end, Game of Thrones pulled off something rather spectacular. The criticism of the lighting during Episode 3‘s Last Great Battle of Winterfell (we hope) was batted away by the cinematographer but proved to be a warning shot. In between the errant coffee cups and plastic water bottles that made their way onto the screen, the character arc for the Khaleesi of the people Daenerys Targaryen was the focus for mounting ire.
Thrones’ pre-eminent position meant there were a lot of smiths sticking their irons in the fire and unusually, a large number who followed the books and more who don’t. The harshest critics were in the minority, but they roared like a Lannister and cast a light on the extraordinary state of new fandom, where a bitter taste of entitlement drowning out reasoned responses. It’s hardly restricted to fandom, but it’s particular galling to us becuase the presumption that stories must comply with an individual or group expectation and can be remade to do so doesn’t fuel creativity. Quite the opposite.
Thrones‘ high-profile meant external reaction had to filter into our reviews to evaluate the show as a story and a phenomenon. Books and spin-off media aside, Thrones is far more than a television show.
Dream of spring
Come the finale, any hope that fans all across the realms of man could be united had been dashed. But showrunners David Benioff & D. B. Weiss were surely steeled for the impossible job of ending the Game. They delivered a finale of extreme ambiguity that’s evoked extreme reactions and will endure decades of analysis. Hopefully, the final two books of the saga will have arrived by then.
In our review of the fourth episode, inspired by Thrones‘ legendary title sequence, we semi-joked that the saga could end with hands moving chess pieces in and out of place. It’s more than implied by the changing armillary that opens each show; the positioning of pieces has often been blatant throughout the seasons and was particularly evident in the shortened, quickened final run. Those hands never appeared, but the common prediction that the in-universe record of events A Song of Fire and Ice would appear in the arms of Samwell Tarley came true. It was far slimmer than the books series of course, but that’s probably down to excising Tyrion Lannister from the story. That’s the last great joke of the show, along with his final line, both at the cost of the show’s most important character – and thanks to Peter Dinklage’s performance, a huge part of the show’s success.
To summarise why, here’s out story by story rating and summary – see the end for our overall season score.
Episode 8.1: Winterfell
“What is dead may never die… But kill the bastards anyway”.
A saying often heard from followers of the Drowned God, true. But it also sums up the steep challenge facing this season of Game of Thrones. The small screen phenomenon may be immortal, but it still has to end. When Varys points out that “nothing lasts”, it’s like the show’s easing us into the inevitable. It’s gentle of course, we don’t want horses ruined for us.
So, we can excuse them a bit more of a build-up. For all that hanging sense of an ending, this is a quietly sublime opening that cranks down rather than cranks up. Its brilliance is in the simplest touch or look. The past catching up with “old friend” Ser Jaime when he sees Bran Stark; Cersei’s game-playing reaction to Euron’s gauche promise of a prince; the brief wallop and make-up of the Greyjoy reunion; Samwell’s distracted lack of small talk. Compact and minimal, the opener relies on the immense goodwill that the audience has invested in these characters as it serves up reunion after reunion, but can’t feel like anything greater than a damn fine prologue.
The real dragonglass isn’t in the foreword, but the punchline. When Jamie meets the daughter of the king he slew; When Cersei commands the Golden Company; When Theon finds final redemption at Winterfell; When Jon next sees Daenerys. Only GoT can afford a prologue like this and imbue it with such craft. Inevitably, sign me up. Continue reading “Game of Thrones Season 8: Our verdict on the final season”