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Game of Thrones Season 8: Our verdict on the final season

Game of Thrones Tyrion

Game of Thrones Season 8 Finale Reviews

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.

Autumn Years

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

Rating: B

“What is dead may never die… But kill the bastards anyway”.

Game of Thrones Jon SnowA 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”

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Game of Thrones: The Dog and the Wolf – A Clash of Comfort

Dog and Wolf Game of Thrones Jokertoon

GoT

Unlike the famous Iron Throne itself, Game of Thrones has consolidated its position as pure comfort storytelling, as the first episode of Season Four showed.  *Only televisual story spoilers here up to 4.1, but by the dragon load. 

THE MUCH ANTICIPATED FOURTH SERIES OF GAME OF THRONES KICKED OFF LAST WEEK, ITS ARRIVAL SLOWER THAN DANERYS TARGARYEN’S CONSCRIPTION RATE. The series premiere was a typical opener; reintroducing characters in its own time and effortlessly refreshing and advancing the plot in a methodical but luxurious way.  The random, yet appropriate appearance of Janos Slynt half way through showed how important that approach is. While in many other show’s in any other show, his protestations as former Commander of the King’s Landing City Watch may look forced,  in Game of Thrones’ measured structure it works in the midst of Jon Snow’s great Black Watch dissolution and crucially, Aemon Targaryen’s withering parting shot.

Underlying Script

It’s easy to think that little happens…

On the small screen, Game of Thrones has always used its weaknesses as a great strength. It’s easy to look on any one season and think that little happens– see particularly Season Two, when very little happens.  Westeros way, plot points that may sustain other series or provide season climaxes are often brushed over. A great example is Ned Stark’s reveal of Robert Baratheon’s bastard son in the first season.  It’s a major catalyst for the oncoming war but given little space in the episode and little prominence in the episode’s ‘acts’, especially in comparison to the later Lannister-Stark stand-off. Instead, amid the battles and more usually the hanging suspense of battle and receipt of field reports, Game of Thrones sinks back to the characters and their scripting.  A stinging barb or one line reference is often far more powerful within the storyline than any action the audience sees.

Sketches

A streamlined conflama that constantly pleases the majority

Of course, that’s also a rather good get out, especially in a densely populated story where the high body count can’t quite compete with constant new arrivals.  Any time there may be some trouble in the structure, pace or plot development Thrones falls back on its sketch-based set-up, nipping between geographies and respective characters. And who better in the opening episode to wield the directing rapier so skilfully than the core writing team themselves?

The show’s helped by its novel root of course – as well as coming a good few volumes in.  That source material is being used well and it needs to be. The necessity to refresh and build is as evident as the disconcerting failure of a recasting like Daario Naharis’ in Season Four.  But far from little happening, the sketch structure gives the show an underlying level of satisfaction; reassuring in spite of the bloodshed and trauma and also leaving a rather pleasing amount to the imagination.  This isn’t the reaching cluster of mystery seen in the show’s most famous forerunners, The X-Files, Lost or Heroes but a rather streamlined conflama that constantly pleases the majority.

The final section of Season Four’s premiere illustrated that almost perfectly.

The Final Hunt

The young wolf adds to her kills…

WOLFAlthough the season kicked off with the symbolic (or better put, vengeful and snide) melting of the House’s great sword Ice, there was little Stark to be found in the opener. That sword made a weapon for Jaime Lannister and an as yet unknown, reminding of the hidden dysfunction of the Lannister family nicely.  Later, Sansa Stark’s grief was far more important for Tyrion’s character development than her family travails.

It took the switch to the Riverlands in the final section to add anything to the series’ original House.  A combination of choice dialogue, suspense, contrivance and a peak of rewarding violence showed Thrones at its best.  And all involving two of the story’s so far undernourished but pivotal characters.

Some light banter about horses between Sandor Clegane and Arya Stark refreshed the characters’ motives and story.  Nominally this is money and vengeance – the intention of both to rid one of the other – but as always in Thrones those motivations can be dispensed with immediately.

The chance encounter at the end should also be quickly dismissed.  Such things add a little too much balance compared to the many historic struggles that Thrones apes, but this is all about the impact on character.  Each of the major players can be boiled down to facets of their sigil. And here the wolf was in the ascendance.

First came a mildy laboured and distasteful build-up of tension – though one that encapsulated the state of the land during Joffrey’s reign.  And then, after the niggling, downing and an incredible misreading by the King’s men, an obligatory fight.  While the Dog Clegane was unusually incompetent, the young wolf added to her kills.

Arya’s slaying was shot in a woozy, seedy style, relishing the sound and horrible control – reflecting her satisfaction in such a complete act of revenge.  There’s no doubt who or what she’s becoming.  And sure enough, the final scene with the familiar score rising about it showed that she’d earned the horse so neatly referenced at the beginning.  Also that Stark and Clegane had become that little more similar.  An unlikely duo, an uneasy alliance, but a relationship reset and remoulded yet again with few words.

It’s immensely satisfying watching that kind of development done well: atavistic, minimally verbal and thematically complete.  Thrones never leaves you in any doubt that you are watching the placement of rungs on a ladder just as much as movement of chess pieces on a board.

The inevitable clash of the Cleganes…DOG

Clegane is perhaps, language aside, one of the more Gormenghast characters in the story, and an unknown quantity outside similar walls.  But
the closing scene sets up his story as much as Arya’s.  As the familiar score rose behind, as the young Stark had earned her new steed, the fires of the Riverland set the inevitable clash of the Cleganes as the Dog wandered into the territory of his brother The Mountain (recast… For the third time).  As family, or lack of it, becomes more important to Clegane so Arya’s maturity is fuelled by blood.  These two will soon be inseparable.  By the end, the Dog had become that little more wolf and the wolf so much more dog.  But with the Riverland alight, in a masterless land, what is a Dog but a Wolf?

Now, time to press play on the Purple wedding…

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