I’ve read and heard so many of the popular complaints about Season 8 of “Game of Thrones.” Most of them are understandable. A couple I agree with. But I’m not on board with panning this six-episode final season. Even with my own reservations about it, I still loved enough to rate it a 10 out of 10.
By far and away, of course, the part of Season 8 that has people up in arms is a major story development in its final two episodes. (You almost certainly know what it is; because fans are complaining about it everywhere. I’m not sure why I am trying so hard to keep this review spoiler-free.) It was a bombshell, and it was damned saddening, and even I’ll admit that it affected my enjoyment of everything that transpired until the credits rolled for the last time.
But I made peace with it quickly. (Granted, the character who figured the most prominently here was not my favorite, so it was a little easier for me to do so.)
I think it boils down to a matter of taste — specifically what you wanted out of “Game of Thrones.” I like tragedies. I love pathos in stories, whether they’re books, movies or television shows. Stories that end badly aren’t bad stories. One of the things that excited me about “Game of Thrones” since its second season was how it so often took the traditional elements of fantasy and fairy tales and turned them on their head with a brutal, unexpected (yet reasonable) conclusion to a story arc. (I wasn’t fanatical about the show during Season 1, which overwhelmed me with exposition and plotting.)
The show has always tried to give us stories that were complex or ambiguous in terms of character, theme, setting and resolution. One of the things that I tell people who have never watched the show is this — it is almost never as simple as “the good guys vs. the bad guys.” Instead, it parallels human interaction in the real world — there are disparate groups and individuals fighting and aiding one another out of self-interest or philosophy. The character turns and story turns that we saw in the last two episodes … somewhat parallel what we’ve seen in and heard on this show before. As Ramsay Bolton said back in Season 3, “If you think this has a happy ending, you haven’t been paying attention.”
“Game of Thrones” was a Greek tragedy. This last season’s classical plot resolution was arguably perfect for the show’s sweeping fantasy epic masterpiece. The ending didn’t make me happy. But it impressed me and affected me and made me think. This was a fantasy show for adults. It was an edgier, less predictable, more provocative alternative to “The Lord of the Rings” in all of that epic’s incarnations. I far prefer the ending I saw to a pandering, cookie-cutter “happily ever after.”
And the show has indeed hinted at the outcomes we see in the final two episodes. It’s been doing so for years, not just with major events but also with obvious dialogue. I kept asking one other fan in particular, “Are you seeing what I’m seeing?” But he didn’t. Maybe a lot of fans didn’t.
If you tell me that a certain character decision was made too abruptly, with insufficient buildup, I hear you. But, in the real world, I’m inclined to think that the internal processes we witness in the penultimate episode are often completely invisible.
If I had any complaints about Season 8, they lay elsewhere. I simply cannot understand why this was six episodes instead of 10. The two major battles we see each occupy one episode. Why? Even with a longer running time for each episode, this season felt rushed and truncated. It still bothers me, even as I write this.
I had the same quibble as everyone else about the Battle of Winterfell being difficult to follow, but I’m willing to accept that this was a deliberate stylistic choice. (And although I loved both major battles this season, I think the show’s three prior major land engagements were superior. The Massacre at Hardhome, the Battle of the Bastards and the Attack on the Rose Road were all so well choreographed and scored that they were just too difficult to surpass.) I even had my own disappointments for the outcomes we see for various characters.
I consequently almost rated the eighth season a 9 out of 10, instead of a perfect 10. But I couldn’t. I loved Season 8 too much. It wasn’t perfect, but it was … still so damned riveting and enjoyable. It was still “Game of Thrones,” with all of the attention to story and detail and performances that I’d come to love. It was still the best thing on television.
[MINOR “GAME OF THRONES” SPOILERS BELOW. ]
This is what makes me worry over Arya’s fate before the show ends. I think a lot of people would think of Jon as the “lone wolf” of the family, being a putative “bastard” and being relegated to the Night’s Watch, etc. I, for one, always imagined the prognostication applied to him. (I think it was a verse Ned recited to Sansa in Season 1?) But … being marginalized, vilified or betrayed doesn’t mean Jon has been alone.
Jon’s has always had friends near him. He became a King, for god’s sake. But more than any of the other Stark children, Arya has usually walked alone. Her primary motivation is personal revenge, whereas Sansa, Jon and Bran are respectively motivated by their duties to House Stark, Westeros, and all of humanity. (I myself am slightly befuddled about Bran’s importance, including during the Battle of Winterfell. He’s … “the world’s memory?” I thought we had books and maesters for that. But whatever.)
Arya doesn’t exactly leave the Faceless Men under the best of terms. Even when she encounters Nymeria in the woods on her way back to Winterfell, her own former pet turns down her invitation to join her.
Then, even when she’s back among her siblings at Winterfell, she keeps to herself. Upon her arrival, she slips by the two guards who were supposed to escort her. When Jon asks where she is, Sansa says something to the effect of “She’s lurking around here somewhere.”
Besides … [MAJOR SPOILERS FOR SEASON 8 AFTER THE JUMP BELOW]
I’ll say it again. Sansa’s outfit on “Game of Thrones” is absolutely reminiscent of the Night King’s armor.
Is this a thematic clue?
I keep hearing from fans of the books that there was a “Night Queen” or “Lady of the Night” who figured prominently in the source material. A few people thought Catelyn Stark would become this figure following the events of the Red Wedding.
I am usually wrong about these kinds of things. Seriously, all of my predictions about what will happen on popular TV shows inevitably turn to to be false. But still.
I’ll keep this brief, because it’s unlikely by now that I can write an unbiased review of a “Game of Thrones” episode anyway. The show is so close to my heart that simply seeing the characters again for Season 8 is like being reunited with old friends. I’d rate the first episode a 10 out of 10 if only for the characters and dialogue.
And that’s mostly what we get in the premiere. If you’ve been waiting for this universe’s apocalyptic war to escalate, then you’ll be disappointed. The episode focused almost entirely character reunions, relationships and conflicts, laying out the stakes for what will be a bloody final season. Nearly all of it was great stuff. (Like a lot of viewers, I loved the closing seconds of the show.) There was only one key exchange of dialogue that didn’t play the way the writers intended — an interaction among Sam, Danerys and Jorah that was blackly and unintentionally hilarious.
I read comments from a couple of fans online who were nonplussed by the episode’s lack of action. I think we needed this character-focused groundwork to lend emotional weight to the war when it arrives at Winterfell. (I think we can assume it will fall; I can’t imagine the good guys defeating the Night King in their first major battle.)
I loved it.
My enjoyment of “The Walking Dead” has waned sufficiently to make me wonder whether I should still call myself a fan of the show; it was sometime during Season 6 when I really began watching simply to see if it would get better. With that said, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy last night’s premiere of Season 8.
I’d rate it an 8 out of 10 for its creators’ wise reliance on fan service to salvage a weary narrative. They were successful enough to make me enjoy the episode, which was quite generous with action and special effects, including the show’s state-of-the-art zombie effects.
If you squint just a little, you can still see that “The Walking Dead” is worn at the seams. This just isn’t a program that does dialogue or character development very well. Dear God, am I sick of the saccharine pep talks among Maggie, Rick and Jesus. It’s like a bowlderized menage a trois scripted by Hallmark card writers, in which everyone is masturbating one another verbally and metaphorically instead of literally. (Strangely enough, though, the show does just fine scripting and characterizing its villains. Negan and his henchman — including the traitorous Eugene — all seem to have distinct voices, are interesting to watch, and are well portrayed by their actors.)
There were plotting and logistical problems too … it seems to me that our heroes had ample opportunity to finally shoot Negan (in a story conclusion that we should have seen ages ago), yet inexplicably chose to expend countless rounds at his building’s windows.
I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy the episode, though. There was a lot of childish fun to be had with the explosions, armored vehicles, and grotesque zombies, not to mention the long overdue emotional payoff of watching Rick and company finally take the fight to Negan. If you used to love this show and want to love it again, the premiere will at least give you a little hope.