I’m just going to assume that if you didn’t want spoilers you would have avoided anything on-line that had Game of Thrones in the title or description. That’s what I’ve done, and I managed to go into the last episode of the season without knowing how it ended. Yay! Mission accomplished.
Now I’ve watched the finale on the Monday afternoon after the episode aired. Yes, it aired last night, as I’m typing this, so I didn’t wait long. And I have a few opinions about the episode to share. But, that’s going to wait a moment. This is a review of the entire season, not just the last episode.
Season 8, in many ways, was just one long final episode, wasn’t it? This series that has enthralled a good chunk of the viewing public for eight years had to end in stages. In fact, at times it felt like it was never going to end. Is that an insult? Yeah, maybe a little, but it comes from a place of love. Like many of you, I have loved this series since the first season. In fact, I loved this series before the first season.
I purchased George R.R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones from the Science Fiction Book Club, probably in early 1997. I still have that book club edition in my library, and I’ve read it at least twice during the intervening decades. Martin’s name was a familiar one because he was involved in the television series Beauty and the Beast in the late 1980s. I knew he was responsible for a lot of the worldbuilding in the Underground setting, characters such as Mouse and Winslow, more of the secondary and tertiary characters (his words, not mine). I had loved this show, at least up to the point that Linda Hamilton left, and the fantasy kingdom of the Underground resonated with me. I had never read anything else Martin had written up to that point, and I was willing to take a flier on what was being billed as the first book in A Song of Ice and Fire.
When Ned Stark’s head was lopped off, I knew I was going to read this entire saga. I purchased each of the books that followed as they were published. Not from the book club, because I got out of that as soon as the terms of membership were fulfilled. By the time the HBO series came out, I had already read the first four books in the series and had purchased A Dance with Dragons, which has remained on my shelf until I just recently started reading it. And the sixth book in the series still hasn’t been published, but I will buy that one as well.
I didn’t watch the first season of HBO’s Game of Thrones until it was released for the home market. I was certain that the television show would fail to live up to the mental images Martin had created in his novel. I was wrong. The series immediately captured my attention, and I was still surprised when Ned Stark lost his head. And I knew it was coming. Since then, I’ve been a fan of the television series as well.
Since GRRM has taken his time crafting the novels (a source of consternation for many readers), the creative team behind the HBO series eventually ran out of published material to translate for the screen. Seasons 7 and, now, 8 have been based on unpublished and new material. I’m not sure how involved Martin has been in plotting the series, because Internet sources are conflicting. What is probably a certainty is that he will not end the published saga the same way it ended on HBO. And that’s okay. They are separate creations, and they each stand alone. That’s the same thing I always say to calm myself down when a movie adaptation of a favorite book fails to meet my expectations.
Season 8 had a single mission: to end the story being told in Game of Thrones, the series. And it accomplished that.
As Season 7 ended, the Night King and his undead army had breached The Wall and was advancing towards the Seven Kingdoms. The first three episodes, of six total, are all about the upcoming battle with the Night King at Winterfell.
Our many characters converge at the Starks’ ancestral home. Jaime Lannister admits that Cersei is not sending an army to help in the battle. Brienne of Tarth is knighted by Jamie. Theon returns, wanting to fight for the Starks. Bran reveals that Jon Snow is the true heir to the throne, as his father was a Targaryen and not Ned Stark, as everyone had been led to believe. Jon feels obligated to tell Daenerys, even though he probably shouldn’t have. Bran volunteers to allow himself to be used as bait to lure the Night King to the godswood. Arya Stark uses Gendry to lose her virginity, since she might die soon. The Army of the Dead arrive and battle ensues. Many soldiers die, but Arya kills the Night King and the supernatural threat is ended.
I thought this stage of the series ending was handled very well. Some viewers complained about it being too dimly lit, but I thought it was fine. I liked the fact that Arya was the one who killed the Night King. It seemed fitting. I even liked that Theon died while protecting Bran in the godswood. His character deserved some redemption. I hated to see Ser Jorah killed off as well, but he went out fighting. I was happy that Melisandre, the Red Witch, died. Good riddance.
After the supernatural threat was eliminated, that just left Cersei Lannister down in Kings Landing, and a few other housekeeping details. Gendry was made a legitimate Baratheon and granted lordship of Storm’s End. He proposed to Arya, but she turned him down; he was just a booty call. Speaking of virginity, Brienne loses hers to Jaime Lannister, which also seemed right. The secret of Jon’s parentage is no longer such a secret after Sansa and Arya learn about it. Sansa, who distrusts Daenerys, tells Tyrion, who tells Varys.
Cersei seals her fate when she has Missandei beheaded atop the walls of King’s Landing. Euron Greyjoy’s fleet managed to kill one of Daenerys’ remaining dragons before the final dragon destroyed his fleet in repayment. Varys, armed with the knowledge of Jon’s claim to the throne, ends up betraying Daenerys and is executed for it. Daenerys loses her mind and kills most of the innocent citizens of King’s Landing with dragonfire. Cersei does finally die, with her brother Jaime at her side. Tyrion also betrayed Daenerys by releasing his brother, encouraging him to get Cersei and escape.
Daenerys doesn’t get the opportunity to execute the Imp, because she is killed by Jon Snow, who loves her but thinks she’s lost her mind. In its grief, the last surviving dragon melts the Iron Throne. I thought that somehow Jon would become king, although the Unsullied and the Dothraki seemed a huge obstacle to overcome. But, that’s not what happened.
The series, which had already had a number of big moments, continued to keep ending. The lords and ladies of the Seven Kingdoms managed to convince Grey Worm to allow them to choose a new king. Tyrion suggests Bran Stark. He becomes the new king, but his own sister Sansa chooses to keep the North as a separate kingdom, as it had been for thousands of years. Bran names Tyrion as his Hand, over Grey Worm’s objections. Jon Snow is also spared and is sentenced to return to the Wall. The Unsullied are given their own land.
Sansa is crowned Queen of the North. Arya is determined to travel west of Westeros, because no one knows what lies in that direction. Bran is King of the Six Kingdoms. And we see Jon travelling north of The Wall with the wildlings. Obla Di Obla Da . . . life goes on.
So, what about that ending? Or endings?
I’ll say this: I didn’t predict this one. I was pulling for Arya being named Queen. But, I don’t hate that she got to be the one who killed the Night King and is going on to travel the world. After he assassinated Daenerys, I can understand why Jon couldn’t be King. He didn’t want it, anyway. Tyrion couldn’t take the throne either, because he betrayed his Queen. I’m not sure that Bran was the logical choice. If we were going with a Stark, Sansa would have seemed the better candidate. However, I never liked Sansa very much anyway, and her spilling Jon’s secret caused unnecessary bloodshed. In fact, Daenerys may not have lost her mind if she hadn’t learned about Jon’s legitimate claim to the throne.
Ideally, I would have rather Daenerys and Jon somehow shared power, if she could have been a little less murderous. She had seemed much more even-handed before she travelled across the sea. She could have been Queen and he could have been her Prince Consort, or whatever it is that Elizabeth’s husband Philip is called.
The powers behind the series had a different plan. And that’s okay. It’s over.
I don’t think the books will end the same way. Of course, no one will probably like how Martin ends the series either.
Taken as a whole, this was my least favorite season of Game of Thrones. It had moments that were as good as anything that came before, but much of it was plodding and, at times, not very interesting. The finale episode seemed much longer than its actual running time. I didn’t think it would ever end.
Firewater’s Final Season Report Card: B+