(Spoilers Included – Fair Warning!)
So having had a few days to digest what has happened with Game of Thrones and its conclusion, I was left with contemplating why it was I was feeling so dissatisfied with the outcome of it all. I haven’t signed any petitions for the re-filming and re-writing of the entire season, but there are parts of me that think that this would be more satisfying than how it was left.
So why exactly was Season 8 of GOT so damn disappointing and I think I have a few answers. Doing an exercise like this somewhat feels like looking upon the mess that Star Wars has become. There are just so many things that you can bring forward, that by definition identifying a few will always leave out many, many more. But still, some thoughts on the topic would be worthy of a debate anyway.
First and foremost I think the treatment of the two principal characters (well at least since Seasons 4 or 5, being Jon Snow and Daenerys Targaryen or “Danny”) is most disturbing and disappointing. I preface this discussion with the fact that my disappointment has nothing to do with me losing a bet after episode 3 of this season on whether Jon would be doing what he did at the conclusion of episode 8. Not at all! But I digress. Danny was a reason to watch this show and Emilia Clarke played her so well, from this mild and meek young woman, being sold off to a savage (Dothraki leader) to appease her sniveling and annoying brother’s desire to take back the throne of his father who was assassinated by the Kingslayer and being given to Robert Baratheon, with Cersei Lannister as his wife to then becoming a powerful leader with the greatest army ever seen (followed by those of many persuasions who believed in her and her vision for the world). Danny from early on became a woman of greater and greater power by being firm but fair. She eliminated the bad people (like slave owners) and sided with the layperson. The poor and the average who didn’t have a voice. She hated injustice and was quick to punish the privileged. She readily acknowledged that her Mad King father was a bad person and did wicked things. She was going to end that circle of destruction. Danny also made allies and forged alliances with promises that she kept and vows that she made. She was able to deliver. She was to be feared as the Mother of Dragons, but also her ability to vanquish her enemies, like the Dothraki leaders who wanted to marginalize her and keep their brutish and male-dominated ways. That is background. Then this season comes along and there are cracks starting to form. Those close to Jon see Danny as a threat. Sam has a moment of surprise when he hears from Danny directly that his father and brother were executed by Drogon on the battle field. He shockingly is all upset about this for a father who disowned him, and threatened to kill him in a “hunting accident” if he didn’t take the Black and leave forever (never to marry, never to have offspring, and forever he at the Wall). Nice life. He also later disowned Sam once again for bringing a wildling (Gilly) into his home. I would think Sam would thank Danny for killing the prick. Instead he got all emotional and spoke harshly about Danny. What?! Danny loses her closest advisors, and those that love her, and starts feeling “all alone” in Westeros – even forgetting her Starbucks cup of the table at the party in celebration of defeating the White Walkers and the Night King. She is feeling more and more alone. But all of this doesn’t add up to the genocide that she instigates in King’s Landing.
Let’s unpack the attack in a little bit more detail. Danny has her forces ready to invade and attack King’s Landing by force. She has decimated the fleet in the nearby sea, and further wiped out quickly the large crossbows meant to take down her dragon (and have effectively killed her other dragon). So she has air superiority and her forces have used her dragon attack to gain access inside the castle walls. Tyrion meanwhile has been trying to work a peace, and have the bells ring when Kings Landing and her troops will surrender to Danny. The bells start to ring and King’s Landing forces lay down their arms. Danny then loses her shit and decides on a scorched earth policy. But her beef really is with Cersei moreso than the people of Kings Landing. Cersei may be using her subjects as human shields, since after all she hates them, and they hate her, but the distance to travel to the main castle (the Red Keep) isn’t far at all for a dragon. And what about this wanton destruction of this city? Didn’t Cersei herself wipe out thousands and a good chunk of her city when she eliminated the Sparrows and leadership with the green matter? Surely the people of King’s Landing remember this, as well as I am sure haven’t repaired the massive damage that was sustained. So why doesn’t Danny focus her rage on Cersei? Ride her dragon to the Red Keep and attack Cersei head on? Why all this collateral damage which does nothing for her except give her more to repair in her own future home as New Queen? She kills and destroys the innocents that have always been her focus to win the hearts and minds. She ignores the advice of Tyrion to not lay waste to the city she wants to rule. It is all so out of character that we have no frame of reference for it. She was the hero. She was the one you cheer for. And then this character lineage argument comes around that lazily argues that you must follow in the path of your father (family name). Why must Danny become a Mad Queen and tyrant? Unhinged and incapable of reason. Why does she make her plea and victory speech before the remaining Unsullied and Dothraki that their wars and battles have just begun??! Wasn’t this the end game? Why is it all so reminiscent of the Nazi speeches in WWII and the First Order Speech in Force Awakens. We are left with a result that puzzles and is frustrating. It is lazy writing in my mind, and a conclusion without a proper build up.
So what of the other hero in all of this, Jon Snow? The bastard child of Ned Stark initially, who turns out to be much more. He was Head of the Black, even killed by them and brought back to life. He was King of the North and brought back Winterfell to its rightful family owners from the hateful Ramsey Bolton (truly one of the best bad guys ever written for a series). He is a rightful heir to the throne and offered a possibility to the share in the leadership by Danny herself. He has been loyal and a true friend, one who keeps his word, telling the truth even when it causes him trouble throughout the series. He is loving and protective of those he cares about. He is the hero that again viewers followed and cheered as he made his way through all the trials and challenges that he faced. Jon makes up his own mind and does things that he feels are right, and will take them on himself (like volunteering for the lame mission to gather up a single White Walker to prove to Cersei that there really is a threat from the North). But what happens to this brave warrior? After seeing all the senseless destruction as outlined above, he is convinced by Tyrion in a jail cell that he must do what must be done. He must protect his sisters from Danny, for when in future they likely show they have no interest in bending the knee to the New Queen. Query whether Danny would ignore what she acknowledged was a great heroic feat made by Arya in the Battle with the Night King, whether she would have any harsh intentions to the saviour of the known world? I doubt it, especially if Arya takes on her next set of missions as she sees them from the ending here. If I were Danny, I would give her all boats and men and provisions that she would ever want. So really it would be saving Sansa, and quite frankly she would get whatever she deserved as an ungrateful and privileged wanna-be Queen. Any person who would pine over Joffrey Lannister isn’t worthy of praise nor protection. But I disgress. So Jon does what he does and is banished, yet again, to the Black!! WHAT?! But with the Wall destroyed and open for all to pass, and the Wildlings as friends, there is nothing to do there. He abandons his post, again something he wouldn’t do, and heads north, where there is literally nothing. So Jon kills those he loves, he is disloyal and doesn’t follow through on promises which he made throughout the series. Some may argue he is keeping a promise to protect the realm generally from an unhinged tyrant, but that presupposes that he couldn’t have impact upon her. She even offers to rule together. So another unsatisfying aspect of the ending, that was hastily put together without the proper build up, and not enough time for the viewer to catch up.
The ending of Cersei Lannister and her reign has to be one of those most disappointing in recent memory. In a series where especially wicked and dastardly people meet fitting ends (think Ramsey Bolton or Joffrey or Lord Varys – scheming and plotting to the very end) this ending is especially unsatisfying. Cersei had ordered the death of her own brothers, including her lover and father of her children. She had blown up thousands. She will, in short, do anything and kill anyone to keep her position. She is the focal point of the hatred with Danny, and she has backed out on her word countless times, including failing to send troops to fight the White Walkers in the North. Wouldn’t it have been better served to have Danny fly in on Drogon to the top of the Red Keep and blow fire and cause destruction there. Hell, even Arya and The Hound could be there to attack and finish off The Mountain, before reaching and addressing Cersei. Perhaps the Hound can kill The Mountain while he is threatening Arya, to protect her and sacrifice himself to be more human and more like the father-figure that Arya had lost to the executioner’s sword as ordered by Joffrey. A beaten and bested Cersei could then be brought before her own people to be tried for genocide herself and the betrayal of the New Queen. Cersei is defeated and shamed and left to live her life out in pain and obscurity. The New Queen might use her to set an example of others and strip her of her name and titles. Cersei may choose to take her own life, but it would be in misery and alone. Defeat at being remembered as a villain and ultimately forgotten by the people. Instead, she is re-joined by her brother Jamie, who seems to forgive that he has been ordered killed by her. He accepts that he is wicked, and deserving to die (or at least accept banishment) and goes to her side. Ultimately the walls literally come crumbling down and the Keep becomes a tomb, but even one where in episode 5, I am not altogether certain that she is even dead. It takes until Episode 6, where miraculously and incredibly she and Jamie are found in the rubble by Tyrion that she is confirmed dead. There is no head on a spike, or parading her around for all to see. It is anti-climactic. All the force and emotion of finally defeating a strong and difficult opponent is lost. Even think to Arya killing House Frey en masse and you get a sense of how powerful a fitting ending can be, in retribution for The Red Wedding (one of the most shocking and remarkable sequences in recent series history) and you know this series knows how to do this right. Instead for the most important defeat, the repayment of the execution of Ned Stark, they fumble the ball.
I could go on and talk about the ultimate head-scratching resolution for the new ruler of Westeros, and the choice of Hand. I could question how the Dothraki could ever accept such a choice. Or wonder about a people like the Unsullied who are incapable, by definition, of replenishing their troops and how they can ever be satisfied about finding a track of land to settle in. Or speak to strange new parties showing up in the final meeting as presumably leaders of Westeros. Or how they present a book called A Song of Ice and Fire which mirrors the name of the actual books that George R.R. Martin wrote for this story. All of it was cheesey and a bit ridiculous. There was so much right about GOT in getting to Season 8, that the resolution feels hollow and not worthy of the episodes and road travelled to get here. What was really a character based drama of intrigue and betrayal became in the end action sequences that left the characters behind. Weak storylines like the Brann story as cripple who can become the three-eyed raven (yea, okay…but so what?) become a greater focus while more developed and emotionally satisfying lines were moved to the sidelines. Other storylines that were so important, like Arya and her ability to be No One and take on any face, is sidelined in moments (like the killing of Cersei) when it could have been very effective. No one really got to see the powers that she had mastered, and how those could be used. The whole Lord of Light story and the followers of that entity are ignored. Melisandre was not the only one. How does Sam become a Grand Maester so young? But suffice it to say that this was time well spent. I thoroughly enjoyed the series. Making this 8 Seasons and 73 episodes was way better than had it become a three hour movie (like Hollywood wanted to do). George R.R. Martin did right by making this come to life this way. It also became a new benchmark for fantasy series and quality in writing and production value. No one can say that they scrimped in this production and that the CGI was sub-par. Far from it. They eventually had the money to put quality together (especially the cast) and to put good scenes around them. I wish the books had finished off what was started, but you can’t make an old writer write. So we close off another chapter in quality TV like Breaking Bad, Mad Men, and others. The fact that so much debate can arise from a series shows that it has captured the imagination of the people. No one wants to debate something they just can’t stand. Winter has come and gone. On to Summer!