'Game of Thrones' Season 8 Review
With almost two months having passed since Game of Thrones ended and certainly hundreds of articles commenting on the finale, the season and the series as a whole, I am well aware that I'm a decade late on this in Internet time. Still, having somewhat covered the last few seasons in previous articles, I thought it was right to deliver my final thoughts on the show and about what happened and how I felt about it.
I will try not to over-extend myself and give you my overall opinions on the season and the story for each group of characters. I decided to tackle this in groups because to examine every character's arc would take way too long for this article to maintain coherence and I like to look at the big picture. However i'll begin with my overall impressions of the season and the major story beats.
WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD
Well, this should come as no surprise to anyone, but much like most people, I too was disappointed by how this season played out and ended. I was liking the direction the show was going in season 7 to be honest, simply because it had embraced its departure from the books and it was doing its own thing. Yes, season 7 lacked complexity and intrigue that were abound in earlier seasons, but it was better than trying to hit book bullet points and not delivering a coherent story, which I felt was more what season 6 was about. I was expecting season 7 and 8 to work like a combined mega season and that the latter would really payoff with an ambitious climax that wrapped this now much simpler story in a neat, conclusive end.
As we now know, that wasn't the case. Getting into specifics, in a really summarized way, season 8 split itself up between the White Walker conflict and the battle for the Iron Throne, rushing the former, disregarding any depth that was given to either the Night King and especially Bran, and it attempted to pull off the latter by going with a Mad Queen idea for Daenerys. Whether this was done for shock and surprise or just because it was a story point given by George RR Martin, I believe it was a mistake since I think the show was already way down the rabbit hole when it comes to forgetting the books and it should have stayed that way, doing what made sense with previously established character motivations, personalities and the themes of the stories around them.
The final episode tried to land a plane that had already lost both engines and a wing, but the damage was already done and while it's not all negatives, I don't see a subplot or character that I believe was completely well executed and finalized.
In this section we'll tackle the main players in the show and how well their story arcs and development played out throughout this season. I'll only discuss the core group of characters so as not to overextend myself and because they make up the majority of relevant story threads in the overall series.
Beginning with the Starks, they were almost universally granted everything in the end, which I might be fine with, if the way the show gets them there was satisfying. Sansa is irrationally agressive towards Daenerys, even though the latter comes to Winterfell to save them all and has given signs of being a good ruler and caring for people in Slaver's Bay. Then, Sansa betrays her own brother and Daenerys, who she has no reason to hate by blurting out Jon's secret. This indirectly causes Varys' death and for that she is granted a queenship at the end by her own brother which is played as righteous and just, even though she was nothing but manipulative and power hungry throughout the season. Although gaining independence from others and taking control of her life makes thematic sense for Sansa, her journey this season does not make me root for her success at the end.
Arya, basically acts as the overpowered fighter who can do everything when the show wants her to. She has shown herself to be, without a doubt, the most capable character (whether that's earned is another question), and for that she is granted the honor of killing the Night King, who has had no relation to her story, at all, for seven seasons. I do appreciate that after this, the show validates her original motivations by having her go to King's Landing with the Hound to kill Cersei (why she was not given this task in the first place seeing as she can get in wherever she wants and kill whoever she wants, i do not know). I also appreciate the closing of this motivation in her talk with the Hound in King's Landing. Although this talk comes a bit late and is somewhat short, the show resolves this aspect of Arya's character, releasing her from her revenge obcession. After that I do not know what I would see Arya doing. Although her desire to explore is not out of character, after everything her family and she in particular went through, I would expect her to stay home, for awhile at least, to help rebuild her home.
Bran basically does nothing, at all, for the whole season and pretty much the whole show now. He is acclaimed as the guardian of humanity's knowledge and history, but this is never fully explained, and it already should have been before. I mean, don't books already exist to do that, and also, when he's dead, who becomes the Three-Eyed Raven? More importantly, Bran's tale has been about developing the abilities to face the White Walker crisis, however he does nothing to that end except act as bait. And afterwards, he does no scouting, uses none of his abilities to aid in the assault on King's Landing and is declared King at the end because his story is the best, and one that can unite people, according to Tyrion. I don't see this at all, and I don't believe anyone does either. Bran's story lacks purpose and Bran himself in season 8 lacks any character, personality or emotion. His might be the worst story of them all.
Jon Snow carries the mantle of the silent protagonist whose story arc has been about facing the need to become a leader in order to save those around him, breaking stereotypes and prejudice to do it, namely with the Wildlings and Northeners. However, after the Night King is defeated, that doesn't leave Jon with a lot to do. His story could be tied to his Targaryen ancestry but only Sansa and Varys seem to care about it even though they claim others would too. In the finale, no one so much as mentions it, as if it never mattered. Jon's story became too tied to the Mad Queen plot, which forced him to be a passive player throughout the season, even during the battle that was mostly about his struggle (Winterfell). In the end, him going back North of the Wall with the Wildlings is a nice resolution, but I have so little to say for Jon because his personality is so barren at this point that it is not wholly satisfying. He was basically the typical self-sacrificing hero who gave up everything for the good of the land. Not a bad story, but nothing ground breaking.
In regards to Cersei, there is a whole lot to say. This character has gone so far off the deep end that in this season, I have no clue what her motivations are anymore, and Cersei herself does not say a lot to help me understand them. My best guess is that all she wants is to preserve the Throne for her unborn child, and she truly believes she can win against Daenerys, which to her credit, for all of season 7 and 8, seems to be the case. However, in episode 5, Daenerys takes King's Landing with ridiculous ease and Cersei refuses to accept the truth until is too late. And after that, her façade crumbles in her scene with Jaime only briefly, before the Red Keep crumbles, killing them both.
All in all, I'm not a big fan of Cersei this season, mostly because she is too cartoonishly evil and the reasons for it are not explained. On top of that, the internal struggle that I wanted her to go through is left to the last two minutes before she dies. It should have been made clear to Cersei and to the audience way before episode 5 that fighting Dany was hopeless, then her insistence on not surrendering would have been interesting and a powerful scene could have happened where she proclaims her desperation to provide her child with a Throne and a legacy, even if it means fighting a lost cause. But instead, Cersei just appeared to be winning, until she wasn't, and all we got were some stares of realization and panic from her just before the end, which is not enough to resolve this character's journey.
Jaime, much like Cersei, goes on a journey this season that confuses me. He starts appearing to be on the track he was before, redeeming his past deeds by facing trial at Winterfell, knighting Brienne and fighting the dead. However in episode 4, after beginning a romantic relationship with Brienne, he leaves upon hearing of Cersei's impending demise to be with her. However, in his final scene with Brienne, he doesn't seem totally convinced that he needs to go or that he should go. Jaime just declares himself not a good person and states that he must be with Cersei because he cannot let her go. And he does the same with Tyrion in episode 5 going so far as to say that he does not care for the population of King's Landing (which everyone knows is not true).
Jaime finds Cersei and dies with her with Brienne filling out his deeds on the White Book after his death. While I'm not against Jaime dying tragically alongside Cersei at the end, I do question the motivations behind it. Jaime could be made to be dying for love, but he doesn't seem to love Cersei anymore and hasn't for awhile, and having him say that he is not a good person, just makes him appear in denial. While the idea of ending Jaime's story like this is good in concept, the execution comes at the cost of his redemption arc, which ends up quite muddled.
As for Tyrion, while his intelligence is praised almost every episode as something valuable that must be preserved to serve the people of the Seven Kingdoms in the future, I honestly cannot think of an instance where his intelligence served any kind of purpose this season. He contributed nothing in the first 3 episodes, and as for the latter three, he again counsels against assaulting King's Landing, even though Dany proves in episode 5 that assaulting the capital with minimal loss of life was perfectly possible all along. That alone just sours Tyrion in the last two seasons for me. He even proclaims Dany as mentally unhinged prior to episode 5 with Varys, and once again, he has no reason to do so.
So, after that, he sets out to ensure that Dany succeeds, but Cersei and Jaime are saved. Tyrion at least expresses his complex feelings about his sister a bit more than Cersei does about her brother, so I buy his lamenting of her and Jaime's death in the last episode, and that is pretty much the only scene I genuinely like with Tyrion this season. He convinces Jon to kill Dany, which is the obvious move at that point, and at the council he argues for Bran's kingship, which as previously said, is not narratively earned at all. He ends back in the small council as Hand, working to make up for his past crimes, which, again makes sense as a conclusion for him, although looking at his last scene, it doesn't look like much of a punishment, and I think Grey Worm would know it, but he lets it slide, so whatever.
Finally we get to Dany, certainly the most talked about character, and the most controversial. Additionally, Dany is the catalyst for pretty much all other characters which in itself is a problem as the outcome for her character ends up screwing up everyone else's.
Daenerys begins this season arriving at Winterfell, having accepted queenship over the North, in a romantic relationship with Jon Snow and willing to assist the North against the White Walker threat. However, despite presenting herself as a helpful and graceful ally, Dany is taken in with doubt by almost everyone around her from Sansa, to Arya to even Tyrion and Varys and this mistrust lingers throughout the season with little reason for it.
Dany tries to make friends with Sansa but the latter argues for Northern independence without asking Jon why he bent the knee to Dany and why she might be a good ruler, which is pretty important information. Arya claims she doesn't trust Dany, says she doesn't need to trust anyone and provides no reason why. Truly the only character who should have problems with Dany is Sam and Sam's "revenge" merely takes the form of telling Jon about his parentage, something he was already going to do.
Of course Dany senses this, and upon learning of Jon's parentage, understandably asks him not to tell anyone. She tries to rekindle their romance but he refuses her. And this rift that develops between them suddenly grows into a feeling of mistrust from Dany towards all Westerosi, because she doesn't feel welcome there, as Jon is. Dany kind of forgets that the Reach, Dorne and the Iron Islands literally asked her to come to Westeros and that is like half the kingdom.
This behaviour progresses like this all season, with Dany acting in generally logical ways in order to defeat Cersei before she can amass a sizeable defense, and people labeling her power hungry and insane with little reason. This in turn obviously angers Dany, however we're supposed to believe that all this trauma and isolation that she feels eventually leads her to blame it on all of Westeros and burn innocent people for half an hour after she easily takes King's Landing. After that, every character, especially Sansa and Arya can put on smug faces as they say "I told you so".
As most people, Daenerys' character switch does not sit well with me at all. No matter how morally reprehensible her actions might have been in the past, Dany was never illogical, and that was never hinted at, even though if the writers wanted to make her insane, they had a perfect genetic reason for it. But unlike Joffrey, Dany never showed any signs of her incestual origins affecting her mind. To have her turn her dragon on innocent civilians, who she has cared greatly for in the past is just a nonsensical decision.
Tyrion, and by extension the writers, attempt to retroactively label Dany's execution of the Tarlys, the Khals and the Masters as evil and a foreshadowing of Dany's massacre, but such an attempt fails because those actions are normal in the world of GoT. By that logic, we should judge Jon for executing Janos Slynt, who apologized before dying, or Olly, a child whose crime was hating the people who ate his parents, or Sansa, who fed a man alive to dogs, or Arya, who killed an entire family without knowing whether they all had been directly involved in the Red Wedding, or might have been forced to participate.
To summarise, the writers never made Dany crazy, until they did, and then they tried to convince us that she had been crazy all along, and it just didn't work, not only for Dany, but for other characters who were forced to act illogically to enforce this idea. The show ended with a battle between two crazy queens until the silent protagonist killed the one that won. Daenerys' story is the one where the themes are more lost than any other, because I don't understand the point of this turn for her character, for the world, or for the morals of the series and so her death just comes off as an inevitability without the grandure it should have.
It's regretfull to see a show like this end like this, not just because of my own opinions, but also, seeing everyone else sharing these feelings of negativity towards this much beloved series. Obviously, with such a beloved show, in whichever way it ended there would be those who are dissatisfied. However, with Game of Thrones, it seems that due to a variety of reasons, the creators became unaware of their own show and with no detailed books to go from, they decided to tie together the few plot points they had received from George, despite lacking the ability to handle the complex nuances of this world and its characters on their own. The result is an incoherent mess that doesn't do justice to the plot established in the beginning or any of the characters and only manages to stay true to a few overarching themes of the story. And of course, it wasn't just some people that picked up on that, it was everyone.
Even so, I still believe the show as whole remains a remarkable achievement overall, I still think it will retain its place among the cultural landmarks of this decade, especially in the fantasy genre. I don't think any of us will soon forget it and I know we will come back and rewatch our favourite moments every now and then.
So those were my thoughts on the last season of Game of Thrones, I'm curious to know yours. Leave your opinions in the comments below and as always, thank you for reading.