MASSIVE AND HAIRY SPOILERS FOR GAME OF THRONES, SEASON EIGHT.
REALLY, I’M NOT KIDDING.
DON’T BLAME ME FOR ANY SUBSEQUENT SPOILAGE AND/OR HYSTERICAL BLINDNESS.
In the unlikely event anyone noticed, I have been holding back about commenting so far on Season Eight of Game of Thrones. Partly this has been because I have been heavily engaged with other projects, and partly because I didn’t want to judge a product before it is fully…well, produced, but now, hovering on the edge of the last episode, and whatever resolution it provides, I wanted to record some thoughts. Or feelings. Or emotionally-laden thoughts that are probably idiosyncratic to one aging nerd who has some pretty curmudgeonly ideas about stories and how they should work. So here goes, in no particular order–
- I was disappointed in the rushed nature of Season Seven, and I am at least as disappointed in the rushed nature of Season Eight. Really, both seasons needed those extra episodes to lay things out properly, both in terms of plot and characters.
- Even more than that, though, it seems obvious, from the way things have played out in Season Eight, that the show-runners, at the moment when they need to bring all the disparate elements of this massive story together, had no clue how to do it. Now, I’ve said this before, but ending an epic storyline in a way that satisfactorily resolves all the threads and themes is very, very hard. Tolkien did it, but Lost (which had story issues from the get-go) utterly failed, The Sopranos ended in a black screen, and even Hayao Miyazaki’s manga version of Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind seemed to lose its energy toward the end. By that standard perhaps I should cut the show-runners a little slack.
- On the other hand, they had years to develop the story and characters arcs, and at the end it still seems as if they didn’t quite know what to do with all the bits and pieces. They’ve killed off characters– Rickon, Littlefinger, Jamie and Cersei– important characters, in peremptory fashion that hardly served the story at all. They killed off the Night King in a fashion that was not only peremptory, but which ended one of the two major story-lines of the series in wholly unsatisfactory way that left more questions than it resolved. Supposedly important elements (e.g. the Golden Company) are introduced and then disposed of in a summary manner that makes you wonder why they were brought into the story in the first place. Again, a full slate of episodes would have allowed more time to properly resolved these issues.
- The show-runners, in their comments on episodes, talk a great deal about subverting watcher expectations. Well and good, because otherwise the story would grow predictable. But you can’t subvert expectations and make the characters you’ve spent years building up look like useless puppets in the process., not if you want the story to be worth anything. E.G., Jon confronting the Night King– it would be one thing for Jon to engage the Night King, proceed to get his behind kicked, and then have Arya save the day. It’s wholly another, and immensely unsatisfying, to have Jon blocked and impotent, while Arya comes out of nowhere (literally and story-wise) to do the deed. Also, take the manner of Jamie and Cersei’s (apparent) deaths– after years of build-up, it is immensely unsatisfying, from the perspective of a viewer, as well as the perspective of story resolution, to have them die in a rain of masonry. Yes, bad guys die all the time in mundane ways, but viewers were rightfully expecting a resolution to these characters in a story that spoke to all the build-up and repeated themes around them.
- By contrast, Clegane Bowl (for me, at least) seemed to at least minimally do the job, although it still felt truncated. The hate between these two men, the unstoppable nature of (undead?) Gregor, and the final mutual end in fire seemed to wrap everything up as far as the characters went.
- To put it another way, if you are going to subvert expectations, you have to subvert them in a way that makes the viewer (or reader) say, “Oh! I didn’t see that coming, but, yeah, it makes sense!” Too often the twists in the last two seasons seem to have left the viewers scratching their heads, instead.
How to sum this all up? One of things I keep telling myself is that, as an adaptation, and, more than that, an adaptation of a series of books that have yet to be completed, Game of Thrones, in some way or another, was always going to fall short of expectations. Adaptations generally do. Having said that, it appears, from the extreme distance at which I sit from the writing effort that finished off the series (a distance, admittedly, to be measured in parsecs), that no one seemed to know how to achieve even a minimally satisfying resolution to many of the arcs, and sorta kinda cobbled it all together, threw it out the door, and said, “Whew! Glad that’s over with.”
And that’s the way it is. Having expressed my dissatisfaction, I am not going to be joining the online chorus of fan-folk raging at how GoT failed and was destroyed by SJW’s or feminazis or hipsters or whatever other strawman they wish to concoct to vent their spleen upon. GoT is hardly the first television show to end weaker than it initially promised (hell, even Downton Abbey was pretty worn out by its finale). If the show-runners failed to bring proper resolution to the story, then they are hardly alone. Their failure perhaps looms larger precisely because expectations were larger in proportion to the epic scope of the tale.
Now, I am reserving complete and final judgment on the series, since there is one episode left. Even so, I don’t expect one episode to afford enough room to redeem every sin committed in Seasons Seven and Eight. The writers and show-runners would have to do something pretty spectacular to come close to ending the whole series on a fitting note. Maybe–
- Bran becomes the new Night King (actually a fan-theory that’s already out there).
- The wildfire reservoirs under King’s Landing go off while Dany, the Unsullied and the Dothraki celebrate their victory, thus solving the problem of the Mad Queen (perhaps already hinted at in the eruptions of wildfire seen in Episode Eight).
- Jon steps in and prevents Dany from executing Tyrion, possibly at the cost of his own life. Dany, grief-stricken, goes back to Meereen and leaves Sansa Stark to rule in her stead.
- Dany executes Tyrion for freeing Jaime, Jon assassinates Dany, the Unsullied and Dothraki kill Jon and the Northmen, and then turn on each other, and when everyone is dead, Jaime and Cersei emerge unharmed from the rubble and walk off, hand-in-hand, into the sunset…. (actually, if the writers had the stones to do that I would stand up and cheer. Then start crying).
Sorry, I was starting to trail off into the silly there. Still, the point is that the writers could still have come up with some pretty interesting twists, and, even if the series as a whole has not lived up to expectations, I still want to see how the individual characters are resolved. Having come this far, I want to follow through to the end.