(Spoiler warning for all of Game of Thrones)
There are some movies and shows that mean so much more when you’re present in that specific moment of cultural history. The final Harry Potter movie, Avatar (the blue people one), Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and Avengers: Endgame all immediately spring to mind. However, I can’t think of anything quite as captivating as witnessing the entire world sit down week after week, hoping with all their hearts that this next episode of Game of Thrones–this one for sure–would be the one to fix everything. Week after week this would happen, and week after week the already derailed train would tumble further and further from the track. Yet still we hoped.
Now that the dust has settled, this is the image that remains in my head, more than any specific moment of the show and more than any of my individual gripes with it. Game of Thrones season 8 occupies such a unique place in pop culture. I can’t remember a time when such an enormous audience has been so accutely aware of the authorial intent behind the writing of the series. Part of this comes down to the drastic change in writing as the show moved away from George R.R. Martin’s original material. Then there’s also the fact that following each episode there’s literally a segment where the writers sit down and tell the audience why they made the decisions they made. On top of all this, there’s the global engagement on social media, where people then trash every one of those decisions in great detail.
…and all of this is important because it invites you to engage with Game of Thrones not as someone invested in the fiction, but as someone detached from it.
My story with Game of Thrones and how it came to this
First-off, season 7 before this was the season where I fell out of love with the show and felt the disappointment everyone is feeling this season. After a fantastic season 6 finale, season 7 brought out (still) the dumbest plot-line of the show, where Jon goes to the north to capture a wight and bring it back to king’s landing. This is the part of the show that ruined my favorite characters while solidifying the fact that the writers no longer cared about internal logic and consistency of their world. But that last season was 2 years ago. In that time there were so many other worlds and characters I fell in love with, from books like The Wheel of Time series to video games like Xenogears, Undertale, and Final Fantasy VII. I experienced so many amazing stories and more or less forgot about GoT by the time the first episode of season 8 hit…and I didn’t watch it. I remembered all of my favorite moments from the series (The Mountain vs. the Viper, Tyrion’s trial, the battle of the bastards, Cersei blowing up the citadel) but I also no longer felt invested in finding out what happens. Episode 3 landed and I still hadn’t watched anything, so I figured, “eh, might as well read the spoiler thread on reddit to see what people think.” And that’s when I discovered the beauty that was this season’s writing. People were complaining left and right, the memes were everywhere, and I was so intrigued that I had to start watching–and it absolutely did not disappoint.
Things I Loved
There is an extremely thin line between good bad writing and just plain cringy bad writing, and I am so happy that this is the good kind. There’s something so tragic yet entertaining at seeing the show write itself into a corner and then do something completely unjustified to dig itself back out. Then, on the production side, it’s also funny to notice the parts where reality pokes through amidst some great production design. With that in mind, here are my favorite moments from the final season of Game of Thrones.
- I love the shot of Winterfell in season 1 that looks as if they green-screened Winterfell from the show’s title sequence into the background.
- I love the dichotomy between some incredible shots in the battle with the Night King and it’s incomprehensible the dark cinematography the rest of the time.
- I (legitimately) love the shot of the Dothraki’s fire swords fading out in the night and (ironically) love how stupid and pointless their charge was.
- I love the random zombie stealth scene. How did Arya get into this situation? Why is it so quiet when there’s a giant battle going on everywhere? It’s such a strange non sequitur, but it’s also a very well-put-together non sequitur.
- I love the total randomness of Arya flying out of nowhere to slay the Night King. I also love how heavy-handed Melisandre’s prophesy was (the eye color one), despite the fact that she only really kills the blue eyes guy and doesn’t bother to think about the other two for the rest of the season.
- I love how Euron shows up completely out of nowhere, hiding his fleet from dragons in the freaking sky, and snipes two of them with such pinpoint accuracy.
- I love how there are literally no consequences for fighting the Night King since no main characters die (Jorah doesn’t count) and army sizes no longer matter (a running theme this season).
I love how pointless Bran is in this entire season, especially during all of episode 3’s battle. The show is completely done with him, ready to toss him aside and forget, and then he just shows up in episode 6 and gets made king. We don’t learn anything about the three-eyed-raven, the Night King, Bran’s plans, Bran’s motivations and actions…..he just shows up acting like he’s been manipulating things the whole time. It’s so freaking dumb and stupid and not set up and amazing at the same time.
I know this all sounds like I’m listing things that are actual problems and then saying, “wow that’s so dumb it’s funny,” but that’s not exactly the whole picture–part of it for sure, but not the whole. Something can be dumb and just plain bad, like that extra one-liner in a Marvel move that pushes your cringe tolerance over the edge. No, this season of Game of Thrones, more than anything I can think of in recent memory, draws back the curtain covering the artifice of TV writing. Ok, that’s a bit of an understatement, it shreds the curtain, burns the pieces, and then gives a guided tour of everything beneath. And, to the show’s credit, it does so in a way that is legitimately engrossing. You have self-aware movies like Deadpool that wear their artifice as a badge of honor, but it really takes something special to approach itself so seriously and still achieve the same thing. It’s what makes Birdemic, The Room, Plan 9 From Outer Space, and so many other bad movies work. With this season of Game of Thrones, you get a clear view of the writers as they throw question after question at a whiteboard, and you get to watch as they struggle desperately to answer them again and again. For me, that is drama, storytelling, and entertainment in and of itself.
The title of this post aside, it’s not that I stopped caring. I still care about this world and characters, and it still hurts me to remember how they were treated. At the same time, though, there’s a certain poetic tragedy in the construction of this season and how it allowed me to be both detached from and invested in it. At the end of it all, amidst all my conflicted feelings, I can’t help but sit back, laugh, and enjoy the entertainment that’s there.
Extra Side Note (not super related to the rest of this):
Let’s talk about everyone’s new favorite phrase to hate, “subverting expectations!” Contrary to popular internet belief, subverting expectations is neither necessarily bad or necessarily good. “Oh no, it’s trying too hard to subvert expectations and that has made it bad!” Ok, but entire point of twist ending movies as a genre is to subvert expectations, and that’s what makes them good and memorable. The key however is setup and justification. A good twist needs to make you think “wow this changes my view of everything,” not “ok that was really random.” This is where movies and shows like Star Wars: the Last Jedi and GoT s8 run into some problems. There was either minimal or no setup to all of GoT’s twists this season, and part of that is what made moments like Bran becoming king and Euron sniping the dragons so entertaining—-terribly written, but entertaining. Unfortunately what makes it intriguing and entertaining for me is what makes it disappointing for everyone who is still watching at the show at face value. I’m not a screenwriter, but it seems to me that if you think to yourself, “hehehe no one could possibly guess this ending,” it’s probably the wrong ending for your characters. There needs to be setup for proper justification, and proper setup will always hint at what is to come. Do you really think nobody guessed who Kaiser Soze was in The Usual Suspects? There are only 5 main characters in the movie and it has to be one of them. If Soze turned out to be some random guy you never saw onscreen, you would be surprised for sure, but unsatisfied. That’s Scooby Doo 101. Someone on the internet is always going to guess what’s going to happen, and sometimes that just means that you set things up properly. Meanwhile you have GoT saying, “Haha, you were so busy focusing on Dany, Jon, Tirion, Sansa, Arya, Grey Worm, and Davos that you forgot about……Bran!!!” That’s because you did too, Game of Thrones. You forgot about Bran, and that’s why this twist is a problem in the first place.