Stormborn - The End Of Game Of Thrones

Sunday, 26 May 2019

OK. This is not what you might call an ‘up-to-the-minute’ review, as “Game Of Thrones” wrapped up its final season a week ago. At the same time, I can reasonably expect that most people have watched the finale now. If you haven’t, STOP READING NOW. Also, in some ways, this is less a review than a response to some of the criticisms I have heard and read. What follows is my take on the last season and, in particular, the last two episodes. 

Firstly, Season 8 has been criticised for failing to tie up too many plot-lines and tying others up to abruptly. I have to agree with this assessment. Six episodes - even given their ‘feature-length’ dimensions - were never going to be enough to tie up seven seasons-worth of often convoluted story arcs in an entirely satisfactory fashion. Some had simply to be ‘forgotten’. Among those concluded too quickly was surely that of the White Walkers and the Night King. They have been the big bad threat to humanity since the opening scenes of Season 1. Seemingly unstoppable they were stopped by a diminutive assassin and a Valeriyan steel blade to the Night King’s heart at the end of one of the finest battle scenes I have ever listened to. For no good reason that I could see, this meant that all the White Walkers suddenly exploded into shards of ice and all their zombies were suddenly powered down. Don’t get me wrong - the music and the direction of this moment were magnificent, but it was a little anti-climactic.

Some have also criticised Dani’s ‘descent into madness’ in the skies above King’s Landing as being too rapid. Here I’m going to argue and you may find yourself disagreeing with me quite strongly. That’s what thought-provoking television is supposed to do. I don’t think there was a ‘descent into madness’ at all. When it comes to atrocities the torching of King’s Landing was scarcely Danaerys Stormborn’s first rodeo. As Tyrion reminds us in his speech to Jon in his cell, she had crucified, scorched and incinerated her way across the Eastern continent, but the fact that she had had committed these atrocities against ‘evil men’ meant that they had turned a blind eye to them. Ally that to a smile that could melt a heart at a hundred paces and a passion for freeing slaves (Yay!) and perhaps it was easy to forget that the way we treat ‘evil people’ is every bit as much a mark of who we really are as the good causes we espouse.

And when it comes to it, were the Tarlys ‘evil men’? No. They were dignified in defeat and were obliterated because they refused to forget their oath and bend the knee to the coming power. They were slaughtered to set an example to others and to weaken their resolve. In the final episode it becomes clear that Danaerys does not see her taking of the Iron Throne as the end of her campaign. She would take it to Essos and to Dorne. In that light the destruction of King’s Landing is an example to others: do what your queen demands or invite down the fire on yourself and your people.

If this is ‘madness’ then it is a madness we have known often enough in human history. I recently read an article likening it to the fire-bombing of Dresden by the RAF - an action of little or no strategic significance, but which sent a message to the Germans: surrender or invite down the fire. Similarly, the dropping of an atomic bomb on Hiroshima was intended to send a message to the Japanese: surrender unconditionally or invite down the fire. Danaerys, in this sense, was no more ‘mad’ than Churchill or Truman. 

Finally there is the coronation of Bran the Boring. Is he the right king for this ‘new world’? Some may have expected Jon Snow to take that role, casting him as ‘The Prince Who Was Promised’ - especially after the reveal that he was really Aegon Targaeryan and ‘rightful’ heir to the throne. The problem is that Jon is as thick as porcine organic fertiliser (a weakness of too many ‘heroic’ male characters in fiction) and would have made every bit as rubbish a king as Robert Baratheon. Some may have been rooting for Tyrion. As Bran seems to have little interest in worldly events beyond the migration patterns of birds, though, real power will be wielded in this ‘new world’ by the Small Council, chaired by Tyrion. So - a win for the good guys.

There’s a lot more I could say. To sum up, though, Season 8 had its weaknesses. Its brevity was cardinal among them. Many are unhappy because they didn’t get the ending they wanted or the ending they expected. For me, though, the strengths of the season outweighed the weaknesses and the ending was as satisfying as such endings can ever be.