Written by Daniel Callaghan.
Game of Thrones season eight serves as the final season of the world-renowned HBO fantasy drama based on the book series by George R.R. Martin. Being the conclusion of a decade-defining television series with countless beloved characters, this new season has understandably been highly anticipated. Now that Game of Thrones is officially over, at least until a supposed prequel series, is it the grand finale we were all hoping for?
Picking up from where the last season finished, Daenerys Targaryen and her armies have arrived in Winterfell, preparing for the battle against the White Walkers and their legion of the undead. Meanwhile, in King’s Landing, Cersei Lannister remains the Queen on the Iron Throne with an army at her command, determined to keep her title at any cost. The first two episodes, ‘Winterfell’ and ‘A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms’, serve as the build-up to the coming battle, focusing on what may look like the last chance certain characters will have to enjoy the peacetime. Although nothing significant occurs, the character moments elevate these episodes to possibly be the best of the series. As we have come to know and love these many characters, continuing to see them interact with each other, while simultaneously setting up some interesting plot threads, makes for overall engaging viewing.
Unfortunately, beyond these two episodes, here is where the series unfortunately takes a large pitfall in terms of quality, primarily in terms of storytelling and characterisation. The third episode, ‘The Long Night’, is the first action-heavy episode of the season, showcasing the long-awaited confrontation between our heroes and the White Walkers. Focusing on the action rather than the story both helps and hinders the episode. The action and scale is undoubtably impressive, showing dragon battles and huge armies fighting each other, with an impending sense of hopelessness as the undead army grows continuously and our heroes gradually fall into despair. I will have to admit, however, that I was somewhat baffled and underwhelmed by certain decisions such as questionable battle tactics as well as why a certain character was killed by another. As a result, investment in the given situation can’t help but feel slightly undermined at some points. While it certainly improves as the episode progresses, it also doesn’t help that the first twenty minutes are literally too dark to make out a lot of the action. This is almost to a point where having to squint may be necessary to see anything. Despite this, it stills manages to be entertaining overall, and I don’t consider this episode to be as disdainful as the majority of viewers do.
The following episodes, ‘The Last of the Starks’ and ‘The Bells’ revolve around the lead-up to, and the pay-off of, Daenerys attempting to seize King’s Landing from Cersei. These episodes are widely considered to be two of the most controversial in the entire Game of Thrones saga. Unfortunately, I have to agree that the latter is divisive. The main issue is that neither of them makes significant improvements upon the mistakes of the previous episodes. Without giving anything away, choices that certain characters make as the series progresses don’t come across as properly fleshed out when placed in context with the rest of the show. It would appear that subverting expectations are a driving force behind these story choices. While that’s not inherently bad, it would need to be replaced with something as equally satisfying as what is being expected. Sadly, the episodes do not deliver well on this, and certain arcs and plot threads that have been established conclude and retract far too quickly without a truly satisfying, or even understandable, ending across both of these episodes. This will probably leave viewers considerably dissatisfied with the stories of certain characters, particularly Grey Worm, Cersei, Jaime, and especially Daenerys. This will remain spoiler-free, but the deaths that occur in these episodes also can’t help but feel unearned and aren’t treated as particularly important as they should, coming across more as after-thoughts rather than something narratively natural. Much like ‘The Long Night’, the scale continues to be certainly spectacular, but it doesn’t amount to a whole lot when the story it surrounds is not especially engaging and is even unpleasant to watch for the wrong reasons.
‘The Iron Throne’ stands as the final episode of Game of Thrones, dealing with the aftermath of Daenerys’s war on King’s Landing. I will admit that while it could have ended much worse, Game of Thrones is left on an otherwise bland note. The highlights of the episode are seeing where some of the characters end up, the roles that they take up, and the subsequent interactions that they have with each other. Besides that, the finale does not make up for the disappointment of the previous episodes, continuing to repeat the same mistakes of rushed storytelling and blatantly out-of-character moments, as though the show is trying to be wrapped up as quickly as possible. Regarding who ends up being the ruler of Westeros, and where our more important main characters are left in the last few scenes, ‘The Iron Throne’ sadly may not deliver as a truly satisfying conclusion.
Despite a handful of enjoyable character moments with a relatively strong first half, and some of the most impressive scale and action demonstrated in the show’s history, the eighth season of Game of Thrones is unfortunately a meandering and disappointing conclusion to such an influential television series. Frequent rushed storytelling and betraying of characters undermine what should have been an unforgettable final chapter in this story, and I’m not pleased to be this disillusioned with it. While I will certainly re-watch every season of Game of Thrones in the future, I may only feel inclined to return to the first half of season eight while ignoring the other. All I can say is that for now, my watch has ended.