Warning: because this episode aired at 2am, this review contains spoilers.
8.6 The Iron Throne
Eight seasons and now it’s all over. Years in the making, the final season of Game Of Thrones proves to be one of the most divisive pieces of media since the finale of The Sopranos. Spoilers ahead for all but the Three-Eyed Raven, and those that have already watched the episode.
I’ve held off on complaining about the timing issue for Game Of Thrones throughout the eighth season, because I’ve never felt it the way lots of others seem to. The complaint about the shortened eighth season has been that, to most commentators, it’s rushed. Thus far, it hasn’t felt especially rushed, thanks to longer episodes and more urgency to tell the story. I didn’t need slow travel across Westeros, I just needed to move to the next awesome thing and revel in it. Now, as I digest the final episode of the final season of Game Of Thrones, I have to confess that it might have worked better if it had taken place over a few episodes, rather than just one.
That said, I understand why the show’s creative team wanted to get things over with. They had the story, they had the ending, and David Benioff and D.B. Weiss knew that the only thing worse than rushing a story is dragging it out too long in the name of padding out a ten-episode season (the episodes, roughly, time out to eight episodes, based off the usual length of 52-58 minutes per episode). The better part of a decade has been dedicated to planning, producing, shooting, and promoting Game Of Thrones, and I’ve no doubt that everyone’s a little tired of polishing leather and fluffing fur.
The finale, rushed though it is, is ultimately very satisfying, because everyone involved brought everything they had to every scene within the episode. From the very opening shots of Tyrion wandering through the ruins of King’s Landing, surrounded by piles of rubble and burnt corpses, to the final montage of the Stark children enjoying the relative spoils of their life labours and the suffering they’ve undertaken, not only is the show a visual feast, it’s also a stunning series of performances from the actors involved.
In fact, the acting is so well done that it’s difficult to point out a specific scene or performance to focus on. Peter Dinklage, as always, is impressive, but it’s Kit Harington who is more than able to carry the episode. He’s incredible in Jon Snow’s final moment with Dany, and he’s also putting in really great work when paired with Tyrion during a tense discussion of what’s good for the realm in the littlest Lannister’s prison cell. Harington gets knocked for his lack of expressiveness, but in this episode, he’s able to bring a lot of pathos to Jon Snow, and the character’s mental journey is clear on his face throughout the episode and throughout the individual scenes.
Emilia Clarke is similarly impressive. Dany’s madness was sold well last week in her expressions, but this week, it’s fully taken hold in a stunning sequence in which Dany addresses her troops in three languages (Valyrian, Dothraki, and English) in which she lays out her ultimate goal, conquering the entire world and giving people freedom at the end of a spear. The Dothraki and Unsullied are clearly there for it, and it’s the kind of dangerous talk that nudges the whole ending cycle into movement. Dany is one of the most dangerous people in the world, an idealist with the power to make her ideas into reality, and King’s Landing is only the first step in her plan to break the wheel and kill anyone who gets in the way, especially her nephew/lover Jon Snow.
It’s not just solid work from the leads, either. Everyone shows up and has something positive to contribute to the episode. Maisie Williams and Sophie Turner are both solid as always, but it’s smaller characters, like Liam Cunningham and Tobias Menzies, who essentially steal the show in a few little moments. Davos was always going to be a voice of reason, having been through so much and having learned from so many kings and queens. Edmure shows up, essentially to campaign for King, only to be laughed out of contention by people who haven’t spent the last few years under house arrest (one of the funniest moments of the night that isn’t based off Tyrion and Bronn interacting).
Full credit for both the writing and the direction go to Benioff and Weiss, who make sure that the finale lands as well as it possibly can in such a negative media environment. Yes, it could use more breathing room, but the episode itself doesn’t feel rushed so much as stuffed with content. Similarly, at the end, everyone feels like they’re in the place they’re supposed to be in a way that seems fairly well earned. We’ve been on these adventures for eight seasons in some cases, and the ending of the episode does justice to those characters. More or less, everyone seems to get what they deserve, right down to the Iron Throne itself.
Okay, the death of the Iron Throne is a little bit cheesy, but the whole scene leading up to it makes it pay off beautifully. Dany is betrayed by one of the few honourable people in her circle, the one person who she no doubt felt would never actually betray his queen, at the cost of his own honour. Like the man who raised him, Jon Snow sacrifices his personal honour to keep his word, not to Tyrion or Dany or the Starks, but to the Realm itself. Even when it’s at great personal cost, even when he hates it, as Dany points out, Jon does his duty. It’s just not to her.
While it’s easier for actors to be able to express grief throughout the stages (Kit Harington does this with surprising grace this episode, as does Peter Dinklage), it’s less easy for a digital creation to wring out emotion from an audience, and yet Drogon and Ghost are able to make that happen thanks in no small part to the humans in the scene around them. Strange that a giant CGI monster is able to make me emotional in a way that actual humans don’t, but here I am, admitting that I got a little choked up watching Drogon grieve for his dead mother and lash out at the thing that cost Daenerys her life in the end.
The symbolism is way too on the nose, but it looks incredible. That can be said about a lot of the eighth season of Game Of Thrones, but on the whole, it’s an achievement. Everything ends, but not everything ends well. All things considered, this is a successful enough ending. Certainly, it pales in comparison to the heights Game Of Thrones reached during its run on HBO, but most things would. Considering the sheer magnitude of filming in multiple locations throughout the world, with dozens of lead actors and hundreds of extras, plus a gigantic CGI budget?
Game Of Thrones was, and remains, something special within the world of television. A less-than-perfect landing can’t take that away.