Wednesday, 26th June 2019
Game of Thrones: The good, the bad and the ugly
Filed: Wednesday, 22nd May 2019
Author: Last Caress
After eight series and eight years of swashbuckling entertainment, hugely popular TV show Game of Thrones came to an end this week. KUMB's Music, Film & TV Forum has followed GoT's highs and lows since 2011, from where one of our most regular commentators has the final word...
Tormund Giantsbane and the wildlings: With their lands beyond the wall now relatively secure, I guess it makes some degree of sense that they would decide that the squabbles of Westeros have nowt to do with them, so they're off.
I mean, one might've thought that, given all they'd gone through alongside Jon in a) being brought through the wall for protection, b) engaging in the squabbles of Westeros at least once already in siding with the Starks against House Bolton, and c) uniting against the common enemy (The Night King), they might see their alliance through to the assault on King's Landing with their already depleted comrades.
But, no matter. It sort-of makes sense. So, it gets a pass from me.
Arya and her "Go West!" adventure: It makes sense, given her arc, that Arya would quickly develop itchy feet and need to try her hand at something else, somewhere else. And where better to do just that than the unexplored parts of the map?
Of course I'd always assumed that the seas west of Westeros might have been explored already by, oh, maybe the seafaring race of people on the Iron Islands, located at the far west point of the map. But it's an easily waved-away minor quibble against an otherwise logical and fitting way for our heroine to literally sail off into the sunset. Makes for a potentially intriguing spin-off premise too, should they decide to roll that way.
Theon Greyjoy: I always felt that Theon had to die, but had to find redemption before he did so, and I thought that that redemption would come by way of either saving his sister from Euron (I really thought that would be his arc for the entirety of his time in Series 8) or by fighting once more alongside his Stark family.
He managed both (albeit far too quickly and simply in the case of his sister's rescue, but that's par for the course in these latter seasons). Going out attacking a foe against whom he was out matched, having already slaughtered a fistful of wights having received a rare "Thanks!" from Bran, who'd warged off FOR NO FUCKING REASON WHATSOEVER, was an appropriate and entirely decent way to go. What is dead may never die, Theon.
U Got the Look: As with every other season of GoT, Season 8 looked magnificent (some considerable lighting issues in ep. 3 notwithstanding). Costumes, practical effects, digital effects... the whole thing, an extravaganza on a par with any Hollywood blockbuster. And we'll skate past the coffee cup and the water bottle; even Ridley Scott failed to notice some muppet wander into shot wearing jeans and a shirt in Gladiator. It happens.
Edmure Tully: Fantastic bit of business there. "Uncle. Please sit." Brilliant.
King Bran the Broken: Whafuck? Bran Stark? Is this a joke? How in shitting bumwrong did they conclude that this was the way to end the game of thrones?
Weiss: "Hm. At this point, we've got to put either Jon or Dany on the throne at the end, and both are far too obvious."
Benioff: "Yeah. Can't have that. Can't have something that makes obvious sense. Let's put someone else on there instead!"
Weiss: "Cool! But who?"
Benioff: "Well, who gives a ****? Let's just get this bitch wrapped so we can start writing our Star Wars trilogy. And the new King/Queen of Westeros will be... (spins drum full of character names, plucks name out at random)... Bran! There we go, piece of piss."
Can anybody honestly offer a more plausible account of how the decision to put Bran Stark on the Iron Throne - figuratively, of course - came to pass? Because I can't believe it could've happened any other way.
See, a lot of people never especially cared for oddbod Bran and his ragbag band of misfits, and their quest to find the Three-Eyed Raven. I never minded him; I always figured his journey would pay off big-time somewhere down the line. But I digress. Like him or not, his journey had concluded, his narrative purpose served. It made sense that, now he's the 3ER, he's "gone beyond".
His Dr. Manhattan-like disinterest in the affairs of man - it worked. Mightn't have done much to make the character any more likeable, but it worked, narratively. But now, he's happy to become King of the entire realm?
The whole "I don't want it, but I'll do it" loophole doesn't work either. Firstly, he also said "Why do you think I came all this way?", implying to me that he was certainly ready and willing to take the throne, but mainly: If he's now okay with the responsibility of leadership, well, isn't he the rightful heir of Winterfell?
His inhuman distance as the 3ER legitimised his decision to abdicate his position in the North, but now he's just fine with taking up the reins (and the reign) here? Whaa? It's tacked a weird inconsistency onto the end of what was a (mostly successfully) completed character arc, and made a bit of a mockery of what went before in the process.
And how ham-fisted was that monarch election, anyway? The Unsullied (who, just like the gone-again-back-again Dothraki and the Lannister army before them, seem to contract or expand significantly in size depending entirely upon the needs of the action points in any particular episode) have two prisoners they'd like to execute, but haven't (why, given the crimes for which they're imprisoned?).
They bring Tyrion out, leave Jon in the hole. Why? Tyrion, a prisoner awaiting the real possibility of death, is instructed not to speak and promptly makes a speech (why is he permitted to do this? Why do they not only listen, but adhere completely to his instruction?) about Bran being the obvious heir to Westeros, citing some bumshit about Bran having the best "story". EH?
I dunno about Tyrion Lannister, but I've seen Game of Thrones and I can promise him that, across this land and all the lands beyond, the Bran segments of the show were almost always the put-the-kettle-on, go-for-a-shit segments. "Ah, good, Bran's on. I'm busting for a pooh, I'm off to the kharzi. Call me though if something good comes back on."
I laughed out loud when Edmure Tully got put in his place, and yet once it had become apparent that they were about to throw Bran's entire 8-year 3ER raison d'etre in the bin for no other discernible reason than to put a random on the throne, I was genuinely wishing they had just given it to Edmure. It would still have been random and anticlimactic, but at least it would've made more narrative sense than what they did.
R + L = J: How much significance did Game of Thrones place upon the mystery of Jon Snow's true parentage, over the course of the series? Seems to me like they constantly placed a lot of significance indeed, over and over. A big big mystery, the answer to which would have big, big repercussions. And yes indeed, the revelation that Ned Stark's bastard, who had already sworn himself for life to the Night's Watch, was actually a trueborn Targaryen and the genuine rightful heir to the Iron Throne should have massive repercussions, shouldn't it?
So how did it wind up not mattering in the bloody slightest? What was the fupping point of any of that? Everything Jon did throughout Game of Thrones, he could've done in EXACTLY the same way had he really just been Ned Stark's b*stard.
Joined the Watch; fought the wildlings; made peace with the wildlings; got killed; got resurrected; left the watch; fought the Boltons; reclaimed the North for House Stark; got reluctantly proclaimed King in the North off the back of his Stark lineage; sought assistance from the Dragon Queen against The Night King; bent the knee to his new Queen and girlfriend; parlayed unsuccessfully for a truce against the Lannisters; beat The Night King; beat the Lannisters; put his girlfriend on the throne; realise she's become an insane bitch because of hastily-sketched writing issues; stabbed her to death; awaited trial for a few months; got sent back to the redundant wall. In what way did his being Aegon Targaryen matter, even slightly?
I mean, there are plenty of ways in which it should've mattered. Most pressingly amongst which should've been the fact that, if he's the rightful claimant to the throne, then he really hadn't killed the Queen at all. Just his usurper auntie. Or, the knowledge of his lineage might've altered the dynamic of his relationships with the Lannister twins, both of whom thought the sun shone out of Jon's true father's arsehole.
Or, maybe, if Dany can control dragons then maybe he can, too. Maybe every time she screamed "DRACARYS!" he could've screamed "FIREXTINGWYS!" and saved the innocents of King's Landing. I don't know. Nobody knows, now. Nobody will ever know, now. It's irrelevant, now.
Euron Greyjoy and The Iron Fleet (not a complaint limited solely to the final season, but an issue imho emblematic of the Weiss/Benioff writing period): "Build me a thousand ships!" So trumpeted Euron Greyjoy a couple of seasons ago after Theon and Yara scarpered with the best boats in the Iron Fleet.
Okay. Now, one may argue the toss about exactly how many ships Euron had remaining, or how much time elapsed between him losing a portion of the fleet to Theon and Yara in season six, and ambushing that same fleet on its way to Dorne with his shiny new fleet in season seven, or how long it takes to build even a single wooden battleship in a time roughly analogous to the Middle Ages, how many men to build it, how many men to crew it, how many resources needed etc. etc.,
But - whatever way you want to slice it, Euron and The Iron Fleet are a big fat magic Deus Ex Machina, there to pop up as a completely unlikely yet overwhelming threat whenever the writing calls for it, paying scant regard to the fact that it would surely have taken years, maybe decades, for Euron to put a fleet of that magnitude and power back in the water.
To the fact that many men of the Greyjoy navy followed Yara and Theon to Essos; to the fact that the Iron Islanders have already been long painted as successful reavers and raiders and rapers and lots of other things beginning with "Arrrrrrrrr!", but they're far from invincible and have been defeated by the Starks, the Tullys and the Lannisters at one time or another. And yet, when he's needed to completely obliterate Dany's fleet, there's Euron.
And when he's needed to box the Unsullied in at Casterley Rock, there's Euron. And when someone is need to successfully hide from an airborne dragon before shooting that dragon whilst it's in flight, three times, from a floating platform behind a rock, there's Euron.
And when the writers suddenly decide that Cersei's supremacy at sea needs to be obliterated immediately because they've written themselves into a corner with an unstoppable naval antagonist, there's... um, Drogon, to fuck Euron up like he'd never mattered to begin with (along with all those scorpions along the walls of King's Landing which had looked so ominous only a week earlier, but that's a complaint for elsewhere really). And when Jaime Lannister needs (doesn't need, but still) one more implausible obstacle to overcome before reuniting with his sister, at a secret cove at exactly the same time with nobody else there... there's Euron, one more time.
The Night King and his White Walkers: From the very first scene of the very first episode, these guys were set up as the main threat. An antagonist held back purely by the lack of Winter which, as we were told again and again, was coming. An antagonist which could not be swayed by reason or politics. You daren't engage him in battle because every one of yours who dies, gets back up as one of his.
He and his White Walker generals are impervious to all but dragonglass. But where will we get dragonglass now there are no more dragons? Oh look, that Targaryan girl in Essos has dragons, hopefully she can get across to Westeros and everyone can resolve their petty squabbling in time to come together for the final push at the REAL enemy...
I truly thought that the "game of thrones" would be resolved either quickly at the start of this season or even by the end of last season, so's the final straight would be all about the living vs the dead. How could it not be? And yet it was this mother-of-all-threats which was swept aside in a single episode.
What use were those White Walkers in the end? What did they do, ever? One of them took a sacrificial baby boy from Craster's Keep once. But what else? Their sense of direction was always atrocious, taking as it did seven years to stagger from The Land of Always Winter to Hardhome, in the process entirely missing both The Wall, the biggest landmark in the World of Ice and Fire, and Mance Rayder's combined wildling army, which amassed behind The Fist of the First Men before marching in their tens of thousands on The Wall before themselves being decimated by the larger Baratheon mercenary army, which the White Walkers also managed to miss.
But I'd assumed that, if they ever got their act together, they'd actually prove to be a handful. And, well, the wights were. But the White Walkers themselves... fucking useless. Did nothing. Sat about on their zombie horses looking cool/scary, and that's it. Like The Fields of the Nephilim, but without any tunes.
And wasn't it fortunate that that bit of speculative guesswork regarding the Night King - if we kill him, they'll all die at once, I think - turned out to be spot on? That would've been a proper pisser if he'd died and they'd all stayed upright, eh? Ah, convenient plotting. I mean, it's reduced our principal antagonist to an entirely expendable b-story, but still. Gotta keep things moving, yo. Moving right along!
(Those things that would've been a lot better had the desire to rush everything been resisted)
The Mad Queen: Now, I don't mind the idea of a rise-and-fall tragedy. People change. Circumstances change people. And Game of Thrones has frequently asked us to shift our perspectives on this character or that; on this house or that. That's fine. Done well, it's brilliant.
Breaking Bad (now safe to say, still the greatest show ever to have aired) shows us how a fundamentally good guy can turn completely bad if his darker desires and impulses are given room to take hold. But this transformation has to happen slowly, over time. GoT's approach to The Desolation of Daenerys Targaryen followed the Star Wars: Episodes I-III blueprint for Anakin Skywalker: Keep 'em heroic for almost the entire time made available to turn them bad, then do it all inside one unfathomable scene, right near the end.
Why did she burn the civilians and the surrendered Lannister forces of King's Landing? It made no sense. Some have argued that losing Rhaegal and Missandai in quick succession might've sent her into Beast mode and there's something to that, I suppose, except that there was always going to be grave risk of death to those loved ones she chose to bring with her to a war zone.
Dany was literally - and quite rightly - using Rhaegal as a devastating weapon of mass destruction. He was always going to be a primary target for any enemy she'd ever faced or ever would face. As for Missandai - well, did she need a translator that badly on an assault of King's Landing? Maybe she could've kept her safely up at Winterfell until it was safe to send for her?
Regardless, this berserker attack would've had credence had Dany instigated it from the off, but she didn't. The battle was purely against those taking up arms against her, right up until they'd surrendered unequivocally. All that was left to do was bowl up to the Red Keep and arrest Cersei.
Or, if Dany really wanted to sate her lust for vengeance, she could've simply razed the Red Keep to the ground, with Cersei still rooted in vague disbelief at her balcony, wine in hand and Play-Doh Barbershop hairstyle on head. But it was then, when everything was won and casualties had been kept largely to belligerents, that she went off on a bizarre tear through the streets, killing all and sundry.
I've seen some suggest that she's been this way to some extent for years, but I'm not buying it. She's only killed those who have stood against her. She has frequently sought ways to take cities with minimal bloodshed. She's always given surrendered enemies the opportunity to bend the knee and take up her cause. The Unsullied literally fight for her because she freed them, not because she owns them.
I've also seen it suggested that her lifelong lust for power finally overtook her, and this sort-of plays into the idea that her knowledge of Jon's true lineage (and her knowledge that that knowledge is now in the hands of too many people to keep it under wraps) was a contributing factor to her going bananas. Again, not buying it.
She has said something about wanting this throne all her life IIRC, but if she has said that, it's inconsistent with what's been established before. When we met her in Series 1, she's placidly supporting her brother's far more legitimate claim to the throne; a brother who, incidentally, sells her to a Khal. She has no inclination or desire to sit on that throne whatsoever. She's pretty-much born-and-bred Essos.
In fact, it would probably have made more sense had she simply stayed in Slaver's Bay. Or maybe decided at the death to fuck off back there, leaving Jon to rule Westeros and therefore having the Targaryen dynasty ostensibly ruling a large swathe of the known world.
And Jon stated again and again that he didn't want the throne. He bent the knee. It's all very well the writers sticking in a few token "Ah, he'll have to take it once everyone knows who he is" remarks but the simple fact is that he relinquished both his post at The Night's Watch and his title of King in the North without giving a stinky bumrub about either, and the folk who put him in those positions got over it.
Danny seemed worried her new subjects wouldn't take to her as they would to Jon but, really, who was Jon to these southerners? They don't know him any more than they know Daenerys. And as she's seen before, the people will love her soon enough provided she doesn't SOAR THROUGH THE STREETS ON HER TERRIFYING MYTHOLOGICAL CREATURE INCINERATING EVERYBODY AND EVERYTHING IN HER PATH.
It's not rocket science, and we've seen her successfully traverse this invader/liberator process already, several times. I'd always assumed that was kind-of the point of those dry runs in Astapor, Yunkai and Meereen.
As I said, there's nothing wrong turning a heroic figure bad, but they needed to show this over time so that, when she passed the point of no return, it had become sadly inevitable that she would do so. Not mind-bendingly unfathomable that she would do so. Is this the woman Jorah Mormont died for? Barristan Selmy?
Cleganebowl: Probably a controversial one, this, since most seem to be hailing this scene as one of the bright spots of Series 8. And, in isolation, it was. But pushing Gregor and Sandor together in the manner that they did just felt like fan service to me. It's Cleganebowl, everybody! Roll up! Roll up!
Now, I'm all for Sandor Clegane's journey ending with him and his brother killing one another. But wouldn't it have been better if they'd simply met on the field of battle? A bit more organically? Or if Sandor had been given a more specific, immediate reason for wanting to kill The Mountain? I'm not going to beat this one to death since my complaint here is veering far too near to simply "I didn't like it!" territory but, really, why was he on a singular path of homicidal vengeance anyway?
I know he and his brother didn't especially get on. I know that. I know his brother burnt him in a fight back when they were children. Yes. But... what else? They're both loyal Lannister bannermen at the series start. Sandor's arc sends him on the run after Blackwater, then to attempt to sell Arya Stark back to her family. Then, after his almost fatal run-in with Brienne of Tarth, his path appears to see him find anonymous contentment in a small commune, until that commune is murdered by rogue Brothers Without Banners, against whom he takes vengeance.
He doesn't appear to harbour any desire to find and execute his brother until the writers got wind of social media's enthusiasm for #Cleganebowl, at which point the event became something of an inevitability. In the end it was a decently-executed set piece, granted, but was it really necessary?
If Gregor had cornered Sandor at some stage, sure. Or if Gregor had impacted on Sandor's current life in some devastating way, definitely. But just for Sandor to decide to walk from Winterfell to King's Landing* to kill his brother... I don't get it. It would've been cooler for Sandor to take his own advice and follow Arya out of that castle, then maybe they'd BOTH be heading West. And now we'd be contemplating a frankly unmissable spin-off.
*That journey from Winterfell to King's Landing. With Arya. That's a MASSIVE journey. Continent-sized. It took that same double-act the better part of a season-and-a-half to travel from The Inn at the Crossroads to The Twins, and then on to The Eyrie. And it was arguably one of the best sub-plots in the whole series. This time? At least three times the journey size, completed off-camera, between episodes four and five. What a waste. Why have them travel together? They reached their destination at the same time as Jon/Dany and their armies. May as well not have bothered.
The Incredibly Brief Redemption of Ser Jaime Lannister: I've always felt that Jamie's arc should conclude with his sister in his arms. Preferably because he's finally found the strength to kill her, or possibly because she's finally killed him, or maybe just because they're going to die together, as was ultimately the case.
That said, I've always liked the vague notion of Jaime finding true happiness with Brienne of Tarth. Could he have experienced both outcomes to his journey? Definitely. But was this how to do it? Wham, bam, thank you Brienne, then it's off into the night leaving Brienne simpering like a soap opera character just so's he can get buried under a shallow, suspiciously delicate blanket of bricks. Wow.
Brienne deserved better (she deserved Tormund!), Jaime deserved better, and Cersei of course deserved far worse. The one person in Westeros truly deserving of the full Dracarys treatment, gets nothing of the sort. And what was that whole "new baby for Cersei" about? Another plot thread that came to nothing, wasn't needed.
Jon Snow, back beyond the wall, with the wildlings: Given that Jon didn't die as I always thought that he would, I love this conclusion for him. He never wanted the Iron Throne, or any throne for that matter. And he's always had a special affinity for the free folk.
But again, the manner in which they've reached this conclusion is staggeringly poor. It was a compromise King Bran had to make in order to both keep Jon alive and satisfy Grey Worm's need for justice? Eh? This is the same King Bran who also immediately appointed Grey Worm's other prisoner, Tyrion Lannister, as his Hand? And this is the same Grey Worm who immediately refused resettlement in The Reach, and set sail with his entire Unsullied army to Naath?
And of course, as previously touched upon, Jon Snow didn't kill anybody's Queen; Aegon Targaryan rightly executed his rebellious auntie. So, if Jon's brother the king can effectively pardon him just as he did Tyrion, and if his accusers have fucked off abroad forever, and if Jon technically hasn't committed regicide at all... why is Jon still banished to the wall exactly? And what use is the wall, now?
Is there still a Night's Watch for Jon to serve? And if there is, why did we see him wandering off with Tormund and Co? Has he gone native? Is he now a fugitive from the Watch, a crime punishable by death? Why did this all have to be so vague and woolly at the end?
Apart from that, though, it was a cracking season of telly.