PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT: HUGE SPOILERS AND INFO REGARDING CHARACTERS, DEATHS, ETC. ENJOY!
As we approach the two year anniversary of the beginning of the final season of Game of Thrones, I thought it a good time to go back and discuss. As you’ll find out during the course of this piece, the confusion didn’t just start in the final six episodes, but as the series began to wound down in season seven.
By season 6, the show had a very clear path towards its finale. Cersei had just destroyed everything that stood in her way during the finale of “Winds of Winter,” which stands among my own and many others’ favorite episodes of the series. Even so, King in the north Snow has defeated Ramsay Bolton, and Daenerys Targaryen has completed her conquest and restructuring of Mereen, and the army of the Dead is heading down south.
In season 7, things begin slow, but purposeful. It’s dragging more than most thought, especially with the explosive opening of Arya killing the male Freys, but eventually the plan begins to pull away from anything other than the Others, or White Walkers as they're called in the show, as the decision is made to head North to prove their existence to Cersei in King's Landing. This is where the timeline starts to bend, as well as the narrative idea the series had had from day one, which is “no one is safe.” While traveling north on their reconnaissance mission, Jon Snow, or Aegon Targaryen as we’ll soon find out, are joined by Tormund, the Hound, Beric Dondarion, and of course Jorah Mormont and some others as they navigate the harshest elements the North has to offer. That essentially means blue eyed dead attacking bears, or dead attacking blue eyed ice men, or just normal blue eyed zombies, whichever you prefer. Anyway, they get the zombie but are seen and heard, so the escape becomes paramount. They break ice, create some time, and send for help.
Now this is where things get screwy with the time. For years it's been established as a slow moving show, that gradually ramps up and expandas over entire episodes and sometimes seasons, like the Littlefinger arc that gradually grew in notoriety and mischief for seven seasons before finally being resolved. It’s established also that while Jon and company march north for the White Walkers, he’s been gone for weeks, but in their time of peril the bastard of King Robert Baratheon, Gendry, manages to run in bitter temperatures with creatures everywhere, at least days away, and then they manage to get a raven from the Night's Watch to Stormborn and then the Dragon Queen flies north and saves them, all in less time than it takes literal arctic temperatures to fill in ice? I’m no scientist here, but it seems doubtful. Even a more plausible approach here would have been to have the Hound break the ice, but then to have many of the zombies fall in, creating more tension and dramatically impacting the area of the ice and the time it would take to freeze over. If done right, the time can seem long but also compact, based on the amount of time in the episode.
This would also help change the haste of the next episode, in which the wall falls, a Lannister lies to protect her family, and Littlefinger meets his end. It all feels rushed with the still fresh images of Jon Snow again nearly dying and or freezing to death immediately after seeing him standing up and marching into negotiations in the next episode in King’s Landing, only to then go back to the North the next episode. These trips, up until this season were discussed in terms of weeks, and chunks of episodes were sometimes spent on the road, going from one place to another. Many times it was the setting of some fantastic fight or twist you never saw coming. But now, with the urgency of finishing a series that only two people actually wanted to end, they cast aside all allusions of gradual travel with choices that defied logic and the concept of time entirely.
Much has been made of the rush to be finished by D&D, otherwise known as David Benioff & D.B. Weiss, but at least from the outside, with the full breadth of the internet at my disposal, this much seems at least optimistic: The duo were burnt out and ready to move on, and with the promise of the next Star Wars trilogy offered to them, they decided to bow out. Many of the stars of the show have even mentioned no one wanted to end, and everyone else thought that with this story line trajectory, it could go for ten seasons, with some saying even more could have been possible.
Even so, with the pieces they have in the show, with some simple shuffling around and rearranging, it still could have worked. With the opening of the season, The Dragon Queen and the king of the North arrive in Winterfell, and the rest is mostly formality, with the various roads over the years finally converging on all the Starks finally being together again. After all, they are the first family we see in the opening episode. Beyond that, news of the Lannister betrayal makes its way north, and plans are beginning to take form. All of this seems appropriate, but again, the time crunch makes you question just where the conclusion is heading.
The second episode, while interesting and filled with moments that are poignant and entertaining (the Knighthood of Brienne of Tarth and Tormund’s story about the milk come to mind) lacks things most expected. One of those, especially when how amped up the storyline was, was the little info we ever get regarding the Night King or anything else regarding their history or beginning.
Which takes us to the much discussed “The Long Night.” At this point, we know the truth of Jon and his patronage, and how it relates to the ongoing, some would say self created, plight of the Mother of Dragons. She’s a powerhouse throughout the later years of the series, but in season eight, especially in the last two episodes (as we’ll talk in a bit) she begins to question and kill anyone that threatens her, even if the argument is somewhat valid.
The reasons for the split to her role as the Mad Queen makes sense, but once again, it rushes itself. This sub-plot should have been sprinkled among the last ten to twelve episodes, with the doubt slowly filling her. What we get feels squeezed in to just get it done with, and not at all something that works in this new rushed setting. Which brings us back to the “Long Night.” which for all the complaints, still stands to me as a shining achievement in execution and sheer terror.
The episode itself is a fast paced, thrilling ride, and for my money, the best action the series ever produced. The fear and the sense of dread are abound on the first watch, with the White Walkers finally showing the full force of their carnage. The opening scene is masterful, and brutal, but those aren’t complaints. However, the visuals don’t completely line up with the outcome, which brings us to the point of “no one is safe.” Earlier in the series, this was paramount, with huge deaths like Ned Stark, or Joffrey, or even the barbaric events of the “Red Wedding,” being almost routine in how they divided the audience and impacted the show's future.
In “the Long Night” no one on the front line with any prominence dies, with the major losses only coming from the Dothraki storming into the night as their torches vanished into the endless Winter approaching. Brienne, Jamie Lanister, the Hound, Jorah and everyone else we know and love makes it out. Now maybe it's sensible storytelling, but to me it speaks yet again to a rushed pace. Now, the episode is great,and I still get pumped watching it play out, but I think yet again D&D made a fatal flaw in how the episode is laid out. For years, and YEARS, we’ve been told the White Walkers were the big bad, the ultimate threat, but we rarely get insight into them, and one of the few episodes devoted entirely to them and the fight for survival, ends up being the middle episode when it should’ve been the series finale.
They build up a threat for literal years, insisting to us time and again that death comes for anyone who crosses the path of the WW, and then we get some good deaths, but nothing like the bloodbath we’ve been trained to expect. Theon gets his great redemption arc (which oddly works in a season muddled by wrong moves), but Melissandre and her “Lord of the Light” quest comes to end with basically no questions answered, and well, Jorah dies defending his queen. That moment is poignant and would have been better placed somewhere else in the final episodes, but in the heat of the episode the death scene works, even if it means the death of all the Mormonts during the Long Night.
Lets jumped forward a bit while also going back. In the later episodes we see the siege of King's Landing, the death of the second dragon, and the death of many other people. Some of the final moments of the seventh season also take place in KL, which brings me to my next question- Why wasn’t there a set up by Cersei waiting for them? They couldn’t defeat the armies, sure, but Cersei and company could have left the negotiations with all their enemies in shackles below the Red Keep. This would have created a very moving, and, in my opinion, more believable series of events. The Breaker of Chains, Daenerys Stormborn, Jon Snow & Tyrion Lanister all imprisoned by Cersei. This action leads Jaime to feel ultimately betrayed at the knowledge that this was planned and executed behind his back.
Here’s where the big reveal should’ve come. Jaime, ready to kill Cersei and help the prisoners in the Long Night, finds Cersei, with him… except it's Arya, obviously. Cersei rips off the mask, pushes Arya away, and runs to Jamie, who embraces her. Then he takes her life, fulfilling the prophecy offered by the witch. During this, we’d find out about the real relationship of Targaryen King & Queen, Aegon and Daenerys. We’d also see the much hyped and, to me worthwhile, CleganeBowl, except having the Hound end the life of the Mountain, cutting his head off and pushing him into the fire below.
If done correctly, this gives the final episodes more meat in more important meetings and encounters, but it also ties up the Lannister threat in a way that gives the great villainy of Cersei one more chance to shine before the demise we've been waiting for since the opening episode of the series. As I said earlier, the pieces are there and can be solved optimistically, but the lack of direction from the creators, not to mention the personal choices they made for the characters themselves, leaves much to be desired.
In my eyes it's so simple: You have the war with the Lannisters, you conquer Westeros, and Daenarys, still gradually sinking into her paranoia, but she isn’t able to pull it together enough to rule confidently. If done right the slow descent into the Mad Queen has been happening for many episodes, and when she finally turns it becomes a terrifying moment where everyone has to band together.
Imagine going into the Long Night, with vastly more men than what they had initially. Killing Cersei, Eurion and all the others in the Lannister camp would have resulted in deaths, but much less than what we saw. They also wouldn’t have to make the destruction of Kings Landing as big of a centerpiece. The battle over the sea and beyond the gates could happen intact, same as before, except with the ending finding us at the point of the Mountain's death, as well as the death of Jaime and Cersei, with Jaime killing his sister moments before a recovering Arya nails him as she takes the final names off her list. By this point Jaime has killed Euron Greyjoy, same as in the episode.
Before we continue, I’d like to also mention the choices that strayed from the books more and how they affected the outcome. Let’s just say it, show Euron was terrible, and lacked any of the viciousness we see portrayed in the novels. He’s more used as a snarky side kick who only wants to kill and fuck and make shitty jpkes. They never seem to know exactly what to do with Euron, and he quickly gets old. Another one worth mentioning is the sudden turnaround in Tyrion's intellect. Smartest guy in the world turns into a second guessing idiot in the last episodes, and while the acting is still great, you can see the choices not making sense. In any other show nothing would have changed, but yet again it paints an idea in my head that the choices made weren’t made in service to the story, instead serving as a means to tie up loose ends quicker, whether or not they make sense.
Finally, here we should have been. The world's remaining forces make their way to Winterfell, to defeat the ultimate threat. In the final episodes the world saw, and which most left unsatisfied, a major disservice was done not only to Clarke as an actress but to Daenerys as a character. Sure, we all knew the chances of her becoming the Mad Queen seemed decent, but as I’m about to explain, maybe it didn’t need to happen at all.
Allow me to pose a question: did having the Breaker of Chains, the Mother of Dragons, Daenerys Stormborn, first of her name going mad really make the end of the series any better? In my opinion, the answer is no. Instead, wouldn’t it be better to see her take the crown, sit atop the Iron Throne, thus fulfilling her prophecy? We could have had that leading up to the final episodes in Winterfell, with our Queen meeting her fate at the hands of the Night King. This would have worked in a few ways. One, it gives the Queen and the character a satisfying death while still giving Jon Snow and company a reason to fight til the end.
Honestly, nothing much about the episode would even have to change. Jorah can die still protecting his Queen, Theon can still get his redemption arc, and we get a major death near the end. It also works in how the finale could end. All along the Queen has made difficult choices but always with an eye toward freedom for anyone who wants and deserves it. With Daenerys dying, it gives everyone a reason to continue to create the world she helped envision and shape.
This act makes the battle worthwhile, and all the deaths before it worthwhile. The Queen and Drogon die in battle, as her Nephew Aegon, son of Prince Rhaegar Targaryen and Lyanna Stark continues on with Rhaegal, their dragon's blood bonded between them. During the closing moments, the deaths are observed, with many prominent faces being laid to rest from the devastation. We see Brienne, Gendry, the Hound, only defeating his monstrous brother to help the Brothers without Banners and company one more time as they fought the White Walkers, and died for it.
During these segments, plans are made, mass funerals and burnings are held, and Tyrion, speaking to the now King Aegon “Jon” Targayen as he takes his seat on the Iron Throne. Sansa takes over in the North, Arya begins to build her legend, and Bran rests, as the darkness is temporarily sidelined after the defeat of the Night King. Sure it’s a little bit of fan service, but sometimes people should get what they want.
Landon Murray is a New Orleans native, who thrives on painting the world he interprets through the useful forms of all types of art he feels connected to. He's seen over 1000 bands, and had loved mostly every minute of it. He has an amazing 10 year old dog, and is loving life.
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