Whether you stand in the camp of incredible entertainment or an insult to television, you are undoubtedly anticipating the end of Game of Thrones. With the series finale airing this Sunday, everyone from you and me to our long lost aunts (…but, uh, not in a weird Thrones way) is debating the merits of the season, its effect on the show overall, and how it could possibly end. A tumultuous and highly argued penultimate episode led to fury and/or delight, and the sixth and final episode of the season is sure to do the same. Below, we offer our thoughts on that big battle, those heel turns, the season as a whole, and where we can see it going. Safe to say, spoilers abound.
Well, let’s start with our freshest feelings. Episode 5: love or hate?
Austin: Is there a feeling worse than hate? Because that’s the feeling I had. As a person who enjoys dabbling in writing, narrative, development, and character motivation are the most important things to me while watching literally anything. I want to understand why they’re doing the things they do, and feel like it has been earned via the path they’ve been on. Yeah, “The Bells” had all the makings of an incredible visual feat, and a battle we honestly haven’t really seen the likes of, but it was unjust. We’ll get to the specifics (i.e. Mad Queen, Jaime, etc.), but I think it’s obvious that they don’t work given what has preceded. In a vacuum, this episode is top notch. With all that we know and have seen, it is a major letdown. Sapochnik is an incredible director though. Shame Benioff and Weiss weren’t up to the writing task.
Chandler: Love it. Purely for the groundbreaking visual spectacle we were all treated to. Game of Thrones has managed to set the gold standard season after season for innovative cinematography and with this episode they’ve truly reached the pinnacle of filmmaking. The audience really saw the carnage the townspeople were experiencing as Drogon burned their families and homes. I actually found myself feeling sorry for them in a way city-destroying directors Michael Bay and Roland Emmerich are never able to capture. Miguel Sapochnik should receive an award for his efforts and find himself in high demand for other directing jobs.
Favorite moment from the episode?
Austin: My God (sorry…My Lord of Light), for how much fury filled my heart watching and after, this episode really was filled with some awe-inspiring moments. Let’s list a few:
- Drogon appearing out of the dark above Dany to burn Varys
- Jaime and Tyrion’s heartfelt goodbye
- Dany/Drogon bursting open the front gate and decimating The Golden Company
- The Dany staredown as the bells toll
- Arya and The Hound’s final conversation. RT if u cry evrytiem.
- Cersei doing the “ope, just gonna sneak right past ya!” midwestern-style exit
- Qyburn getting tossed like a ragdoll
- This image:
- Jaime and Cersei seeing each other again and dying (OK, actually, kind of hated this one)
But, somehow, my favorite was actually Harry Strickland getting bopped by Grey Worm after his legendary sellsword army got wrecked. It was hilarious to have all the speculation about The Golden Company and how they level the playing field just for them to do absolutely nothing. Watching this oddly contemporary English-looking dude (was I the only one that thought he looked SUPER out of place in the Thrones world?) sitting there bewildered and terrified as the rush of northern, Unsullied, and Dothraki troops approach was hilarious. I turned to my friend and went, “Ahhhhhhh, yes. Now I see why we didn’t learn more about them.” It was the best subversion of expectations Benioff and Weiss have pulled.
Chandler: My favorite moment was simple but emotionally moving—the final conversation between Jaime and Tyrion. Both of these characters have relied so much on each other to carry themselves through some of the worst moments of the show. I found myself tearing up when Tyrion told Jamie that if it weren’t for him he would have never survived his childhood. We all know their father Tywin practically did everything he could to denounce Tyrion and make him feel worse than humanly possible. For all the bad things Jaime did on the show, his compassion for his brother was what connected us to him in the audience. Jaime Lannister wasn’t the monster he believed himself to be. He really did have a heart.
Moment you hated?
Austin: I mean, I could do the same thing as above but with the worst moments. So, let’s do it.
- Varys committing treason in broad daylight
- Varys assuming Jon would be a good ruler with limited knowledge of his stances
- Varys betraying Dany even though he aided and encouraged her ancestors and people with similar bloodlust (which Dany had not even shown at this point!!!)
- Side note: Varys became like a jealous significant other that gets angry at their better half for saying some random person is pretty attractive in a one-off conversation with a group of people. Like, Varys baby, it’s just a thought. No harm done. They’re not acting on the thought.
- Tyrion betraying Varys even though he is the foremost thinker, outside of Sansa, that Dany is a bad ruler
- Euron washing ashore at just the right time and then fighting Jaime because ?????
- Jaime surviving two kidney stabs
- Cersei only getting to stare out the window, somehow not seeing the destruction and loss before her
- Arya’s pointlessness
- Arya surviving ~4000 falling buildings, sprays of dragonfire, soldiers, etc.
- Dany going crazy and committing genocide
- Jaime saying he doesn’t care about the civilians even though he became The Kingslayer™ because he cared about the civilians
My number one though is the ineffectiveness of the scorpions. My ferocity of vitriol to this episode stems from Dany’s sudden turn, but ultimately could have been healed easily. If the scorpions, and Euron himself, were so goddamn accurate that they struck Rhaegal three times from miles away and behind a cliff, they sure as shit should have been able to hit Drogon now. Instead, she takes them out with ease. Ok, cool. How about we have Rhaegal not FUCKING DIE in the last episode (maybe simply get hit in the wing), have him help wreck King’s Landing, and then have someone kill Rhaegal whilst chilling in victory as the bells are ringing, spurning Dany’s sudden, lightswitch moment into bloodthirsty vengeance. Come on!!!!!! GOD DAMMIT I’M ANGRY AGAIN.
Chandler: Harry Strickland. Dumb name and a stupid smug look on his face. Remind me what the hell his purpose in this show was?
That Dany heel turn…earned or absurd?
Austin: Absurd! Are you kidding me? Let me put it simply for everyone out there: Foreshadowing is a plot device, not a substitute for character development and motivation. We can have references to Targaryens being mad. We can have the “coin toss” quote. We can have her talk about what she could do. But none of that replaces development. Yes, they’ve been working toward it, it was obviously always a possibility, but they stuffed the development and devolvement of her mental state into two episodes.
Hell, I’d even argue it was just a few scenes this episode. Just because her hair is disheveled (hello, ever gone to a new hair stylist before? Not gonna be a perfect hair day when your hair person gets decapitated) and she’s got tired eyes doesn’t mean it’s fair or reasonable for her to all of a sudden become unhinged. Yes, she lost her second child, best friend, hair stylist, and father figure very recently. Yes, her advisors are questioning her ability to lead (out of fucking nowhere mind you). Yes, her boyfriend’s family does not like her, and her boyfriend seemingly just dumped her. That’s a lot. But she’s had a lot of terrible shit happen to her and never strayed from protecting and saving the innocent. She never thought, “huh? Weird. My life kinda sucks. Let’s just murder a ton of people.” I get all of that can build up, I get the sight of her family’s former home and kingdom, that was taken from them by people who wanted to have her killed as a child, that still do not respect her, would spark intense anger, but she has not once given the vibe that she would murder hundreds of thousands of innocent people for no reason.
She said she wanted to rule by fear? She sparked fear in all of them! They rang the bells because of fear. If she was mad they didn’t see her as their savior, but rather a foreign malevolent invader, identify that! Thrones has always been at its best when people are talking, when we see them go through nuanced emotions and explain themselves. All we got were a couple quotes about ruling by fear.
And for those that suggest her earlier burnings and violence represent the easy shift to Mad Queen, I say, you are dumb. Those were all in service of making the cities, population, world a better place. I’m fine with her going crazy on King’s Landing, but add more to it. Add more build up. Make me believe her transition. Cersei won the mental game, she trapped the civilians in King’s Landing so Dany would have to do that to win, but she ultimately didn’t. They rang the bells, they surrendered. She could have flown and destroyed the Red Keep, it could have fallen and killed civilians, it could have sparked the wildfire caches. This all would still certify her as bloodthirsty and vengeful, but not wholly genocidal, which she has never been.
Chandler: In the end it was slightly earned and there were bread crumbs over all of the seasons that pointed us in this direction. That’s why there were numerous predictions over the years that this was going to happen. The problem was how we got there. We all cheered at those incredible times when Daenerys burned her enemies, freed slaves and was adored as ‘Mhysa’. The music swelled and those moments gave us hope that Daenerys would come to save the day after the audience suffered so much from all of the Stark deaths. But going back you can see there was an anger in her as she threatened and commanded as it was her “birthright” being the last known Targaryen.
There were too many details to fill in the blanks and instead we got something that felt shallow and incomplete. Following this episode there is no redemption for Daenerys. Say what you want about Cersei, she never genocided King’s Landing. It’s surprising to say now that the Dragon Queen did the worst harm of any character on the show. I kind of chuckle to myself thinking of all the new parents who named their daughter Khaleesi or Daenerys. That’s like naming your son Stalin. Whoops!
Thoughts on Euron vs. Jaime?
Austin: My favorite hot topic bro washing ashore at the right time to fight someone he should have no gripes with? My favorite grunge era sex-crazed pirate with the humor and vocabulary of a high school freshman not hightailing it out of there after seeing the war was lost? It’s not like he actually cared for Cersei. If they wanted them to fight, then fine. Have Euron wash up a little bit after Jaime and have them fight in front of Cersei. Have Euron have more than just the toxic masculinity/roid rage factor fueling his desire to fight Jaime. It just felt pointless. Jaime didn’t even die from the fight (though he should have). “I killed Jaime Lannister.” No you didn’t, dumbass, and why do you even care if you did?
Chandler: Euron obviously had to die so I was generally ‘ok’ with him having a final fight with Jaime. I’m just glad Jaime got the better of him because I would have been PISSED if he actually killed Jaime and left him on the shoreline. We all know Jaime deserved better than that and I can live comfortable knowing he got to see Cersei one last time.
Did Cleganebowl live up to the hype?
Austin: 1000000%. It gets slightly diminished by the idiocy surrounding it, but it really was amazing. The Hound finally faces his two fears: his big brother and fire. I mean, the poetry in motion of him sending himself and The Mountain off the tower into the blaze below is beautiful. He conquered everything that made him what he was, and while he fell ill to his vengeance, it was the only way he could be free. His world was filled with violence, something he could never escape, even when he found the peaceful settlement. It’s only right that it was the only way he could go out.
Outside of those higher meanings, it was a cool fight. Two of the biggest, most impressive fighters going toe-to-toe is always going to lead a stunning combat sequence. The Mountain has been a freakin’ cartoon ever since he became The Zombie Mountain®, so we can’t revel in much there, but letting Sandor (we call him that now. Put some respect on his name.) work in the absurd Frankenstein appearance of his brother is a perfect cap to his character, one who always stood to call out the outlandishness of the world we watched. The eye-gouging was a nice callback to the trial by combat with Oberyn. Sandor yelling “just fucking DIEEEEEEEEEEE” should spurn memes and is a nice reference to me watching this show the past couple weeks. That imagery (shown higher up in this article) of him looking up the stairs at his foe and the dragonfire raining across the sky is a piece of cinematography that rivals the best.
Chandler: Absolutely! And it was probably the biggest highlight of the season. Admittedly, I wasn’t sure we would get this fan service. The characters moved farther and father apart from each other and seemed destined to separate on their own paths. I guess it was good season 8 was rushed because we didn’t have to wait long for this to play out.
Is there a better visual than that of the tower exploding as Drogon burns everything down in the background? My favorite moment was when these two titans clashed their swords together. With my sound system turned up, it felt like a sonic boom in my living room. I loved the back and forth throughout their matchup because it showed how these two were some of the toughest competitors in all of Westeros. The only fitting end for them was for Sandor to sacrifice himself to take his brother out in a river of fire. It was perfect.
How do we feel about Cersei’s final outing?
Austin: Was I supposed to feel something? It’s just another thing in line with the other issues of the episode: they wrap up a storyline and character arcs without the time required to make it worthy. I’m fine with Jaime going back to Cersei (I think that’s the best thing to happen for his character! He’s addicted to her! It’s weird but it’s true love!) but his turn from leaving her in disgust, cohabiting with Brienne for an episode, and then one-night-standing her so he can get back to Cersei is way rushed. Seven seasons of deep character development thrown out the window. Just cause he may have gotten to this point doesn’t mean he was actually justifiably at that point yet.
That’s not even mentioning the lack of things and development Cersei has been given to do the past two seasons. All she’s done since blowing up the Sept is stand on the balcony, drink wine, and glare out over King’s Landing. It’s a shame one of, if not THE, best villain in the show was relegated to what I do after a stressful day of work on a summer day.
Chandler: I thought it was fitting. Cersei died in the very halls she felt the safest. She lied, cheated, and murdered her way to sit on the Iron Throne and was the best person in the show at playing the game. In pure George R.R. Martin fashion too, I actually found myself sympathizing for her at the very end. Game of Thrones always had a way of doing that with her character. Just as she was receiving some form of justice for the horrible actions she committed, the story would make you feel sorry for what’s been happening to her. And that’s what really makes Game of Thrones unique. Stories are often written in black and white, bad vs. good. But George R.R. Martin was always trying to show the audience the perspectives of the characters from every side.
Let them decide who they should root for. Yes, I would have also been ‘ok’ with Jamie or Arya killing her but having the whole Red Keep come tumbling down on you with no escape is actually a pretty horrible way to die. My only complaint was Cersei not having an exit strategy or one final trick up her sleeve to play against Daenerys. She pretty much bowed out uncharacteristically this season after being propped up as the true villain on Game of Thrones.
Before we get to predictions, what are your thoughts on the season as a whole?
Austin: It’s not good. Season 7 was filled with stupid decisions but it was at least OK. This season is just hitting story beats without the build up, which ultimately defeats the purpose and payoff of those moments. It’s clear Benioff and Weiss just wanted to be done with it considering they were offered full length seasons or even extra seasons if need be (honestly, they just needed one more season or 5 more normal-length episodes IMO) but said they could do it in these abbreviated versions. Obviously, they just cared about hitting the bare minimum, capitalizing on the points given to them by GRRM, the highlights they wanted to hit (Arya killing Night King), and fan service (Brienne and Jaime and other favs interacting). Even if that was their goal, they still could have written much better, logical circumstances and scenes that make their fast-path plotting sensible and actually work emotionally.
I know people have retroactively started to hate on seasons 5 and 6, because that’s when book material ran out, but those still were competently written and contain some of my favorite episodes while being mostly from Benioff and Weiss’s brains. That just shows how much they stopped caring these past two seasons. They want to be done. Us viewers just had to suffer for it.
I would like to note that the episodes of people talking and interacting outside of action have been decent. They’re reminiscent of the old episodes. Granted, a lot of those scenes and moments are ruined by idiotic decisions following (Ep. 2 is the perfect setup as goodbyes to many a character, only to have them all live in outlandish circumstances), but still, in the heat of the moment those are enjoyable. The action is incredible and leaves me fairly awestruck in terms of the film-making ability. There are epic set pieces that lack some more cohesive and standout character hand-to-hand action, but still are a sight to behold.
Chandler: If someone told me the fate of the characters in the end I would have been ‘ok’ with a majority of the decisions. My problem is the execution of filling in the pieces to tie up these storylines. By all accounts it sounds like Benioff and Weiss knew where they had to take the story in the end, they just didn’t know how to land this beast in two shortened seasons. They have been rushing everything when they didn’t have to. It sounds like HBO had given them free reign to determine how long they wanted to draw this story out.
Instead we’re left with something that doesn’t feel truly earned. Here are some of the thoughts below:
- The White Walkers are dead but never felt like a real threat in the end because they were taken out so quickly despite all of the hype over the years.
- Daenerys’ heel turn might have been teased for seasons but it happened in 30 seconds. And why? Did she not call herself a savior in Essos? Or did losing two dragons and two advisors make it seem like getting revenge on thousands of innocent people justified?
- Cersei and Jaime’s story arcs were some of the most compelling in the whole show but in 10 minutes their fate was determined. I guess Jaime didn’t care Cersei sent Bronn to kill him.
- Does Bran as the Three-Eyed Raven really matter at this point? He basically checked out in Episode 3.
- Tyrion used to be the best character in the show for a solid four seasons. Ever since he became Daenerys’ advisor he’s been basically useless. They couldn’t find anything for him to do but end up as Daenerys’ foil.
Overall, I wouldn’t say Season 8 is bad. It’s just that 13 episodes over the last two seasons isn’t enough to completely wrap up one of the biggest epics of all time. Benioff and Weiss better be careful because if they think Game of Thrones fans are rabid, just try messing up a Star Wars film and see what the fans do to you.
How would you rank the episodes of Season 8 so far?
Austin: From best to worst: 2, 4, 3/1, 5. Think that’s an indication of what works for this show and what, when left out, makes it fall short?
“A wise man once said the true history of the world is the history of great conversations in elegant rooms.”
Chandler: From best to worst: 5, 3, 4, 2, 1. The battles were the biggest yet and it was pure enjoyment if you tune out the rushed storyline at times.
What would be a satisfying ending to you?
Austin: I don’t even know. I guess if we retcon a lot of my feelings and make me think that this Wikipedia summary ass season of plotting contained reasonable character development, then I’d go with: Arya is killed while trying to assassinate Dany; Jon heads north to live with Tormund and Ghost finally gets his deserved nose boop and ear scratch; Sansa orders a rebellion a la Robb when Ned was killed; Tyrion comes up with an actual successful plan for the first time in three seasons; and Dany rules the Seven Kingdoms using fear with detractors to her throne left and right, a peg on the wheel she vowed to break, ruling malevolently after all her time desired to be the queen of the people. No one wins, and history repeats itself.
Chandler: There are too many rushed storylines to ever adequately give Game of Thrones the satisfying ending it truly deserves. Up until Season 8, I felt this was the best TV show of all time, from start to finish. End of discussion. But now, there’s some room for debate.
To have a somewhat satisfying ending, I need see some purpose behind these actions. It doesn’t have to be another tale of the ‘good guys’ overcoming the odds to win and we all go home with a happy ending. If Daenerys is meant to sit on the throne, show the audience that it was earned, that there was a reason to her burning down King’s Landing against everyone’s objections. Because right now the only resolution that makes sense is for her to be executed for her crimes against humanity and for Jon to take the crown. Through 8 seasons of never-ending conflict, he’s literally been dragged through hell to get to this point. And after all of the suffering in Westeros, don’t the people deserve a ruler who isn’t going to burn them alive and their families because it’s ‘their right’ to rule? Jon never needed any of the ridiculous titles to his name to command the respect of his people and his track record as the reluctant hero is incredibly admirable. Varys was right, Jon is the true king and I think it would be fitting to see him go full Gladiator ending and install a democracy to ‘break the wheel’ of monarchs.
How do you think it will actually end?
Austin: I truly do not know. If I had to put money down I’d venture that Dany is murdered by Arya or Jon, or Jon may get killed by Dany, then the rest of the kingdom is split into several rulers (wheel broken! But at what cost!?!? Wow, much subversion!) or Sansa just rules from the North. I don’t know and I hardly care at this point. Let Dany burn everyone but Ghost and Tormund for all it matters.
Chandler: I believe Benioff and Weiss are intentionally setting up Arya to kill Daenyers following the genocide of King’s Landing. It seems very unlikely the “good” characters will sit idly by and just hand over rule to the Mad Queen. Because of Daenerys’ actions, Tyrion lost his siblings, Jon and Arya witnessed the murdering of innocent lives up close and personal, Sam’s father and brother were executed, and we all know the north clearly has no love for her.
Daenerys has lost her credibility so she will attempt to lead by fear. But Jon has all the momentum going for him to ultimately sit on the Iron Throne. As a war hero, he has the respect of his people. He has allies across houses via the Starks, Arryns, and Baratheons. And if Vary’s “little birds” got the word out in time, it’s now known across Westeros that Jon has the true pedigree lineage to rule. I believe Jon will draw the line against Daenerys and it will take everyone working with him to take her out. We should expect Sansa and Bran to reappear in the finale to offer their assistance and since this is Game of Thrones, we’re probably going to see at least one more shocking death. Unfortunately it will probably be Tyrion as he betrays Daenerys and tries to jump ship in the end to Jon’s side. But I believe it will be Arya coming into save the day once again with a many faces disguise to get close enough to Daenerys and deliver a well-placed Valyrian dagger.
In the end, Jon reluctantly takes the crown he never wanted and unites the remaining houses to rebuild and finally bring peace to Westeros.
Does this sour the previous seasons?
Austin: I don’t think so. Obviously, the whole White Walker threat becomes a bit more lame and much less scary, but the journey is still incredible up to this season/last season. I also think that we’ll look back much more kindly on Season 8 than we view it now. We ultimately are a species that are respondent to big moments, not the in-between, so while we may not like how these things have come about, most are in agreement that the big moments are pretty solid themselves. The path just kinda sucks due to the shortcuts taken.
I will say, though, that Jon’s story may be ruined retroactively no matter what happens. He is built up and up and up and never gets his moment he was destined for (killing the Night King). I don’t necessarily thinks there’s anything wrong with that twist (the typical hero doesn’t become the hero) but he still has been given nothing to do this season. He is just a device meant to propel Dany’s escalation to Mad Queen status, nothing more. It’s disappointing.
Chandler: Absolutely not. Just as the the first few seasons of The Office are greatly cherished, Game of Thrones will still go down as one of the best TV shows ever made. But depending on how the show ends, it may affect my ability to rewatch it. Most mega-hit TV shows never really satisfy fans in the finale and the later seasons are often incredibly divisive. It’s because these shows become too popular and take on a life of their own with the countless blogs, articles, and videos devoted to analyzing every outlandish plot theory. Everyone has an idea in their mind how they would like the story arcs to conclude and it’s impossible to deliver on everyone’s expectations.
Lastly, and most importantly, will Ghost finally get the boop and ear scratch he so well deserves?
Austin: Probably not because this world is forsaken with betrayal and doom, and happy moments are reserved for the worst of humanity. My head canon is that Ghost finds Nymeria and they’re enjoying running gallantly across the wintry northern land, returning to see Tormund for a hello every now and then.
Chandler: Nope and any explanation from the director of how he was trying to create drama by not giving Ghost his moment is simply bullshit. The direwolves are mostly CGI, and they didn’t want to spend the time editing Jon in the same frame with Ghost to share a much needed heartfelt goodbye. It’s lazy and very unsatisfying considering how important the direwolves are in the books. Unfortunately Benioff and Weiss have never really cared about them.