At Game’s End (A Song of Fans and Rage)

SPOILERS AHEAD, MATEY

We watched horrible things happen to people we loved. We cheered as they fought to reclaim their place in the world—they journeyed vast and unforgiving lands, escaped attempts against their lives, and played the game. In quests for vengeance, in quests for power, we wept for them, we exalted them.

And then they started acting strange.

And then they really pissed us off.

At a certain point, many of us realized for all Game of Thrones’ dizzying, heart-plummeting acrobatics, it might not stick the landing. And that kinda sucked, because the story has been damn good.

Some fans decided to ask, why? Some got angry. Some screamed “MULLIGAN!” deep into the heart of the internet and started a petition to remake the show.

Some blamed Benioff and Weiss. Some blamed HBO. It sounded something like this:

“They can’t write good!”

“George RR Martin left!”

“HBO rushed it!”

“Benioff and Weiss rushed it!”

“These aren’t my characters anymore!”

“Starbucks!”

The change.org petition to re-do the last season has reached over a million signatures. Ask yourself, if that ultimate wish was granted, what exactly that redone season would look like? Would HBO capture Benioff and Weiss and force them to change their vision? Would the cast assume their roles again, despite exhaustion? I’m sure there’d be so much passion going into the project… Sounds like it would be great. The alternative to all of that, I guess, is to get different show-runners at the very least, different actors possibly (that’s ridiculous, by the way). Who’d run the show? Fans? So, we’d get a remade season that is essentially fan-fiction? Yikes.

This, friendies, is the Great Age of Fans and the Internet. I’m a fan, too, though. Here’s my take on on the game’s end.

Let me preface this with an apology. If I omit anything or mistake pieces of information regarding previous seasons, please forgive me, as I’m going off recollection from my original viewing. I’d love to rewatch the show in its entirety at some point, when time is more forgiving. Now, let’s snuggle up in the hotbed of controversy.

Here goes. Personally, the penultimate season (7) wasn’t a problem for me. This was the first “fast travel” season, in my opinion—meaning characters traveled great distances in a matter of a few scene changes versus entire seasons worth of journeying. I forgave this because I knew we were gearing up for an endgame. We finally got several long awaited Stark reunions. Jon and Daenerys met. We watched everyone prepare for the ultimate threat, putting differences aside (except Cersei, no surprise there). We ended with an unwelcome revelation—the truth of Jon Snow’s identity. This, of course, cast a dark shadow over the hope of unification between the good old northern boy and the dragon girl. All in all, a satisfying end to the season, with enough resolution to satisfy me, and enough plot development to leave me speculating. I yet had faith in the end of the story to come.

My first red flag was the announcement Season 8 would only be six episodes. Season 7 scraped by on seven episodes (opposed to the usual ten), but I again attributed this to “endgame.” I figured the episodes would have a longer runtime, and wrap everything up in cinematic flare.

Onward to the first two episodes. Runtime? The same as all previous episodes, by and large. Okay, I thought, they’ll get longer as the season goes on (they only kind of did). As for content, I was fully on board. We got more satisfying reunions. Character arcs came to fruition. We had quiet and poignant moments before the great and hyped Battle of Winterfell. And I was glad to have these moments with characters I cared deeply about, because this is Game of Thrones, and I knew the body count for the coming battle would be high.

I was also hungry for resolution. The Night King and his horde were a threat from the very first scene of the show. I couldn’t wait for the mythological aspects to finally reveal their purpose—all those resurrections, Bran’s abilities, prophecies—finally it would all make sense.

But it didn’t.

Now, this show is all about subverting expectations. I get that. I like that. But not at the cost of compelling storytelling. Despite major character deaths and failed revenge plots and arcs “cut short,” the majority of time this show always made sense to me. There’s been controversy, surely, but not like this.

The Long Night didn’t have many casualties. That’s good, right? Yes and no. We’re happy to have many of our favorites live, but that also robs the battle of weight and consequence. In fact, I’ve never seen so many “movie moments” in this show. I’m talking about times where a major character is overwhelmed and on the verge of death, only to have another major character come out of nowhere and save them. It happens a lot in this episode.

Then we have Arya. My wife and I screamed “oh SHIIIT!” like everyone else when she slayed the Night King. And ended the battle. Quickly. Dare I say, anticlimactically? Apparently there were threaded elements at play, such as Bran giving Arya the dagger made of Valyrian steel meant to kill him, so it was sort of poetic or something. And if we expected Jon to go up against the Night King, as the show had built up, well, expectation subverted! In the end, the big bad shattered into glass, and in a heartbeat the day was saved.

I believe Arya’s arc built up to this moment to a certain degree. She deserves this. My problem is more in how it plays out in the episode. The execution acts very much like a deus ex machina.

These storytelling methods bother me even more when I think about Beric (eye patch guy that was brought back to life a bunch of times) and Jon, especially Jon’s resurrection, the prophecy of a “lightbringer,” and Bran’s transformation into the Three Eyed Raven. What was it all for? One can argue Beric’s purpose was to protect Arya, and Jon’s was to unite everyone in this battle to stave off the white walker horde to give Arya a chance to kill the Night King. Bran was always meant to be glorified bait, I guess. In fact, this is probably most like how “god” works; setting pieces up on a chessboard and manipulating them in ways beyond our comprehension.

But it sure as hell doesn’t make for compelling storytelling.

Minor quibbles for episodes 4 and 5:

•Euron and team got lucky as shit to hit that dragon so many times. Wow. Pretty crazy how they can hit one dragon 5 times and the next episode fail to hit it at all and get their entire fleet toasted.

•How did Missandei get captured, exactly? How long did it take to bring her back to Cersei? How far were the ships?

•Jaime goes back to save his sister. I hoped he’d get a happy ending, but okay. Then, Euron dives into the water after surviving a dragon, and ends up on shore… right in the exact same spot as Jamie. What are the odds?

On the whole, I enjoyed the episodes post Long Night. Episode 4 less than episode 5, but at least there’s weight and consequence to both. And boy, does the final episode deliver. Again, not what many might have wanted, and I do believe how the show arrives here warrants criticism. But, god damn, they pulled it off! Maybe just barely, but somehow everything came together the best it could. Even if Bran or Jon or Daenerys or the Night King and all the mythological machinations didn’t have maximum payoff, even if they weren’t executed (definitely by varying degrees of success) fully according to the groundwork laid in previous seasons, they at least addressed almost everything. Hell, Jon even reunited with Ghost. Fans rejoice?

This may not be the ending some wanted, but it’s the ending we all get. It might be unsatisfying, or unbelievable, or unwarranted for you. But it’s not our story. We’re not telling it. We can hate it or love it, based on what happens, how it’s told, or both. But ultimately, we don’t get to change it. Take the Star Wars prequel trilogy, for an extreme comparison. Those movies suck. Fans have a choice to either enjoy them as the shitty part of the story they love, or pretend the movies don’t exist. But the prequel trilogy does exist. It’s part of the story. And as Sansa Stark says, “the  most heroic thing we can do… is look truth in the face.”

Truth be told, I still like Game of Thrones. A controversial, even disappointing (for some, and to degrees) ending can’t undo the lasting impact of the last seven seasons. Do I like what they’ve done with Daenerys? Not really. I don’t like what they did with Jon either, (and I admit I don’t think he would’ve been a good king. While Daenerys was perhaps too impulsive and self-righteous, Jon has always been too indecisive and apolitical). But Daenerys is more important, because she is a strong woman depicted in fiction, and that isn’t always common. She was a true hero and leader, someone to idolize. Corrupting that vision is a hard sell.

Which brings us to another truth of this show: it’s never been as feminist or progressive as we’ve wanted it to be (consider: Sansa’s assault as viewed through Theon to further his character development, Jaime’s “passionate” encounter with Cersei after the death of their son, gratuitous female nudity, and now Daenerys’ corruption).

Is Daenerys going full-on antagonist a subversion of our expectations? Yes. The thing is, she already was a subversion of expectations. We wanted her to be THE queen, the one to put Cersei down and unite the land, with or without Jon. But, this is a show in which we rarely ever get what we want. We wanted Daenerys the hero. We didn’t get that. So, the next question we must ask is, was her fall earned?

Mostly? Maybe? This is incredibly divisive. Really look at her. Did she have a history of violent tendencies? What does the throne mean to her? What tragedies have happened to her in this season to put her in this position?
Should she have risen above all her turmoil, and remained just? Is what she decided to do not true to her character? Or did we not like what she decided to do because it tarnished our vision of what we wanted her to be?

For me, her choice to let her emotions influence her decision works. Daenerys has lost: Jorah, Missandei, two of her dragons, Jon Snow as an emotional confidant, the trust of her advisors, and she isn’t well received by the people of Westeros. She’s always been all about the throne, whatever the cost.

So it works. It’s rushed, and a little plot-derivative, but it works. Just like Arya’s Night King slaying “works.” And the machinations of the Lord of Light “works.” In fact, a lot is this season works, if you want it to.

That’s the thing. This is the last season of one of the best shows on TV. It’s a Song if Ice and Fire, and we didn’t want it to just “work.” We wanted it to sing. And, at least in the final episode, I believe it does, even if its a little off-key. For all its shortcomings, I still like the last season. And I still love the show.

This is the story told of the Iron Throne, or at least a version of it. We’re the listeners, not the tellers. Criticism is imperative. Changing the story is unacceptable.

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