REVIEW: Game of Thrones – Season Eight (2019)

The following is a season review of the final season of HBO’s Game Of Thrones.

The final season of Game of Thrones has come to an end. White Walkers, Dragons, and foreign sellswords have shown their strength, and conquerors, leaders, and usurpers have had their say. During the run of the final season of the show, I’ve written thorough episode reviews that recap and critique all six episodes of the eighth and final season including the series finale. In this season review, I’ll link to those reviews, and provide general thoughts on the season as a whole. For spoilers, detailed analyses and discussions, do check out my spoiler-filled episode reviews.

The eighth and final season of Game of Thrones continued where the last season ended. Jon Snow (played by Kit Harrington) and Daenerys Targaryen (played by Emilia Clarke) have brought the armies of Unsullied and Dothraki soldiers to the North and been welcomed with worried and judging looks from locals. The Starks are back together but there should be no time for pleasantries, as Bran Stark (played by Isaac Hempstead Wright), who has been stripped of a personality by his role as the borderline omniscient Three-Eyed Raven, reminds them all.

As the Night King is bringing his wight and White Walker army of the dead towards Winterfell, it becomes clear that Queen Cersei Lannister (played by Lena Headey) has not honored her promise to send soldiers to fight for the living, while Daenerys realizes that Westerosi appreciation is tougher to gain than she anticipated. Meanwhile, Bran Stark is prepared to tell Jon Snow a secret about his parentage that is sure to destabilize his and Daenerys’ relationship going forward.

Since Game of Thrones, the television series, ran out of novels to adapt, I’ve, honestly, been pretty happy with the output. I’ve enjoyed the last couple of seasons greatly. Were there some aspects that didn’t work for me? Sure, but, for the most part, the greatness easily outweighed the few problems that I had had with the seasons. In the final season of Game of Thrones that all changed. It pained me to write in almost all of my season eight episode reviews that the writing and pacing were ruining the series as it approached the finish line.

The season, which was much shorter than usual with only six episodes (some of which were feature-length episodes, albeit short features), felt accelerated and truncated. The truncated nature of the eighth season was its downfall. In spite of the compressed season, the first two episodes of the final season were remarkably uneventful. Winterfell, the season premiere, poetically referred back to the beginning of the series with nice callbacks and long-awaited reunions, but there was no sense of urgency, even though one of the characters tried to appeal to one.

A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms, easily the final season’s best episode, was, admittedly, not the most eventful episode of the season either, but the episode successfully validated one of the series’ greatest relationships and, for a while, it seemed as though the series had made a conscious decision to complete the redemption arc that had made me fall deeply in love with the show. Unfortunately, as the season progressed, it became clear that said arc was not completed much to the frustration of fans.

The third episode, The Long Night, was a much-anticipated super-sized battle episode that was not made for television as it was tough to make heads or tails of the events of the episodes. It was, to put it simply, too dark. Also, whenever characters were put in situations that they were unable to come out of alive, the show would cut away only to cut back to them being unscathed a few minutes later in an episode that would be criticized for absurd plot armor for beloved characters. Too dark and maddeningly edited, the production got in the way of the glorious and potentially frightening spectacle of the episode, which should’ve been a contender for the best episode of television ever made. Furthermore, the battle tactics and character decision-making left something to be desired. Most frustratingly, however, the episode rushed through the war against the dead that the show had teased ever since ‘winter is coming’ started becoming a popularized saying, and it also seemed to effectively do away with fan-favorite prophecies that the story had teased since the beginning.

The fourth episode of the season, The Last of the Starks, might be my least favorite episode of Game of Thrones ever made as it clearly showed the damage that the truncated season had done to character arcs and plot developments. For the first time, I started to doubt the showrunners as much as skeptics had previously. The series fast-forwarded through character arcs thus tarnishing two beloved characters’ relationship.

The penultimate episode of the series, The Bells, did not have as many issues as The Long Night, at least not when it came to the visuals. Everything was visible and some of the images were jaw-dropping. As I mentioned in my review, technically and visually this is one of the strongest episodes of the series. However, this episode furthered some of my issues with the season as a whole. Some of the character-specific dialogue makes no sense and completely reshapes a certain character right before we’re about to say goodbye to him or her for good. Also, the episode includes a pivotal character twist that wasn’t impossible to predict but which the season hadn’t properly earned. Game of Thrones chose spectacle over character.

With the series finale, The Iron Throne, Game of Thrones and showrunners Benioff and Weiss did not stick the landing. The episode was a tonal mess that felt like two different episodes from two different eras of the show. The unsuccessful humor was frustratingly misplaced and the episode jumped to conclusions like it had done throughout the season. Its logic also depended on the idea that audiences had tolerance for the series most under-developed and bland main character. Furthermore, the accelerated but uninvolving plot of the series finale left me emotionless as the show seemed to have no understanding of its own characters or the logic of the universe they inhabited.

As I mentioned in my review of the series finale, the final season of Game of Thrones succeeded at many things, with highlights being the outstanding production and costume designs, phenomenal musical compositions, strong visual effects, and stunning cinematography. The acting was extremely good throughout the season, even when actors were asked to act out of character. In particular, Emilia Clarke, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Gwendoline Christie, and Peter Dinklage worked wonders with the material they were given. But this season the writers and the showrunners failed the story that they were shepherding. Characters, arcs, and relationships were thrown to the wayside and the plot was sped through. The final season particularly failed Kit Harrington and Lena Headey, as neither of them were given anything to do.

Game of Thrones will likely be remembered as one of the greatest shows ever made, in spite of how divisive the final episode and season may be. However, it pains me to say that the final season must’ve, at the very least, slightly tarnished the legacy of the series for a solid number of fans. As I wrote in my review of the series finale, my biggest disappointment in media thus far this year is the fact that Game of Thrones lost me towards the end. I should’ve been on the edge of my seat for the last episode. But as the show limped across the finish line, I stared at the credits without strong emotion. The show that I had been obsessed about for so many years lost me as it sped towards its underdeveloped and poorly structured conclusion.

B-

– Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen.

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