Was this all just about the Starks? Game of Thrones finale, part 2

It is canon here at The Wandering Lostie that a series finale will always show you the true story its writers intended to tell. The End revealed Lost was about the journey its characters took together, not numbers or mysteries or any of that. Fringe gave us touching closure to the relationship between Walter and Peter that we didn’t always realize carried the series. The Americans stripped away the Cold War to bare the painful difficulty its two central characters are forever destined to face together.

I am struggling to come to grips with the Game of Thrones finale through that lens. “The Iron Throne” was an unequivocal win for the Stark family. Bran rules the six kingdoms and Sansa the seventh—their ancestral home. Arya is sailing her own course and Jon is with the people he feels most comfortable with in the place he feels most comfortable. All their enemies are vanquished.

But can anyone really believe this show was always supposed to be about the Starks? Am I to believe that the Lannisters, the Targaryens and the White Walkers all entered this saga to support a journey of change for this one family?

I suppose looking at it this way strips out too much of the nuance that necessarily makes up eight seasons of television. They weren’t “just the Lannisters” because Jamie and Cersei died in the penultimate episode anymore than Dany was a bit player because she died one-third of the way through the finale. But if Game of Thrones was truly about them, wouldn’t they have figured more prominently in the ultimate ending?

My view of the series heading into the final season was we had tow primary storylines: The battle for the Iron Throne and the threat from the White Walkers. They traveled mostly on their own until starting to bend in the same direction during season seven. Season eight, I reasoned, must be when they finally and epically collide.

Wronnnnnnnnnng. They dispensed with the Night King halfway through the season, and I was okay with that. Let’s go ahead and have Dany and Cersei throw down for the throne with Jon there to step in if things go really wrong. The way that unfolded felt anti-climactic. Dany and Cersei never got closer than staring at each other at the edge of Kings Landing…two episodes before the finale. When the real fight came, Cersei died without any of her trademark scheming or maneuvering to even try countering Dany’s attack. The full impact of her death even felt muted because we were so thrown by Dany burning an innocent city alive.

That brought us to the finale where Dany’s fate was addressed decisively fast. Jon’s fatal stab pivoted the finale’s big reveal from “Would it be Dany or Jon?” to “Which Stark will rule Westeros?”

Which is where it lost me. Game of Thrones was never about which Stark sits on the Iron Throne because it was never a foregone conclusion that it would even be a Stark. For that to be how the series ended, and to have that ending decided entirely based on a speech from Tyrion, doesn’t mesh with how the story was told for the prior seven seasons.

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Game of Thrones finale thoughts part 1: Seriously???

There is a lot to unpack from the Game of Thrones finale. Would Jon really do that? Was it too happy? Why did Dany’s armies just say bye Felicia to Westeros and sail away? Where did the dragon go? Where is Arya going? Who exactly is the Night’s Watch protecting us from anymore? Did we error in assuming Dany burned Kings Landing because she was mad like Aerys.

We’ll get to that in due time. Tonight I want to focus on three things that will prevent this episode from ascending to the pantheon of great series finales.

There were times during The Wire where I forgot I was watching television. The acting and the dialogue were so perfect it didn’t seem like make believe. Not perfect in the poetic, almost lyrical, way dialogue on The West Wing was perfect. But real perfect. What people would actually say to each other perfect.

The Game of Thrones finale had moments so unreal they almost broke the fourth wall. Dany walking into the frame centered in front of her dragon so it could spread its wings exactly behind her. Oh please. What point did that shot serve? We already knew Dany commands dragons. We already knew that made her terrifyingly powerful.

Whenever a show goes so out of its way to create an image like that I look for a religious undertone. Dany…wings…she’s an…angel? Of death, maybe. A Christian reference wouldn’t make much sense in a show where Christianity doesn’t exist, so that’s out.

I settled on the guess that they were trying to portray Dany as the dragon in human form. Great and powerful. Terrifying. Temperamental. Okay. But we kinda got that message when she burned Kings Landing.

Later in the episode we get a scene so ridiculous I legit thought they left an outtake in the episode. The Lords of Westeros are for some reason letting Tyrion guide their decision on who will lead the seven kingdoms (while Grey Worm, who could rightfully claim to lead the army controlling the capital city, for some reason stands idly without a say). Sam, radical thinker that he is, boldly suggests the people of Westeros should choose their king.

Silence.

Then uproarious laughter from the cast. It was such a jolt from serious to unserious—with a type of laughter we rarely saw on this show—that I had to remind myself I wasn’t watching Monty Python presents the constitutional convention. What the hell was that?

Finally we get Davos, Bronn, Brienne, Sam and Tyrion together at Bran’s cabinet. I could buy their uncoordinated send-off for Bran because they’re all new at this. Then the scene went down this absurd road with cracks about brothels versus ships played against Sam’s general discomfort with anything sex.

Come on. I’m for fan service but this was over the top. It was a more memorable wrap for these characters than had the camera pulled back as they actually discussed core infrastructure, but it wasn’t written or acted well enough to feel genuine.

Three moments out of an episode that ran for 80 minutes. They weren’t going to be scenes that made the finale, and they didn’t ruin it either. I wanted to get lost in the final episode of this fictional world. These three moments made that impossible.

Accountability session: Game of Thrones final season predictions

Well it’s over. Game of Thrones came to an end tonight. Finale thoughts will be coming, but first it’s time to hold me accountable for my final season predictions. Was I a three-eyed blogger or was I a dunce?

Dream of dreams prediction: The Night King wins the iron throne. I’m so disappointed when shows sewn with sadness and despair end their run with a happy ending (witness: Revenge). So I would be thrilled if Game of Thrones ends with Cersei, Jon and Dany all defeated and the Night King reigning over Westeros. If they want to tell a story that serves as a warning for what happens when we let our lusts for power overtake the need to do what’s right for humanity, this is how they will do it.

Verdict: WRONG! The Night King was dispensed in episode three without  making it past Winterfell. Where did I go wrong? I expected the final season to be about merging the White Walker and Iron Throne storylines because they always felt like the two plots driving the entire series. The show, it turned out, viewed them as separate stories and only at the end of season seven did they really meet.

He’s hiding in plain sight prediction: Gendry is revealed as Robert and Cersei’s true born son and heir to the iron throne. I also predict he will die shortly after he learns he was entitled to the throne this whole time.

Think of the tragedy inherent in this prediction. With her son in waiting as prince, Cersei and Robert may never drift apart and the entire saga may never take root. There is no “game of thrones” if Cersei and Robert have an honest heir.

Verdict: WHOOPS! The show ended without revealing Gendry’s maternal lineage. Where did I go wrong? I whiffed on a couple things here. First I simply gave too much importance to a tertiary character, and I admit I knew that was the main fault with the prediction. But the real swing and miss was assuming Cersei would have significant plotlines this season. She barely did anything other than moan about elephants and look out the window.

We do, however, feel great for Gendry now that he is Lord of Storms End, and we wish him well finding a lady.

Of siblings:
One Lannister sibling and one Stark sibling will not make the finale. I predict one will die midseason, the other in the penultimate episode. This is as much about story construction as it is true predictions. There won’t be enough room in the extended finale episode to kill off everyone who’s going to die, and they can’t credibly get to that episode without killing anyone. Removing characters early gives the writers a chance to make the survivors grieve and reinforce that even a happy ending in Westeros comes at a great, great cost.

Verdict: So close! Two Lannister siblings died before the finale but all four Starks made it. Where did I go wrong? I thought they would bring the two families’ stories to an end at an equal pace when in fact they finished the Lannisters first. I also put too much emphasis on the characters’ emotions. Season eight proved the writers care very little about the characters.

One of the living dragons will survive. If his life comes at the cost of his brother’s last true measure of devotion then even better. I make this prediction because of how it will hurt Dany to lose a child for the second time. Being down to one dragon will also remind her how tenuous her hold on power truly is, another great unknown to leave with the audience for all eternity.

Verdict: Right on target! The series ended with only one living dragon. Sibling relationships are the core of ASOIF, so it would have been endearing to see one die to protect the other but again that would have required deft storytelling from writers who proved they best tell stories with blunt instruments. Better to knock it from the sky with a crossbow than make it feel like a real character.

No One prediction number 1: If Cersei dies it will not be by Arya’s hand. Killing Cersei is the last purpose in Arya’s increasingly vengeful life. She won’t get the satisfaction. The wonderful little girl with an indomitable spirit will not get the one face she wants more than any other. She will have turned ruthless for nothing.

Verdict: WINNER! Arya did not kill Cersei. But I did miss on the last sentence. Arya did not turn ruthless for nothing. Seven seasons of fighting led her to kill The Night King. Still I’m giving myself the point.

Maternity ward prediction: The only way Cersei’s baby survives is if she dies and Jamie has to raise their child alone. This would be the ultimate tragedy for their incestuous love affair. Jamie, after being forced to love his children in secret, left alone to raise a child without the love of his life. Perhaps again having to play the role of uncle and adopt his own son or daughter, only now with a secret he can share with no one. This would be a fantastically sad way to say goodbye to the Kingslayer.

Verdict: I guess so? Cersei’s baby did not survive because Cersei did not survive. I’m not patting myself on the back too hard here because the pregnancy was a non-factor in anything other than her mumblings to Jamie before they were crushed by some rocks. It turns out they should have just moved to the other side of the room. Another example of the really lazy writing in season eight. .

That other incestuous affair prediction: Jon and Dany make the finale, but one does not survive. My money is on Jon to bite the dust, possibly in a heroic sacrifice. He’s always come into his positions reluctantly, whether as the bastard of Winterfell or the King of the North. Never quite comfortable with being brought back by the Red Priestess, he’ll go contently to his death knowing it’s where he should be already.

Verdict: Shoulda quit while I was ahead. Only one survived, but it was Jon.

No One prediction number 2: Littlefinger is still alive. I admit to ripping this one off but I have to include it because Littlefinger is my favourite character. Wouldn’t it be sweet if we learned Petyr was the one who moved to rip Gendry from Cersei, playing the first card in this game of thrones long before anyone ever realized? And that he’s still alive, outsmarting the Stark sisters as he waits to take ultimate revenge on the pair who—no doubt in his mind—failed to live up to the legacy of their mother whom he loved so devotedly.

Verdict: DAMMIT! Littlefinger is still dead. What where did I go wrong? I loved Littlefinger too much, that’s what.

Something’s got to go right prediction: Sam survives. He’s the last man standing in House Tarly, with a wife and child he adores. Give us this, won’t you, gloomy writers?

Verdict: HOORAY, Sam!

The prediction prediction: We haven’t seen all we need to know to predict who wins. There are two main questions for Game of Thrones to resolve: First, does Westeros defeat the army of the dead? Second, who wins the iron throne if it does? I’m going to limit this prediction to the second question. I think are key details waiting to be told, some epic plot twists or revelations that we have to know before the pieces come together. It would be a pretty crappy show if we get that detail in episode one and resolve the winner five episodes later, so look for this to come at us all at once.

Verdict: I’m declaring a push on this question. It turned out there really was no great secret to be discovered about who would win. I was thinking about this as a mystery when the writers thought about it as something they need to resolve so they can move on to Star Trek.

The WWE wouldn’t even dream of it prediction: The series ends in the throne room. It’s Cersei, finally safe in the seat she’s coveted for so long. Humming softly with her infant at her breast (remember how she insisted on nursing her children even though they wanted her to use the wet nurse?).

But wait, her eyes are closed.

We hear the hideous screech of Viserion roaring over King’s Landing as a smile forms on her lips.

*POP*

Her eyelids jump open, revealing the ice blue eyes of the undead queen reigning over Westeros.

The end.

Verdict: You fool. That is not how the series ended. What went wrong here is simple: I thought the writers could actually tell a compelling story. I thought they were worthy of the source material they were adapting to television. It turns out they were not. We know that know. D&D couldn’t write their way out of a paper bag.

Prediction that they could turns out to be my biggest whiff.

Final score: 4-6-1

Agree or Disagree: Game of Thrones “The Bells” edition

Last week I drafted this whole open letter to Dany Targaryen about how she is a bad leader with a weak case for the Iron Throne. Fortunately I never published it because she might fly to my house and smote me with fire as I lay innocently in my bed…and then melt the rest of San Francisco.

I really enjoyed watching the second-to-last Game of Thrones episode ever. It was an amazing spectacle. But I don’t enjoy thinking about “The Bells.” So instead of crafting my own column I’m going to pull points from various reviews and work out my thoughts that way.

“Lena Headey has put in the work with every smirk and gallon of Dornish red chugged. Thrones has enough Emmys, but she’s way overdue for one.” – The Ringer

Agreed! But if she wins an Emmy now it will be for her work on the whole series, not season eight. Cersei was on the screen for something like 25 minutes this year. What gives? She was absent from two whole episodes, as if Lena Headey was off filming a movie and couldn’t be bothered. Which I highly doubt.

Cersei’s absence and detached involvement with the battle for her city are an example of how rushed and poorly told this final season has been. Her basic arc went like this:

    • Lamented not having elephants
    • Slept with Euron
    • Watched Kings Landing get burned
    • Died

lol wut? This is one of the best characters and actors on the show. Why was she sidelined? What possible sense does that make?

“D&D’s trying to cram character development into the “previously on”—with a sound collage of people talking about Targaryens overlaid on the footage of Dany watching Missandei’s death—because they ran out of time to convey her inner turmoil in a more organic way.” – Ben Lindbergh, The Ringer

Agreed! Something felt immediately off with the episode when that aired. Like hey, that wasn’t actually previously on Game of Thrones.

Lindbergh is spot-on with his point about how they bungled Dany’s story. Yes, we all know the Targaryens’ unfortunate history with sanity and, also yes, we know Dany has a tendency to burn people. But nothing about her icy relations with Sansa, her anger at Jon, Varys’ betrayal or her growing sense of isolation felt like a foundation for deciding mid-air over Kings Landing that everyone in the city was guilty of denying her the throne, punishable by fiery death.

I don’t think they sold it in the run-up and I definitely do not think they sold the moment. I could have believed it had they shown her taking more and more pleasure from  incinerating her opponents during the battle then feeling too consumed by power and rage to resist burning the innocent townsfolk.

But they didn’t. As the writers said afterwards, she decided in that moment. The Red Keep was there for the taking. She could have melted Cersei and taken the throne. Instead she leveled the city. The storytelling to that point in season eight hadn’t earned such a sudden change.

To make things worse, we hardly saw her after that. We saw plenty of Drogo’s belly and bad breath but none of Dany. A few well-timed shots of the look on her face would have helped sell her descent to madness.

Let’s take a detour to ponder something: Was it ever truly possible for Dany to hold the throne by anything other than fear?  Imagine if she had taken out the tower but spared the city. Would the innocents of Kings Landing follow her willingly, as Missandei did, or would they follow her because they saw what happened to mighty Cersei Lannister when she opposed the usurper and her deadly dragons?

My favourite thing about Dany was the way she represented consent of the governed in a world ruled by the divine right of kings. In this ponderous detour, I wonder if maybe Dany bringing that revolution to Westerous was nothing more than a dream.

“Tyrion begs for the lives of the people of King’s Landing, and gets Dany to agree to spare them if they surrender by ringing the city bells. His obsession with saving commoners doesn’t make much sense, but I suppose someone needed to foreshadow Dany’s reign of terror.” – Kelly Lawler, USA Today

Huh? Disagree! Tyrion’s realization that people outside the Red Keep matter was a key part of his character’s evolution and growing skepticism that backing Dany was the right choice.

“I get that the show has been building toward Daenerys becoming the Mad Queen for seasons now — really, I do. In theory, her turn toward villainy really could have worked. But in practice, its execution was sloppy and rushed, a microcosm of what’s felt wrong with much of this final season. – Zack Beauchamp, Vox

Agreed! Zack succinctly summarizes all my thoughts in three sentences. Probably why he works for Vox and I’m pounding this out at 10:30 on a Tuesday night.

“Qyburn’s demise, in particular, was so, so satisfying, and somehow managed to really emphasize how much he always looked like a man shuffling down a hospital hallway in an open-backed hospital gown.” – The Ringer

Agreed! It’s fun to watch unlikeable weasels die. Remember when Dharma Phil took that rebar to the chest?

“After being ineffectual at the Battle of Winterfell and against the Iron Fleet, Drogon has suddenly become a weapon of mass destruction that no scorpion crossbow can hit.” – Lawler, USA Today

Disagree! Yes, three incredibly unlikely shots took out a dragon the week before but did you not see Dany using the sun as cover, and skimming across the water so the crossbows couldn’t aim low enough to hit her? Pretty clever, I thought. One of Dany’s few recent tactical wins.

“It’s easy enough to imagine a climax to “The Bells” where Dany flew to the Red Keep, saw Cersei surrounded by innocents, and decided to burn them all anyway.” – Zack from Vox again

Agreed! My first thought during the episode was “This is what it finally took for Jon to want to be king.” Not because he yearned to rule but because he had to prevent Dany from doing it. Had things gone the way Zack suggests, Jon would have had a much more difficult moral decision that (if done right, and realizing that’s a big if with this show right now) would have been fun to watch and fun for viewers to debate.

The behind-the-scenes schemers and string-pullers who shaped the show have fallen on hard times in recent seasons, as Benioff and Weiss have run out of Martin’s source material, forcing them to take on more of the burden of plotting and scripting the show — and bringing their own blunter tastes and interests to the fore. […] In Benioff and Weiss’ hands, the schemers have all come to bad endings. Tyrion Lannister, once the tactical genius of the Battle of Blackwater and the show’s quippiest character, has been in a two-season slump where he can’t seem to make a single good decision. Littlefinger fell into an obvious trap and got his throat cut. Melisandre gave up her life the second the battle with the Night King was over. Even Bran Stark, hailed as the living memory of humanity, has notably failed to offer up much from that memory that’s useful in shaping the current series of conflicts.- Tasha Robinson, The Verge

Agree so hard! Seasons seven and eight have proven that D&D are great at adapting books to television and terrible at telling the story on their own. There’s no doubt Game of Thrones right now is an incredible television achievement. The scope is unbelievable. But the minds behind the storytelling have been exposed, for the worse.

Lastly, I do not and never have cared about Clegane Bowl.

Highs and lows from the Battle of Winterfell

Highs and Lows from the Battle for Winterfell:

Low: Dany
For someone who expects everyone to bend the knee the moment she walks into the room, Dany’s weakness at the Ballte of Winterfell was damning proof of why she shouldn’t sit on it.
When the battle began and she watched the dead snuff the flames a of her Dothraki army, she panicked. Deviating from whatever the plan was, she raced into action. Tactically she put her dragon out of position, which brought Jon’s along with it. Now the living’s two biggest weapons were flying blind, unable to provide any support to the Unsullied or the army of the North. It’s true that the best battle plans fall apart the moment they hit the battle field. But Dany never gave Winterfell a chance, and she’s damn lucky Arya Stark saved the day or else she’d be the mother of three dead dragons.

Dany’s second failure was tactical in the midst of battle. Trying to flame The Night King when she had the chance was the right move. Gotta take the clean shot. But when his retaliatory ice spear missed, she should have turned on a dime and burned the battle field. Instead she flew off to god knows where and have him enough time to raise the dead. Had Dany been there, she could have stopped them in their tracks, giving Jon—a Targaryen—an opportunity to go thru the flames and take out The Night King.

High: The beginning
Hype and anticipation for this episode was off the hook. Beginning the episode with a slow, almost silent tour through the battle preparations brought the fear of death alive.

High: The darkness in the distance
I loved the choice to begin the fight by sending out a Dothraki charge but showing the fight from a distance. The sight of flaming Dothraki swords being engulfed by darkness made everyone awaiting in Winterfell gulp for the terror headed their way. Starting the battle this way helped keep the later fight scenes fresh, too. Loved it.

Low: The battle plan
So…what was the goal with the Dothraki charge? Even with flaming swords they were charging toward certain death that made no dent in their opponents. Seems like a waste of a great fighting force.

High: Arya in the library
Sometimes TV shows make the good guy’s feet a little too quiet. Obviously Arya is well-trained, but is she that quiet? Who cares. This scene kicked ass. It reminded me of the kitchen scene from Jurassic Park and was a good prelude to how she would eventually sneak all the way to The Night King.

Low: Theon
Theron’s death was stupid and futile. A waste of his wasted life. He wasn’t going to defeat TNK, the story would never allow that, but he could have at least fought. Watching him mindlessly charge toward certain death, I felt bad for him in a way I never had. Theon was just plain overmatched in Westeros. He didn’t have the brains, guts or skills to be anything more than the loser he was. Bye.

Low: The crypts
This should have been more terrifying. The people in the crypts knew their fate would be determined by who next opened the door. A friendly face meant another sunrise, a dead face meant death. They never expected that dead face to come from within. Their fear should have overwhelmed the screen. It didn’t. More should have died. We should have come away mad at Jon, Sansa, et al for not realizing they sent their most vulnerable people into a literal death trap.

High: Arya
How cool was it that Arya could sneak up on The Night King from behind amongst all his friends but Jon couldn’t sneak up to him alone on the battlefield? I loved this moment as the culmination of all Arya’s training since season one. And I love that she always thought she was training to take down the names on her list, when in reality she put it to use on someone much more consequential.

But now I have to wonder: Is her story complete? If her role was to develop into a fighter capable of succeeding in that moment, then yes, it is. Can they realistically give her The Night King and Cersei Lannister? I doubt it, and that bodes ill for her future if she goes south.

High: The music.
Fantastic.

Low: Surviving
I agree with those who argued the show lost some credibility by not killing off anyone bigger than Jorah, but I can live with it. However, just one time I would like to see a major character die in a random, non-epic way. Why? Because that’s the way it probably happens some times!

Low: The Hound
From now on when someone cowers during battle we’ll call that pulling a Clegane. He Cleganed it. Come on, man.

Low: The previous episode
The episode before this was one of my favourites for how the main characters gathered and paused before the fight thinking death was certainly near for some, or all of them. With almost all of them surviving, that episode now means less. I am bummed.