“Oof” – not a quote from the show, just me watching it.
Where do we begin? How did we get here? Does anything even matter anymore?
After falling head over heels in love with Miguel Sapochnik’s long-awaited return to the directors chair for “The Long Night,” (an episode so good, it reminded me of the highs the series was capable of. At least visually and artistically) “The Last of the Starks” seems to snowball traditions with the back half of Game of Thrones in terms of bad decision making. Not just from the characters, but the creative decisions feel wildly inconsistent and downright disgusting.
I’ve given the series grief over the last few years (though I still love most of Season 6) for delivering crowd-pleasing moments and scenes without purpose. Back in Season 5, it was the opposite. Misery and blight abound where suffering and death was doled out in every single episode. No, seriously, a major character died in almost every episode of Season 5 for no reason. Lo and behold, this final season looks to give us the one-two punch of crowd-pleasing before gut-punching us with cynical nihilism.
The best of Game of Thrones operated in a wondrous middle ground of quality. The text as written by George R.R. Martin functions as deconstruction and un-romanticized fantasy, but also maintains a humanity to its core, even when characters and circumstances attempt to smother it. Martin’s work ain’t perfect either, no one’s is, but it didn’t suffer from pointless digressions for the sake of shock. Marry that shock factor with unearned character culminations and… yikes, we’re in for a rough finale. But I think I’ve figured it out. Where the trouble started, anyways.
There’s a big turning point in Season 5 that ties into why the Jon and Dany as an item don’t work, and why only Jon’s agency feels realized in a meaningful capacity, and Dany comes across as thick-skulled and frustrating.
In Martin’s Dance with Dragons, the fifth book in the series, Jon and Daenerys serve its largest narrative thrust. Jon explores the obvious ice connotations at the wall and Dany with the fire from her dragons, but the two’s conflicts are also purposefully paralleled. Jon and Dany start their stories with nothing, working and struggling to prove their own worth to other people before settling on their own terms. Jon becomes a democratically elected leader of a subculture sworn to protect citizens of any and all regions in Westeros. Dany is someone who fully believes in her own divine right to rule, as her family before her, and their family before them.
Jon works to better coordinate cultures and communities under his watch, an explicitly altruistic endeavor. He’s not the sharpest tool in the shed, but like Ned Stark, he is a good man who serves under faulty structures in society that breed people to believe in “divine rights” and walls, literally and figuratively, that separate people from working together. Jon is eventually killed (as we also see in the adaptation) after allowing the Night’s Watch to take in their prior enemies-turned-reluctant allies, the Wildlings. Jon takes in refugees from an unstoppable army of the dead, and in breaking rules to do so, people adhering to those structures decided to kill him for it. These people, his brothers in arms of the Night Watch, still cannot comprehend Jon’s decisions to better people from all over the realm because it did not directly and/or immediately benefit the Watch.
During her time in Mereen, Dany says “I’m going to break the wheel” at one point, vowing to dismantle the economic institutions of slavery for the betterment of people. Abolishing slavery is an unequivocally good thing and Dany should be praised for it. But there came a certain point after having assisted the cities of Essos where Dany was pushed into a corner by the Sons of the Harpy. In an attempted coup, Dany was nearly killed and is saved at the last minute by Drogon in the fighting pits. She burns the would-be assassins, of course. She’s right to defend herself. But something happened in the text that doesn’t happen in the series here. Dany had no intention of staying in Mereen. She was always meant to return to Westeros as a rightful ruler. But Dany’s decision to find comfort in the flames, in lashing out at her victims and opponents, ushered in the tendencies of a conqueror and not a ruler. The show instead frames this as purely heroic, and not tragic that she was pushed to react that way. Because the Sons of the Harpy are literally faceless foot-soldiers. It could have been fascinating to see the series explore them as manifestations of the capital orders that pride wealth over life, but they are only given the stature of “bad guys.” They killed off Ser Barristan Selmy with those clowns.
As a fundamental misunderstanding of the original textual intent, Game of Thrones consistently pivots into the broader “good guys vs. bad guys” in these later seasons. Even in a fantasy world, the history of bullshit is brought on by structures of power that will always separate people into classes and positions out of their control. Jaime is shunned for killing his king, even though he saved a city. But nobody wants to hear that. Bronn has to kill to survive, because what else did he have? Missandei always had to serve someone, because it’s all she knew. The systems are broken. Martin’s writing might not stick it with that landing, but it’s the clear intention of his work in the novels. It no longer appears to be the intention of the television series. Not when there’s big budgets to be spending on aerial sequences and writing out of CGI animals.
Some bullet points:
- The first like, 20 minutes are actually really good! Just a bunch of characters recuperating from defeating death (lol) and everyone just going around tryna fuck. I get it, you know? We’ve all been there.
- But fuck that Sansa dialogue when she’s talking to the Hound. Glad she suffered? I get that. Glad she got brutalized repeatedly by a psychopath? No women work in this writers room, in case you didn’t know.
- Sansa was right, though. It was beyond idiotic to move on King’s Landing when they just survived fighting an army of the dead. Dany’s brain must be regressing faster into Mad Queen territory because there are only two episodes left after this, and they need to position her as the endgame villain. Not layers, anymore. Just villain now.
- So Dany just… forgets about Euron’s fleet of ships? And the giant ballistas? This is insane. It’s infuriating because it’s a creative mistake, and not in-character or in-world.
- Euron is fucking awesome in the books. A blue lipped, psychopathic wizard who manipulates the structures of power by cheating at their own games and using other methods entirely. Here, to paraphrase my friend Esther, he’s like a dude who’s really loud at a baseball game. The actor is fun. Go see him in Overlord.
- The animals don’t mean anything in this adaptation. They don’t even have a relationship with their human companions. Ghost used to have one. Not sure what happened, but at least he survived the attack. Tormund will take better care of Ghost now. Dany gets the most because she, at one point, had three dragons. She blew a three dragon lead and it’s sad to see them go. They never even got to be individually defined.
- Arya and the Hound teaming up to go kill mf’s at King’s Landing? Extremely good, actually.
- Jamie and Brienne didn’t need to become romantic, per se. Their arcs are defined by camaraderie, mutual respect and understanding. That being said, it’s about god damned time. The sexual tensions was as subtle as fireworks at Easter mass.
- Jamie regressing to return to Cersei is… I just don’t understand anyone’s decisions ever anymore.
- It’s Game of Thrones, so anyone can die… but the optics on Missandei dying are just horrendous. And it’s not even for a purpose! The moment changes nothing. It’s just torturous acts of violence against passive characters who don’t deserve it. I thought, at least, Game of Thrones had rectified these mistakes prior. Disappointed but not surprised.
- Missandei would not have said “Dracarys” in case anyone was wondering. She’s powerful in her intelligence and caring nature. Why the fuck would she tell Dany to blow up a city of people? For revenge? Do these people pay attention to their own show?
- I assumed this week was the final Sapochnik episode. It didn’t feel like he directed it and boy, was I glad this was not his final one. Next week might be another all-timer for me, despite the obviously awful writing.
- Jack Bender and Michelle MacLaren directed on this series previously. They were not brought back. If you weren’t going to use Sapochnik for every episode, why would you not utilize the best talent at your disposal? Nobody listens to me.
- They gave these showrunners a Star Wars trilogy.
- STILL CAN’T TAKE THE HIGH FROM LAST WEEK, DAN AND DAN.
- Oh, yeah. Whenever a showrunner trends, you know someone done fucked up big time on an episode that just aired.