It’s amusing how divided people are the day after a pop culture experience like this, though there have been few like it ever, outside of the Star Wars films. There are people that defend the episode and try to appreciate it for what it was but those people inevitably end up listing all the things that are wrong with it first, essentially defeating their own case before jumping back to their relentless optimism. Then there are the people who hate the thing and they are just overflowing with so much rage they can hardly form a coherent thought.
Where do I fall in that spectrum? This morning while in the gym I had to take an elliptical that was facing two TV screens, one that had How I Met Your Mother on (hold fast, fans of that show, it was one of the later, incoherent seasons) and Steven A. Smith on the other with the captions unfortunately turned on. Even though I had my phone in front of me I couldn’t look away from either and that 45 minutes was a nearly interminable stretch of time filled with shitty network friendly ‘jokes’ and a crazy, stupid know-it-all who is somehow still a know-it-all despite being wrong all the time. But even after that torturous, sweaty, double barrel blast of annoyingness this morning I was still less irritated and exasperated than I was last night during the Game of Thrones finale which was an episode I didn’t watch as much as endured.
I’d like to put two arguments to rest, I’m tired of hearing them, David and D.B. were not sabotaged by a lack of content or resources from HBO. They themselves have admitted that HBO basically opened the vault and said we’ll pay for however many episodes you want but they turned them down, stubbornly insisting on two shortened seasons. As for content, read any suggested fan theories about this season or rewrite suggestions. Any of them. There are fans and writers out there who live, breathe, and eat GRRM (ew, I feel like I have beard hair stuck in my teeth), who could pick up where he left off, it’s not like D&D couldn’t look around, take some writing workshops, get some aspiring writers who know the material better than they do (which is a lot of people apparently) and make an effort to come up with a satisfying narrative and if you think that’s a fanboy daydream I present to you: Ronald D. Moore, a Star Trek fanboy who wrote his own fan-fiction, got a tour of the Paramount studios and slipped a script to some PAs. That script got him a job as a screenwriter and the resident expert on Klingons, and eventually he rebooted a little-watched Sci-fi show from the late 70s into another pop culture phenomenon that you may have heard of called Battlestar Galactica.
But Dave and D.B. didn’t do that, instead they said, “No. We know better than you, you’re going to take what we give you, like it or not.” And surprise, nobody likes it. Regarding that petition going around that is closing in on 1.5 million signatures to remake the final season with better writers, it’s kind of sad and won’t have any effect but I understand the need for it, however I think that the use of the word “incompetent” to describe them as writers is inaccurate. Nobody with as many Emmy wins as this David and D.B. have earned should be described as incompetent, instead what they are this season, and the last three I would argue, is fucking lazy, with a borderline contempt for their own audience.
Most of the things that have been wrong this season have been easily re-edited by fans who have also offered small changes or suggestions that almost immediately improve the logic of a given plot line. Writing, they say, is rewriting, but it’s absolutely clear that they didn’t bother with that second step. They didn’t even bother referencing the earlier seasons of their own show for consistency, it’s just not there and if you have to spend 10 minutes in an after episode interview explaining why the characters behaved they way they did, you’ve failed to do what the writers of a show are supposed to do.
All this is under the blanket excuse of “subverting expectations”, but ask Rian Johnson how that pans out. This is nonsense, of course, it’s possible to meet expectations and still provide a satisfactory conclusion, just because it appears to be impossible to exceed them doesn’t mean throw the series bible out the window. A football buddy of mine once said of a team (I think he was talking about Alabama and if there’s a Jaime/Cersei Roll Tide/incest joke to be made please leave it in the comments and we can be friends!) that it’s not the worst thing in the world to be predictable, as long as you execute. Dave and D.B. did not execute or subvert, they disappointed. Indisputably. Of course, a series this complex wasn’t supposed to have a happy ending but it did deserve a believable one that rewarded its rich characters and lore with a conclusion, not with spectacle and unpredictability.
It is one thing to come up with the unexpected and head-fake the world but, I mean, Bran? Fucking really?
To sidestep the obvious anticlimactic disappointment of promoting the most useless, ill-explained, unlikeable, and thoroughly charmless character in a show replete with wretched unlikeable characters it needs to be acknowledged that none of this shit would have ever happened in the first place if he hadn’t been climbing around, spying on people boning. Some people might call that cyclical or thematic but some people also dress up as characters from My Little Pony and have sex with each other. There’s all kinds of opinions and types out there is what I’m saying but what it is is rewarding a character for a sort of Shakespearean folly, it’s a tragedy without a tragic ending, a hero’s journey where the whole middle two thirds of that journey consist of being pushed around in a wheelchair and doing nothing, the fuck, at all, while also possessing the ability to control animals with his mind, Free Cam into any place he wants, see into the past and future, and, most remarkably, affect the past and interact with it. None of which is ever utilized or addressed after the third or fourth seasons. My expectations are so subverted that I could shit, thanks Dave and D.B., you shiftless, contemptible pricks.
I am available to write greeting card messages or Happy Birthday cards, by the way, in case anyone is looking for some friendly prose and a romantic sense of humor, free of charge of course, I just like to get my name out there and help (miss you, Bill Hicks). And if it’s not immediately clear, I fall into that second camp, the seething rage and incoherent thought group, but that’s not entirely true. The truth is that in my listless stumbling about the interwebs I came across those final plot points a week or so ago and while I will usually get upset at myself or the provider of the leaks, I really didn’t care this time around and that might be the greatest sin of this last season: I just didn’t give a shit. In my apathy I turned to a rewatch and really fell in love with the show all over again, it’s really a remarkable piece of art in a dozen different ways but most importantly was how great the conversations were.
(Tyrion, as The Hand, arrests the Maester that has been spying for Cersei)
“Cut his cock off and…feed it to the goats.” Tyrion orders, a callback to his time with the Mountain Tribes.
The guard hesitates, “….there ain’t no goats, M’lord.”
Tyrion waves his had at them in disgust, “Well. Make do.” Before fixing a look on Bronn that says, Can you believe the help around here?
I remembered that the little horror story that Bran’s nursemaid tells him, about the long winter, was more interesting in a few minutes than the entirety of the Battle of Winterfell:
“Oh, my sweet summer child. What do you know about fear? Fear is for the winter when the snows fall a hundred feet deep. Fear is for the the long nights when the sun hides for years, and children are born and live and die, all in darkness. That is the time for fear, my little lord; when the white walkers move through the woods. Thousands of years ago there came a night that lasted a generation. Kings froze to death in their castles, same as the shepherds in their huts, and women smothered their babies rather than see them starve, and wept and felt their tears freeze on their cheeks. So is this the sort of story that you like? In that darkness the white walkers came for the first time. They swept through cities and kingdoms, riding their dead horses, hunting with their packs of pale spiders big as hounds…”
Of course, this is because what is imagined is always more thrilling than what is seen, a lesson lost on D&D.
I could complain on and on, the most difficult thing about writing this hasn’t been starting as much as throttling the tide of “…wait, what the fuck was the point of the horse, now?” and other tangents I want to go on but the thing that chaps my ass the most is pretty basic and if you’re one of those optimists/delusional people, I really am happy you enjoyed this last season but consider this one, intractable point about that final council with all the JV characters (besides Sansa, of all the nonsense this season, totally good with the Queen in the North); how in the ever-living fuck does a show called Game of Thrones, where the entire premise of this show, the whole engine of suspense and drama and violence and betrayal is built on the ambition of winning said game end on a cadre of third string characters, none of whom want the aforementioned throne.
David: “And then Tyrion, like, he’s done talking, right? And he looks around at the council of noblemen and noble…non-men…what are they called-“.
David: “Noble-women. And he’s like, only one of you is fit to sit on the throne…”
D.B. (excited): “Who does he pick? (pours the remainder of a can of Pringles into his mouth).”
David: “Tyrion picks…Sansa.”
D.B.: “Ooohh. But wait, dude! They’ll expect that! Because it makes sense given her experiences and maturity and character arc!”
David: “Shit, you’re right. Not her. Who then? Who else is there?”
D.B.: (consults his notes that are really just drawings of cats)
David: “I got it.”
David: “(pauses for effect) Sansa.”
D.B.: “You just said that.”
Particularly after the whole “Unstoppable, Relentless Undead Army and Ensuing Winter Apocalypse” plot got jettisoned in one episode, the Iron Throne, or what’s left of it, is like the dinner party check at an Applebee’s that nobody wants because you just willingly ate at a fucking Applebee’s. All our chips were put on Cersei being the focus of the show and then she just sat there drinking Two Buck Chuck. In the end, after what he’d done, Drogon should have torched Jon. It just should have happened, I don’t want it but the whole point of the show was that doing the honorable thing in a world where honor gets you killed should have gotten Jon killed. And it would have been a good death. Tyrion should have been killed by Grey Worm who has every excuse to go to the Dark Side with his one true love murdered and his Queen assassinated under his watch, instead he just kind of…arrests him? And the Dothraki just kind of…chill? What would have made more sense is that Grey Worm and the last of Dany’s army become the new villains of the story and the show ends with them on a new conquest to destroy the seven kingdoms. Daenyers’ dream of breaking the wheel only starts the revolution of a new, more violent one. Fade to black.
That’s thematic. That’s tragic and “bittersweet”. The whole concept of the books and the show is that every generations victory is only the beginning of the next generations struggle and that the very nature of humanity, fantastical or otherwise, is a never ending tug of war, a tidal force between order and chaos that is more often run red with blood than not. There’s an attempt to demonstrate this with that last council meeting, that Monty Python-esque comedic exchange as the camera pulls away but what are they ruling over? Who is left? What’s the point. How telling was Sam’s attempt to introduce democracy, with the lords and ladies erupting in laughter at the absurdity of it all, that the common people whose lives are affected should have a voice. And how telling is that scene given the Executive Producers David Benioff and D.B. Weiss wrote and directed the episode. What an appropriate middle finger to the crowd.