‘Game of Thrones’ Limps to Finish Line with ‘The Iron Throne’ (TV REVIEW)

[rating=5.00] “The Iron Throne”

In a way, it was perfect. The final episode of Game of Thrones managed to distill everything that was great and everything that was terrible about the surprisingly popular series into a single 80-minute episode, turning the waters into a muddy mess that was drinkable, I suppose, if not exactly potable. It was a tribute to what it was, an ode to what it became, and a lament for what it might have been.

Certainly, this wasn’t a series that ever aspired to make fans happy. If we didn’t know that by Ned Stark, we certainly knew it by the Red Wedding. Despite its fantasy trappings—its knights, its damsels, its dragons, its queens—this was no fairytale. This was darkness condensed. An allegory for these modern times. A tale without heroes as we’ve come to expect them.

And so its final whimper makes a kind of sense. The hurried pace of the final season—specifically the final three episodes—suggested more than it revealed, as the series chose to make a mad dash to the finish rather than take its time to earn its emotional beats. The decision to cap the final two seasons at 13 episodes may have gotten them to the finish line faster, but did it allow them to win? Eh, kind of.

Regardless how I or anyone feels about the way Game of Thrones concluded, there’s no denying that it became, inexplicably, the most popular television series of all time. We got eight seasons of heartache, drama, intrigue, shock, joy, delight, and terror. We were introduced to some of the best characters conceived in the modern era (perhaps ever). We got 73 episodes that will no doubt be watched and dissected and discussed for years to come. No matter how you slice it, that’s win.

But it should have been 80.

In another timeline, the first three and a half episodes of season eight would have served as the final three episodes of season seven and season eight would have been a ten-episode long musing on the nature of power and corruption. We would have gotten more nuance to Dany’s descent and the pain Jon Snow felt having to watch it. It would have made the destruction of King’s Landing echo with more resonance. It would have allowed time to explore Cersei as the end of her reign came nigh. It might have been glorious.

I suppose we can’t afford to concern ourselves with should haves and could haves. We must only concern ourselves with what we got. And the unfortunate reality is that what we got was a concluding run of episodes that, despite Tyrion’s impassioned pleas to the contrary, kind of killed the story.

Though peppered with great moments, those moments felt cheapened by the lack of development towards them. Yes, Daenerys’s speech following the destruction of King’s Landing was a fantastic moment that reframed her entire character, making us see the evil that lie beneath the surface of every similar speech she’d given before; it was also hurried and half-formed. Watching Drogon melt the Iron Throne over the body of his dead mother was undoubtedly badass; it also lacked the emotional resonance a scene like that deserved.

It was everything that Game of Thrones had become. Cheap. Hurried. Rushed.

Which isn’t to say that it was all bad. Despite its efforts to not become a fairytale, they did give us a series of subverted happy endings. Sansa, who stated in the first episode that she would like to be a queen, finally got to be one, as queen of an independent north. Arya, who stated in the first episode that she would like to go on adventures, got to embark on an adventure of discovery and exploration. Jon Snow, who stated in the beginning that he would like to join the Night’s Watch, was sentenced to a life in the Night’s Watch for his crime of murdering the queen.

As to the throne? Upon it sits Bran the Useless Bran the Broken, elected by the lords of Westeros as the first king of the Six Kingdoms and firmly establishing the oligarchical rule over the realm. As a child, he wanted to join the Kingsguard. And now he is king. Fitting, in a weird way, I suppose. And there was something hopeful in his declaration to “ask me in ten years” if he was a good king. The open-ended closures for the rest of the Starks certainly provided ample room for any number of potential spinoffs and sequels, and if the popularity of reboots lasts another decade, there’s a chance we haven’t seen the last of them.

And maybe, with time, it will be good to come back to these characters. Even though we won’t be out of Westeros for long—HBO is already in production of a prequel series that will, supposedly, explore the origins of the Night King and the building of the wall—it might be good to check in on these characters after they’ve gone out and lived some more and grown.

If and when we do see them again, maybe they’ll come with writers who are eager to explore what makes these characters tick and who they are instead of being eager to just bring it to a close. Maybe we’ll get some time to relish in their trials and wallow in their tribulations. Perhaps we’ll be allowed to earn our joy and our sorrow.

For now though, this chapter of Westerosi history, this song of ice and fire, has, for better and for worse, come to a close. The completion of Game of Thrones ends an era and begins a new one. Television has been irrevocably changed since the series premiere in April of 2011, probably for the better. The full impact of the series has yet to be felt, and the evolution of medium is only just beginning. We can’t yet know what the end result of this evolution will mean but, by the old gods and the new, it will surely be amazing.

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