The Sunday Magazine: The Final Season of HBO’s Game of Thrones

The final episode of HBO’s “Game of Thrones” aired a week ago. Like all final episodes of beloved series its reception was mixed. That is to be expected. Characters you’ve spent the last eight years with you hope they get happy, or heroic, endings. If those characters don’t, you’re probably in the unhappy camp. If they did, you’re in the pleased camp. We had been warned by the author of the books the series this is based on, George R.R. Martin, that the ending would be bittersweet. Knowing that going into last week’s episode I wasn’t surprised that it lived up to that foreshadowing. I’ve enjoyed it more the more times I watch it. There are many full circle moments and callbacks to the past. I thought this final season was well done with enormous set pieces like nothing we’ve ever seen on television. There were twists and tension which glued me to the screen the past six Sunday nights. From here on I will talk about some of the key moments from the season so if you haven’t watched now is the time to stop reading.

This final season was split into two three-episode arcs. The first three episodes focused on the battle between the living and the White Walkers. My favorite episode of the season was the second one as we spent the night before battle with many of the characters interacting as they expected the next day would be their death. In a season which moved at speed this was the episode which slowed things down for us to have final lengthy moments with many of the characters we’ve spent so much time with. When the episode ends with the arrival of the White Walkers outside the walls of Winterfell so did the interlude.

That third episode which depicts the Battle of Winterfell is another amazing piece of filmmaking from this crew. It took 55 days of night shoots to put together the episode. Director Miguel Sapochnik made a battle of three distinct phases each growing more desperate. Until a final last gasp victory is achieved.

This leads to the final three episodes which focus on the battle for the Throne between the survivors and Cersei Lannister’s forces. It was the second episode of this group which also was my favorite. The two forces of nature which were Cersei and Daenerys come to a place where the entire episode is poised on a knife-edge until one of them lets her anger lead to a horrible decision. One of the brilliant pieces of this episode, again directed by Mr. Sapochnik, was the street level view of the collateral damage of the battle. For a third of the episode the audience is kept on the ground while above them dragons spew flame. It was the one episode this season that rattled my emotions the most. It leads to an ending I’ve already given my impressions on above.

In the week since the final episode was aired there have been a couple of arguments from people who were disappointed. The first was they opened a petition for “competent writers” to re-do the final season. One thing I remind anyone who mentions they didn’t like the ending; that the producers were told by Mr. Martin what the ending was. I believe every big moment we’ve seen since Season 5 has come straight out of the books. Mr. Martin will undoubtedly lay more foundation for the plot twists, but the same ones are coming for those who read the books. I keep asking if there will be a petition to ask for a “competent writer” to re-write the final book. As a viewer you have every right to be unhappy with the ending for not living up to what you wanted. What you don’t have is the “right” to ask artists to re-make the world in your vision. What we saw is Mr. Martin’s ending.

Which leads to the one disappointment I share somewhat; that the season was too fast and particularly the last two seasons seem too streamlined. There is a good reason for this. The first four and a half seasons they were working from over 4,000 pages of written books. The last two and a half were from a list of big bullet points supplied by Mr. Martin to the producers. I remind everyone in the books Jon Snow still lies stabbed on the floor of Castle Black. In the series he is resurrected, takes back Winterfell, romances the Queen, finds out he is the nephew of the Queen, fights the White Walkers, becomes a Queenslayer, and is exiled to the Night’s Watch. None of that has been depicted in the books yet that was what the producers had to work with. It left them with a dilemma, flesh things out or stay true to what is essentially a Wikipedia synopsis of the last two books from the author. I think their choice was the right one to keep it simple and connect the bullet points. Sometime in the future we will get the blanks filled in by the books.

At the end of it all I am happy with how it ended. I am also looking forward to the books to get that background which was missing. Which is maybe is exactly the way it was supposed to end.

Mark Behnke

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