Monthly Archives: May 2019

The Iron Throne Review

Warning: Spoilers. Obviously…

It’s finally over. Love or loathe the final season, the biggest TV show in the world right now has ended. We might never see its like again… but did it end with a bang or a whimper?

I won’t go into my take on the overall season here. I’ll leave that for a separate article. This is purely a review of the finale. There’s a tradition for Game of Thrones’ finales to be less impactful than the second-to-last episode of each season, but the finales have still packed their share of gut-punches and important events (Tyrion murdering Tywin, Stannis’ death, Jon getting stabbed, etc.) and given that this was the last ever episode, you’d have hoped it would be a memorable one, even if there wasn’t going to be any battle on the scale of ‘The Long Night’ or ‘The Bells’. It also needed to tie up several plotlines and characters arcs in a satisfying way.

On one count the finale succeeded. On the other it failed. The character arcs, for the most part, all came to a satisfactory conclusion. Arya doesn’t settle with Gendry, instead she heads off to explore the world. Sansa becomes Queen in the North. Jon reunites with Tormund and Ghost and heads to live with the Wildlings north of the wall. Tyrion forms a new small council with him as hand of the king. None of these felt like unsatisfactory endings for the characters, and all felt earned by 8 seasons of build up.

The character moments were definitely the strongest part of this episode. Tyrion throwing away his ‘hand of the Queen’ pin in disgust at Daenerys. The Starks bidding farewell to Jon. Tyrion grieving over his siblings deaths. Jon finally choosing duty over love and reluctantly killing Daenerys. Brienne finishing Jaime’s entry in the White Book of the Kingsguard. All were perfectly played. The humour was pretty good too, with Bronn on the Small Council and Sansa shutting down Edmure Tully being the absolute highlights.

I think whatever you thought of the finale and the last series in general, there are three things we can agree were perfect. The acting was top-notch throughout, and I think we’ll see a lot more of this cast in the years to come. Peter Dinklage and Kit Harington largely carry this finale, but most of the cast get one last opportunity to shine. The production values and special effects were the quality of a mid-budget movie, something unparalleled on modern television. Finally, Ramin Djawadi’s music was pitch-perfect and greatly added to the effectiveness and emotion of many of the key scenes throughout. I hope we hear a lot more from him as a composer over the next few years.

But ultimately, I doubt ‘The Iron Throne’ is going to top many peoples best episodes lists. While the first half suitably follows on from ‘The Bells’, the second half feels a bit too neat and tidy for my liking, like the showrunners were just trying to wrap up and get to the finish line as smoothly as possible. The unsullied just upping and leaving, and letting both Jon and Tyrion go, feels too convenient. You could argue Grey Worm just has no fight left in him, but this wasn’t really well demonstrated. Its also a notably low-key affair for a finale – Daenerys’ death is the only thing of real importance that occurs.

When I compare this to the finales of other similar shows I’ve watched, it does feel a bit lacking. Merlin’s final episode focused on the biggest reveal in the shows history (Merlin’s magic finally being revealed to Arthur). Robin Hood and Spartacus both ended with spectacular, bloody battles which featured numerous important character deaths. Rome finished with the deaths of Antony and Cleopatra but left things open-ended for many of its other characters, and in a far more bittersweet way than Thrones has here. By comparison to those shows (which were all good but not as good as Thrones overall), this finale wasn’t that important or memorable. In the end, Thrones reaches a finishing point which feels earned and appropriate (if perhaps a touch too upbeat for Westeros) but doesn’t get there in a particularly compelling way. It’s not a bad episode by any means, but its probably the weakest season finale in Thrones’ run – which is not what you want from the last ever episode.

Overall, Thrones’ ending proves as divisive as the rest of the season. Its a good episode of television which wraps things up in a fitting way, but as a finale, it leaves a bit to be desired. I won’t mark the episode down much for it, but ultimately I suspect it isn’t going to be one of the Thrones’ episode that lingers in anyone’s memory in a few years time.

Rating: 4 out of 5

And Now Our Watch Has Ended.

Coming Soon: My Season 8 Review and, finally, I get round to reviewing Avengers: Endgame.

 

 

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Why Daenerys was always set to become the ‘Mad Queen’.

WARNING: MAJOR SPOILERS!

The Bells is currently the worst reviewed episode in Thrones history. That doesn’t really mean anything – people were expressing disagreement with the direction the showrunners had taken rather than the quality of the episode itself (which was VERY high – there’s a reason I gave it a 5 in my review yesterday). Most people’s criticism seems to stem from Daenerys’ character arc. I deliberately skipped over this yesterday, because I didn’t want half my review to be spent on one point. So instead, here’s my breakdown of why the show was always building towards Daenerys turning to the dark side and becoming her father’s daughter – and why criticism of that choice is utter bollocks.

Daenerys going off the rails was always on the cards when you look at what she’s been through during the show. She was raped by Khal Drogo in the very first episode. She later fell in love with Drogo, but had to mercy kill him after he was reduced to a vegetative state by the witch Mirri Maz Daur. One of her own handmaidens betrayed her in Qarth, she saw dozens of slave-children be crucified as a warning to her on the road to Meereen and she later discovered that Jorah, her closest adviser, had been a traitor for a large part of their time together. She failed to manage Meereen, sparking an insurgency. She lost control of her dragons, forcing her to lock two of them up. Then things got worse – she’s lost so many advisers, dragons and allies since S5. Barristan Selmy, Hizdahr, the Sand Snakes, the Greyjoy Fleet, Olenna, Viserion, Jorah, Rhaegal and Missandei have all been destroyed or killed in her service. That’s enough to send anyone round the bend. All the betrayals and setbacks have resulted in Daenerys’ sense of deep paranoia, while her failures in Meereen and Westeros have clearly created some huge insecurities. She’s lost trust in Tyrion due to all the mistakes he’s made and Sam’s family, Sansa and the Northerners have all made it clear that they won’t accept Daenerys rule. Jon’s rejection after his discovery of their blood ties must have been the last straw.

Even after all that, some people are still arguing her actions in the Bells are out of character (rather like the reaction to Stannis sacrificing Shireen). But in both cases, the show has been building to them for a long time. Daenerys sat and watched her brother get horrifically executed by Khal Drogo without a hint of emotion. She effectively had two of her enemies in Qarth entombed alive. She crucified dozens of slave-masters in Meereen regardless of whether or not they were responsible for the atrocities that had angered her. She has burned many, many soldiers alive (and let’s face it, most of those soldiers’ would have only been following bad orders). She burnt Sam’s father and brother alive rather than spare them, imprison them or execute them cleanly. She has barely ever showed mercy, and has always executed her enemies (justified or otherwise) in horrible ways. She’s always had an arrogant belief in her right to rule and has rarely tolerated criticism or conflicting advice. When you look at her history, transforming from an arrogant warlord (anyone who would willingly lead brutes like Dothraki is a warlord) to a butchering despot isn’t a huge jump.

Compare this to Jon Snow. He’s always merciful. He isn’t arrogant, and doesn’t have the ego to belief in anything as arrogant as destiny. When he has killed, it has always been in kill or be killed scenarios, and when he has executed people, he always gave them quick deaths. Anyone who thought Daenerys was a hero after Season 7 was kidding themselves. The Lannister soldiers she burnt alive so callously were probably better people than the Dothraki she’s so happy to have at her back (remember that Dothraki are basically Thrones’ version of the Huns or the Mongols – two of the most blood-soaked civilizations in history).

Ultimately, there are reasons for getting annoyed with Season 8 of Thrones. But Daenerys’ character arc is not one of them. It may be slightly rushed, but this was always the point she was heading towards. As for anyone claiming it’s sexist… have you looked at Sansa or Arya – they are two of the strongest female characters I can think of on a TV show. Fans and characters alike have commented how good a leader Sansa has become. Jon and Tyrion aren’t more controlled/moral/better leaders than Dany because they are men – its because that’s who their characters have always been. Daenerys has always had a psychotic potential buried inside her – and after all her recent setbacks and losses, is it any wonder its finally come to the fore?

On a lesser note, Grey Worm’s role in The Bells is even easier to understand. Missandei was literally all he had. With her gone, his loyalty to Daenerys and a desire for vengeance is all he has left. So I don’t think anyone can doubt his motivations were well written. If Daenerys hadn’t gone berserk, I think he would have held back and reluctantly let the surrendering Lannisters live.

I could do another one of these about Jaime, but if you seriously thought he would chose Brienne over Cersei, you don’t understand his character properly, so I won’t waste time trying to convince anyone otherwise.

Hopefully the last episode of Thrones will generate a bit less controversy, but somehow I doubt that’s likely. Let’s hope it finishes on a high (and that Jon and Arya make it to the finishing line alive).

Game of Thrones: The Bells Review

WARNING: MAJOR SPOILERS!!!

I said in my review of episode 3 that I could live with the show prematurely dispatching the White Walkers if the final 3 episodes were suitably epic. Judging by episodes 4 and 5, I can safely say that the show has delivered a worthy spectacle and maintained my interest going into the last episode.

The Bells was a raw, tense affair, which did not hold back in showing the sheer brutality of war. While all of Thrones’ previous epic battles have had high casualties, only ‘Hardhome’ had civilians being caught on the front lines the way that happened here. It was shocking even by Thrones standards. Miguel Saponchik delivered yet again in the directors chair (and there were no lighting issues this time either!). Maisie Williams has probably been the standout cast member this season – her reactions to the chaos unfolding around her here were perfectly portrayed, and reminded us that for all her training and cold kills, she’s still human. And still a hero. Unlike some female characters I could mention…

I won’t go into Daenerys’ arc and whether it was a betrayal of her character or the culmination of a long set-up – that’s something I will do a whole article on later. Needless to say, turning one of the show’s main ‘heroic figures’ into a villain is a bold move to make in the final season (I’m struggling to think of another show which has done that) but was probably a necessary one. Watching a victory over Cersei in the final episode would not have been a suitable replacement for the ending people expected at the start of the season (defeating the White Walkers in a last stand). Taking on a Mad Daenerys, on the other hand, is a far more unpredictable final conflict and one better suited to a finale. While I don’t necessarily agree with everything the showrunners have done this series, I can understand the vision they have pursued.

All the fans getting angry are missing one key point – while the showrunners have largely invented the majority of the last two seasons, they are still using George R.R. Martin’s broad vision for how the series is supposed to end. He told them three big twists the final books would contain a while back: one was Shireen, one was Hodor, and now it seems likely (unless the final episode has an even bigger shock in store) that the last twist was Daenerys going full Mad Queen and laying waste to King’s Landing. Blaming the showrunners for rushing the last two seasons is a viable compliant, blaming then for where Daenerys story has ended is not. On the other hand, I can understand if you dislike some of the show’s inconsistent logic (there’s no way Ghost and that many Dothraki should have survived the doomed charge in episode 3, and the accuracy of the Scorpion weapons seems to change every episode to suit the needs of the plot). Let’s face it, Euron happening to wash up on the same beach Jaime was on is a bit lazy. In many ways this season has reminded me of ‘Beyond the Wall’ in season 7. Utterly gripping as a spectacle, but lacking the logic and tight plotting of the earlier seasons.

But as with ‘Beyond the Wall’ I’m enjoying it too much to really care about its flaws. Lord of the Rings is filled with stupid, non-sensical moments and easy fixes and plot armour, but people love it regardless. I can understand why people might be getting turned off by this season. But in my view, while I would never claim its the best season of Thrones, it’s still a very enjoyable one. Even if you hated the rest of it, the Hound vs. Mountain fight has to be one of the best scenes in Thrones’ history. It’s brutal, its unrelenting, and it packs a gut punch. The Hound realising he couldn’t win was the most realistic moment in this episode, and his final sacrifice to kill the monstrous Gregor was the perfect exit for the character. The Jaime/Euron fight was similarly engrossing, and I liked how neither could outright beat the other – both ended up mortally wounded when a lesser show would have had Jaime triumph after a prolonged struggle. Jaime ultimately sacrificing everything to be with Cersei at the end was heartbreaking, and I couldn’t give a fig that the ‘Valonqar’ theory wasn’t followed. Kudos to Lena Headey as well, for giving a hated character a genuinely tragic exit. For all her flaws, Cersei lost everything and couldn’t save the man she loved or her unborn baby – that is far more satisfying than seeing her die at Arya, Jaime or Daenerys’ hands would have been.

Overall, the Bells is a grim, shocking episode that is part war-film, part fantasy epic, and part horror story. Its one of Thrones’ best episodes – haters be damned. You can go and wither with Last Jedi haters on the pyre of insignificance for all I care – true fans don’t hate great shows or films for not playing out the way they expected or not living up to incredibly convoluted theories.

Final Thought: Pretty sure Daenerys just killed more people than Joffrey, Tywin, Walder Frey, the Boltons, Euron, Cersei and the FUCKING NIGHT KING managed combined. Just putting it out there.

Rating: 5 out of 5!

Next Time: Daenerys’ victory seems likely to be short lived, with Tyrion and Jon both horrified at her actions and Arya looking decidedly murderous…

The Last of the Starks Review

Now THAT was more like it!

Warning: Spoilers!!

The opening three episodes of thrones were pretty one-sided in terms of style. Two were entirely character driven, one was an all-action epic. Thrones tends to work best when it finds a balance between the two, and that’s exactly what episode 4 does. I know this season is getting some blowback from fans, but then again, fans not being able to cope when something subverts their expectations is rarely a reliable indicator that something is actually wrong. I’m not exactly happy with how the White Walker arc was resolved, but i’m still willing to give the last episodes a chance to justify that decision. Judging by episode 4, the show may still stick the landing.

Varys and Tyrion scheming was a highlight of Season 2, and it was nice to see them actually debating about the future of the realm again, rather than just throwing cheap jibes at each other. Both have been somewhat sidelined for the last 3 and a bit seasons, so getting them to have a hand in who finally sits on the Iron Throne would be more than welcome. The tension between the Starks and Daenerys is producing some of the most compelling stuff right now, and bringing in conflicted loyalties among Tyrion and Varys has really set up an interesting conflict for the last two episodes.

While the action is what this episode will be remembered for, it contains some key character beats as well. Bronn’s confrontation with the Lannister brothers felt long overdue, and Jerome Flynn reminds us that for all the good Bronn has done over the years, he is at the end, a mercenary – one who hasn’t been paid his dues. The realisation that Bronn probably would kill the pair of them if he thought Daenerys would lose helped make this a great scene. Arya and Brienne also had some key moments with their respective love interests, neither of which ultimately seem likely to end well – although should Arya and Jaime survive the last two episodes, who knows. Nikolas Coster-Waldau, Maisie Williams, Joe Dempsie and Gwendoline Christie all do great work here, and really capture the raw emotion of these rejections. Another standout moment was Jon’s funeral speech, which coupled with yet another haunting track from Ramin Djawadi, brought home the losses from the Long Night in arguably a more effective way than episode 3 itself managed.

MAJOR SPOILERS FOLLOW. LAST CHANCE TO TURN BACK!

I criticised the last episode for not being shocking enough. Not so this time. Rhaegal’s death came out of nowhere and was all the more devastating for it. The show has clearly been doing a bait-and-switch with the Missandei-Grey Worm romance. Everyone expected Grey Worm to die in the Battle of Winterfell, but I doubt anyone expected Missandei to get executed by Cersei instead! Those two deaths seem to be the final straw that makes a bloody final two episodes inevitable – as well as the moment that completely pushes Daenerys over the edge. She really has lost virtually everything now – most of her allies are gone, two of her dragons and most of her closest advisers are dead, and to top it all off it’s clear to her that her ‘destiny’ of taking the Iron Throne has a serious obstacle, willing or not, in Jon Snow and his supporters. Jon’s protestations were all well and good, but let’s face it, with now more than half the surviving cast loyal to Jon, Sansa or Arya rather than Dany, its clear her paranoia isn’t entirely unjustified.

The show has done a very good job setting Daenerys up as a potential last villain once Cersei and Euron are dealt with. Her horrific executions of nobles in Meereen (whether they deserved it or not), her arrogant belief in her own right to rule, her insistence on everyone bending the knee and burning the Tarly’s alive for refusing to do so… there’s always been shades of Cersei in her, as well as similarities to Stannis. Her statement that civilian casualties were a price she was willing to pay for taking King’s Landing was chilling. Her recent losses coupled with her increasing paranoia could easily turn her into someone as cold as Stannis, as arrogant as Joffrey and as ruthless as Cersei. She’s only a few steps away from being her father’s daughter. And I think Varys was right – it seems doubtful even Jon can bring her back from the brink now, especially after seeing Missandei coldly butchered right in front of her. With Varys plotting against her, Sansa hostile and Tyrion wavering, things are looking bleak for Dany right now.

Overall episode 4 is classic thrones. Humour, action, shocks and a hell of a final gut punch combine to ease some of the doubts people may have had about this final season. The stage is set for one more epic battle – and quite possibly a few final surprises…

Rating: 5 out of 5!

Next Time: The Mad Queen(s) face off in the Battle of King’s Landing as Jaime and Tyrion both must decide where their loyalties truly lie…