Television Review – It’s time to say goodbye to Game of Thrones – 8.06 “The Iron Throne”

And now their watch has ended……

After eight seasons, sadly the words of The Night’s Watch now apply to the millions of Game of Thrones fans (including me) across the globe, following the airing of the series finale, aptly entitled The Iron Throne (although I admit, I was hoping for A Dream of Spring). As I’ve said at the start of my other season 8 reviews, I’ve taken a few days to let the episode sink in; I’ve watched it a number of times now and finally think I can put my thoughts in order on the page.

I know I’m going to be in the minority with this opinion, but I enjoyed the finale and found it to be a satisfying way to leave the world we’ve been exploring since episode one. In fact the more times I watch it, the better I think it is and I say this as someone whose first television love “blessed” me with not one, but two, dreadful series finales.

Anyone still reading?!

Before I dive in to all the levels of this episode, I’ll say again the point I raised last week in my review of The Bells. Do I think the series would have been stronger as a whole had there been eight 10 episode seasons? Without a doubt. There are scenes between characters that I’m sorry we didn’t get to see (Littlefinger & Varys; the Stark sisters hearing about Jon), stories that I’d have loved to have been stretched a bit longer (The Hound & Arya travelling South, Varys’ plotting, lots more Cersei!) and internal emotional struggles of characters that would have been richer had they had more time to be explored (Dany’s disintegration; Jaime’s conflicted struggles both before and in the weeks after he arrived and chose to stay at Winterfell following the battle (no that wasn’t all one night as many keep saying); and Jon dealing fully with who he is). That’s only a few examples and I agree it’s frustrating. Very frustrating, especially when HBO were offering the time and the money! It would, without question, have made the journey to the end fuller and crucially, removed my biggest problem with this season – the sense of rushing through it.

Yet, I’m setting that aside when writing about the finale, instead judging The Iron Throne on its own merits as an episode and for me, it did far more right than it did wrong, meaning it did thankfully leave me feeling satisfied.

……..that said, let’s take a closer look at my reasons for saying that…….

After weeks of rushing ahead, finally the pace slowed down and the story was better for it

Despite all I’ve said about the pace this year, The Iron Throne seemed to take its time and the emotional storylines benefited. Having the opening ten minutes contain very little dialogue and instead focus of the tragedy and reality of Dany’s actions, was unexpected and very welcome, as was the long emotionally-powered character scenes that weren’t rushed at all, but given all the time they needed (Tyrion and Jon’s frank conversation, Jon and Dany’s final moments, Tyrion’s grief, and Brienne’s gesture all being examples). Should all season have been this way? Yes, but I’m relieved the finale managed to find this balance.

A finale that was both dark and yet also hopeful

The Iron Throne was clearly structured to be an episode of two emotional halves; the first one of darkness and the second being one of hope and that choice worked very well. As difficult as it was to see Dany embrace her darker tendencies, I found the myself gripped by how dark the show had become. The tension, as she makes clear the war has only just begun, the devastation everywhere you looked on screen, the painful struggles of grief of Tryion and Jon and the end of one of the show’s most iconic characters. It was powerful television. Yet, somewhat of a surprise to me, the story ended in a place of hope, as we see those still standing start to build a new Westeros. The tone becomes lighter, with time for humour (Tyrion straightening the chairs to no avail, the new Small Council dynamic – I’d watch a season of that show!), before leaving us hopeful for the lives ahead of characters we’ve spent years investing in. It would have been easy to get this balance wrong, but, in my opinion, that didn’t happen.

Tyrion Lannister takes his place back at the heart of the story & breaks my heart along the way

Tyrion is on almost everyone’s list of favourite characters and season eight has seen him have a larger role in the story once again, culminating in a truly superb performance by Peter Dinklage in the finale. Finally slowing the pace of this year down, it’s Tyrion who takes us in to the horror of King’s Landing in the aftermath of Dany’s actions. We seen his pain, his guilt and his horror, as he walks through those streets in near silence, before wandering through rooms that have witnessed so many huge moments in his life, including when his father told him he wanted to drown him at birth, where he and Cersei fought so often and where Small Councils ridiculed him. You feel the weight of history with him as he walks.

And when I didn’t think it could get any worse, instead of looking for Dany, I realised he was searching out the fate of his brother. Sure, there should have been rubble all over that floor, piled high even, but that gripe aside, watching Tyrion understand the fate of his last remaining family, before removing the rubble from their dead bodies as he wept, is one of the most emotional scenes I’ve seen on television or film. I care about Tyrion and I cared about Jaime and therefore I felt his raw, visceral grief and anger and seeing him in such pain, as he knelt beside his lost family was heartbreaking. All in the first ten minutes! I see another Emmy nomination in Dinklage’s future!

From there, we saw Tyrion defy his Queen (I did think he was going to try and kill her for a moment), speak hard truths to Jon Snow (there have been too few long character-driven scenes such as the one between Dinklage and Kit Harington this season) and then go on to shape the structure of the new world. Through his portrayal Dinklage brought humour, sadness and depth out of Tyrion this week and to see him end back in King’s Landing, in the role he excelled at in season 2 was the perfect ending for him. Long live The Imp!

Emilia Clarke ends with perhaps her strongest performance of the whole series

Seeing Dany burn down King’s Landing wasn’t something anyone wanted to see (well, maybe some of you did, who knows), but I’d always suspected this would be where her story would take us. Yes, it would have been for the benefit of the story had we had longer to really see her disintegration (although if I’d lost all the things she lost in a few weeks, I may well have snapped too), as well as more scenes in the aftermath of last week’s actions to try and see her true emotional state and have her justify why she attacked innocent people after they’d surrendered (the fact this was glossed over is one of my big grumbles with 8.06), but she clearly didn’t take pleasure in mass murder. She simply seemed indifferent to it, so perhaps she had truly become so lost in her vision of the future that she was blind to the casualties she was ready to sacrifice along the way. I also found it interesting to hear Tyrion and Jon have the same passionate debate about her, that fans have been engaging in all week!

What is clear though, is the tremendous acting of Emilia Clarke. She’s helped create an iconic, unforgettable, screen character and her performance in 8.06 was arguably her best of the whole series. She was frightening in those opening scenes and yet I saw glimpses of the young woman from earlier seasons in the moments before she died, which made her end all the more heartbreaking. Would I have wanted this to end differently, to see her break the wheel in more the way it is actually broken by the end? Of course, but despite how her story ended, Daenerys Targaryen will always be one of the most pivotal characters in the story and Clarke has simply been superb from start to finish.

An unlikely King, but when you think about it, it makes surprising sense

So, I wasn’t one of the people who predicted Bran being chosen as King and I admit that my initial reaction was surprise and amusement. Bran? He’s done nothing all season and now he gets to he King?! Really?! and that name? Bran the Broken? You couldn’t think of something a bit nicer, Tyrion?! Yet, when I took time to think about it, the choice does make sense. After centuries of war and power-mad rulers sitting on The Iron Throne, who better to lead Westeros in to the future, than someone who has no interest in power, or titles and who has the knowledge of all the past mistakes. Hell, even Tywin acknowledged that a good King should be wise and Bran has more wisdom than anyone else. I also appreciated the little costume detail for King Bran The Broken (still hate the name though) – he’s the first recognised ruler in Westeros we’ve seen who doesn’t appear to wear a crown, emphasising the fact he’s not doing it for the status.

It seems he’s also settled more in to his dual existence as both Bran and The Three-Eyed Raven by the end, even managing slight bemusement at his Small Council’s salute. Plus, could he have a better Small Council to help him? Sam, Davos, Brienne, Bronn and Tyrion – heck, that’s a good portion of my favourite characters. Go off looking for Drogon, Bran Stark, the realm is in safe hands!

A Song of Ice & Fire – at its heart, was always the story of the Starks

We all started this journey with the Starks. They were the family we cared about, invested in and mourned with, through every loss and defeat. There were times when it seemed House Stark would be crushed. Yet, this finale reminded us that this story has really always had this pack at its heart and at the end, they were thriving – each exactly where they were meant to be (blimey Bran’s rubbing off on me!) and that final montage, following Arya, Jon and Sansa as they each start along their new paths was incredibly moving and beautifully edited.

Seeing Arya embrace her identity again, sailing off in to unknown adventures, with a direwolf sigil flying proud on her sails made me smile. Hearing the hall of Northmen rally to the cries of “Queen in the North” for Sansa (notably the last words spoken on the series too), finally in control of her own fate after years being controlled and abused by others, made me proud of how far she’d come from that annoying brat in early season one, which leaves Jon…….

Jon Snow, having always done the right thing, no matter the personal cost, finally finds his place

I know many wanted Jon to be King at the end of the show and I admit, I thought it might happen (if he didn’t die along the way). It would have been bittersweet (and we knew to expect such an ending), as he certainly didn’t want the crown. He’d never really wanted to lead anyone. Instead, like the other Starks, Jon Snow, the character who didn’t let any House words define him, found his place. The seeds were sown early in the year when Tormund said Jon had the real north in him and he admitted that he wished he was going with him, when Tormund took the Wildlings back home beyond The Wall. After years being the reluctant leader, first of the Night’s Watch, then of the North, fighting endless battles along the way, Jon seemed exhausted by this episode, weighed down by everything he’s experienced and killing Dany clearly broke him (he seemed ready and willing for Drogon to end his life in the Throne Room and still seemed hollow on his arrival back at Castle Black) and Kit Harington was fantastic throughout this last chapter of Jon’s story. I never felt the emotional connection between Jon and Dany (another casualty of the rushing), but the actors nailed that final scene.

As Jaime Lannister could have told him, killing your King, or Queen, even if done for the greater good, will leave an indelible mark on your name. Had Jon been applauded for saving the kingdom, I’d have felt it unrealistic. Was anyone expecting him to stay at The Wall? Who knows, but that last look back to the gate, as it closed behind him, seemed to me to be Jon Snow’s way of saying goodbye to his past and seeing him ride off with Tormund, Ghost (the reunion we’d all been hoping for) and the Wildlings, in to woods no longer filled with the danger of the Army of the Dead thanks to him, seemed the most fitting end to his story.

Ser Brienne of Tarth, Lord Commander of the Kingsguard – a beloved character who deserved to achieve her greatest dream

Brienne is one of the few characters in Game of Thrones who has always been truly honourable and since her introduction I’ve grown to love her and root for her to show the world how incredible a woman she is. Therefore, one of the highlights of this finale for me was seeing Brienne taking her place first as one of those representatives tasked with choosing the next ruler, and then on the Small Council, where she can help build a better future for the citizens of The Six Kingdoms (that still sounds odd to me). Who better to be Commander of Bran’s Kingsguard?

Having been knighted in 8.02 (one of the best scenes in the series for me) as a knight of the realm, once Sansa split the north away from the other kingdoms, it made sense to me that Brienne would step up in this way. Sansa has the support of the entire North again. She’s home and safe, so Brienne can move on to serve and protect another of Catelyn’s children. She wanted to be a knight, she wanted to serve the realm and she’s always wanted to do good. If any character deserved to see their dreams come true in a world were we are used to that rarely happening, it was Brienne. The fact it is Brienne, who gets to take over from Jaime Lannister in her new role, is the final piece of the puzzle (I don’t count The Mountain).

Speaking of Jaime, the scene I’d said for years that I wanted to see if he really had to die, was Brienne filling his pages in the Kingsguard book with his good deeds. Ever since vile Joffrey mocked him for his empty pages and Brienne read the words, I’ve wondered if this would be part of the ending. Personally, I loved it and it was the scene that made me the most emotional this week. I know many have grumbled about Brienne doing this after Jaime left her in 8.04, seeing it as a woman serving the story of a man, but that’s not how I see this plot line at all. Yes, it completed Jaime’s story and yes, she perhaps described the events in the most favourable way, but bear in mind for his entire adult life, he was viewed in a negative light for an action which, like Jon’s, was for the greater good. Seeing the devastation Dany caused only reinforced just how significant his choice was when he killed the Mad King. Yes, he broke Brienne’s heart and I hated it (putting them together in 8.04 both gave me what I wanted, while also giving me what I didn’t – thanks again to the rushing), but I also loved that be giving us this scene, they also brought to the forefront again, how special Brienne is.

She has always done what was just and honourable and has always believed in the good in people and it was because of her that many of the deeds she added to the book even happened! Jaime may have hurt her, but we saw she wasn’t bitter and wanted the good he did to be recorded. She didn’t let his last action cancel out all the others. I also loved that it was clear in that scene that she still cared deeply for him and had forgiven him for being unable to leave his past behind. Why do I say that? She still carried Oathkeeper; in such a sparse room there was a lion statue prominent on the table behind her; and the music playing over the scene was (I think) a blend of “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms” (played when she was knighted) and “I Am Hers, She Is Mine” (which has accompanied scenes with both Robb/Tulisa and Tyrion/Shae), reinforcing the special connection they shared. Add to that, the beautiful performance by Gwendoline Christie (she better be nominated for awards); you see the emotion Brienne is holding back in her eyes as she writes, as she takes her time to complete her task, all before she runs her hand over the page gently before closing it. Yes, it gives Jaime closure and honour again, but it also is a testament to who she is as a person. If we were all a little more like Brienne, we’d all be better for it.

Few characters so richly deserved to end their story with all the respect and status they’d always dreamed of. I’m only sad we won’t get to see all the good deeds that she will do, that will fill her own pages.

A final musical chapter for television’s most ambitious soundtrack

I’m a big fan of film and television scores and few are ever as impressive as this one and a consistent comment about season eight from me and many others, has been just how incredible Ramin Djawadi’s score has been. Over the years, he has created beautiful themes for characters, Houses, while setting the mood for every political manoeuvre and shredding our nerves while watching every battle.

Season eight has seen him play with themes to great emotional effect and The Iron Throne was no different. His slower rendition of The Rains of Castamere, associated so heavily with the violence of The Red Wedding, heightened Tyrion’s grief and I’ve already spoken above about his delicate way of bringing the history of Jaime and Brienne’s relationship in to the story’s end. Dany’s tragic end contained callbacks to her and Jon’s theme and we also had the rousing farewell to the Starks, blending the theme most associated with their House, with the series’s theme, while also throwing in echoes of their past (Arya sailed away to echoes of the same theme she had at the end of season 4 for example). Few shows have scores that are so ingrained in the emotions of the scenes, that you can see them as you listen to the music on its own, but season 8’s music in particular certainly achieves this. Ramin, please hurry up and announce international dates for the next Game of Thrones music tour! Until then, I’ll have the albums on my constant playlist!

A visual masterpiece, setting a new bar for television & film!

Even those less happy with this season have agreed that visually, nothing compares to Game of Thrones, in terms of the quality of the cinematography, visual effects and overall production values. In a way, I think we’ve become complacent about how each episode has a visual quality that surpasses not just other television shows, but most films too and the finale certainly didn’t drop the ball in this area.

We had the terrifying images of Dany addressing her armies, the breathtaking image of her literally being a dragon, as Drogon’s wings unfolded behind her, the haunting echoes of her vision of coming face to face with the throne and the incredible framing of her death in Jon’s arms. Drogon has now become so realistic, that you simply accept that there’s a huge dragon on screen, screaming at the loss of its mother, nudging her lifeless body and then unleashing fire, finally removing the damn throne from the world! Plus, that Stark montage? Gorgeous. I only hope this series has set the bar for other shows to try and surpass in the future.

Then there were all the little nods / call backs to the last eight years…..

Okay, I admit, I didn’t pick up on all of these on the first viewing and I assume I’ve not even noticed them all yet, but the series finale was full of nods to the show’s past, some obvious and some wonderfully subtle. There were the breathtaking costume choices (look at Sansa’s coronation dress – weirwood leaves, dire wolves and fish scales, to represent every aspect of her heritage), the old jokes (Tyrion is clearly never meant to finish that brothel joke, while Stannis’ influence on Davos’ grammar remains strong). Lord Varys was also annoyingly correct that the history books won’t mention Tyrion (boo!), although giving the book the obvious title was a bit cheesy, while Tyrion has gone from the rebel in the Small Council dragging the chairs around, to the man leading a group of his own choosing.

We had Greyworm keeping his promise to Missandei and heading to the beaches of Naath, while Arya, the girl who was once no one, sailed away proudly declaring she was a Stark. We also saw a nod to how The Iron Throne is described in George R.R. Martin’s books when Dany recalls what she’d heard about it, a possible appearance by Hoyland Reed at the Dragonpit gathering, as well as a nod to Martin’s as-yet unwritten seventh book, A Dream of Spring, with the green shoot visible through the snow, as Jon leaves The Wall, as well as a mirror of how episode one began, as the gates of Castle Black rose to let him pass through. Each one of these made the conclusion to the series more satisfying for me. Feel free to point out all the ones I’ve missed!

Looking forward, by looking backwards

It’s sad to end this post without being able to speculate on what will happen in the next episode. Instead, we have a number of prequels in various stages of development to look forward to. They are all being made with HBO, so the production quality should remain and George R.R Martin is involved too, in some more than others. We don’t know much yet, other than the rumours that the first of these prequels to go in to production is going to look at the first Long Night. The casting for this series also has me hopeful, as it contains some of my favourite stage actors (especially Denise Gough, John Heffernan). Nothing can replace Game of Thrones for me in this world; the characters are just too special, but I’ll certainly be tuning in.

………………………

I might write a few posts reflecting on various aspects of the series, now that the story and the characters’ journeys can be viewed as a whole, but for now, I’ll end by saying, that despite my sadness that season eight was so short, when there was enough rich material to give us so much more, I’m satisfied with how the story ended. Overall, it made sense to me, even the elements that I’d loved to have turned out differently (I’m looking at you Jaime and Dany). Few shows grab my attention the way this one has (it was after season two that I read the books) and few stories have offered me so many incredibly complex and compelling characters to invest in emotionally. It’ll be a series I return to many times in the future and it will undoubtably remain one of my favourites and for that I’m grateful to everyone who has had a hand in its creation.

…….Is it too soon for a rewatch…………?

Game of Thrones may have ended, but don’t forget that the two hour documentary, charting the making of this final season airs next Sunday on HBO in the USA and next Monday on Sky Atlantic in the UK. Watch the trailer for it here: https://youtu.be/9K7c0jXkaGc

(All screenshots owned by HBO/Game of Thrones)

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Television Review – Harrowing & emotional – Game of Thrones 8.05 “The Bells”

I know everyone else’s review went up days ago, but I need time to process these last few episodes of Game of Thrones; they are, like the story we’ve been invested in for the last 9 years (or longer for some book readers), complex and so packed with story beats that I knew setting my thoughts down too quickly would lead to knee-jerk responses. So, here we are. I’ve been able to rewatch it a few times and finally have a better sense of my feelings on this penultimate episode of the series.

Let’s start with the point that hangs over season 8 for me

I’ve previously started these pieces off with everything I liked and then looked at the aspects that I didn’t, but for The Bells I think it makes sense to change things, as my main issue with the episode has been the one I’ve had all season and that’s how much story is crammed in to it, as was the case with every episode this season, apart from the superb 8.02.

I’ve no idea why the creators of the series turned down HBO’s offer for more money and a longer season. It honestly doesn’t make sense to me to try and pack so much crucial plot in to only six episodes. Yes, they’ve all been at least an hour, but it’s still far less screen time than previously and no matter how much I still love this series, the sense of hurtling at 100 miles an hour to the conclusion is a constant presence, resulting in storylines feeling rushed and not properly bedded in. Perhaps that’s why I love The Knight of the Seven Kingdoms so much; it took time to let the storylines of these characters breathe. Regardless of how this series ends next week, I’ll always feel frustrated that more time wasn’t taken to bring it to a conclusion.

8.02 – An example of how great the series is when in doesn’t rush!

That said, with time to reflect, I don’t feel particularly disappointed about many of the actual plot points in 8.05 and have a feeling that, had we reached this same set of events, following a few more episodes, if not a whole season extra, far less people would be reacting the way that they are. Did I like all the story decisions? Did I want some things to turn out differently? Yes, of course, but I’ve never been under any illusion that Game of Thrones was a fairytale, or a moral tale, or inspiring story of good over evil (whether that’s people, or our own character traits). The reason I was pulled in to this show in a way few others have enticed me, was because it is complex; few characters are good, or bad, with most firmly in the grey, with the books making that even more apparent through the point of view chapters. This has always meant that they make decisions that are sometimes hard to accept, but which have always been fascinating to watch (or read).

It’s for this reason that, with time to reflect, my review will be different now from the one I may have written had I put pen to paper on Monday, when I fully admit, I was emotionally exhausted from watching it. I know opinion is divided, but these are my thoughts.

A visual television masterpiece

It’s easy to become complacent with this series about just how high the production quality is. That’s almost taken for granted now, but shouldn’t be overlooked in thinking about each episode and The Bells is a visual television masterpiece. Most films would struggle to achieve this level of quality and for an episode such as this one, it had to look (and therefore feel) real. The production team have exceeded expectations with the sets here. That’s all a massive set in a Belfast car park, yet I’d have believed it was Croatia! The level of detail of the vast, twisting streets is the series at the height of its production achievements. Combine that with the incredible visual effects work, cinematography and Miguel Sapochnik’s direction and it’s one the most impressive 75 minutes I’ve ever watched in any medium and I applaud everyone involved in its creation.

The soundtrack album can’t come quickly enough!

One of the stand out components of season eight has been the work of composer Ramin Djawadi and this episode was no exception. The haunting pre-battle build up was just as anxiety-inducing as 8.03, yet was totally different. Then there’s the clever ways existing themes were altered, sometimes creating an entirely different mood to their original one. The biggest example of this for me was the delicate use of The Light of the Seven in the final scene between Cersei and Jaime (more on that later). Those opening piano notes that signalled creepiness in the season six finale, here set instead a quiet, tragically sad and hopeless mood, to then be blended in with The Rains of Castamere, the Lannister song of victory blended in to the House’s fall. The album is out after the finale and I’ll certainly be adding it to my collection and booking tickets for the next arena tour.

Daenerys Targaryen – Sadly, I saw this coming……

I’ll start with the biggest source of debate at the moment – the character of Daenerys and her actions in The Bells. Personally, I wasn’t surprised. I hoped it wouldn’t happen that we’d see her descend in to what is defined as Targaryen madness in this world, but I’d been expecting it deep down for quite a while. It’s perhaps why she was never one of very my favourite characters. Yes, we’ve watched her liberate slaves in Essos, but to some extent I always saw this as just another stepping stone for her on the way to her ultimate goal – to take back her family’s throne, using whatever means necessary.

No question the young woman we met in season one drove you to root for her because she was trapped in a world forced on her by those around her, being sold off, raped and having to survive in a terrifying, unfamiliar world, before things began to work out with Drogo. You wanted her to find strength and the stronger she became, especially as her dragons grew, the more satisfying it seemed. Yet, she did do some terrifying things during that rise, but already invested in her, perhaps we tried to overlook them – locking Xaro Xhoan Daxos in that vault with her former handmaiden in Quarth? Crucifying people? Choosing to BBQ people rather than show mercy? Sure the people who felt her wrath were dreadful people, but seeing how little emotion she felt when taking these decisions, always made me a little uncomfortable. And after her recent losses of dragons and then the two people who most loved her and brought out the kindness in her, Jorah and Missandei, it seemed inevitable that someone with that much grief and anger, who also had Westeros’ equivalent of nuclear power at her disposal, would do something terrible.

My biggest complaints? The far too heavy-handed link to Jon Snow not wanting to be with her and her choosing to “burn them all” after the city surrendered, both problems which have been the result of the rushed pace of the final chapter of the story. Had her and Jon’s relationship had longer to grow and form (I never found their romance believable) and had we been able to spend more time seeing her gradual disintegration with each loss, then her unleashing hell on King’s Landing might have felt earned. It didn’t surprise me, but it didn’t satisfy me the way it could have done from a story perspective.

Farewell to my favourite character, Jaime Lannister

I’ve made no secret of the fact Jaime is my favourite character, only enhanced by the incredible performance that Nikolaj Coster-Waldau has given since season one and it was with a heavy heart that I watched him die this week. I knew it was coming, I knew he wasn’t destined for a happy ending, but it didn’t make it hurt any less. This is another big point of debate among fans of the show and I admit, my initial reaction to his end was not a good one, but even though I wanted something slightly different, I don’t see his end falling short in terms of his character arc.

I could spend a whole post on Jaime (maybe I will do that next!), but in short, he was for me, the most fascinating and complex character in the series; someone who you couldn’t stand early on for his arrogance and seeming disdain for everyone other than his family, who slowly became a three dimensional man. This is someone who struggled to reconcile the conflicting parts of his character for perhaps his entire adult life; someone who has been lectured by his father that nothing matters more than loyalty to family, to the Lannister name, not even your honour and someone defined by his skill in war. Yes, I’d hoped he’d die in a blaze of honour, leaving Brienne to write up his good deeds in the Kingsguard book (that’s clearly a pile of ashes now anyway), but his final choice doesn’t cancel out his transformation for me.

Made to reassess who he was without his sword hand, he became someone better, mainly thanks to Brienne, perhaps the only person outside his family who loved him and accepted him for who he was (hell, not even Tywin did that!). He became someone who felt compelled to care about others again, something he seemed not to have done since his heroic act years ago branded him the dishonourable Kingslayer. It was wonderful to watch unfold and made me invest in him more than anyone else. He didn’t need to ride North to fight the Night King’s army and the old Jaime wouldn’t have and for me, him making the choice to screw family loyalty and do what was right; to keep a promise made to enemies, was him finding redemption.

It’s also true, I think, to say that he did struggle to decide on who he was going to be at the end. His time in the North gave him a glimpse at a different life, that in a different story he may have taken. I think that’s why he was drawn to Brienne. He did care for her and her belief in his honour made that connection more powerful. He initially chose to stay at Winterfell, so perhaps he was thinking he could move on, having been rejected by Cersei in the finale and were he to do so, it would of course have been with Brienne.

Yet, in the end, his downfall was one of his most endearing characteristics – his unwavering love for his family. Despite knowing who Cersei was, he couldn’t stop loving the person who’s been the closest to him his entire life. In the end, he was willing to die trying to save those he loved and that only makes his end more tragic. It’s also the reason why I never understood how people could think he’d kill her (prophecies not included on the show aside). She’d have had to execute Tyrion in front of him to be able to do that, especially when she was pregnant! The only aspect of this end that I truly didn’t like was that the dreadful Euron managed to so seriously wound him. Was that really necessary? He may not have died in a blaze of honour, but for me, he still died as a man of honour, who was also flawed and very human.

………and I can’t talk about Jaime’s end without turning to his twin…….

The end of Cersei Lannister, one of the greatest characters in any story

First things first, there’s no denying Cersei Lannister is a horrid person. She’s manipulative, deceitful, cruel, but she remains a fantastic character and another truly exciting one to follow on a series, played flawlessly by Lena Headey (how she’s not won an award for this role is madness). Despite the terrible aspects of her character, like Sansa, I couldn’t help but admire her in some twisted way, seeing her rise from under the grip of men who’d always viewed her as nothing (her father, her husband, the old crones in power in the Small Council and even her vile son). Plus, seeing her go from naked and powerless to sipping wine as all those who posed a threat to her went up in flames, was quite something. When you think about it, her and Dany have quite a lot in common (heck, Dany has now technically killed more innocent people)!

It was clear she’d never survive this episode. It was simply a case of how she’d meet her end. I assumed the “Little Brother” prophecy wasn’t part of the series (they deliberately left out the bit in the flashback) and as I’ve already mentioned, I couldn’t see Jaime killing her unless it was truly the only option. I’d considered Tyrion, or Arya, perhaps part of some confrontation in front of the Iron Throne and I’d been looking forward to seeing it!

So, perhaps the most shocking element of The Bells for me was how emotional it was watching her and Jaime die. Setting aside the incest element (we’ve known about that since day one after all), the most genuine aspect of their personalities seemed to be their bond and love of one another. I certainly found their love (as weird as it is to our modern world) more real and believable than say Jon and Dany, or Tyrion and Shae (this isn’t really a couple show!) and the moment they reunited in the exact spot where she’d cast him aside last season (clearly out of hurt and anger in my view) was quite moving. It brought home to me that they truly did belong together, as did their final moments.

Yes, I thought I wanted a big, spectacle death for Cersei, but actually, the quiet, understated end to her life worked very well; stripped of power and position, she was simply someone who was frightened to die and watching the man who’d always loved her unconditionally and who was the only person she’d ever let see her truly vulnerable, do all he could to save her and then simply provide comfort at the end, made me surprisingly upset. I didn’t see the dreadful woman. I just saw someone afraid and as she died I felt compassion for her. I’d never expected that and that’s what’s so damn good about Game of Thrones. It plays with your emotions in ways you don’t ever expect. In fact, my biggest sadness about the loss of Cersei is that she didn’t have enough scenes this season (see, it all comes back to the rushing again).

Arya Stark brings the horror of a warzone to life before our eyes

Maisie Williams has only grown better and better each year and we’ve been treated to a lot of development for Arya this year (more impressive when everything else feels so rushed). She’s gone from the emotionless slitter of Frey throats, to remembering who Arya Stark used to be. It seemed she was determined to kill Cersei and yet, her walking away from that thanks to The Hound seemed fitting. The final scene between those two characters was perfect. Once someone who perhaps scared her, he became her protector and teacher in how to survive. She’d likely be dead without him and she was clearly the only person he truly cared for. Seeing them standing in the space in the Red Keep reminded me of her in the open space of the King’s Landing home in which Syrio Forel, her first teacher and protector, gave her that wooden sword. You saw her change in that moment, looking like a little girl again, as she chose to live, rather than die seeking revenge and having her call The Hound by his first name as she said goodbye was a lovely touch.

That would have been content enough for her in 8.05, but the decision to make Arya so central to the unfolding hell in King’s Landing was a brilliant one. With so much horror raining down, we needed someone who we cared about to take us inside that environment and Arya is one the characters most cared about by audiences (she’s always been one of my favourites on the page and screen). Seeing her fight to survive again and desperately try and save others around her, was incredibly emotional, but hugely satisfying.

The gradual breaking of Tyrion Lannister’s spirit

Oh, poor Tyrion. My heart went out to him this week, as by the end of 8.05 he’d lost so much, yet he’d also started to grow in prominence in the story again. The last few seasons I’ve missed the Tyrion of early years, the one who ran King’s Landing with wits and wit and was so central to events. As characters have come together, he’s become more of a supporting role in the Dany world and it had started to feel like a waste. Yet, season eight has seen him stepping up again and The Bells saw Peter Dinklage reminding us how much we love Tyrion.

As someone who lost his place in the world after killing his father and fleeing Westeros, aligning with Dany had been his only real option for safety and another chance and he grew to believe in her, or so he thought. This week saw him having to question that choice. Perhaps his belief in her had been clouded by his awe of the idea of dragons from his childhood, awe which has started to be replaced by fear and finally, as he watched him firebomb the innocent after The Bells rang out, by horror. You saw something in him break in that moment and it leaves him in a precarious position next week.

His belief in Dany wasn’t his only loss this week either. He also lost his close friend Varys (one of the few he’s ever had), a loss which was of his own making, due to his then belief that Varys was wrong about their queen. The guilt on his face at Varys’s execution was evident and I admired the fact he confessed to him before he died.

Yet, on top of that and probably the hardest loss of them all, he lost the only member of his family that he’d ever loved and who loved him, Jaime. It was poetic to have him free him, just as Jaime had in season four and watching them say farewell to each other made me cry. Whether they survived the looming attack or not, they both knew they’d never see each other again and that came through in such an emotional scene. Their moments together have been some of the loveliest in the series and it really brought home to me that this show is coming to an end. I just hope we don’t experience Tyrion checking that cove next week and finding the boat still there, the passage blocked and realising his brother is dead. This week was hard enough! Don’t put me through that!

Is anyone else irritated by Jon Snow? Is it just me?

Oh Jon. It’s time to step up I’m afraid. Having played a surprisingly small role in the Battle of Winterfell, this week saw Jon Snow placed in his most conflicted position. He says he loves Dany (although again, it hasn’t had the time to really feel real for me), but intimacy with his auntie is not on the agenda, leaving his role this week to be yet again leading men in to battle, when he’d probably rather be up in the north with the wildlings.

We all know he’s a man of honour and seeing his changing emotions as the fight went from a relatively bloodless victory to total carnage was ideal for setting the scene for the finale. I particularly liked the sequence in which he watched his own men murdering innocent people around him, as the Lannister soldier tries to shepherd the citizens of King’s Landing to safety; yet again forcing us to see it’s not always simple who is good and who isn’t. I was also surprised he simply stood by and watched her BBQ Varys with no comment, but surely he can’t stand beside Dany’s choices this week? Time to make some tough decisions Jon Snow.

Cleganebowl…….I found it all a bit OTT……

I know this has been high on many fans’ wish lists, but it’s never been on mine and perhaps that’s partly why I didn’t really like it that much. The fight choreography was excellent and the build-up of tension, as it seemed The Hound’s thirst for revenge may not be satisfied, worked very well too, but it was all a bit over the top for me. Had this been the season four pre-Frankenstein Mountain vs. his brother in a space similar to the one in which he fought the Viper, then I’d have found it much more exciting. The very fact the Mountain was now almost unstoppable made it all a bit ridiculous. It didn’t feel like Game of Throne to me, more like an Arnie movie. That being said, I did like The Hound overcoming his fear of fire enough to willingly launch himself in to it, in order to get his long sought revenge!

The Spider has spun his last web

As has been the case with Tyrion in recent years, we’ve seen less and less of a role for Lord Varys, whose conversations in earlier seasons (especially with Littlefinger and Tyrion) were some of the show’s highlights. I’d therefore been hoping for more of him this year and his turning away from Dany laid the foundations for some final plotting.

Yet, this was again another victim of the short season and the rushing through of storylines. What in earlier seasons would have likely played out over a few episodes, with juicy dialogue, was condensed in to a couple of scenes in 8.04 and the very early part of 8.05. In fact, it was so rushed, that I totally missed the hints in the opening scene that he was perhaps hoping to poison Dany to stop the battle even happening. When it’s pointed out to you and you rewatch, it’s clear that he isn’t just worried for the Queen’s diet! The little girl from the kitchen has come to report that Dany still isn’t eating, to which he says they’ll try again at supper, after letting out a sigh.

It’s the type of subtle plotting that this series did so well early on and which has been given no time in the last two years. It was sad to see Varys go. Again, he’s a character who’s done dreadful things, but who has also done good too and who does seem to care about the best interests of the people over power. Shame he didn’t wait to have that chat with Jon after the incineration of the city. He may have received a different response!

……….

So, all in all, despite my initial frustrations, which are largely fuelled by the lack of screen time this final season has had to make story choices, such as Dany’s, feel earned, I don’t think The Bells deserves the hate it’s getting. Sometimes characters you like do things you don’t like, but does that invalidate everything great about the series as a whole? Not in my view and I still admire the fact that, with only one episode left, I have no idea how they’ll close this story.

……which brings me to….

A final look ahead

It’s hard to believe we’ve reached the end of Game of Thrones. With one episode remaining there are still a number of possibilities for its conclusion and I can’t decide which is the most predictable! Will Jon be forced to kill Dany for the good of the kingdom, becoming the “Queenslayer”? I assume he will be viewed very differently for that choice than Jaime was for making the same one.

Or will it be Arya who adds a queen to her kill list, just not the one she expected? She saw the horror of Dany’s actions up close and if Dany makes a move to harm Jon (I saw how Greyworm was looking at him during the battle this week), or Sansa, to protect her throne, I can’t see Arya not taking action. Or will Dany stay in power, putting us back to the beginning, with a “Mad” Targaryen on the throne, waiting to be overthrown? Heck, there’s even a Stark in the North and a Baratheon around to start yet another rebellion. That would certainly bring the story full circle in a bittersweet way. Honestly, all I really want is for Tyrion, Arya and Brienne (and maybe Sansa depending on my mood) to make it out of this in one piece! All my fingers are crossed!

See you next week!

The finale of Game of Thrones is on Sunday night on HBO in the USA and on Monday from 2 a.m. in the UK via Sky Atlantic. You can watch the trailer here: https://youtu.be/qyBPzUe3hNI; the short inside this week’s episode here: https://youtu.be/5W8j6wOvxuo; and the longer behind the scenes of this week’s episode here: https://youtu.be/RQ9QQMXTftY.

(All screenshots are the property of HBO/Game of Thrones)

Television Review – Game of Thrones 8.04 “The Last of the Starks”

How have we reached episode four of this final season already? It’s going so fast, especially with only two episodes remaining in this unnecessarily short season. I was looking forward to this week, as the fallout from the battle promised to open up some interesting character moments, from shifting loyalties, to conflicted feelings, not to mention the looming threat of Cersei and what she’d been getting up to. Kit Harington described it as Shakespearean and I totally understand what he meant, especially having now watched it a few times to take it all in.

Did I enjoy The Last of the Starks? I’m struggling with my own conflicted emotions when it comes to this question. My immediate reaction on initial viewing was that I very much enjoyed it. Character-driven episodes have always interested me more than the mystery of The Night King and it makes sense to me that the biggest threat to the realm is the evil of man (or, in this case, woman).

I’ll delve in to what I did enjoy this week in a moment, but unlike 8.02, which I thought was superb, on further watches I notice more and more the aspects of 8.04 that I didn’t like, or which didn’t make sense, or were not properly explained. The reason for that? I can’t help but feel that they are rushing this season now. We had two episodes to enjoy the preparation for battle, but we don’t have the luxury of time to build to the final climax. I’ll never understand why this season is only six episodes. I don’t imagine HBO had a problem with a 7-10 episode run, so it comes down to the creators. After seven seasons of plot and character building, often including such wonderful minutiae, they are rushing ahead now and it’s starting to make me worry that it’s impossible for this epic to be wrapped up in a satisfying way. I really do hope I’m proven wrong.

Anyway, let’s dig in to this episode more; one that covered a great deal of ground in just 75 minutes.

Strong direction by David Nutter continues to deliver the performances

I’ve missed David Nutter directing this show. He seems to always have a way of bringing something extra out in the performances of this already excellent acting ensemble and it’s been fantastic to see him back for half this season. As with 8.01 and especially 8.02, this week he brings some stunningly powerful character moments to the screen, from the mourning of the opening scenes, through the revelry and in to the devastating blows that started to pile up as we moved through the episode. I’ve read that the actors feel at ease with him and that he encourages them to let their characters breathe and it always comes across. I’ll touch on so many of these performances in this review, but a stand out was Nathalie Emmanuel, capturing Missandei’s fear, sadness, but ultimately defiance before she was so horrifically executed in front of her lover and best friend and the choice for Greyworm to turn away in agony, while Dany didn’t, as if needing to see it, to fuel her burning rage.

Honouring the dead, with a speech fit for a King……

The opening minutes of this episode were some of my favourites of the season so far, as they took time to slow it down and give us time with these characters who we’ve grown so fond of. Not as many died as I thought would be the case in the Battle of Winterfell, but those who did deserved to be acknowledged and the combination of the music, a slowed down, sadder version of the Night King’s theme from last week and some beautiful performances made this truly stand out. Seeing Dany, saying a last farewell to the man who has always believed in her, was very sad (although you did use him as a human shield in that battle Dany), but the most emotional part of this scene for me had to be Sansa mourning Theon, who she made sure died just as much a Stark as a Greyjoy. Jon’s passionate speech that followed only seemed to highlight just how inspiring a leader he is and that, arguably, he’s the better fit for the throne over Daenerys. Seeing how the episode unfolds, this moment was very well played to start the viewer thinking this at exactly the same time as others start to think about it too.

A time for merriment before it all went downhill

David Nutter directed the infamous Red Wedding, so seeing him helming a happier feast was quite a relief, as we were able to enjoy some time at Winterfell seeing everyone celebrating for a change. Tormund challenging Jon to down his drink was good fun, as was Podrick’s cheeky smile earning him the attention of the ladies. Arise Lord Gendry Baratheon too!

We also finally saw Sansa talk to The Hound again, something that hasn’t happened since season two and it was fascinating to see just how they’ve both changed so much in the years that have passed. Plus, it was also lovely to see Tyrion, Jaime, Pod and Brienne having fun together; well…until Tyrion ruined it by crossing so far over the line you couldn’t see it anymore. Not cool Tyrion. I like you. Don’t be a dick! I thought he was going to say she loved Jaime, which would have been awkward, but not as wrong as the angle he chose to take. Alcohol is no excuse. You lose points in my good books for that!

Jon Snow’s departure from the North, an eerily sad echo of Ned Stark’s farewell back in 1.02

In my deadpool I predicted that Jon would die, sacrificing himself for the greater good, or Dany. Yet, the more we move through this season, the more I start to wonder if the bittersweet end to this story will include a reluctant Jon taking the throne; something he clearly doesn’t want. His goodbyes before he departed Winterfell were incredibly sad, not just because we were seeing the likely end of the time we’ll spend with Sam, Tormund, Ghost and Jon together, but because Jon was seeming to give up everything that makes him who he is, travelling south to a place he has no interest in being, all because he’s loyal to another. Sound familiar Jon? Watching him do exactly what Ned Stark did in 1.02 was quite tragic and continues to make me wonder which way his story will go. Ultimately Tormund is right, he belongs in the North, but we’ll have to see whether his fate is to die helping another take control, or to bear the burden of bringing the realm together, even if he’d rather not.

Finally Tyrion and Varys have a role again!

This week saw a return to the whispered conversations and political plotting and I’ve very much missed it. Heck, having Littlefinger around for such scenes always added something, even though I couldn’t wait to see him dead! Varys has become very much a background character in recent years and so it was fantastic to see the Spider spinning more webs again. A lot of what he was saying this week made sense. He wants the best person for the job on the throne and looking at it objectively, I tend to agree that it’s Jon; people just seem to want to follow him and believe in him to do what’s right. Yet, the moment he suggested Dany needed removing from the picture, gave me chills. We already know he’s destined to die in Westeros, so maybe he will end up as BBQ for Dragon for betraying his queen, even if he is trying to do what he believes is for the best.

As for Tryion, he’s one of my favourite characters, but as the seasons have moved on, he’s become less and less interesting. As the characters came together, he fell in to a supporting role to Dany and with that, seemed to be given a much lesser story of his own. I’ve missed the Tyrion of old and this week we were able to enjoy all the facets of his character, from the playful, naughty Imp (I loved his passion for his game…well until that last bit..), to affectionate, bantering brother, through to the clever man who is able to negotiate his way out of a crossbow bolt (good decision Bronn) and sombre royal councillor. It made him feel important again and by the time he was face to face with Cersei, trying to stop the bloodbath to come, I’d truly realised just how much I’ve missed him and I dearly hope he survives!

The show’s best pairing is back on the road! 

Sorry Gendry, but Arya Stark was never going to be anyone’s lady, no matter how much she cares for you. She’s sadly become a loner, as was clear at the feast, when she was out in the back training and feels she needs very few people in her life. It was therefore perfect that she headed off to King’s Landing with the only person she could – The Hound. Equally a loner, she’s also the only person he’d willingly allow to go along with him. I’ve missed these two together. It’s just a pity that this unnecessarily short season will rob us of more scenes with them on their journey. He’s clearly destined to meet his brother for a showdown, someone also on Arya’s list, as well as Cersei. It’ll be interesting to see what role they have to play next week, but the fact neither of them expect to return north made me more sure that they’ll both meet their end in the capital.

The heartbreaking story of Jaime and Brienne. It still hurts. A lot.

As two of my favourite characters, this was the most painful aspect of 8.04 for me (sorry Missandei) and although it was upsetting on so many levels, the acting of Nikolaj Coster-Waldau and Gwendeline Christie took these scenes to a higher emotional level. I know not everyone wanted these two together and to be honest, I’d have been happy if they hadn’t, as the knighting scene felt like the only way these two people would show their feelings, without saying the words.

I may be blinded by how much I have rooted for Jaime for years, both on the page and the screen, but I genuinely believe he loves Brienne and that he wanted to stay with her, away from King’s Landing. He just couldn’t, because he still loves Cersei too, while also hating her and what he’s become because of her; the pregnancy just making the situation worse. I also believe he wants to be the better man Brienne sees, but he simply doesn’t feel he is worthy of such love because of all the terrible actions he’s taken for House Lannister.

Is he leaving to go back to Cersei, or to try and stop her? I honestly don’t think he knows himself, but he told Bran he wasn’t the person he used to be and he’s already proven that he’ll protect the people from their ruler if he can. The emotional conflict he would suffer after surviving 8.03 was something I was most looking forward to and personally, I thought they handled it very well. He cares for Brienne and despite his reputation, when it comes to sex, he’s not that much more experienced than she is, having only ever slept with Cersei, so his awkward, cringe-worthy way of trying to simultaneously convey and understand his emotions, with Brienne in her room, felt very true to his character. I also liked that, although he came to her, Brienne took the lead in the end. As Arya did in 8.02, she chose to be vulnerable with someone she cared for. She took a risk and it was on her terms.

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His turmoil was woven throughout the episode though, right from the start and superbly played by Nikolaj Coster-Waldau. As Jon talks about people dying so that others may live, the camera focused on Jaime and his expression. He then continues to struggle with his emotions, first when lying next to Brienne, then when Bronn says he thinks Cersei is screwed and finally when Sansa suggested King’s Landing was about to be lit up in flames with everyone in it. It was inevitable he’d leave. He said himself that he hates the North. Just as Jon doesn’t belong in the South, Jaime couldn’t have stayed at Winterfell. He still has a role to play in all of this. As for that last scene between the two of them? It hurt. A lot. Brienne is such a wonderful character and one of the few pure, honourable, people in this world and you want her to be happy. Until I am proven wrong, I will continue to believe that Jaime was that cruel to her for the same reason Tyrion was cruel to Shae; to protect her, to try and ensure she didn’t follow him to where she’d almost certainly die one way or another.

Of course, my view on Jaime and this relationship with Brienne may change depending on where this story goes. If Jaime does turn out to have reverted to who he used to be, or the last time I see Brienne in this series, is her alone and sobbing, I’ll be very very angry. The two were clearly never going to live happily ever after, so I can now only hope that Jaime will die having made things right, realising he’s not the hateful person he still sees and ideally I’d like Brienne to be there, so there’s no doubt in her mind that he cared for her. Plus, he always said he wanted to die in the arms of the woman he loves and I refuse to accept that’ll be his evil twin!

….and talking of Cersei……

You thought The Night King was evil……he has serious competition!

Wow, Cersei is truly awful isn’t she?! She actually makes The Night King look like a fluffy bear by comparison. I can’t say I’m surprised. This was the main reason why I wasn’t disappointed that Arya defeated the supposed big bad last week; because the bigger danger was in the South. Yes, she is indeed hateful, but damn, she’s a magnificent villain and Lena Headey is long overdue an award for this role.

We were well in to the episode before her presence was felt by Euron’s ambush of Dany’s fleet just outside Dragonstone, but it was clear who was behind it all, gleefully filling the Red Keep with human shields for the inevitable battle ahead. Cersei has clearly been busy preparing too, with all those scorpions. She’s also secured Euron’s loyalty by pulling the same trick she did for years with her husband. Will that deception last though? Tyrion talking about the baby when he’d only just heard about it must surely be a red flag for Euron?

Full credit goes to Headey this week. She conveyed so much through her eyes and expression, some of it so very subtle you’d be forgiven for missing it or taking it for granted, such as the look of disgust and possibly sadness she has, after she passes Jaime’s baby off as Euron’s. She clearly still wishes it was her brother by her side deep down. Then there was the superb moments when Tyrion begs for her to surrender and release Missandei. You see her think about it, about her child and her love for it, before her eyes darken and the cruel demeanour returns; all in just a few seconds. I may not like Cersei as a person, but she is undoubtably one of the best characters in this series.

…..Despite the positives, this wasn’t an episode without problems……..

Rushing over important stories simply because you’ve chosen to make a shorter season is unfair to the series as a whole

I said at the beginning I was conflicted about 8.04. Overall, there was a lot I enjoyed and perhaps by the end I’ll continue to think that. The biggest concern, as I’ve already discussed, is that there’s so little time left and I feel the plot lines are being rushed as a result and this episode was a strong example.

Story beats that would have been given time in previous years were glossed over in The Last of the Starks. Take Jon’s parentage. We don’t get to see him tell his family who he really is?! Seriously?! That was not a scene to miss out and I’m certain had there been six more episodes rather than two, it wouldn’t have been. Then there’s the poor goodbye between Jon and Ghost. Sure, the dire wolves don’t have the same role as they do in the books, but it felt cheap to just dash past that. There’s also Jon and Dany’s relationship, which just hasn’t had the time needed to really help it take root and as a result, it all feels rather superficial and forced in order to advance the plot at this fast pace.

Sansa and Dany – two characters whose personalities are being forced too quickly to change

I like both of these women, who’ve been through so much. Yet, what we saw in 8.04 and earlier in this season has been a shifting of the personalities on to another course and in my view, there hasn’t been the time to truly make these changes feel authentic to their characters.

Sansa has grown in to one of the most interesting characters now, but her hostility to Dany has felt a little over the top. Yes, she’d feel cautious, but there’s been no real attempt to have them see if they could get along, which just doesn’t feel right to me. Then, although I agreed more with her than Dany this week (you should have let the troops and dragons rest!), betraying Jon’s trust was just disappointing and really made me frustrated. Again, had they had time to build in the nuances of these relationships it may have made more sense.

Instead it’s come across as two women being bitchy because they feel threatened by each other. Actually…..maybe that is realistic….Also, is Sansa suddenly so cruel that she’d take pleasure in telling Jaime how she was looking forward to seeing his sister executed? Honestly?! That felt more like Cersei to me, or perhaps that’s the point. Are the writers trying to make her more like the people who influenced her, namely Littlefinger (telling Tyrion the secret was classic Petyr Baelish) and Cersei? I suppose we’ll see.

As for Dany, I’ll be able to make a better assessment once we see the finale, but I’m finding the sowing of the Mad Queen seeds a bit too obvious. Even more than Sansa, her character has really started to change dramatically. Would her hunger for power truly take hold this strongly so soon after getting to Westeros. Sure, she’s displayed it before, but the way she reacted to Jon’s news, then focussed more on the throne than the battle in 8.02 and then demanded Jon lie about who he is this week, all didn’t seem to be actions the Dany of earlier years would have done. Plus trying to suggest she’s about to go nuclear because she’s going mad? She’s lost some of the closest people to her recently and just watched her best friend be executed! I think she’s justified in feeling some rage! Again, the lack of time means if this series really does end with her being as dangerous as her father, I’ll be mad.

Couldn’t Dany have burnt Euron’s ships from behind?! 

Sure, sure, there’s going to be a battle next week, but still, it seemed rather mad that after having just lost her dragon and knowing her fleet were in grave danger, Dany and Drogon just……sod off! Surely she’d have circled around and unleashed fire from behind those ships? We saw the carnage Drogon can cause in 7.04. Was this an impressive / exciting scene? Yes, but it still didn’t quite make sense. Plus, why didn’t Euron’s fleet try and capture all those half-drowned survivors on the beach, including Tyrion? They just happened to pluck Missandei out of the water and sail away? And what was the message to Dany to let her know? Again, these were all story beats which were rushed through because the creators limited themselves to a shorter run.

Looking ahead?

It’s still a testament to the series that, with only two episodes left, I have no clear idea about how this will end! Will Dany become just as much a threat to the people as Cersei, that Jon has to do the unthinkable? Will he die for her, or will be have to take up the ultimate leadership role, all the while wishing he was lost in the northern wilderness with Ghost? Is there going to any purpose for Bran?! Surely there has to be, right? Maybe he should be with the army to fill them in on what he knows is happening. His role in all of this is now a mystery to me.

Will The Hound die killing The Mountain? Will Arya help, or simply put him out of his misery if he’s mortally wounded in the fight? There’d be no greater sign of affection between these two! Will Arya wear any more faces? Qyburn’s perhaps, to slip inside the Red Keep? Will Brienne stay with Sansa, or ride south to say a final farewell to Jaime, whose arc better go the way it’s been written all these years (I assume that’s him in the hood in the above shot from the trailer)! Is Bronn going to claim a castle from the victor? That’s only a fraction of my questions and all we know for sure from the trailer for 8.05 (directed again by Miguel Sapochnik) is that the battle is going to kick off! I’m already anxious!

………

So, overall, I did enjoy this week and it certainly moved the story along, from a battle weary Winterfell, to the gates of King’s Landing, taking all the characters on an emotional rollercoaster in just 75 minutes. I simply hope that in these next two weeks there’s enough time to give all the strands, that have been so strongly woven over all these years, a satisfying ending. At the moment, I’m not as confident of that as I’d like to be.

Game of Thrones continues on Sunday in the USA at 9 p.m. on HBO  and on Monday in the UK on Sky Atlantic from 2 a.m. You can watch the trailer here: https://youtu.be/F1fqet9V494; the shorter behind the scenes of 8.04 here: https://youtu.be/u8K9XuPrXko; and the longer behind the scenes of 8.04 here:  https://youtu.be/qwQV89TE8DQ.

(All screenshots are the property of HBO/Game of Thrones)

Game of Thrones – My top 10 questions with just three episodes to go!

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After last week’s mid-season episode, in which we saw the Army of the Dead and the Night King defeated by Arya Stark, I’ve spent this week thinking about all the possibilities now that there are only three episodes left in the sweeping saga that is Game of Thrones. The exciting realisation is that I have no idea the direction the story will take and how it will end. It still seems as if anything is possible.

What is certain? Well, in 8.04, there’s bound to be a mourning of the dead and regrouping in the North, while preparations for war are made in the South. Episode 8.05 is directed by Miguel Sapochnik, so I’m assuming that will involve some form of battle at King’s Landing, leaving the finale to settle the ground for the future of the Seven Kingdoms. After all, the final book in this series, if it ever appears (we’re all still waiting for book 6 to be published first), is called The Promise of Spring, suggesting the story needs to have time left to look to what comes after the perils of winter and war.

Other than that, I’ve been thinking about my biggest questions. I don’t think I’m any nearer to knowing what will happen, but it’s fun to reflect on what we might see. Therefore, this post sets out the big questions I still have and how they may come in to play in the last few episodes of the show.

1. There has to be a twist and maybe it comes in 8.04……

Why do I say this? Well, George R.R Martin’s story has always managed to startle us when we least expected it, whether poor old Ned, the Red Wedding, the Purple Wedding, Tywin’s death being only a few examples. We haven’t had anything truly shock us in a while and it feels as if something needs to shift, to knock the characters off balance going in to the final battle. Plus, the creators have spoken about learning of three twists from the author about the future and only two have taken place so far, leaving one left…… There’s also the fact that Kit Harington has commented that he likes 8.04 because it’s quite Shakespearean, so a bit of betrayal and backstabbing is possible, leading in to 8.05’s fight in the South.

2. Will a betrayal / shifting of sides be such a twist? 

Loyalties have shifted over the course of the series and perhaps another one is on the horizon. The most obvious possibility to me is Tyrion, who although surely unlikely to team up again with Cersei, may well side with Jon’s claim over Dany’s, something I’m betting he now knows after his fireside chat with Bran before the battle, especially as we’ve seen his continued affection towards Sansa, who herself isn’t a fan of the Dragon Queen. That talk he had with “Bran” fascinates me too, as I wonder what else he has learnt. There’s also the fact Bran/The Three-Eyed Raven has been turning his vacant, creepy stare on Tyrion quite a lot, during 8.01 from the courtyard and as he passed by him on his way to the Godswood last week. What does he sense about Tyrion’s role in events? I’m still not sure, but as Tyrion has always been one of my favourite characters, it’d certainly be a shock if he shifted loyalties at this stage.

Other possibilities are Varys, who’s been relatively inactive in the story in recent episodes. Melisandre suggested he’ll also die in Westeros, so will that be helping the Targaryens as has been his goal since season one, or could he face the wrath of Drogon for betraying Dany? As I’ve already mentioned, Sansa isn’t yet a fan of Dany and although I could see her standing firm for the rights of the North, I can’t see her siding with Cersei. Mind you, she did always admire her on some level, but this really would be a shock.

3. How do we know The Three-Eyed Raven is not really the villain?

I’ve been wondering this for some time. It seems the only reason we have to think this strange being is one of the good guys (as far as there are any in this show), is because he is now partly Bran Stark. Yet, I can’t help wondering if the biggest surprise would be if it turned out he was in fact more dangerous than anyone realised. Who knows, maybe the Night King has been trying to rid the Seven Kingdoms of this threat all this time! What was he up to during the battle in 8.03 when he disappeared? Maybe he has his own plan to put in place? We also know that George R.R Martin has said the ending (well, his ending for the books anyway) will be bittersweet. So not everyone will have a happy, or just end. Imagine if this being did turn out to be a villain, leaving Jon Snow in the position of having to effectively kill Bran. Sure, he’d save the world, but he’d never be able to forgive himself for that action.

4. Can Arya Stark play a significant role in the battle ahead after she defeated the Night King?

I love Arya, both on screen and on the page and although she’s on my deadpool for this season, I felt sure she’d go out having done something significant. Arguably she’s served that role now. She killed the Night King after all! Her travelling to the capital seems certain, as the last two names on her list are there. Maybe she’ll help her “friend” The Hound kill his brother The Mountain, striking out one more name, but I don’t see her helping to kill Cersei now. I’d quite like her to kill Euron, if only so she could wear his face, but even that seems unlikely after seeing her steal the show last week. Surely, she can’t do it again?

5. Where now for Jaime Lannister?

People who’ve read my reviews will know that Jaime is my favourite character. He’s one of the most complex, on screen and in the books and the way your attitude towards him shifts so dramatically has always fascinated me. Throw in the fact the relationship between Jaime and Brienne is, in my view, the most interesting and powerful one, when in comes to possible romantic pairings (no doubt helped by the chemistry between Nikolaj Coster Waldau and Gwendoline Christie) and it makes me truly care about his fate.

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I still think he’s not likely to survive (no matter how much I’d like him to sail away to Tarth to start a new life with Brienne away from his past), but will he really be ready to march down to King’s Landing on Team Targaryen to take on Cersei?! He didn’t go to the North to fight for Dany, but to keep a promise. Arguably now, he’d want to go back. Unless of course, his final confrontation at last opened his eyes to who she really is and he chooses to stand beside Brienne. Having said that Brienne herself is Team Sansa. Will she even feel any duty to go to King’s Landing? I’m assuming the Lannister brothers are destined for a showdown with their sister, but I still struggle to see Jaime being able to kill someone he loved for so long. It would take something serious happening for that…….which leads me to……..

6. How cruel is Cersei going to get?

Let’s face it, Cersei Lannister is a superb character. She’s horrid, but like Sansa, you can’t help but admire her ruthless determination to come out on top, no matter what it takes. We’ve already seen her blow up a good section of the capital to rid herself of her enemies, have no issue with chaining a mother up to watch her daughter die (not that I liked the Sandsnakes), not to mention the chilling way she dealt with Sept Unella.

So we know she’s capable of anything. She has the Scorpions (which have been highlighted in the opening credits too), so I’m assuming those will be used to try and bring down dragons, but what other cruelty awaits her enemies? Will she take some hostages with Euron’s help? Harm Brienne to finally push Jaime over the edge to kill her (I could see Brienne taking a crossbow bolt for him if it came to it, being just one example, although Jaime’s wish is to die in the arms of the woman he loves, so surely he has to die before Brienne?). Tell Jon it was Jaime that pushed Bran from that window to sow some anger? She’s always been great at creating conflicts between people, so combine that with her cruelty and I dread to think what awaits us………which leads on to my next big question…..

7. Who will kill Cersei?

I really would be shocked if she survived this series (heck, maybe that’s the twist!), but assuming Cersei’s days are numbered, the big question is, who will kill her? There are plenty of people keen to do the job: Arya, Dany, Tyrion to a lesser extent, but I’m still intrigued where the show will choose to go. Book readers have long focussed on the prophecy in the books that the Valonqar (little brother) will kill her. However, the series has yet to bring up that part of the witch’s prophecy. We’ve only seen in flashback her telling Cersei about her having three children who will die and that she’ll be queen, before being replaced by one younger and more beautiful. They didn’t show the next part, which was that the Valonqar would choke the life out of her. The general theories have been that it’ll be Jaime, as Tyrion is too obvious, but as this has never been raised on screen, maybe the creators are thinking of something else. I still struggle to see Jaime doing this, especially as he thinks she’s pregnant with his child (I still don’t quite buy that either), but I could yet be surprised.

8. Can Jon and Dany both live?

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I still think the answer to this question is no. The story narrative just seems to suggest to me that only one of them will survive. As she seems more and more focussed on power and the throne, despite in early years speaking about breaking the wheel of power, will it be left to Jon to stop her doing something rash? He still seems to be the more logical leader, being someone who never sought out power, or wanted to lead and whose actions have mostly been for the good of others. Yet, this being Game of Thrones, the obvious choice is likely not going to be the person in charge at the end. I’ve always thought Jon would be the one to die, possibly protecting her, but as we move through season eight, I start to change my mind. I’ll be watching Dany’s attitude in 8.04, when they finally have to face Jon’s true lineage, very carefully, for signs of how their relationship and roles in the story could play out. Perhaps Meera Reed will reappear with her father, the only man alive who almost certainly knows the truth having been with Ned at the Tower of Joy.

9. Bronn wouldn’t use that crossbow……..would he…..???

Bronn has been such a fantastic character and much more interesting on screen than on the page. We saw in 8.01 that he’s been tasked with killing Tyrion and Jaime for Cersei, using the same weapon that was used to kill their father. Will he do it? I honestly can’t decide. He’s always been in it for the money. First serving Tyrion, then shifting away from him when he was no longer a reliable income stream. He also refused to be Tryion’s champion against the Mountain and seems to suggest he only continued to side with Jaime (and now Cersei) because there was money and status in it for him. Arguably, Cersei is the only Lannister left who can pay him what he feels he’s owed. So, all we’re relying on is his affection for the Lannister brothers. Maybe he’ll try and fail? Maybe he’ll kill someone else in the crossfire, or maybe he won’t, but I think something interesting is going to happen, with Joffrey’s favourite toy playing a key role.

10. The Hound has to defeat The Mountain right?!

Cleganebowl has become a huge item on many fan’s wishlist, but it’s never been guaranteed and just as we never had a battle between Jon and the Night King, maybe this won’t happen either. Having said that, 7.07, set up their showdown nicely and it seems certain The Hound will be making his way south. I’d love to see Arya help him take out his undead brother, but maybe it’s a fight that will see the end of both the Cleganes.

…………………………..

So, those are the questions at the top of my long list when it comes to Game of Thrones and how this will all play out. It’s hard to believe there are only three episodes left, albeit long ones. Regardless of the answers to these questions, all I really hope for is that the ending is a satisfying one. We need it. After all, it’s going to be a long wait until we can read the end on the page.

See you tomorrow for my review of 8.04!

Game of Thrones continues tonight in the USA on HBO at 9pm and on Monday on Sky Atlantic / NowTV in the UK, from 2am.

(All screenshots and images are the property of HBO/Game of Thrones)

 

 

Television Review – The Great War arrives in Game of Thrones 8.03 “The Long Night”

Very few episodes of television have had the level of anticipation and hype that has been connected with this third episode of the final season of Game of Thrones, as the Army of the Dead made its way towards Winterfell. The reunions had taken place, unusual alliances formed and battle strategies laid out (ummm……we’ll get to that). Now everyone, characters and audience alike, was waiting for the episode which was billed as the longest, most ambitious battle sequence ever committed to film. At 78 minutes and having taken 55 nights to film, expectations were high.

Were they met? Yes and no. For me, the answer isn’t straightforward, so I’ll try and break it down, fully aware that every fan watching will have a different view on what should and shouldn’t have been included in this huge television event. My first comment is that I enjoyed the episode more on further viewing, perhaps because I could relax knowing who didn’t die, but also because I could take more of it in. On first viewing, there almost seemed to be too much happening, at times in very dark scenes for me to appreciate it. It also had the challenge of following last week’s utterly superb 8.02, which is without one of the best episodes of the series for me and which I found much more emotionally satisfying.

Anyway, I’ll start with the positives!

So much tension! 

My first observation having watched the episode a few times now, is that it’s much easier to rewatch compared to the nerve-shredding initial viewing, when I spent the whole episode waiting for my favourite characters to die! Having said that, even on rewatches the tense atmosphere on screen continues to permeate, particularly in the superbly crafted pre-battle minutes. These set the scene, showing where everyone is and truly put the viewer in the shoes of the frontline – the throbbing, pulsing music, coupled with total silence worked together to unsettle you, together with the impressive opening one shot, as we followed a terrified Sam through Winterfell, meeting others along the way (a shot which perhaps also tries to establish the layout for later, when Jon is desperately trying to get past the undead Viserion to reach Bran). If you weren’t nervous already, you were ten minutes in and the episode did a fantastic job of maintaining the tension throughout.

Scenes that really were works of art on screen

I tend to agree that parts of this episode were very dark (more on that later), but that aside, 8.03 had some stunningly beautiful visual moments. The lighting of the Dothraki weapons, fire sweeping along the rows, before being extinguished, right down to the final light on the horizon was breathtaking, as were the visuals of the dragons against the sky. Two scenes in particular could almost have been mistaken for paintings (a dragon breathing fire against the darkening sky and the two dragons in the clouds on a moonlit night). The combination of practical action and visual effects really did create something that is rarely seen in film, let alone on television.

The unexpected hero of the night (no, not the obvious one)!

I’ll get to Arya later, but first, I have to take a moment to talk about Melisandre, a character who I’ve never much cared for, yet always been intrigued by. Was she good, was she bad, was she just misguided? I could never truly decide and then she burnt Shireen. Not the best action to invoke much love really! Yet, Game of Thrones has always been great and shifting perception of its characters and for me, Melisandre was a stand out in 8.03. 

From the moment she arrived, she made a difference, whether trying to help the Dothraki, lighting the trench, or empowering Arya not to be afraid of death and giving her belief that she was capable of making a difference. In fact, by the closing moments, as she walked out to die, her role fulfilled, I actually felt sadness. A lot of this is down to the superb performance of Carice van Houten, which is filled with mystery and yet conveys so much. The lighting of the trench in particular was such a compelling moment and the fear in her eyes and in her voice only added to the tension. This has always been one of my favourite elements of both the series and the books; that your attitude towards characters shifts in such unexpected ways. Would they have won without Melisandre? I don’t think so.

The end of a truly superbly crafted character journey

I may have mentioned before that I hate it when people talk about going on a journey. It is so often an exaggeration. Yet, I’ll use it here to describe the life in the show of Theon Greyjoy who, perhaps more than any other character, has truly provoked every emotion in me as a viewer. From arrogant, annoying young man, we’ve witnessed Theon make terrible mistakes and pay for them in the most appalling of ways, going from Theon, to Reek and back to Theon again. I’d already noticed that some of the most emotional scenes in 8.01 and 8.02 revolved around Theon and his end seemed inevitable this week. Yet, as I watched him give everything to defend Bran (where did he go by the way?!), outlasting every other person in the Godswood, I did start to hope that maybe, just maybe, I was wrong, only for the Night King to ruin it all. Alfie Allen has been superb throughout this series and seeing Theon react to Bran’s words of thanks brought a tear to my eye. If he had to go out, then I’m pleased it was defending his home and his adopted family and dying with true honour. You’ll be missed Theon.

The end of House Mormont

House Mormont reached the end of the road and in an episode that contained fewer emotional punches for me than I’d expected, we said farewell to Lady Lyanna and Ser Jorah. Having the smallest, yet arguably bravest, fighter die whilst taking down a giant was a brilliant decision. I’m thrilled she was given such a sendoff. As for Ser Jorah, he’s been there from the start, but it seemed inevitable he’d die protecting Dany (although I’m not sure why one shot makes it look as though Dany almost uses him as a shield as he takes the fatal blow!). On rewatching the episode, I liked the touch of seeing him within the castle walls, hearing the roar of Drogon outside and clearly knowing she needed him, leading him to be the reason she’s still alive. He’s been one of Dany’s greatest assets, someone on whom she’s relied and whose advice she has trusted. It’ll be sad to no longer have his presence by her side and I worry what the effect of that loss will have on her going forward.

Someone give composer Ramin Djawadi all the awards!

The music in Game of Thrones has always been a highlight for me, with certain themes staying in my mind long after I’ve finishing watching an episode and Ramin Djawadi manages to outdo himself with The Long Night. It may have been billed as one long battle, but really it is split in to smaller sections of story and each needed a certain musical mood to complement it. Whether the heavy, pulsing music of the pre-battle, the horror-filled beats as Ayra creeps around inside, the gentleness of the more emotional moments (particularly Theon’s end, and Sansa with Tyrion), or the swelling combination of piano and cello (I think) as the Night King seemingly comes to take victory, the music is as much a character as anyone else and lifts the episode to a higher level of quality. One observation, did the Night King’s final theme when he killed Theon, have echoes of Cersei’s, as she blew up the Sept? I suppose he has passed the Evil torch on to her now! I can’t wait for the soundtrack to come out.

How did no one else die????

“I think we might live!” Tyrion’s optimistic declaration last week was actually right for the six people around the fire and many more! I’ve clearly been watching this series for too long, as I went in to this episode trying to prepare myself for huge losses. Yes, Theon and Jorah’s deaths were sad (and to a lesser extent Edd), but none of the big names were lost during The Long Night. From a personal perspective, my favourites surviving (that’s Jaime, Brienne, Arya, Tyrion and Sansa) mean this episode was far more enjoyable to rewatch than it perhaps would have been. Would the episode have been stronger and carried more emotional weight if we’d lost more people? Absolutely, but having most people live only raises the stakes for the remaining episodes.

The simple moments of affection between my favourite characters

As someone who loves Jaime and Brienne, I was spoilt with content last week and was sure one would die in the battle. The fact they didn’t and fought side by side throughout, with swords forged from the same blade, Ice, the original sword of Winterfell, saving each other when they needed it, was wonderful to see. Hopefully their strong bond will keep Jaime on the right side of the next showdown. Then there was the rather lovely moments between Sansa and Tyrion in the crypts. If you don’t think about her being so young in the earlier seasons, I did always like them together. He was kind to her and seemed to genuinely care about her wellbeing. Since then it’s clear he respects her and this week we saw them reflect on their past and acknowledge it wasn’t all bad, which culminated in one of the loveliest moments of the week, when they decide to take a final stand together and he kisses her hand. I’ve already speculated about whether there could be a possible future for these two if they survive and these moments made me even more curious.

The Night King was no match for our Arya Stark!! 

Well, just like Arya, this plot development seemed to come out of nowhere in the closing minutes of the episode! Yet, the brilliance of it is that even though I didn’t see it coming, it made perfect sense. Arya Stark has learnt from the beginning to be a water dancer, to move fluidly and effortlessly, which was only enhanced by her time with the Faceless Men, where she learnt to be stealthy and ruthless. By the time we reached the moment Melisandre reminded her of all the eyes she’d seen her close, all she needed was a reminder of what she is capable of, the fear having started to creep in.

The structuring of the episode was also very clever in giving us the pieces (Beric could finally die having saved Arya, the eyes, the stealthiness in the library) and yet leaving enough of a break so that when Arya emerged from the dark behind the Night King everyone watching gasped (or, in my case, screamed…!). Having her pull the same moves as she did when practising with Brienne, in the spot where Bran gave her that very dagger and she’d previously taken Jon by surprise, to defeat the series’ apparent ultimate evil was fantastic television. I don’t think I’ll ever tire of watching that scene and Maisie Williams continues to impress in this role. Plus, yet again, the series does the unexpected. We’ve always assumed it would be Jon, yet the Night King simply walked away from him, leaving it to Arya to be the hero! It was a shock, but a welcome one in my opinion.

Time to get back to what Game of Thrones does best – game playing, betrayal, rivalry and the biggest danger to humans – each other!

Following the airing of this episode, I’ve read many complaints that ridding The Seven Kingdoms of The Night King with three episodes to go is anti-climatic. I can understand that viewpoint, but I don’t share it. The mysterious threat from beyond The Wall was never what drew me in to this series, or the books. Yes, it was an intriguing part of the story and I had been looking forward to the dead finally crossing over to fight the living, but for me, the bigger stories were always those that focussed on the rivalries between the Houses of Westeros. I’ve always loved the politics, power plays, backstabbing and betrayal, conflicts and loyalties, especially when those began to shift. Therefore, I never saw The Night King as the biggest threat, as the characters are more than capable of destroying each other and now he’s gone, that’s exactly what they will do. Cersei, Euron and the Golden Company vs. those who stand behind Jon and Dany and all the personal conflicts that will bring. Yes, the big battles are fun, but the prospect of three episodes of strong character-driven scenes with emotional pay offs (as we had in last week’s 8.02)? That’s my kind of ending!

It wasn’t all positive when it came to episode 8.03 though, so it’s time to think about the elements that were perhaps a little disappointing…….

That was your battle strategy Jon? Really? You clearly do know nothing!

Okay, okay, so I know the battle had to be hell and not a walk in the park to an easy victory, but surely the story could have been crafted in a way that didn’t make Jon Snow (and to some extent Dany) look incredibly stupid? Yes, the Dothraki thrive charging an open field, we all saw 7.04, but they’d seen what they were up against. Did they truly think charging in to the darkness against 100,000 dead people was sensible?! It was ridiculous and had me irritated from early on! Then there’s the use of the dragons – surely burning a few lines of the dead on the battlefield early on should have been the plan from the start, if only to light up the scene and not be the choice after Dany was so enraged by the massacre of the Dothraki?! And don’t get me started about Jon so obviously falling in to the Night King’s “Follow me in to the clouds Jon Snow” trap. So much of the strategy seemed nuts, which took the shine off the battle from the start for me. These characters are smarter than this, or they should be.

Ummmmmm……….could it have been a bit brighter……??

Another big complaint I’ve seen over the last couple of days is that the episode was too dark, with many saying they couldn’t see a thing. I wouldn’t go as far as seeing I couldn’t see anything, but I do agree that it could have been a bit lighter, if only to show off all the work that was on display. I acknowledge that Game of Thrones has always tried to make its sequences feel real, such as the suffocating of Jon in the Battle of the Bastards and it certainly did feel real in that respect, but there were some scenes where I felt rather detached emotionally because I couldn’t be quite sure what was happening. It did also mean that on first viewing, I was left feeling somewhat disappointed.

Yes, the battle was great, but it was lacking in emotional heart for me at times

I fully acknowledge that this is a personal view. It’s the characters I care about in this series and whether it was the rapid movement from one part of the battle to another, the dark scenes, or the frustrating story of the battle strategy itself, but I wasn’t as emotionally affected as I’d expected to be. Losing Theon and Jorah were sad moments and there were other moments, such as Sansa and Tyrion’s final stand that were moving in their simplicity, but the combined effect of 8.03 was still an episode that didn’t illicit the types of emotion I felt during the previous week and on first viewing left me feeling a little disappointed that it didn’t have the emotional power of other episodes, as well as the battle scenes. Perhaps this is another reason why I’m pleased we’ll be getting back to the character dynamics next week.

……Speaking of next week…….

Looking ahead……….

The trailer for 8.04 doesn’t give too much away. It seems to suggest a regrouping of the survivors of The Long Night, with funeral pyres outside the walls of Winterfell and many solemn faces. We also see two dragons, which is good news following the beating Rhaegal took and what looks to be Ghost too. Then of course there’s the only “villain” remaining – the current Queen of the Seven Kingdoms, Cersei Lannister! She appears to have a new wine red wardrobe and with Euron Greyjoy’s fleet and the 20,000 Golden Company, it’s going to be interesting to see whether next week gives any indication of where we could find ourselves in the finale. Will loyalties shift again? Will anyone meet a swift end next week? Where is Bronn and that crossbow?

Personally, I’m looking forward to all the conflicted emotions – there’s Jon and Dany who will now have to address Jon’s true identity and if they tell the others what will that mean for characters such as Varys, whose primary goal is to do what’s best for the realm? There’s also the suggested affection that may exist between Sansa and Tyrion and of course, Jaime Lannister, who having kept his word to fight for the living is now faced with a decision to make. Will he stay true to the man he may always have wanted to be were it not for his dreadful father and sister and stand with Brienne, his brother and those he has fought alongside, or will he be an idiot and blindly go back to King’s Landing. I certainly hope it’s the former!

See you all next week!!

(All screenshots credit – HBO)

Game of Thrones continues next Sunday at 9 p.m. on HBO in the US and on Monday in the UK via Sky Atlantic (also available through NOWTV) from 2 a.m. You can watch the trailer here: https://youtu.be/ksTqLXLUvQ4 There are also two fantastic behind the scenes videos for 8.03 from HBO, here (11 mins) https://youtu.be/ZJ1yC3yESLQ and here (40 mins) https://youtu.be/_3M0Xt97aFI 

Television Review -Game of Thrones 8.02 “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms” – a truly superb showcase of the strength of these special characters

“The things I do for love.”

That was the memorable line that ended episode one of the first series of Game of Thrones and it perfectly sums up so many motivations on display in this second episode of season 8. After last week’s opener provided most of the reunions and delivered the important information to Jon Snow about his parentage, the creators of the show chose to do something special and also rather brave in 8.02. We all know the battle is coming. The Army of the Dead are past Last Hearth, inching ever closer to the boundaries of Winterfell and yet the strength of Game of Thrones as a series means that taking 55 minutes out of the action to simply spend time with these incredible characters feels absolutely right.

As an audience, we’ve grown to love these people and their relationships and clearly not everyone will make it through next week alive. Therefore, this week provided our and their last chance to simply exist with one another; to be who they are, or who they’ve become and show us that ultimately for many of them at this point they are doing things for love and honour. As a theatre lover, it reminded me of an intimate play, split in to separate acts, focussing on the dialogue and connections forged over eight years and although I imagine some won’t have enjoyed it, I loved it. It also laid the emotional foundations by reminding you who you care about, who they care about and how awful it will be when the casualties of the battle start to mount up.

There’s a lot to unpack in this episode, so let’s dive in.

A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms – the beauty of Jaime & Brienne’s story

Full disclosure, Jaime Lannister is my favourite character. He is in the books and he is in the series and it’s mainly because he is such a complex man, who feels very human and authentic. He changes in ways that few others on the series do and the biggest reason he does is the influence of Brienne of Tarth. Bran/The Three-Eyed Raven is right when he says had Jaime not pushed him from that window that he’d perhaps be the same person. It certainly started his journey of judging his own choices and actions, but it was his time with Brienne that allowed him to be the decent man he’s likely always wanted to be. Let’s not forget, he killed the Mad King to save the people of King’s Landing. Seeing Jaime turn away from Cersei (which seems to have taken longer on screen than on the page) was such a pivotal moment and watching him stand before so many people who wish him dead and say he wants to keep his word and fight with them emphasised how much he’d changed.

Yet, the episode’s title doesn’t just refer to one knight, but two; the other being the woman who means so much to Jaime Lannister and to whom he can gift the thing she’s wanted most in life – to be a knight of the realm! Honestly, all of Jaime and Brienne’s scenes were a treat this week, with such lovely touches (like when Jaime, on trial says its not about loyalty to houses, while slightly glancing her way, seeing as she said this to him at the Dragon Pit and which results in her stepping forward to defend his honour), but nothing could beat the scene in which Ser Jaime knighted Ser Brienne of Tarth. It was simply beautiful, from the way it was shot in the firelit room, to the acting from Gwendoline Christie and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, to the emotional power of the words Jaime speaks as he shows her this is what she deserves and yes, I shed a few tears.

The unexpected affection for Theon Greyjoy

Let’s take a moment to salute Alfie Allen, who I feel has been underrated for his performance as Theon in the series. He’s been superb throughout, taking Theon from cocky, unpleasant ward of the Starks, to traitor, to hostage, to a broken victim of abuse who finds his way back to himself and goes on to save his sister and then choose to come back to the only home he knew and yet betrayed, to defend it and try to make amends for the wrongs he caused the Starks. I never expected to like Theon and yet his reunion with Sansa this week was one of the most moving moments of the series and another that caused me to shed a tear. The have both endured such pain and helped each other survive. It’s another example of Game of Thrones doing what it does best, eliciting emotion from you where you least expect it.

Arya Stark – Warrior, assassin & woman in control of her own choices

It’s interesting that I’ve already seen quite a lot of mixed reaction online to Arya’s choices in this episode. Many people seem appalled by it, which I admit, I’m quite surprised about. Hardly any of the female characters in this story have been in control of their bodies. We’ve had Dany raped on her wedding night. Sure she fell in love with Drogo, but not at first. Then there was Cersei being traded by Tywin and as recently as last week giving up herself to Euron in order to keep him on side. Brienne was only spared thanks to Jaime and we all saw the brutal horrors Sansa endured throughout. Yet here, we had a young woman, choosing to have sex with someone she had a connection with and cared for and who cared for her. Perhaps most people’s discomfort stems from the fact we’ve watched Maisie Williams grow up from a 13-year old to the young 22 year-old woman she now is, but as characters go, Arya’s choice to sleep with Gendry was one of the most natural sexual moments we’ve seen on this show! That scene aside, I also loved her highlighting to him her skill and confidence in the woman she is. My one complaint – can she please announce to the world that she obliterated House Frey?!

And now our watch begins………one last moment for the Night’s Watch?

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Those early days at The Wall seem an age ago, don’t they? And yet, three of our favourite Crows have made it to this final season and this episode saw Sam, Jon and Edd reunited, to stand beside each other, keeping watch for the arrival of the enemy. And with Ghost by their side too! It was another lovely nod to the relationships that have been formed in the show and provided a moment for humour, with Edd mocking Sam, only for Sam to give as good as he got, as Jon smirked beside his friends. This episode was filled with quiet, yet emotionally loaded moments and this was another lovely one.

Daenerys Targaryen – showing more glimpses of the Targaryen madness within?

As the series has made me love Jaime after disliking him and caused me to cry for Theon when I’ve spent years wanting to give him a slap, it’s also causing the opposite reaction when it comes to Dany. Having loved her for years, I’m starting to grow more and more concerned about where this story is going for the Mother of Dragons. Yes, her whole life has been about the Iron Throne and getting justice for her family, but her hostility to Sansa last week and crucially, her reaction to Jon Snow’s admission that he’s the son of her brother are worrying me. Her first response was anger over the fact he was now a threat to her claim. You could see the surprise and hurt pass through Jon Snow’s eyes (wonderfully played by Kit Harrington). Hopefully this is just a blip, as the idea of her going full-on Mad Queen does not appeal to me. Plus, she did try and make peace with Sansa following Jorah’s counsel (although I like that the show hasn’t wrapped up that tension with a neat bow just yet).

A song before the battle & a reminder of so many wonderful characters

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Another beautiful moment of this episode was when Pod offered the group a song as they awaited the battle around the fireside. Not only was it a song full of emotion, reflecting on love and loss (and whose origins can be found in the books), but the montage of scenes over which it played was perfect to round out an episode that had been filled with reminders to the audience that this group of characters are special and we’ve grown to care more than we even realised. Yes, it reminded me of the moment in The Return of the King, when Pippin sang a sorrowful song as men went out to die in that final Lord of the Rings film, but that’s not a bad thing. The emotional impact was needed to make next week all the more upsetting.

And then there were the brief, but heartfelt moments that added to the mood

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The above were the bigger story beats this week for me, but there were so many other smaller moments, that added to the emotional heart of 8.02, which I can’t leave out:

  • Sir Davos seeing Shireen in the little, scarred girl who wants to fight. I mean, it was just such a small, but hugely significant moment for him and I loved it.
  • The Hound showing affection in his own way, when he reminds Arya that he fought for her.
  • Tyrion filling Pod’s cup until it was overflowing after Brienne said he should only have half!
  • Tyrion calling out his brother on how he loved Cersei despite knowing who she was, followed by Jaime finding Brienne in the crowd below. Honestly all of Tyrion’s and Jaime’s moments were a joy this week.
  • Tormund’s bonkers telling of his backstory, prompting some fun reactions from the crowd and driving Sir Davos to drink!
  • Sam giving his family sword to Ser Jorah, the son of the man who taught him to be a man.
  • Greyworm promising Missandei a new, happier life after the war is over.

Looking ahead – next week is going to be emotional. Stock up on tissues folks!

Some readers may have already read my dead pool predictions post for this series, in which I set out my hopes, fears and thoughts on who will not reach the end of the series alive, but when we know that next week is the big battle, it seems only right to try and think about who will fall in 8.03. What do we know? The episode is directed by Miguel Sapochnik, who is behind Hardhome and The Battle of the Bastards and who has directed an episode which is said to be the longest battle scene ever recorded for film or television, Running for 82 minutes and taking 55 nights to make! To put that in context, season six’s Battle of the Bastards took 25 days to film…….! This is going to be epic. In fact I think we’ll need a new word to describe this.

Will they defeat the Night King? I assume not. Surely that would be too easy and too early. So, who will fall in this first battle?

  • Sadly, I think Theon is a definite goner. He’s putting himself between the Night King and Bran and his story arc has reached a natural end. He’ll die protecting the Starks.
  • Sorry Missandei, but I think you’ll be alone on that beach in Narth, as I don’t see Greyworm surviving the week.
  • Edd – the last Crow we care about besides Jon and Sam is likely another casualty of the battle.
  • Beric Dondarrion – I just don’t see his story continuing much longer and honestly, I don’t really care.
  • Ser Jorah Mormont – I’m still 50/50 about this, but I could easily see him dying this week, if it means he saves Dany, or Jon, or heck, little Lyanna Mormont.
  • Tormund – he’s a character who belongs in the North. I don’t see him making his way down to King’s Landing.
  • Jaime….or Brienne……no, Jaime. This is the hardest for me, as I love these two, but one of them seems destined to die and it could be this week. Brienne has now been given everything she dreamt of, becoming a knight and earning the respect and in my view, love, of Jaime, the man she’d want to be with if this wasn’t Game of Thrones (sorry Tormund). Perhaps her story has reached the end, but Jaime has already told Bronn that he’d choose to die in the arms of the woman he loves. He may have meant Cersei then, but it’s more likely to be Brienne, who may well survive to complete the pages of the man she loved in the Kingsguard book.
  • Also – are the crypts really as safe as everyone kept saying this week?? We did see skeletons attack Bran and co before they found sanctuary in the tree…..and the crypt is full of buried Starks………

Blimey, just typing that makes me sad and there’s a week of anticipation to go (plus I’m still not totally certain about Arya’s fate either next week….). Good luck everyone and I’ll see you here next week to sift through the emotional wreckage…….

Game of Thrones continues next Sunday at 9 p.m. on HBO in the USA and on Sky Atlantic (or via NowTV) in the UK on Monday (live at 2 a.m. and 9 p.m. and available for streaming/download following the early morning airing). 

Watch the trailer here: https://youtu.be/TdkS4Xazz7Q, the short behind the scenes featurette here: https://youtu.be/WoNRogjJn1Q  and the longer featurette here: https://youtu.be/dcqrNXKv628 

(All screenshots are the property of HBO/Game of Thrones)

 

 

 

Theatre Review – Maggie Smith returns to the London stage in A German Life, Bridge Theatre!

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Over the last decade, as theatregoing became an even greater passion, I’ve had the privilege of seeing so many of the iconic British greats on stage. Yet, there was always one that I wished I could see and yet I thought I’d missed my chance. That person was Dame Maggie Smith. She’s an actress intrinsically linked to my ’90s childhood through her film career of that period and someone whose stage career in past decades had me wishing I had a time machine! I remember reading in Nick Hytner’s book, Balancing Acts, that his biggest regret during his time running the National Theatre was not finding a role for Maggie Smith.

It was therefore unbelievable news to hear that he’d finally been able to right that regret at his new theatre, the Bridge Theatre and last week I finally ticked the biggest item off my theatre bucket list.

A German Life is a one-woman show, in which Smith plays Brunhilde Pomsel, who through unplanned twists and turns in her life found herself working in the Nazi Propaganda Bureau for Goebbels and over the course of 1 hour 40 minutes, we hear the story of her life, from young girl, determined to make her own way through a job, to a woman who ended up spending five years after World War Two interned by the Russian authorities.

The play starts with Smith entering the 1970s-style Germn kitchen set and taking a seat in a chair and what follows in Christopher Hampton’s new play is drawn from the testimony Pomsel gave to documentary filmmakers Christian Krones, Olaf Muller, Roland Schrotthofer and Florian Weigensamer, who turned it in to the film A German Life. It isn’t clear if she’s talking to them, to an imaginary person, or simply to us, the audience, but by the end I felt as if she’d been talking directly to me; that it was just us sitting in that kitchen, as she told the story of her life.

Pomsel confesses early on that she tends to forget things now, which was an effective way too of giving a nod to the fact that some of the audience (including, I admit, myself) were wondering how, at 84, Dame Maggie Smith would cope with carrying a show on her  own. We needn’t have worried, as she is simply superb, so inhabiting the woman whose story we are hearing that you almost forget this isn’t just Maggie Smith talking about herself.

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Photo credit: Helen Maybanks

Over the piece, you laugh with her at some of the anecdotes she’s remembered, while also gaining a chilling insight in to the rise of the Nazi Party in Germany in the 1930s and how ordinary citizens were drawn in to their rhetoric. Knowing what we know now, it seems unbelievable that people could allow such dark and horrifying events to come to pass and yet, A German Life, feels frighteningly relevant to today’s world; a world in which intolerance, division and growing hostilities within our societies only seem to be getting worse. Part of the power of this play and Smith’s frank and honest performance is that you leave questioning whether you could have ended up in her shoes, caught up in events the way Brunhilde Pomsel was and for which she states she feels no guilt; she was simply a typist in an office doing a job. the fact it was in the Propaganda Bureau for Goebbels doesn’t make her responsible for the atrocities carried out by the regime she worked for and her attitude felt very authentic and refreshingly honest.

With just one person talking constantly for 100 minutes, in the wrong hands it could feel dull, or drawn out, but Smith demonstrates what an incredible performer she still is and all without moving from her chair. Yet, the fact Smith is in the same seat for the duration of the show doesn’t mean she doesn’t move, thanks to the clever set design from Anna Fleischle. It’s a testament to Smith’s performance, drawing me in so completely and the subtlety of the set design, that it took me over an hour to notice that the floor of the kitchen was moving forward, bringing the actress closer and closer to the audience as the play progressed. It only added to the feeling that you were being pulled in to this woman’s life and allowed Smith to engage with the 900-strong audience without having to move.

This certainly isn’t a comfortable show due to the story being told, but thanks to Smith’s superb performance, it is one that elicits so many emotions, from laughter, to sadness, to horror and more importantly, leaves you questioning what you would have done, while also leading you to realise that as the world seems to grow more extreme, we haven’t learnt nearly enough from that period of history as we should have. We may tell ourselves we’d never let it happen again, but A German Life tests that belief and leaves the audience considering the truth of that statement and feeling deeply uncomfortable at the answer.

Seeing Dame Maggie Smith on stage was a dream come true for me and she didn’t disappoint. If you are able to pick up a ticket, I urge you to do so.

A German Life continues at the Bridge Theatre until 11th May 2019. Although the show is “Sold out,” £15 day seats will be available from the theatre box office each morning from 10 a.m. (one per person), TodayTix is running a £20 lottery each morning too and a returns queue will start from 6 p.m. before every show. I also know of friends calling up the box office and being sold returns for later dates, so that’s always worth a try too. For more information, visit the theatre’s website: https://bridgetheatre.co.uk/whats-on/a-german-life/#overview