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 – After nearly 2 years, Game of Thrones is back! – Season 8.01 “Winterfell”

Blimey it’s been a long wait hasn’t it?! For those of us who’ve been waiting since August 2017 to see the next chapter of this sweeping drama, this week’s return of Game of Thrones is the absolute definition of Event Television! Few shows have garnered as much critical and public praise and the anticipation for this final season is on a par with that for any huge blockbuster movie. Having had a day to digest the season opener, I’m ready to put my thoughts down on paper.

The finale saw the Army of the Dead reach The Wall, as it tumbled in to the sea in minutes thanks to the power of a newly undead dragon (RIP Viserion). The opening episode of season eight picks up not long afterwards and is appropriately named Winterfell, the focus for the upcoming battle and where most of the key characters are converging.

Overall, I found this to be an enjoyable episode, although certainly not the best this series can be, which is perhaps a testament to how good it is, I suppose.

Anyway, time to dig in to the detail!

Lots happened…….perhaps a bit too much?

For those who read my predictions post on this season, you’ll know I mentioned that I was particularly looking forward to all the reunions and although I suspected they’d happen fast, I didn’t expect so much to be crammed in to the season opener, which is also the shortest of the six episodes. Taken individually such significant moments were wonderful, whether Arya and Jon’s heartfelt reunion, her playful catch up with Genrdy, or her coming face to face with The Hound again. We also had Theon finally stepping up and rescuing Yara, among many other story points, which I’ll get to. For me, however, it started to feel a bit rushed.

Callbacks to the first episode had me rather nostalgic!

The choice to open the episode with the arrival of Dany and Jon’s army at Winterfell made perfect sense, but what made this even more special for fans of the show was the call-backs to the very first episode. Seeing the little boy running to try and get a good vantage point to watch the Royal procession immediately had you thinking of Arya and seeing her standing alongside, observing his excitement and perhaps also thinking back to so many years ago was quite special, particularly with the exact same music cue playing over it. It perfectly captured just what a journey these characters have been on since the story began.

Frosty receptions are always fun to see (and that’s before Jaime and Theon are thrown in)!

This is Game of Thrones so it’s never going to be fluffy unicorns and the cold of the North extended to more than the climate, with Sansa and Daenerys not exactly hitting it off and  the Northern houses, led by the always awesome Lady Mormont, less than impressed with Jon pledging himself to a foreign Queen. And I haven’t even covered Bran yet, whose whole demeanour these days is cold and detached, although I did love him greeting Jon and Dany with a “Hi, your dragon is on Team Night King and the Wall has come down.” Well played Bran! Sansa’s wariness of Daenerys is also understandable. She’s been through so much, that trusting anyone doesn’t come easily and Dany was rather aloof. I also loved Tyrion reuniting with Sansa. They had learnt to respect each other by season 4 and after all she’s been through, Sansa no doubt knows he’s a decent man. Yet, a highlight of the hour for me was Sansa being more astute than all the key players in the game, by knowing immediately that Cersei was lying!

We’ll have to see how the atmosphere thaws…….although with Theon and Jaime about to join the party, neither of whom are particularly welcome in Winterfell, the thaw may be some way away!

Bravo Theon! I’m proud of you!

It’s been an up and down journey for Theon Greyjoy and for the audience as we’ve watched him make so many poor decisions and suffer the consequences in such a brutal fashion. The inclusion of Theon’s rescue of his sister was perhaps the most surprising element of this episode for me, as I assumed that would crop up later. It was so satisfying to see and then for Theon to want to go and fight for the Starks. Bless him. I thought he’d die saving Yara, but now it seems he’s likely to meet the end of his story back where we first met him, defending the family and the lands he betrayed, which would do his storyline justice.

The Jon & Dany romance – it doesn’t do anything for me.

This is going to be controversial for some, but I have absolutely zero interest in the supposed blossoming romance between Jon and Daenerys. I think they are both fantastic characters and will clearly be a formidable team, but I just don’t buy them as a couple. Jon’s in love with her, according to Sansa. Really?! He’s known her five minutes and we already know that Dany may show outward affection and yet feel nothing, as she admitted to Tyrion on saying farewell to Daario Naharis. Having them share a moment in front of cave/waterfall, which immediately called back to Ygritte didn’t help matters either, nor does the fact that I just don’t think they have any romantic chemistry. Don’t all yell at me at once!

Dragon riding – too soon? 

We’ve all been waiting for Jon Snow to ride a dragon, but as it finally happened in this opening episode I couldn’t help thinking that perhaps it wasn’t the right time. I’m assuming the scene was partly included to provide those gorgeous aerial shots of the North, flagging that the Army of the Dead had some way yet to go before they arrive. Yet, while it was fun to see Jon trying to navigate this new experience, wouldn’t it have been much more powerful to see him climb on to Rhaegal after he discovered that he was in fact a Targaryen and son of the man for whom that very dragon was named? Oh and while we’re on the animals, where’s Ghost?!

Cersei on the rebound from Jaime and still as power-crazed as ever!

Having demonstrated how little she cares about standing together in the season finale, Cersei’s plan to assemble a stronger army, with the help of The Golden Company was achieved this week, with the return of Euron Greyjoy and his fleet. Left with no other choice to keep him on side and no doubt to try and rid Jaime from her mind, she gave Euron exactly what he wanted – herself and in a twisted way, they are probably the ideal match. If she is really pregnant (something I was never convinced about last season), it seems logical she’ll pretend it’s Euron’s now. Hard luck Jaime, although I think you’re better off out of her clutches…..which brings me to……

Don’t you dare use that crossbow Bronn!

I have always liked Bronn, who is a much more developed and entertaining character in the series than the books and he’s had fantastic relationships with both Tyrion and Jaime over the years. It was therefore incredibly unpleasant to see him seemingly accepting the job of killing the Lannister brothers with Tyrion’s “favourite” crossbow! In any other show I’d never believe he’d do it, but this is Game of Thrones, so who knows…….

The big secret is finally revealed!

We’ve all been wondering how Jon would be told the truth about his parentage. Would his friend Sam sit him down and break the news gently, rather than leaving the task to the rather emotionless Bran? Ummm…….not quite and I loved that decision. Having just learnt the tragic news about his brother (let’s face it, his father was no great loss), a heartbroken and understandably angry Sam broke the news rather more bluntly than expected. With his Queen seeming dangerous and unpredictable, Sam is fuelled by the need to have Jon know he’s the true ruler, rather than simply to tell him where he really comes from. It was the perfect way of raising the bigger question of whether Dany is the right choice to rule too, or if she is too close to her father’s dangerous tendencies. Personally, I think Jon would be the better ruler and he is always ready to sacrifice for what is right for others, rather than himself. As Sam says, would Dany do that? Probably not. I’m certainly intrigued to see how she takes the news when she finds out!

Creepy dead children…..lovely……

I remember watching episode one of the show all those years ago and seeing the dead little girl nailed to a tree come back to life freaked me the hell out! This week, we had an echo of that with poor little Lord Umber being used as the centrepiece for the Night Kings’s latest creative mural. you really shouldn’t have sent that kid away from Winterfell, Sansa! The moment he opened his eyes and screamed was so very disturbing and yet I couldn’t help focussing more on the pattern. It looked a little like the Targaryen sigil didn’t it?

Ending with a gut punch and I loved it! 

In the same way as the episode opened with echoes of episode one, it was perfectly book ended with another scene which took us straight back to the beginning, as Jaime arrived at Winterfell to come face to face with an “old friend.” As soon as Bran said he was waiting for such a person, I knew who he meant and the moment of revelation filling Jaime’s eyes was superbly played, making this perhaps the most powerful moment for me! It reminded us of just how dreadful Jaime was back then and how along the way we’ve grown to like him despite those actions. Having him see Bran again was therefore a brilliant moment for both the character and everyone watching. These two certainly have to have a chat! The big question though – did Bran stay in that same spot all night?!

So, all in all, it was an enjoyable hour of television and it’s fantastic to have the series back again, but there is room for improvement, which with five episodes to come is not necessarily a bad thing!

See you all next week!

Game of Thrones continues next Sunday night in the USA on HBO and in the UK on Sky Atlantic (at 2 am and 9 pm). You can watch two official behind the scenes look at 8.01 here: https://youtu.be/DkdbetJTZGA and here: https://youtu.be/ha8Qsx6_OBw and the trailer to 8.02 here: https://youtu.be/R6YCfVe4eR0

(All photos/screenshots belong to HBO/Game of Thrones)

You Win or You Die – My Top 10 Game of Thrones episodes (so far!)

So season four of Game of Thrones is sadly over and what fun it was! Book 3 is my favourite of all the books written to date, due to all the shocking twists and turns scattered throughout its two volumes. Let’s face it, so much happens it needed two seasons to do it justice! So, now Game of Thrones is over for another year and people either begin to: (a) catch up with previous seasons; (b) read the books; or (c) continue the long wait for The Winds of Winter, I thought I’d choose my top 10 episodes of the series so far.

Feel free to agree or disagree in the comments!

1. Blackwater (season 2, episode 9)

The penultimate episode of season 2 has always stood out for me and had to come top of the list. Written by George R.R Martin, it is set entirely in King’s Landing and sees Stannis’s fleet arrive at the entrance to the centre of power in Westeros. Due to Joffrey’s cowardice, it is up to Tyrion to rally the men and defend the city and thanks to his forward planning and wildfire, we see an incredible display of destruction before Tywin’s arrival ends the fighting. The explosion is one of the best sequences I’ve seen on television. As Peter Dinklage’s Tyrion had quickly established himself as my favourite character, I was terrified that Tyrion was dead despite Pod’s heroic bravery and was so relieved he survived! The episode also has some superb moments between Sansa and Cersei as they shelter in the fortress and Cersei drinks lots of wine, although you certainly don’t think Sansa is any safer in there! As a book reader I do still wish the chain across the bay had been included in Tyrion’s plan, but that’s a minor quibble.

2. You Win or You Die (season 1, episode 7)

For me this is the episode of the first season where it really all kicks off! Although I didn’t read the books until after season two, I had an uneasy feeling that a tragic fate was becoming inevitable for Ned Stark so his death didn’t really shock me as much as it could have and so this episode has much more of an impact for me personally than episode nine. We see the dynamic between Jaime and his father Tywin (brilliantly played by Charles Dance and introduced as he skins a stag – the symbol of the Baratheons!) and hear about the White Walkers from Osha (played so well by Natalia Tena, that she made her so much more interesting than Asha in the book). Jon Snow takes his vows and becomes Lord Mormont’s steward, whilst Khal Drogo finally commits to invading the Seven Kingdoms after an attempt is made on Daenerys’s life. Jason Mamoa is spectacular as he gives his rousing speech. Then we have Ned confront Cersei with the truth and we see her strength as Lena Headey (so perfect as Cersei) delivers the now iconic line that those who play the Game of Thrones either win or die. Then, in the aftermath of Robert’s death, we despair as Ned ignores Renly’s warnings and is double-crossed by Littlefinger. This amount of plot development would cover multiple episodes of any other series, but not GoT. It only highlights how ambitious the series has always been.

3. The Watchers on the Wall (season 4, episode 9)

The penultimate episode of the latest season comes next in my top 10. Having a whole episode set at the Wall was a great decision, in order to truly produce the excitement and importance of the defence of the Wall by the Night’s Watch as the Wildlings advance. This part of the book took a long time to tell and absolutely deserved a whole episode to bring it to life, with the battle sequences looking incredibly impressive on the 360 degree set. It’s fantastic to see Sam start to grow up and his relationship with Gilly is lovely. Jon (Kit Harington only grows in his role) starts to show what he is capable of as a Crow, taking command in order to ensure, for one night at least, the Wall will not fall and his final moments with both Ygritte (I’ll miss Rose Leslie) and then Sam are lovely and fantastically acted. Who needs Robb anyway with Jon around?!

4. The Rains of Castamere (season 3, episode 9)

Talking of Robb, we move on to one of the most talked about episodes so far and the first moment when I was reading the books that truly shocked me so much I had to put the book down and take a moment! The Red Wedding is superbly brought to life for television here. Earning David Benioff and DB Weiss an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Writing for a Drama series, we see Bran’s abilities develop, Jon show his true loyalties and Daenerys take a city. However it is the tragedy that occurs at the Twins which is the focus as we see the wedding of Edmure Tully and Roslin Frey become a massacre, resulting in the deaths of Robb, his wife and unborn child, Catelyn and Grey Wind, together with virtually the entire Stark northern army. It’s all the more tragic as Ayra misses being there by minutes, held back by the Hound. Plus even for those of us ready for the slaughter, the brutal attack on Robb’s wife (who is not pregnant or present at the wedding in the book) came as a huge shock for the sheer horror of it. Tragic television at its best, which stunned millions.

5. Winter Is Coming (season 1, episode 1)

It took me a few episodes to truly start to love Game of Thrones and become hooked. However, when looking back now and rewatching the show, the first episode has become one of my favourites. The opening sequence is fantastic – eerie, unsettling and violent enough to set the tone of the show, it makes you sit up and pay attention! We meet the Starks (enjoy this happy family time while you can gang), the Lannisters and Baratheons (well most of them) and start to delve in to the relationships, especially Ned and Robert (and Cersei and Jaime!). It’s interesting to wonder if Ned would have accepted the job of Hand without Lysa Arryan’s letter implicating the Lannister’s in her husband’s death (something we now know was all at the behest of Littlefinger!). Finally we meet Daenerys and Viserys Targaryen and see how dreadfully she is treated by her brother. I was probably most comfortable watching the show once it became clear she was actually happier with Drogo! Plus it has a stunning ending! Only in Game of Thrones can a character push a 10 year-old from a window and a few seasons later be someone you actually like! A superb opener to the series, which certainly set the tone of the standard HBO had in mind for the series.

6. A Golden Crown (season 1, episode 6)

Another episode filled to the brim with fantastic moments. I love Tyrion at the Eyrie and his clever request to “confess”, followed by the demand for trial by combat (which works out much better for him here than in season four)! We also get to meet Bronn, played superbly by Jerome Flynn (who has come a long way since Soldier, Soldier / Robson & Jerome days!). I love his quip about the man he has defeated being the one who fought with honour and it’s the start of the wonderful pairing of him and Peter Dinklage. Ned is continuing to deal with the politics of King’s Landing following his fight with Jaime, while Ayra continues with her sword-dance lessons with Syrio (played with passion, fun and flair by Miltos Yerolemou) and Sansa continues to be blind to Joffrey’s true character. Then there is Daenerys’s growing strength across the Narrow Sea, which comes to a head here with the gruesome demise of Viserys and her powerful lack of emotion about it. This was another moment I did not expect to happen so soon! A superb first season episode.

7. The Lion & The Rose (season 4, episode 2)

Another eventful Westeros wedding – this one fondly known as The Blue Wedding, in which we all cheer as evil King Joffrey is poisoned and drops dead during the wedding feast! Written by George R.R Martin, all the aspects of the book that make this so enjoyable are here. We also see Theon’s total transformation in to Reek (Alfie Allen has excelled in this incarnation of his character), although the reveal that Theon is Reek is far more effective in the book, simply by the style in which it is written and the fact Martin is able to hold off revealing they are the same person until much later. As for the wedding, it is as grand as expected and I loved the way the entertainment scene is done, in which Joffrey humiliates Tyrion, Sansa and a good portion of the guests. It’s also a testament to Jack Gleeson’s portrayal of Joffrey, just how thrilled everyone was to see him die!

8. Fire & Blood (season 1, episode 10)

The finale of the first season is another brilliant episode. So much happens and so much is set out for the next year. We see the immediate aftermath of Ned’s death and Jofffrey’s true torment of Sansa begins. Robb becomes the King in the North, which suggested such promise for victory (poor Robb), whilst Nikolaj Coster-Waldau is wonderful as a captive Jaime being interrogated by Catelyn. Ayra meets Gendry and begins her long journey north, while Jon prepares to go out beyond the Wall. Then there is Daenerys, as all the hints about her immunity to fire prove correct, as she walks in to the funeral pyre, only to emerge from the ashes as the Mother of Dragons. Such a stunning moment to end this first brilliant season.

9. The Children (season 4, episode 10)

The latest season finale had to be included in my top ten if for no other reason than the amount it covered. I didn’t think everything would make it in with just an episode remaining to finish book 3. Stannis’s arrival in the North looks great with those aerial shots of the army pouring through the forest and I liked his meeting with Ned Stark’s son (let’s face it, if Ned has sided with Renly he may have had a chance of surviving!). Jon’s final farewell to Ygritte was also a heartfelt moment. Maisie Williams continued to be superb as Ayra (probably my second favourite character after Tyrion) and her lack of emotion as she walks off, leaving the Hound to a slow death was so well acted by her. The “off book” fight between the Hound and Brienne was brutal, but incredible to watch and Peter Dinklage and Charles Dance were fantastic together as usual and Tyrion’s face as he sees and hears Shae were handled perfectly. However I do wish more of the scene in the privy had been included as there was so much more as to why he was so angry with his father and whole family, including Jaime that was left out. I did however like that, unlike in the book, this meant that Tyrion parts with Jaime on good terms. Overall a satisfying end to a very strong season.

10. Valar Morghulis (season 2, episode 10)

The last episode in my top ten was a tough decision between three episodes but in the end I have chosen the season two finale, as it’s a fantastic way to close season two and had me dashing to buy all five books in order to catch up before season three. We see the aftermath of the battle of Blackwater with poor Tyrion shut away. Varys’s genuinely grateful words about how the people won’t forget what he did and his emotional reunion with Shae are lovely to watch. We start to see the relationship between Brienne and Jaime as they continue their trek to King’s Landing and Jaime’s surprise at her murder of the three soldiers is a highlight. The chemistry between Gwendoline Christie and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau is a joy to watch and only grew stronger in season three. In a rare moment of happiness (now all the more bittersweet with hindsight), Robb marries Talisa. Ayra receives her iron coin, to be used if she ever needs to find her mysterious face changing assassin again – something we have now seen her use at the end of season four. I also particularly like Daenerys’s scenes as she searches for her dragons. The fantasy dream-like scenes in which she is at the Wall, in the Throne Room and then back with Drogo and their son are beautifully directed and lit as well as being superbly acted by Emilia Clarke. I also love the powerful image of her in chains surrounded by fire as her dragons save the day. Then just when it couldn’t get more exciting we finally see what the White Walkers look like, as poor Sam is left to hide as they march southwards. The final shot of them all in the snow is visually stunning and made the wait for season three a nightmare (only filled for me by the books)!

Notable mentions must go to Kissed By Fire (in which Jaime opens up to Brienne about killing the King) and And Now His Watch Is Ended (in which Lord Mormont dies and Daenerys unleashes Drogon on the slavers with one powerful word), both from season three. I loved both of these episodes and on another day writing this list they may well have made the top 10.

So that’s my list. I’d love to hear yours! What to do now? Maybe I’ll read all the books again. Hurry up with book 6 George!