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 – 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