Saturday, April 20, 2024

Game of Thrones Proves it was ‘All Just Cocks in the End’

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It’s over. The final episode of Game of Thrones aired last night and we can finally put a close on the series. It was a weird feeling watching it. The episode itself was more of the same that we’ve been getting all season, all the leaks where correct so there were really no surprises, and some things were so bad they were anger-inducing. Thus, it was basically the usual Thrones experience of the last four seasons.

However, there was a weird feeling about it being over. I do owe this series for introducing me to Martin’s books. When things started taking a turn for the worse, I turned to the books seeking a more satisfying narrative for the characters the show initially got me to love. Watching this made me reflect on how I used to feel watching this show. Back in the first season or two when things were exciting, when I cared about these characters. How would that person would feel knowing that this is how they ended up,  That this was a wrap up to what initially felt like exciting, intricate storytelling?

She’d be disappointed, angry, sad. In the same way, so many people who still enjoy the show have been feeling that way this whole final season. I think the biggest difference is I no longer look to the show for the platform to tell this story as she did. It’s all just a ride we’re finishing out and partially using as an exercise of critical thinking about adaptation. That’s not to say I still didn’t feel all those things. But I felt them with a sense of disillusionment.

But with all of that, all of those reflective feelings while watching, it was clear that this is episode was bad. It was bad in the context of the series as the whole, it was bad as a follow up to last week, and it was bad as a stand-alone episode. The people trying to tell everyone that they couldn’t write a better wrap up, that it’s impossible to land a show this big right, they haven’t been watching the last four seasons. This finale perfectly encapsulates what is wrong with the Benioff and Weiss version of this story. Lack of complex characterization/poorly written character arcs that get seconded to cool plot points, no core thematic value telling us why this story is even being told,  all the isms, but most definitely sexism.

The episode opens with Tyrion walking through the ashy aftermath of Dany’s scorch of King’s Landing. He walks. And walks. And keeps walking. It’s a really long sequence. That’s not to say this episode didn’t need to focus on the aftermath. It did. But to just do so through Tyrion’s perspective is the problem. This entire episode paints him as this noble man, helpless to enact justice and do good for the realm. He’s Saint Tyrion to a T. Tyrion the wise. Tyrion the good. He sees the charred bodies in the streets. He sees the broken down buildings.

Did no one survive this battle in the city? Was Arya the only one? Where are the rest of the people? Where are the small folk in this city or neighboring cities? How interesting would it have been to see the actual Westerosi reaction to this, not just our three main characters? But who cares about the small folk’s opinions when they’re not being burned alive right?

That’s when their perspective stops mattering. It would have also given Dany some actual interesting conflict in the last episode to see push back from all sides. To see the consequences of what she has done from the people she is trying to rule and the people she has done this too. Remember when Drogon killed that man’s child in Meereen and she was forced to come face to face with the power and danger of these nuclear bombs she possessed? Something like that would have been so much more powerful than seeing the pain on Tyrion’s face. It would have also meant more to Dany, but we still have no idea what she’s thinking or feeling because the showrunners don’t remotely care about her character arc/journey in all of this. It was for Jon, Tyrion, and the audience.

Tyrion looks through the Red Keep rubble and finds Cersei and Jaime’s bodies that look miraculously well intact. He cries over them a bit and we’re reminded that the family the show cares most about is the Lannisters. It’s also ironically the family they probably understand the least. Also, apparently if Jaime and Cersei just moved a little over in any of the scenarios they were in they would have survived. If they just went into the room next to Floor Map, if they just moved over a few feet from where they actually died, we could have had fun Lannister reunion then. But we need Tyrion to feel his pain.

Jon gets into an argument with Grey Worm in the streets when he sees the Unsullied ready to execute a bunch of Lannister soldiers. He tries to tell Grey Worm to stop, they already surrendered, there’s no point to this but Grey Worm will not relent. Remember this characterization of him for later. Jon agrees to go talk to Dany about it.

Dany gives a big speech in Valyrian to her Unsullied and Dothraki army in a visual that looked extremely Nazi-esque. I really hate that this has turned into big tyrant shorthand in film and isn’t done with more care. There are more problematic parallels with this later on, but this is the start of the issue. She names Grey Worm commander of all of her forces and talks about wanting to liberate everyone in the world just as she did for the people of King’s Landing. This is the issue. She didn’t. She literally just killed them all. There was no complexity to this decision that made sense. Had it been collateral damage for the greater good it would have made sense in this context. Had Dany needed to do it to get to Cersei because she was literally unreachable or the battle was impossible to win without the slaughter it would have been a horrific choice but a complexly horrific one.

According to an interview with Emilia Clarke, the showrunners kept comparing the attack to the nuclear bombs dropped on Hiroshima or Nagasaki to end the war. That doesn’t work. Dany literally won the war. There was not even remotely a threat against her. She had full surrender. Her killing all the people didn’t change the outcome in the slightest and weren’t a means to any end except senseless slaughter. It’s why it doesn’t work. And it’s not like it meant anything to Cersei either. There was no motive of personal vendetta there. Cersei brought them in as a human shield. They are collateral damage to her. It’s doesn’t equate to Dany’s loss of Missandei or Rhaegal for Cersei. It’s just her armor.

Tyrion walks up to Dany and after she confronts him about betraying her, he throws down his Hand of the King pin, disgusted with her. She has him arrested and that’s that. This doesn’t even mean anything to Dany. Nothing gets through to her. It’s that level of her turn to the Mad Queen that just doesn’t work. Every other time we’ve seen her take the route of violence, it was all done for a reason. This was without any and was senselessly cruel to innocents.

To make that work, they need to explain where she’s coming from, but they don’t even bother. We don’t get inside Dany’s head in the way we do Jon or Tyrion’s this episode and that’s why people are calling it sexist. Her turn to the Mad Queen was to frame the men’s narrative, not her own. Her character and perspective were thrust aside, in the way that it has been ever since Tyrion became her advisor, and any interiority is lost.

Arya tells Jon that Dany is a killer, she knows one when she sees one, and he will always be a threat to her rule, planting the seed for Jon to start questioning his queen. Apparently, before this and the long Tyrion talk that’s about to happen, Jon can’t come to this conclusion for himself because he’s a bumbling idiot. Or maybe because he has done some entirely questionable things like a ruler too (we all remember the Ides of Olly).

Jon then goes to visit Tyrion, who is being kept prisoner. They talk about death, Jon telling him there’s nothing in the afterlife and Tyrion says that that’s the best he could hope for, after strangling Shae and killing Tywin, because the show remembered that happened. It’s this lack of reflection on Tyrion’s actions ever that is the issue. They followed his arc up until he becomes reprehensible, so everything he does after doesn’t make sense as a follow-up. He’s just Saint Tyrion instead of the self-realized monster we start seeing him become in the books. And that’s not without his moral complexity.

In the show, however, we saw him strangle his girlfriend to death (although even then they tried to justify it as self-defense by having Shae reach for the knife first) and saw him murder his father. All of that never gets brought up again in terms of framing it as morally grey or if anything, morally reprehensible. Yet the showrunners want us to look back on some of the things Dany has done in the past and call it pure evil with a false sense of equivalency.

 Jon is in denial about all of this but Tyrion has to lay it out for him in a scene that went on far too long. Jon tries to tell him that it’s not her nature. She is not Aerys as he is not Tywin. (Ironic because if anything, it’s a massive thematic point that Tyrion is ‘Tywin’s son’ more than any of the other Lannister children in the books). To help convince him, Tyrion delivers a bastardization of Martin Neimöller’s “First they came speech,” regarding the Nazis. This made me angry, as did I see it anger quite a few other people on the internet.

Tyrion says:

“When she murdered the slavers of Astapor, I’m sure no one but the slavers complained. After all, they were evil men. When she crucified hundreds of Meerenese nobles, who could argue? They were evil men. The Dothraki khans she burned alive? They would have done worse to her. Everywhere she goes, evil men die, and we cheer her for it. And she grows more powerful and more sure that she is good and right. She believes her destiny is to build a better world for everyone. If you truly believed it, wouldn’t you kill whoever stood between you and paradise?”

This is dangerous false equivalency and why they also fail to understand why their version of events for Dany doesn’t make sense. Dany was killing people who were doing her wrong or committing inhumane acts on other people. That’s not to say the methods were always right or just, but they were punished for actual crimes. The people Neimöller is describing, the people the Nazis punished and wiped out before they targeted the Jews and all “undesirables,” were just that. People. People who were different. Comparing Dany’s punishment of slavers to free slaves with persecuting and exterminating Jews or socialists is frankly disgusting. And the show itself framed all of these things as a positive so you can’t then turn around on the audience and ask them why they thought all of this was heroic or good when there was something more. You told us it is. It’s that problem that Benioff and Weiss frequently run into. They try to inverse explain away things that they didn’t seed correctly themselves.

We see Dany essentially recreate the House of the Undying vision, walking up to the Iron Throne as the Red Keep is covered in snow. This time she’s able to touch it. It’s a moment or just a story point that should mean more and should have spurred some of Dany’s reactions in a way that made sense the last two episodes. This is everything she’s been living for or walking towards her whole life. She has known nothing else.

Had this been a time when she maybe started getting pushback, riots in the streets, any sense of dissatisfaction from her people, it would have been an interesting moment for her that mirrored the struggles she went through in Meereen. Was it all worth it? Could she do anything right? Is this what she wanted. Also, now finally here but truly just ‘Queen of the ashes’ we could have gotten some introspection about this. Some conflict. But the show cares nothing for Dany’s arc anymore.

Jon confronts Dany about what she’s done but sees there’s no convincing her. She thinks she’s doing what is necessary to create a better world. He embraces her for a kiss and stabs her in the stomach. The good ol’ smooch and stab. And Dany dies immediately. I kid you not, it is the fastest death I have ever seen. Jon took longer to bleed out from his many many stomach stabs than she did from just one. And within that, it was also all about Jon’s pain. Not Dany’s reaction or even this relationship.

He cries over her body just like he did over Ygritte and Drogon comes in pissed. The CGI and sound work on Drogon here is absolutely beautiful. But Drogon decides that Jon is not the enemy, it’s the Throne. Because Dragons understand the theme. So Drogon melts down the Iron Throne and then flies away with Dany’s body in his grasp.

Jon is arrested, or so we’re told. We don’t see any of this happen. Or anyone discovering Dany has died. A meeting is called with all the lords of Westeros, aka just all of our main characters and a few extras (including the new unnamed Prince of Dorne). They brought back Edmure and Robyn Arryn for this scene, what we all really wanted. Grey Worm escorts in Tyrion, who is still bound in chains, to speak to them all. For some reason, this is allowed and Grey Worm didn’t have his men kill Tyrion yet.

Despite it being a very long meeting, it’s all just Tyrion monologuing and telling everyone what they should do. This is allowed despite him being a prisoner and literally making the worst decisions for the overall good of the realm the past few seasons. They are trying to figure out what to do with Jon, as the Unsullied want to have him executed but Tyrion tells Grey Worm that because she died here, his fate should be decided by the King or Queen of Westeros. (Remember when Grey Worm was all merciless a few scenes ago. That is gone now). Since they don’t have one, they must elect a new one.

At first, Sam suggests a democratic vote, saying they should let the small folk have a say, but they all laugh it off. Because again, f-k the small folk when we’re not burning them alive. Tyrion tells them it should be Bran, because he has the “best story” apparently, and it is done. Bran is king. This is hilariously awful considering how much they have sidelined Bran’s character in the last few seasons, but especially this season. Just, why?! And apparently, a King with no heirs is a good thing. Oh, and Tyrion is made Hand. Because he’s been so good at it before and deserves it after all this.

Sansa insists on Northern Independence and it’s granted. I’m sure Dorne wouldn’t be interested in that at all. Also, there’s no conflict of interest that the King is a Stark as is the Queen in the North? It’s decided that Jon Snow will take the black once more as punishment for his crimes (so poetic) and Grey Worm is just okay with this all for some reason.

The Unsullied set sail for Naath, leaving Westeros behind. The Starks say their goodbyes not just to Jon, but to one another, because who cares about the pack right? Arya is going to fulfill that amazingly satisfying seeding of finding out what is west of Westeros, Sansa is Queen in the North, and Bran is remaining in King’s Landing to rule. The Starks are separating once more, after barely being together or focusing on them as a unit once they were reunited. So satisfying.

Then one of the worst scenes of the series happened because they wanted to throw one last massive middle finger to the books. Brienne is going through the White Book as the new Lord Commander of the Kingsguard. She starts filling out Jaime’s entry with all he has done and concludes with “Died protecting his queen.” The last time we saw this book he literally pushed it off the table to have sex with his sister. The last thing said about him as that he died defending her, right where he started. This probably made me the angriest because Brienne actually filling out Jaime’s pages with what he has done in the books would be so beautifully meaningful. But in a show that literally threw away his redemption arc for twincest, to pretend to care about that character journey is laughable.

We get a beautiful council scene with the new small council. Tyrion is Hand, Bronn is master of coin because that’s a position well deserved, Davos is master of ships. Sam is Grand Maester, and Brienne is Lord Commander of the Kingsgard. Sam brings in a book written by Maester Slughorn chronicling the war and it’s called “A Song of Ice and Fire”. Yup. They did that. Apparently, Tyrion isn’t in it though. The real meta-irony.

Bran comes for a quick little pop-in on the meeting, says he will look for Drogon in his mind, peaces out, and they all just sit around discussing brothels because it’s oh so funny. And Tyrion begins to tell his jackass and honeycomb joke again. Meaningful.

To end it all we get a montage of the Stark children, Jon returning to the Wall and going beyond with the Wildlings, Arya on a ship, and Sansa as queen in Winterfell. And we essentially ended where we began, but not in a meaningful way. In the “why did we even tell this story?” way. They might be paralleling the opening shots of the Night’s Watch men beyond the wall in the show’s prologue with Jon leaving the wall now but it just reminds us that that White Walker threat meant nothing. Jon’s true parentage meant nothing for him. Jon’s death meant nothing for his character. Despite burning down the wheel everything is the same.

The chair might be melted but someone will still be sitting on a different throne with the same council set up. The only thing that came out of it all was Northern independence. Which is nice, but not even the focus of the story considering they neglected that whole theater for several seasons. But at the very least, everyone came to the same conclusions about the quality of this show at the end, even if it took them eight seasons.

It was so fun recapping these for all of you! I’m sure I’ll write more Thrones pieces in the future, but signing off for now! Thank you all for making these past few seasons so much more fun and bearable. If I give the show’s later seasons credit for anything, it was finding this corner of the internet!

Images courtesy of HBO

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