Last week, I wrote about my hope that the Game of Thrones showrunners wouldn’t be in such a crazy rush to reach the finale that they forget to tell the stories that made the show so successful in the first place. After viewing the first two episodes of the season, I would like to adjust that statement slightly. I’m no longer terribly concerned by the idea that season eight will replicate seven’s insane pace, but more so with the idea that it will be the natural continuation the issues that result from concluding anything of this scale. In other words, I’m worried that GOT is now far more interested in ending stories than telling them.
Again, you can expect plenty of spoilers.
Right off the bat, I’d like to establish that season eight is, so far, considerably more satisfying and considerably less rushed than its precursor. Episode two, A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms, proves this beyond a shadow of a doubt by slamming the brakes and offering up an hour of continuous character moments with an absolute minimum of violence, sex or death. While the fact that we’ve made it two entire episodes without watching any fan favorites die before our eyes likely doesn’t bode well for their long-term health in episodes three through six, it does illustrate that the writers are aware of the fact that people watch the show for the characters, and they need to provide satisfying ends to their stories.
That having been said, between episodes one and two, it’s hard not to feel like they might be just a bit too focused on pleasing fans.
If there’s one thing the internet loves more than vitriolic comment sections and conspiracy theories, it’s daydreaming about fictional characters getting it on. You know it, I know it, and the writing team saddled with (somehow) closing out the biggest TV show in history knows it. And boy oh boy, are they leaning into that one hard.
Who knows if it’ll go anywhere, but there’s absolutely something going on between Jamie and Brienne. The only way that could be less subtle is if there was dialogue explicitly detailing what was going through their minds as they make lingering eye contact. Similarly, the whole Gendry/Arya thing kind of came out of nowhere, and felt a bit too fanfiction-y for my taste. It’s entirely possible that I’m just uncomfortable watching a young woman I’ve known in this role since she was 11 doing the nasty with a person ten years her senior, but I’m also not convinced that it was vital to the narrative. Then again, her motivation was relatable and human, which is a side of Arya we haven’t seen much of in the last several years.
Similarly, as satisfying as some character reunions/meetings have been, they do feel somewhat perfunctory. Bran and Jamie locking eyes was a fantastic way to close out episode one, but it didn’t seem to go much of anywhere in episode two. Jamie finally standing in front of both Dany and Sansa, hat in hand, was resolved almost immediately. To a certain degree, it feels as if the extensive histories these people share are being wrapped up and quickly brushed aside so the focus can return to the A plot.
Fan service aside, season eight has been an interesting marriage of rapidly developing storylines and slow, reflective moments. It’s the nature of endings that the pace increases, but it’s still a bit jarring when compared to previous seasons. It took roughly two years to uncover the truth of Jon Snow’s parentage, and within the first two hours of S.8, every relevant person was aware. Again, I’m not sure this issue is avoidable (barring the addition of a few more seasons), but it does make significant moments feel less weighty than in the past.
To the show’s credit, though, I never would have predicted that GOT would spend an entire sixth of its final run hanging out with characters as they sat around waiting to die. That’s a bold move, and a fitting way to prepare audiences for what’s to come – which could easily be one of the most devastating episodes the show has yet produced.
My sincere hope is that with the scene-staging legwork out of the way, Game of Thrones can get back to telling the stories it wants to tell rather than speeding through the mandatory epilogues of the ones that came before. There’s still an extraordinary amount of political intrigue, ideological conflict, and looming subterfuge to be handled, and only four episodes in which to do it. I know all good things must come to an end, but an ending can’t be in service of itself. GOT deserves to be a story that eventually ends, not a string of endings loosely connected by stories.
I fully expect that episode three will be a game changer and that the world of Westeros will look markedly different this time next week. I also recognize that Game of Thrones is, for all of my (mostly minor) gripes, an exceptional show and the fact that it hasn’t buckled under the enormous weight of its dozens of subplots is borderline miraculous. I just want the series’ swan song to give the deep world and extraordinary web of characters and relationships time to breath and develop naturally. I know the end is coming, but for the time being, I’d love to feel like I’m watching an episode of Game of Thrones, not one of the last episodes of Game of Thrones.