As last week’s The Long Night episode ended, the sun rises and light shines on Winterfell revealing the characters that survived and the ones that died during the Great Battle alike. It’s the sort of grim light that only the North can provide, yet it’s a new day, and with it comes new and unresolved problems for the living. As we hurtle towards the finish line though, it also works to reveal just how flawed some of the show’s story-lines have become and the flailing efforts the writers and creators are making to keep it all together.
The Last of the Starks serves as a reminder that we’re watching a show that’s very different from the one that drew us in as fans in its earlier seasons. In these last two shortened seasons, it’s almost better to treat certain episodes as movie adaptations in which conflicts get introduced and resolved in 80-90 minutes without any of the legwork being shown. This was a show that was painstakingly detailed in its earlier episodes. While some might have seen it as plots being dragged out, others appreciated the attention to detail through dialogue and character maneuvering, delivering the ultimate satisfaction through its delayed gratification. The complaints from the last two episodes have come from what feels like Benioff and Weiss rushing to an end in their attempt to hurriedly close the final chapter of their saga.
The Last of the Starks felt like two different episodes that were clumsily put together at the hour mark. The first hour felt like a great episode that dealt with some of the aftermath of the Great War, giving our lost heroes a fitting funeral, followed up with lighthearted drinking and boning. The show has always been at its best when it allows the characters to interact with each other and aside from the conversation between Sansa and The Hound, everything that occurs is almost perfect. It was a fitting after-show that blended well with the first two episodes of the season and felt like the natural consequence of the battle from the third. The rest of the episode is a gluttony of plot twists and shock moments in the loss of Dany’s fleet, Rhaegal and Missandei.
People have always likened Game of Thrones to The Walking Dead with the idea that “no character is safe. Anyone can die.” I’ve never felt that that was the case. I’ve always felt that in Game of Thrones, people suffered from the consequences of their choices. If you’re in an untenable situation, then it probably means that barring a foreshadowed solution, you’re probably gonna get it. The latter half of the episode felt more like gratuitous killings for the sake of shock value which is not what the show used to be. The characters on the show used to operate like the war pieces that Jon and Dany move around as they formulated their battle plans in the episode. It gave the characters time to ponder and process their plans and actions as they moved from place to place to interact with other characters. Remember that it took almost two seasons for the plot of Cersei’s crimes and trial to come to its fulmination in the season 6 finale. It gave us time to learn more about the characters and for them (and us) to figure out their motivations and their goals. In this version, I’m unaware of what most of the characters are trying to do or who they are anymore as they make choices and say things that don’t fit who they are anymore and as things JUST happen.
In each of these reviews, I’ve decided to focus on the parts that do make sense in moving the rest of the plot forward and this week’s focus manifests in the form of the conversations between Tyrion and Varys. I hesitate to make predictions but it seems as though the show is already positioning itself for the next villain after Cersei, in the form of Daenerys. The conversation between her two advisers spells it out to us as though we’re in 5th grade trying to understand the meaning of words like “bloodthirsty” or “tyrant”.
An earlier version of the show might have given us more time with Dany to process the effect that all the things she has lost over her journey to Westeros has had on her. Instead, we’re treated to a close-up snarl on Emilia Clarke’s ever-expressive face which shows that Missandei’s capture and execution was only a means to make the war even more personal with Cersei. One might question why the show needs to do that in the first place since the motive of Dany wanting to be queen of the Seven Kingdoms has been her raison d’être since Season 1. If Dany burns King’s Landing to the ground then the whispers of her being the Mad Queen become full-fledged shouts leaving Tyrion with a choice to make between the woman he swore to serve and the “rightful heir” who wants nothing to do with the crown.
It’s almost a mess. Yet I don’t blame Benioff and Weiss as much as the internet does. I’ve talked before about how vast the plot of this show is. Martin created a world that studios saw as impossible to adapt to a movie. It’s a wonder that we even got this television show. And while I think it’s fair to have criticisms with certain aspects of the last two seasons, I mostly feel sorry for them because of how daunting a task it must be to tie up all these story-lines neatly considering the difficulty the actual creator has dealt with in finishing his own story. I’ve imagined these last two seasons as when you have 5 pages on a college paper when you were supposed to give your professor 7 pages. Now it’s 11:15PM and you’re playing with fonts and margins and throwing in random words with the hope that your professor doesn’t question if you belong in their class or not . As we speed towards the end of the road, I will be pleasantly surprised if there any remaining surprises the show-runners have left in their bags. Yet based on the way the last 11 episodes have gone, I honestly doubt there will be. I’m prepared to be underwhelmed and that’s fine too.
P.S. Ghost deserves so much better.