Well, it was great fun while it lasted — that is, it was great fun through the second episode of its eighth season — but “Game of Thrones” landed with all the grace of a dragon shot out of the sky by an untethered harpoon.
David Benioff and D. B. Weiss, who created the HBO series from George R. R. Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire,” discovered a universal truth — as difficult as it is to launch a successful series, the ultimate challenge is writing a satisfying ending. In this regard, Benioff and Weiss were spectacular failures. (My daughter, Laura, informed me that some people blame this failure on “Star Wars.” Apparently Benioff and Weiss were signed to write a “Star Wars” trilogy, and the thinking is they rushed through the final season of “Game of Thrones” in their haste to start work on their next project.)
The final season of the HBO series inevitably became nicknamed “Game of Groans,” because there were so many awful moments. In defense of the writers, their show had too many interesting characters, a good thing for seven seasons, but this presented an impossible task down the homestretch. There had to be winners and losers, and the millions of fans were much divided in which characters they were rooting for — and why.
I HAD NO emotional interest in the show. My only investment was time — the 80 or so hours it took to watch 73 episodes. I didn’t even get started until the show was in its sixth season, and I was able to catch up in less than a week. The advantage of being in retirement. So I had followed the show only about two years.
Ordinarily, I’m not a fantasy fan, but I put old biases aside and got caught up in the nonsense of a story that boiled down to the ambitions of four women — two who wanted to rule a world that included seven kingdoms, one who seemed happy to be queen of what could be considered her hometown, and the youngest of the four, who just wanted to carve up people on her enemy's list and do it with her sword or dagger, both made of — wait for it — Valyrian steel (which is either forged in dragon’s breath fire or made of dragon droppings, I don’t remember which).
There were lots of men in the show, too, of course, though several were eunuchs, and the most likable was a dwarf. “Game of Thrones” also is big on incest — one of my favorite characters, Jaime Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) was all the time sleeping with his sister, Cersei (Lena Headey). She wound up a queen, he wound up losing a hand and spending much of the program wallowing in mud as somebody’s prisoner.
NEEDLESS to say — but I’ll say it, anyway — nothing that happened during the final season (indeed, during any season) can’t be undone. After all, in this fantasy, the dead come back to life. Who’s to say that Queen Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke), stabbed to apparent death by her lover-nephew (or was he her uncle?) and carried away by her one surviving dragon, doesn’t recover on an island far, far away, set to return and re-claim her since melted throne when HBO presents a sequel (which seems certain to happen ... sometime in the future)?
But I won’t belabor this issue. I just want to add my two cents to the displeasure expressed by millions of GoT fans (including the group who signed a petition to have the final season re-written and re-filmed).
First, two tiny things I enjoyed in the finale. I loved it when Samwell Tarly (John Bradley), who somehow had become designated a VIP, suggested that the new king (or queen) — following the death of Daenerys — be elected by the people. All of the people.
For a moment I feared his motion would carry, and the program would end on a schlocky, Frank Capra note. But the other members of this council, amazingly dominated by the Stark family of the North kingdom, quickly laughed away Samwell’s proposal, perhaps in the knowledge that the people could not be trusted to make a wise choice. They were likely to elect Sir Donald of Twitterland.
THE SECOND nice touch was the meeting of the new king’s cabinet. Yes, some of the members were unlikely, but I appreciated that the series fleetingly acknowledged the problems in running a country (or a kingdom), especially those problems of budgets and appropriations. It was clear that the reign of King Bran the Broken (Isaac Hempstead Wright) would be chaotic and brief. Perhaps that’s the real reason the crippled Stark youth was chosen for the job. He’d done nothing but sit around for seven years, thinking of a strange, red-leafed tree and a three-eyed raven. As king, he'd be a convenient scapegoat.
However, most of what happened in the "final" four episodes of the series (which I expect will resume somewhere some day; even a prequel seems likely) was ridiculous enough to amuse me.
Well, I wasn’t amused during the long battle against The Night King (Vladimir “Furdo” Furdick) and his zombie army in episode three. I was annoyed, because most of the episode was in darkness, and there was no way a man with 80-year-old eyes (that’s me) could tell what was happening or who was doing it.
I was fairly certain who would kill The Night King, who was surprisingly formidable for a creature seemingly made of ice. His killer had to be Arya Stark (Maisie Williams) because she had a weapon made of that dreaded Valyrian steel, which was The Night King’s kryponite. (The only other way to kill him, I guess, was to bring back Ricardo Montalban from the dead and have him strangle the villain with a strap made of Corinthian leather).
I THOUGHT Daenerys was shown to be inexplicably stupid when she flew her two dragons into the range of Euron Greyjoy’s (Pilou Asbaek) fleet, and consequently lost one of them. My wife claims Daenerys thought the fleet was on her side; I disagree. In any event, you’d think she’d be suspicious of a fleet that was blocking the path of ships she knew were part of her army.
Finally, I thought the writers should have given Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage) and Jon Snow (Kit Harrington) more smarts in the scene where Tyrion convinces Snow to kill Queen Daenerys. Tyrion began the series as a relatively smart fellow; but by season eight his brain had turned to Jello. (Give the throne to the person who has the best story? Sorry, but Bran's story wasn't all that interesting. In a land where Charlie Manson would qualify for leadership, young Bran Stark wasn't suited for any position higher than Secretary of Trees and Birds.)
None of the main characters who survived this mess — except maybe Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner), the queen who seemed happy to rule just one of the kingdoms — was willing to do what was necessary (to borrow a line from “Body Heat”).
And what was necessary for Jon Snow was not simply to kill Daenerys, but also get rid of her chief commander, Grey Worm (Jacob Anderson), also known as The Sulky Unsullied. To accomplish this, Snow could have enlisted Arya Stark, and her dreaded Valyrian steel weapons. (More and more, Arya reminded me of former "NCIS" agent Ziva David.)
EVEN AS IT WAS, Snow should have gotten away with murder because there were no witnesses. There wasn't even a body — the dragon carried it away. At the end, Snow should have been invested with some ambition, some ruthlessness, some guile.
Instead of the program abruptly leaping ahead four months, during which Snow was imprisoned by Grey Worm, it should have advanced only a few minutes after the dragon flew away, with Snow finding Grey Worm, and saying, “Hey, Sunshine, have you seen the queen? I’ve looked all over this pile of rubble, and can’t find her. She must be off somewhere braiding her hair.”
And with furrowed forehead, his eyebrows forming a perfect V, Grey Worm parts his pouting lips and replies, “Maybe she flew to Astapor. She said something about replenishing our supply of wine.”
To which Jon Snow would reply, “Well, she’d better return soon. We’ve got lots of work to do. Until then, I’m in charge, because, in case you missed it, I’m the rightful heir to the Iron Throne, or what’s left of it. I mean, have you seen the throne? It looks like her dragon melted it. If you want to fight me over it, well, bring it on! I've got Arya Stark on my side, and one Arya is worth more than your whole army of anatomically incorrect Ken dolls. Besides, I know almost all of your soldiers are computer-generated figments of imagination. So I strongly suggest you go looking for the queen, and if you fail to find her, don’t come back. We intend to make this a happy place, and you, fella, are the saddest sack of self-pity I've ever met."