TV REVIEW: Game of Thrones, Season 8 (HBO): A Retrospective

Game of Thrones fell at the last hurdle of a long and successful race

This summer marks a year on from the release of Game of Thrones, Season 8. A season that could be argued to have been the most anticipated series of our current generation. So, how does an unstoppable cash cow giant get stopped so suddenly in its tracks? It could be argued that time was a factor and that Game of Thrones isn’t talked about because it’s not been on the air for a whole year now. However, critically acclaimed shows such as Breaking Bad or The Sopranos are still frequently talked about, respected and discussed today. Even well-loved comedies like Friends and The Office are re-watched and discussed often. All of these shows left a legacy, where Game of Thrones left an unpleasant after taste.

Game of Thrones, Season 8, Episode 1.
Emilia Clarke as Daenerys Targaryen (left), Kit Harington as Jon Snow (right)
Credit: HBO

We begin the eighth season of the show with the main cast joining together in Winterfell. This lead to unlikely conversations and some interesting interactions. There are some repercussive events as a result of discoveries and revelations. Jon finds out that he is the son of Rhaegar Targaryen. This is followed by two action filled episodes, where we see the white walker army annihilated after Arya kills the Night King. Next, a planned attack and movement toward Westeros capital, Kings Landing, resulting in the death of Daenerys’ second dragon, Rhaegal.

There are some confusing character betrayals and endings as well as a puzzling shift of spirit in the character of Daenerys, which leads to the complete destruction of Kings Landing. The finale is a sombre one, as Jon kills Daenerys. The Starks also decide to split and go their own ways as Bran is crowned king with Tyrion as his hand.

From clever storytelling to just another action heavy piece of media

One of the main issues with season eight was how simplistic the plot felt. The plot’s main intrigue in prior seasons came from the nuance of relationships in the series, with political and personal commitments colliding with one another and creating intricate disturbance. The political and personal complexity felt very much absent from season eight. The show was instead boiled down to its basic skeletal parts of ‘wars, dragons and sex’, all of which did not cut it for a series built on deeper and more complex themes. It would be like Breaking Bad turning into a show where every episode is just meth cooking, explosions and assassinations. Sure, action is entertaining, but action is only entertaining when there is a purpose for the action. Action is only exciting when it means more than the act itself.

Game of Thrones, Season 3, Episode 4.
Emilia Clarke as Daenerys Targaryen (left), Nathalie Emmanuel as Missandei (right)
Credit: HBO

Take Season 3, Episode 4 of Game of Thrones, an episode where we see Daenerys seize power in a meaningful way, in an action filled scene as she burns and kills slave masters with her newly acquired army. It’s visually just some guys getting burned, but it means more than just the burning. The burning is representative of her destroying slavery and tearing down outdated customs. Daenerys’ whole arc revolves around the freeing of slaves and people who have been exploited by those with power – as she was by her own brother in the first season. Season eight takes dragons burning people and places alike to the extreme for the sole reason that it ‘looks cool’.

The world the series ended in was not the one we came to love

We were introduced to this series with the decapitation of the most moral and loyal protagonist we could hope for, only to be shown that this fantasy world doesn’t work the way we thought. We were shown through this further that every action and character had consequence and purpose. Bran’s becoming king had felt shallow, due to his lack of importance to the main political story. Evident by the fact that he was entirely absent from the show’s fifth season. Bran never seemed to be of that much consequence to the broader world aside from his own personal goals. This was fine, as he could’ve been tied in, in a major way for the long night. It just goes to show though that knowing your ending before you get there is important. Almost none of the character’s ends felt fulfilling.  

Brienne closing the Book of Brothers in the closing sequence becomes a great visual metaphor for the season being cut short and rushed, disallowing for anything to settle in, or the ink to dry.  

Game of Thrones, Season 8, Episode 6.
Gwendoline Christie as Brienne of Tarth
Credit HBO

What were the warning signs?

It had already been announced that the new season would only contain six episodes. The announcement of reduced episodes was broadly met with annoyance but accepted as an expectance that it was because the episodes would be of such high quality that it would outweigh the usual quantity of ten. On top of this the season took a whole two years to produce, over the typical one. So, already you can see that the wait in addition with the reduction of episodes wasn’t sitting well with many. Episodes however had been revealed to be longer this season, this did only turn out to be a ten minute increase to the usual, however.

There were also issues evident from the early episodes of season five, but they flourished only more as the seasons went on. Season 8 also presented itself with some self-contained issues, such as the sudden turns of character e.g. Jaime Lannister. He had become a respectable and vaguely honourable man by the end of season seven, only to be tossed back down the hill of his development that he climbed so steadily up to begin with.

Here comes the big question: Should you re-watch Game of Thrones? My answer isn’t just a yes or a no, however. Yes, I think it is still worth watching again despite its declining quality toward its end. However, I think if you are to watch again or recommend someone watch it, it would be better to finish at season six than to commit to the full eight seasons.

You can buy Game of Thrones HERE.

You can read previous reviews HERE.

Adam Zak Hawley

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