Eammon Jacobs reviews the fifth episode of Game of Thrones season 8…
The Great War may have been won, but the Last War is here – and it’s no longer a fight of good versus evil. It’s always been said that Game of Thrones would have a bittersweet ending and the penultimate episode just delivered said bitterness. The show has spent hours warning that the reveal of Jon’s true heritage will have dire consequences and that’s never been more clear.
Daenerys’ isolation after Missandei’s execution brings up the obvious question immediately: is she descending into madness? Her bedraggled appearance and spiky demeanour harks back to the Mad King Aerys Targaryen. There’s so much imagery and foreshadowing stuffed into such a pivotal episode that it becomes very overwhelming once the smoke begins to clear. It’s strange, because the opening is an excruciatingly slow beginning – but it rushes through tying up so many character arcs and leading up to the finale that it feels adrift in its own self-importance.
Considering how much of a big player Varys used to be – his death was fleeting, and almost emotionless. If not for the emotional farewell from Tyrion it could’ve meant nothing. Perhaps that’s the point, that Dany is willing to murder even those closest to her without a second thought (again, even more foreshadowing) but it didn’t feel as poignant as it should have. The redeeming factor of the scene was Drogon appearing through the darkness, it was visually chilling. Peter Dinklage’s performance is only becoming more desperate, in the best way possible. Tyrion is grasping to keep things balanced, and his second heartfelt goodbye lands easier than the first. Seeing the two Lannister brothers end on good terms is genuinely touching considering their respective journeys to this point, aside from Jaime breaking Brienne’s heart and running back to Cersei of course. He had all that character development, only to throw it all back and cower with his sister in the dark… It’s disappointing, yet makes complete sense.
That’s one element of the final season that has been consistently awe-inspiring; the score. Ramin Djawadi’s sweeping orchestral soundtrack fills the audience with an impending sense of doom as the Iron Fleet mount those devastating crossbows in anticipation for Daenerys’ attack on King’s Landing. The spectacle finally widens as the invasion begins. While the episode had dragged up to this point, it almost instantly dials everything up to eleven. Although the Lannister surrender was understandable, it felt like a lacklustre beat considering how long was left in the episode – and then it happened. Daenerys turned heel and becomes filled with rage – burning King’s Landing to a cinder.
She’s no longer the hero of this story anymore. Instead she’s a tyrannical dictator, sacking a city that won’t accept her and is genuinely terrified of the power she wields. If her descent into madness had been set up properly at the end of the last season – rather than occasionally showing that she was teetering on the edge, it might’ve made more sense that she was overwhelmed after everything she’s endured thus far. Instead, what audiences got was a rushed decision to get to the inevitable endgame of Jon versus Daenerys in the final episode.
The leading Stark (or should we say Targaryen) is finally forced to face the true horror of what Daenerys is capable of. He’s no longer on the heroic side of this battle, he’s an invading force that is upheaving and murdering innocent lives just to service a desire for power. The series never been a pleasant show, of course there are moments of levity, but it’s iconically grim. Once Daenerys starts igniting the city full of innocents, we’re shown war and death at a gratuitous level that felt cruel even for Game of Thrones. Whole families are torched alive by dragonfire or crushed underneath the weight of other fleeing civilians while surrendering soldiers are slaughtered for the sake of it. This is no longer a battle between good or evil anymore. It’s a slaughter. It’s bleak watching this heroic character we’ve loved for so long lose what’s right.
While the battle against the White Walkers was desperately grim, there was a pleasure in finally seeing this monumental overarching story finally come to a head. The genre nature of the survival horror episode was genuinely thrilling and put audiences on the edge of their seats. But this was a rushed massacre put in purely for shock value. Yes, the action is well choreographed and the dramatic tension is entertaining to watch, but the sudden turn in the writing feels lost.
Luckily, it does give way to lighten the mood by finally making Clegane brothers duke it out in a no holds barred fight. It’s brutal, unforgiving and ultimately very satisfying to see it finally paid off. Lena Headey’s emotional final few moments as Cersei Lannister are touching as she and Jaime hide in the Red Keep, but it hardly makes up for the fact that she’s been criminally underused all season long.
While it dramatically wrapped up some character arcs and plunged others into uncertainty ahead of the finale – the penultimate episode definitely lacked something to keep tethered to the ground. So, place your bets everyone; who’s going to end up on the Iron Throne?