Game of Thrones Season 8
Starring Emilia Clarke, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Peter Dinklage, Aidan Gillen, Kit Harington, Lena Headey, Diana Rigg, Sophie Turner, Maisie Williams, Liam Cunningham, Carice van Houten, Nathalie Emmanuel, Indira Varma, Alfie Allen, Gwendoline Christie, Conleth Hill, John Bradley, Isaac Hempstead-Wright, Jerome Flynn, Hannah Murray, Joe Dempsie, Kristofer Hivju, Rory McCann, and Iain Glen.
Love it or hate it, Game of Thrones’ eighth season brought the series to an end, and now you can own it on home video. This Blu-ray edition has all six episodes, along with 10 commentary tracks, guides to help keep track of the characters and settings, deleted and extended scenes, two featurettes, and one nearly two-hour documentary that recaps the making of the final season.
Great TV series typically stick the landing in the finale. For example, while the finales for Seinfeld and The Sopranos were reviled by some, I thought they were pitch-perfect. I felt the same way about the finales for enduring sitcoms like MASH, Cheers, and Friends.
But some shows start out great but lose their way. Weeds falls in that category in my book – I watched that one until the end but felt that it spent the last couple seasons in a ditch on the side of the road.
And then we have Game of Thrones. It’s hard not to imagine that when the TV series moved past the territory that George R.R. Martin’s novels have covered so far, show runners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss made a decision to get to the end as quickly as they could. I’ve always assumed that when the show started, they figured they had plenty of runway before they had to worry that they might have to fly on their own.
Oops. Having not read the novels, I’m not in the “George R.R. Martin better finish those books!” camp, and I doubt I would be even if I had. He’s not your bitch, as Neil Gaiman famously said, and I’m firmly in that camp. It would be a shame if Martin never finished the series, but he’s a human being contending with a life that 99% of us will never experience. So it’s a bummer that he didn’t provide firm source material for Benioff and Weiss to follow, but they apparently knew how it would all end, so any blame for the rocky eighth season is on them.
There’s plenty of blame to be had. While the seven-episode seventh season felt abbreviated, with plenty of shortcuts taken, the six-episode eighth season feels like an outline for something that probably should have taken somewhere around ten episodes to wrap up. With two major conflicts to bring to a close – the war against the Night King’s army and the struggle for control of the Iron Throne – the eighth season breezes through them as quickly as possible while trying to close out character arcs at the same time. Whereas earlier seasons felt like they had time to build this world, the final season feels like “hurryupandgetthisoverwith,” which is, of course, unsatisfying.
And then, yes, there’s the picture quality. With early episodes in the eighth season taking place in Winterfell, and the “The Long Night” episode featuring a prolonged nighttime battle at that castle, there was plenty of justified complaining about the compression technology used by HBO. This season definitely looks better on Blu-ray, although it still has its struggles with producing consistently deep black backgrounds. I’ve read that the quality is, of course, even more improved on 4K.
So if you’re looking for an excuse to hate watch this final season one more time, you can at least do it with a format that offers better picture quality than the original broadcast. At the very least, you can borrow this three-disc set from a friend, if you’re not interested in spending some hard-earned money on it (And I can’t say that I would blame you).
This set also includes a code for a digital copy of the season. The bonus features are pretty much in line with what previous Game of Thrones seasons have included on home video. You’ll find:
- In-episode guides: Each episode has optional text pop-ups that give additional information about the characters and settings, which is useful for a show that sometimes expects you to know little bits of trivia about the story world.
- Histories & Lore: This is a series of six short animated videos that give information about Westeros’s history as told by various characters. This and the in-episode guides have been fixtures in Game of Thrones’ home video editions, and this set includes six videos: “King’s Landing,” “The Greyjoy Rebellion,” “The Blackfyres,” “The South,” “The Defiance of Duskendale,” and “Maegor the Cruel.” They run about 26 minutes total.
- Audio commentaries: Each episode features one or two commentary tracks with various folks involved in the series. Some of the actors appear, but mostly they’re producers, directors, writers, and some technical folks. If you’re wondering, yes, director Miguel Sapochnik addresses the controversy around the “Long Night” episode, essentially saying that the difficulty in seeing and understanding what was happening was meant to make you feel the way the characters did.
- When Winter Falls (29 minutes): Benioff, Weiss, and various stars and behind-the-scenes folks talk about the making of the infamous third episode.
- Duty is the Death of Love (31 minutes): The same folks discuss the season’s final episode, mostly through the lens of putting one’s duty above how one feels about others. There are no easy resolutions to that conflict, and it’s one thing that I thought the eighth season did pretty well, even when the actual resolutions were less than satisfying, such as Cersei’s fate.
- The Last Watch (112 minutes): If you enjoy nice long documentaries, you’ll love this one, which takes an exhaustive look at the making of the final season, including copious amounts of behind-the-scenes footage. Even if you hated this season, you have to appreciate the enormous amount of work that everyone put into it. (And that’s why I found movements like the “Make HBO remake the final season” petition to be so painful: They amount to attempts to erase something that dozens of people worked to bring to life. Love it, hate it, or somewhere in between, just let it be.) I don’t think previous home video editions had a documentary this long, but I don’t own all of them.
- Five deleted and extended scenes (8.5 minutes): Given their brevity, there’s nothing earth-shattering here, but they’re worth watching, if you made it through the entire season.
- Reunion Special: This is supposed to be a digital-only bonus feature, but I didn’t see it in my copy, at least on Vudu. From what I’ve read elsewhere online, it’s hosted by Conan O’Brien and brings together past and present cast members to look back on the entire series.