There’s still a couple of episodes left in the televisual titan’s total run, in that time it has met with international acclaim, made superstars out of its cast and creator George R.R. Martin, and has generally been the most talked about TV series of the decade, possibly the century so far… Breaking Bad is a solid contender, and I’m thinking Breaking Bad will be the more fondly remembered long term because it had a very satisfying finale. The last few episodes, with Walt living in exile to avoid police justice, trapped in a prison of his own making, before coming back to help the one person he considers a friend, confessing his sins, and dying with one last shred of redemption on his proverbial soul. It was understated, heartfelt, and truly glorious.
I don’t think we’ll be seeing the same thing from Game of Thrones.
The Incomplete Source
Let’s consider a few basics, the first of which being that we are – and have been for a while – in territory utterly uncharted by the books because the last book or two have not yet been written. R.R. Martin has been heard to say* that he’s used the series to explore things he simply couldn’t in the Ice and Fire series, and it’s no great leap of logic to assume he’d use the TV series to see how the finale lands before completing the books, despite the impact a bad conclusion might have on sales. The two have diverged rather dramatically, missing artifacts such as the Horn of Winter, absent characters, the wrong character filling certain plot roles, so on and so forth.
We know full well from anime what happens when a TV series has to wait for the source material to be written before they continue the main story. It’s filler, it’s usually bad filler. Strangely enough we have the opposite in this case, with Martin releasing tie-in stories and history books that no one was asking for while he waits for season 8 to conclude.
And what of Azor Ahai? The prophesy that has been thoroughly seeded throughout the novels that has only been eluded to on screen. We know the words, most of us have forgotten the words:
“There will come a day after a long summer when the stars bleed and the cold breath of darkness falls heavy on the world. In this dread hour a warrior shall draw from the fire a burning sword. And that sword shall be Lightbringer, the Red Sword of Heroes, and he who clasps it shall be Azor Ahai come again, and the darkness shall flee before him.”
Probably Daenerys Stormborn, right? But we haven’t seen the sword yet, we’ve seen a flaming sword, sure, but have we seen Lightbringer? And are we likely to in the next two episodes? And it’s not the only thread left dangling that… sincerely I do not foresee being tied up. Dorne has a lot going on that we may never get to see concluded. There’s a sect of Faceless Men, Daario Nahares has basically vanished – unless he really is Euron Greyjoy and he’s here because he wants a queen to sleep with and to kill some dragons because he got his feelings hurt.
Going Off Topic
The series was an analogy for the ever growing climate crisis. That’s just a fact, whether intentional or not, but it is. A growing emergency that threatens to exterminate all life in the world, a malevolent face put to an otherwise faceless disaster, cold and death in lieu of storms, floods, and poisonous air. And while this threat rises, knowledgeable voices raise concern, and are ignored by those more powerful while they consume themselves with the petty business of who sits in the highest offices.
The Siege of Winterfell has just completely undermined the metaphor. All the incredible work undermined in a single action.
Those on the front lines of the suffering the Night King drags behind him, dying and rising again as a greater threat, have retreated and found shelter with those who would be next, those who are already struggling and fighting to end the threat once and for all. The army of the dead, corpse dragon in tow, bust down the wall and begin the long march towards the world of the living, a host that threatens to exterminate all life, not just in Westeros, but with dragging the dark and the cold behind them into the deserts and grasslands of Essos.
And they kill him. The Night King dies in a single stroke, having done… honestly not a lot. The toll on main characters was negligible compared to the anticipated slaughter that was anticipated, as if someone had pulled the teeth from GrrM’s pen, the man famous for sudden and heartbreaking deaths from among his cast, and we lost about four characters from the B-List. And now the biggest threat left to our “good guys” other than in-fighting, is Cersei.
So we’re back to politics being more important than the thing that threatened all life. Not only that but it was a simple act with very little cost that dealt with that particular threat. I’m afraid I left the episode thinking “Well done everyone, we banned plastic straws, we fixed global warming”.
Where was the long, agonising retreat? Where was the ever mounting death toll? Where was the look in Cersei’s eyes as her own dead children rose up in front of her, or hell, the grinning corpse of Jaime blundering lifelessly to tear her life away?
The Night King’s retinue of White Walkers did nothing but stand and wait before turning into shards of ice. Winterfell is still standing, as are most of our “heroes”, and they’re now more concerned with which of them gets to sit on the big chair. I sincerely wanted the Night King to sit on the chair! I wanted the final fight to be in Slavers Bay under the wings of the harpies, or Braavos, and the army of the dead walk over the frozen sea between the legs of the Colossus.
So yes, I’m mostly upset at the undermined metaphor.
*Citation needed, I definitely heard it somewhere but it was years ago now…