Here were my responses to episode 5 of Game of Thrones season 8:
“Wait, but just last episode…”
“What? How did that happen?”
“What the hell is going on?”
And laughter, full on laughter in moments that were definitely not aiming for humor.
This is going to be quick and dirty, just sharing how horribly disappointed I am by this latest episode. Rest assured though, one of my patented All That Matters is the Ending articles is coming. In fact I’ll start working on it tomorrow because nothing that can happen in the final 80 minutes will fix the disaster that has become Game of Thrones.
Game of Thrones:
The Battle of King’s Landing
What the Hell Was That!?
I barely even know where to start with this. Are David Benioff and DB Weiss doing this kind of damage to the story intentionally? I can’t imagine the sheer incompetence necessary to completely nosedive a story into the ground this quickly. Let’s take it step by step.
The Writers Aren’t Even Pretending to Care About Consistency
So last episode, Rhaegal got taken down by Qyburn’s scorpions. The fact they seemed laser guided and armor piercing was a bit ridiculous, but it’s a fantasy story so I was willing to let this play out. Obviously the writers wanted to establish what a threat the scorpions were to Drogon in the final battle. It was sloppily done, but if that’s what they need to set up a reason why Drogon couldn’t simply destroy the city’s defenses, so be it.
Then in the very next episode Drogon destroys the city’s defenses. By himself.
If you were watching episodes 4 and 5 back to back like a movie, just 40 minutes earlier you would have seen these scorpions tear through Rhaegal like butter, and then reload almost instantly to destroy Daenerys’ fleet. And now suddenly they can only get a few shots off on Drogon, the projectiles are slower, and their slow to reload. There’s absolutely no reason given for why the scorpions fundamentally change.
Game of Thrones later seasons have been plagued by inconsistent storytelling, fundamentally changing how the world works. These changes have been gradual, however, and that made it easier to swallow. I wrote about those changes at the end of last season. This season however, all pretense of consistency has been unceremoniously burned along with the rest of King’s Landing.
The whiplash inducing change of fantastical supersonic, rapid firing scorpions to a more historical model is the most egregious example, but it’s not the only one. Remember at the end of The Long Night how everyone except our main characters seemed dead? Because Game of Thrones sure doesn’t remember.
All those dead soldiers apparently respawned in time for the battle of King’s Landing. There’s not even an attempt to explain away this inconsistency. They could have had a line in episode 2 about how only part of the army had arrived, and the rest were still a couple days away. It would have been lazy, but also believable, moving gigantic medieval armies was a massive undertaking. No, the writer’s don’t even care enough to make an attempt.
Good stories rely on things being consistent in the details, without that there’s nothing to ground the audience, no context for them to understand what’s happening. As sloppy as Rhaegal’s death was, at least it would have served to give us a good reason that Drogon couldn’t do exactly what he did in this episode. And maybe then, we could have had an actual battle for King’s Landing.
The Pacing was Terrible. Again.
Here we have the exact opposite problem of episode 3. As I wrote before, because the Winterfell defense was so utterly screwed from the opening moments of battle, there was no way to create the rising action necessary for a good battle scene. Now, Drogon is so damn efficient at destroying the defenses of King’s Landing, that the battle is over before it even begins. There’s absolutely no tension to these battle scenes because we know there’s no conceivable way they can lose at this point. This “battle” is even worse than the battle of Winterfell because at least there, at the start, we thought our main characters might be in real danger of dying. Here, there’s absolutely no sense of danger.
Without that fear of losing our beloved characters, there’s no emotional context for the scene. The fact that Daenerys’ army wins so quickly and so overwhelmingly means there absolutely no dramatic weight to these scenes: they mean nothing. It’s purely spectacle for the sake of it.
If this had been a real battle, and the Lannisters and Golden Company had put up an actual fight, maybe that would have led into how Daenery’s goes full mad queen. Show us vicious street to street fighting, with Dany watching her army paying in blood for every block they seize. Having some sense of loss, or frustration, or anger at how the battle was proceeding might have led more organically into Daenery’s turning into the story’s final, and most destructive, villain.
The Mad Queen
The books and the show have been foreshadowing Daenerys becoming the Mad Queen since she was first introduced. However, the way in which this plot point came to fruition was so inelegant, so forced, that it made it seem like it came out of nowhere.
Dany has done some terrible things in this show, we’ve seen her wrath before; crucifying the Masters in Meereen, and burning the Tarly’s alive for refusing to bend the knee. These were cruel acts of retribution that for Dany seemed like justice, and it was that warped sense of justice that foreshadowed her turning into the Mad Queen.
However, it’s a huge fucking leap to go from those examples, to literally killing hundreds of thousands of innocent people. There simply wasn’t enough time given to Dany’s descent into madness to make this feel real. I could almost have seen this working had, at the very least, Dany attacked the Red Keep first.
Instead, Dany attacks King’s Landing first, leveling the city block by block and building by building. Which doesn’t make any sense given what the writer’s have shown us. Ostensibly, according to the writers, it’s Cersei’s betrayal of their truce and the execution of Missandei that drives her to this act of fury. So why attack King’s Landing? Dany knows where Cersei is, she’s staring directly at the Red Keep when she loses her mind, and Cersei should be her first target.
By destroying the city first, Dany was giving Cersei a golden opportunity to flee. Cersei probably would have had a good chance of making it too, had she not stood there like an idiot the entire time watching it happen. You can’t convince me that someone given to this kind of rage would take the risk of allowing the object of her fury to escape her wrath.
This scene would have operated much better had Dany started with destroying the Red Keep. Then show us a reaction shot of Dany surveying the wreckage, her face still twisted with rage; killing Cersei didn’t quench her thirst for revenge. Then she loses control and destroys the city entirely. It wouldn’t have been perfect but I could have suspended my disbelief for that at least.
What would have been even better, would be for this massacre to happen after the battle. If the showrunners had taken HBO up on their offer and used 10 episodes instead 6, we could have had a proper battle for King’s Landing and then an episode of Dany trying to control the city.
Undoubtedly the people of King’s Landing would be afraid of Dany, but I also think they’d be angry: a foreign (at least to the peasants) queen with an army of foreigners conquered their home. Hell, the Dothraki probably started doing their rape and pillage thing when the city fell. And (since the show apparently forgot) winter has arrived, maybe there’s a food shortage as well. Egged on by Lannister loyalists still left alive, or better yet, a still alive Varys hoping to generate support for Jon, the city breaks into riots. Dany sends the Unsullied to put them down, and some lucky bastard manages to kill Greyworm (a la the same thing that happened to Barristan Selmy.)
And that’s when Dany snaps; the people she came to save don’t see her as a liberator, they hate her. They could never love her. And fueled by rumors of growing support for Jon’s claim to the throne, Dany decides that the only way to rule the seven kingdoms is through fear. And the destruction of King’s Landing is the perfect demonstration of her power.
This would have seemed far more oraganic and true to her character. It makes no sense that Dany would slaughter a population that had already surrendered to her. However, if the people had rejected her claim to the throne, and murdered her last remaining loyal servant, that would have fed directly into Dany’s twisted sense of justice. They won’t bend the knee, and they murdered the only man she could still trust, so now they’ll burn for it. And the rest of the Seven Kingdoms will finally know who is queen.
Unfortunately we didn’t get any of that. Instead we witnessed the death of a story, the utter destruction of everything that made this show great. Now all that’s left is to watch the final episode and see what meaning we can sift from the ashes of this disastrous finale.
Are you going to talk about the end of Jaime’s arc? That was the most egregious thing to me because at least the other main beats of the story can make sense if we eventually get books.
Jaime running back to Cersei after all of these transformational experiences is lame pretty much no matter how you slice it.
Absolutely I am, but I was saving that for my final review, because Jaime’s character isn’t the only one that was destroyed. So keep a look out for my All That Matters is the Ending review, I’ll be going in depth into how this season completely abandoned its character arcs.
I don’t agree here, I think Jaime’s arc was incredibly well handled (apart from the pointless Euron fight on the beach).
Jaime has always been a conflicted character, egotistical, selfish, ruthless and arrogant and utterly obsessed with his sister, but he’s also shown a caring, sympathetic side. Becoming “The Kingslayer” to protect King’s Landing from the Mad King, looking out for Tyrion, sacrificing his claims to Casterly Rock to join the Kingsguard and be close to his sister….
It bugs me that people seem to think that as soon as he’s humbled and loses his hand he should have become a “good guy” and settled down with Brienne. That kind of fairy-tale ending doesn’t do justice to the nuance of his character over the years. Jaime is the perfect example of the morally grey characters this show is famed for, and is one of the best examples of GRRM’s “the human heart in conflict with itself.”
For Jaime to leave his sister to fight for the living in Winterfell perfectly aligns with the more knightly aspect of his character. For Jaime to go back to the love of his life, to protect his family and die by their side is totally within his character too.
It’s crazy to think that this is the same show that gave us Tywin and Olenna’s scheming, Tyrion’s trial or Ned’s beheading.
Agree with you completely (again), and with Phil’s comment about Jaime as well, look forward to seeing more from you on that.
I would agree with Ali had Jaime never slept with Brienne. Their relashionship was platonic, a friendship and that was fine, him knighting her was a perfect representation of that. So if he hadn’t slept with Brienne it may be in character for him to return to Cercei. But after they spent the night together and after his talk with Tyrion, he made clear where his mind was. That is why is a disappointment when he decides to go back to Cercei, because he progressed in one night and then forgot all about it.
I look forward to reading you next review John, and maybe one of your “the stories that could have been” as well? Lot of storytelling opportunities missed this season…
Yeah Jaime’s sudden about face was a huge part of the problem. I could see Jaime eventually going back to Cersei, that story could work, but it just wasn’t given enough time to evolve organically. It just happens because the plot demands it happens, rather than by Jaime’s choices .
I may do a Stories that Could Have Been article at some point. But what I’m playing around with now is the idea of rewriting the scripts for the final season. to put my money where my mouth is and see if I can come up with something better. If it works, I might even have something to show potential employers and get my writing noticed.
So stay tuned, we’ll see how this idea shakes out.