Shortly after HBO released Game of Thrones: The Complete Eighth Season, the Golden Globe nominations were unveiled and its considered a surprise that the series was virtually shut out. After the long wait, the truncated final season arrived this year and rather than take a victory lap, it was showered with complaints.
When the series, adapting George R.R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire novels, arrived, people were stunned at its scope, sweep, violence, sensuality, and strong performances. You weren’t sure who to root for as the status quo kept shifting and beloved characters kept dying in unexpected, messy ways.
Phrases and names seeped into public consciousness just as the series began exhausting the extant prose and then charged ahead while Martin struggled to finish the current novel, in the cycle. Series Executive Producers/Writers/Directors David Benioff & D.B. Weiss got direction from Martin and then increasingly veered off in their own direction. Starting with season seven, we have no idea what’s really going to happen in the source material.
Judging season eight on its own merits reveals that going for six longer episodes rather than more standard-length episodes hurt the build-up to the climax. Events and reactions to events are telescoped, largely designed to isolate Daenerys (Emilia Clarke), pushing her to fulfill her destiny as the Mad Queen.
Her lover and rival, Jon Snow (Kit Harrington) remains a largely passive figure in the first five episodes so his action in the finale doesn’t feel particularly heroic. He may not want to be King of the North or even King of the Seven Lands, but he never makes clear what he does want.
It is interesting, though, to watch Daenerys’ rival, Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey) refuse to bend the knee or compromise in any way, also isolating her so when she dies, it’s with just her brother Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), who never fully redeemed himself. She is gone, unmourned, and quickly forgotten.
If anyone “wins”, it’s Jon’s sister Sansa (Sophie Turner), who has held the North intact despite misogyny and political strife. But, as the third female pillar of power, she too is isolated. Not from her people like the others, but from her family. To be queen means letting her sister Arya (Maisie Williams) go off to exploring the unknown and for Jon to return to the Wall (unaware that what he wants is to go farther north where he could be free).
The final episode helps redeem the uneven quality of the first five, but as a season, it was more whimper than bang despite the huge opening with the battle against the Night King (Vladimír Furdík), who is ultimately dispatched with relative ease making one wonder what all the fuss was about.
I will give credit to the producers for the irony of Bronn (Jerome Flynn), the ultimate survivor, winding up as Westeros’ Master of Coin. And thank goodness Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) managed to redeem himself, however, consigned to help Bran (Isaac Hempstead Wright) rule.
The sumptuous look of Westeros remains intact so from a production standpoint, the final season is strong. The music, the performances, the special effects, and so on remain top-notch. It’s the writing that proves most disappointing, a shame since the series was born from the word.
The final season comes in a handsome box set with a lovely 1080p transfer in 1.78:1. Yes, some of the bright effects seem pixilated and some of the night scenes murky, but it accurately captures what we experienced last spring so any fault isn’t to be blamed on the disc. On the other hand, the Dolby Atmos track is superb, as is the lossless Dolby Digital 5.1 track.
A series of this nature tends to generate a lot of special features and this box set skips none of the goodies for those seeking even more Game of Thrones details. Every episode comes with a recap and preview for those with faulty memories. There are also Episode Guides that offer text pop-ups. Every episode comes with Audio Commentaries — Episode One with commentary by Co-Producer/Writer Dave Hill and Production Designer Deborah Riley; Episode Two with commentary by Co-Executive Producer/Writer Bryan Cogman and Daniel Portman (Podrick Payne); Episode Three with commentary by Director Miguel Sapochnik, Director of Photography Fabian Wagner and Camera Operator Sean Savage; Episode Four with commentary by Director of Photography David Franco, Jacob Anderson (Grey Worm), Nathalie Emmanuel (Missandel) and Pilou Absek (Euron Greyjoy); Episode Five with commentary by Director Miguel Sapochnik, Director of Photography Fabian Wagner and Conleth Hill (Varys) or Producer Chris Newman, Special Effects Supervisor Sam Conway, and Visual Effects Supervisor Joe Bauer; Episode Six with commentary by Executive Producers/Writers/Directors David Benioff & D.B. Weiss, and Emilia Clarke (Daenerys Targaryen).
Additionally, there is When Winter Falls (29:13), a “making of” documentary on the Battle of Winterfell and Duty is the Death of Love (31:36) for the series’ final episode. The week after the series ended, HBO offered fans Game of Thrones: The Last Watch (1:52:58) which is thankfully included here.
Finally, we have smaller glimpses of King’s Landing (2:55), The Greyjoy Rebellion (5:31), The Blackfyres (5:15), The South (2:30), The Defiance of Duskendale (5:17), Maegor the Cruel (5:18), and, of course, Deleted Scenes (8:28).