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The 'Game of Thrones' finale disappointed, but the show still had an epic run.

By Chris Long
May 20, 2019

Recently retired NFL star, Chris Long, has recapped Game of Thrones and shared his thoughts on each episode of Season 8 for SI.com. Here is his final offering.

“The worst thing for any work of art be it a movie or a book is to be ignored” -- GRRM

“Asteroid. Asteroid. Where is the asteroid,” I wondered aloud. As Jon Snow disappeared into the Pine Barrens north of the Wall, it seemed fate had ushered him around the last blind turn in a full-circle trajectory. Poetically, he was right back where he started. Snow wasn’t the only one perpetuating this theme. But like so many others stumbling across the finish line of finality, his character seemed broken in many ways. You could make the same case for the show.

After a relatively strong first 40 minutes, you thought the series just might stick the landing in a salvageable fashion. But the second 40 minutes cemented the finale -- and the contentious eighth season -- as the television personification of this Larry David GIF.

In the wake of an impromptu small council gathering that seemed unceremonious following eight years of carnage and suspense, characters went their separate ways looking for purpose. And I looked for an asteroid.  

Last night’s tonal inconsistency, some questionable writing and a completely subjective distaste for the show’s crescendo left me shrugging my shoulders. Let me be clear. I was not owed an ending I cared for personally. I am not indignant. I don’t need grief counseling. I am not the self-important viewer I railed against last week. One big takeaway from last night is that Watchmen looks solid

Admittedly, I’m always a fan of chaos, especially in the absence of conclusion that moves me. An asteroid would’ve done just fine. I legitimately hoped that a ball of fire would rain down on the people of Westeros and finish the job, sending them the way of the dinosaur -- and giving the viewers something memorable. It’d be a nice way to emphasize the futility of earthly struggles for power. But upon further reflection, it would have been a re-emphasis. In the end, we all return to ash. Even the subject of everyone’s obsession the past eight years was reduced to a pile of molten metal in a moment. Even if the finale left me feeling dissatisfied, I didn’t mind one larger theme -- that power is a dangerous illusion and that monopolizing it likely leaves the world you control looking quite bleak. 

CHOICES 

The episode’s opening sets an expectedly ominous tone. Tyrion and Jon survey the wreckage of a civilization that’d look far different had either of them made better choices. They’re both complicit on a level and included in the carnage they indirectly caused are the bodies of Jaime and Cersei (conveniently placed, I might add). After Tyrion painstakingly determines their fate, he joins Arya and Jon in slowly approaching an unfolding scene that makes their next choice all the more important. Choice is a theme all episode long, and this one is a no brainer.

Tyrion also finds himself looking on as Dany addresses her army amid an epically brooding backdrop. How a known traitor gets front row seats to her inauguration is curious at best, but this was a great opportunity to do what he knew necessary -- cut down the newly minted tyrant. He’d have been unimpeded, and he’s essentially already sentenced himself to death. Instead, he opts for imprisonment and the long shot of convincing the lately brainless Jon Snow to do the deed. 

But what a scene we receive as a result. Daenerys, fresh off of a healthy appetizer of genocide, enters the frame. And she’s still hungry to “liberate.” Emerging from the ruins amid the greyscale filter that’s blanketed King’s Landing, she’s followed by Drogon. However you feel about the show’s final resting place, this will live on as one of the iconic shots of the series. “You’re a dragon, be a dragon,” has been the line summoned all day today in parsing this cinematic touch. As Drogon tucked behind Dany momentarily, I saw it as being symbolic of Satan himself. We’ve seen biblical evocations before, from Beric’s Christ-like sacrifice in Episode 3, to Arya’s encounter with a pale (or white) horse in Episode 5.

Whatever you make of the masterful cinematography, Dany’s speech seems to embrace her heel turn in such an evil way. But take away the apocalyptic backdrop, the ash and the ominous score and you’ll realize it’s right out of the playbook she’s used all series long. And she specifically pays homage to a ruthless and violent old lover. She doesn’t appear as unhinged as she had the two episodes prior. She’s delusional, drunk with ambition, but not outwardly “crazy.” As a result of it all, Tyrion tosses his pendant in a nod to Ned Stark, effectively accepting his fate. 

Tyrion’s made a career of swaying the sensibilities of characters at a crossroads. And even as he’s struggled to stay above water in a sea of recent missteps, there’s one more chance for redemption. But man, is it like pulling teeth. It seems like he tries everything to convince Jon that Dany needs to be dealt with, but he’s still partially lost. “Ah, it’s easy to judge when you’re standing far from the battle field,” and “I’m not trying to justify it” are total head scratchers coming from a guy who saw the inferno firsthand. But we’ve come to expect it from our favorite dolt. After some convincing, and a slightly rearranged, clever callback to the words of Maester Aemon, you’d think Jon would be game. But it takes a last-ditch effort, appealing to Jon’s sisters to make him reverse course. Ned Stark took one for the team eons ago for the sake of his daughters, and it seems Jon is finally prepared to do the same for these very girls. Only difference being that the circumstances surrounding Jon’s monumental choice are partially self imposed. (If only Ned were around, this would’ve been done in Winterfell episodes ago.) 

The episode’s climax actually comes halfway through, which seems to mirror the final season’s path. Another visually magnificent sequence unfolds as Jon and Drogon seem to have a primal, wordless exchange outside the The Great Hall. Caked in ash and camouflaged amongst the rocks, the real MVP of the episode emerges. I wonder if the dragon knows what Jon’s come to do, and allows him passage anyway.

We all know what happens next. But what’s most interesting is that we get a glimpse into Dany’s mind as she’s settled into what she believes to be her destiny. She’s arrived at a destination she’s eyed since she was “a little girl who couldn’t count to 20.” And she’s partially still that kid, more delighted at the acquisition of the toy she’s always wanted than she is remorseful or reflective of what it took to get it. Her delusional happiness of course soon turns to disbelief. Jon Snow plunges his blade into her midsection, and that’s all she wrote. The woman who’d survived hundreds of death defying dragon rides, the Battle of Winterfell and a wall of flames that engulfed her had expired. As she gazed up at Jon in disbelief (and as Jon finds himself in a very familiar position), you wondered if she thought of the prophecy she’d received seasons ago. Of the three betrayals she’d receive in her lifetime, it wasn’t blood or gold that’d kill her -- it was love. In the end, love and adoration came second on Dany’s list of wants behind power. And looking back, the lines were always blurred between the two. 

Before she dies, Dany pleads with Jon to “break the wheel” with her. It’s a phrase she uttered earlier on the steps of the Red Keep while addressing her men. What she doesn’t realize is that in her delusion, she is the wheel. After multiple warnings not to become what she’s fought so hard to destroy, she’s finally steps away from occupying that hunk of metal that houses no real winners. And ironically, the only character in the show that seems to have an awareness of that fact is Drogon. 

DROGON AND A GAME OF NO WINNERS

As Dany looked out over the ash-covered, post-apocalyptic ruins of King’s Landing, we saw a preview of a world singularly ruled. It’s a world that I couldn’t help but think looked depressingly bleak. No man or woman has ever run the world on their own. If they did, they’d likely sit lonely under a mushroom cloud sky. The pursuit of this illusion is dead-ended in this fantasy setting as well. And the viewers, with their decade long emotional investments clamoring for the answer to a singular question -- the joke’s on us as well. 

George R.R. Martin set conclusive waypoints for the show runners to follow this final season -- which ones, exactly, we can’t be sure of. A contentious objector in Vietnam and generally a pacificist, it’s possible that Martin saw this as an opportunity to weave this poignant conversation into the conclusion of the show. Ironically, a series known for it’s gratuitous violence in pursuit of singular power has been architected by someone so against stately conflict. Maybe now we know why. Only time will tell how closely last night’s ending aligns with his impending writings.

A LANDING TOO SOFT

What followed the intensity of the first 40 minutes was a much more subdued second act. A meeting of the minds ripe with characters who made casual fans say “who the f*ck is that guy” ensued immediately. The subtitles didn’t even know what to call half of these guys. This is where I began to wonder what I was watching. I’d assume I wasn’t alone in pausing the show momentarily to see how much time remained, almost in disbelief. As it turned out, there was an awkward amount of time remaining as the group convened deliberations -- too much time for Dany’s death to be the crescendo it should’ve been, but not enough time to tie up all the loose ends.

The second half of the finale was the tonal polar opposite of the first. And in fact, it’s one of the most relaxed sequences in memory. So much for Ramsay Bolton’s infamous assurance that the show would not have a “happy” ending. The landing seemed too soft considering the warp speed it took to arrive there. The imbalance between the hasty development that plagued Season 8 and the quick, casual selection of a new king struck an odd tone. It was almost as if the impromptu committee was aware of the finale’s time constraint, rather than making a decision that involved real reflection.

A decision eight years in the making took about 12 minutes to haphazardly make.

The pretext of the entire conversation is confusing. It doesn’t seem apparent that they’d thought of the decision they’re faced with until someone has to make a decision. Like, hey, guys who is the manager on duty? And what’s stopping Greyworm from simply doing whatever he wants? As he states, the city is under control of the Unsullied, yet he’s a bystander without a vote (weird, right?). And what’s more, the council doesn’t seem to be in agreement on what seems like a pretty basic thing -- Dany was a monster. It’s even unclear if they think conspiring against her in the wake of her mass murder was actually a good thing. (I thought you were cool, Yara). 

Predictably, the only guy making any sense at all is Samwell, pitching democracy and highlighting the importance of clean water (Now’s a good time to plug my personal clean water initiative. Learn more at Waterboys.org). Guess what the committee does -- laugh him offstage. In fact, these geniuses actually have to rely on a man in shackles to arrive at the conclusion that there is a decision to be made -- let alone the decision itself. After Sansa highlights the gathering by telling her Uncle to shut the f*ck up (We really don’t have time for this right now, minor character), it’s ultimately Tyrion’s monologue that sets things in motion. 

Peter Dinklage has been masterful throughout the series, and he’s the right guy to deliver it, but for the sake of the show, he makes the wrong suggestion. “Who has a better story than Bran the Broken,” he inquires rhetorically. Funny you should ask, Peter. We’ve barely seen him since Season 4, so excuse me while I prepare a list of 23 characters. In addition, you just chose a guy who stood by and watched all this go down knowing he would be king the entire time? The guy that let Jaime live in Episode 2 this season only to watch his character take a steaming dump on his redemption arc and have a zero net impact on the reclaiming of Westeros. I’m sorry, Peter. Unless Bran pulls a Keyser Soze, this is about as compelling as the Seahawks-Broncos Super Bowl in 2014. 

But there you have it. You’ve wondered for eight years who’d sit on the throne. After 12 minutes of deliberation, eight people who didn’t even know what they were meeting let a prisoner make the call. Oh, and they let one person have their own kingdom, but no one else was interesting in achieving the same independence. And there was another stray drink mishap. From what we know about Bran, he’d probably make a great ruler, but we just don’t know him lately. Furthermore, he’s become the sort of popular dark horse that crosses over into the realm of expected. His first action highlights the stark contrast in ruling style from the recently disposed of Queen. One of Dany’s last statements was prophetic. “You can’t hide behind small mercies.” I have a feeling Bran will be merciful -- and good. Just not for the finale.

BACK WHERE WE STARTED

As the ashes blew away, there seems to be a new dawn in the realm. For now, it seems promising, peaceful and prosperous. And faced with the task of settling the remaining characters into their respective destinations, the show opts to usher most of them into fates that seem restorative. Sansa gets the northern independence she’d always hoped for and will presumably live out her life back home as a Queen in her own right. Arya, who spent much of the show on the move, remains on the move. Tyrion is named Bran’s hand, allowing him to continue his role as a thought provoking advisor even in the wake of a massive judgment slump. And Jon Snow heads north to the wall he felt most at home on, far away from the throne he had no interest in occupying. A lighthearted council meeting and a nicely executed Stark family montage attempt to further wrap the series. As neatly as the show seemed to deposit its upright star players, the episode had various flaws. 

Right off the bat Sunday night, Season 8 was up to its typical bullshit. A week ago, Jaime and Cersei were buried under the entirely of the Red Keep. But Sunday night, Tyrion only had to cast aside one or two bricks to find what looked like two dusty mannequins. Greyworm, who’d been indiscriminately executing surrendered enemies in the streets, couldn’t muster the hatred to kill the man who betrayed his queen. And Jon Snow, who’s been stripped of nearly all of his redeeming qualities, heads to obscurely man the state’s newest completely pointless outfit -- the Night’s Watch. 

TWILIGHT ZONE

Season 8 and its finale seemed to make a mess of the carefully crafted storylines we grew to love over an eight-year period. But hopefully something good can come of it -- an Arya spinoff. As Arya goes Tristan from Legends of the Fall, I can’t help but imagine the world she’s discovering. Even for one of the show’s bravest characters, her mettle will really be tested when she makes landfall at Myrtle Beach. Imagine Arya walking ashore to find a Margaritaville or a Hooters. 

For years now, the show’s most interesting backdrop has been north of the Wall. Jon Snow has quickly become one of the show’s least interesting characters. He’s been reduced to a robotically loyal, bumbling shell of his former self. But if you could pull off repairing his character, I think there might be something there. 

All in all, a relatively gripping first 40 minutes and the orderly deposition of the show’s remaining star players can only do so much. The finale had a few promising themes and outcomes, but it will likely join the final season in having a very polarizing legacy. It’s a twilight that never quite felt right. But it had its moments. 

I’ve seen the petitions to remake the finale. I understand that people didn’t enjoy the final season. Sophie Turner had this to say. I could watch presumably new writers craft 10 different season-long alternate endings -- as long as we’d be watching performers like Sophie Turner and company. One thing that’s gotten lost lately amid all the controversy has been the masterful job these actors and actresses have done bringing these characters to life -- no matter the trajectory. The CGI has been mystifying at times, the plot lines dizzying, but the performances have always been spellbinding, even when we didn’t like what was being portrayed. 

As Jon Snow walked north of the Wall into that strange twilight over green grass popping through the sunny snow, it signaled an end to an often tense, gloomy eight-season tournament for power. For the characters -- and the viewers -- it’s been a thrill ride of highs and lows, of characters who we hated and identified with, of moments that made us laugh and moments that made our jaws collectively drop to the floor. But no matter what we saw along the way, we talked about it. We discussed it in depth. We wrote about it. Sometimes we argued about it as if these characters had walked offscreen and were real people. 

Weiss and Benoiff may have made a fateful mistake when they opted to finish the job with less runway, but I’m not going to let it ruin the way I think of one of my favorite television journeys of all time. As Brienne hastily closed the books, she seemed to have smeared the ink. Ironically, this is a metaphor for how many viewers felt about the series coming to a halt. No matter how you feel about Game of Thrones, I’m going to be talking about it in the same vein as favorites like The Wire or Breaking Bad. It may not have stuck the landing as cleanly as some other shows, but for eight long years we did one thing -- talk about it.

And in the words of the great George R.R. Martin, the worst thing for any work of art “is to be ignored.” 

Former defensive end Chris Long is a two-time Super Bowl champion, 11-year NFL veteran, outstanding Tweeter and founder of Waterboys.org.

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