Pop Culture

Game of Thrones S8E4: Emotional Drag

The show opens with a funeral pyre
The show opens with a funeral pyre Screengrab from HBO
This final season of Game of Thrones is… odd. The pacing is all over the place, and that is sort of forgivable for the first three episodes. The build to the cataclysmic battle between the armies of the living and the dead felt strange to be drawn over three weeks, but taken all together is a masterpiece of television. Honestly, it’s become more and more clear that HBO should have dropped the entire season at once like a Netflix show, as the weekly serial format makes it very hard to appreciate the whole at this final stage.

Think about Avengers: Endgame for a moment. Even if you haven’t seen it yet, you can probably understand why it's three hours long and why the eventual home release will certainly have an extended cut that’s even longer. None of us expect any less because all those threads can’t possibly be resolved in a 90-minute film.

Game of Thrones is the exact same way. I don’t get to the credits this season and feel eager for the next episode. I get there and feel unfinished. It’s like powering through some incredibly difficult and painful task that you know you will be elated for having done but the actual process is torture, and then getting interrupted right before completion.

That’s not to say this past episode didn’t have great moments. There was excitement and unexpected deaths. One of the most glorious ships in the series sailed and we even got the Hound and Arya having a daddy-daughter cynicism contest. I liked the episode.

But it’s like powering through the last couple of reps the first time you move up in weights. The show seems to know that. Comparisons to The Lord of the Rings abound this season (they did the Mouth of Sauron scene this week), but nothing calls to mind those movies like the way Westeros has shrunk in a short time. People come and go between Winterfell and King’s Landing like I’m driving from Jersey Village to Midtown and distance only seems to matter when it creates a convenient reason to separate characters. World-building breaks down as everyone limps over the finish line.

Every member of the cast is checking off a list of things to do, and it no longer feels organic. It’s a long, emotional drag to the end where someone will win the titular game. Even the friction between Jon and Dany seems almost token. It honestly takes Tyrion an hour into this post-revelation episode to suggest the most obvious solution to the problem, and it kind of gets waved away as “eh, Dany’s too bossy.” I’ve seen WWE wrestlers feud over a mop with more sense and gusto.

I’m not saying the ending is a foregone conclusion. HBO might very well give Dany a heel turn, Jon might ascend the throne via his male “electability,” and none of us should discount the possibility that Cersei could still pull this off. Her record is pretty damned good and I think this episode showed more than ever why assuming she is in the weaker position has generally led to her adding to her corpse collection.

What I am saying is that this episode and the season at large are a narrative juggernaut where each movement forward crushes something and no one can really steer or stop it. At this point I just want it to be over so I can look back at the bloody trail the show has left and figure out what it all meant.
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Jef Rouner is a contributing writer who covers politics, pop culture, social justice, video games, and online behavior. He is often a professional annoyance to the ignorant and hurtful.
Contact: Jef Rouner