Note: This post contains spoilers for ‘Game of Thrones’ including Season 8 Episode 4 which aired today
When will Game of Thrones stick to what works?
There are two episodes left, so hopefully some time in the next fortnight.
The first half of this week’s episode was the Game of Thrones we have come to know and love; as with the first two episodes of this season focused on what has always made it stand out, let’s say it together; characters.
Yes the show has always managed a grand sweeping sense of epic but these most memorable moments come not from the battles, many of which blend together, but the dynamics which are so memorable and speak to the sense of scale the show ever-pursues. Whether it be Tyrion and Varys plotting (with both performers respectively exhibiting their best singular episode performance in years), Arya’s reply to Gendry, his own rapid ascension, Tormund’s antics (as ever), the increasingly endearing Gregor Clegane, Jon and Daenery’s particular complexities or, most significantly, the long-anticipated development in Jamie and Brienne’s relationship, the first act had so much going for it and is repeatedly watchable.
The final stretch, in a not dissimilar regard, is also duly compelling as several character arcs reach an edge of the seat peak; anyone spoiling what happens and other episode tid-bits should know better..
The second act wreaks regardless of those problems that the show’s creators had two years to learn from following season 7 and apparently haven’t. The narrative and time jumps, some stretching to weeks, are even more frustrating following a grounded first half that took place over the course of about 24 hours. We launch lengths between key encounters, something the early series never did. Cast your mind back to the first episodes; a whole chapter was dedicated simply to travelling down the King’s Road, or entire episodes to trekking from Storm’s End to the Capital, something that took a simple cut this time around.
Without a sense of time and the weariness of traversing Westeros (estimated at about the size of South America) and only hinted at in passing as regards characters sight unseen, it’s harder to garner that sense of investment or believability which comes from seeing a sturdied journey reach it’s fulcrum that so recommended the arcs of the earlier series; here packaged into mere minutes.
Moreover, viewers are just sick of stupid decisions. No it is not an ‘ambush’ when you near your opponent’s stronghold and your whole army are fully aware that the most competent fleet in the known world have likely set out to meet you. Watching a dragon fall from the sky is transfixing and yes the immediacy and suddenness of the event lent itself to what could have been a battle resounding with urgency yet it was over all too quickly.
Why a scout was not sent ahead and Daenery’s attack did not come from the rear I’ll never know, nor just why the fleet and remaining dragons arrived in King’s Landing whole weeks ahead of the impending northern army counter to the agreed plan.
All up reliably thrilling if repeatedly eyeroll-worthy, this latest is still an exciting herald of things to come.