Over the course of eight years Game of Thrones has become one of the most beloved shows in the world. It not only allowed HBO to reinforce their reputation for daring and award-winning shows; but proved that weekly programing could still generate plenty of watercooler buzz in an age of streaming and binge watching.
So, it not surprising that the final season of the show was straddled with huge expectations and mixed feelings from critics and fans alike.
Picking up right where Season 7 left off, Jon Snow (Kit Harrington) must face the ramifications of bending the knee in loyalty to Daenerys (Emilia Clarke). An act that both renounced his role as King of the North and helped to unite forces against the Night King and his legion of the undead. Of course, his Stark siblings, Sansa (Sophie Turner), Arya (Maisie Williams) and Bran (Isaac Hempstead Williams), have not taken kindly to the news. Complicating matters further is the fact that Bran is holding information that will forever impact Daenerys and Jon’s budding relationships.
If the Night King’s “white walkers” was not stressful enough, there is still the issue of Queen Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey) to deal with. Sitting atop the iron throne, Cersei has no intentions of vacating it anytime soon. Even if it means double-crossing potential allies and using her loyal subjects as pawns in a deadly game for the ages.
For a series that has consistently knocked it out of the park, it is hard not to feel a little disappointed by the final season. While the sense of grandeur is still present, it becomes very apparent in the battle heavy and overly dark, visually speaking, third episode “Long Night” that the show has backed itself into a corner. The season struggles to figure out how to juggle all the characters, especially in the epic action sequences, in a convenience way. Characters frequently get bailed out of certain death by sheer random plot conveniences.
Speaking of plot convenience, key character turns feel at odds with everything we have come to know and love about the individuals up to that point. This not only leads to showdowns that lack the thrills or depth of the previous season, but also makes many of the emotional beats fall flat. When a dragon is the one who evokes the most emotion out of the viewer you know you have problems.
The Blu-ray, which arrives today courtesy of HBO, has several bonus features to help provide greater context to the final season. Filmmaker Jeanie Finlay’s documentary “Game of Thrones: The Last Watch” does a good job of delving into the challenges of bringing the series to a close. One of the best aspects of this in-depth documentary is that Finlay captures everything from the table read, where the cast learn their character’s fates for the first time, to the small details that go into the production of each episode. Those who had problems seeing all the details in Episode 3’s epic “Battle of Winterfell” sequence will surely want to give the “When Winter Falls” feature a watch.
While the final season did not live up to everything that came before it, fans and completist will no doubt want to add this disc to their collection. Even if it is just to take a trip to The Seven Realms one last time.