Baumann and Burch Conversations #13: Game of Moans

Tim: Howdy, Matt. It’s been a second since we landed one of these, but it’s time for the long-winded talk about things that are disappointing again.

Matt: That describes so much of what we do. I don’t know that the disappointment comes after years and years of build usually though.

Tim: Can you imagine being someone who discovered A Game of Thrones in like, 1996, who has had so much time to process the possibilities for what might happen in the end, and then to have a television program run it like this? It’s a little crazy. (I can’t imagine 1996, really.)

Matt: I can barely process having actually read them in 2011 (or whenever I did, it’s around there) and watching the show take pole position. I read around him publishing A Dance with Dragons and everyone thought he was on track. Here we are eight years on.

Tim: Let’s imagine that one is this fan from 1996, or I suppose we could imagine ourselves in these shoes. How many fans of the show (I’m going to guess the number of people who are strictly fans of the book is way lower) do you think are satisfied by what happened over the past, oh, two seasons?

Matt: Fans of just the show, or said 90s fans who also watch the show?

Tim: Let’s go with everyone who likes everything Ice and Fire related.

Matt: If they’re like me, then deeply disappointed and mad at the last two seasons. I thought things were off in season 6, but the community in general gave a lot more leeway. I’d say season 8 is really when the rubber met the road of dissatisfaction. The fast travel nonsense at the end of 7 was the initial worry, but I’d guess not until this last season were a fairly large majority of the fandom disappointed. All of the Reddit communities (three big ones) jumped off the wagon. So low, is my answer.

Tim: My favorite is absolutely r/freefolk.

Matt: That’s the best one. And when they dump on the other two it’s great (r/gameofthrones and r/asoiaf)

Tim: Here’s a sports comparison that’s probably unnecessary, but whatever. In whatever league you choose, only one team out of the bunch gets to win the championship. With as much stuff as there was going on to wind down, was it possible for Game of Thrones to be the TV show that managed to nail the landing? Or was the ending always going to disappoint?

Matt: My answer has many layers.

Tim: Like good dip.

Matt: Like ogres.

It was always going to disappoint some fans. Any ending is doomed to that fate. I genuinely believe with more time Game of Thrones could have had a good and satisfying ending. A lot of the fan negativity is directed at Benioff and Weiss for not wanting to take more time. And if they wanted out fine, but turn it over to the other writers who’ve been around almost as long (Bryan Cogman is the big one). HBO was happy to finance.

Tim: And I think more than a little distraught that it’s gone! I know people are writing about HBO’s ads for its legion of new programing, and as someone who still has an HBO subscription (Chernobyl is well worth your time), those ads just feel desperate.

The question of ownership certainly comes up when we talk about things like this. Once they passed the books, there was a lot of talk about how the story didn’t really belong to Martin anymore (or to the smarmy people who had read the books and knew where this was headed, more or less). And now that we’ve come to the end, the number of people who don’t want this to belong to Benioff and Weiss anymore is really striking. Because whatever they might say in interviews or in those silly after the episode specials, I’m sure they feel a great deal of ownership.

Matt: Benioff and Weiss don’t actually own it, but I get them feeling that way. They were the ones to get Martin’s blessing in the first place, which was a big deal. I have a hard time believing neither of them or HBO execs weren’t noticing “oh crap, they can’t write on their own” which is where I get miffed. Even if they insist on their ownership, which fine, no one can sensibly say this was enough time to end it. They needed more.

Tim: I think one of the overwhelming thoughts I’ve read in the last week is “Daenerys becoming the ‘Mad Queen’ is fine, but it should take more than ten minutes.”  

Matt: That’s the other thing I wanted to get to with the ending. Most of the actual last moments I was fine with, and some made a lot of sense on their own. The lack of development getting to them was incredibly frustrating. What Tyrion says in the last episode (which should still be titled “A Dream of Spring” and they’re idiots for not doing so) about everyone going along with Dany before when she was just killing “evil” people is what needed to happen (explicitly) before “The Bells.” Her seeing the throne and knowing this is the culmination of her dream of conquering is right, all the seeds were sown for that. They just weren’t given time to bloom. In hindsight, for the Dany thing in particular, they should have played her sailing to Westeros at the end of season 6 as ominous, or at least vaguely so, instead of triumphant. Without that tinge they made her seem like a peer hero that the books never totally allow, there’s always that hint. Where the show goes wrong is in believing too much that Dany is, as she argues to Sansa, basically hoodwinked by Jon into fighting a good fight; she wants power and revels in violence.

The short version of that is, good beat, need more than two episodes to get from fighting Death to becoming Death.

Tim: I think one of the things that not enough of us are talking about is how even having the biggest TV budget ever is not the same as having a movie budget, and how I think that seriously altered a lot of the choices they made in the last season. I know that everyone loves the Dothraki having their lights extinguished from a distance, but I was sitting there watching that episode wondering what on earth these people were doing with their cavalry, and then I thought about it more and my conclusion was that having so many horses on set is another expense that they probably didn’t want to deal with?

Matt: I’d buy that if the Dothraki didn’t magically triple in size again by the last episode.

Tim: Oh, I’m sure there’s a certain number of riders they had under contract for so much work, but “The Long Night” is already such an effort, and expensive too, that I have to believe someone said, “You know what, we can deal with this complication another way.” Same reason, I think, that there’s a long sequence where Arya is running and hiding from like, ten zombies.  

Matt: That Arya sequence is the best moment of the episode.

Tim: I have seen that said a great deal, and at that point I was deeply checked out of it, but I think it’s funny that we have all the hype about “longest battle scene in TV history” and then the best part of the episode is a fairly intimate horror piece.

Matt: That’s always been the key with the battle episodes. You need a center in one or two or maybe three people to bring intimate moments to otherwise indiscriminate bloodshed. If you focus on Arya’s horror movie, Tyrion/Sansa’s thriller, and Jon yelling at a dragon the whole time that makes for more investment (not really that third one, I’m the only one who wants that – but it was an effective moment of displaying the madness of war for me).

Tim: I kind of disagree with the idea that we need a center, or at least people to focus on. I really thought the point of the episode, aside from dealing with an issue that the writers were embarrassed about and wanted out of the way, was to give us some bigness. And the biggest movie battle I’ve ever seen is probably Borodino in the Soviet War and Peace, which is just huge and awful in a way that I found way more moving.

Matt: No one really wants to see all of the wights after seven seasons with particular characters. “Battle of the Bastards” and “Hardhome” both communicated scope while also having Jon as a center. The Bolton forces charging at just him is still a great moment of the show.  

But to the budget point, that’s all fair and right. The problem though is that “we’ll fix it later” mentality. They got lazy in the writing and no one can abide that.

Tim: Can we talk more about the lazy thing? Because I think part of it is fatigue, and I think part of it is that when the creative team gets fatigued they pick and choose what they care about, and the longer this went on the more it felt like the people making this show were halfway embarrassed to be talking about Three-Eyed Ravens and Night Kings and so on, and then they chose the House of Cards stuff over the fantasy elements. I thought that was the wrong choice before we got to the end, but is it fair to say I am vindicated? (Full disclosure: I was rooting hard for the White Walkers.)

Matt: Their egos are too big for this, but they should have never signed on knowing they didn’t care about the fantasy elements, which are key to the series even if it excels with realpolitik.

Okay, the Three-Eyed Raven thing (I’m very prone to ranting through all of this).

Tim: I loved every time Tyrion said “Three-Eyed Raven” and everyone else on screen is like, “Yes, that thing, we talk about the Three-Eyed Raven all the time, and we are intimately familiar with what it’s doing, please don’t give us a pop quiz about it.”

Matt: Same thing with Jon being the true heir. Or dying. No one thought to really chat about those.

Tim: Like, do some of those people even know that Jon died?

Matt: Bran. So everyone should. Night’s Watch can’t desert, or they die. That’s the whole point of the very first episode. And no one is asking that question. Dany just sort of knows he died by the end but we have no idea how. The episode we actually see Beric get resurrected is a majorly weird moment for the Hound and Arya. No one seems to care about Jon doing it.

Anyway, Bran. You can’t make him freaking king based on his fantasy character after dropping him for an entire season (Martin does not abandon him as a POV character ever) and then magically ending the White Walker crisis in one episode with no true reckoning about his motivation. He wanted Bran (apparently). You have to invest in the fantasy elements at that point, that isn’t House of Cards.

Tim: They did such a bad job with them that I really think they were embarrassed they had to deal with them. Genuinely I sensed contempt.

Matt: And yet I have to deal with random dragon shots all the time. Everyone was getting off over the dragons growing and burning and fighting.

Tim: People getting amped about the “Loot Train Attack” amazed me, because like, Godzilla made half a billion dollars five years ago, I know some of you nerds went to see that in theaters. To say nothing of the Jurassic Park movies.

Matt: People will invest in fantasy if you let it develop. Benioff and Weiss never wanted to after they ran out of Martin material. Which is, again, asinine. Don’t take the series if you don’t like that part, especially not having a full roadmap.

Tim: Is there a major fan complaint we haven’t hit yet? I think we agreed that we wanted to get over this hill first.

Matt: I mean, there are a lot of particular things, but that would take too long. I think we have the macro-level grievances out there.

Tim: We agree that the people who signed a petition for a new Season 8 are nimrods, yeah?

Matt: Yeah they aren’t helping. I don’t think they’re as odious as the Last Jedi morons, but still idiots.

Tim: Their childhoods aren’t being threatened, laugh laugh laugh.

Matt: I remind you of 1996 people.

Tim: It’s part of the reason I really wonder if there’s any way for people who like a TV show or a series of movies to really feel good about it at the end. Is Endgame the only exception? What did that do that people weren’t mad?

Matt: I’m a bad person to answer that version of the question, I hate Endgame. Not hate, I just think it’s bad and Marvel fans don’t want to admit it because then a 22 movie ride ends in something bad. Endgame is a great ending for Tony Stark. Otherwise, bad movie.

I don’t know that anyone wants to read me lambast Endgame here. Lebowski Thor is by far the best part. What have you seen that people like? I might say they have Stockholm Syndrome.   

Tim: …nothing? I dunno, I guess people like Sansa (when they aren’t yelling about how everyone else should secede too if it only takes eight seconds at a meeting), and I think most people like Arya doing her Columbus jaunt. The Sansa bit made sense to me, but sending Arya off on a western voyage really feels like them punting on her.

Matt: (I meant like about Endgame…)

Tim: Oh, Endgame. Haha. I just think everyone who I’ve talked to liked it in a general way. People liked the Tony Stark stuff, they liked the funny bits, they liked the reversal of fortune, etc. It appears to have satisfied, although I think part of the reason it satisfied is because people just do not think through time travel stories. I haven’t seen it. Or Infinity War, which I think they stole from Ronald Reagan’s diary.

Matt: It’s three hours of Captain America propaganda with a wonky time travel mechanic and I resent that.

But Game of Thrones…Arya has one line in the entire series about become Columbus. I’d be more interested in Stark colonialism (British empire, let’s face it) if the ending read as foreboding or ominous rather than “look at all of them doing a thing and being kind of content.”

Sansa. I love seeing Sansa as Queen of the North. I can suspend disbelief about secession just enough because, despite what he says, Bran is still her brother and yeah whatever. I don’t believe Yara would have given up that easily though, and the show continued to ruin Dorne, and I’m sad now.

Tim: I think the prince of Dorne’s name is “Prince Dorne,” the way Teddy thought that Bob’s full name was “Bob Burger.

Matt: The Bob’s Burgers / Game of Thrones crossover is imminent.

But, it really feels like a lot of the people really invested in seeing Sansa as a strong character (and she is) just sort of let the “everything that happened to me made me who I am line” in reference to her continual torture and rape. I have real issue with that. Obviously bad on the show for doing it in the first place. But, like, we can’t just forget about it because she ended in a place we’re happy about.

Tim: The show’s bizarre belief in fate as evidenced through Bran is totally disconcerting. (You were meant to go back to the totally extant Night’s Watch, Jon, just like all of these tiny torched kids were meant to be torched in King’s Landing.) Did they eat a self-help book before writing some of this stuff?

Matt: That’s the part I just didn’t have the energy to burn 3,000 words on in my final recap. All of this series has been about the logical consequences of actions in sociopolitical arenas. Bran’s stuff just drops predestination into the mix and…no.

Tim: Wanna play a game? I may not be good at it, but I’m willing to give it the ol’ college try.

Matt: Please let’s.

Tim: What was the moment when you knew that this show was never going to land the plane?

Matt: When I knew it wouldn’t land?

Tim: Yeah, when something happened that was just so wrong that the show couldn’t recover from it. Either because of an event, or because the way the event was handled was so antithetical to the way the show used to be that it evinced a sea change.

Matt: The half-assed (probably still too generous) plot to bring a wight to Cersei was the latest potential point. Bunch of stuff in season 6 bothered me, but the Sansa/Arya/Littlefinger in particular was when a wonky tone felt like a new normal rather than a random misstep.

Tim: That was my response too! Where the point was obviously to mislead the viewers to get a reaction rather than tell a story where all the people were each playing their own game. It’s like if someone played chess against himself and then made a move for White so Black could take the piece. Though the wight thing…that might have been the first episode I watched in three and a half seasons and I knew that was bonkers.

Matt: Bunch of people have said this, but the show flew when it felt like a big chess match between Littlefinger and Varys. They aren’t POV characters in the book, so a lot of those interactions are the show slightly redirecting our experience. None of Sansa/Arya/Littlefinger were dumb enough for any iteration of what we saw in season 6 to happen. That storyline was when I knew there was a definite change. The wight plotline is when I knew the writers were dumb and not just wrong.

That Dany sailing over moment I mentioned earlier, that’s when I thought the show would be too scared to end how it did and I was really bummed about a happy ending happening. Sort of glad I was wrong in general, but obviously the getting to the end was rough.

Tim: Wanna talk about loose ends a little? I don’t want to go into all of them, because there are multiple articles with the same like, five things—shout out to Daario Naharis, who is never coming over—but I think a lot of people are angrier than I am about them. Again, I totally skipped a few seasons out of disgust, but I’ll let you go for a sec.

Matt: Daario is going to get a raven in a year and that’s the scene I want.

Tim: Uh, the ravens are powered by tiny fission reactors, they got there days ago.

Matt: Varys is dead. No more fast travel.

So, part of my frustration at loose ends (probably a large part) is not knowing what the books will do exactly but knowing a) there’s already more material that got cut for the show and b) a lot more nuance to be had with the ending. The loose ends, in that sense, are a frustration about what could happen. Again, I think a lot of people just want more time and detail more than any particular ending. Some people definitely want the latter, but we feel short-changed. We talked a little about the loose end I’m most frustrated by, which is the Three-Eyed Raven/Night King stuff.

Tim: I’m of the opinion, more or less, that this show really couldn’t be ended in a way that would satisfy all the people who wanted to solve the show. And I think that’s really at the heart of so much (though certainly not all) of the frustration, is that it didn’t end up being solvable. I do blame Lost.

Matt: Always blame Lost. I genuinely believe (with not actual evidence) that book diehards don’t think the ending can be a solution, even if they have mysteries they want answered. That openness is baked into the mystique of the narrative. An ending for anything will never satisfy everyone, but the narrative inertia comes from clashing forces, not jigsaw puzzle action. That might be where the show ran into a big problem, them condensing all the storylines so quickly made it feel like a puzzle rather than living momentum, for lack of a better phrase. (I hope the implicit blaming of Lost is apparent there)

Tim: It reminds me of a passage from Sepinwall’s book about the most important shows from the Golden Age of TV in which I think Lindelof says that the Internet just solved a plotline they’d written, and he didn’t know what to do. When everyone with a pulse knows that Jon is a Targaryen, how do you make that matter to people who came to this show because they were surprised by the Red Wedding? Some of this is just lose-lose.

Matt: You make it a source of actual political intrigue instead of using it just to make Dany mad, get Varys killed, and then have seemingly everyone forget in that final council meeting. Maybe you lose anyway, but lose better. One of the questions Martin asked them when they approached about making the show was who are Jon’s parents, so that mystery has been solved since before the show, they had plenty of time to think about that one. I think there’s a balance to be had between genuinely surprising moments ((Ned, Red Wedding, Oberyn (king of my world)) and those slow burn reveals that people can figure out at different moments, which is part of what drives season 1 with Ned figuring out, slowly, that Cersei’s children are Jaime’s and not Robert’s.

I reminded myself with Oberyn. The loose end I really want…not even to have an ending but just attended to in some capacity is Dorne.

Tim: I’m going to stand well back from this one…like the Dornish say about Westeros generally, it isn’t my fight.

Matt: I’m pretty sure everyone who has talked for even a minute with me about Game of Thrones has dealt with me kvetching about Dorne. The show ruins it after they lose Oberyn. Like utterly destroys everything that makes it interesting and compelling. Then we finally see a new Prince and all he says is “Aye.”

Tim: “Bob Burger.”

Matt: But this does say something about the loose-ends frustration, I think. It’s not just what could have been with Dorne, but what could still be in the books. Is this the end Dorne has in Martin’s head? God I hope not. So there’s that element on top of the fact that the show ruined an important and interesting plotline, and you could watch them realize that in real time when Jaime and Bronn just sort of fight Dorne out of the show (which is contemporaneous with the Arya/Sansa/Littlefinger thing, so add that to my answer for realizing the show was going to crash). If it was never going to be important for Benioff and Weiss, then just let Dorne recede into the background after Oberyn. Don’t give me hope dashed with bad logic.

Tim: So there was an article on The Atlantic a few months back which got some traction called “The Cruelty Is the Point.” It was about Trumpism, but the phrase has stuck with me, and it makes me think about what made me give up on the show in the first place back in Season…4? When the White Walkers pick up that infant who is, presumably, about to be on the receiving end of something really bad?

Matt: So apparently that’s how White Walkers are made without Children of the Forest doing it. Night King is an invention of the show, so it was sort of handy in that sense. Still an open mystery in the books. But yes, Craster sacrificed newborn sons that then became White Walkers. (Sort of interested to know how long, and just how, they grew up from there, but not important)

Tim: Does that get explained at all on the show?

Matt: Which part?

Tim: The express way to make a White Walker.

Matt: There’s a flashback in season 6 or 7 to the creation of the first White Walker (the Night King). [I should say, the Night King is in the books, but it’s very different]. A normal human that the Children of the Forest stuck a dragonglass dagger into the heart of and, presumably with some magic as well, turned into a White Walker to help them fight against the invading humans. They went rogue, eventually Children joined humans in fighting against them and beat them back to the extreme North and then built the Wall. The Craster’s babies part, more or less implied by the processional in which they turn the baby into one and all of the women at Craster’s Keep dreading having a son rather than a daughter (not that they really want any children with Craster, but they know something evil happens to sons). Gilly and Sam might talk about it briefly, but I don’t know to what degree. So it’s all framed as how the Night King recruits more White Walkers and why he doesn’t just murder everyone living at Craster’s Keep.

Tim: Is it incredibly prudish of me to look at that scene as child sacrifice as entertainment?

Matt: Yes and no? There has to be another way to do it, but I never saw that scene as just for the sake of it. It felt like it was doing something narratively important, but there’s nothing saying it has to be a baby. Maybe I’m heartless towards children. That scene never got me in the way that, for example, Theon’s or Sansa’s torture sagas did.

Tim: Which are themselves important to the story. What has always turned me off a little about Game of Thrones, even when I was watching it seriously, was the really callow way that the show treats violence and sexual violence especially…for a show that took so much pride in the “reality” of the political elements, it never saw that violence as real. It was always video game violence in their eyes, and it really seems like the show enjoyed the reaction it was getting every time something really bad happened. Or, ultimately, saw that in the lens of “But suffering makes you stronger,” like D&D are closet Baptists.

Matt: The suffering makes you stronger thing is where I have the most issue, especially after they let the Hound say “yeah, that’s not right.” Apparently they forgot that contradiction like Dany somehow forgets to send a navy scout. But can you give an example about the video game violence so I see if we’re on the same page or not?

Tim: I mean it more in the sense that you can shoot up a whole bunch of people in a video game and no one actually dies. (Amusingly enough, the movie that comes to mind first for me here is Saving Private Ryan, which I’m sure is contentious, but whatever, watch a real war movie.)

Matt: They didn’t do that for awhile, which was great. The last three seasons lost that sense, which was terrible. You don’t only lose Thoros when you go to find a wight for no good reason. You just don’t. But that’s a trope I’m sort of used to even if it’s infuriating.

Tim: In the hands of the show, characters like Ramsay Bolton are the kind of gross fantasies teenage boys come up with when they need attention, which is an area I have some firsthand observational knowledge of…it’s all well and good when they eat their own boogers, but it’s obnoxious when you know that they’re doing it just to get a reaction. Especially when there are moments which get the reaction without this terrifically blasé approach to suffering. (I’m thinking of Melisandre and the smoke murder ghost thing, which, boy howdy that really did a number on me.)

Matt: Ramsay is the psychotic teenager in the video game chatroom, certainly. His character is actually that “looking for attention psychopath” though, he wants to be legitimized (in more than just name) by Roose.

What I started to want was rekindled attention to all of the collateral damage of these nobles putzing around at war, which is why (and I don’t know if this is a spicy take or not) I’ve actually convinced myself “The Bells” is the strongest episode of the final season.

Tim: When the Crusaders actually took Jerusalem in the First Crusade, the stories of what they did are far beyond whatever horror they dream up for “The Bells,” and the fall of Jerusalem is hardly unique in medieval history. As far as that went, I thought “The Bells” made sense.

Matt: I just mean actually focusing on the ground in that scenario instead of riding with Dany was the way to go. And, look, strongest of the season is a low bar. Seeing the basically nuclear fallout of Drogon and navigating, instead of watching him, was more effective.

Tim: It just gave us indestructible Arya instead.

Matt: I texted someone as I watching and thought Arya was dead with no real scene. Then she was just there. As was the horse. Which was an incredibly stupid easter egg since it apparently disappeared by the next episode.

Tim: Symbolism Horse was not long for that world. I laughed out loud when he showed up, and then when Arya showed up without him the next episode, that was my immediate question. But yeah, I think a lot of us thought the show might eventually consider the little people, but that never really came to pass unless they were just bodies, which is to say they were just there for us to feel bad about. It’s never dead adults, it’s always dead children, because they get more of a kick out of people. House of Cards is a good comparison for this show, but I really think Hostel is underrated.

Matt: I think Hostel is the comparison for Ramsay.

I feel like I remember “The Bells” showing basically every manner of person being burnt to a crisp. My basic point being, rather crudely, when you have Vesuvius pointing the camera at the mountain is somehow worse.

Tim: I’m there with you. And it was the right choice from a storytelling perspective, certainly.

Matt: That episode was the best chance for the anti-war message the series seems to want to make but won’t definitively (and frankly should make).

Tim: Violence is too cool for them to put it away. “Cleganebowl” exists.

Matt: Yes it do! I liked it, but I’ve seen a lot of differing opinions. What was your reaction?

Tim: The visuals were lifted from 300 in a way that I think was telling…the overwhelming aesthetic for it was, I think, “Does this look cool?” and if it did, then they did it. It’s how I feel about the dragon wings behind Daenerys as she’s about to give her big ol’ speech…I’ve literally seen more subtle moments in Leni Riefenstahl. As an actual moment…I dunno.

Matt: That’s the sort of moment that does actually look really cool but you only need if you messed up your storytelling in prior episodes. (Also shout out to whomever sewed that giant ass banner in some short amount of time – I’d say how much time, but we have no clue what passed between Grey Worm murdering Lannisters and him getting to the top of that staircase).

Tim: The people who are gobsmacked by the wings moment are doing a great job of telling on themselves as people I never have to take seriously again. In any event I know Cleganebowl is redemptive for Sandor, although it just seems incredible that when you only have so much show left, you decide to spend so much time on these two B-level characters. Though that’s something I think about a lot towards the end of TV shows anyway. It’s kind of the opposite of what Breaking Bad did sending Walt to New Hampshire, or what Jane the Virgin recently did sending Jane to Montana…it feels random, but the focus is entirely on the people who matter. Cleganebowl has been in the fanservice works for so many years, but did zombie Gregor and his perpetually butthurt brother need all that time at the end?

Matt: That’s a much more cynical reading of Sandor than I have. I mean, this is a story universe built almost entirely on revenge and dude got his face shoved into a fire, of course he wants to get back at Gregor if he can. The Hound’s moment with Arya makes it clear that he knows he basically wasted his life, but we could see that for the whole series. Plus those two are a part of a lot of major happenings in or around the series, they should get a moment. Now Bronn, there’s a couple scenes that literally meant nothing.

Tim: But would you rather have another scene which tries to give a real reason for Jon to kill Daenerys, or Bran to be the king? It seems like those are more desirable goals to fill the time they had. And the former is definitely on the table.

Matt: That’s my point from earlier though, they knew they had all this to do and just punted. The Bran choice is fraught regardless, because Tyrion’s reasoning makes little sense.

Tim: “Little” is real generous.

Matt: If I’m in denial about anything it’s him suddenly being the biggest idiot. You could throw a rock at any of them and they got a more serious “story” from the writing.

I get tired of hearing about the same royalty the whole time; I want the B characters who have also mattered, and driven plot at several points, to get endings too.

Tim: Or, hey, how about more time with Tormund or Brienne instead of Cleganebowl?

Matt: No no no. Death to fanservice shipping.

Tim: I mean separately…like, scenes with Brienne where she does more than cry about a one-night stand and then write a little hagiography for her crush.

Matt: The real answer is most of these people should have died in battle. Or, ya know, if you make Jaime’s arc not derail in the final episodes that solves some things too.

Tim: I was so confused.

Matt: I wanted the Cleganebowl. I think they matter more than you’re giving credit. Sandor matters probably more than Brienne (narratively speaking) and definitely more than Tormund who, as much as I love him, there’s not much left to do with him.

Tim: They may well matter more…I just don’t think that’s why we got that result, and I think it shows in the fight.

Matt: Mindless violence begets mindless violence. That’s basically Sandor’s moral. Watching him fight that at some points of the series and fail in others is compelling. But it’s the stubborn dedication that defined so much of the early show, and he knows that. (Not clear Gregor thinks anything anymore really). I also have to mention, watching Gregor throw Qyburn to death was hilariously stupid, or stupidly hilarious, I don’t know.

Tim: Of all the Ringer content on Game of Thrones that’s come out in the past few months, my absolute favorite is the article about Qyburn being a true weirdo. It was the only right way for him to go out, like a cantaloupe falling off the back of a truck.

Want to play another game?

Matt: Shoot.

Tim: I think the last few seasons fairly obliterated any chance that this show had of being one of the greatest TV dramas ever (let’s say top ten). But was there ever a time when Game of Thrones had a chance to be a Rushmore TV drama?

Matt: Yes. No hesitation on that.

Tim: In no order, are we both saying it’s The Sopranos, The Wire, Mad Men, and Breaking Bad?

Matt: Lost, clearly. But yeah. I’m dropping Breaking Bad first of the four.

Tim: So like, around season 3 it had a chance to usurp Breaking Bad? I think it’s possible. But that question astounds me.

Matt: Season 4 is the best one. Even into 5 I would’ve still said so. 5’s rap is that nothing happens, but there’s a lot of world building that’s fascinating and then basically retconned in the name of Big Explosive Action that does little. Season 6 is when it loses it for good.

Tim: I’ll maintain that killing Ned is an all-time great TV moment. There are moments that are probably more shocking, historically (maybe the “Who shot J.R.?” stuff), but that was a punch right to the chin of people who thought they knew what TV was like. Sort of like how Sepinwall talks about the pilot of The Shield. I don’t know that I want to crown that the height of the show, because that seems unfairly early, but it’s really exceptional.

Matt: Red Wedding is the moment that will probably be most remembered, not that it’s a higher peak. For me, “The Mountain and the Viper” and Tyrion’s trial are phenomenal. From narrative and performance perspectives both.

Tim: I’m the jerk who thinks most of the acting on this show is pretty overrated, although Peter Dinklage usually hit the spot for me.

Matt: Lena Headey does a ton when most of the time they only let her use her face. I miss Charles Dance (he’s not dead in real life, if that was unclear dear audience). But yeah, Dinklage in that especially Tyrion heavy stretch nailed it.

Tim: Mm, I forgot about Charles Dance, which is wrong. He may have been the most perfectly cast person in the entire show.

What are we missing? What has the discourse missed that we would do a better job with anyway?

Matt: Besides the White Walkers winning, who should have been king/queen in your estimation, or what should the new government be? I have one tonal consideration after this, but I’m basically wondering if you had your cart attached to anyone(s).

Tim: I thought the White Walkers winning felt the most honest, though we’ve been over that one a few times. (It’s the only thing that I care about.) I kind of liked the Daenerys perpetuating the wheel idea, and I sort of liked Cersei just hanging on for some reason. Bran was odd, especially because the show dropped him for a literal season and no one knew who or what he was. Sansa would have made sense to me, but I didn’t need it…the show was pretty clear that she was trying to maintain the North. So I guess the short version is that outside of the White Walkers, I was pulling for Dany on the premise that nothing good can actually happen in Westeros.

Matt: That leads fairly well into my grand question. Does the show actually believe it ended in a morally good place? Like, it does believe that. But it can’t. The wheel didn’t break. It shouldn’t break. Everyone seems fine.

Tim: The people the show liked the most all this time are hanging out together or separately or warging because who knows.

Matt: The Bran warging to find Drogon is the worst kind of fan service. There’s thought out theory that he could warg into a dragon and for them it was a dumb little aside.

Tim: I don’t know that it was dumb for them…I think it was horrifying for them to actually have to think through.

Matt: To incorporate you mean? Like the sense that they had to mention it somehow?   

Tim: Like, if they actually took Bran being able to warg into Drogon seriously, that opens up the largest can of worms.

Matt: Right. That’s what I mean. You could easily just not mention that, which is why a serious theory feels like a dumb aside. Like they wanted to make it seem dumb.

Also, something that should have delighted me but doesn’t, that last King’s Landing scene felt like the ending of Sword in the Stone when Merlin is cracking jokes about differently shaped tables as Arthur takes over a ravaged nation. Works great for that movie, not for this.

Tim: No, this was never meant to be light comedy. Also, a real dearth of wisecracking owls.

Matt: Archimedes is my one and only king.

Anything else we need to cover? (obviously I have this thing below, but we don’t have to do that)

Tim: No, I have not seen this thought before and we should roll with it.

Matt: I think I briefly mentioned this in my recap (but maybe not), but it’s just another shot at socialist revolution as being tyrannical, which is bull because that’s not actually what Dany was. Democracy is fraught (we’re seeing that firsthand), but having everyone laugh down Sam’s suggestion should make us more skeptical about power being consolidated. The show, tonally, buys in to this vision of incremental change, and I don’t think we should.

Tim: Because it’s foreordained!

Matt: Do you think the show genuinely leaves open the reading that the same stuff will happen all over again? Or does it want to suggest that “we’re all good now”?

Tim: I think that the show really wants to believe that things are good: Tyrion and Bronn are working out that joke that people have been pretending to want to hear the punchline to for years…Sam has the top job that he shouldn’t have…that last sequence with the Stark kids is downright triumphant, honestly. I think it assumes things will be hard in that “We all have tough times” sense, but I think it thinks the wheel is broken because of how many good people (“good people”) are in charge now.

Matt: Nepotism should be on our minds given our own government…what makes people believe this political claptrap? Is it that we want to hope we aren’t fucked? One family rules the entire continent, and whatever Arya is about to find now. They could be, and probably are, all good, but the future goes beyond them. And the history of Westeros is the wheel turning from times of plenty to battle for supremacy. Dany’s break the system is yoked to her lust for power and clearly empty by the end, but it’s deeply sad to me that the show lets that happen without suggestion the loss of those ideals is devastating. Her talk with Jon about ridding themselves of this obsession with power based in the past and creating with the future in mind is a serious conversation well worth exploring! What it does though is recklessly tie the idea of resituating power with the importance of remembering (and learning from) history; basically it ties what should be Bran’s importance to where power originates, and that’s malicious. Am I tilting at windmills?

Tim: In the sense that the show is over, yes. But the scene where they knock off Daenerys while she’s talking about taking the final step, as if it could ever be the final step, to creating their utopia is super interesting, and of course it ends with her getting shafted. I think the fact that she has no irony about her quest to create a perfect world, and that the show was basically unironic about it for several seasons, is definitely a chance for a show that was willing to last a season or two longer to explore the reasons why she can’t create a perfect world where she is the affection and the discipline in one package.

I also think that Bran gets to be king because he has the stories is primarily self-serving, but I think we established my cynicism about this program several times over.

Matt: They don’t even frame it as “he has the stories,” really, just that he himself has lived an interesting story. Which, umm, a bunch of people in that council have.

The show should read as anti-war and interested in actual system overhaul. That’s what it all builds toward and then it sort of does those but doesn’t actually commit to them. Dany is not the right leader, and that’s the right narrative move. It just felt so much like a throwing the baby out with the bathwater thing. She was motivated by raw power, so all of what she says must be bad, as if most of the people aren’t motivated by power of some sort. I don’t know, I never thought the show was going to do what I’m ranting about here, but the dismissal felt more callous than I was expecting, I think. Of the ideas themselves, that is. And this is basically a meta-reading. I think you play those final scenes as not triumphant and I’m feeling better about this.

Tim: This is going to sound weird, but why? Why do you think they held back? Is it that they ran out of time, or did they really not know how it would look? I guess this is unanswerable—maybe it’ll just haunt us forever.

Matt: Probably will haunt. My cynical read is that they didn’t think they could end a show that way, which is dumb. I honestly don’t get people who watch/read this series and expect something really happy to end with. Maybe there is an extent to which, in its function as a mirror for ourselves, the show ended without going into utter dyspepsia. There was a lot of talk about the ending being bittersweet, but what is the bitter part?

Tim: I think the bittersweet angle was always more about us facing down the end of a show that we had hoped—and expected!—to come out at the highest level. The ending of Return of the King is bittersweet. Whatever “The Iron Throne” was wasn’t bittersweet.

Matt: And now everyone puts faith in Martin moving at slightly more than glacial pace. I do feel bad for the dude.

Anything else we need to cover though?

Tim: I think that was the last thing that was really speaking to me. It’s going to be weird when the prequels happen. Sort of like it’s the late ‘90s again.

Matt: All 50 of them. Most totally unnecessary. Maybe they’ll actually have a budget for direwolves.

Tim: I am pulling for direcats. Moar kitties.

Matt: Ser Pounce! He rides again!

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