Thursday 23 November 2017

Was 'Game of Thrones' season finale the show's 'finest hour' as predicted? Ed Power reviews

Game of Thrones
Game of Thrones
Ed Power

Ed Power

It was surely a dark joke on the part of the producers that the season finale of Game of Thrones aired on Father's Day in the US.

The episode could be read as a black valentine to family values – a sly commentary on the way obligations to flesh and blood can shackle the denizens of Westeros and the gory consequences when they try to break free and chase their destiny.

Most shocking of all was dastardly Tywin Lannister's death at the hand – well crossbow – of son Tyrion. It was the ultimately humiliating demise for the godfather of the Seven Kingdoms: slain on the latrine after Tyrion discovered the old man sleeping with former lover Shae (whom the dwarf strangled, grieving as he crushed her windpipe).

Having spent recent installments languishing in the dungeons at King's Landing, wrongly accused of poisoning odious boy-king Joffrey, Tyrion had been earlier rescued by brother Jaime, again demonstrating what a nice chap he can be once you get past the incest, rape etc etc.

Meanwhile Mother of Dragons Daenerys reluctantly abandoned her fire-breathing brood. Presented with the singed corpse of a young girl torched by her fire-serpents she entombed her two remaining dragons, tears streaking her cheeks as a boulder sealed them away.

Through series four, Daenerys' story has felt peripheral: with the dragons literally off her back, perhaps her ambition to conquer Westeros will finally take flight.

It was a rough week for Tywin. Before being impaled on the loo by his son, he had an unpleasant conversation with daughter Cersei as she confronted him with her incestuous entanglement with Jaime.

Next, she was off to her brother's chambers for an impromptu tumble on the tiles, an unsettling scene given the controversial rape sequence between the two in the wake of Joffrey's murder.

North of the wall, Jon Snow's quest to kill wildling leader Mance Rayder proved redundant as Stannis Baratheon gatecrashed their denouement with 10,000 troops and took Ryder captive.

Back at Castle Black, Snow bid adieu to lover-turned-would-be-assassin Ygritte, burning her body in the woods (if ever a relationship merited the 'it's complicated' option on Facebook here it was).

Characters have dropped like fruit-flies this season. So it wasn't a surprise that The Hound was left to die by Arya Stark following a fight to the death with Brienne (her exceedingly warped justification for biffing the bodyguard was that she'd pledged to Arya's late mother, Catelyn Stark, to protect her daughter no matter what ).

Coldly ignoring The Hound's pleas to end his suffering with a quick jab from her sword, Arya, like Tyrion, concluded her best chance of survival lay in fleeing Westeros. She boarded a ship and, as a choral refrain of the theme tune swelled, set sail for Braavos on the other side of the Narrow Sea. You wished Arya a safe trip, knowing it will undoubtedly be denied her.

One of the year's duller plot-lines concerned Bran's search for the three-eyed raven haunting his dreams.

It transpired the 'raven' is a Gandalf-type mystic living under a tree. Unfortunately, his digs were guarded by animatronic skeletons. As with the last week's Watchers on the Wall dust-up featuring giants and wooly mammoths, the presence of axe-wielding undead saw Game of Thrones betray its roots in the schlocky genre of heroic fantasy.

Clunkily dealt with, it would have broken the spell. In fact, the raging ghoulies were terrifyingly realistic – a testament to the show's ability to weave together horrors both fantastical and mundane.

In previous seasons the finale has sputtered like a damp firecracker, eclipsed by earlier pay-offs such as the Battle of Blackwater and the infamous Red Wedding. Here, the drama was again understated but adroitly handled.

There was a powerful feeling of seeing beloved protagonists move on, recalibrating their focus and their sense of destiny. Arya's journey from plucky tom-boy to stoic killer has been chillingly convincing; Tyrion's transformation into a murderer nearly as degenerate as the father he despises was negotiated so subtly you almost didn't notice it unfolding before your eyes.

"You'll never walk," the 'raven' told the crippled Bran once the skeletons were dispatched. "But you will fly". How appropriate he should speak those words at the conclusion of a run of episodes in which Game of Thrones has soared high above everything else on television.

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