All games must end…

This weekend I finished my end-to-end re-watch of Game of Thrones. With 47 years between seasons it’s easy to forget just how good a show it is episode after episode. It was a good reminder of why season eight has been worth the wait.

I wouldn’t go so far as to say that Thrones is popular because its characters are so universally identifiable, although I like to think that each fan sees something of themselves – or something they wish they saw in themselves – in at least one of the characters. I mean who wouldn’t want at least a touch of the bold certainty of a Mother of Dragons, the stiff honor of a Ned Stark, or the ability to drink and know things a la Tyrion Lannister? We collectively see something in these characters and this story that elevated Game of Thrones beyond just Sunday night television. 

In a few brief weeks our watch is ending. At least one entertainment journalist is prognosticating that upwards of a billion people will tune in to see the series end… and that’s just accounting for it’s “official” numbers without tallying all those who find a “less expensive” way to tune in. 

I’m pulling hard for my dragon queen to sit the throne when it’s all over, but in a George R.R. Martin universe it’s hard to imagine a character he raised so high won’t come plummeting back to earth in some utterly horrific fashion. At this point, part of me will just be glad if the execs don’t give us an ending as deeply unsatisfying as The Sopranos.

But seriously, if anyone needs me for the next six weeks, I’ll be busy looking for a way to block any website that contains the words “game” and “thrones” in a probably hopeless quest to avoid spoilers.

It’s just a Game…

I read the Entertainment Weekly article on Game of Thrones’ eighth season this morning. I almost wish I hadn’t. Although it feels like it has been years since season seven ended and I’ve been giddy at the thought of the kind of monumental television the season might be, I’m not sure I’m ready for it to be over. I almost feels like it might be better if the 8th season went unaired so that it remains forever subject to imagination.

That’s not practical, of course. HBO expects a hefty return on their investment. There are spinoffs to market. And all, stories do eventually reach an end… even if we find their end unsatisfying (I’m looking at you here Sopranos).

I like a lot of television programs. There aren’t many of them that I feel invested in, though. Series come and go and for the most part once they’re gone I don’t spend much time thinking about them. TV is ephemera – something to be consumed in the moment rather than to be dwelled upon. Thrones is different not just because it’s occupied my imagination for nine years now, but because the story it tells and the characters themselves are just so damned compelling.

It’s just television – just a Game – but knowing that winter, at long last, is upon us, leaves me wishing the long summer had lasted just a little bit longer. I’m desperate to see who wins and who dies, but I’m just a little bit heartsick at seeing it all drawing to an end.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Losing my mind. Any time I leave the house I carry my wallet, a wristwatch, and a pocket knife. Stopping to pick them up on my way out the door happens just by force of habit. When I come home, I set them down in exactly the same place every single time. It’s a usually foolproof system that works for me. Except for the one day when it don’t. Walking out of the house “unarmed” isn’t life altering. I could have gone to the local bank branch for cash in a real pinch. It’s mostly the inconvenience of it. Plus, knowing that for some reason i deviated from what should be a perfectly repetitive routine makes me wonder what else I missed…. and that bugs the hell out of me.

2. George R. R. Martin. I swore to myself I wasn’t going to give George R. R. Martin another nickel until he gave us the next proper installment of the Song of Ice and Fire series by delivering The Winds of Winter. Of course my resistance caved immediately when Amazon put the option to pre-order Blood and Fire directly in front of my face while I was looking for something totally unrelated.

3. Cecil County Public Works Department. The CCPWD took the last three months turning what was once a tree-canopied country road into my neighborhood into what looks like a 1/2 scale model of Route 40. Sure, the old road lacked a shoulder, two full sized pickup trucks could barely pass in opposite directions without rubbing mirrors, and getting distracted meant running into the ditch or driving headlong into a tree. It was the thoroughly un-modern counterpart to what I’m sure is a well-designed and engineered modern road. It also lacks 100% of the soul and beauty of the road it replaced, which is part of the reason I moved way the hell down here to the end of the peninsula to begin with.

Recency bias…

Game of Thrones is kind of known for it’s big set piece battle scenes. The Battle of the Blackwater. The Battle of the Wall. The Battle of the Bastards. All are real standouts for their own reasons. Last night, in what I’m pretty sure was the shortest episode of the entire series to date, our friends over at HBO gave us another battle – and in a lot of ways it’s the one that most fans have been waiting a long, long time for.

There are a thousands sites where you can go for a recap of the actual episode, but I’ll just say that Spoils of War ranks well into my top five episodes at the moment. That’s not so much because of the battle itself but because it has finally brought cast members back together who had been separated for so long. In past seasons you could cheer for the Dragon Queen in Essos without worrying about your favorite characters in Westeros. Now, though, long time favorites find themselves head to head – and given that the story springs from the mind of George R.R. Martin, any of them could be fair game for a painful death.

It may just be the recency bias talking, but last night was the first episode of this shortened season that made the long wait for Season 7 really feel worth while… and now my heart is breaking that there are only three episodes left before the next long wait.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Panera. About once every three months lunch from Panera Bread sounds like a good idea. I’ll walk in, order something that sounds tasty, get it back to my desk, and then promptly be disappointed that it wasn’t as good as I had hoped. It’s not their fault. If I would just show up and order soup and a bread bowl everything would turn out alright. This dissatisfaction is precisely what I get for walking in and trying something new when I already know there’s something on the menu that I like… but apparently I need periodic $10-12 reminders of why new things are bad.

2. Politics isn’t personal. Hard as it is to believe, I don’t hate people who have the audacity to disagree with my political positions. It’s never occurred to me to pick or maintain friendships based on whether anyone approves or disapproves of the right to bear arms, or to have an abortion, or on tax policy. Politics, in my mind at least, is mostly a “business” function. Although many of my beliefs are deeply held and intensely personal, I’m smart enough to know instinctively that with about 300 million other Americans all wandering around with their own moral compass and free will, there’s a chance that some of them might disagree with my positions. Some of them might even disagree intensely. That’s fine. Once upon a time that kind of disagreement was even considered healthy in a democracy… but that never stopped people from being able to share a drink or a meal together across the aisle. That sort of thing is probably out of fashion now, but fortunately that’s not something likely to dissuade me.

3. Game of Thrones. The idea that it’s going to be another twelve months before another Game of Thrones episode airs is just really sinking in. As much as I appreciate its far ranging filming locations and production values second to none, I despise the HBO programming model that delivers only ten new episodes per season. Although it’s apples and oranges, the first season of Star Trek booked a whopping 29 episodes. Sure, It’s a classic first world problem, but since I live in the first world that’s usually the kind I tend to encounter. It just feels a bit like perhaps there’s a happy medium that falls somewhere between the 11th and 29th episodes.

A show well run…

There are thousands of websites you can visit today and read every detail of last night’s episode of Game of Thrones. I’m not going to call for a spoiler alert here because I don’t intend to provide that level of detail.

It’s not often that I find myself caught off guard, even by a show like Thrones. It’s simply understood that in the world created by George R.R. Martin anyone can drop dead at any moment. On any given Sunday you expect the high lords of Westeros to grapple in a fight to the death. There a whole hose of characters who have become part of the series’ background hum. Those secondary and tertiary characters may not get off any easier than their high born overlords, but their deaths are generally less noted.

In a season where the series seems to have discovered itself again – or perhaps noted that an end really is coming – last night’s blood offering was all the more notable. It spoke to sacrifice, friendship, and consequences. It reminds us that even in a world full of fairy tails, evil trumps good every bit as often as the other way around.

Maybe most surprising of all, though, is that it was a clear that even six seasons on, the fandom can still count on being caught off their guard. In an often formulaic world of 22 minute sitcoms and 43 minute dramas,  it’s nice to know that great stories are still being told. Boy did those writers earn their money this week. Their ending was among the most powerful I’ve seen on the small screen in quite some time.

I don’t usually give this space over to singing praises, but Martin, Benioff, Weiss, and the rest have created something absolutely magnificent. Show well run, gentlemen.

The nine o’clock hour…

HBO has provided the valedictory hour for my weekends since a guy named Tony ran north Jersey and the Barksdale crew controlled the corners in west Baltimore. With tonight’s season ender for Game of Thrones I guess I’m back to casting around for something at the nine o’clock hour to punctuate the end of the weekend.

I should probably be a responsible adult and use that extra hour to get something closer to eight hours of sleep, but somehow I know that’s not going to happen. I haven’t really looked at what HBO is rolling our for the summer or fall seasons – and the Walking Dead are still to far away to contemplate.

Worst case scenario I find myself a good book to fill the extra time. As much as I like reading, allocating one hour a week to get lost in the flickering glow of a really good drama feels like something I’m actually going to miss.