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.

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.

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.

Explaining the Game…

Sunday I had the singular experience of trying to simultaneously watch the new episode and explain the back story of Game of Thrones. I don’t feel like I did either activity the kind of justice it deserves, summing up the nature of what is modern television’s greatest fantasy epic as 1500s Europe meets Harry Potter meets Dallas… with dragons.

While trying to fill in character elements and key overall plot points, I missed big swaths of story arcs moving forward – so much to the point of reading the recaps on Monday and wondering if I’d even watched the right episode. Turn your eyes away for a few seconds and you find yourself hopelessly lost in the progression. It’s even worse now that the show has started outpacing or diverging wildly from the source material. Even the things I knew to be “true” about the world of GoT aren’t necessarily so. Questions of “why did he do that,” are met with only a perplexed “I have no idea.”

I’m going to have to go back and rewatch last week’s episode before settling in Sunday night for the next installment. I should go back and rewatch the whole damned season at this point since you could probably fill another book with the details I missed while watching some other part of the screen. If I struggled to explain the Game after being a faithful viewer and being well versed in the books, I’m not sure I have a prayer of keeping things in order now that we’re heading off script.

The only thing for sure now is that when someone wants a primer on Game of Thrones I’ll just point them at A Wiki of Ice and Fire and wish them a good day. I no longer feel at all qualified to speak with even limited authority about what’s going on and why.

Mmmmm… leftovers.

The LeftoversI’ve been watching The Leftovers on HBO. For those not following along at home, it’s a series based on what would happen after 2% of the population, men, women, and children simply disappeared. There’s plenty of self-loathing, searching for inner peace, questioning authority, and general social stress, you know, a basic dystopian adventure.

Without giving away any key plot elements, it seems to me that all of the characters are slowly descending into their own personal version of madness. Maybe that’s why I take exception with the show’s premise, especially since the great disappearance included the evil as well as the righteous. It was an equal opportunity vanishing.

I tend to think that if I woke up tomorrow to find 2% of the population had disappeared, I’d largely shrug and think of it as a good first step. When the other 97.999% bugger off, then we’d be in business.