Multiple Emmy winner Game of Thrones ends its eight season run tonight on HBO. In anticipation, Deadline’s Senior Editor & Chief TV Critic Dominic Patten & our Genre Editor and Hero Nation kingpin Geoff Boucher sat down earlier this week to examine the series they both love so much – warts, dragons & all.
PATTEN: So, Geoff, let’s start off with the obvious one as we move into this finale, which is who do you think is going to end up on what may or may not remain of the Iron Throne?
BOUCHER: Well, I think it’s going to be Sophie Turner’s Sansa Stark myself. I think that she’s got all the hallmarks of a leader born. You know, the path she’s taken is unexpected, and she’s been shaped by fate and touched by destiny.
PATTEN: God, we’ve started off so boring because I think Sansa’s going to get o too. I think Turner’s character has had so much development. Then again, the fact that David Benioff and D. B. Weiss were actually able to turn George R.R. Martin’s books into a show, after what was a less than stellar pilot before reshoots and more, is a miracle unto itself, and then to be such a great Emmy winning show is a small screen canonization in the making.
But the fundamental element of Game of Thrones, to me, it is a character-driven drama, and, to that, Sansa has evolved remarkably as a character from Westeros debutant to the defiant and politically savvy ruler of the North. Of course, there’s the controversies about the assaults in the scripts, and them having Sansa declare those rapes made her stronger, which was another damaging misstep by the producers and writers, in my opinion, when it came to female characters, as many took to social media after “The Last of the Starks” episode to exclaim.
BOUCHER: It’s one of the legacies of any piece of art, is that it’ll be judged in the time it’s made, and then it’ll be judged by all the times that follow. I think the sexual violence of Game of Thrones is going to be one of the things that people are going to look back on, and they’re going to maybe view that issue and those portrayals with an unkind eye or maybe a judgmental eye as people already have been doing over the series and this final season.
PATTEN: How do you mean?
BOUCHER: Well, violence and sexual violence and controlled violence in the show are definitely the currency of the kingdom and the language of the lands. But when the camera lingers and the scene lingers and the point of view is a steady drumbeat of the narrative, it does start to add up, and you have to wonder if it’s portraying the story or if it’s portraying some aspect of the storytelling that is necessary or not.
PATTEN: There’s certainly, been people who’ve talked about this season feeling a bit of Dallas cheat and Bobby Ewing getting out of the shower far too often, with the story or the characters just leaping along towards the end and I get that. But I feel, in many ways, that Game of Thrones, where it succeeded at its best, was in those emotional cores, is in those moments of tragedy that seem so poignant. I do have to say, I was always very uncomfortable with how sexual violence was used as a narrative.
BOUCHER: Me too. On another level, one reason that I found Game of Thrones such a startling and wonderful series at the beginning was that it defies the usually physics of a story where you knew certain people were protected and they were going to live forever. That’s why the death of Ned Stark (Sean Bean) in Season 1 was so jolting to everybody. Now, I feel like that physics, the laws of that physics have changed, and that the show has now become more traditional near the end where it’s getting kind of to a very special episode, and I think that’s why people don’t feel as true to the characters.
PATTEN: I get that. I bet that’s also why a number of people have gotten very upset this year about the way Emilia Clarke’s Daenerys Targaryen has seemingly transformed into a mass murderer and stock character of a crazy queen, a crazy woman.
That cliché aside, and that’s a big aside I know, critics of Benioff and Weiss’ scripts are negating to remember parts of the actual story here over past seasons. Besides the fact her father, the past King was two tacos short of combo, the Mother of Dragons has been a cold-blooded killer throughout Game of Thrones almost whenever her will is challenged. Add to that, the loss of her true confidants Jorah Mormant (Iain Glen) battling off the Night King’s Army of the Dead and then the brutal loss of Missandei (Nathalie Emmanuel) by the baiting orders of Cersei (Lena Headey) in recent episodes – you don’t need to be reading your Carl Jung to know how that emotional reaction is going to occur.
And we know that anger, to put it mildly, is a stage of grief – anger that the Khaleesi can do something about. Which must really suck now if you named one of your kids after the character or got a tattoo of her.
BOUCHER: In the books and the show, she is a woman with a lot of fury, and she’s been on a mission since the day of her birth to be one thing, a queen. Now she’s had a tipping point after the death of her friend and after everything that’s happened in these last few episodes, and she’s dipped back into that red rage that she’s shown before – she was the only person that walked out of that burning building back in Season 6 to make the Dothraki bend the knee to her. She’s now gone back to being that person.
BOUCHER: For fans, it’s their right, their privilege, and their joy to debate, discuss, and deconstruct these things. But, it makes sense to me, because if you take a look at world history on there’s all kinds of examples of people who have been benevolent leaders who suddenly, abruptly, or dramatically did awful and terrible things under far less strain than we’ve seen this woman endure.
PATTEN: At the same time, Game of Thrones to me was always a bit of a soap opera and I say that with the respect that I think the arch of good sops often get overlooked in their big picture finesse. Now Thrones is a soap opera with incredible forces, incredible powers and drama and occasionally comedy all mixed in. Though way more drama than comedy, for the most part, except with the exception of the oafish King Robert Baratheon (Mark Addy) but I think that there has sometimes been a staid ignoring of that soapy perspective, which guts a great part of the books and show.
The other thing I think that’s also a part of this that is fan trauma. Their favorite show, probably the most popular show in the world right now, is ending, and that’s going to cause mourning, and what do you do when you mourn? Well, as I said before in the case of Daenerys, we know when we talk about the five stages of grief, one of them is anger.
BOUCHER: That’s very astute.
PATTEN: Why thank you.
BOUCHER: I think you’re right that there is a lot of fan grief, and it’s manifesting in different ways and different sounds. People like to look at Game of Thrones like an engineering puzzle. Like if you do this lever or you pull this handle or push this button, this happens, and wait, I pushed that button, and something different happened. So this machine is wrong. You know, they’re treating this like it’s a logic equation, but these are things about the human heart and the human mind and about fear and anger and passion and destiny and all that. So logic doesn’t always apply.
PATTEN: One element of that is this lashing out at the producers and at HBO and even at some of the actors because they don’t like the fact that something is ending that they wish could go on and on forever. I get it that people are unhappy. I get it that they’re not going to have Jon Snow to kick around anymore, to paraphrase Richard Nixon.
BOUCHER: That’s because, there’s really has never been a show like this or even an entertainment experience like this. I was trying to think if anytime in the history of literature or pop culture, there had been such a parental experience like say with Arya Stark (Maisie Williams) where you’ve seen a character over a period of time grow and be that popular and have that deep of an interactive experience, and I can’t think of any corollary – not Luke Skywalker or Walking Dead.
PATTEN: Not really, is there? It’s a full-on GoT fanboy POV, but I think that the show’s success is very much of the 21st century in an age of cable, in an age of the Internet, in an age of mass television distribution and Peak TV.
That’s me with fanboy and TV Critic hat on, what do you think in terms of the greater span of pop culture? As we await prequels and spinoffs, do you think the original Game of Thrones is going to have this nostalgia legacy that HBO really hopes it has? Do you think this is going to be looked back at the way you and I look back at Star Wars or even Star Trek?
BOUCHER: You know, I think it will. It’s difficult to say with certainty, of course, just because there’s such churn these days in the way that entertainment and art are created and consumed. Now, more than ever, a television show has a chance to aspire to be literature and to sit on a shelf.
PATTEN: What do you mean?
BOUCHER: Not many young people today have seen Roots, the original series. Not many young people have gone back and watched Lonesome Dove or the full run of Cheers or the other classic shows and TV moments that people point to as milestones. But, like you implied, Game of Thrones is of this era of the binge watched and of the digital library, and I think it very much will have a shelf life, and I think it’s sort of like a very mature Lord of the Rings.
PATTEN: You know what? I’m an idiot. I forgot Lord of the Rings among the canon of classics. Also I might add, let’s just point out, also with Sean Bean in it. Sean Bean might be the secret weapon of a successful sword series or franchise.
BOUCHER: Yeah, If he gets killed in it, it’s got a chance to really be a classic,
PATTEN: You have been too kind agreeing with me there but you might have a different response now…
PATTEN: This might be heresy among some. I’m glad Game of Thrones is ending.
I do think you can get too much of a good thing and, no Kenny Rogers reference here, but it’s important to know when to bow out. With that, I don’t know if I’m going to think the finale is perfect. But then again I think there’s only two perfect finales in my opinion, which is Newhart and the finale of Six Feet Under.
Like now think the finale of The Sopranos is sublimely brilliant, but at the time, I was confused by it, a little bit angry, and a little bit misunderstanding. I I feel, no spoilers for what’s going to happen, but I feel like that’s how the end of Game of Thrones is going to leave me. It’s going to take time because endings are hard, man, like breakups – they never feel good when they happen, even when you know it’s time. That’s okay because I think eight seasons of near brilliance is a pretty good way to go, as opposed to 12 seasons of we just couldn’t hold it together in the end, which happens to far too many shows.
BOUCHER: It’s always best to go out on top. Finales are an interesting things aren’t they?
Like The Sopranos, the finale of Game of Thrones feels more like a draft day, to me, than, a finish line. I think after it’s all over with the end of Season 8 of Thrones and taken as a whole, that people’s point of view may change.
I had the same experience as you and lots of people with The Sopranos. At first, I was just sort of thrown off by it and felt sort of like the show maybe had cracked at the end or something. Now I look back on it, and I see how it fit into the rhythm of the David Chase show and the cadences that they created and the story and the point of view. That’s because that show aspired to be on-screen literature, and that’s what it has in common with Game of Thrones. So I can’t wait to see it.
It feels like a book where there’s only a few pages left, and I feel like there should be 100, but I’m going to stick with it until the end, and you know, summer is coming.