I can’t believe the first season is over. It feels like it started last week, and when I think about the length of the build-up and anticipation prior to the start of the season, it feels even shorter still. After such a flat out amazing finale, it’s hard to think about not having this story for the next nine months or so…
I’m not even sure where to start talking about the finale, because it was so perfect throughout. I guess the easiest place to start is with end: dragons. Motherfucking dragons! Those of us who had read the books knew this was coming of course, but it was still a thrill to see the HBO effects people do such a great job with the CGI, and truly bring one of the more badass aspects of the books to life. For a show that started with little to no immediate evidence of supernatural in this world (killer blue-eyed zombie from the prologue aside), it has started to seep in in a significant way in recent weeks. It should go without saying that dragons (fucking dragons!) are likely to prove to be quite the game changer for Dany and whatever ambitions she decides to pursue. That being said, even without her winged weapons of war, she’s grown and developed throughout the course of this season into quite the confident, regal character. Her speech to what remained of Drogo’s khalesar (“I am Daenerys Stormborn of the House Targaryen, of the blood of old Valyria. I am the dragon’s daughter and I swear to you that those who would harm you will die screaming.”) was downright chill-inducing, and showed no presence of the timid, virginal girl that was sold into a marriage against her will. The story of Game of Thrones is very much Dany’s story, and how she slowly grows into the leader that she was born to be.
Actually, that’s not quite right. It’s not just a story about Dany’s growth and development as a leader and ruler, it’s more a story about all of the members of this younger generation growing into leadership roles in the world they have inherited from the generation before them. You have Robb becoming a king, Jon being groomed for Command at the Wall, Joffrey enjoying the sadistic pleasures afforded to him by a crown, Renly seeking (off screen at this point) to succeed his brother. In way, the story being told in these books and the television show, is really a story about the kids. When viewed in that context, it also makes the death of Eddard Stark more understandable from a creative point of view. His death wasn’t that of a main character, it was a death will impact the true main characters (the kids) in a myriad different ways, and that is ultimately what matters about his demise. Far from hurting the story (as many upset viewers unfamiliar with the books have voiced on the internet this past week), it is the catalyst that will largely drive the story going forward.
No one knows this better than Tywin Lannister, who fully realizes how badly Joffrey’s petulance and impulsiveness have hurt them. The death of Ned Stark means that they cannot exchange him for Jaime, and more importantly, it means that it will be impossible to come to a negotiated peace with Robb, who is now well and truly out for blood. With Robb in the north, and the armies of Highgarden (the lone major House of Westeros that got fairly short shrift this season) rallying behind Renly and Ser Loras in the South, and Stannis marshaling his troops on Dragonstone in the east, the Lannister lions are now beset on all sides. However, you don’t live to become as rich and powerful as Tywin Lannister without knowing how to wriggle of a jam, and he makes the prudent decision to fall back to a fortified castle, leaving The Mountain behind to go all Sherman’s March on the countryside that Robb will shortly be crossing. In an even savvier move, Tywin dispatches Tyrion to King’s Landing to serve as the Hand in his stead. After a lifetime of loathing, it seems that Lord Tywin is finally realizing how intelligent his youngest son is, and his simple “because you’re my son” was an oddly touching moment for the two characters. Tyrion, shocked as he seemed to be by even a hint of approval from his father, still couldn’t resist his lifetime of instinct to tweak his father whenever he can, and takes Shae with him, despite express orders not to. You know what they say, you can take the dwarf out of the whor- actually, nevermind.
This was also an episode that focuses heavily on the theme of loyalty and fealty. In two great spine-tingling scenes, we had Jon’s friends reminding him of his oath by taking turns delivering the lines while standing in a dark forest (I am the watcher on the wall, I am the sword in the night, I am the shield that guards the realm… great stuff), and we had the bannermen of the north, starting with the Greatjon himself, decide that this whole Seven Kingdoms nonsense was yesterday’s news, and returned to declaring their own sovereign King in the North. Jon will continue to serve, and Robb will begin to rule, but in both cases the outcome was the result of intense loyalty to a cause. This episode even had the funhouse mirror example of loyalty, as Joffrey has Ser Meryn of the Kingsguard smack Sansa around. I’m not sure there has ever been a more loathsome character on television than Joffrey Baratheon, kudos to Jack Gleeson for portraying such a monster. I get the sense that many, many viewers will be sticking with this show simply on the hope of seeing Joffrey wind up on the pointy end of something.
In the end, this finale felt almost more like a prologue. It put many exciting events in motion, (the Watch rides out! Arya heads north to the Wall with King Robert’s bastard! Robb is a king! fucking dragons!!) and then left us to painfully wait for the next nine months until the tale resumes. I certainly can’t wait. This show ended up realizing the world of George RR Martin’s books better than I could have possibly imagined, and I truly hope that the viewership stays high enough (and the budget stays low enough *cough Rome *cough) that we’ll get the seven or eight seasons that it will take to tell this story in full.
(photo credit, HBO)