HBO’s iconic, zeitgeist-shifting television series, “Game of Thrones,” has a lot of narrative ground to cover in its final season. With a shortened six-episode finale, showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss are even more crunched for time than a typical 10-episode season would allow for.
It is notable then that season eight’s first two episodes, the first of which premiered on April 14, proved largely introspective, sacrificing plot advancement for the opportunity to return to the show’s roots and remind its audience of what made it so beloved in the first place.
Before there were giant CGI dragons and enormous armies of ice-zombies, “Game of Thrones” was a show that succeeded by putting flawed, realistic characters into rooms to simply talk with one another. These dialogue-heavy origins have been forgotten in recent seasons, however. Season seven is particularly guilty; it was one of the series’s weakest seasons in terms of this specifically, characterized by inconsistent pacing and characters acting contrary to their previous seasons of development. The show’s final season, through its first two episodes at least, has been righting those wrongs.
In its final four episodes, “Game of Thrones” needs to bring the war against the dead to some kind of conclusion, as well as answer the show’s main query: who belongs on the Iron Throne. It’s a lot to handle, even with only super-sized, 80-minute long episodes remaining. When that narrative responsibility is considered, the decision not to have many major plot developments through two episodes may seem suspect, but in reality it was the show’s best decision since having Joffrey choke on some wine in season four.
“Game of Thrones” became notorious for swiftly killing off major characters with little-to-no warning. These unceremonious deaths have been incredibly moving due to their shock value and the audience’s personal connections to each character. For the show’s foreseeable future, however, shock value is likely gone as the audience has grown to expect, and even anticipate, major character deaths. Therefore, it was a brilliant choice by the showrunners to dedicate two entire episodes to reminding their audience why they love each individual character. These episodes will increase the emotional impact of impending deaths that are bound to occur tenfold.
Season eight’s second episode certainly had a “calm before the storm” kind of feel. The third episode is set to be “The Battle of Winterfell,” which episode director Miguel Sapochnick has described as being the largest battle sequence in the history of movies or TV. A battle sequence of this scale means that at least some audience favorites won’t survive, which makes episodes like “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms” all the more important. It is chock full of beautiful moments that provide an opportunity for the show’s fans to contemplate characters’ fates and accomplishments along with those characters in real time.
“Game of Thrones” is unlikely to let-up once the dragon fire starts slinging, which will make for a breakneck narrative pace as the show hurtles toward its conclusion. These final episodes will be full of breathtaking technical spectacles, violent endings and, hopefully, some kind of satisfying conclusion. That being said, die-hard fans arguably appreciate these quiet, final moments of introspection with their favorite characters more than anything else this show has to dish out.