"Everything is as it should be."

                                                                                  - Benjamin Purcell Morris

 

 

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Final Thoughts on the Game of Thrones Finale - Alternative Ending Included

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Estimated Reading Time: 4 minutes 02 seconds

Game of Thrones has come and gone and after eight seasons of turmoil has exited with a whimper and not a bang. The final episode, in keeping with the final two seasons, was underwhelming at best. The narrative felt rushed and the drama forced, and so, a show that was a powder keg of possibilities ended with a fizzle.

The finale was lackluster and the last season lacking, and I think it is important to understand why that is and how it happened. The biggest issue, and this seems to be a consensus, is that the last two seasons were rushed, with the narrative being sped up and therefore the drama not earned. It is counter intuitive, but oddly enough the dramatic momentum of the show slowed precipitously when the pace of the narrative increased over the last two seasons. Without the requisite time and space to let the characters and story marinate, simmer and then stew over a warm but not hot flame, the drama was both under done and over done at the same time. This left the story tough on the outside, which made it difficult to chew on, and cold on the inside, which made it hard to swallow, and left an unpleasant taste in your mouth and a queasy feeling in your belly when it was over.

In the recipe for drama, time is a key ingredient and it seemed to be the most lacking in the last few seasons of Game of Thrones. For example, much more time was needed for Dany to be turned into as mad a Queen as she needed to be for the resolution of the story to make dramatic sense.

By increasing the pace of the drama over the last two seasons, and this half season most especially, the show lost its focus and became more about hitting plot points necessary to end it, than in having characters make believable choices in the circumstances they found themselves. When logistics of the production are the main driving point for the arc of the narrative, then the story will crumble under the weight of its dramatic falsity.

Of course, lots of people have lots of opinions about the show and its finale. People like to bitch about things…myself included. But it is important not to let the less than stellar finale and final season undermine the enormity of what the makers of Game of Thrones achieved with this show. As I have written before, we will not see anything like this again…and so while it is fun to nit pick the negatives of the final season, we must also tip our cap to those that got so many people invested in the show in the first place.

With that said…here are my thoughts on what should have happened. Of course, the question arises, who the hell am I and why should anyone give a rat’s ass what I think should have happened to end Game of Thrones? The answer to that is that I am most definitely a nobody and will remain one until the day I die…but…I do spend my time and make my living as an acting coach scouring scripts in a desperate search for drama. I read a ton of scripts and I work with lots of actors trying to dredge up the worthwhile drama in them. My alternative take on the Game of Thrones finale is an exercise based entirely on storytelling where drama takes precedence. Maybe my ending makes no sense in terms of the books (which I have not read), or the budget (which I am not paying for), or the fan base (of which I am not a member)….but it does make dramatic sense…and for me that is all that matters.

So…here it is…my broad brush ending to Game of Thrones.

ALTERNATE ENDING

Main Themes: Duty and Honor

The sacking of King’s Landing should’ve been the first big battle of the last season….with the Battle of King’s Landing and the Battle of Winterfell exchanging places in the story order. In a six episode season (which should’ve been 12 episodes) the Battle of King’s Landing should happen in episode three at the latest, two if possible, and the Battle of Winterfell against the Night King should have happened in the penultimate episode (#5). In a 12 episode final season, which i would prefer, I would have the Battle of King’s Landing at Episode 8 and the Battle of Winterfell at episode 11.

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The Battle/sacking of King’s Landing would play out the same way in my version as the show’s actual version, with Dany going all Dresden/Hiroshima on the general population. My one tweak would be that Cersei and Jaime die in each others arms but by dragon fire when Dany sees them trying to escape the Red Keep. Dany and Cersei would look into each others eyes and then Jaime and Cersei would have their conversations “this is all that matters”, and then Dany would torch them. This sequence gives Dany agency in Cersei’s death and also makes Cersei’s death a punishment for all of her evil.

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The burning of King’s Landing sets Dany up as a morally questionable character due to her torching of innocents. It also means that every character becomes morally compromised by the atrocity because they still need Dany on their side in the fight against the Night King. The Night King is the greatest existential threat to all of mankind, and so it means that everyone…even the mad Queen who kills innocent people, must be kept on board. Every character, from Jon to Tyrion to Arya to Sansa and on and on must bend the knee to one evil, Dany, in order to defeat another greater evil, the Night King.

The Battle of Winterfell then proceeds after the armies march north to Winterfell to meet the Army of the Dead. On this march there are lots of conversations about Dany and what are we going to do? She is mad? etc., etc.

The Battle of Winterfell is shot more clearly and with more coherence and clarity in my version. While I didn’t really dig Arya killing the Night King or the way she did it in the original…I will acquiesce and keep that sequence the same. But in my Battle of Winterfell many more characters are lost. Brienne, Tormund, Greyworm as well as the ones killed in the original all die.

After the end of the Battle of Winterfell and the Night King’s death, Dany embraces an exhausted Jon and they weep and cheer their victory together. Dany then tells Jon that since the threat of the Night King is over, “their child can be born into a world of peace.” Uh-oh…Dany is pregnant…and Jon is the father…the stakes just got even higher in Westeros.

In my alternative finale…Jon is, as always, ready to serve his queen…but Tyrion, Sansa, and Arya all implore him that something must be done about the Mad Queen who is talking and acting like a tyrant.

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Jon then has a similar conversation with Dany that he had in the actual finale, and they go back and forth about what is good and right…and Dany asks Jon to join her in making this new world. Jon kills her. Dany being pregnant with Jon’s child as well as being his Queen and love…makes the stakes much higher, the gravity of his decisions much heavier and much more fraught than in the original finale. By killing Dany, Jon is actually sacrificing not just his love and self-conceived notion of his honor and belief system…but his lineage, his child, his everything that he yearned for throughout the story. Jon commits this heinous (in his eyes) act because it is the “right” thing to do for the people, the kingdom and the Starks…and these added narrative obstacles make the weight of that decision much much greater than was in the original finale.

The Lords of the Seven kingdoms then declare Jon, who is the rightful heir, to be king of Westeros. Jon declines and instead exiles himself to the North, to wander among the Wildlings far north of the wall…and to never marry or have children or take lands. His punishment is self-imposed….this gives Jon agency and makes his exile a heroic act and thus he begins his arc of redemption. Jon starts as a bastard longing for acceptance and he ends as a self-imposed exile…forgoing all he yearns for in order to do the right thing.

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The council, after much debate and hemming and hawing, all, out of various Machiavellian maneuvers…choose Gendry Baratheon to be king. Gendry is chosen by some because they think he is an peasant who can be easily manipulated to thwart Stark power. But those anti-Stark machination are upended when Arya Stark, who has discovered she is pregnant with Gendry’s baby and thus cannot explore what lies in the West, accepts Gendry’s proposal. Arya thus becomes the Queen of Westeros, and due to Gendry’s rather uneducated background, Arya is now the real ruler of the Seven Kingdoms and eventual mother to a King as well.

Arya marrying Gendry and becoming Queen of Westeros fulfills her character’s arc too as she has thrown off the childish urges for adventure and revenge and instead grows up to accept “DUTY” above all else. Just as her mother and father before her sacrificed for her, Arya now sacrifices her dream of personal freedom for her child and for her family and kingdom. Arya starts as a tomboy repulsed by the trappings of power…and ends as a Queen, ruling over the Seven Kingdoms.

Sansa, assuming she is backed by her sister, then declares that the North will not kneel…and must be independent. Other kingdoms tart contemplating the same thing. Gendry and Arya, with an assist from Bran, decide that in order to quell the “independence” talk, Sansa must consummate her marriage to Tyrion and bear an heir if the North is to be granted autonomy. Both Sansa and Tyrion are horrified and vehemently against the idea.

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This is the highest of drama considering Sansa’s history and also considering that it is her sister and brother who are asking this of her. After much hemming and hawing…Sansa does what both Jon and Arya do…she chooses duty…and she accepts her fate and the conditions under which she will become Queen of the North. Sansa chooses to put duty to her people and family above all else and agrees to the pairing. (A shot, through a doorway - like the iconic ending of Godfather I with Michael in a room and Kay watching through a door- of Sansa standing in a bedroom alone. Tyrion enters, they exchange a glance, he kisses her hand, then Sansa walks over and slowly closes the door on the camera, implying they are about to have sex, would be terrific.)

In order to soften the blow upon Sansa…Tyrion is named the Hand and will live in Kings Landing after Sansa is impregnated, leaving Sansa to rule the North on her own. Arya tells Tyrion that she will watch him with a keen eye and have his head if he so much as thinks of betraying her or Gendry. Tyrion looks over and sees Bran, who nods. Tyrion understands that Bran knows everything and that he must be unquestionably loyal to Arya and Gendry.

Bran is now the Three Eyed Raven…and serves as a sort Grand Maester who is part historian, part prophet, part wizard. Bran works closely with Samwell and they become the keepers of history and knowledge. Bran also searches far and wide with his powers to find Drogon and maybe even bring him under the Stark wing with his warging powers.

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The show could end with the same Stark montage as the original finale…except this time with Arya sitting on her throne next to Gendry…ruling the kingdom through her husband, with Sansa sitting alone on her throne in Winterfell with her hand on her belly contemplating her soon to be born child, and with Jon riding alone in the cold and snow of the North, feeling the bitter wind of his exile.

So…that is what I think should’ve happened. If the show had gone one more full season they may have been able to pull it off…but alas…we will never know. I guess I better get started writing my fantasy novel masterpiece because that is the only way these ideas will see the light. And thus concludes my speculative Game of Thrones pseudo-fan fiction!

©2019

Brief Thoughts Before the End of Game of Thrones

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Estimated Reading Time: 4 minutes 14 seconds

When Game of Thrones first appeared on HBO I admit I was skeptical. In general I don’t watch much television except for whatever sporting event that isn’t golf I happen to stumble upon, but I do usually make an exception for HBO.

I prefer to watch HBO because their shows are not suffocated within what I call the “Network Box”. The Network Box is why most network tv shows suck…they are stuck in a box of creative limitations in terms of what they can say and show, and monetary limitations in terms of how much money they must generate in order for the network to stick with them.

On network shows the language is censored, the violence muted and the nudity non-existent. Because of this it all feels so…manufactured and phony. And because the network’s demand so much ad revenue for each show, niche programs stand little chance of surviving their early years when they are building an audience and creative momentum. So why watch network TV when it is all garbage and anything worthwhile will be cancelled before there is any resolution to the story. And so…I generally give HBO shows a chance because they have more likelihood of being good and of not being cancelled if they aren’t blockbusters right away.

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That said, I watched Game of Thrones originally more out of an obligation than out of interest for that first season. Then something completely miraculous happened…at the end of season one Ned Stark got his head chopped off. Stark, who was played by Sean Bean, the biggest star on the show, was the central character for season one, and when he found himself kneeling with the executioners axe poised over his neck, I watched with a bemused detachment.

As that scene unfolded I kept trying to figure out how Ned would be saved…who would swing in, or ride by, and in typical Hollywood fashion, somehow save the star. But then they actually cut Ned’s head off and I literally jumped up from my seat. I was startled, unnerved, exhilarated, agitated, excited and shocked. I was pacing my empty living room yelling aloud, “HOLY SHIT! HOLY SHIT!!”It was at that moment that Game of Thrones made its bones! Ned’s head was gone and it was on!

I never became a Game of Thrones superfan. I never read the books or delved into the maze of online fan sites and theories and such. I did watch every episode though, but if I am being honest, I rarely knew what the hell was happening or who half the people were, but that didn’t matter. The show as beautifully shot, wonderfully acted, well-written and was never miserly with violence or nudity. As I was fond of saying to friends about Game of Thrones, “come for the blood and guts, stay for the boobs and bush”…and that is exactly what I did.

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One of the great not-so-secrets of Game of Thrones’ success was that it would take the most mundane scenes, filled with nothing but expository writing on the political machinations or history of Westeros, and turn it into interesting eye candy by setting the non-action in a brothel or bedroom with beautiful women, and occasionally men, cavorting in the background in all of their Medieval naked glory. Game of Thrones seemed to understand the most basic laws of human nature…which are, in no particular order…people like to look at beautiful people, people like to look at beautiful people naked, and people like to look at two or more beautiful people naked and simulating sex.

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Besides the naked bodies and the consequence filled violence, the highlight of the show for me were the dragons. When Dany’s three fire-breathing, winged progeny grew up and took to the world, they were the most beautiful things I had ever seen on television. When the dragons were unleashed in battle, whether it be to save Dany from an assassination attempt, or to nearly kill Jaime, or to save Jon from the wights…they were glorious. When the undead ice dragon obliterated The Wall, it was simply stunning to behold. And when Dany went full Dresden and unchained Drogon to shock and awe in the battle of Kings Landing last week, it was absolutely spectacular. Remarkably well shot, with seamless special effects, the aerial destruction of Kings Landing was one of the greatest visual sequence ever seen on television.

In addition, when Drogon’s head came out of the darkness on the beach in last week’s episode to incinerate Varys…that was a truly delicious shot. It was also an example of creation through limitation…as the darkness wasn’t just visually striking…it saved money, as they only had to do a limited amount of CGI for the dragon head and not the whole body.

Which brings us to the budget issue. Game of Thrones has an enormous budget, the equivalent of a Hollywood blockbuster, but it isn’t unlimited. As I wrote earlier in regards to the Battle of Winterfell, that episode’s dark and muddy visuals which so many, myself included, found annoying, could very well be a result of penny-pinching and cutting corners in order to save money for the Battle of Kings Landing. Sure enough, last week’s Battle of Kings Landing was everything that this season’s earlier Battle of Winterfell was not. It was crystal clear, visually coherent and cinematically gorgeous.

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Another complaint many have had, myself included, regarding the final two half seasons is that the narrative has seemed decidedly rushed, and thus less cohesive and coherent, especially in contrast with the pace of the earlier seasons. In my opinion, the story would have been better served had they done two full seasons instead of two half seasons, but again, the budget is probably the reason that didn’t happen.

If the producers had done two full seasons then the cast may have been up for significant pay raises and would have had a tremendous amount of leverage with which to get those pay raises. By doing two half seasons, the showrunners are only paying the cast for one full season, thus keeping them on their original “rookie” contracts and avoiding shelling out a big pay day.

The budget issue is a complex one and there are no doubt mitigating and complicating factors all the way around, including but not limited to people not wanting to be stuck working on this project any longer. Yes, Game of Thrones is undoubtedly the greatest thing most of these folks, be they actors, crew or producers, will ever be associated with, but working in TV is a grind, and working on a show in far off locales even more so. As successful as the Game of Thrones has been, I’m sure nearly everyone working on it is relieved it is over.

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This is just my opinion…and I am not the one writing the checks…but I would have preferred not only two full seasons but also a flipping of the Battle of Winterfell and the Battle of Kings Landing. To me, I think it makes more narrative and creative sense, at least in hindsight, to have the beautiful Battle of Kings Landing first, and then the Battle of Winterfell in the penultimate episode. Of course, I would also want to spend more money and have the Battle of Winterfell shot entirely differently and even have a different ending, as the one they went with was way to Hollywood for my tastes and out of character for the show.

Also, I would still have Jaime and Cersei die at the Battle of Kings Landing in each other’s arms, which was very poetic, but just not by being buried under rumble, which was not visually satisfying. I would have had them try to escape, then see Dany on Drogon, and Dany see them, and she and Cersei make eye contact, then Cersei and Jaime have their final goodbye conversation and hug and then…DRACARYS…and the Lannister twin’s charred remains would be frozen in an eternal embrace. But again…this is just my opinion and I am sure others have differing ones that are just as valid.

As for what will happen in the finale…I have absolutely no idea mostly because I am still not even sure what the hell has already happened. As I wrote before, the bottom line is this, we should enjoy Game of Thrones and the Game of Thrones phenomenon while is lasts because we will see nothing like it ever again. Sure, people will try to copy its success, but cultural forces will limit what other series can do in Game of Thrones‘ wake, and will no doubt make little more than cheap, watered-down, politically correct and tokenly diverse imitations on the original rather than improvements.

You only get one shot at ending something as epic as Game of Thrones. As of right now, the show’s creators, D.B. Weiss and David Benioff, have definitely faltered coming down the abbreviated stretch. That said, it is not impossible, but certainly not likely, that Weiss and Benioff could right the ship in the show’s final eighty minutes. Whether they stick the Game of Thrones landing or not, Weiss and Benioff should be lauded for having gone as far as they have with this show and having been as successful as they have been with it. Game of Thrones is a monumental television achievement and regardless of whether it ends as well as it began, we should be grateful of that fact and shouldn’t lose sight of it.

©2019

Undead Army of the Woke Will Make Sure Game of Thrones is the Last Show of Its Kind

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Estimated Reading Time: 4 minutes 04 seconds

****WARNING: This article contains some information about Game of Thrones and Avengers: Endgame that might be considered minor spoilers if you haven’t watched the series or seen the movie yet. You’ve been warned.****

The surge of political correctness in recent years all but assures that in the future, edgy shows like Game of Thrones will be strangled in their creative cradle.

In 2011, Game of Thrones premiered on HBO as an exceedingly well-acted and beautifully photographed fantasy-drama of swords and sex, chock full of palace intrigue, familial rivalry and violent conquest. The show flouted Hollywood storytelling conventions and quickly became a cultural phenomenon. Sadly, we will never be able to enjoy anything like Game of Thrones ever again.

The reason that we’ll never see anything like Game of Thrones again is because in the eight years since the television adaptation of George R.R. Martin’s fantasy novels first hit the small screen, much has changed, and not just in the mythical land of Westeros. In the real world, and the unreal one of social media, political correctness has taken the throne and vanquished all contenders, leaving the bloody head of rational thought on the end of a spike as a warning to anyone who dare speak up against the zeitgeist of neo-feminism, inclusivity and a coddling sensitivity.

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In the past few years, movements like #OscarsSoWhite and #MeToo have dramatically changed the landscape of Hollywood by weaponizing diversity and victimhood and using them to bludgeon opponents and silence dissent. The “woke”, whom Merriam-Websters defines as those being “aware of and actively attentive to…issues of racial and social justice”, have taken over the entertainment industry. Just like the Night King’s Army of the Dead broke through The Northern Wall to attempt to destroy all of humanity in Westeros, the Army of the Woke now march on our popular culture intent on obliterating all worthwhile entertainment.

A wonderful example of the vacuity of wokeness came in the form of a Game of Thrones outrage tweet from actress and high-priestess of political correctness, Jessica Chastain, where she slammed the show for the character Sansa’s claim that having survived a plethora of traumas, including rape, transformed her into a strong woman.

Chastain tweeted,

“Rape is not a tool to make a character stronger. A woman doesn’t need to be victimized in order to become a butterfly. The #littlebird was always a Phoenix. Her prevailing strength is solely because of her. And her alone.”

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Chastain’s tweet is not only an advertisement for her intellectual dwarfism, not to be confused with the intellect of a dwarf, which Tyrion proves can be formidable, but also an actual advertisement. “Phoenix” is a reference to Chastain’s new X-Men movie, Dark Phoenix, which also happens to star Sophie Turner who plays Sansa on Game of Thrones. It appears Jessica Chastain’s superpowers include self-promotion and shamelessness.

Like Chastain, the pc brigade turns everything, including popular entertainment, into a referendum on social justice issues and their own self-worth. The woke spend their time not enjoying arts and entertainment but rather policing them in search of offense or wrong-think in the hopes that they will get the joyous opportunity to vent their self-righteous rage.

Evidence of this is found in articles from major publications with headlines such as, “Game of Thrones Treatment of Women Will Tarnish Its Legacy”, “On Game of Thrones Daenerys Targaryen faces a sexist double bind – like so many women leaders”, “Game of Thrones Keeps Killing Off Entire Immigrant Populations, And It’s a Problem”, “’There are no black people on Game of Thrones’: why is fantasy TV so white?”, “Racist or just bad writing? What Game of Thrones latest shocking death says about the show”, “Game of Thrones: too much racism and sexism – so I stopped watching”, and finally “My Feminist Opinions Ruined Game of Thrones for My Boyfriend”. These stories are emblematic of the fact that the woke are social media Savanarolas perpetually in search of works of art or entertainment to throw onto their bonfire of the vanities. These people don’t just want their politically correct opinions to “ruin Game of Thrones for their boyfriend”, but to ruin all of popular culture for everybody.

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The feminist criticisms of Game of Thrones are particularly vapid because they are so demonstrably wrong, as women are the most pivotal and powerful characters on the show. The most formidable and effective rulers on Game of Thrones have been Queen Cersei and her nemesis Daenerys, Mother of Dragons. Arya Stark has gone from a little girl to the deadliest warrior in all of Westeros, who became a legend when she killed the Night King. Ser Brienne of Tarth, the first women to ever become a knight, is the most noble and honorable knight in all the Seven Kingdoms. And last but not least is Sansa Stark, who has suffered brutally but whose resilience has allowed her to become the ruler of the North and, who knows, maybe even sit on the Iron Throne when all is said and done.

All of these women have faced great difficulties and horrendous challenges, but they have prevailed not only in spite of them but because of them. In Game of Thrones as in life, what doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger, but the woke warriors either lack the interest or ability to interpret the show in any other way than to see women and minorities as victims.

If you want to see the future of popular entertainment in the wake of Game of Thrones, look no further than the corporate behemoth Disney and their Marvel and Star Wars franchises. The first phase of the twenty-two film Marvel Cinematic Universe just concluded with Avengers: Endgame, and the woke contingent’s victory is obvious with Captain America now a black man and Iron Man replaced as the center of the story by an all-powerful female character, Captain Marvel.

The Star Wars films too have devolved into a politically correct mess where diversity and inclusivity trump narrative cohesion and dramatic coherence. And if you publicly voice displeasure about the direction of Marvel or Star Wars…you are labeled a misogynist and racist troll.

Game of Thrones warned us for years that “Winter is Coming”…well, winter is now here, and hordes of woke zombies have descended upon us to suffocate all but the most sterile of entertainment. Just like Varys and The Unsullied were castrated on Game of Thrones, so our popular entertainment is being neutered, except this time with the dull blade of politically correct utopianism.

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A version of this article was originally published on May 17, 2019 at RT.com.

©2019

Game of Thrones: The Battle of Winterfell and the Fog of War

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****WARNING: THIS ARTICLE CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR GAME OF THRONES EPISODE THE LONG NIGHT (SEASON 8 EPISODE 3)****

Last Sunday night’s episode of Game of Thrones (Season 8 Episode 3), titled The Long Night, was the climactic battle between the the Starks and their allies against the Night King and his army of undead wights. The Battle of Winterfell, as it has been dubbed, is thought to be the penultimate clash on the iconic program, with only the fight between the Stark/Targaryen forces against Cersei Lannister and her army in Kings Landing remaining.

The Long Night was a strange episode as the Battle of Winterfell was built up for years as a cataclysmic clash between the forces of good and evil, literally life and death, but the show uncharacteristically deviated from its long standing thematic and narrative traditions by limiting the amount of carnage upon the main characters of the show.

Game of Thrones made its name by flouting Hollywood conventions and sacrificing its lead characters on the altar of great story telling. Ned Stark lost his head so that Game of Thrones could be taken seriously, and the Red Wedding solidified the shows commitment to leading character carnage…but in The Long Night, way too many characters survived the apocalyptic battle. There is no way that Lady Mormont, Jorah Mormont (bad night for House Mormont!), Beric and Theon Greyjoy should be the only notable characters to go down in the Battle of Winterfell.

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How did Davos Seaworth, Brianne of Tarth, Tormund, Varys, Missandei, Grey Worm and Podrick not die? I understand why they’d want to save Jon Snow Daenerys, Tyrion, Jaime, Sansa, Arya and Bran…but I don’t get why secondary characters weren’t slaughtered en masse. And even the ones who did die went in very Hollywood ways, with Lady Mormont’s action hero death while killing a zombie giant the most dubious. And while we are at it, Arya’s killing of the Night King was cool and all, but not totally in keeping with the show’s grounding in its established reality. I mean, how did Arya jump over all these people to get to the Night King? And if Game of Thrones is going all Hollywood, why not have Arya die while killing the Night King, at least then it feels somewhat in keeping with the shows themes?

Narrative choices aside, the biggest issue people are having with The Long Night is the cinematography of Fabian Wagner and director Miguel Sapochik, with many complaints that the show was much too dark and too visually muddled. I happen to agree with those complaints and thought it would be a worthy topic to briefly examine.

Game of Thrones has done an exceptional job of filming “medieval” combat over the years and so I was surprised to see them flail about on The Long Night. The mistake that the creators made was to try and convey the “fog of war”, the confusion and disorientation that can accompany combat, by literally creating a white/blue snow fog to simply obfuscating visual clarity. This sort of approach is an error that many make and it never fails to fail.

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To be fair, the episode did have some bright cinematographic moments though, the lighting of the Dothraki swords and their charge into the darkness being one of them. But then the visuals went down hill when the White Walkers conjured up a wind storm to conceal their movements and sow confusion. That is a great battle plan for the White Walkers to take Winterfell, but a bad one for tv viewers trying to watch the fight.

There may be two reason why Wagner and Sapochik may have made the decision to muddy the visual waters at Winterfell, the first being that they wanted viewers to experience the chaos and confusion of war, the second being that they wanted to save some money from their huge budgets by limiting the amount of special effects they had to use to cover the scope and scale of the enormous battle. Both reasons are legitimate but misguided. Regardles of why, the end result was that viewers didn’t feel like they were participants in the Battle of Winterfell, they felt like they were going blind.

It is a common mistake to conflate darkness with a lack of light, what darkness means in cinematic terms is a a sharp contrast between dark and light. In cinematic “darkness” viewers still have visual clarity but with a “lack of light”, contrast gets watered down and visual coherence evaporates.

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Clear and clean contrast between dark and light make for clear and coherent images that convey both narrative and thematic information. For example, go watch The Favourite (2018), and notice the exquisite use of candles in the voids of darkness. Those images propel the story and the sub-text by using ‘illumination’ (literally and figuratively) that marks a clear delineation between the dark and the light. In The Long Night, light and dark wash into each other, colors are non existent and the action all becomes a visually muddled, grey mess.

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Two films came out in 1998, Saving Private Ryan and The Thin Red Line, that showed visually interesting ways to convey the fog of war. Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan and its iconic Omaha Beach assault scene is a perfect example of how to maintain visual clarity while creating a sense of anxiety and confusion (the fog of war). Spielberg and his cinematographer Janusz Kaminski‘s camera dances amidst an understated and muted light from an amphibious vehicle, into the water, and up the zig-zag maze of the beach all while under assault from barely discernible machine gun nests. Kaminski’s camera picks up the textures of the muted colors and materials in each shot. Viewers are given a soldier’s eye view of the carnage of D-Day, and the camera movements and tangible textures help to convey the confusion of that assault, but the visuals were never unclear for more than a brief second or so. Kaminski’s camera shows us what is happening very precisely and distinctly and its handheld movements aided in creating tension and anxiety in viewers.

Later in the film Spielberg uses a character looking through a telescopic sight to watch a battle to convey the fog of war and confusion of what is happening. This sequence is interesting because unlike in the Omaha Beach scene where viewers are active participants in the action, in the telescopic sight scene the character becomes an audience member as he tries to watch the action and discern what is happening. To Spielberg’s credit, this was a great way to create psychological reciprocity between the audience and the character.

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In The Thin Red Line, Terrence Malick and his cinematographer John Toll use crisp and clean visuals with dynamic and rich colors to convey the fog of war. In the sequence where the Marines must make their way up a lush, green hillside to find and eliminate a machine gun nest, Malick and Toll give viewers a clear look at the surroundings, and just like the Marines, no clear shot of the machine gun nest. The rolling green of the hills are like a never ending sea and the machine gun nest a crocodile that only pokes its eyes and nose above the water line. The beauty of Malick and Toll’s visuals is in stark contrast to the physical and psychological mayhem unleashed with them.

Malick also gives clear focus to the nature which surrounds the battle, with Toll’s camera lingering long on a flower or an insect crawling on a leave of grass. Malick and Toll’s use of natural light and their ability to crisply define the colors, textures and contrasts of the setting make his fog of war confusion breathtakingly beautiful and utterly horrifying. (watch The Thin Red Line and notice that Malick’s camera picks up every little bump on Marine’s helmets…it creates an intimacy through texture that is one of Malick’s signature, understated styles.)

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The Long Night made the same error of visual incoherence that Clint Eastwood made in American Sniper, where Eastwood rolled in a sand storm in Iraq to convey the moral confusion of the Iraq war. That tactic did not visually work in American Sniper either as it created little more than a cloud of yellow dust just like The Long Night gave us a blueish white cloud of snow. In Eastwood’s case I can almost guarantee you that his creative decision to muddy things up was a result of budgetary concerns, as he is a notorious slave to budget. As for The Long Night’s decisions making…they do have large budgets, but hey also have at least one more big battle in this final season, so maybe they were cutting corners too.

Game of Thrones have made some of the greatest battle scenes in television history, as the Battle of the Bastards, The Spoils of War and Hardhome have shown, but with The Long Night they fell into more than just the fog of war trap, they failed to fully establish the geography of the scenes and battle ground and never established a coherent time line.

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As the Battle of Winterfell raged on, the locations of characters was never clearly elucidated, and so the lack of visual clarity became ever more heightened. I understand not wanting to give the “god shot”, an overhead view of things to show who is where and what is happening, but by failing to make the geography clear, the battle felt redundant and circular, and lacked specifics which could have heightened dramatic tension to a greater degree.

The timeline was as muddied as the visuals, as Arya ran through the castle trying to escape wights in an extended sequence, the battle raged outside. But when the camera returned to the battle outside, nothing had changed, and because viewers had no central character upon which to focus, the battle seemed aimless and incoherent.

Maybe the focus should have been on Samwell, and we viewers could have seen the battle through his perspective at times (like the telescopic scene in Saving Private Ryan), or we could shift perspective through a series of characters in order to get clarity on different areas of the fight. Maybe have Jaime, Arya, Jon Snow, Danerys and Theon lead us through the battle and we see what they see…so when Lady Mormont gets killed it is through Jaime’s perspective…things like that.

Look, I thoroughly enjoy Game of Thrones, I admire the show for its integrity and quality, and I was disappointed in parts of the episode the Long Night. The bottom line is this, Game of Thrones has given us eight glorious seasons of thrills, chills, carnage, nudity, incest, murder, dragons, zombies and palace intrigue, I only hope they can right the ship for the final three episodes after their visual and thematic missteps in the much discussed Battle of Winterfell.

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