GAME OF THRONES Season 8: The Contentious Final Season Comes to Blu-ray

**************** Adios Westeros ****************

Here we are then. Winter was coming. Winter came. Winter went. Eight seasons of sprawling storylines, memorable characters, cheer worthy death scenes, and endless memes — it all comes down to this. While the final season was contentious to say the least (more on that below), one thing not in dispute is the ability of HBO to put out a quality release for the series, as our past reviews of seasons Three, Four, Five, Six, and Seven show.

There’s sprawling cast of characters, geographically strewn across a continent, and several journeys of growth, redemption, and revenge all to resolve, but this final season boils down to two things. First, the army of the dead is marching on Winterfell and the combined forces of the North and Daenerys’ troops. Second, supposing there is anyone left after the Night King’s invasion, is the question of who will eventually sit on the Iron Throne, something Cersei Lannister and those rallied to her in the south will have a say in.

Let’s get one thing out of the way: I’m largely OK with how the show ended things, but I’m not OK with how they did it. One of the things that has made the show such a phenomenon is the journey undertaken by these characters, not their destination, and that’s what showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss fundamentally fudged in the last few seasons. Where they lacked source material to fill in the flesh of the story and characters, gaps started to emerge that no amount of overarching plot machinations could fill. We first saw this in the Dorne storyline back in season 5, when the pair first went off book and started working from notes provided by author George R.R. Martin. A basic outline is what was handed to them, and that is basically what we got towards the end: ignoring established character behavior, wiping out characters offscreen, plotlines never coming to fruition (hello again Dorne), pacing went out of the window, the logistical/geographical movements of disparate characters seemed to defy time and space. At the end, there was a need for cohesion, for purpose, and for a fitting conclusion that no amount of scale and spectacle, cool character moments, twists, deaths, and titillation could replace. Perhaps the most egregious part to many was Dany’s actions during the battle of King’s Landing. Her behavior over 8 years showed her predilection for aggression and retribution, but the writing failed to make a connection between her losses, these people rejecting her, and the weight of her family history in the buildup or crucial moment of the episode. The act can be explained, but the depiction of it lacked any nuance and depth, as she lurched into her final state rather than transitioned properly. Other fumbles came in necessity of plot advancement that betrayed established character traits — Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) lost his smarts, Cersei went from a sympathetic and calculating foe to a one note boozy baddie, Jon shrugged off his true lineage after being conflicted over being a bastard his whole life, Jamie turned his back on years of redemptive work, and we have the now-legendary incident of Dany forgetting that Euron Greyjoy had a fleet. Everything was too rushed, too inconsiderate of what came before, with too little done to connect the unnatural leaps. Season 7 and 8 needed space to breathe.

What did work though? Well, the battles impressed as they ever do. The siege of Winterfell was genuinely thrilling at times, as was the sacking of King’s Landing, but perhaps both lacked the emotional heft of The Battle of the Bastards or Hardhome. The Long Night did provide some key moments where characters found their destiny and purpose in battle. Where the season was strongest was in a quieter episode, the calm before the storm shown in The Knight of the Seven Kingdoms. A fireside conversation centered around Brienne of Tarth that was truly affecting. Some of the fates and futures fit well, such as Arya’s earned freedom, Jon’s penance, Dany’s legacy proving true, and even the Queen in the North. While still entertaining, the promise of the show dissipated a while ago, and one character’s intent to “break the wheel” instead just left it a bit wobbly, much like this final season of Game of Thrones.

The Package

Many of us probably watched Season 8 via streaming, a medium that seemed somewhat plagued by issues with darkness and lack of clarity at times, despite what solutions were offered. In comparison, the visuals on Blu-ray are something of a revelation, most effectively demonstrated in the Battle of Winterfell. The murkiness is replaced by clarity, the muddiness by better contrast and deeper blacks, some colors pop but the show again leans into the greys palette wise. Closeups show off impressive detail and texture impresses, especially in closeups of faces, clothes, and props. It doesn’t feel quite as crisp as past seasons, but is still a good looking release.

We only only get 6 episodes this time out, but each tends to run longer than average, with the longest maxing out at 82 minutes. They’re spread over 3 discs which also include a serious amount of extra features:

  • Recaps and Previews: Available for all episodes, little refreshers to get you up to speed if you ain’t about that binge life.
  • In Episode Guides: Really cool interactive feature akin to “Pop up Video.” It’s been present for all releases and allows you to delve into info on characters/places/events as they come up to refresh your memory about them.
  • Game of Thrones — The Last Watch: A documentary by filmmaker Jeanie Finlay chronicling the making of the final season: Nearly 2 hours in length, it’s an effective and packed featurette with contributions from dozens of cast and crew members who reflect on the show as a whole. A nicely done retrospective piece.
  • When Winter Falls — Exclusive 30-minute featurette with showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, along with major stars and behind-the-scenes players, breaking down all that went into the colossal filming of the “Battle of Winterfell” in Season 8, Episode 3: Actually crams in plenty of information, production footage, and interviews concerning the mammoth battle episode.
  • Duty is the Death of Love — A compelling look at how the team behind Game of Thrones and its major stars, including Kit Harington, Peter Dinklage and Emilia Clarke, brought the show to its conclusion in the series finale, “The Iron Throne”: A making of that centers around the production work on the finale, with some focus on the Jon/Dany relationship.
  • Audio Commentaries — 10 Audio Commentaries with cast and crew, including the show’s creators, Benioff and Weiss, on the final season: Each episode gets at least one commentary, some two, pulling talent from in front of and behind the camera. They’re pretty packed with information and always worth a listen on these GOT releases.
  • Deleted and Extended Scenes — 5 never-before-seen deleted or extended scenes from season 8: Some are short and add little, but others are actually pretty effective scenes, the most notable being one showing Dany interacting with her troops during battle, and another that reinforces her bond with Missandei.
  • Histories and Lore — New animated pieces giving the history and background of notable season 8 locations and storylines: Cool animated sequences providing backstory on King’s Landing, The Greyjoy Rebellion, The Blackfyres, The South,The Defiance of Duskendale, and Maegor the Cruel.
  • Digital download code

The Bottom Line

It was never going to please everybody, and while the final season of Game of Thrones did some of its characters and their journeys a bit of a disservice, overall it fitted with what had been laid out by delivering a bittersweet conclusion. The release is sure to please completists and fans alike, with a impressive visual presentation, backed up by some fine extras to help appreciate what the show managed to pull off and its irrefutable legacy.

Game of Thrones Season 8 is available on Blu-ray from December 3rd, 2019.

Next post DANIEL ISN’T REAL…but This Movie’s Questions Definitely Are