Season 8 of ‘Game of Thrones’ did exactly what it had to do — whether we liked it or not

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Grade: 4.0/5.0

“Game of Thrones” is a show infused with prophecy. Foreshadowed moments are embedded in every promise, legend and vision, and it has been the duty of fans for the past eight seasons to dissect these told fortunes and uncover small truths. But after eight years, predictions have finally been confirmed or proven untrue. Under the scrutiny of millions of die-hard fans, showrunners D.B. Weiss and David Benioff wrapped up dozens of ongoing storylines in six lengthy episodes. Needless to say, the stakes were high.

“Uneven” would be an appropriate descriptor of season eight, which was marked by some of the most elaborately scaled battles in television history as well as by frustrating, bizarre character assassinations. It was rushed. It was anticlimactic. It was poorly lit.

But it was also magnificent.

The final six episodes of “Game of Thrones” were strictly oriented toward payoff. Fans deserved catharsis, even if it came at the expense of clever plotting. While we were led to believe that “Game of Thrones” would be about “breaking the wheel,” its final episode was much more about breaking the ladder that Littlefinger (Aidan Gillen) spoke of in season three — or, rather, restoring order to years of chaos and unpredictability.

More than anything, season eight should be remembered for fantastic performances from its cast. Nikolaj Coster-Waldau and Emilia Clarke were swimming upstream as Jaime Lannister and Daenerys Targaryen — their particular characters ended up being written to serve the narrative, even if it meant contradicting years of character development. Nonetheless, Coster-Waldau and Clarke both delivered remarkably heartfelt performances. Jaime’s goodbye to Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage) and Daenerys’ final moments with Jon Snow (Kit Harington) are among the scenes fans are likely to rewatch again and again.

Miguel Sapochnik, who directed both “The Long Night” and “The Bells,” is the unsung hero of this season and of the fantasy genre. Both episodes are triumphs, not only of scale, but of pacing and emotional gravitas.

With aid from Ramin Djawadi’s memorable score, the battles excelled in armies clashing and tender goodbyes — and, much to fans’ pleasure, Sapochnik made especially good use of Maisie Williams as Arya Stark. These battles could be criticized for the pathetically bad military strategizing that constitute their backbones. But if the successful invasion of the White Walkers into Winterfell gave Arya the chance to shank the Night King (Vladimir Furdik), picking apart the game plan feels spoilsport.

But battles weren’t the only highlight of the season. “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms,” anchored by Dinklage as Tyrion Lannister, is one of the show’s finest episodes and a return to form for a series that has otherwise abandoned its roots as a medieval political drama, reintroducing dialogue layered with meaning and purpose. It’s unfortunate that “The Iron Throne” fails to emulate this same nuance, with some conversations — including the selection of Bran the Broken (Isaac Hempstead Wright) as the new ruler of the Six Kingdoms — playing so absurd that one could only assume the intent was comedic.

But the series finale is certainly no joke. While each character is granted a valid ending, Jon draws the shortest stick by far. The pain of his exile to the Night’s Watch is only exacerbated by the realization that the show ends with all of the Starks near-permanently separated from each other. Although, for those tempted to bemoan Jon’s fate, one might recall how nearly every female character on the show either was forced to endure horrific pain or succumbed to madness. Maybe Jon didn’t have it so bad.

Television owesfo HBO and “Game of Thrones” a debt not even a Lannister could hope to repay. It’s a show that fundamentally transformed our expectations for television and what it could achieve. While the execution may have been almost humorously sloppy, the final season of “Game of Thrones” delivered a fitting ending for its many characters. And in its final moments, the show revealed that “the North remembers” might perhaps best embody the show’s overarching theme: We are nothing but the stories we are remembered for, long after we’re gone.

Contact Shannon O’Hara at [email protected].