Our Game of Thrones Revisited reaches the season one finale; Baz Greenland looks at how it sets up the show’s future.
Game of Thrones, the critically acclaimed TV series by David Benioff and DB Weiss and developed from the best-selling series of novels by George RR Martin, has become a cultural icon. The tentpole of HBO’s programming with a stellar cast and mix of medieval-style political drama and war with a healthy dash of fantasy, Game of Thrones has enthralled audiences worldwide. And in 2019, the show will come to a dramatic end in its final run of feature length episodes. In the lead up to season eight, I explore every episode leading up to the final battle for Westeros and the rest of the world. Our latest ‘revisited’ takes a look at the season one finale…
Warning: There may be spoilers for seasons one to seven…
The season one finale is very much a reflective affair, taking stock in what has happened, checking in on various characters and defining the destinies of what is to come. It is not a big, bold, exciting set piece but it doesn’t need to be; what it does do is set the classic Game of Thrones formula that worked well for its first six seasons – build and build, knock the audience of its socks in episode nine and then take a breather to conclude the season’s story threads, ready for next year.
Fire and Blood is an episode consumed by the events of Baelor and trying to move forward from it. It literally opens with Ilyn Payne’s sword, dripping with Ned Stark’s blood and follows as the various characters try to come to terms with what happened. For Arya, this is being ‘recruited’ by Yoren to return to the North (though of course we know things never go according to plan) and gives us our first glimpse at the likes of Hot Pie and a hooded (as of yet uncast) Jaqen H’ghar.
For her sister Sansa, this is the start of months of torment at the hands of the Lannisters in King’s Landing. After his impulsive actions last episode, we witness the true monster that is king Joffrey unleashed. He is positively cruel when he mocks the singer in court. “Tell me, what do you favour, your fingers or your tongue?” he asks before ordering executioner Ilyn Payne to take one for no reason at all. But it is his malice and delight in parading Sansa before the impaled heads of Ned Stark and her Septa Mordane that reveals his true depravity. Interestingly enough, this is the least we have seen of Cersei all season, realising perhaps that she doesn’t hold all the power and may awoken something terrible in her son. And taking cousin Lancel into her bed shows how desperate she is to regain some control; he is a poor replacement for Jamie, physically and mentally.
For the rest of the Starks, it is a time to move forward and avenge Ned Stark’s death. There is a beautiful, understated performance from Michelle Fairley as Catelyn Stark staggers through the trees, holding back her grief. Similarly the desperation in Richard Madden’s performance as Robb ruins his sword hacking a tree in despair shows just how hard his father’s death has hit him. But it is Catelyn’s confrontation with an imprisoned Jamie that she cannot hide just how broken she is, despite her attempts to stand strong against his presumed arrogance to the very end. The moment building up to the declaration of Robb as the King in the North is a momentous end to the Stark’s journey this season, Ramin Djawadi score as Robb’s men kneel before him is gorgeous and epic.
The scene between Jamie and Catelyn isn’t the only fantastic character piece this episode. Tywin admits Tyrion has wisdom, sending him off to King’s Landing to exert control as the new Hand to Joffrey; there is a certain grudging respect tinged with malice as he demands his son leave his whore Shae behind. Naturally Tyrion ignores him. Up at the Wall, Sam and the rest of Jon’s brothers convincing him not to run is a heart-warming moment, something that is needed as they then set off beyond the Wall to face the real horrors to come.
The reflective nature of this episode also affords some deeper characterisation of the secondary key players. All members of the remaining High Council at King’s Landing have their moment to shine. We are treated to another electric tete-e-tete between Varys and Littlefinger; the banter is a little cruder (“do you often think what’s between my legs?“) but Conleth Hill and Aidan Gillen certainly make the most of it. And Julian Glover shows a very different side to doddering old Grand Maester Pycelle, a man not quite so old and frail as we once thought. His ‘what you need to understand about kings’ is a superb, mournful monologue, delivered with understated grace by Glover.
But where Fire and Blood will most be remembered in the Game of Thrones canon is the birth of Daenerys’ three dragons in the closing moments of season one. This episode presents quite the journey for her, facing the loss of everything dear to her and still emerging strong. “Show me what I bought with my son’s life” she demands of Mirri Maz Duur, a woman who relishes in her revenge against the Dothraki. A child dead within in her womb and Drogo a living vegetable, it is a harrowing moment for this young dragon queen and you feel for her every moment of the way.
Mia Soteriou mesmerises as the Mirri, delighting in her revenge, cruel as she tells she tells Daenerys she was not saved; and yet for all her villainy, you feel for her story too. Her temple burned, the people she had healed over the years slaughtered and herself raped four times before she was ‘freed’, it does what Game of Thrones does so well and explore the layers between light and dark. Mirri is a villain in Daenerys’ story and you are on the Targaryen’s side as she drags the witch into the pyre on which her husband burns, mighty in her proclamation that she will hear her scream. But Mirri is also the victim of Drogo and his Dothraki, the protagonist in her tale and her revenge feels just.
In all this heartbreak, there is also beauty. Emilia Clark’s performance is heartbreaking as she recites her vows to Drogo, gives him one last kiss and smothers him to let him go. Again, enough cannot be said about Djawadi’s score throughout this scene, haunting and full of bittersweet emotion. There is something equally powerful in her as she walks into the flames and emerges untouched with three new dragons, proclaiming the slaves and loyal servants around her, her new Khalessar. This is not the young, frightened girl we saw in the first episode and few characters have arguably had the journey she has had across the first season.
Fire and Blood packs a lot in and yet dazzles in its ability to visit a huge amount of characters and their place in the show at present. It is also concerned with setting up the future; there are no big revelations, only teases for bigger things to come; Jon venturing beyond the Wall, the madness of King Joffrey, Robb Stark ascension as King in the North and Daenerys becoming the Mother of Dragons. It was a long, long wait for season two.
Fortunately, as I revisit the whole series before season eight, I can jump straight into the show’s second season…
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