Ten years, 47 Emmys and innumerable shattered budgetary and viewing records later, Game of Thrones’ eighth and final season is about to dawn. Of the previous seven I – apparently alone of my generation – have not seen a single minute. This must, I am told by people pressing feverish hands to my shoulders and me to the sofa, be remedied. It is time, they say, that I enter the world of Westeros, the Wall and something called White Walkers and bingewatch until I believe.
When you watch 67 hours of epically sweeping storytelling, you win or you die. I kept a diary of my long, long days and nights to find out which it would be.
Season one – incest and a eunuch
I am a few episodes into it and I am overwhelmed. It’s all so MUCH. So much plot, so much scenery, so much costumery, so much actors! And they seem to be bound by a rule that says they can either sport their own hair or their own accent, but never both. Is this an Equity thing? I am guessing the blue-eyed undead things past the Wall are the White Walkers, but who are all the feuding humans?
I gradually inch my way to understanding at least the basics. Starks in Winterfell. Enemy family the Lannisters and a eunuch-spy called Varys in King’s Landing. Cersei and Jaime are twins, but are shagging. This is technically shocking but, when you see what Jaime looks like, actually quite sensible. Their brother, Tyrion, is a dwarf only barely tolerated by the clan and played by Peter Dinklage, the best actor of his generation despite here adopting an English accent that sounds like James Mason being pushed through a sieve. Good job he has all the best lines.
Ooh, speaking of pushing things through things – Jaime’s just pushed Bran Stark through a window for catching him and Cersei at it. I am perturbed that this doesn’t make me fancy him any less.
Across the Narrow Sea, Daenerys Targaryen – more vowels than clothing – is being married off to a massive Dothraki fellow in order to further her mad brother’s ambitions to reclaim the Iron Throne. On the plus side, she has Iain Glen as her devoted protector, Ser Jorah Mormont. She has been given three dragon eggs as a wedding present. I assume these are not irrelevant.
By the end of season one, I am exhausted. A lot has happened. The only bits I can really remember are Joffrey – the one who looks like an evil Aled Jones – being crowned king, Ned Stark being executed, thanks to the treachery of Littlefinger (Aidan Gillen), who is Shitstirrer of the Seven Kingdoms and no mistake, and Daenerys being de-brothered and widowed but emerging unscathed from a pyre as the mother of three dragon hatchlings. OK.
Some Kendall mint cake laid in, and on to season two.
Season two – so many boobs
I haven’t had time to blink and already Robb Stark has captured Jaime, Stannis Baratheon has teamed up with the Melisandre, the Red Priestess (who gives birth to … his son? In smoke form? Can this be right?) to unseat Joffrey from the Iron Throne.
Meanwhile, Arya’s been attacked on her way to the Wall. I worry about the money being spent. Apparently the episodes in season one came in at about $5m (£3.8m) a pop and by season six it was twice that. Every cent of it is up on screen. Westeros is a truly immersive world, without a false aesthetic note. I read that every costume is aged for two weeks so that it looks good – ie correctly bad – in high definition.
The bad news is there’s yet another family to keep track of: the Tyrells. Joffrey wants to marry the daughter of the house, Margaery, leaving a very relieved Sansa. The good news is the Tyrells are headed by Dame Diana Rigg, who is having a whale of a time.
And there are the Wildlings. Ned’s bastard, Jon Snow of the Single Expression, has joined the Night’s Watch, the brotherly army who guard the Wall, and is endangering his vow of chastity with Ygritte (Rose Leslie). She keeps telling him: “You know nothing, Jon Snow” and, looking at his ceaselessly baffled face. You cannot say she’s wrong.
In the south, there is a lot of nudity. So. Many. Boobs. And all so perfect that, while I do not want to think about the audition process that brought them before us, I do think each pair should have had top-line billing. Of course, the nudity isn’t necessary. It never is. No, never. It brings in the punters. Generally male, heterosexual punters, and this is decidedly wearing.
Beyond boob exposure, things get far more problematic. I am quite sure medieval times were rapey times. It doesn’t mean it has to be reproduced here. Last season had Daenerys being serially maritally raped and then being tutored into … being a better lover in order to stop him. Please. And now every other exposition scene seems to have a prostitute or two being violated in the background.
It absolutely stinks and no, Brienne of Tarth does not make up for it.
Season two ends with the Battle of Blackwater, in which the Lannisters are handily victorious over Stannis thanks to Tyrion’s mustering of all the wildfire in the kingdom. Robb weds Talisa instead of marrying one of Walder Frey’s daughters to forge the agreed military alliance, because Robb is the Great Ninny of Westeros and the High Seas. The White Walkers are on the move and Ned’s ward, Theon Greyjoy (Alfie Allen, in an unexpectedly great performance), has been captured by, goddammit, another new family, the Boltons.
Season three – one wedding and lots of funerals
A confession. I fast-forwarded through most of season three because a) Bran “warging” his way north is so very boring and b) the scenes of Ramsay Bolton’s torture and castration of Theon are awful and unforgivably gratuitous in every way.
I stop for the Red Wedding, of course. Even I have heard of the Red Wedding and it does not disappoint even those of us who lived through Dynasty’s Moldavian marital massacre of 1985.
The Ninny – gone! Ninny’s mother – gone! Nine other main-to-middling cast members – gone!
Season four – age versus beauty
Oh my God, MORE PEOPLE. As the cast list grows longer, it’s impossible not to notice the divide between the old hands, the likes of Iain Glen, Diana Rigg, Charles Dance, Julian Glover, Donald Sumpter and so on, actors who inhabit their roles and dominate their scenes seemingly effortlessly – and the younger set who are learning their craft and sometimes butting up against the limits of their talents. Is this because of their years of experience or because they have survived a business harsher than a Westeros winter by being the best? Who among the next generation will make it over the Wall?
Season five – give me strength
I’m not sure I can make it to the end, not like this. Maybe it works fine in weekly doses (although how many people consume it that way?), but bingewatching is inducing despair. Not so much at the programme, whose prowess as a periodically blindsiding storytelling machine remains a thing of wonder, but at life generally. In Brexity times, there is something particularly bleak about watching endless power plays among a handful of more or less corrupt entities. Flies, wanton boys, gods, all that. It’s too much insight.
Then there’s the further emotional toll of Stannis burning his daughter at the stake to secure the Lord of Light’s favour; Arya in her stolen face gouging out Meryn Trant’s eyes; and Reek, the terrified alter ego of the broken Theon, now Ramsay’s doglike servant. I cannot bear his suffering.
There is much to admire in Game of Thrones, but not much to love, and apparently such emotional investment as I have made has all gone into this one character and turned me against the whole. I am bolstered, however, by Cersei’s much-deserved walk of shame, admiration of the CGI that made the integration of her body double so seamless, and relief that Lena Headey no longer has to wear that awful wig. And Jon Snow is killed, making him only slightly less animated than before.
Season six – brrrrrrrr!
In short: Jon Snow comes back to life, and winter has come.
Season seven – more, please
Very fast, this one. Sansa and Arya, reunited at Winterfell, finally see the Shitstirrer of Westeros for what he is and execute him. Cersei now looks like Joan of Arc, but is an ice-cold, fully fledged psycho working her murderous way through anyone who has ever wronged her.
The final scene is tremendous, even by GoT standards, as the Night King riding an undead dragon blasts a pass through the Wall.
A word about the dragons: they’re amazing. They look, sound and move exactly like dragons should. How we all share the same platonic ideal of a mythical beast beats me, but it is a joy to see it realised.
What do I want to happen in season eight? Well, I look forward to the scenes in which the people who have discovered that Jon’s real ancestry shows he is the true heir to the Iron Throne try to explain it to him. I want Tyrion (or perhaps a sentient dragon voiced by Patrick Stewart) to take the Iron Throne and for Peter Dinklage to have the longest, most storied career in acting history. I want Theon to find peace and Alfie Allen to get an award. Above all, I want whatever resolution the writers arrive at to feel organic and real, not forced. I don’t want the love and time and attention that has been given to the series by the hundreds and hundreds of people involved in making it and the millions upon millions of fans who have committed to it to be betrayed.
The new season of Game of Thrones can be seen on Monday 15 April at 2am and 9pm on Sky Atlantic