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By Ryan Mason · June 22, 2011
We’ve already done plenty of the “Whoa, they really killed him?” moments with our fellow Throners (no idea if there’s a name for the fans yet, but I’ll throw mine into the ring). So now that our shock has worn off, and we’ve had some time to let it sink in that, yes, they weren’t lying about those Targaryans having some power over dragons, seems like as good a time as any to take a look back over the first season and finale of Game of Thrones with a sober eye.
In full disclosure, I have to admit that I haven’t read the books. I hadn’t even heard of them before reading about the HBO series. But all signs pointed toward it being a solid show: critical acclaim for the books, David Benioff co-writing the whole series, and Sean Bean at the helm. And without knowing anything else about it, hearing it described as “The Lord of the Rings with sex” sure piqued my interest – even if it ended up being a horrible mix, it sure would be worth checking out at least for a couple weeks.
Lo and behold, it ended up being much more than just some Tolkien knock-off. And thankfully, it also managed to stick the landing, offering up plenty of surprises along with natural endings to a number of storylines in the finale – which includes the second-to-last episode, too, in a one-two punch that shook things up more in a series’ first season than in recent memory. The reason it worked so well was because it fit the narrative. Sure, it had some nice shock value. It played on our expectations that the hero lives, especially when it’s only the first season of show. But, it wasn’t really out of left field. Ned Stark had been imprisoned already for a couple episodes, leaving the door open for the other narrative threads to gain strength and take over organically.
In fact, looking back on it now, it seems so obvious. That’s when you know you’re onto something. It wasn’t a gotchya moment where you had to remember that one character that said that one thing that one time back in episode two for the twist to make sense. It wasn’t even a twist; it was the natural progression of the storyline that just caught everyone off guard because of our own preconceived notions of what was possible in a TV show. The writers knew this, yet were still controlled enough to not end the season on that moment. Because while it was the end of one thread, by that point it was sharing some serious time with a few others that needed attention.
As the other storylines got their last beats – John Snow dealing with his duty on the wall, Robb becoming the King of the North, Tyrion Lannister winning an iota of respect from his father – the one that struck me most was the Drogo/Daenerys chapter. When it first began, I never expected it to end up where it did nor did I expect Drogo to become such a sympathetic character. Yet, like with everything else, the finale wrapped it up well as Daenerys’ transformation from reluctant bride to powerful dragon queen didn’t strike us as surprising, either. Instead, rather satisfying.
Many writers will tell you that, when crafting your tale, know your ending first and work your way back. While writers/co-creators Benioff and D.B Weiss had the source material guiding their way, they definitely still had to know how they were going to structure the first season before they got underway, and it’s evident by how obviously they finished off their arcs. I don’t mean obvious in a bad way or to mean that we all saw these events coming (although that Joffrey Baratheon always seemed like a little prick), just that with the benefit of hindsight having seen the entire series play out, I’m not sitting here glossing over those moments that just didn’t feel organic but had to be there in order to make the plot work. Characters didn’t break from their personalities just so certain events would be set up properly to take us into Season Two. Convenient new information didn’t arrive at ridiculously opportune times to make sure that plot point A made it to plot point Z.
But the best way to judge the finale is with two questions: do you want Season Two to start immediately and, if yes, were you still satisfied with Season One as its own entity? For me, it’s yes and yes. Which means that the filmmakers did their jobs exceptionally. They’ve crafted a season that doesn’t rely on gimmicks, that stands on its own as one tale, yet leaves us with a world so rich with characters and conflict that we can’t wait to see their next adventures. The last episode was a true end and beginning all in one, exactly as it should be.
It’s going to be a long year-and-a-half wait.