If the theme of last week’s Game of Thrones was ‘Back to Hogwarts’, the theme of this week’s was, ‘Oh God, we’re doing Henry V as our GCSE set text and it’s really, really boring.’
The Shakespeare scene I’m thinking of, obviously, is the one on the eve of Agincourt where Henry V disguises himself as a common soldier and wanders round his encampment, feeling his troops’ pain and giving them succour for the travails to come. I remember when I did this at school thinking: “Can’t we have a bit less preamble and a bit more Agincourt?” And I felt exactly the same during the ordeal by tedium which was GoT Season 8, Episode 2.
Go on, admit it: it was dull – and clicheed, and trite – almost beyond measure. A whole hour consisting of little more than sentimentality, predictable dialogue and endless, endless throat clearing as everyone prepares themselves for their almost inevitable deaths in the coming epic battle with the White Walkers.
My favourite bits were – noting approvingly that they’re spiking the crenellations of Winterfell with dragon glass (nice tactical touch, that); spotting the surviving Dire Wolf in the background and thinking: “Oh that’s nice. It’s our old friend the Dire Wolf that hasn’t got killed yet.” Everything else was so bad I felt it was the kind of script I could have dashed off over a weekend, perhaps while under the influence of MDMA, thus explaining the enfeebled mawkishness of the scene like the one where Brienne of Tarth finally gets made a knight.
“Women can’t be knights”, someone says. “Why not?” says her wildling fancyman Tormund. “Tradition,” comes the reply. “F**k tradition,” says Tormund. I suppose at this point we’re all supposed to be cheering: “Yeah, man. Tradition, is like, so fusty and traditional and patriarchal.” But I wasn’t. I just thought it was a needless bit of gratuitous woke sliming its way into a ruthless quasi-Medieval universe which would surely have no truck with such ‘you go, girl! you can be whoever you want to be’ post-feminist nonsense.
And who’d have thought: turns out that in this particular world, you don’t even need to be knighted by the king. Apparently, according to some rule plucked from the ether by Jaime, another knight can dub you a knight just as effectively. So that’s what he promptly does to Brienne. Tears of joy all round. Gentle vomiting from this viewer.
Meanwhile, in the bowels of the castle, Arya is getting her first shag. I’m not sure how comfortable I felt about this scene. Yes, yes, I know she’s an adult now and perfectly entitled to such activities. Even so, I can’t be the only middle-aged dad who felt a bit awkward watching this hitherto sexless character whom we’ve known since she was about 11 suddenly tearing off her leather jerkin, flashing a hint of breast (far less, mind, than we used to see of Daenerys back in the day, before she had her contract rewritten) and hurling herself at Gendry so as to ensure she doesn’t die a virgin.
Still, here’s the great thing – perhaps the greatest thing – about Game of Thrones: worse is better. Whenever in the past it has got as dire as it did in the last couple of episodes, that’s a sign you’re in for some really major shocks, of Red Wedding magnitude. Next week’s battle, you can be sure, is going to be a corker, with so many major characters dying hideously – possibly before being recruited themselves to the ranks of the undead, which will be weird, won’t it: seeing, say, the Imp all blue-white and spectral on a ghostly horse of death? – that you won’t know where to look. It could be like a Grand National where all the favourites tumble at the first fence and you’re thinking: “Oh my God, this wasn’t meant to happen. Who the hell am I supposed to root for now?”
That’s why I can completely forgive this episode its rubbishness. Well, almost. I still think there’s no excuse for lines of dialogue like “This goes beyond loyalty. This is about survival!” and “He loves you, you know that”. But I have to concede that in all fairness, it was quite unavoidable to have an episode where we meet all our friends – friends we’ve known for eight years – for what may be their last time on earth and reminisce a bit about their past escapades.
Hence the scene where a few of the old gang, many of them former adversaries, sit around the fire, getting drunk, recalling their old battles and giving us a final bit of backstory. (Tormund, we learn, got so big because as a 10-year old he slew a giant and then – apparently – spent six months suckling on the teat of the late giant’s missus). It was nice to have one’s memory jogged about all the previous great battles, such as the Battle of Blackwater in which Tyrion distinguished himself back in Season Two. At the same time, though, you could not help being reminded simultaneously what enfeebled husks so many of the main characters have become. Jaime is a cipher; Tyrion a wheedling bore, whose only modes these days are hurt, needy and rueful.
Mind you nowhere would a cull be more welcome than on the increasingly tiresome, strident, posturing womenfolk. “Do you think Daenerys will survive?” my wife asked me. “Well I bloody hope not!” I said. I’m sure there was a time when Thrones wasn’t nearly so schematic. But now it has become an exercise in feminist box-ticking, like the dreary scene we had to sit through in which Daenerys and Sansa compare notes on how it feels to be a powerful woman. Sorry, don’t care. Bring on the White Walkers!