Final Words: A Discussion on Avengers: Endgame and Game of Thrones Season 8

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Antony Post, Editor

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SPOILERS AHEAD FOR

AVENGERS: ENDGAME and GAME OF THRONES SEASON 8

 

Within the span of one month, two of the greatest touchstones in pop-culture history have concluded: the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s 22 film journey with Avengers: Endgame, and quite possibly the greatest television show of all time, Game of Thrones, airing its final season. Both had an unbelievable amount of fan anticipation, unmatched in the film and TV sectors respectfully. These overarching stories, both close to 10 years in the making, had an unbelievable amount of pressure on the directors, writers, and entire creative team. Unfortunately, we live in a time of absolutes, where something is either a perfect masterwork with zero flaws, or the worst thing to ever grace the eyes of those who watch.

 

In the media world dominated by the iPhone, everything has to come ultra fast, leaving no time to process, reflect, and think about anything. When everyone else is tweeting their reaction, do you really want to wait a week to respond? I fall victim to this pop culture mob mentality at times, but today, I am leaving all of that behind me. I am going to discuss how the MCU and Game of Thrones gave their final words to the screen, and why one did it better than the other.

 

These two stories had so many characters to get their final words out of, and a whole lot of fan pressure making sure they have triumphant and powerful endings. With Endgame, Marvel took three hours to tell the second half of the story that was set up in Avengers: Infinity War, giving appropriate time to wrap up the original six Avengers storylines, and set up the next generation of heroes that will continue the franchise now that the original story arc has concluded.

On the other hand, Game of Thrones’ final season consisted of six episodes, the shortest of all the seasons. The two major conflicts in the season, the threat of the Night King and his White Walkers, and the fight for the Iron Throne, each took about three episodes to resolve. The Night King’s story arc was completed by the end of the third episode, and the fourth is when the Iron Throne plot came out of the background. This choice was not the smartest to make, not only because it lessens the whole plot surrounding these conflicts, but makes the whole story feel rushed. The seventh season was all about the Night King, and the fact that his threat was really over and done with in one episode with one battle was a bit perplexing. Many have echoed, myself included, that this season had such a gargantuan task before it cut itself down to about seven hours. Upon viewing the whole season, many characters arcs are rushed, fleeting time is spent with every person, and certain themes are not fully realized. Meanwhile, Endgame really was the culmination of this 22 film epic. There were many smaller moments in the first act, just being propelled by the characters talking, which still moved as fast as the action. This is due to the script recognizing the importance of breathing. Letting the story breathe, and giving the characters and the audience a chance to take a deep breath and understand what is going to happen and what the characters are going through does wonders with the relatability and personality of the screenplay. Now, to be fair, the second episode of this season of Game of Thrones does take its full hour just to breathe, and give the characters time to recognize how their individual journeys have led them to the upcoming fight. This may be the best episode of the season because of it, but that should not be the case. The best scenes of any film or television show are not the ones from the first half an hour when the characters are talking. And even though the beginning is well paced, full of heart, and keep the audience on their toes in an inventive, non-action way, Endgame’s best moments come from the end of the film.

 

So, let’s move onto the endings. Last warning for spoilers for both of these projects. Now, each of these endings had different tones and purposes, with one being more inspirational and the other being bittersweet. However, one excelled in its execution of its ideas, and the other fell on its face. Endgame somehow managed to balance all 65+ character in its cast and still managed to tell a heartfelt story about family, with three lead characters at its center: Iron Man, Captain America, and Black Widow. The arcs they partake in, both individually and as a group, both are complete in the sense of this individual film, and their journeys over the past 11 years. The movie does not treat its audience stupidly, and assumes you know who these people are so their arcs can be as powerful as they can be. The choice that the characters make, all sacrificing themselves, do not feel out of character. It feels right to see Iron Man die to save everyone, Black Widow to die to get the red out of her ledger, and Captain America to go back in time to live with his true love. On that note, using time travel as a major plot point in this film was a genius idea, recalling the 22-film journey that the characters and the audience have taken. Seeing the superheroes we love go back in time to relive the superheroes movies we love was a great way to build on the legacy of Marvel.

 

Now, onto Game of Thrones, where the writers, David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, took the story in its penultimate episode to have Daenerys Targaryen, a character in the past seen as loving, gentle, and being ruthless only when she had to be, on an arc to become the Mad Queen. In her mad rage, she burns tens of thousands of innocent citizens alive within the capital city of Westeros. Now, even if this turn is already hard to believe, I do think it could have been pulled off. However, due to the rushed nature of this season, her arc and eventually her decision to enact this feels hollow and unearned.

 

Everything that comes after it is bogged down by what came before, since it is all in reaction to the carnage. Daenerys’ decision just feels out of character, and does not feel like the end to the arc started in season 1. And if it was meant to be a twist, the groundwork was not set. Think of the best twists in entertainment; they do not just come out of nowhere. And it takes more than a couple of seeds here and there, or trying to fit the plot into the twist to make it work. Also, it is important to remember what story is being told. After Iron Man’s heroic sacrifice and funeral, where there wasn’t a dry eye in a theater around the world, there was not another joke or quip in the film. The same is not true for the final episode of Game of Thrones. And sure, comedy is needed at times in a drama in order to break the tension, but knowing how to set up the joke is just as important. And even if you get a chuckle out, if it ruins the flow of the scene, the forced smile isn’t worth it.

 

In the end, even before their final words were said, these franchises’ impact on popular culture was already written. Game of Thrones and the Marvel’s “Infinity Saga” are two of the greatest touchstones of filmed entertainment in history. However, finales need satisfying conclusions that still surprise the audience, and have arcs that are both individual and overarching throughout the whole journey. Avengers: Endgame is a well balanced, powerful masterwork, with fantastic performances, especially from Robert Downey Jr, Chris Evans, and Scarlett Johansson, all capturing humanity in each and every frame. The final season of Game of Thrones is a rushed epic, shocking the audience in ways that feels hollow more than earned. And even with truly staggering, moving, and beautiful visuals, what they are capturing in those moments do not feel as great as they could have been. Still, there are many, truly wonderful scenes. The cast tries their absolute best, and succeed at points, giving many nuanced and powerful performances. Major props must go to Emilia Clarke and Peter Dinklage for finding ways to bring that out of their characters. Another season to flesh out these ideas further and take the time to tell it might have been very beneficial. Overall, having Iron Man finish his journey with the same words that started it (“I Am Iron Man”) shows that in the end, the MCU understood how to end their story up to the final words.

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