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Forget the plot, Game of Thrones' final season was visually stunning
Now that it's all said and done, now that Westeros has a new ruler and a new way of life at the end of Season 8, fans have a lot to say. Rightfully so, as Game of Thrones has been a unifying point in popular culture for the past eight years.
Part of what’s spurred the show along all this time in the public sphere — other than the characters and the drama and the dragons — is how great it looks. Game of Thrones is just fun to watch due to its cinematic approach. It's big news when fans complain about not being able to see what's going on and even bigger news when an out-of-place prop causes an online kerfuffle. These visuals are important to fans not only for the sake of continuity, but for true immersion into the Game of Thrones world. As harsh and cruel a world as Game of Thrones often presented to its audience, it was, ultimately, escapism at its finest, high fantasy masquerading as a political thriller and drama.
Despite heavily mixed reactions to not just the Season 8 finale but the entire season as a whole, you have to admit one thing: Game of Thrones Season 8 was a treat to watch, visually speaking, every week.
Part of the show’s astounding visuals, of course, are due to its massive budget. Variety reported in 2017 that the final episodes of Game of Thrones would clock in at about $15 million a pop, which is nothing to shake a Dothraki's arakh at. Still, having the budget and knowing what to do with that budget are two entirely different things. And Game of Thrones absolutely knows what to do with it.
That’s why we have to limit ourselves. There are too many awe-inspiring scenes to go over all of them here (we'll pull a Daenerys if we do), so we have to focus on the singular shots that really show what Game of Thrones is capable of, visually.
Here they are: the 15 most spectacular, meaningful shots in Game of Thrones Season 8.
What were your favorite Game of Thrones shots? There are really too many to count. Let us know in the comments below!
01. Flame spiral, Episode 1, 'Winterfell'
While the scene in which Jon rides Rhaegal for the first time is beautiful, we have to give the most props to a different scene, visually speaking, in Episode 1. While Jon's How to Train Your Dragon moment is beautiful, the dark-and-light contrast of some of fans' favorite heroes (namely, Tormund and Beric) looking at this flaming spiral is spine-tingling. And not just because it lit aflame right after that crazy jump scare from the White Walker boy.
02. Remaining members of the Night's Watch looking over the wall, Episode 2, 'A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms'
After all they've been through and seen together, we get this perfectly poignant shot of the remaining members of the Night's Watch — Jon Snow, Samwell Tarly, and Eddison Tollett — taking up what could possibly be their final watch. Of all the quiet, personal moments that went down in Episode 2, this single moment accomplished the most with one shot.
03. Night King's forces looking at Winterfell, Episode 2, 'A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms'
This shot of the Night King's forces staring down Winterfell is a sign of what's to come in more than one way. Yes, Episode 3 is the Battle of Winterfell, but outside its plot, "The Long Night" probably earned the most complaints from fans due to the literal darkness throughout. If seeing is believing, then fans really couldn't believe what they were seeing onscreen. Watching "The Long Night" on anything less than a 4K television resulted in… a lot of hard-to-watch moments. Literally.
This shot is hard to see without the brightness turned all the way up on your screen. But when you do see it — oof.
04. Dragons flying ahead of the Unsullied, Episode 3, 'The Long Night'
It was impossibly difficult to see, as was the case with most scenes in "The Long Night," but this shot of Daenerys and Jon riding forward on Drogon and Rhaegal with the Unsullied marching along resolutely is a chilling reminder of just how much power these soldiers have on their side as they take to their battle stations. But will it be enough? (Yes, the answer is yes.)
05. The first stand, Episode 3, 'The Long Night'
In a single moment, just as the battle is about to begin, Melisandre lights up the darkness for a bit of relief for both the soldiers and viewers. Watching the line of fire make its way through the Dothraki's numbers from Sansa and Arya's point of view is a treat.
And, honestly, the entire shot of the Dothraki racing across the snow toward the Night King's army, lit weapons held aloft, is beautiful no matter whose point of view you're looking from. It just didn't end so beautifully. Because watching those lights flicker out one by one from a distance to leave nothing but darkness? Not great.
06. Melisandre lights the barrier, Episode 3, 'The Long Night'
In one of her final acts of bravery, Melisandre prays to Lord of Light to give her the power of fire once again. She lights the barrier aflame and halts the White Walkers for maybe just enough time to give Winterfell’s forces a chance.
That we get to see this act from so many different angles is what really sells it, as we see the wonder and just how bright everything becomes from one moment to the next.
07. Dragons in the night sky, Episode 3, 'The Long Night'
There's really nothing else to say here but "Wow." Just… wow. HBO's got dragon money, baby.
08. Arya appearing over the Night King’s shoulder, Episode 3, 'The Long Night'
Perhaps the most triumphant moment in Game of Thrones history was brought about by this excellent shot of Arya appearing out of nowhere over the Night King's shoulder. Because of this shot, her appearance is just as much of a surprise for the audience as it is the Night King himself. It's thrilling in every meaning of the word.
09. Sansa watching Dany's dragons, Episode 4, 'The Last of the Starks'
This scene perhaps has even more gut-punch behind it now. Any chance we have to watch Dany's dragons fly is stunning, but to have Sansa in the foreground of their celebrations adds a somber tone. Now, we know that Sansa really never intended to bend the knee to Dany — or any other ruler, for that matter. And here are these dragons, the living symbol of a future ruler, flying about in the skies over Winterfell.
10. Drogon emerges, Episode 5, 'The Bells'
Daenerys becomes more and more the dragon as time goes on. You can't help but get chills as Drogon appears from the shadows behind Daenerys, ready and waiting to burn Varys to a crisp.
11. Arya alone, Episode 5, 'The Bells'
Arya comes out on top both at the end of the season and at the end of "The Bells." She's miraculously survived hell, and as a shaft of light breaks through the clouds of smoke and ash, we see Arya as the hero she really is, lit from behind.
12. Dragon queen, Episode 6, 'The Iron Throne'
Again, Daenerys becomes more and more the dragon queen with every episode. Here, we see her with wings and looking like a sort of dark angel. The angel of death, maybe?
13. A very bad guardian, Episode 6, 'The Iron Throne'
Drogon emerges from ash and snow to give Jon Snow a sniff before allowing him to enter the Throne Room and meet with Daenerys. Not only does Drogon's size once again allow for incredible scale differences, he's also a sharp, dark contrast to the muted world around him.
14. The Queen in the North, Episode 6, 'The Iron Throne'
Finally, Sansa gets what she always dreamed of. Thank goodness for us it's even more beautiful than we could have dreamed.
15. Arya's journey, Episode 6, 'The Iron Throne'
Forget Jon Snow's final shot. Arya's final shot — of her looking ahead to her future beyond the reaches of Westeros — is a perfect amalgamation of everything she's accomplished. She smiles quietly to herself and gazes with anticipation at the horizon. Focusing just on her rather than anything else was the perfect way to visually send her off.