Game of Thrones: The Last Watch Review

Game Of Thrones The Last Watch, Game of Thrones: The Last Watch Review, Micarofx

“Game of Thrones: The Last Watch” could easily be dismissed as HBO’s way of maximizing its ample investment in the series, a glorified electronic press kit to extend the program’s run by one more week. Yet after many viewers spent the final season bashing the show, the two-hour documentary served a dual purpose, offering a reminder of all the grueling work that went into making it.

Director Jeanie Finlay spent a year chronicling the production, spanning locations from Belfast to Croatia to Spain. While the stars and producers David Benioff and D.B. Weiss received a bit of screen time, the project went the extra mile to showcase those who don’t walk red carpets, from background actors — shown noshing on snacks during breaks, under hideous makeup — to construction, the cheerful folks who fed this small army and even those responsible for all that fake snow.
Among the unlikely stars of the documentary were Andrew McClay, an extroverted background actor who choked up when his watch finally ended; and Vladimir Furdik, the stunt coordinator who garnered an unexpected taste of stardom as the villainous Night King, who muttered “Back to normal” when his stretch under that guise finished.
Finlay also spent considerable time presenting the weeks of night shoots — prompting one crew member to mutter that he felt like a vampire — amid inclement weather that pushed the production, and those working on it, to their limits.
Game Of Thrones The Last Watch, Game of Thrones: The Last Watch Review, Micarofx
The stars did get their moments, from Kit Harington’s tearful farewell on his final day of shooting to Emilia Clarke quietly musing in her makeup chair about what life will be like after the show, which both propelled her into the public consciousness and left a lot of people debating the wisdom of having named a daughter “Daenerys.”
“It’s exciting to think, ‘Who am I without this?'” Clarke said.
Perhaps foremost, “The Last Watch” served as a testament to the massive logistical hurdles that the final season of “Thrones” posed, delivering six episodes with the heft of feature films. Executive producer Bernie Caulfield seemed to sum up the mixed feelings that evoked, which oscillated between nostalgia and somewhat guilty relief as the finish line neared.
The narrative choices that defined the closing run will be debated for some time, with the hoopla surrounding the series stoking smaller controversies — from a battle sequence that many deemed too dark and murky to an errant coffee cup being left in a shot — that will surely fade more quickly.
Beyond giving the foot soldiers in the battle to produce “Game of Thrones” their moments in the spotlight, “The Last Watch” provided a clear sense of the toil that goes into such an enterprise. “That new GoT doc is pretty incredible, one of the best portraits I’ve seen of what a huge production feels like from the POV of all the folks doing the day to day work,” Rian Johnson, the director of “Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” tweeted on Sunday night.
In that regard, wherever and however the series came up short, the message was that for those in the trenches, it wasn’t for lack of trying.
Who says Game of Thrones content had to end when Jon Snow led a procession of free folk into the forest north of Castle Black? Not HBO, certainly, which is busy preparing at least one Thrones prequel—if not more—and aired new material just a week after its finale, “The Iron Throne,” set network ratings records last weekend.

Even Amid Plot Stumbles, the Crew Deserves Tremendous Credit

Much of the unsettled discourse around Season 8 focused on the observable story of the show: the writing, the pace, the plot. But Last Watch mostly steers away from these points, and from Thrones’ known faces; showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss don’t give interviews, while the prominent actors and actresses speak just a few times. Instead, the documentary is a love letter to the Thronesfolks whose names don’t appear in the opening credits: the production organizers, the cast extras, and the various crews—costume, makeup, set construction and design, and so on—who helped create the spectacle of the final season. “I’m a conductor of fine musicians who basically just waves his arms around,” says David Nutter, who directed episodes 1, 2, and 4 this season. The documentary centers those fine musicians’ stories and work.

That work is notable because, stray 21st-century coffee cup aside, that spectacle was present and extraordinary throughout the uneven final hours. “Every episode has as much in it as any one feature film, but we have to do it quicker and for less money,” producer Christopher Newman says early in the doc. That effort included 11 weeks of night shoots for the Battle of Winterfell, a seven-month construction project to build the to-be-destroyed section of King’s Landing on an unused lot in Belfast, Northern Ireland—for some reason, the authorities in Dubrovnik, Croatia, which hosts much of the King’s Landing scenery, didn’t want a dragon to ravage their city—and the continuous work of Del Reid, the “Head of Snow,” which is a job title that makes him sound like the leader of a group of Northern bastards.

Even during “The Bells,” as viewers questioned the suddenness of Daenerys’s choices, they couldn’t deny the splendor and the cinematic experience of the television episode. Last Watch displays just how much planning went into that final product.

Adding Episodes Might Not Have Been Feasible

One of the common criticisms of Season 8 was the rushed pace and progression of key plot points (see: Daenerys’s turn to villainy). In retrospect, it seemed, Thrones had committed a significant misstep by transitioning from 10-episode seasons. As it had been structured through the first six years, to a seven- and six-episode format for the final two seasons. More screen time could have helped smooth some of these wrinkled edges.

But more screen time also could have stretched the show’s production past the point of feasibility. “The schedule is impossible,” production designer Deborah Riley says. “I think this season, we’ve certainly found the limit of what’s able to be achieved.” Four more episodes needn’t have included anything like the Battle of Winterfell or Daenerys’s sack of King’s Landing. But Thrones already took nearly two full years off between seasons 7 and 8. So additional demand on the crew might not have worked within any reasonable time frame. It’s a better excuse, anyway, than Benioff and Weiss’s contention that they had “always believed it was about 73 hours.”

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