Last night both HBO's Game of Thrones and The Killing had their season finales. One was brilliant and the other a huge letdown. Here is what Thrones did to kill The Killing.
Since we're here to talk about season finales, if you think that there aren't going to be spoilers ahead, you have less of a brain than Ned Stark after he got his head chopped off (spoiler alert!). But the thing about season finales is that there is a tentative balance between tying up all the stories from the season and setting the stage for season number two. When Game of Thrones premiered, I started watching it with much trepidation. After the letdown of Boardwalk Empire, I didn't want to get into another sprawling epic and be disappointed. But week after week, as it got more complicated and the characters got more complex, the show and its constantly shifting power dynamics became fascinating. I was much more bullish about The Killing which started off strong, moody, and deep, but then soon got mired in so many red herrings that we started to care about the show less and less.
The great thing about the best season finales is that they rewrite the way the viewer sees the show or creates some great mystery that will need to be solved in the coming months (for example think the Lost finale with the "flash forwards" where Jack has to get back to The Island or the Battlestar Galactica where Starbuck miraculously comes back to life). That's just what happened with Game of Thrones. It never seemed to exhibit the more mystical side of the fantasy genre, leaving out magical creatures, spells, and other mysticism in lieu of a medieval realness with weeping tress and zombies sprinkled in for effect. But then, in the last scene, Daenerys Targaryen walks into her husband's funeral pyre and survives the massive fire and wakes up with dragons writhing on her naked body. Watch the video below (beware, it's NSFW, but the boobs are amazing).
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Dragons. Dragons! Just when you counted Daenerys out of the game for the throne, she shows up with dragons and some new subjects, ready to join the war that is brewing between the other clans for the leadership of the Seven Kingdoms. Also, this is now a world with magical creatures which means that things are only going to get crazier from here. Thrones really tied up many of the stories from season one—John Snow is going to be a man of the night's watch for good, Robb Stark is going to be king of the north, Arya Stark escaped the clutches of the evil Lannisters—by giving us even more to look forward to next year—John's quest beyond the wall, Robb's impending war, Arya's journey to the North.
One of the big problems with The Killing is that, by its very nature, it is always looking backwards, trying to solve an event that already happened. But its at its best when it is doing what its supposed to be doing, solving the murder of Rosie Larsen. As silly as it was to make her a hooker that was killed by councilman Darren Richmond, at least we finally knew what happened. We could close the book on this thing for good and get ready for a whole new murder in season two. That's what I hoped at least, but then it was ruined in the final moments of the show.
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Turns out that Richmond didn't kill her after all and the evidence used to convict him was manufactured by none other than Linden's new partner Holder. These mysteries don't make us look forward into season two, they make us look backward into season one to see what we (and the police) missed. That's not really what should be happening here, because it prevents the satisfaction of any sort of closure.
So, what's going to happen? Will Linden ruin her relationship again by getting off the plane? Will Belko shoot Richmond? Who was in that car with Holder? Know what? I don't care! The Killing tried to do set up a bunch of cliff hangers to keep us interested but it didn't do it the right way. There is no suspense because none of these are the mysteries the audience really cares about and they are all easily diverted. Too many times has someone be shot and lived to tell the tale (think season one of West Wing or the original cliffhanger, "Who Shot JR?," from Dallas), so Richmond really isn't in danger, and if he did die, we're not really going to miss him that much anyway. These are all just more red herrings.
Also, this sets up a show that we don't really want to watch. Does this mean season two is going to be more "Who Killed Rosie Larsen?" because I'm already over trying to solve that. Does this mean it's going to become some vast conspiracy that is just going to go on and on and get more ludicrous with each revelation? We started watching this show for its realistic portrayal of police work and a family experiencing loss. What we have is the new X-Files, but not as good and without any aliens.
That was the real beauty of Game of Thrones, is that it finally lived up to its potential. You start watching for a show that's just like Lord of the Rings with its different species and magical ways, but instead we got sucked into an enthralling court drama full of compelling characters. And then, WHAM, dragons! Now it's not only everything we hoped it to be, but even more.
We started watching The Killing to get a compelling mystery show or a procedural with more depth than the average Law & Order episode, but it has squandered what it could have been. It keeps holding tight to its central mystery long after the audience cares about it. This isn't what we signed up for and not really worth tuning in for. While I can't wait for Game of Thrones to come back, I've already deleted the season pass for The Killing from my DVR. And that's what really marks the success or failure of any season finale.