I’m starting 2022 by looking back at my top 10 choices for the best movies of 2021, the year in which we rebounded from the ever present Covid threat by returning to cinemas, allowing us to experience the kinds of pictures we were spared of in 2020.
It’s been a fascinating year and, as always, film choices subjectively differ among many a reviewer. Here were the pictures that both affected me the most, and seemed to contain the greatest artistic measure, from 10 through to number 1.
Would love to know your thoughts as to your top 10 choices…
The first season finale of Game of Thrones starts with the sight of blood, and ends in a vision of fire. Living up to its title, Fire and Blood sees the culmination of the beginning of A Song of Ice and Fire on screen. The scene is set. The players have been introduced, at least the initial core who will carry through until the very final season – Jon Snow, Daenerys Targaryen, Arya Stark, Bran Stark, Sansa Stark, Cersei Lannister, Jaime Lannister and Tyrion Lannister – and Game of Thrones has fully established itself as a TV phenomenon in the making.
What these final two episodes of the first season, both directed by Alan Taylor, establish is that Game of Thrones also will not cleve to a traditional TV narrative structure. Besides only running for ten episodes a season, a trend show runners David Benioff & D.B. Weiss would set off across the burgeoning range of cable networks and streaming services over the next decades, Game of Thrones’ final episodes of a season are always structured much like epilogues. Traditionally, the finale has been where the biggest shocks take place in television, where character’s fates are decided, and often cliffhanger endings (hence the colloquial TV term which slipped into popular-culture) which will be resolved in the premiere of the following season.
This structure feels like a hold-over from continuing drama or soap opera, whereas Game of Thrones always, appropriately, structured its seasons like a novel. Fire and Blood ends where George R.R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones ends, with the world established and the characters all heading down roads that will define them next season and beyond. Baelor contained the biggest jaw dropping moments – Ned Stark’s execution, the Battle of the Green Fork (even if we never saw it), the death of Khal Drogo – whereas Fire and Blood is about consolidating these points of no return and placing the chess pieces in this broad game in place for Season 2, and the show’s adaptation of Martin’s A Clash of Kings.
Numerous precedents are set by Game of Thrones with Baelor. It is the first episode to be directed by Alan Taylor, who would make his name as one of the key, signature directors of the first two seasons. It is the first penultimate episode of the series to establish the show’s unique narrative style of delivering a blockbuster climactic tale just before the season finale. And it is the episode which killed off not only the biggest name actor in the series, but the character everyone began watching Game of Thrones convinced was the protagonist. By now we knew Game of Thrones had its own set of rules. Baelor confirms it.
As I’ve discussed in my breakdowns of the previous episodes this season, Ned Stark has been heading for the chopping block since the moment he arrived in Kings Landing, and there has always been a sense in Sean Bean’s weight-of-the-world performance that Ned knew it. This was a noble character in a world without nobility, a feudal system which may ostensibly be ridden with stories of dashing, daring, brave heroes, but is shot through with a realistic, cynical modern day sensibility in George R.R. Martin’s world-building which often heaps scorn on the kind of characters who would try and live by rules of courtly, honourable behaviour.
Cersei Lannister told Ned just a few episodes that you either win at “the game” or you die, but Ned never really knew how to play that game at all. He was a character straight out of a different world, which was precisely the point; the moment he concedes he may have to start playing, not to win but rather to survive, his life is quite ceremoniously cut short. It’s just one of the stark (pun intended) ironies of Game of Thrones.