9 years. 8 seasons. Countless deaths. HBO’s Game of Thrones has been the defining television program for the last decade. It has received numerous accolades, unprecedented critical acclaim, and more fan discussion than any other series in recent memory. These accomplishments contribute to the utter disappointment that was the show’s final season.
To fully understand what plummeted the show to the depths of a remedial network sitcom, it is pivotal to illustrate the formula of the show that made fans so thrilled to watch each week. Beginning with world-building, the series had a meticulously detailed universe in which the rules of humanity actually applied to each character, good or bad. Independent of the fantastical elements like witches, dark magic and dragons, the series had always been rooted in reality and politics.
Each season subverted all expectations, portraying utterly baffling deaths and even more surprising betrayals. It expertly choreographed action sequences that had been deemed impossible to showcase on a television screen.
So, what went wrong?
The sins of Game of Thrones can be dated back to the show’s penultimate seventh string of episodes. The first season to feature under ten episodes (the first red flag), the 7-episode run abandoned several key aspects that contributed to the show’s success. The slow-burn character development and rules of time were stripped away in favor of a more rapid pace and penchant for spectacle. The logic that intrigued fans across the globe was more or less eradicated.
Take, for example, “Beyond the Wall,” the season’s sixth entry. In the episode, Jon Snow and his new crew of Wildlings and soldiers from across the Seven Kingdoms came together to capture a wight to prove to tyrant Queen Cersei Lannister that the White Walkers were a real threat.
The episode featured the group trapped on an island of ice, surrounded by white walkers, but they each left unscathed. Worse, Snow’s ally Daenerys Targaryen somehow rapidly flew north from Dragonstone in under a day to aid them. The episode was unrealistic, but it still possessed enough emotional resonance and expertly curated tension reminiscent of previous battle sequences to be pulled off, as Viserion, one of three dragons under Targaryen’s wing, was killed and thereafter reanimated as a white walker.
The same cannot be said for the eighth and final season.
The final season featured underwhelming and poorly constructed deaths, unnecessarily rushed plots, and lingering questions. The first sign of trouble was in the long-awaited Battle of Winterfell. “The Long Night” featured Targaryen and Snow teaming up their forces to defeat the White Walkers and save the world of Westeros from the dead. The episode was far from terrible. In any other series, this would be applauded for brilliant action, but this is “Thrones.” This was the series that featured the teetering Battle of Blackwater Bay, the phenomenally captured Battle of the Bastards, and Lannister’s utterly shocking destruction of the Sept of Baelor.
The poor lighting of the Battle of Winterfell can be attributed to the chaos and anxiety the director undeniably wanted to translate from characters to audiences. The flawed logic is what discredited the battle. The Dothraki were foolishly sent to perish in the episode’s opening moments, the main characters suddenly obtained enough plot armor to avoid the swift deaths at the hands of the White Walkers that countless side characters went through in the show’s earlier years, and the rapid destruction of the Night King by Arya Stark, though undeniably shocking, left viewers unsatisfied. While it made sense for Stark’s narrative to culminate in the defeat of the Night King, it was the mythology of the White Walkers and their apparently nonexistent motivations that made the conclusion so unsatisfying.
The Night King’s death was the inciting incident that quickly sent the show off a cliff. “The Last of the Starks,” the follow-up episode, gave the audience a glimpse of hope with the funeral for the fallen, and the slowed down celebration in Winterfell was a nice breather. Who doesn’t love a quick Starbucks break in between battles? What made this episode faulty was its sudden, unexplained and forced resurgence of action.
Without hesitation or forethought, Targaryen flew to Dragonstone where her second dragon was instantly murdered and her most trusted friend Missandei captured by Euron Greyjoy. Soon after, that friend was murdered in front of her and the Mad Queen was born.
This character development was not necessarily a betrayal of the core of the show or Targaryen herself, but its rushed pace and obvious execution was more than disappointing. For a season that spent two episodes focusing on its central cast at Winterfell, the events of the episode felt jarring and unnecessarily sprinted through.
The final two episodes utterly destroyed the series and its legacy. “The Bells” featured a suddenly insane, tyrannical Targaryen destroying King’s Landing and the majority of those who inhabited the city. It further showed Jaime Lannister, brother lover combo, erase years of character development only to die with his sister in an underwhelming fashion. While the events of “The Bells” were too quick to process, the episode’s cinematography and action pieces were miles ahead of that from “The Long Night.” In burning down the development of characters that made the show so compelling, though, “The Bells” left skepticism for the finale’s ability to successfully wrap up the show.
Upon Sunday’s final episode, the writers deemed themselves unworthy of doing so. Predictable, upsetting, and above all boring, the series finale was a complete disservice to the committed fans of the series.
The episode opened to Snow killing and thereby saving the world from newly minted tyrant Targaryen. It further appointed Bran Stark, confusingly, King of the now Six Kingdoms of Westeros, with Sansa Stark elected Queen of the independent Northern Kingdom. For penance for killing the dragon queen, Snow was once again exiled to the Night’s Watch where he was ruled to live out the rest of his days.
Jon Snow slaying Daenerys made sense – its execution was the problem. The writers aimed to tell the story of Snow and Targaryen, Ice & Fire, breaking the “wheel” together. Snow finding out his parentage was the catalyst for Targaryen’s descent into madness, and its reveal led to the destruction of the government as it was through Targaryen’s devolution and Snow’s duty to kill her. This was depicted neither clearly nor successfully, and will forever remain an unsatisfying end to an otherwise phenomenal series.
“The Iron Throne” is so unintentionally tragic in the same ways the show had been flawed since its peak in season 6. Rushed writing, quickly thrown together conclusions, and the prioritization of spectacle over logic destroyed a show that prided itself in pacing, character development, and realistic conflict.