The first seven seasons of HBO’s Game of Thrones was a marathon. The show, based off of George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire, built a fan base on the backbone of dragons, sex, and political thrills that were broadcast most springs since 2011. Constantly in the background were a variety of threats both near and far in the minds of the characters. It paced itself in a very deliberate manner, building a full picture from the varied aspects of the Seven Kingdoms. However, with its final act, GoT decided to sprint to the finish and pulled its hamstring, hard.
The large cast of characters started out spread out all over the world, aware of one another and slowly coming together in pursuit of their agendas. Daenerys Targaryen crossed the Narrow Sea for her birthright, the Iron Throne. Cersei Lannister sat atop said Throne in King’s Landing and worked to keep it because power is intoxicating. Jon Snow left Winterfell for the Wall to join the Night’s Watch and protect “the Realm” from the White Walkers.gif via giphy
David Benioff and D.B. Weiss built an amazing world in which anything could happen at any time, leaving viewers in genuine disbelief, not just because of the shock value, but because of the meticulous plotting and misdirection Thrones could conjure out of nowhere. One phrase: “Red Wedding”. I won’t say any more, but know that there is an entire episode that shut down the internet faster than Kim Kardashian’s bare ass.
That said, the show’s eighth season was not this; it was rushed. Maybe it’s the abbreviated episode count. This season was six episodes and was supposed to be part of the seven-episode season seven. The hope that a full run of 13 episodes making more sense of character arcs and decisions is fair. The show ends as if the writers had long decided who would win the crown and just wanted it done. To note: HBO and Martin both wanted more seasons since it was a juggernaut, and fundamentally changed the network.
In season eight, we do get the battle against the long-threatened White Walkers, which delivered, when you could see it. We see Sansa as a strong, fully actualized leader, though there are some questionable lines. We still get great images of this beautiful world, with easter eggs aplenty. We see Jon never change, even after learning that he is the rightful heir to the throne.gif via giphy
In accord, we also get an ending that felt like the writers were chasing one last surprise, and it never came through. Daenerys becoming a tyrant deserved more than just seeing Missandei be killed during this season. There are elements of this throughout the series, but she is a conquering leader with difficult decisions. The questioning of her mental state by Varys, since she wants to depose Cersei after dealing with the White Walkers, is really odd. This has been her goal from the beginning and he knew that. Saving everyone from the White Walkers was necessary, since you can’t be a queen to no one. Making Varys right in the end was wrong. It just made it easier to reason why Jon killed her. It has an unnecessary shock to it; the show could have done without it. The writers should have watched some WWE for a reminder on how to make a successful heel turn.
In addition, Bran becoming the king of the Six Kingdoms is equally odd. As he became the Three-Eyed Raven, he clearly started to move away from the physical plane more and more, becoming less attached to humanity. Making him king keeps him in the physical world, which is kind of a hard sell. Sure, he is wise, but does he really want it? Who knows. As well, Tyrion is a prisoner on trial for treason, but his words are given weight like he is still the Hand of the Queen when he recommends Bran as King. Following that, the imp lands the job again with Bran, so it is all just flat out strange. It’s the third time he’s gone from prisoner to Hand, so if you really think about it, this career point is kind of a dead horse.
I did love that Sansa declares the North independent and becomes a queen, because she grew into the leader the North needed. Also, she doesn’t take shit from anyone. Arya becoming Christopher Columbus works because you watched her mature from a young tomboy to an independent woman. We’ve seen her travel and take on the world and any challenger who stood in her way. It’s very hard to tie someone down who has no interest in staying in one place, so let her be free. Both of these moves fall within the idea that the characters grew, changed and had their characterizations fully formed in the end. The shift for Daenerys just meant she was always the Mad King’s daughter and nothing else.
In turn, the show’s ending does not really work with the rest of the series. This final season really felt like it was sprinting towards the end, for no real reason. I think Benioff and Weiss could have closed with a stronger picture, instead of what we have now, even within the six episode format. They just needed to be more deliberate in how we got to all the conclusions we draw to. In the end, the show is still one of the greatest dramas of all times, but nothing is perfect. At least we have the memes.