After 8 seasons, 73 episodes, and years of speculation about who would end up on the Iron Throne, the HBO blockbuster has ended its run. The series finale did some things right, but it also made some utterly infuriating decisions.
Note: The following article contains massive spoilers about Game of Thrones covering all 73 episodes of the show’s run. Read at your own risk.
On Friday, I published my thoughts on the final season of Game of Thrones and included my wish list for the series finale. Now that the series has wrapped, let’s see which came true — and which didn’t. My hopes were that the finale would…
- Resist the urge to spend time setting up the spin-offs. Unless we get an unexpected spinoff of Arya the explorer, I would say that the writers satisfied this wish.
- Provide some logic or nuance to Daenerys’ descent. The somewhat long-winded, but nevertheless exquisitely well acted, scenes between Jon and Daenerys and Jon and Tyrion managed to put her behavior in some type of psychological, social, historical, and philosophical context. It wasn’t particularly satisfying but they get points for trying.
- Leave the Three-Eyed Raven mythology alone. Here is where they failed the most miserably in my eyes. Bran Stark is by far the least interesting and least developed character in the entire universe and the decision to have him end up on the Iron Throne was lazy and nonsensical. (I thought he wasn’t Bran anymore, but the Three Eyed-Raven? And didn’t he say he was not interested in ruling anything?) Sure, they didn’t delve into his status as the Three-Eyed Raven, but rather they actively ignored it (or at least minimized it) while putting his character center stage. And that is arguably worse.
- Send Tyrion out with a bang. Here is a place where the series finale excelled. It gave a spectacular showcase to Peter Dinklage. Even if Emmy voters decide against giving their top awards to the divisive final season, I find it hard to believe they won’t reward Dinklage with his fourth Emmy for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series (which would be a record number of wins in that category.)
- Give a noble end to Sansa and Brienne. This one is a bit more complicated. Sure, Sansa got passed over for the throne in favor of her disinterested and far-less-qualified brother and Brienne’s most poignant moment was writing about her fallen lover in a book. But, the most important thing is that Sansa and Brienne both ended in positions of power (Sansa as Queen of the North, which retained its independence, and Brienne as Lord Commander of the Kingsguard). So I’ll call it a win.
- Not end too happily or cleanly. This is perhaps where the finale disappointed me the most. It all felt too pat. It could have been worse — they didn’t invent democracy (they shut down Samwell pretty quickly on that front) or have any gushy romantic climaxes. But there was only a single death (Daenerys) and there was the overwhelming sense that good prevailed, that remaining characters have peace and mutual respect between them, and that there are no imminent threats from the outside. Although none of this was particularly cheesy or illogical, it didn’t feel true to the spirit of the story to me. I always found Game of Thrones to be a savage tale about the brutal reality of shifting power dynamics and to have it end on an upbeat note just felt supremely unfitting to me.
In addition to the high points referenced above, there were other things in the finale that worked exceedingly well. First and foremost were the spectacular production values. The haunting image of Daenerys ruling over King’s Landing with Drogon taking flight behind her is perhaps the best example of the stunning images the show has consistently been serving up all season (even when the writing struggled), the brilliant score by Ramin Djawadi was also a major highlight here, and the visual effects in the sequence involving Drogon discovering that Daenerys had died were impeccable. Even when the plot developments were disappointing me, I was utterly captivated by the sumptuous visual feast.
Another thing that worked very well was the scene with the Westeros council that was abruptly replaced right after Daenerys’s death (the jarring time jump actually worked quite well). It allowed us to see who ended up in charge of which kingdom (go Gendry!) and who was still alive (Sweet Robin!) after all the carnage in a way that did not disrupt the narrative. We also got some lightly comic moments throughout the episode that I thoroughly enjoyed, including Sansa shutting down a loquacious nobleman and Tyrion’s reference to bringing a jackass and a honeycomb to a brothel (now there’s a spinoff I would watch!).
But unfortunately a lot did not work and it was not limited to the throne going to an undeserving and uninterested man over a much more qualified and passionate passionate woman. The episode also failed to do anything with the prophecies that had been scattered throughout the series, making no reference to them and having none of them come true. There was also cheap fan service abound. Samwell showing up with the copy of A Song of Ice and Fire (the name of the book series on which Game of Thrones is based) could have worked in theory, but it didn’t land at all with me. Jon reuniting with Ghost was touching, but his journey with the Wildlings beyond the wall seemed only placed at the end so that it could mirror the opening scene of the show’s first episode. And then there were some resolutions to character arcs that just felt bizarre. After training as an assassin and then deciding that love and family were more important than revenge, Arya decided to … sail off in search of new worlds? After being a disinterested rogue for the whole series’ run, Bronn ended up … as a lord and a bureaucrat (the Master of Coin)?
Where Do We Go From Here?
There may be no new episodes of Game of Thrones coming our way, but the show will live on in many ways:
The continuing arguments about how it wrapped up. Sci-fi and fantasy fanatics are never ones to shy away from expressing displeasure when things don’t go the way they want. And with social media ubiquitous they now have a large platform in which they can be joined by millions of more casual fans. I still see fairly frequent debate over numerous series finales of past years, including Lost, Seinfeld, The Sopranos, and Friends. Don’t expect Game of Thrones’ divisive final season to fade from pop culture consciousness anytime soon.
Predicting how it will fare at this year’s Emmys. Game of Thrones has picked up the Emmy for Outstanding Drama Series each of the last three years in which it was eligible. Everyone expected it would sweep in its final year, to the point that other high profile drama series moved their premieres outside of the eligibility period at least in part to avoid a showdown (e.g., The Handmaid’s Tale, The Crown, Big Little Lies). But now that it has been so divisively received, will it still sweep? Or will it just get love for Dinklage and its stunning direction? And, if it doesn’t sweep, what show will rise up and take its place? We will find out soon.
Seeing what the cast does next. Nearly everyone in the cast of Game of Thrones has seen their profiles substantially raised by their involvement with the series and fans will be anxiously awaiting their next moves. My biggest hope is that it leads to higher quality roles for the tremendous Lena Headey, Peter Dinklage, and Sophie Turner.
Awaiting the spinoff(s). We know at least one prequel series is in development. All we know about it so far is that it will take place thousands of years before the events of Game of Thrones and will star Naomi Watts. Surely its development and premiere will be a huge media event as HBO is eager to maintain subscribers following the loss of its flagship.
Reading the final books — should they ever arrive. George R. R. Martin still says they are coming, but I’m not holding my breath.
Revisiting the golden age of Game of Thrones. Thanks to streaming, we will always be able to visit the many spectacular high points of the show’s run. I, for one, will be starting with the following 5 masterpieces:
- “Baelor” (Season One, Episode Nine). When the show made the bold decision to kill off protagonist Ned Stark so early on, it solidified the show’s status as the boldest and most brutal show on television.
- “Blackwater” (Season Two, Episode Nine). This game-changing battle-set episode features some stunning visual effects and some of the best moments of Cersei and Tyrion’s entire run.
- “The Rains of Castamere” (Season Three, Episode Nine). No three words evoke the intense emotional reaction in Game of Thrones fans as “The Red Wedding.” Far more than a grisly shock-fest or plot contrivance, it was one of the most masterfully staged twists in television history.
- “The Mountain and the Viper” (Season Four, Episode Eight). The culmination of Tyrion’s trial and the brutal death of Oberyn Martell highlight a flawless outing.
- “The Winds of Winter” (Season Six, Episode Ten). No sequence in modern television history has captivated me to the degree of the extended opening sequence in which Cersei destroys the Great Sept, with numerous pivotal characters inside.