After a much-maligned eighth and final season, HBO’s Game of Thrones is done. Unmarked spoilers follow.
The eighth season was so notoriously bad, we got petitions asking for rewrites. Here’s how I explained it to a friend after the notorious episode 5:
It’s not about characters being killed, it’s about bad writing because they’re cramming. The writers were determined to finish the show in 2 smaller seasons so they’re skipping a lot of necessary character development and characters just do stupid things because the plot demands it. The most recent episode (spoilers follow, no apologies) has Dany do something really bad and out of character. It wouldn’t have been so bad if they had spent maybe 5-6 episodes building up to it, but there’s nothing, she just decided out of nowhere, fuck it, let’s do this. The show was already very simplified compared to the books, which had a lot of plot threads and character arcs that never carried over to the show, which is understandable given the volume, and season 8 basically dumbs it down even more so they can hit their target number of episodes
The final episode aired today, and I was mostly whelmed. A big meh. It’s always challenging to finish in a satisfying manner an epic story with many intersecting character arcs, especially something this popular. You are almost always not going to please everybody. Some endings made sense, some I could see that GRRM was probably planning for all along, some came out of nowhere (Arya the Explorer comes to mind). Like many things about season 8, so much of it feels crammed and unearned. The season might have been better received if they had stretched things out more. As it is, they had to do things like have Tyrion justify Dany’s madness in a speech to Jon after the fact, instead of building up to it organically.
Experiencing the series as a book reader was interesting, since we knew what was going to happen for basically the first five seasons. I’m sure I’m not the only book reader who was excited to see how TV viewers would react to things like the execution of Ned Stark and the Red Wedding. Once the series overtook the books, we then fell into this weird position of having the show spoil the books. Not that we wouldn’t still read the books, but the show leaving out certain elements changes their importance in the books. For example, the absence of the Lady Stoneheart and Young Griff in the shows implied those plot threads were actually irrelevant to the show’s ultimate ending.
But I think the poor writing in season 8 makes me look forward to the books more, if only to see if and how GRRM is able to deliver a better and more satisfying ending. I think the ending for the Starks is probably what he had in mind all along (or very close to it); in his initial outline for the entire series, it was always about the Starks. Whether he sticks to that plan or pivots after seeing the reactions to the show, we shall see. I read a great thread on Twitter describing GRRM as a “pantser” kind of writer, i.e. he writes by the seat of his pants, letting the characters and events drive the story forward instead of strictly following an outline. It makes for good narrative, but is probably also why he’s taking forever to finish. And we hope he will finish! Maybe someday, when the books are done, we eventually get a better and more faithful remake series (cue the “Game of Thrones: Brotherhood” jokes).
Overall though, I think history will look kindly on the entire series of Game of Thrones for what it did. It brought epic fantasy to the forefront of pop culture. People talked excitedly about every episode as it came out and speculated about what would happen. Even my dad got into it, even though I often had to explain some bits to him, and he didn’t like watching the show without subtitles. They failed to stick the landing, so they don’t belong in the same conversation as series like Breaking Bad, but there were a lot of epic moments and some very good television in those eight seasons, and the show ultimately deserves its places in the cultural zeitgeist. Because of this show, we are getting other epic fantasies as TV series moving forward. I’m most looking forward to Amazon’s upcoming Wheel of Time series, hopefully they don’t screw it up. (That one would take maybe two decades to finish!)