Last Sunday HBO aired its final episode of “Game of Thrones,” the cable network’s eight-season adaptation of George R.R. Martin’s epic fantasy series “A Song of Ice and Fire.” What follows is a spoiler-free discussion about the inevitable comedown after eight years of obsessive observation.
The spoiler-free part comes less as a way to protect those who have yet to binge-watch their way through the series and more from the fact that detailed analysis isn’t all that necessary. Dedicated fans will—without a doubt—debate every plot hole and forgotten Starbucks cup ad nauseum for the next 20 years. Feel free to add your two cents or ignore it as you see fit.
Judging from internet and social media feedback, however, the general consensus is that fans found themselves let down by the show’s final season. On the one hand, this is the natural result of an epic, character-filled series closing up shop. Its disappearance leaves a dragon-sized hole in our weekly TV schedule. Given the scope, not every single character can end up with a perfectly satisfying conclusion (wherefore art thou, Hot Pie?), and not every plot thread will get a tidy wrap-up (so Azor Ahai was kind of a nonstarter, eh?). Plenty of popular television shows have found themselves disappointing fans with their conclusions (“Lost,” “Dexter,” “Battlestar Galactica” to name a few).
The biggest problem plaguing the final season of “Game of Thones” was undoubtedly the fact that the series ran out of its source material. Since Martin has yet to pen the final two books in his series, the show’s producers/writers (David Benioff and D.B. Weiss) were forced to wing it for the last couple of seasons based on Martin’s notes. It was abundantly clear during Season 8 that the duo were operating off a list of bullet points. Storylines moved at a breakneck pace, character work all but disappeared and people warped from one end of the map to the other in the blink of an eye.
The brunt of the ire fell on the show’s penultimate episode, “The Bells.” Most felt there were a number of violent, unearned character twists involved in the battle for King’s Landing. (Never mind that countless characters have made confounding decisions throughout the series.) Benioff and Weiss defended their abrupt plot machinations by pointing out how many had been telegraphed since Season 1. True enough. But foreshadowing is not character development. And boiling the show down to a conflict between two powerful women, neither of whom spoke or were even seen much during the episode in question, robbed audiences of understanding. It might have been nice to know what Daenerys and Cersei were thinking or feeling or reacting to during that tragic battle. It wasn’t so much the actions as the lack of explication in the show’s truncated six-episode sendoff that left fans unfulfilled.
Given the diminished expectations going into the series’ final episode, “The Iron Throne,” the ending was better than expected. Some characters faced good futures, others got royally shafted, still more simply wandered off into the world. The fates Martin and his collaborators created seemed … realistically diverse. For all of Grey Worm’s harping about “justice,” most characters ended up with some sort of poetic justice. Did the absolute most qualified person end up sitting on the Iron Throne? Given the actions (or in this particular case, inaction) over the last season, probably not. But it was hard to argue the logic behind the decision.
Interestingly, the end of the show gives Mr. Martin the opportunity to “fix” things fans reacted badly to over the next couple of novels. He may choose to diverge from the path we saw on television. Or not. At the very least, he’ll have several hundred pages to explain it all to us in the sort of detail that the show ultimately neglected.