Article contains spoilers for Game of Thrones.  ALL OF IT

Game of Thrones season 8 seduced and killed me on an intellectual level. The brutal dark fantasy adapted from George R.R. Martin’s beloved novels was my favorite TV series for most of this decade, yet I feel conflicted now that the HBO mega hit’s final season is over. The final episodes were satisfying yet frustrating; enjoyable yet lacking. Last week’s finale was downright confounding, and judging by the divided fanbase of both super stans and petitioners begging HBO to utilize the retconomicon and remake season 8, I’m not the only one left befuddled by the conclusion.

Time has allowed me to process my complicated feelings surrounding Game of Thrones season 8 and its parade of mass murder and bad dick jokes. Upon reflection, my simultaneous positive and negative reactions toward the final moments in TV’s most epic show were inevitable. Winter was coming, but we ignored the warnings.

Game of Thrones is a series of irreconcilable dichotomies. The series had a labyrinthine narrative with an overwhelmingly huge roster of characters who were constantly warring with each other despite attempts to bridge their divide. The unharmonious duality within Game of Thrones can be observed through the series’ key story beats. The honorable Starks are opposed by the corrupt Lannisters. Traditional fantasy character archetypes like the noble knight and evil queen are subverted. Daenerys is a violent realm-conquering dragon queen dreaming of a peaceful future. The zombie apocalypse, harbinger of mankind’s doom, creeps ever closer while the shortsighted aristocrats focus on their petty power squabbles. It’s all very befitting of a show based on book series that emphasizes contrast with its title, A Song of Ice and Fire.

Game of Thrones’ incongruous opposites expand to the creative process behind the show as well. Martin only finished five of the seven planned books in the series. His most recent entry was A Dance with Dragons, which came out in 2011, the same year as the first season of Game of Thrones. How can a faithful adaptation be made from an incomplete saga of novels?

Martin’s slow writing put Game of Thrones showrunners D. B. Weiss and David Benioff in an unenviable position. They ignored this looming doom at first. Game of Thrones’ first four seasons were incredibly faithful to the books and the show’s high production value produced a blockbuster-level spectable that perfectly complemented Martin’s deep world of palace intrigue, political treachery, and kinky sex dungeons. It’s a perfect one-two punch that leads to an incredibly satisfying if gut wrenching payoff. Whether it’s the Battle of the Blackwater, The Red Wedding, Tyrion’s sham of a trial, or the law-abiding, altruistic Ned Stark being beheaded for treason, the moral and political philosophies of Martin’s characters Martin guided Weiss and Benioff’s action and visuals presented by.

Unfortunately, the synchronicity between Game of Thrones and A Song of Ice and Fire began to unravel after season 4. While the petition to remake season 8 refers to Weiss and Benioff as “incompetent,” the deteriorating connection between the source material and the adaptation wasn’t their fault. Sure, the duo made some abysmal creative decisions when Game of Thrones began to run low on source material at the start of season 5, but for every atrocious dalliance in Dorne or dull Bran subplot, there were entire episodes like “Hardhome” and “Battle of the Bastards” that picked up the slack. Those moving cinematic spectacles were created without a hundred detailed pages from Martin and prove that Weiss and Benioff are capable of creating some stellar television.

The real problem is that the ending concocted by Weiss and Benioff feels rushed. They decided to shorten the final two seasons to just the major plot points (i.e. the spectacle) but missed the important narrative details that Martin’s writing would have provided. HBO reportedly wanted more episodes, but Weiss and Benioff just hurtled towards Martin’s planned conclusion without regard for whether or not it was logically sound.

This is the crux of why season 8 is such a mixed bag of highs and lows. Daenerys turning evil, the White Walkers being defeated long before the finish, and Jamie Lannister returning to King’s Landing to die with Cersei are all great ideas, but they fall flat because they’re missing crucial character and story development. Slaughtering civilians is against Daenarys’ values and nothing within or preceding the scene where she becomes the Mad Queen indicates that her core moral foundation would change in a battle she already won. Despite eight seasons of buildup the White Walkers wind up feeling like a footnote, their threat barely referenced again after they’re dispatched. Jamie abandons the natural progression of a long term narrative arc where he falls in love with Brienne and abandons his sister only to then abandon Brienne and go back to his sister. The scenes are portrayed wonderfully by the actors, but the narrative reasoning presented makes no sense.

There are admittedly other issues. Characters move across the continent as if they unlocked fast travel. The dragon Rhaegal getting shot down with spear arrows after being ambushed by a fleet of Euron Greyjoy’s ships in broad daylight, but those very same dragon-slaying spear arrows get nerfed like a day 1 patch the next episode. But that’s all besides the point. Game of Thrones originally established itself as a show where the detailed plot and nuanced characters informed the action, yet the final season prioritizes spectacle rather than a deep and layered narrative. Game of Thrones neither ends with a wildfire bang or a neglected direwolf’s whimper. Instead it provides an unsatisfactory, meaningless but gorgeous climax.

Riley Constantine
Contributor. Riley Constantine is Iowa's third greatest export behind Slipknot and life insurance. She loves to review movies and games while examining how they often mirror the bizarre world we live in.

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    9 Comments

    1. Maybe they had to finish the show quickly to start their new jobs making a Star Wars trilogy. Disney $ > HBO $

      1. That never made sense to me – why wouldn’t they just hand the show over to difference showrunners if their time was limited? Better to leave on a high-note than tarnish their legacy over a rushed, slipshod conclusion. Or is there some reason that handing off to another showrunner wasn’t feasible?

      2. I hate this stupid theory, they had signed on to Star Wars after finishing filming on game of thrones, and it took more than a year to be confirmed that their project would be next. Disney where in no hurry so i doubt they where.

    2. One of the perks of being a veteran of this whole late-season shark-jumping stravaganza is that eventually you smell these things coming from a distance and you learn to deal with them preemptively. It took getting pumped up and subsequently burned down by X-Files, Lost, Fringe and Dexter; but eventually I learned to jump ship in time.

      By the time GoT’s characters unlocked fast travel (by the way, that’s hands down the best description of that nonsense that I’ve read; if not one of the best descriptions for anything in the history of ever) I had already tuned down my expectations considerably, on account of the suspicious tv-cute tone that the series had started to take for a while.

      I was expecting season 8 to be a pile of rushed nonsense and fanservice (and not in service of early seasons’ fans) because there was no way they could tie up so many loose threads in 6 episodes, and that’s pretty much what it was. So, after the frankly spectacular and yet still massively underwhelming conclusion of the “winter is coming” storyline, I didn’t even watch the rest of the episodes; I just skimmed twitter the next day to get the general idea and I moved on.

      1. Yeah. I honestly don’t watch TV often but Lost’s let down has stuck with me for the last decade.

        Also thanks for the compliment on “fast travel”. Admittedly there are a few lines I’m proud of in this lol

    3. I feel most of all for the people waiting for the books, while the show rushed to the end, can’t imagine the books doing anything but plodding to the end with a thousand blind alley’s and characters that are killed off as suddenly as they appeared.

    4. Really nailed in writing my exact feelings toward the show.

    5. Someone should write a book on how game of thrones (and other fiction) can be used to teach dialetical materialism. Contradictions, man…

    6. The ending was contrived in the sense that it felt like how a video game usually ends – in a room, with the (main or newly transformed) villain revealing their ‘true plan’, and then there are two speeches that talk through eachother, and then the villain dies, and somehow it conveniently wraps up the whole thing – very little ‘challenge’ involved.

      Heck, one of the closer comparisons that I can think to how GoT ends is actually WH40K: Fire Warrior… they’re actually quite similar…

      … With the difference being that even Fire Warrior managed to develop its turncoat villain around half-way to two-thirds in the game’s plot line, which leaves time for the transformed setting itself to become the main attraction for the later stretch of the game. In other words, GoT needed an entire ‘Ash’ season.

      Basically, combine the Dragon Eeerie of Dark Souls 2 with the desolate wastelands of Dark Souls 3, and you get the idea. Eggs and Dragons everywhere, Dust all around. Maybe Dany gets a mad idea to try and turn Jon into a dragon – Arya discovers the scheme. Maybe Tyrion is actually threatened with execution. Dany now feeds all enemies to The Dragon – this is considered ‘unjust’ by everyone else and is the basis for a growing rebellion against the Dragon justice system.

      How do Dragons in GoT breed? Is is asexual? Shouldn’t there be the threat of hundreds of Dragon eggs? Maybe they end up still-born. Maybe the Dothraki eat the dragon eggs as a new source of food, and/or destroy them because they are a threat to Dothraki life, and it starts a civil war with the Unsullied (who are now Dragon worshippers). Dany retreats into the Red Keep, taking as many eggs with her and is abhorred by the brutality of the civil war that is now out of her control.

      Then Arya sees her moment and tries to kill Dany (and thinks it will end the war), but the attempt fails, because Jon walks in with a westerosi army, and tells them to stop fighting, and that Dany must abdicate and be exiled. Dany gets so depressed, and wants to go out on her own terms, so she looks at the last remaining Dragon, Dany puts a hand on her own stomach… and pleads with the Dragon to devour her, but not before Jon realises that Dany is pregnant with his child. Jon then screams in anguish for Dany to stop, but to no avail. Dany is gone. Problem solved. No stupid ‘frame Jon as the mega-hero for stabbing his villain lover’ nonsense. I’m sure you could stretch these ideas into a couple of episodes at least – for a full season.

      Dany madly thinks this move will get the Dragon preggers somehow and give life to new dragons, and she sees no other option, since Dany knows that Arya had basically marked her for death, since the destruction of King’s Landing. And Dany also realises that she cannot be with Jon.

      The Last Dragon still flies away, of course.Maybe a clip at the very end plays, and a dragon egg cracks, but the noises coming from it sound HUMAN!…suggesting that either Dany has been reborn somehow… or at least the unborn child survived. GoT ends with a hint at a Dragon-Born-Dragon-King-Blood-of-Dragon-Lord-Raised-by-Dragons sequel.

      Dragon

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