The underwhelming Game of Thrones finale was still part of a great show

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By David Thikfield, Third Year, History

Committed fans have been speaking out about their misgivings in how their beloved series ended, but the concluding storylines have merit despite being inconsistent and too rushed.

Season Eight Episode Six, ‘The Iron Throne’, wrapped up an eight-year long pop-culture phenomenon that has only been matched, in recent memory, by the frenzy that surrounded Harry Potter when the final instalment of the books was released over a decade ago. Thrones broke HBO’s viewing records with 19.3 million US viewers for the finale (the previous holder being preceding episode ‘The Bells’).

Even more impressive, Season Eight averaged a considerable 44.2 million viewers per episode when accounting for catch-up viewing. Yet, viewing figures cast a thin veil over what seems largely a negative response to the show’s conclusion. Not everyone is dissatisfied with how it ended of course, but it’s difficult to ignore more than a million fans who signed a petition demanding the season be remade with ‘more capable writers’.

The warning signs had been present as early as Season Five. Dorne’s storyline was stulted and was largely derided by fans and the High Sparrow plotline was drab and shoehorned in. George R. R. Martin’s meticulous writing process meant that the show had outrun the books at this point, leaving writers David Benioff and Dan Weiss to take over the mantle: an intimidating task to say the least. They didn’t make it easy by announcing that Season Seven would be compressed into three fewer episodes than the usual ten. That the final season was further abridged is frustrating when considering that HBO offered a full ten seasons and George R.R Martin himself confirmed there was material for more seasons than this if so desired.

FINAL SEASON SPOILERS AHEAD

The first half of the finale followed on from Daenerys’ descent into evil in ‘The Bells’ which saw her raze King’s Landing to the ground in an impetuous fit of rage. Her speech, in Hitler-esque Valerian, spoke of world-domination, the black and red Targaryen banner unfurled over the city’s snow and ash encrusted remains signalling to us that her transition to tyrannical dictator was complete. Struggling with a conflict between love and duty, John decides to stab Daenerys mid-embrace just scenes later all-but concluding the ‘Mad’ Queen’s short-lived rule.

Whilst I’m often critical of Emilia Clarke and Kit Harington’s acting, this scene was as poignant and melancholic as it could have been given how abrupt this half of the finale was. In fact, it’s difficult to criticise any of the actors in the final season; Peter Dinklage again shone as he mourned for the death of both brother and sister.

Photo courtesy of HBO

It isn’t decisions such as these, or for example Arya’s felling of the Night King, that have been the source of such scrutiny in Season Eight. It’s not that fans aren’t happy with what happened. The main problem with the season overall was how it all unravelled. Season Eight felt like more of a summary, an abbreviation where narrative and character were incessantly warped to fit a restrictive mould. There are frankly too many inconsistencies for all to be mentioned here, but the Golden Company’s strength then sudden impotence over the course of two episodes was enough to cause whiplash.

‘The Long Night’ surely demanded more than one episode too. The Night King fell at the first hurdle having prepared for thousands of years to move south, succumbing to a simple sleight of hand manoeuvre in the same scene as displaying superhuman reflexes to deny Arya’s first blow. Unfortunately, there are too many questions unanswered whose seeds were sown so promisingly. What was the Night King’s purpose beyond the wall? What was the purpose of Jon’s Targaryen ancestry? What was the three-eyed-raven plotline all for? It seems we’ll never find out.

Ultimately the show’s spectacle in Season Eight didn’t have the gravitas pulled off by ‘The Battle of the Bastards’ or the ‘The Rains of Castamere’. It was Hollywood spectacle all too often. That it was masterful is undeniable. ‘The Long Night’, directed by Miguel Sapochnik, offered some of the best shots not just of the entire show but arguably the entirety of television history. But often Thrones was downright laughable too. The Night King’s smirk as he appeared immune to Daenerys’ dragon-fire has been permanently imprinted into my memory.

Whilst the season overall has been underwhelming, it wasn’t bitterness or disappointment that was felt when the curtains closed. Jon marching north one final time to Ramin Djawadi’s enchanting score instead aroused a nostalgic kind of emptiness that any great show should strive for, and it was, all disappointments included, a great show. That some fans were impassioned enough to make a petition is perhaps fitting and testament to its greatness. The excitement and intrigue will certainly be missed.

Featured Image credit: HBO / Helen Sloan


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