There’s been a lot of unpacking going on for what was, by a pretty strong consensus, a massively disappointing final season of Game of Thrones. Unlike other series endings that people disliked, I don’t think it’s so much how it ended, but how the story got to the end.
I can’t recall one person complaining that they hated the ending of Lost because it totally wrecked the character arcs. Yet that’s what happened here, in several significant cases.
It’s sad because the first two episodes of the final season were pretty good. In fact, I would probably put Episode 2, Knight of the Seven Kingdoms, on a list of my favorite episodes of the overall series. Certainly, the scene of Jaime knighting Brienne is a top contender for one of my favorite scenes of the whole series. It was a perfect build-up to what was expected to be a devastating and emotional battle episode that would see the end of some of our favorite characters.
Instead, we got a murky-looking episode, where previously-thought intelligent characters enacted massively stupid strategies. Characters who had no business surviving (hello, Sam) inexplicably ended up alive. There was so much build-up over the years about the White Walkers that their demise was incredibly anti-climactic.
After watching the last three (abysmally-written) episodes a few more times, I’ve concluded I would have been O.K. with how about 85% of the characters ended up. It’s how the story brought them from Point A to Point B that was so bad.
So after this looong intro, I’m going to break it down as I have for previous seasons:
The scene where Jaime knights Brienne:
This could and should have been the final culmination of their relationship. I get that they thought they were doing fan service by having them sleep together, but it added nothing to the story and helped to wreck Jaime’s arc. I could still see Brienne writing Jaime’s story in the book and getting emotional about it without there having been a romantic relationship between them.
In spite of how awful much of the writing for the final season was, and how obviously some of the actors were less than thrilled with the outcomes for their characters, every single one of them played it as if it was freakin’ Shakespeare. Emilia Clarke and Peter Dinklage especially deserve all the awards for doing everything they could to sell what the audience was never going to buy.
Other than the writing and the poor cinematography for The Battle of Winterfell, the production, from the art direction, costumes, hair, special effects, direction, etc., was amazing. The music! It’s so stunning and emotional that I was crying at my desk at work listening to the soundtrack for Season 8.
Clearly, everyone else involved with the show cared. If only the showrunners had, too.
The appearance of Melisandre at Winterfell:
This is one of the character arcs that was not ruined completely. It was surprising, it was an interesting twist, and I liked that they found a way to at least partially redeem her character.
I wrote previously that I didn’t care if Theon was redeemed, yet I was in tears when he finally fell. Kudos to Alfie Allen (Theon) and Sophie Turner (Sansa) for making it so believable.
Jenny of Oldstones:
This haunting ballad sung by Pod in Knight of the Seven Kingdoms was the last and perhaps the best of the songs from the books set to music.
Sansa and Tyrion’s reunion:
Again, I think it was the actors more than the writers, but there was a lot of unexplored chemistry here, and a feeling that there was a possible relationship for them in the future. I would love to think they found a little happiness with each other at some point.
Arya killing the Night King:
I know a lot of people were mad that she and not Jon took him down, and there is a good argument to be made that it should have been Jon. But in the moment, it was pretty darn cool.
The Pack Survives:
I’m still on the fence about Bran becoming king, but was totally expecting Sansa would become Queen of something. Frankly, she should have become Queen of everything, but I’ll take Queen of the North.
Arya’s character is by nature a wanderer—while I didn’t exactly expect her to become the Westeros version of Magellan, it seems in keeping with her character.
I didn’t want Jon to end up as King of the whole shebang because, let’s be honest, he constantly leads his followers into disaster. But as a Mance Rayder-style leader of the Wildings? That’s a perfect place for him to end up.
This is more fan service, something book readers have expected for decades. In my view it was unnecessary. Like other poorly thought-out parts of the final season, though, it was still brilliantly shot and executed. The image of the dragon flying overhead while The Hound and The Mountain fought was stunning. Also, while I doubt Arya would have listened to his entreaty to give up her revenge against Cersei, I appreciated her “Thank you, Sandor” before he fought his brother to the death more than almost anything else in this whole season.
I’m putting this under “meh” because while it seemed completely ludicrous and out of left field on the show, when and if Martin ever gets around the finishing the books it will probably make more sense. Bran has point of view chapters in the books. In the show, he has been little more than a blank zombie for the last three seasons. One of many examples of vitally needed story beats being left out.
The magically disappearing and reappearing Unsullied and Dothraki:
It looked like the White Walkers wiped most of them out within the first few minutes of the Battle of Winterfell, then we were told half of them survived, then when Dany made her “Triumph of the Will” speech it was like she was the Night King and had made the fallen rise from the dead. Then, during the time-jump between Dany’s assassination and Tyrion’s trial, they seemed to mostly disappear again. Because if they’d been around, surely, they would have executed Tyrion and Jon on the spot and gone on a rampage throughout Westeros. Right? RIGHT?
The complete and utter waste of Cersei and Lena Headey:
One of the most complex female villains of all time does nothing other than stare out a window for most of the season. Then she goes out with a bunch of rocks falling on her head.
By the way, what was the point of Cersei’s pregnancy? Oh, right, there was no point.
The complete and utter destruction of Jaime’s character arc:
Oh, Jaime. I’ve never seen a story so willfully destroy a carefully-constructed character arc. It’s not so much the disgraceful way he treated Brienne (though there’s that, too) it’s how they pretended that he didn’t care about anything but Cersei, when they made it clear he became a Kingslayer to protect the small folk. He also went to the North to fight the White Walkers, at great peril to his life, since the Starks and Daenerys had plenty of reasons to execute him on the spot.
Again, the issue was a whole bunch of missing story beats, to get Jaime to the point where we would believe he would do what he did.
Here’s one easy fix: instead of having him seduce and cruelly dump Brienne and say he never cared about the people, he could have said he couldn’t stop himself from caring about Cersei more.
The complete botch of Daenerys’ turn around:
I could have accepted Daenerys ending up as a genocidal maniac. Absolutely. She’s always been a problematic character, who clearly saw herself as entitled to rule, who had a White Savior complex, who often made ruthless decisions that could have used more nuance and forethought.
However, the show bent over backwards over the previous seasons to show that her intentions were always good. She punched UP, never down. She went after those who kept the system of slavery and oppression running. She was so devastated when her dragons killed one child that she locked them up, even though it was agony for her to do so.
The excuses they gave for her sudden turn around were absurd. Yes, she lost her closest friends/advisers Missandei and Jorah. But she had lost many over the course of her journey and bounced back. Yes, she felt like a foreigner in Westeros. But she was considered a foreigner/outsider from the moment we saw her in Season 1. One of the most prominent aspects of her personality was her ability to adapt to her surroundings.
In order to convince us that Dany would burn down an entire city after she had already won the battle, never mind the war, they needed to spend a lot more time and effort getting her to that point.
Ugh. Ugh, ugh, ugh.
Remember I said there is a good argument to be made for Jon taking out the Night King and not Arya?
Here it is. Arya–you know, the trained assassin who can change faces–tells Jon Daenerys is a huge threat to him and his siblings. Then she, I don’t know, disappears. What the hell? Why would she just take off and serve her brother up to the Mad Queen?
What a great twist it would have been if, instead of killing the queen she meant to kill, she had killed Daenerys! With Jon taking out the Night King and Arya taking out Dany, the two characters would have fulfilled their arcs as saviors of Westeros so much better.
Having Jon kill her was both icky and laughable. Why would Dany–now in the throes of her genocidal mania–trust Jon to let him near enough to kill her? Not to mention that Dany was only Jon’s second lover–and the second one to die violently in his arms.
Like I said, ick.
Tyrion being a relentless dumbass:
It is stunning how many plot points depended on Tyrion making really stupid decisions. In the earlier seasons, he was crafty, he understood the consequences of his actions. In Season 8, he almost became–Jon.
Drogon melting the Iron Throne:
I can’t even with this. Yeah, I get the symbolism. It was still ridiculous.
The Dragon Pit:
Where do I even START with this scene?
As I said before, why would Grey Worm and the Dothraki not execute both Tyrion and Jon on the spot for killing Dany? Instead, they hang around for weeks for people to arrive from the North, the Iron Islands, Dorne, etc., to have a meeting to decide their fates.
WHY? They had control of everything at that point!
Then Grey Worm allows them to choose a king.
By my count, there were at least five people in that group that knew Jon’s true identity. If internet scuttlebutt is correct, one of the rando lords who were never identified was Howland Reed–WHO WAS THERE WHEN JON WAS BORN AND A WITNESS TO HIS CLAIM TO THE THRONE.
Why didn’t anyone say, “Suck it, Grey Worm, Jon is our rightful king, and kings are above the law.” If he said choose a king, then CHOOSE JON BECAUSE HE IS ACTUALLY KING.
THEN, have Jon abdicate in favor of his brother (or sister Sansa, which makes more sense). He himself could have decided to go back beyond the wall and live a quiet life with the Wildings.
As I said before, I think in the books the choice of Bran might make more sense. But in this situation, even Gendry would have been a better choice, because by legitimizing him, Dany (rather stupidly) gave him a viable claim to the throne.
And when Sansa insists on independence for the North, WHY didn’t Yara and Prince Wehavenoideawhathisnameis of Dorne insist on independence, too?
Look, I could go on and on and continue to pick apart this season, particularly the last three episodes, but life is short and it’s time to move on to other things.
Writers, learn from this debacle.
They are really important.
They are even more important.
At least they found a way to fix the error of Jon not petting his direwolf goodbye.
Seven hells. The characters and the audience deserved so much better.