I needed to give it about a week. When you are fixated on a television series that lasts for eight years, and it ends, I think it’s hard to provide an objective opinion right away. Your thoughts on how the story wrapped up get mixed together with your disappointment that it’s over, and those emotions can cloud our judgment. That’s one reason why so many people derided season eight of Game of Thrones as the worst finale of all-time: they were pissed about how it ended and maybe even more pissed that it had really ended. Saying goodbye is always hard to do.
That’s why I didn’t want to put this out there right away. I figured that any kneejerk reactions wouldn’t do this show’s legacy justice, and so I would wait for those emotions to subside until I was sure that there was no bias in my opinions. Now I’m sure, and what I truly believe is that the last six episodes were in keeping with the spirit and themes of Game of Thrones. They weren’t perfect but I enjoyed them for what they were. There just weren’t enough episodes to truly stick that landing.
So if you were devastated by the events that transpired in season eight and feel that the entire series was ruined as a result of where your favorite characters wound up, maybe take a moment and see what I have to say. Perhaps I can talk you down from the ledge a little bit. Obviously, spoilers are coming, but if you haven’t watched the series from beginning to end by now, odds are you aren’t going to. Carry on ye who enter.
I remember watching the theatrical version of Kingdom of Heaven for the first time and thinking, “This is pretty cool, but it seems like there’s some stuff missing here.” Little did I know then that Fox asked Ridley Scott to shorten his epic about the Crusades by 45 minutes before they released it into theaters, which gutted the film of all of its character development. Not surprisingly, Scott regretted that decision and later released the full movie as his director’s cut on DVD, where it found new life as one of the most critically acclaimed films of his career.
Why am I telling you all this in a piece about Game of Thrones? Because that’s more or less how I felt watching season eight and I thought it would be best to touch on the things that didn’t work for me first. Ultimately, the story was too rushed and the finale seemed incomplete. That’s the universal opinion that all fans share, whether they liked or loathed GoT’s final hours (I’m sure there are some out there who loved it, but they are few and far between). The decision to air less than 10 episodes in the last two seasons is one that certainly backfired on David Benioff and D.B. Weiss (currently the least popular writers in the world), or whoever made the call at HBO. Much like Fox’s stripped down version of Kingdom of Heaven, the last thirteen episodes of Thrones were devoid of most of the small character moments that enrich the big battle scenes and action set pieces. (Unfortunately, we won’t be getting any kind of director’s cut when season eight receives its home release. What we have now is all that we’re getting.)
Case in point: Jon Snow never once offers his opinion about his lineage. For all the mystery and hype surrounding the true identity of his mother, that was more than a little disappointing. To be clear, I never expected Jon to wind up on the Iron Throne. This series has always been about subverting cliches of the fantasy genre and it was a little too obvious that the most good-natured and selfless person in Westeros would wind up ruling the Seven Kingdoms, especially when he had the best claim. It was even more of a stretch that Daenerys and Jon would be able to co-exist and rule together. I just expected this reveal to carry more weight than another plot device to fuel Dany’s descent into madness, and in the end that’s really all that it was used for.
That kills me because lying about Jon’s parentage to keep a promise to his dying sister was Ned Stark’s most honorable and controversial act, and it’s a shame that no time was taken to reflect on Ned’s legacy with this new information. Surely Arya and Sansa must have had something to say about their half-brother turning out to be their cousin, and their father withholding that truth from his whole family because he loved his sister. Jaime Lannister knows a thing or two about being condemned for an act of valor, and would have felt a connection to Ned that he never knew existed before. Would Dany have been sympathetic to Ned’s plight because he was protecting a Targaryen, or would it have simply heightened her paranoia that everyone was scheming to supplant her with another ruler? Based on how things turned out I’d wager that it was the latter, but we’ll never know for sure.
It’s missing scenes like that which prevented everyone from being on-board with Dany’s heel turn. One common theme of Thrones is that history in Westeros is cyclical: good monarchs become tyrants and people usually become that which they despise, especially when you have that Targaryen mindset that sees enemies everywhere and no allies. There were signs throughout the series that this was going to be Dany’s fate and it didn’t help that most of her inner-circle either wound up getting killed or betrayed her (at least from her perspective), but that’s not enough. Our hero can’t just abruptly become the villain without fully examining why they got there. Imagine seeing the first episode of Breaking Bad and then by the second one Walt has already turned into Heisenberg. You would roll your eyes at how lame that was and wouldn’t have even bothered with the rest of that series, and what a loss that would have been.
We should also get Bran out of the way. Like most people, I found his character to be extremely bland after he became the Three-Eyed Raven and his contributions to the fight against the White Walkers were non-existent. Was Bran working the long con and deliberately feigning uselessness as part of a plan to claim the Iron Throne? Who knows! That would have made him more interesting at least, but we never saw an actual hint towards that, so that’s just me speculating. As much as he didn’t deserve to “win” the Game of Thrones, it’s almost always someone who didn’t earn it or who is hopelessly unsuited for power that winds up wielding it in Westeros. In the end, you can’t blame Tyrion for nominating him to be the next King. Anyone is better than Edmure Tully.
I could keep going on about my critiques of season eight (Arya spends all that time training to be a faceless assassin and then NEVER uses that skill in the final episodes? Really?), but for the sake of time we’ll transition to what I did like. The first one might surprise you.
Let’s talk a little more about Jaime. A lot of people were at a loss for words when he finally got together with Brienne, only to hit it and quit it before going back to Cersei. I understand why fans are mad about this. Brienne reveres Jaime, has always stuck up for him and is the one person outside of his family who saw past his flaws and found the good man within. At first glance, for him to sleep with her and then leave her high and dry just to crawl back to his dreadful sister is the ultimate betrayal (and continued incest to boot), and undoes the character arc he’s been on since season three… but that’s the thing about the Kingslayer. He’s always been the most morally ambiguous person on the show. We should expect him to act this way.
“The things I do for love,” is Jaime’s most famous quote. He’s always loved Cersei. He pushed a young boy out of a window for her, he murdered his own cousin to try and get back to her, threatened to kill everyone at Riverrun for her, he even left his best friend/lover to try and save her, and if nothing else to be with her during her final moments so that she wouldn’t die alone. “We don’t get to choose who we love,” Jaime once told Brienne. He never did choose to love Cersei, but he truly did from his very first episode until his last. It would be rather touching if Cersei wasn’t a complete psycho who tried to have him killed and actually did kill countless others, many in brutal fashion.
And that doesn’t make what Jaime did to Brienne okay: it only reinforces the fact that the Kingslayer does bad things for good reasons and fails to be wholly good for bad reasons. I think Brienne understood that about him. Few had more reason to detest the guy in the end, and yet she still recorded all of his notable deeds so that future generations would remember who he truly was. Why would someone so ethically rigid do that unless she truly felt that it was what the man deserved? Speaking of getting what you deserve, how many times in this show have we seen antagonists avoid the justice that’s coming for them or good people encounter an unfairly grisly demise? That’s one of the pillars of Game of Thrones, and why I thought Cersei’s death was oddly appropriate. Someone as cruel as that shouldn’t have gotten off so easily, but she did. Instead of Arya personally crossing one last name off of her list or Drogon adding Cersei’s corpse to the ash of everyone else engulfed by dragon fire at King’s Landing, her death was quick and she was in the arms of the person who she cared about more than anyone else in the world. That is quintessential Game of Thrones.
As for the respective fates of the other characters, whether it was Dany being killed right as she claimed the object of her series-long desire, Jon leaving Westeros behind for good to become the next Mance Rayder, Sansa being crowned Queen in the North, Arya opting for the pirate’s life, Tyrion being forced to drink and know things for the rest of his life or even freaking Bran becoming the new King… it didn’t bother me where any of those characters wound up. In a lot of ways, it felt like that was where their trajectory was heading in the first place. Well, maybe except Bran.
My point is that I don’t believe that Thrones betrayed its characters by having them commit certain actions: I believe that the writing simply didn’t have enough time to make us understand why those actions fit with those characters. But you can’t tell me that the acting wasn’t on par with previous seasons or that Thrones didn’t provide us with the visual spectacles that we’re now addicted to. That’s the most bittersweet part about the season for me: I think about all the things that I admired, but I almost always go, “Yeah, but wouldn’t it have been better this way?” Imagine if the conflict with the White Walkers was dealt with in a full 10-episode season seven and then Dany had a full 10-episode season eight to transition into the Mad Queen. Hearing those bells ring in King’s Landing and then watching her face contort with rage right before she and Drogon unleashed hell should’ve been one of the most horrific and profound scenes in the history of the show. Instead, I think a lot of people found themselves horrified because they couldn’t make sense of why it was happening.
Again, I was satisfied with the end result. I’m not losing any sleep over how things wrapped up and I’m certainly not signing a petition to remake the damn season with different writers (like you could convince that cast and crew to do this all over again anyways). And who knows. Maybe after some time passes we’ll all decide to binge watch Thrones from beginning to end and see how everything connects. Maybe there are even more signs than we realized about how things were going to wind up. Maybe more fans will come around once they’re done grieving about the show being over. Or maybe we’ll conclude that the first four seasons are infinitely superior to the last four. If that’s true now, it’ll probably be even more true in ten years.
But for now, our watch has ended. What a ride though, right?