Another title for this post could be “Jamie Uses 200 Rhetorical Questions To Make A Point”
As literally every single person on this planet knows, HBO mega-hit Game of Thrones aired its final episode on May 19, 2019 and…well…the reception was mixed, to put it lightly. Season 8’s shortened episode count was worrisome to a lot of people, but most had faith in the writers and creators that they could pull off a satisfying ending.
Now I want to preface this piece by talking about TV show endings in particular. Having recently finished LOST for the first time, I was expecting to hate the ending simply due to what I had read online and various lists of the worst show endings of all time. I, however, thought the ending was perfection. I’m digressing, but it’s an indicator that endings are very divisive; every single person has their different opinion of how a show should end – who should end up together, where the character should be, what the final shot should be, and all that technical jazz. Some have universally hit the nail on the head (Breaking Bad, The Americans) and some have not (How I Met Your Mother, Pretty Little Liars), but it’s also subjective. Everyone has their own opinions.
With that in mind, let’s completely backtrack and talk about Game of Thrones as a whole.
Now I’m someone who’s only read about 30% of the first book, and joined watching the show just before the beginning of Season 4. So I’m not as much of a die-hard fan as some of you might be. I have a deep love and admiration for the show, but I’m not as attached to it as others may be. Upon recommendations (read: pestering) from some friends, I binged the first three seasons in a very short space or time. I only knew a handful of spoilers, but that didn’t affect my enjoyment of the series. I was hooked. I laughed, I cried, and I recognised what was one of the best TV shows I had ever seen. It’s also important to note that I had barely seen any of my favourite shows by this point. I was in the rough times of Glee, and I was just beginning to discover how good TV had the potential to be. This was a world where I hadn’t seen The Americans or Breaking Bad…I was a different person back then.
I’m really getting off the point. The point is, that Game of Thrones shocked me, I was in disbelief that TV show could be that high quality, or have such rich, incredible, production values. I didn’t know much about story, structure, or character back then, but I knew that Game of Thrones worked and worked well.
After I finished those initial three seasons, I bought all of the books for a very good price on Amazon, for my Kindle. I didn’t start them until about a year later. I was reluctant to move from the screen to the page, when I usually do it the other way around. I love literature and George R. R. Martin’s writing is fabulous from what I’ve read so far, but there are some things that were meant to be shown visually. The shot of Daenerys walking out of the fire is something that words can’t describe as well as seeing that on screen. That’s probably an unpopular opinion, but I stand by it.
I honestly don’t remember when the Game of Thrones hype started. One second, I’ve never heard of it, the next, everybody and their hamster had seen the show and were discussing it at great lengths. I don’t know what happened to make it a success, there was no great spike in promotion that I had noticed. It wasn’t like when Breaking Bad went to Netflix and everybody saw and loved it. But something that made people so rapturous about television was something that I knew I had to see. I have a strange relationship with overhyped television. I remember the summer everybody went mad over Stranger Things, I watched the first season and didn’t think much of it. Whether that was the hype being too strong or just a lack of interest, I don’t know (Note: I watched Season 2 and LOVED it). But I think Game of Thrones was the first show that I had heard endless amounts of hype about that I actually agreed with. As soon as the pilot episode finished, I knew it was different than any TV I had seen before and would probably ever see again.
Game of Thrones is a frustratingly well-made show. Certain sequences happen in certain episodes (6×10, 3×09, 1×09) and you just think “Shut UP, there is NO way this is THAT good!” But it really is, it’s mesmerising television brought to life by a really great cast, wonderful cinematography, direction, writing, and a political tone that manages to feel relevant while making sure you know it’s fantasy. Whether you’re a fan or not, Game of Thrones is one of those media artefacts that defines the decade, it stretched right across the Golden Age of Television and cemented itself as one of the best show that will ever be made. It gave itself a legacy that will last for a long time to come and entertained fans for eight seasons.
But did it stick the landing?
With a show like this, with a vast collection of characters, locations, storylines, and mythologies, there is no true ending that would fit everyone’s perfect picture of what the conclusion should be. The ending was never as simple as “Who’s going to end up on the Iron Throne?” As has been an active question in the show for a few seasons now. The marketing sure made it seem that way, but the show was always too complex to be capped with an easy resolution like that. You have multiple fan-favourite characters who are all strong enough to deserve their own hero ending, villains that are so well-written that some people (me) wanted them to come out victorious over the heroes.
As a note, this show would possibly have been the hardest to resolve in recent memory. Most great shows have a few main characters to tie up, this one has MANY, and they’re all relevant and beloved, any of them could have been the true series protagonist. So I have to give a lot of respect to the writers who had a momentous job on their hands.
Look, did they pull off a great final season? In my opinion, no they didn’t.
Did it have some truly great moments? Hell yes, it did.
Did I hate it? No.
Did I love it? Also, no.
Because, while some writing elements were slightly rushed and exaggerated, and the timeline truly makes little sense, the technical elements are still bizarrely great. It still looks amazing (yes Episode 3 was pretty dark, but it was The Long NIGHT so it kinda fitted), and Ramin Djawadi pulled out his best talents for the score (The Track ‘The Night King’ was the best thing about Episode 3, truly stellar stuff). Several cast members gave their best performances in this last season, Sophie Turner and Emilia Clarke included.
So is writing the only thing that matters in determining whether it stuck the landing? No, but it’s a big part of it. Because with a show that’s been so so great for so so long, consistency is important. Many fans felt let down by a show that provided constant excellence only to fall at the last hurdle, so to speak.
But I think that while some things made a lot of sense and some things didn’t, you have to accept that writing and creating a TV show is hard, especially one of this magnitude with such deep source material. I for one am of the opinion that they should’ve waited until all the books were released. If that means never making the show, then fine. But it’s no great surprise that the writing started to decline after the source material ran out…I’m just saying.
So do I understand why people are angry with the conclusion? Yes, but I don’t always share those opinions. But that’s what’s great about the show and art in general. It allows everyone to have their own opinions and discussions are born. I don’t believe in just outright placing blame unto the writers and calling it a day, you have to look at the show as a whole, and recognise the good parts of what they created.
I will say that it’s a sour note to end a fantastic show on, but not a completely surprising one. It was always going to be difficult to end the show.
One day, I’m going to watch the show in a short period of time and assess how I feel about the ending. Because I think a large part of the dissatisfaction stemmed from the year break they took to shoot. People were ready for the most epic season in TV history and it never really came. That year mattered, and it’d be interesting to see how it would have played out if that break had never been taken. Or taken between Seasons 6 and 7, instead perhaps?
Anyway, Game of Thrones is a brilliant show, so it might not have completely nailed the ending. So what? There are still countless perfect moments in that show. Go back and rewatch, and find the reason you started watching the show in the first place, rather than dwelling on why you disliked the ending if you did.
Let me know what you thought of the ending in the comments or on Twitter (as always tweet me at @Jamie_Carrick_)