Beware there are spoilers here — though they won’t spoil Game of Thrones as much as the writers did with the show’s last episode.
Is there a TV show that has disappeared from our collective cultural awareness as quickly as Game of Thrones did? There were so many stories in newspapers and on websites, so many conversations in the office and the pub but now… no-one talks about it. It’s like it never happened. And it’s right that we no longer talk about it. There should be consequences for any last episode as poor as we got from Game of Thrones.
People still talk about Star Wars as badly as that has gone. You can choose to just watch the original trilogy, even the first six films (that’s how bad the last three films were) or you can lament about how an iconic franchise was ruined.
But central to Game of Thrones was the ending. We would find out who won the game of thrones and sat on the Iron Throne, whether the White Walkers would breach the Wall and destroy the living, and who would live and who would die (if the White Walkers didn’t kill everyone).
The Sopranos wasn’t about the ending, nor was Breaking Bad or The Wire. The interesting thing about those shows had already happened (a gangster having panic attacks, the consequences of selling your soul, a really good cop show in which people didn’t live or die because they were good or bad, they just lived or died).
The ending needed to be both emotionally and narratively satisfying. It failed. The last season or two were patchy but the last episode was appalling.
It was the worst ending of any TV show ever because so much relied on the ending, because it promised everything and not only completely failed to deliver, it directly undermined what the show was about and what made it so good.
Before we get into it, while many, many people were unhappy with the ending of Game of Thrones, some couldn’t understand why other people were so unhappy.
If you think the finale of Game of Thrones was good, even great, okay. I would be interested to read or hear a case for this because I haven’t encountered one so far. I do wonder if some people would have been happy with any ending. Someone waking up and realizing it had all been a dream. A fade-to-black before we found out who was sat on the Iron Throne. Space aliens coming down at the end and performing a musical number.
But okay, fine, we disagree, you think it was good. But there was a reaction that went beyond thinking it was a good ending; some people couldn’t understand why people didn’t like it and could understand even less why people were so vocal about expressing that unhappiness.
Can it be that people are offended by those daring to be unhappy and saying so? There’s something very wrong thinking the only discourse about a TV show can be reverential. Is it our place to consume happily and without complaint and if we are unhappy to be silent?
You can say ‘it’s only a TV show’ but that doesn’t mean anything. It’s only a book, it’s only a film, we should be able to talk and discuss things. If you’re not interested don’t take part but don’t say ‘it’s only a TV show’ because you can’t think of anything else to say.
Others said it was a ridiculous thing to discuss. Somehow I don’t think these people are discussing the Canterbury Tales or Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari in their spare time.
Of course, you don’t have to discuss it, read about it, or pay any attention to Game of Thrones. But considering the deluge of inanity and nonsense that swirls around us every day and that I personally encounter, I reserve the right to talk about it after the time and hope I devoted to it.
People, fans, we invest in the things that inspire us. We spend our money and more importantly our precious time, in essence, our very lives, on these things. For some people it even defines them. Though it shouldn’t. We get an opinion.
Game of Thrones had me right from the beginning. There was fantasy and magic but it was much more than that, a detailed medieval world had been created with a captivating story that weaved through war, politics, love, and sex. There were interesting characters that had depth, with emotions and reactions to events that you would expect from complex, nuanced human beings.
The problem with so much science-fiction and fantasy is that the characters are plain, one-dimensional, and just boring. In Game of Thrones, there were no goodies or baddies, well not many anyway.
Science-fiction and fantasy, at its best, creates an intriguing premise and then great characters to drive it somewhere, and like any good story, it tells us something about the world we live or ourselves. I can suspend my disbelief for a world of dragons and magic but not one in which I don’t believe people’s reactions to events, however farfetched those events are. What would be the point? A world of dragons and magic is interesting. A world in which people don’t act as people do is boring.
So we had a medieval world of dragons and magic but with interesting characters and a dramatic and captivating story. It was incredible in terms of its attention to detail, its ability to continually surprise and enthrall the audience, and its sense of realism. It’s very hard to have a world of magic, dragons, and zombies feel real.
It helped that magic was used sparingly, the impact was all the more powerful when it was used. Game of Thrones was a drama about war and politics.
Westeros consisted of seven former kingdoms, now united and ruled by the Iron Throne. There were the Starks, Lannisters, Tyrells, Martells, Arryns and so many more, all competing for power.
To the east was Essos, an exotic, strange seemingly never-ending land with enlightened city-states and cruel empires. To the North was the Wall guarded by the Night’s Watch and on the other side were stories of ferocious barbarians and things much worse.
Sat on the Iron Throne was Robert Baratheon, the one-time usurper now King who had won a war a generation ago and ended the 300-year-old reign of the House Targaryen.
Game of Thrones had many themes and stories, but the central narrative core that those themes and stories were wrapped around was that of who would win… the game of thrones. The clue was in the title. It’s not the only thing that mattered but it was the main thing that mattered.
There was a lot of pressure I’m sure on the writers but then that’s why they get paid the big bucks. The books, of course, were written by George RR Martin and the show adapted from them for TV. The problem was that the books weren’t finished (indeed they still aren’t), so the writers had to fill in the rest and the results were mixed.
So who won the game of thrones?
Bran. I remember as it unfolded before my eyes. I laughed somewhat manically as I realized what was happening. I was slightly sleep-deprived at the time. My son was two weeks old, it hadn’t been the easiest birth and I was feeling guilty for skipping a precious two hours of potential sleep to watch this. I had been so excited and it didn’t occur to me that it would be anything other than at least very good.
I laughed at how bad it was, at the two hours of sleep I had thrown away and the eight years I had wasted. It wasn’t just a poor ending or a mediocre ending it was so laughably bad, I couldn’t be angry. Bran! Bloody Bran!
Eight years I thought, eight years I have wasted on this TV show. Eagerly anticipating every new episode, every Monday counting down the hours at work until I got home, the months waiting for each new season, all the hype and anticipation, the many theories I had read on countless websites, oh and the books.
The books I had devoured after the first series. I read them all and then… I read them again. I don’t regret that but I have now given up hope of them ever being finished.
When it became clear Bran would be king, the series transformed irretrievably into a complete and utter joke. Bran was an interesting character but he wasn’t a major character. His strange powers and abilities made the world he was a richer one but he was one of a class of characters that it just made no sense for them to win without the most extraordinary, sublime reasoning. And there was not that.
The key chain of events for Game of Thrones started when Ned Stark, played by Sean Bean, made the decision to spare the lives of Cersei and her children. This decision, driven by mercy, unleashed a series of devastating wars in which hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions died. In what ways are we responsible for our actions, when by doing the right thing in a single instance unleashes horrific events. All the subsequent events in Game of Thrones took place in the shadow of Ned’s decision.
Robert Baratheon had proved himself as a mighty warrior capable of destroying a dynasty but had failed as a ruler. How do we survive and deal with our flaws and the flaws of powerful rulers? There are no easy answers.
How many books, films, and TV shows feature a flawless protagonist who overcomes obstacles and some bad guys to triumph the end? Too many. It’s boring. Give me someone flawed who has to make tough decisions and sacrifice almost everything.
Bran became king because of his paranormal abilities — he could see the future — he would be the perfect king. The whole point of Game of Thrones was that we can’t see the future, but we still have to make decisions anyway. This wasn’t a story about some perfect hero and his inevitable destiny to become king. Except, in the end, it was.
Part of the excitement that built the anticipation, episode by episode over years, wasn’t just who would win the game of thrones, it was how they would win.
Game of Thrones had kept people hooked and on the edge of their proverbial seats with twists and turns, as good as anything on TV. This was the show that brought you Ned’s execution at the end of the first season — the moment you know there was something truly different about Game of Thrones. There were seemingly countless dramatic moments with the tension heightened by the knowledge that no character was safe. There were extraordinary scenes and battles where people died or survived in astonishing circumstances.
This was the show that brought you the Red Wedding. How amazing was the scene going to be where the winner of the game of thrones emerged, the scene that tied everything together?
So how did Bran win?
They had a meeting.
A meeting, a sitdown, a chat, a natter, a chinwag. Tryion suggested Bran should be king and everyone went; ‘Alright.’
Words fail me, as they failed the writers. We are still waiting for the last two books but imagine if the last few pages of the last book were pictures drawn by a child with crayons. And not even good drawings.
For anyone who says all this criticism was insulting to all the people who worked so very hard on the TV show, I would say they should be pretty mad too.
In this most important scene of the entire show, there were three plastic water bottles clearly visible. As a metaphor, that’s pretty powerful.
There are so many things that I watch where some misfortune befalls a character and I realize that I don’t care about the characters. We cared about the characters on Game of Thrones. There were the Starks; Ned, Catelyn, their children, and Ned’s bastard child Jon Snow. The flawed but charismatic Robert Baratheon. Tryion, what kind of monster didn’t like him? Even Bran was fascinating, in a not-king-material kind of way of course. And so on.
Even the minor characters were fascinating, not that some of them stayed minor characters, but there was Syrio Forel, Arya’s sword instructor, the Clegane brothers; the Hound and the Mountain. The mysterious priestess Melisandre, the eunuch Varys and the utterly loveable, innocent Hodor.
So what became of our beloved characters?
For the most part, nothing good. Now you can argue sometimes things don’t happen for a reason, people just die. Fine but if you want a TV show driven by a series of random events, don’t have all the random events just happen in the last series and the last episode. Don’t have characters develop in a clear arc only for the last episode to be completely unrelated to what came before.
The honorable Ned Stark had a bastard child, Jon Snow, who he brought back from war. Except it wasn’t his son. He made a promise to protect the child and sacrificed his reputation. He didn’t even tell his wife the true story.
Jon Snow or rather Jon Targaryen was the legitimate child of Ned’s sister Lyanna Stark and the son of the Mad King, and heir to the throne, Rhaegar Targaryen. The pair got married in secret, making Jon the rightful claimant to the Iron Throne.
Jon Snow had an extraordinary background and story. He came back from the dead. The son of a Targaryen and a Stark. Ice and fire combined in a TV show based on a book series called ‘A Song of Ice and Fire’.
What was this all for?
For no reason whatsoever.
He killed Daenerys, his lover (and auntie) apparently to save the kingdom but it didn’t really work. Daenerys’ recently-acquired pyromania and general madness was pretty unconvincing. He needed to end up on the throne or dead or not be someone whose secret origin was hinted at since the very beginning of the show only for it to mean NOTHING.
There were many prophecies at and perhaps they were just superstition, that seemed more to us just like they seemed to the characters but Jon’s secret being meaningless created too much meaninglessness.
You can argue he sacrificed his claim to the throne and his love but he didn’t want to be king (and it meant Bran became king, which was a terrible idea by the way) and compare his relationship for Daenerys with that with Ygritte. One I cared about and the other I didn’t.
Jon slinked off to the Night’s Watch. Let’s hope he doesn’t come back and ruin any other TV shows.
This may be the most pitiful ending. In the first episode, the exiled daughter of the Mad King was virtually a child, a piece of chattel to be bartered and exchanged by her brother. She endured and survived and became something else entirely, a Khaleesi, and the Mother of Dragons and the head of an empire, but not one of power and conquest, she freed slaves.
It took six long seasons for her to make it to Westeros. There were times it was pretty frustrating but I knew it would be worth it. How could it not be?
She made it back to Westeros and… became a crazy war criminal.
Apparently freeing slaves and killing terrible people does that to you. I don’t buy it. She went from freeing slaves, about as noble a thing as you can do, just to killing kids and civilians, left, right and center because she wanted power so badly. Other characters can kill and not go crazy but not Danni.
If she had to become mad, start it at some point before the last few episodes. I know there was the recurring problem the Targaryen’s had with madness but this is the one thing the writers decide will feature in the last episode?
She deserved better and so did the viewers.
Perhaps the one consolation to all this is that a bunch of people named their kid after Daenerys and she turned out to be a mad war criminal, and that is quite funny. But actually, I don’t know, I mean… it’s just one more thing the writers of this TV show ruined — some children’s names.
Also, Rhaegal (her dragon) melted the Iron Throne? I’m trying to think what this represented and I honestly think it was the hopes and dreams of millions of fans.
So Jon Snow killed his girlfriend/aunt Daenerys. He was captured by Grey Worm and the Unsullied. These guys don’t mess around. What price would Jon pay for killing their beloved leader, the woman that freed them, and that they had pledged their lives to? One dreads to think.
It turns out Grey Worm did the opposite to any reasonable guess you could make; they let Jon go on the condition that he spend the rest of his life on the Wall.
In another rare moment of satisfaction, Grey Worm sailed off to the homeland of Missandei, his slain love, with the former slaves and oppressed that he and Daenarys had freed. My theory is that Grey Worm, the Unsullied, and the freed slaves had decided they wanted nothing more than to escape the awful narrative nightmare that Game of Thrones had become.
Arya is the one exception to all the awful terribleness. She killed the Night King in an incredibly badass way that was everything you wanted from the ending to Game of Thrones. All hope had gone, you knew the Night King would lose but then again this is Game of Thrones… maybe not. The story unfolded in such a way that you clean forgot about Arya only for her to explode on the scene and give the audience hope again only for it to be seemingly snatched away again before Ayra triumphed. Wow. This all happened in the penultimate episode, maybe that’s why it was allowed to be good. In the last episode, she went on a ship heading westwards to see what lay beyond the horizon.
But even this lone shining light just better allows us to see how awful everything else was. Arya had a meaningful narrative arc and character development. The things that happened to her throughout the series, in the end, made sense to the person she became and the role she had to play. There was a satisfying sense of conclusion.
This happened to almost no other character.
The Night King
So Arya killed the Night King. Great. But who was the Night King, how did he become the Night King and why was he coming now? What did he want? Were the stories we heard about him true? Was he one of the first Starks or a former member of the Night’s Watch? What did the symbols mean? What events had taken place thousands of years ago? So many questions, I can’t wait for all these amazing answers….
The Night King was just some bad guy who could raise the dead. None of the questions or speculation meant anything.
This was a series where villains became something else, the Hound, Jamie, even Tryon was a bit of a lout at the start. But they all made good and became something more.
But not Cersei. Every time something terrible happened she doubled down and killed people in a more spectacular and demented manner. This woman wasn’t for turning. There were direct references to the idea that if she had been born a man, in this man’s world, she would have been king a long time ago and a terrifying king at that.
With Daenerys and her fearsome forces on the doorstep of King’s Landing, what dastardly plan did Cersei have or how was she to go down in (dragon) flames?
She died crying and whining as a roof fell on her.
I was no fan of Cersei but she deserved better than this and we certainly did.
The Kingslayer himself. Few characters had transformed themselves in the audience’s understanding as much as Jamie had. The selfish swashbuckling oathbreaker who in the first episode pushed a child (Bran — who knew he would deserve it?) from the top of a tower was a clear villain. We all conveniently forget about that but the character really did grow, we learned about his true motivations in killing the Mad King and with his time with Brienne we saw his flaws and how he dealt with adversity after losing his hand and his ability to fight — the thing that defined him. We even forgave him for the incest.
As a child, Cersei received a prophecy about the little brother (Valonqar) that would kill her. She always assumed it would be Tryon. But, many of us thought, could it instead be Jamie? Would again he slay a mad monarch to save a city? Well no. He raced back from fighting the Night King in the North to die with his sister. It wasn’t really a romantic scene — even if we forgave him for the incest, it was his sister. The Kingslayer deserved a better death.
Sansa and the North
Sansa started as a naive child full of stories of brave princes, noble knights, and heroic quests. She would grow up quickly with event after event proving what a cruel place the world can be especially for a young woman. She slowly became shrewder, as she learned how the world really worked and how a woman could exercise power.
She did make some kind of tough decisions at the end but nothing that interesting. Among such mediocre ends, hers was at least average.
Sansa’s story combined with the question of whether the North would gain its independence. And it did… but how?
Sansa asked for it at the meeting where they made Bran king and everyone said, ‘Alright.’ After the meeting some of the other now 6-kingdoms must have kicked themselves — “Why didn’t we ask to be independent too!”
What happened to everyone’s favorite character? Tyrion survived, I don’t think anyone wanted to see him die but It turns out there are some things worse than death.
I think the early Tyrion, the selfish, lechy drunk would gladly have died than see himself reduced to what he became well before the last episode — really, insufferably dull.
This is perhaps the most miserable ending. The Spider. The Master of Whisperers. The spy-master with his spy-fingers in a thousand spy-pies.
In what incredibly intricate plot did he meet his end? How did this ultimate master come to meet his demise? How could anyone best Varys?
He wrote a letter saying Daernys needed to be got rid of and someone read it. I guess the master spy had an off day.
Bronn was charismatic and utterly devoid of principle or shame.
The character represented the origins of all these lords and ladies. For all their fine talk and noble blood, they were merely the ancestors of the cutthroats, bandits, and pirates of the past.
How would Bronn achieve his power and install himself as one of the great lords of the land?
He told Jamie and Tryon that he would kill them unless they gave him the Reach and they said, ‘Deal.’
George RR Martin used events and landmarks from history. Hadrian’s Wall was the inspiration for the Wall and the massacre of Glencoe inspired the Red Wedding, these specific events along with more general inspiration from the convolutions of medieval Europe such as the War of the Roses. Together with Martin’s astonishing creative vision and dedication to detail, the story seemed more authentic, like the real history that inspired it.
I read so many articles about theories to do with Game of Thrones. One was how the title Game of Thrones, was taken from the first book title which was actually ‘A Game of Thrones’ and how the ‘A’ made all the difference. These grand families, some better than others, played their little games with scant regard to the lives of most people on Westeros and Essos.
The writer predicted how perhaps the story would end with all these nobles having the gameboard thrown aside, perhaps the voiceless people would find their voice. In the dreadful meeting scene where Bran became king, there was a reference to people voting and they all laughed. They were laughing at us and at all the theories of how the show would end that were much better than the reality.
Such an ending, an uprising of some kind, would have given it the ending it, and we, deserved. Or perhaps it wasn’t about history, but about the characters and the impossible choices that they had to make — between love, family, ambition, or the good of a kingdom. But if it was about that, it failed there too.
Was it worth it?
No. If I ever have access to a time machine I will go back in time and, before killing Hitler, tell myself to not watch Game of Thrones, just in case I failed to kill Hitler. I wouldn’t have to watch Game of Thrones so it wouldn’t be a complete failure.
I did learn how fun and enjoyable a series of books and a TV show can be but I will never assume a good ending awaits me and I will never trust my time away so easily.
We are supposedly enjoying a golden age of TV. While undoubtedly TV has got better from the formulaic plots of the 90s and before, it’s not, for the most part, a fundamentally different experience. If TV in the past was junk food, we’re just getting really, really good junk food. It tastes nice but it’s not good for us and we deserve far better.
Main image: By Borjaanimal — Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=32299787