Lana and I just finished watching the final season of Game of Thrones last night. It seems like everyone else in the world has already shared their disappointment with the finale, so I’ll do my take. Warning: Spoilers ahead.
I had zero interest in Game of Thrones when I first heard of it. I hadn’t read the books and hadn’t been in the mood for what I thought would be “High Fantasy” for years. But Lana, my wife, was captivated. She kept telling me I’d like it, and at some point I sat down and watched an episode. I was immediately hooked. It wasn’t High Fantasy, but some semi-historical combination of High Fantasy and Sword & Sorcery. There are folks who’ve told me they don’t like Game of Thrones. They’re entitled to their opinion and I’m entitled not to care.
The settings, the characters, the ambience were all excellent. The acting was terrific. There was tons of intrigue but it never got in the way of moving the story forward. I quickly developed strong attachments to the characters. Some I empathized with and came to love, like Tyrion Lannister, and some I came to hate, like Cersei Lannister. Some went from one extreme to the other, and sometimes back again, like Jamie Lannister, Arya Stark, Sansa Stark and Grey worm.
Then came Season 8. I certainly empathize with the writers who had to try and bring this sprawling epic to a satisfactory close. They were working without a net by now, having gotten ahead of the books by George RR Martin, and there were numerous plotlines to bring together. Many viewers have described season 8 as feeling rushed, and I agree. There was so much to get done and some of it did not get its due. This is one reason I was particularly irritated by some of the “wasted” time in the final season. There were long, long scenes of characters mourning, of characters waking up and trying to figure out where they were, of characters staring in shock. The mourning scenes and shock scenes were necessary but far too prolonged, and this time could have been better used.
The most difficult part for me to deal with in season 8 was the change in some of the characters. Tyrion suddenly becomes a bumbling, love-sick fool, Daenerys Targaryen—an awesome character—takes a 90 degree turn into viciousness, Jon Snow seems to periodically lose his spine. Oh, there was some justification given for all these changes, but it felt very cosmetic and…contrived. I think the problem was, in large part, that they killed the Night King fairly early in season 8 and then needed another villain. Cersei was available but her movements were constrained, and so they had to make Daenerys a villain—or felt they had to. (See my last paragraph here for another possibility.)
Despite these complaints and the somewhat ham-handed forcing of the characters into awkward actions to close the storyline, I thought there was quite a bit of good in the final season. For example, Arya using an assassin’s trick to kill the Night King was perfect. I heard one critic say it should have been Jon Snow, and Jon was used poorly in the end of that episode, but it was right to have Arya do it. It should have been Jon clearing the way for her to reach the Night King, however. In addition, the ending of the Hound in conflict with his brother was spot on, I thought. And I thought it appropriate for Cersei and Jamie to die together, buried by rubble in the depths of the castle that Cersei had ruled for so long and so monstrously. I thought the end of Jon’s story was also right, even though it was emotionally painful for the viewer—at least this viewer. He was kind of a Moses character in some sense and thus could never quite reach the promised land. I liked Arya sailing off to chart new lands. I liked the bantering and bickering among the new King’s council near the end. It sounded just right to me.
And finally, Daenerys’ end. It seems to me that Game of Thrones was her story. She was truly a doom-driven hero, and her descent into madness was perfectly suited to drama, even if it was both hard to watch and so rushed as to make it hard to believe. In the end, having Jon Snow kill her the way he did was the only choice left to these characters. And to have her carried off by her last surviving dragon was a nice touch. So, I watched Game of Thrones. I don’t regret it. It won’t be easily forgotten in the years to come.