Day 6 of my Day 7 Blogging Blitz has me reviewing one of the most talked about and viewed shows ever created.
I imagine that I wasn’t the only person transfixed by Game of Thrones when it first premiered on HBO in April 2011. I remember being immediately shocked and jolted by the first episode that started off with a zombie skirmish, a beheading, a potential wedding, and eventually a little boy being thrown out of a window. It’s insane to think how much was actually done in the very first episode, and it so expertly sank its GoT talons into my brain. I was hooked ever since. Game of Thrones started with the loudest bang I’d ever seen a show start with, so it is both upsetting and unsurprising that it ended on the tiniest of whispers.
If you want to call 19.3 million viewers a whisper. That’s how many tuned in to watch the series finale, and if you have any sort of social media, you can’t escape the dialogue that’s been swirling around since season 8 started in April. Most of that dialogue has been centered on what a disappointment the last season was, how the ball was dropped in character development, and how there were no women in the writer’s room. You can even find some videos about how Westeros now serves Starbucks and invented bottled water. These criticisms are usually witty but most importantly, are valid. You can’t have a show that’s been around for 8 years, with the last 2 being strictly development, and not expect it to be picked apart by the masses. Now, it’s my turn to add my own thoughts to Game of Thrones, not just season 8 but a series as a whole.
As an entire series, Game of Thrones is a resounding success. I can’t remember a show being this involved in the American zeitgeist since the ending of Lost (which, ironically enough, went through the same thing that GoT is going through right now). Game of Thrones proves so many things. It proves that fantasy can be mainstream, adaptations can be done extremely well (mostly), and women are just as viable as men main characters. I don’t want to pooh-pooh the success of GoT because it’s enormous. In my opinion, the success of this show can really lead to other stories being told and accepted by a mainstream audience that wouldn’t have otherwise gotten a look. I would never think to take that away from this series. Still, as a fan, I can’t help but feel that this last season dropped the ball.
The failure is not with cinematography. It remains gorgeously shot. There’s this one image of Daenerys emerging from the city she just destroyed with the wings of Drogon behind her that is simply awe-inspiring and breathtaking. As always, Westeros is a beautifully dangerous place. I’m not even going to complain about the Battle of Winterfell. Yes, it was dark and hard to make out, but what I could see was immaculate. Nor does the fault lie with the musical score, which perfectly mirrors what the directors want the audience to feel at any given moment. As much as I hate to say it, the large reasons why most fans don’t like season 8 is due to the writing and complete abandonment of character development.
Now, some of you may be saying, “Sian, do you really need character development in the last few episodes of a series?” The answer is: yes, most definitely. If we, the audience, are going to buy that certain characters are going to behave a certain way, then we need to understand that character’s motivations. If you have a character like Tyrion, who’s been there since the beginning, and he starts acting in a completely different way from what the audience is used to, then character development helps the audience understand why he’s acting in this new manner. Character development takes time, and in 6 episodes, it’s very hard to devote the time needed to both wrap up the series in a satisfying way and explain why characters did what they did.
My second gripe is the writing has been sorely lacking in this final season. I have a couple of theories about why the writing has been less than stellar. One is the fact that the show caught up to the book series that it’s adapting already. Without the guidance of George R.R. Martin, the writers have had to actually work and complete the world on their own. Normally, this is fine, and there shouldn’t have been any issue because writers…you know…write. Plus, they had an amazing boon of Martin actually telling the showrunners how the series ends. So, they had the ending. They just needed to get there, and that’s where the tower comes falling down.
Game of Thrones has some amazing actors on it. Lena Headley is truly spectacular to watch, but in season 8, Cersei is reduced to sipping wine and growling. As engrossing as it is to watch her seethe, it is not enough. Sophie Turner has fleshed out Sansa from an inexperienced, dream-struck girl to a woman capable of commanding armies and respect. In this season, she’s catty and basic. We also have Tyrion, who’s supposed to be the smartest person left in the show, and we see him completely acting out of character by trying to find redeeming qualities about the sister who has hated him from birth. Sure, she loves her kids, but she also blew up a significant portion of her subjects, including her son’s wife, which lead to him killing himself in grief and despair. That was a real Mother of the Year move proving that a woman isn’t as bad as the world says she is.
Then, we come to Daenerys, the now mad Queen, who’s thrown away everything she’s stood for to burn down a city. The writers want to tell me that she’s mad because of her blood. Okay, fine, but can I see why she went mad? I mean, I understand why she went crazy. After all, she held Jorah in her arms as he died protecting her, a beautiful shot further punctuated by Drogon landing next to her and enveloping her with his wings. She also had to watch quite helplessly as Rhaegal was shot down (how the Greyjoy fleet get the jump on them will forever remain a mystery) and as Missandei was beheaded by Cersei. Are these enough to make a person snap? Sure, but I want to see the descent into madness. Again, such a fall from grace can’t be adequately expressed in 6 episodes, and we’ve left with a Dany surrounded by destruction that she caused. I remember a line in a book that I read for a creative writing class that said not to tell the audience what happens. Instead, show them what happens. That advice couldn’t be more prudent here.
As a result of these characters, who people have come to know, love, and hate, behaving in ways that are antithetical to who they are, it’s seen as a, inexcusable jarring change. This brings me to my final point which is that the showrunners created a time frame when one didn’t need to. We’ve waited for almost two years for this season, and they give us six episodes. Six paltry episodes. I mean, I get it. You only have access to certain actors at certain points in time. Actors get other gigs and want to do other things, truly I understand. Still, I can’t get over the fact that HBO offered Benioff and Weiss more time and money for more episodes and they were like “Nah, we can do it in six.” Yeah, I guess you can, but should you have? Was that the right decision? Even with hindsight being 20/20, someone should have stood up and said that one more season might be needed.
When you think about it, the books and the series have been relatively aligned, so are you trying to tell me that you can finish a series in 6 episodes when there are two more books slated to come out? Even looking at the episode list of the series, season 8 is at least one episode short of season 7, and I remember people complaining that that season was short as well. Even with the showrunners leaving GoT to direct Star Wars and wanting to create another series, ending Game of Thrones the way they did is almost a slap in the face to the fans who love the series so much. It’s a decision that makes absolutely no sense.
In conclusion, I do want to say that the actual ending of the series wasn’t bad at all. The audience understands why certain characters died and how they died. (Though, I heartily disagree with the way Cersei died. She should have died in a pool of her own blood instead of in a lover’s embrace.) I think that most people take issue with is how we got to the end. As I said earlier in the blog, the ending was already given to them. They just had to get there, and they fumbled that task badly.
Tonight, we do get to see some behind the scenes action, the GoT final hurrah. I’d like to say that I’m not interested and that I won’t watch, but that’s not true. I’ll watch it, with a bit of sadness and a whimsical attitude. Like others, I’ll wonder about what could have been, who deserved better, who deserved dust, and eventually come to terms that one of the best shows ever created is over.