Updated: Oct 30, 2020
SPOILERS FOR GAME OF THRONES AHEAD
When Game of Thrones began nearly a decade ago, it introduced many fans to the world of George RR Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire books, where anything could happen and no character was safe. Over the years, Game of Thrones gained a massive following, taking over TV news headlines and becoming one of the most well-known and beloved series of all time. Going into the final season, fans were excited to see where all of the chess pieces that make up “The Game of Thrones” would end up, and which characters would be left standing at the end of it all.
Coming out of the season, many fans were left disappointed at the theories left unanswered, the storylines that had little payoff, and the character arcs that seemed not to make much sense. Though there is much to gripe over in Game of Thrones’ final season, there are of course some positive things about the season.
The show’s look in the final season is all-around fantastic, as the producers and cinematographers gave us some of the best shots and immersive scenes to date (aside from the Starbucks cup). The acting in this season is just as good if not better than the previous seasons. To be honest, almost everything about this season deserves recognition and praise, except when it comes to the plot.
Before nitpicking the plot of The Final Season, there are a few positive character-arcs to mention. The Red Woman played a pivotal role in The Great War, igniting the Dothraki’s arakhs and Winterfell’s trench, and inadvertently bringing down The Night King by convincing Arya Stark to go after him before her voluntary demise completes the purpose of her extremely long life. Jorah’s death protecting the love of his life is a great way to end his years of utter devotion to his Queen. Theon’s redemption and death at the hands of the Night King in order to protect Bran Stark and Winterfell shows his love for his adopted family, the Starks. The Hound is able to overcome his fear of fire when protecting Arya Stark, and come to a fiery end in order to bring down his brother, The Mountain.
Even though these few characters got the endings they deserved, there is much more throughout the plot of this season that makes it feel like an entirely different show than what came before.
The Great War
In the very first scene of the series, the audience is left wondering about the devious mythical force lying beyond the wall. Throughout the first seven seasons, we are given small glimpses while hearing stories of “The Long Night” and warnings of “Winter is Coming”. It’s as if fans were promised an epic payoff with lasting repercussions. What we got what quite the opposite.
The battle itself certainly has its flaws: lighting, invincible main-characters, underutilized mythical creatures & supernatural abilities, and VERY questionable strategic choices. Though you could still argue that The Battle of Winterfell is a good (but certainly not the best) Game of Thrones battle, The Night King, the White Walkers, the army of the dead, and their seven season build-up surely should have wreaked far more havoc on Westeros than one battle and a few crumbled castles.
We were also left with little to no answers on where the Night King came from, and his connection to the Three-Eyed Raven & the Prince Who Was Promised. Whether or not you like that Arya Stark is the one who brought down The Night King, the fact that The Great War was ended with the drop of a dagger and The Long Night only lasted one night certainly diminishes the threat we were expecting.
Sidelined characters is a problem that Game of Thrones has had in the seasons leading up to Season 8, a great example being Littlefinger, whose demise (though satisfying) came to fruition before his manipulations could really amount to anything. Going into The Final Season, fans were hoping that the same wouldn’t become of some of the more mysterious side-characters. Though Melisandre got a satisfying ending to her arc, the same cannot be said for others, including Varys and Euron Grejoy.
Varys has always been perhaps the top master manipulator in all of Westeros. Though it makes sense for his demise to come by fire and ordered by the Queen he served and betrayed, his actions leading up to that point do not seem very Varys-like. He tries to poison Daenerys, begins to send letters supporting another Monarch, and has openly treasonous conversations with Tyrion and Jon while residing in the same castle as the Queen he is trying to undermine. Though the Spider is acting to further his agenda, these moves don’t work in the shadows, as he usually does, and seem like a quick way to bring him to justice at the hands of the Dragon Queen. You could argue that Varys is doing the right thing even though he knows it may not work, but that doesn’t make much sense for his character. Varys has always worked in the shadows for an agenda, and even tells Ned Stark in Season 1 “I’m no hero”.
Euron Greyjoy had the potential to be a great villain when he was first introduced in Season 6, swiftly taking the Salt Throne after murdering his brother. Since then, the audience wasn’t given much of him, but was hoping for more once Season 8 came around. But again, little came of the character. Though he shot down a dragon (because Dany “forgot” about the Iron Fleet), and stabbed Jaime Lannister once or twice, Euron hasn’t done much to be considered even close to the likes of Joffrey, Ramsay, and Cersei.
Jon Snow has always been a fan-favorite character with much mystery surrounding him. Unlike other characters in Game of Thrones, Jon’s mystery doesn’t come from his ambitions or schemes, but rather from his bloodline and revival.
For years fans waited for Jon’s ancestry to be confirmed, and once it was, his Targaryen bloodline meant little. Yes, he rode a dragon, but his first time was in a chemistry-less rom-com type scene with Daenerys, and he doesn’t do much with the power during the Battle of Winterfell. In fact, the entire show it seems his purpose and lineage is somehow tied to The Night King, but when the time comes, Jon does little in the fight against him. The reveal of his claim to the throne (which we are barely able to see the other characters react to) only serves to shake up Daenery’s followers a bit and get her frustrated (inadvertently leading to her madness), but that’s little payoff for the biggest theory the show had to offer.
Also, since Jon came back to life in Season 6, we have all been wondering what his “purpose” was. This was further solidified in the Battle of Winterfell, when The Red Woman points out that Beric Dondarian died after serving his purpose (to save Arya). You could argue that Jon’s purpose was to kill Daenerys, but why didn’t he perish after serving it as Beric did? Though Jon is a fan-favorite character, and many would have been devastated to see him go (again), it makes little sense that he survived the final season. This is made even more evident by both Grey Worm (Dany’s most devout follower who has already taken drastic measures in her name) and Drogon (a dragon for God’s sake) sparing him after murdering their Queen, actions that don’t make sense for the Unsullied or the Dragon. It seems Jon’s ultimate purpose for coming back to life was to go live beyond The Wall with Tormund and the rest of the Wildlings.
Jaime & Cersei
Probably (but not definitely) the most messed up relationship in Game of Thrones, Jaime and Cersei start out as basically villains in the first Season. From then on, their arcs take two drastically different paths.
Once we are able to see Jaime’s point of view on things, we begin to understand that he has honorable intentions. He grows into a character who deeply cares for his family and friends, and makes an effort to keep his oaths and protect others. He eventually turns on Cersei in the end of Season 7 when she doesn’t share his enthusiasm in uniting with the rest of the living against the dead (a move, by the way, that has no repercussions on Cersei). After fighting in The Great War and knighting Brienne of Tarth (among other things), Jaime relapses to his love for Cersei. Though this could be seen as a contradiction to his arc, it certainly could have been saved by an epic ending where he ultimately chooses his oaths and care for others over his love for Cersei.
Cersei, on the other hand, is portrayed as a conniving villain who would do anything to protect her children and her own power. When she blows up The Great Sept in Season 6 and loses her third and final child because of her own actions, she takes the Iron Throne for herself and is propped up as one of the main villains of the show. Fan’s were wondering how she would be taken down: Would it be Arya? Would it be Jaime?
What we got in the second to last episode certainly “subverted expectations”, but did it really make sense for either character? Jaime says he’s never cared much for innocent people (even though his back-story is built on sacrificing his own honor to save the innocents of Kingslanding). Then he has a so-so fight with Euron Greyjoy before finding Cersei. On the other hand, Cersei, the maniacal Queen who is always a step ahead of the rest of the world, just kind of sits and watches as Kingslanding burns and her rule comes to an end. She has no backup plan to defeat The Dragon Queen, and when her world comes crashing down she makes no effort to save it.
When the two meet-up in the ruins of The Red Keep they attempt to escape but are instead crushed by the collapsing castle (which, according to the next episode, didn’t really collapse). What could have been an arc that had one of the main protagonists finally turn against one of the main antagonists regardless of their love, ended up trying to meet itself in the middle by bringing out a little of the human in Cersei and bringing out a little of the villain in Jaime in order for the two to meet their demise in each others’ arms. But after seasons of building Jaime as a protagonist and Cersei as a villain, it didn’t seem to make much sense for either Lannister to go out this way.
The Mad Queen
For years, Daenerys Targaryen has been a beloved main character of the show, who has always made an effort to do the right thing while also pursuing her own interests. She is an inspiration to many in her world, and though she makes some rash decisions, she is constantly questioning whether or not to embrace the dragon within her.
In the penultimate episode she finally embraces her inner fire and burns down the entire city of Kingslanding, killing hundreds of thousands of innocents. Though Daenerys has made questionable decisions in the past and is shown to be ruthless in her pursuit of power, this snap of the finger turn seems a bit abrupt. Daenerys has spent her life fighting for the oppressed and innocent, and even locked two of her dragons away for seasons in order to protect the children of her kingdom.
Though it makes sense that Daenerys would embrace the dragon within her, and perhaps even go too far in her pursuit of the throne, having her commit the most heinous event we’ve seen in all 8 seasons of the show out of nowhere seems like an easy and cheap way to make her the “final villain” of the show (though she’s only a villain for an episode). Using Jorah, Rhaegal, and Missandei’s death as well as Varys’ betrayal to expedite this process didn’t do much to make it more believable, as Daenerys has always been a character to overcome hardship and adversity and use it to grow as a leader and person. It is hard to believe that the same character would turn around and kill thousands after they have already surrendered simply because it’s “in her blood”.
In a show that spent seasons showing the repercussions of the death of Jon Arryn, the Hand of the King, you would think that they would do the same for the death of Daenerys Targaryen, the Queen. Nope! The next scene is Tyrion being brought to a panel of Westeros’ most powerful men and women to decide on who will be the next King or Queen. Sam mentions democracy and everyone giggles. Grey Worm tells Tyrion not to speak, but then Tyrion gives a speech and says Bran Stark should be King because he has a good story (even though he’s asserted many times that he can’t be the Lord of anything). He agrees, and Sansa Stark says The North will remain independent, but Yara Greyjoy and the Dornish Prince don’t do the same for the Iron Islands and Dorne.
This meeting is a quick and easy way to bring all the characters together and put somebody who is accepted by the rest of the world on the “throne”, but yet again diminishes everything that has happened over the past eight seasons. Everyone seems to come out of The Last War and the rest of the events of the series ready to forget their grievances very quickly, and choose someone whose powers they do not understand as their King. In the end, they choose someone whose magic comes from the Northern “Old Gods”, but rules every kingdom in Westeros besides the North.
Bran Becomes King
Yeah… that happened.
Feel Good Ending
Game of Thrones is a show that has never been about one person or one family. It is the story of the Starks, Lannisters, Targaryens, Baratheons, Tyrells, Greyjoys, and Martells, just to mention a few. The ending seems to forget that, and chooses to focus mainly on the Starks, with Bran as King, Sansa as Queen in the North, Arya exploring westward, and Jon heading off with the wildlings northward. The final scene shows these remaining Starks, minus Bran, all filing into their new positions without regard for the other characters of the show. Though Sansa and Arya’s endings make sense for their characters, it seems out of the spirit of the world we’ve been presented to focus the ending on solely one family.
The only other characters who have their endings showcased in the final moments are the questionable members of the Small Council, who seem like they are thrown into positions in order to give them a tasteful ending. Though Tyrion as the Hand of the King and Brienne as Lord Commander of the Kingsguard make sense, Sam, Bronn, and Davos’ positions seem a bit forced and unearned. And when Sam brings in A Song of Ice and Fire in a Lord of the Rings-esque ending, it seems like an extremely cheap easter egg (and it makes pretty much no sense that Tyrion wasn’t mentioned after all he’s done in the wars following the death of King Robert).
Aside from that, the realm seems extremely peaceful in the days following The Last War and The Great War. The Dothraki don’t do anything to avenge their fallen Queen, despite them all being bloodriders sworn to avenge their fallen khal’s (or khalessi’s) death before then joining them in death. The Unsullied, who were all devout followers of the Queen who freed them from chains, decide to let Jon Snow go and sail off to Naath. It seems like the War of the Five Kings, The Great War, and the Last War really did not have any lasting repercussions on the world, heavily diminishing the importance of all the events we have watched over the past 8 seasons.
Ultimately, many of the problems with this final season come from its extremely fast pace. Events come and go with little lead-up or repercussions, wars are diminished into single battles, and characters seem to betray their arcs because there is little to no build-up to their actions. The Final Season covers in 6 episodes: the war against The Night King, Daenerys’ turn to madness, Cersei’s fall from power, and the rise of a new age, each which honestly could have been seasons in themselves.
In the early seasons of Game of Thrones every scene meant something in itself, whether it was introducing a new plot, explaining the events prior to the show, bringing in a new character, or having episodes of build-up finally coming to fruition. All of the storylines seemed to progress at a realistic pace, while still giving us time to get to know each of the characters and be immersed in the world we were shown. In the later seasons, especially the Final Season, the show seemed to be boiled down into a few main plot points, with every scene in between rushing to get to that next point.
In essence, if we were able to have more time between these major plot points, perhaps it would have made the payoff and fallout from each seem more deserved and believable. Daenerys’ turn to madness could have made more sense for her character if it was given more time to develop, and the storyline would have been more worth it if she was a villain for longer and was able to have lasting repercussions on the world. The threat of The Long Night could have been what it was built-up to be since the first scene of the show if it was given time to affect the entirety of the continent and leave a good portion of it in ruins. We could have explored some of the magic that has brought this world to life over the past decade rather than brushing over it, including The Night King, the Three-Eyed Raven, the Lord-of-Light, The Faceless Men, and The Prince Who Was Promised.
In the end, this rushed pace is one of the main reasons the show has fallen to the same fate as many other great shows before it: an ending that could not deliver on its own greatness.
Written by Nick Mandala
Edited by Jake Zall