My brother and I watched the Game of Thrones series finale together. There is much to be said about the episode. So, spoiler warning. However, you’re not getting the significance of my first sentence:
My brother and I – me being the youngest of three kids and him being the middle child – pretty much only watch two things together: any new Star Wars movie starring Mark Hamill and Game of Thrones. Otherwise, he’s too busy with life and other interests to care about the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the latest Netflix series, Jordan Peele horror movies, or anything else I might be into at any given moment. I am a geek in the classical “loves sci-fi, superheroes, and fantasy” sense of the word; he’s barely even geek-adjacent, despite having grown up on the original Star Wars trilogy.
Game of Thrones, however, got its hooks in him. We started watching it together back in the second season. A lot in both of our lives has changed since then, enough that the final outcome of a silly little Lord of the Rings knock-off TV show should ultimately seem trivial compared to adult problems. However, whenever Game of Thrones returned to rings its bells we enjoyed the weekly escape. Our bonding experience with the show persevered.
That bond was built on a shared love for this show; it goes out with our shared hate of the show’s series finale. “Well that was disappointing” were my brother’s first words after the episode, followed later with an even more concise description: “worst finale ever.”
Lumberjack Dexter might beg to differ, but, yeah, Game of Thrones closed out its legacy-shattering final season with an epic dud of a series finale. As USA Today’s Kelly Lawler, whose passionate Benioff & Weiss critiques are usually spot-on, put it in her review:
When Game of Thrones premiered eight years ago, it was instantly clear that the series was something different. It was a story that broke the conventions of the fantasy genre, not one that was a slave to them. But that’s not the show that aired its final episode Sunday night. In the final episode, “The Iron Throne,” Thrones was unrecognizable. It was hacky; it was cliched. Every character left standing received a saccharine coda. It was all too simple, too clean, even with a major death and a surprise contender for the Iron Throne. Closure is one thing, but pandering is entirely another.
She’s right. The episode, written and directed by Benioff/Weiss, did feel off. From Tyrion in King’s Landing beginning to Jon leading the wildlings north of the wall ending, little of what made it to screen felt totally like Game of Thrones. For me, that meant I spent the majority of “The Iron Throne” waiting for the script to swerve away from all of its hacky traps:
- Surely they won’t have Jon stab Dany while kissing her in the Throne Room? Totally did.
- Surely Tyrion can’t be serious with this speech about Bran – less a character, more a blank-eyed plot device – deserving to be king because he has “the best story”? Holy shit, I think he actually means it
- Well, surely the other heads of the houses won’t all agree to anoint Bran as the music swells and elevates this to seeming like a monumental moment even though it makes no sense? Nope, they totally did that too.
You can look at this and imagine an alternate universe where it all makes total sense. Go back and re-watch the pilot and you’ll notice that our introduction to the Starks is entirely centered on Ned and his sons teaching Bran how to be a just ruler. Jaime pushing Bran out of that tower is the inciting incident of the whole series. Think back to earlier in this season and you’ll newly appreciate the significance of the moment when Bran told Tyrion he didn’t want to rule Winterfell even though it was his right.
Maybe this kinda, sorta, not really, but let’s go with it works as an ending. However, like so much else from these final seasons it feels like Benioff and Weiss have simply written down the answer on a math test when the instructions clearly stated they were supposed to answer AND show their work. That last part has eluded them for quite some time now.
It’s helpful to remember the following: when David Benioff and D.B. Weiss first pitched Game of Thrones to HBO in 2006 they had never written a single second of TV nor had they even written a single word professionally. Their position of strength was mostly they knew the George R.R. Martin novels better than anyone. Like a lot of people over the past couple of decades, they aimed to seriously monetize their fandom.
“This story is unmarked by the unavoidable compromises that come with writing against a ticking production clock,” they promised in their 2006 HBO pitch document. “George has thought this story through with a focus and consistency of vision that is simply impossible in a normal television context. All of the suspense for [Thrones viewers], none of the uncertainty for us.”
Little could they have known that Martin would fail to keep up his end of the bargain. The show debuted the same year Martin published A Dance with Dragons. He has yet to deliver a follow-up novel. Without his words as a foundation, Benioff and Weiss have flailed about quite spectacularly, rushing to the finish line for unknown reasons (they requested the shortened final seasons, not HBO) and prioritizing spectacle and gotcha storytelling. That last part stands in direct contradiction to what they promised in their HBO pitch letter, to “open the eyes of millions of non-fans, who care more about depth, character, and storytelling than they do about mere spectacle.”
That is why we now look at all of their future endeavors with a seriously skeptical eye. As field marshals of the largest army ever assembled to make a TV show, their work is historic and unparalleled, an accomplishment which can never be denied. As storytellers, they have proven themselves to be good at adaptation but questionable at anything beyond that. It is highly notable that unlike every episode from the past seasons “The Iron Throne” did not come with a post-episode interview with Benioff and Weiss explaining their decisions. The intent was likely to let the work speak for itself; the effect, however, is of two people running away from the crime scene.
Because that’s what this feels like: a drive-by shooting of the greatness that once was Game of Thrones.
We’ve been here before. Sometimes beloved shows simply crap the bed in their final hour. Game of Thrones has plenty of company there. See also: Dexter, Battlestar Galactica Lost, How I Met Your Mother, the first-run of Roseanne, and Seinfeld. A common response to such disappointment is to feel like if the ending sucked then you’ve actually just wasted years of your life watching this show.
I don’t feel like that with Game of Thrones. Like I said, it’s one of the only TV shows my brother and I have ever bonded over. We watched it together just as so many other families and friends have over the years. It was a great show until it wasn’t, but I’ve always had a great time watching it and geeking out about it, both on the site and IRL with my brother. The journey was worth it even if the final destination didn’t live up to expectations.
Or maybe that’s just what I’m telling myself right now to keep from getting too worked up.
I don’t think so, though. The show went off the rails so long ago that I let go of any hope that Benioff & Weiss would ever right the ship. The finale confirmed as much, and as a result, I despair not for Dany or Jon but instead for the fans of the show. My story is not unique. So many around the world have bonded over Game of Thrones. We will never see the likes of it again.
Sure, AT&T will bleed as many spin-offs as possible out of HBO, and the finale surprisingly leaves the show open for a sequel series should that ever come to pass. However, you don’t replace a cultural behemoth with something which looks just like it. No, the next Game of Thrones – as in the next big show we all talk about it – will most likely look nothing like it and be something we’ll never see coming. I don’t know if I will bond with my brother over that show, but I know we watched Game of Thrones together for nearly a decade. No amount of disappointing storytelling can ever take that away.
RANDOM PARTING THOUGHTS
- I give Bran’s reign as King three years, four tops. Only a matter of time before his constant vague proclamations, detached stare and frequent unexplained out-of-body wharging gets on everyone’s nerves. I don’t even think he’ll suffer a coup, more he’ll just roll off into the woods one day and never be seen again, leaving Tyrion to rule in his place.
- Bright side: Tyrion was the one character so many said they loved too much to watch die. Kill him and lose me as a viewer and all that. Hey, they didn’t kill him. So, that’s good, I guess.
- Potential spin-offs or sequel series storylines: The Unsullied protecting Naath, Arya exploring west of Westeros, Jon and the wildlings re-building society north of The Wall, Sansa as Queen of the North.
What’s your Game of Thrones story? Who has been your favorite person to watch the show with? Or favorite blogger/podcaster/entertainment journalist to turn to for post-show commentary? And what did you think of the finale? Let me know in the comments.