Reviews, TV Reviews

The Game of Thrones finale and why everybody needs to stop whining

It’s possible that the Game of Thrones finale has been more divisive than Brexit and that fluffy orange turd currently running America.

The way I see it, the whiners who hated the ending and have been petitioning HBO to remake Season 8 boil down to two groups:

  • People who don’t like what happened (Daenerys losing her shit, Daenerys dying, Jon Snow ending up back at the Wall, Bran becoming king)
  • People who don’t like the way it happened (the writing, the super fast pace and in particular the lack of build-up to Dany losing her shit)

Let’s deal with the first of these. My feeling is that a lot of people’s unhappiness stems from the fact that Thrones’ conclusion was not the one they hoped for. Sorry folks, but this show was never about giving viewers and fans what they hoped for. For years things have been happening to these characters that were well and truly not what we hoped for. Upending expectations about heroes and villains and what we think should happen to them has always been the show’s strength.

We all wanted to see the show’s nastiest villains get their comeuppance. And we wanted it to be gruesome and painful, catering to our own vengeful instincts as viewers. In some cases, we did. We all cheered when Viserys Targaryen got his ‘golden crown’ and Ramsay Bolton was eaten by his own dogs. But how many were truly satisfied when Joffrey choked to death at his wedding? Many of us thought it wasn’t a horrible-enough death for such an appalling human pustule. Same goes for Tywin Lannister. I remember feeling that his death was anti-climactic, particularly coming so soon after Joffrey’s. Suddenly the show’s two chief villains had been taken out of the game.

And yet, I loved the show even more for subverting my expectations. Joffrey died in only the second episode of the fourth season, when no one was expecting it (alright, yes, apart from book readers), sparking the absolutely gripping ‘Trial of Tyrion Lannister’ storyline. Meanwhile, Tywin’s death caused the High Sparrow and his merry band of mad religious zealots to come to the fore, culminating in one of the series’ most epic and game-changing events—the destruction of the Great Sept of Baelor.

In the end, Cersei Lannister became truly abhorrent and is now considered the series’ ultimate big bad (particularly after the Night King was so swiftly dispatched by Arya Stark). So, many were disappointed when she became a quivering wreck and was killed by falling rubble at the end of The Bells. It was a distinctly un-Hollywood demise. And that’s what makes it distinctly Game of Thrones. Thrones was never Hollywoodised (is that a word? It is now). If it was, Ned Stark—the main character—wouldn’t have lost his head. And Joffrey and Tywin might’ve died in the way I wanted them to.

Yes, admittedly we have seen a few Hollywood sensibilities creeping into Thrones’ final season, examples being the very heroic deaths of minor characters at the Battle of Winterfell and Arya winning the day at the last minute. I actually think that episode was the most Hollywood the show’s ever got.

As I said in my last review, Game of Thrones is at its best when it’s rejecting those norms and not giving viewers what they want. Of course, the problem with not giving viewers what they want in the final episodes is that there’s nothing coming next. People might’ve been happier with what happened to these characters if they knew there was another season next year.

That’s the real reason people are upset. The show was ending and this was the last they were going to see of these characters. They wanted those last moments to count. They didn’t want Jaime to go running back to Cersei at the eleventh hour, seemingly betraying six seasons’ worth of redemption. They didn’t want Daenerys to turn into a war criminal after being the show’s hero since day one. They didn’t want Bran to be king. Who cares about Bran? He’s been a charisma-free robot for two seasons now. And they didn’t want Jon to end up back where he started, an unwanted bastard at the Wall. If Daenerys couldn’t sit on the Iron Throne, they wanted Jon to.

Real life doesn’t work like that. Things don’t happen to people because they should. They happen because they happen. Thrones was always about trying to reflect real life (albeit with dragons and zombies and evil smoke babies) in a way other shows didn’t. That’s why Cersei died the way she did, crying and afraid. Because even though she was a monster, she was also a human being. That’s why Jaime went back to her, because no matter how much some of us change for the better, we can’t stop going back to the wrong people.

I for one am happy with the finale. Seriously, how boring would it have been if Jon had ended up on the throne? It ended in a way I didn’t expect, although I did predict that there might be some change to the Westerosi system of government—which there was! It also ended somewhere between a happy ending and a gloomy one, a perfectly apt note for a show like this to go out on. (I actually think we’re lucky that the ending was as happy as it was. There was potential for everything to go to shit.) The dialogue was strong, particularly during the Dragon Pit scenes and the Small Council meeting. Drogon melting the Iron Throne was fitting and I loved the heavy focus on Tyrion. The only thing I would’ve liked was for more characters to confront Daenerys over her actions, but what we got was fine given the time constraints.

And those time constraints bring me to the second horde of unhappy campers. These are the people complaining that everything that happened in Seasons 7 and 8 was rushed, ill-thought-out and betraying of the show’s character development. This includes a lot of the reviewers who are now calling upon George R. R. Martin to hurry up and give everyone a better ending. Because, as Andy Welch for The Guardian put it, he “will write it properly”.

Well, what a gargantuan assumption for a man who’s been struggling for ages to finish the latest book. Martin himself has said, “I’ve been struggling with it for a few years. The Winds of Winter is not so much a novel as a dozen novels, each with a different protagonist, each having a different cast of supporting players, antagonists, allies and lovers around them, and all of these weaving together against the march of time in an extremely complex fashion. So it’s very, very challenging.”

I can’t give an opinion on the books as I’ve only read bits of them, but I’ve read a lot about them, and from what I understand, the books have gotten longer, more complex and more meandering as they’ve gone along. I’ve read reviews that have criticised Martin for introducing countless characters, going off on numerous tangents, spending dozens of pages on descriptions and conversations that are ultimately of no consequence, and not bringing anything to a conclusion. It sounds like his latest weighty tome, if it’s ever released, isn’t going to buck that trend.

Many people are saying that Game of Thrones was at its best when it was following George R. R. Martin’s source material so closely. But was it? Was it always? I’d argue that there were many times during the show’s early seasons when I felt it was too slow. There were whole episodes in which nothing much happened, particularly in Season 2, with certain storylines slithering by at a snail’s pace. Daenerys was often the victim of this. So was Arya, particularly when she got to Braavos. (And from what I’ve read, Arya’s time with the Faceless Men was drastically condensed in the show yet still lasted two seasons, becoming probably the least compelling and most nonsensical of all her storylines.)

I do agree with the majority that showrunners D.B. Weiss and David Benioff went too far the other way in Seasons 7 and 8. They deliberately decided to only make 13 episodes instead of 20, arguing that that’s how much story they had left to tell. But we’ve all seen that there was a lot of story left to tell. In a show that has never been particularly fast-paced, they should’ve spread it across 20 episodes at least.

Still, they had a plan, and they stuck to it. A lot of TV shows get dragged on and on and on by showrunners who don’t know when to stop (Grey’s Anatomy and Shonda Rhimes, I’m looking at you). And I am starting to wonder if George R. R. Martin himself has fallen into the trap of not knowing when—or how—to stop. Personally I don’t think he ever will.

Meanwhile, D.B. Weiss and David Benioff have given us an ending. They may have made it to the finish line too quickly, but at least they made it. And Game of Thrones has remained an exceptionally well-told story till the bitter(sweet) end.

Long live Bran the Broken.

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