All That Matters is the Ending: Game of Thrones


Well, here we are again. I keep saying I’m going to stop writing these articles, and yet stories keep screwing up their most crucial element, pulling me right back in again.

I want to make it absolutely clear who I’m laying the blame on. It’s not the actors, nor the production team, nor any of the support staff who put in a mindboggling amount of work into this show. No, the blame lies squarely on the shoulders of Weiss and Benioff. Had HBO come to them and said “this show is too expensive, wrap it up in 13 episodes,” I would have understood this season. Under such tight time constraints, this is perhaps the best we could have hoped for. That’s not what happened.

HBO would have loved to have kept this show going. This wasn’t going to be a case of a show going longer than it should have, there was still story to be told. But the showrunners Weiss and Benioff told HBO they wanted to end their show in 13 episodes. And as we’ve just seen, that was a woefully inadequate time frame to tell this story. So much went so wrong, so quickly, and the question that will be asked for years to come is this:

What was the rush?

All That Matters is the Ending:

Game of Thrones

As I rewatched this season of Game of Thrones, four things struck me as having gone wrong. First and most strikingly, there was absolutely no consistency in the writing. Then there was the fact that characters began acting completely contrary to their established character. Piled on top of that was the dialogue this season, which was almost nonexistent when compared to earlier seasons, and what little there was mostly expository. And finally, most critically, the finale failed to emotionally resonate with the audience because in the end, there was no point to this story.

Any one of these faults the show could have overcome by the sheer quality of its pedigree, but all four together managed to destroy one of the greatest TV shows ever made.

Inconsistent Storytelling Led to a Lack of Drama

I still can’t believe that somehow, in this scene, there are tens of thousands of soldiers still alive and in fighting condition.

Game of Thrones spent the last 8 years building one of the most elaborately detailed fantasy worlds ever seen in a TV show. From the rich history of Westeros to the brutally realistic political system that controlled it, everything felt real. It felt realistic, even though it featured dragons and zombies, because it paid such close attention to detail. Distance, time, and most importantly, the consequences of character’s actions, were treated with respect. Nothing was treated with respect this season. People and armies appeared where they needed to with no explanation, and the story would contradict itself in the course of single episode. It completely shattered the audience’s suspension of disbelief, the very foundation of a good story.

And the thing is, I can forgive a lot. I can forgive inconsistent writing if it’s accidental, attention to detail in in world-building is a learned skill like any other and inexperienced writers can make mistakes; hell, even the most experienced writers will occasionally slip and contradict themselves.

But that’s not what happened this season.

These were not simple mistakes like forgetting a coffee cup on a table or a water bottle on the ground, these were conscious decisions. Weiss and Benioff made a choice to have Daenerys’ army respawn like video game characters after the Battle of Winterfell. They chose to make the scorpions supersonic, laser-guided super weapons and then immediately render them useless the following episode. They wanted their story to have certain scenes and hit specific plot points, but didn’t want to take the time to get there properly. They wanted to get to the end as quickly as possible and the story suffered for it. Was even destroyed by it.

“No time to finish telling the story, we want to make Star Wars!”

Thing is, the characters overcoming these challenges would have made for a great story. With most of Daenerys’ army dead, how would she fight Cersei? We could have had an episode or two of Daenerys forging alliances with the kingdom of Dorne, while Sansa rallied the armies of The Vale. We could have Yara return with troops from the Iron Islands, and had a great scene of her mourning her brother while also celebrating his glorious death and redemption. Finally Daenerys could march on King’s Landing at the head of a true coaltion, united in their single aim of destroying Cersei.

When the battle came, instead of Drogon managing to destroy all the scorpions due to convenient scene cuts and a fundamental shift in how they operated for no reason, let the scorpions continue to be a threat. Give us a daring siege where the first objective of the battle are disabling the scorpions on the walls. Show us Greyworm and Jon fighting on the walls, and after hours of intense fighting, lighting fire to the scorpions. Show us their retreat from the wall as dusk falls, and Drogon swoops in to light the walls, and its defenders, on fire. Then cut to that night with a scene of Davos Seaworth smuggling in a handful of Daenerys’ best warriors, led by Arya, to infiltrate the city and eliminate the remaining scorpions guarding the palace. And after they’ve succeeded, show us Arya sneaking into the Red Keep, her objective certain… and then roll credits.

Instead of any of that, the plot decided to simply hand Daenerys back her army and rendered the scorpions useless. In doing so, these scenes were robbed of the conflict that was badly needed to hit the emotional high notes they were aiming for.

How do the characters overcome the obstacles standing in their way? That’s the fundamental question a writer has to answer in a story to create conflict and drama. If the writers answer that question with “because they’re the heroes,” then the story is robbed of its emotional core. There was no emotional response (aside from anger and disappointment) to the last season precisely for this reason. There was no sense of danger, no challenge to the characters, and no opportunity for growth. Without that conflict there is no story.

I never thought I would be bored watching a dragon burn a city.

It was not only damaging to the story, it was disrespectful to the audience. Any storyteller should treat their audience with at least a modicum of respect, after all they’re investing their time and emotions in your story.

Showing an entire ceiling caving in on Jaime and Cersei, and then revealing the next episode that it was only a couple of loose bricks coming down, is not respecting your audience. That’s treating your audience like complete fucking idiots. It’s the equivalent of a magician trying to make an elephant disappear not through smoke and mirrors, but by saying “the elephant is now gone.” And then blaming the audience when it gets mad that they can see the elephant is still there.

The entire room, including most of the supporting archways, collapsing.
Tyrion unearths them by moving seven bricks. Literally, that’s not sarcasm, I counted.

Game of Thrones was the show that built itself on respecting the consequences of a character’s actions, regardless of the outcome. People talk about all the shocking and unexpected deaths: Ned, Robb, Catelyn, Tywin, etc. But in reality you could see these deaths coming from a mile away, these weren’t M Night Shyamalan-esque twists, they were the natural result of the character’s actions. The only shocking thing about their deaths was that they were allowed to die. Plot armor had become so ubiquitous in fantasy stories that suddenly experiencing one where our favorite characters were vulnerable to dying was a shock to the system.

This season the characters had plot armor so thick it shattered our suspension of disbelief. Or characters died because the plot demanded they die, rather that it being a result of their actions. How the hell did Missandei get captured when all the characters were on the same boat and the rest washed up on shore? Greyworm does tell her to “get to the skiff” but how does that lead to her capture exactly? You’d think on a boat she’d have been the only one able to escape, and everyone else gets captured.

Yet the plot demanded that Missandei die to give Daenerys’ descent into madness a veneer of credibility, and so she died. Even though Cersei, a devious plotter who tried to plan for every contingency, would likely have kept Missandei alive as a human shield and bargaining chip should she lose the battle. Which leads nicely into my next point.

The Characters Became Strangers

Tyrion end of Season 8 of Game of Thrones.
I don’t recognize Tyrion in this scene, and it’s not because of the (immaculately groomed despite weeks of captivity) beard.

The characters we met this season may have had the same names, and the same actors playing them, but they were not the characters we’d grown to love. Everyone acted completely out of character, doing things this season that they would never have done in previous ones.

There is one scene that encapsulates this problem perfectly: the negotiation with Cersei, when Tyrion is trying to convince her to surrender. This scene plays out in exact opposition to every character’s established traits.

The old, better written Tyrion would never have suggested this stupid plan. In fact if someone else had, he would have called them a fucking idiot. Based on everything he knows about Cersei, her ruthless desire for power and her obsession with her children, the old Tyrion would know that Cersei would never surrender. He would also have known that standing in front of the walls of King’s Landing would have resulted in all of them dying, Cersei doesn’t give a shit about the rules of war. She would have killed them all.

Cersei doesn’t, which is completely out of character. Cersei wants to protect her child at any cost and retain the Iron Throne she’s fought so hard to sit upon. She’s never cared about the etiquette of chivalrous warfare, she wouldn’t care that Daenerys was there under a flag of truce. Her greatest rival, her advisers, including the hated brother she’s wanted to kill for so long, and Drogon are within range of her scorpions and probably her archers as well. This was the perfect opportunity to end the war in a single blow with no risk to her own troops, and Cersei of all people, would take it.

Then there’s Daenerys, she gives people only one chance. The Masters of Meereen, the Khals of the Dothraki, the Tarlys: She offered them all one chance to surrender and serve her, and when they refused she killed them. Daenerys gave Cersei her one and only chance last season, to swear a truce until the Night King is dealt with, and Cersei broke her agreement. Even if Cersei had surrendered in this scene, Daenerys would never have accepted. So her even agreeing to this charade is out of character. And as for “let the people see I tried to stop this,” reasoning, who the hell was going to see this meeting except soldiers? It’s not like this was televised on Westeros CNN.

Seriously guys, just open fire on Drogon, and let your archers take out the others. War over.

Of course the character that was least recognizable this season was Jaime Lannister. He was easily one of the most nuanced characters in both the books and the show. I started off hating Jaime, his smug arrogant air of superiority just pissed me off. Add to that the fact that he killed the former king so that his father Tywin could take the city? He was despicable.

And then I found out the real reason he killed The Mad King. The king was about to burn the entire city to the ground rather than let his enemies take it, and Jaime did exactly what a knight is supposed to do: he picked up his sword and protected the innocent. And for this act of heroism, he was shamed. “Kingslayer” was his title now. His arrogance and aloofness was the armor he wore to protect himself from the judgement of his peers, so he could pretend it didn’t wound him to his core.

And then he was captured, and Catelyn Stark gave him the one thing he’d always wanted: a noble quest. Find two innocent girls in the middle of a war and return them safely to their mother. Brienne went with him and in her he found something he’d never found before: someone who would listen to him.

You think the “honorable” Ned Stark wanted to hear my side? He judged me guilty the moment he set eyes on me.

– Jaime Lannister to Brienne

All Jaime wanted was for someone, anyone to listen to his side of the story. To not dismiss him as a monster because he killed the man he was sworn to protect, but to listen to why he had to do it and how hard it was for him, despite everything The Mad King had done. To listen to how much it still haunted him.

It was painful going back to this incredibly powerful scene in “Kissed by Fire” in season 3, because it made me realize how truly awful season 8 is by comparison.

“Help! The Kingslayer!”

– Brienne of Tarth

“Jaime…my name is Jaime.”

Jaime Lannister

Thanks to Brienne, Jaime was able to start seeing himself for who he was, rather than how the world saw him. It was a beautiful arc of redemption and personal growth. Now that’s not to say that Jaime couldn’t have ended up back with Cersei. He loved Cersei, for better or worse, and under the right circumstances I could see him going back to her.

Maybe he would go back to convince her to surrender peacefully, as he’d tried to convince the Mad King before her. To sail away with him into exile and let Daenerys have the seven kingdoms, that nothing else mattered as long as they were together. That’s not the story the show was telling us though.

She’s hateful… and so am I.

– Jaime Lannister

That’s his whole justification for going back to her. Multiple seasons of Jaime becoming a better person, washed away by that single line. I had hoped that maybe this was a “throwing stones at a dog so it runs away” scene, that he was just saying something awful so Brienne wouldn’t follow him. But no, he seems to believe it, and it’s made even worse with this line:

When have I been able to convince Cersei of anything?

– Jaime Lannister

Try. If not for yourself, if not for her, then for any one of the million people in that city. Innocent or otherwise.

-Tyrion Lannister

To be honest, I never really cared much for them.

-Jaime Lannister

Never cared much for them? Interesting considering the core of his character’s trauma and dramatic arc has revolved around breaking his oath to protect his king, in order to protect those very people. Compare that line to episode 7 in season 3, when he tells Qyburn, with pride, how he saved the city:

And how many people have you saved?

– Qyburn

Half a million. The population of King’s Landing.

– Jaime Lannister

Now it could be that Jaime is simply reassuming his arrogant and aloof attitude to once again protect himself emotionally… but it was up to the writers to show that happening. But they didn’t give themselves time to show the degradation of his character to this extent, so none of this made sense. Though even if they’d given themselves the time, it likely wouldn’t have helped since, as you may have noticed…

The Dialogue Was Awful

My face every time a character spoke.

Even more so than the amazing world-building, Game of Thrones made its mark with the complex and riveting dialogue it created. It used the dialogue to not only give depth to its characters but also to create the conflict in the story. Most of the running time of Game of Thrones has been spent showing people talking to each other, and that story was all the richer for it.

This season the dialogue is shockingly sparse, and what little there is of it, is expository. Most of the lines of season 8 are wasted either explaining the plot or a character’s motivations to the audience. Now obviously dialogue is supposed to reveal a character’s motivations, but by showing the audience, not telling them.

Since the show tries to use Daenerys’s crucifixion of The Masters to justify her later burning of King’s Landing, let’s use that as a good example of dialogue.

Truly one of the most disturbing moments in the show.

Daenerys finds these children crucified as she marches on Meereen, as a warning from The Masters. Here’s how the scene plays out:

There’s one on every mile marker between here and Meereen.

– Ser Jorah Mormont

How many miles are there between here and Meereen.

-Daenerys Stormborn

One-hundred-and-sixty-three, your grace.

– Ser Jorah

I’ll have our men to ride ahead and bury them. You don’t need to see this.

-Ser Barristan Selmy

You will do no such thing. I will see each and every one of their faces. Remove that collar before you bury her.

-Daenerys Stormborn

This is such a short exchange, but it conveys everything we as the audience needs to know about Daenerys’ state of mind. She’s calm and controlled in this scene, there is no crying or screaming, but you can feel the seething rage. There was never any doubt about what was going to happen to The Masters when she finally took the city.

Remind me, Ser Jorah, how many children did The Masters nail to mile posts?

-Daenerys Stormborn

Daenerys asks this question already knowing the answer, it’s rhetorical, even though Jorah does answer her.

One-hundred-sixty-three, Khaleesi.

– Ser Jorah Mormont

She didn’t want to hear the answer, she wanted to revel in the schadenfreude of the justice she was about to inflict upon The Masters. She wanted to take a moment to remember the face of every single one of those 163 children, so she could fully appreciate the satisfaction of watching 163 masters suffer the same fate. And because the dialogue is so effective at conveying Daenerys’ state of mind, we find ourselves reveling in watching The Masters crucified as well. It was this kind of dialogue that foreshadowed her eventual fall.

Now let’s look at Daenery’s dialogue when she decides to burn King’s Landing.

Oh that’s right… there isn’t any.

We don’t get any insight into Daenery’s state of mind, because she doesn’t get any dialogue to convey it. Instead what we get gems like these:

I worry about her state of mind.

-Varys

She hasn’t seen anyone since we returned. Hasn’t left her chambers, hasn’t accept any food. […] We both know what she’s about to do.

-Varys

We get other characters telegraphing (not foreshadowing, that’s more a subtle art) Daenery’s fall into madness. We never get to hear from what is arguably the most important character in the entire series. The closest we get is when she confront Tyrion about Varys knowing about Jon’s true heritage, and again it’s 90% expository, simply recounting what we already know.

Someone has betrayed me.

-Daenerys

Yes.

-Tyrion Lannister

Jon Snow.

-Daenerys

You know what, I’m not even going to bother transcribing the rest; she just recounts everything that happened in the previous episode, they should have just made it a narration for the “last time on Game of Thrones” recap. It conveys nothing about her character, doesn’t give us the slightest inkling that she’s about to level an entire city. More than anything else, it’s that lack of insight into Daenerys’ thinking that made the destruction of King’s Landing feel like such a whiplash inducing twist in the narrative.

And somehow, that isn’t even the worst example. Let’s look at at Jon and Tyrion talking about what Daenery’s did to King’s Landing in episode 6.

It was vanity to think I could guide her. Our Queen’s nature is fire and blood.

– Tyrion Lannister

You think our house words are stamped on our bodies when we’re born and that’s who we are?

– Jon Snow

First of all, I just want to point out that this line of dialogue is way too long. “You think our house words are stamped on our bodies” that’s all you need here, the rest is unnecessary, but I don’t want to get into the minutiae of dialogue construction. Secondly, for the sweet love of the Old Gods and the New, Jon, she literally just took the city with fire and blood. This part of the conversation would only make sense if it happened before she set an entire city on fire. Just a few sentences before this exchange, Jon says he won’t try to justify what happened. This is him immediately trying to justify it:

Cersei left her no choice. She saw her friend beheaded. She saw her dragon shot out of the sky.

– Jon Snow

And here’s is why this whole scene is nothing but expository dialogue: the writers are trying to justify Daenery’s actions to the audience (almost as if they knew the previous episode wouldn’t be well received). It’s so badly written it almost breaks the fourth wall. Tyrion’s job in this scene is to emphasize the horror of what Daenerys did last episode, and Jon’s job is to defend her actions and make them seem reasonable. That’s it. This scene does nothing to build any kind of drama, there’s no characterization going on, in fact it once again makes Jon act out of character.

I really wish Jon had just died here, rather than having to watch the slow, fading death of his character.

Jon, like Ned, is an honorable man. Now I thought his character arc was building towards being an honorable man, while also having the pragmatism to do bad things for a greater good when it was called for (IE abandoning Sam in the battle of Winterfell.) That ultimately doesn’t go anywhere, which I’ll come to in a moment, but Jon is still an honorable man.

After Jon joins the Night’s Watch and they first visit Craster’s Keep, Jon stands up to Craster for abusing his daughter-wives, and is angry at Mormont for allowing these abuses to continue. Later when Mance Rayder is captured, he tries to convince him to surrender and bend the knee to Stannis, so that his people can live. And finally, at Hardhome, he risks everything to save an enemy he’s been taught to hate.

There’s nothing in his character that would let him look at Daenerys burning an entire city to the ground, likely killing hundreds of thousands of people, and saying “yeah, they had it coming.” The only way this could work is if Jon were so madly in love with Daenerys that he was blinded by it. Yet all we were ever shown of their romance was a single night together at the end of last season, and then some romantic dragon flights. There wasn’t enough time to devoted to their relationship to justify this kind of devotion, especially since most of the season was dedicated to Jon looking uncomfortable after finding out she was his aunt.

It’s easy to judge when you’re standing far from the battlefield.

– Jon Snow
I wonder if the entirety of Jon’s script for this scene was just a sticky note that said “look bewildered.”

Jon was looking just as horrified as Tyrion as they watched the city burn, he tried to hold back his own soldiers to stop them participating in the slaughter.

When she murdered the the slavers of Astapor, no one but the slavers complained, after all they were evil men. When she crucified hundreds of Meerenese nobles, who could argue, they were evil men. The Dothraki Khals she burned alive, they would have done worse to her. Everywhere she goes, evil men die and we cheer her for it. And she grows more powerful and more sure that she is good and right.

Tyrion Lannister

And here is the cardinal sin of this scene: it’s useless. We shouldn’t need the show to recount all the things Daenery’s has done to justify the previous episode. If this season had been better written, Daenery’s turn to madness would have made sense, and this scene would be unnecessary. As it is, it’s a pitiful attempt to explain away Daenery’s sharp and unjustified turn into a madwoman, and it fails to do even that.

Again, any one of these problems, perhaps the show could have overcome by the sheer strength of quality that had come before. Yet when you combine these things with its biggest problem, that ultimately Game of Thrones isn’t about anything, we’re truly left with an ending worse than anyone could have imagined.

In the End, Game of Thrones Wasn’t About Anything

I wasn’t expecting Game of Thrones to get a happily ever after… and yet here we are.

After the final episode aired, I was browsing twitter when I saw someone post this article, which had a rather shocking quote from Benioff and Weiss.

When I asked Benioff and Weiss if it was possible to infer any overall intentionality to the upcoming 10 episodes, they sneered. “Themes are for eighth-grade book reports,” Benioff told me.

Andy Greenwald, http://grantland.com/features/the-return-hbo-game-thrones/

No, they’re not Benioff, the theme is what makes your story mean something. It’s true that the majority of people don’t consciously think about the theme, unless they’re writing a book report, but nonetheless it’s the theme that makes a story resonate emotionally with the audience. Few people came out of reading/watching the Harry Potter series thinking “gee, I really liked the themes about family and home.” Yet it was those themes that made people bond with the story.

One of the core themes of Harry Potter is about finding home. That a home isn’t a building or a location, like Harry’s house with the Dursley’s, but that special place that we find where we truly belong. How precious it is when we truly find a home, as Harry does at Hogwarts. This theme resonated so powerfully that people still talk about which House the Sorting Hat would put them in, because whether or not they’re aware of it, Hogwarts represents the ideal of home in their minds.

I hope no one thought of King’s Landing as home because… damn.

The fact that there is apparently no theme to Game of Thrones is both shocking, and a big chunk of why the ending falls totally flat. The tragedy is that this show started off with profound themes; it unflinchingly explored the ugly parts of the human psyche. It explored how we’re so obsessed about who gets to rule the imaginary social constructs we call countries, that we ignore threats to our very existence.

The Night King was supposed to embody that existential threat, the eternal winter he was bringing was going to wipe out all life on Westeros, and quite possibly the planet. Yet in the end, despite all the buildup and power at his command, he not only failed to kill Bran but his army didn’t even inflict more than 50% casualties on Daenery’s army. If he couldn’t even defeat a conventional army on the field, he wasn’t exactly an existential threat was he? Which undermines the whole theme of the show.

Fortunately that’s not the only theme! The other strong theme that’s run throughout the show has been about family. And it was a unique take at that, while most books explore finding your chosen family, Game of Thrones explored how we survive the family we’re born into. Among the Starks, Targaryens, Lannisters, and even the Tarlys, not a single family is what I would call well adjusted. The show and books explored how do we, as people, react to a bad family situation: do we let it define us, and repeat the same mistakes, or do we learn and move beyond it.

Which is why Jaime and Tyrion were two of my favorite characters, because they were both exploring what it was to move beyond the trauma their father inflicted on them. Jaime had to learn to move past his father’s expectations that he inherit Casterly Rock, and to pursue his own path. And Tyrion had to learn how to survive a family that hated him for merely existing. And the one good scene in this whole debacle is Tyrion’s goodbye to Jaime.

“You were all I had.” Finally, a good piece of dialogue.

That’s the only emotional payoff I got out of this whole series. Whether it’s a book, TV show, movie or video game, when the audience has reached the end of the journey there needs to be some kind of emotional payoff. It can be sadness, joy, grief, or ideally a truly great story will have us feeling the full gamut of emotions. Watching Tyrion crying in his brother’s arms made me sad that Jaime was all Tyrion had, and yet overjoyed that at least he had his brother.

Now let me ask you: what did you feel when the credits rolled on the final episode of Game of Thrones?

I didn’t feel anything except a mild annoyance. In fact I was getting bored by the end, Daenerys dies 30 minutes into the episode, and then it’s just a long slog of increasingly nonsensical scenes until it finally ends. The Starks, whose whole journey has more or less focused on finding their way back to each other, go their separate ways for some reason; brutally murdering the only theme left in this show.

But let’s back up, and look at the absolute worst scene in this whole mess of an ending: choosing the new king.

Seriously? After all the plots, all the secrecy, all the backstabbing, and everyone is just cool with handing the Starks literally everything in Westeros?

All of the problems I’ve gone over, that plagued this season, merged into a perfect storm that absolutely annihilated this scene and by extension, the entire series. First of all, there’s no consistency in how this scene plays out. Tyrion is a prisoner, there as a bargaining chip to be negotiated over. More than that, he’s the the imp, the show has established repeatedly that everyone hates him because he’s a dwarf. That’s why he’s had to work behind the scenes, but now everyone is willing to just listen to him fundamentally change the system of government in Westeros?

Then there’s the fact that Greyworm is acting way out of character here, with Missandei dead, the only thing left to him was his utter devotion to Daenerys. Yet somehow we’re expected to believe that when Jon went to Greyworm and admitted his crime, he wasn’t immediately executed? And they go even further, expecting us to believe that Greyworm would agree to let whoever is elected the new ruler decide the punishment? And as if that wasn’t far enough to push our disbelief, they also expect us to believe that Greyworm would accept Jon’s half-brother handing down the verdict, as if that wasn’t a massive conflict of interest?

And Bran!? Seriously? The absolute nothing of a character, the void into which all interesting personality is sucked in and destroyed? That’s who they pick to sit on the Iron Throne?

Seriously, I feel myself becoming more boring just looking at him.

Leaving aside how he absolutely does not have the best story, this should have been a huge point of contention among the lords assembled. Again this show is called Game of Thrones and yet here, at the end, with the Throne literally at stake, all the great houses just say: “yeah, okay, Bran can have it.”

I would imagine the North’s armies are depleted, though given the lack of consistency in this area they might have the largest army in the world at this point. Bran has absolutely no ability to back up his claim with military might, which was critical during this period in history. No one in this council knows him aside from his siblings, he’s forged no alliances, made no promises. And then to compound the error that is this ending, Sansa just decides to declare independence and no one bats so much as an eyelash at it.

This should have spun the realm into yet another civil war, because why didn’t every other kingdom say “fuck this, we’re independent too” upon seeing Bran just agree to it. There’s reason some of the bloodiest, most vicious wars in history were civil wars, because there was the fear of those in power that if you let one region peacefully secede, others would follow in droves. Game of Thrones used the cutthroat politics of feudal governance as a backdrop to tell amazing stories, and in the final indignity, even that was finally abandoned.

At least Ghost finally got some chin scritches!

Then of course, to put the final nail in the coffin, was the god awful dialogue in this scene. Tyrion goes into a long, drawn out, fourth-wall breaking monologue about the importance of storytellers. It was so indulgent that I don’t even want to transcribe it here… and yet I must, because like a train wreck, it demands to be seen.

What unites people? Armies? Gold? Flags? Stories. There’s nothing in the world more powerful than a good story. Nothing can stop it. No enemy can defeat it. And who has a better story than Bran the Broken. The boy who fell from a high tower and lived. He knew he’d never walk again, so he learned to fly. He crossed beyond the wall, a crippled boy, and became the Three-Eyed Raven. He is our memory. The keeper of all our stories; the wars, weddings, births, massacres, famines, our triumphs, our defeats… our past. Who better to lead us into the future.

-Tyrion Lannister, having totally lost his god damn mind.

The sad thing about this is… I agree with everything he says here. I think stories do have power, and I think the right stories can shape our society for the better. But why is Tyrion saying this? He’s not a storyteller, and to my knowledge has never once voiced these beliefs before. More to the point though, this whole scene comes across as Benioff and Weiss talking to us directly, as if applauding their own accomplishments. And boys… you misread the room if you thought this was a good time for a curtain call.

Meme I stole off the internet, if you know who to credit, let me know in the comments.

And then, after that awkward and painful scene… it’s over. Arya heads west because she asked what was west of Westeros that one time, Sansa becomes Queen in the North, and Jon resumes his command at the Night’s Watch… even though there’s no longer a Night King to watch against. Then Jon heads beyond the wall with the Wildlings, either to become a new King-Beyond-the-Wall like Mance, or just to escort them home. I don’t know, the story didn’t tell me.

That’s it, eight years, 80+ hours, hundreds of millions of dollars… all to tell a story that ultimately went nowhere. And the sad thing is that this ending isn’t just disappointing, if it simply failed to live up to expectations, that would be one thing. No, this is a bad ending, destructive even.

Just before the first episode of this season aired, the friends I watched this show with were talking about watching the whole thing in a giant marathon after the final season was over. We’re no longer talking about that. What would be the point, when we know there’s no pay off to that kind of time commitment?

I’m glad the show existed, because it was shared cultural phenomenon. It was cool to go to work and talk to coworkers about the latest episode, and it was great excuse to get together with my friends every Sunday. Yet people who watch this in the future, won’t have that experience… all they’ll have is this story.

If someone came up to me in five years and asked if they should watch Game of Thrones… I honestly don’t know what I’d say. I would have to ask them what they’re looking for: if you just want to see some great acting and spectacular battles, then absolutely watch it. If you want a good story that means something?

Look elsewhere, because this ending destroyed the story.

And that’s why all that matters is the ending…

Written by John Stevenson

I'm a freelance writer based out of Seattle, Washington.

10 comments

  1. Great exploration of the ending to the series. It was not good and it really has left a foul taste for the show. At the same time, for me, it makes me excited to potentially see where the pieces in Martin’s novels go from here. With an ending in mind, seeing how he builds towards this will be something that I look forward to.

  2. Good write up. I admit I’m not as disappointed as most because I saw the writing on the wall in the previous season. That broke my heart in advanced and I was already expecting the worst.

    I was slightly elated they didn’t do the happy clichéd ending they looked like they were doing.

    1. Haha! Good for you getting out early. 😉 Honestly it kind of still felt like a happy ending to me, like all the surviving Stark kids essentially get a Happily Ever After, which made it rather disconcerting.

  3. “they also expect us to believe that Greyworm would accept Jon’s half-brother handing down the verdict”

    Now you are doing it too. 😛 Aegon Targaryen isn’t their brother, he is their cousin. His entire backstory about his true heritage went so aggressively nowhere, that even the characters who all knew about it, kept ignoring/forgetting it and called him their brother, although he just isn’t. Arya still says it too, during the council of surviving characters™. 😀

    “flag banner”

    You must be 100% correct with your interpretation, that the writers were talking directly to the audience here, because in Westeros there are no “flags”, they are called banners. Just another thing they conveniently FORGOT.

    It’s truly a massive clusterfuck this ending. I sincerely hope Martin will finish the books. That’s the only hope that is left to people who loved this story and characters.

    btw: I really love this video, all of it is spot on: https://youtu.be/jAhKOV3nImQ

  4. John this article was more satisfying to read than Game of Thrones was to watch. Out of everything you’ve written on this blog this one was arguably one of my favourites. We now live in a topsy-turvy world where Game of Thrones, GAME OF FUCKING THRONES has stupid characters, dumb plotting, generic destroy the world villains with no depth and zero emotional payoff. But cross over to Marvel and Avengers: Endgame has really smart characters, amazing payoff, emotional resonance, fan-service (that is actually earned and done out of love not cynicism), three-dimensional villains and actually takes the time to finish it’s story (3 whole hours) to say thank you to fans for their support of the franchise.

    If Endgame were written like Game of Thrones, it would be 35 minutes long, Iron Man would abandon Pepper and go back to being a playboy, Cap would probably shoot up a school, Thanos would be killed by Wasp or something after she stabs him out of nowhere and it would end with some random becoming the new leader of the Avengers, like Luis from Ant-Man.

    Remember that HBO wanted as many seasons as they could get, GoT was their golden goose. GRRM gave D&D enough material for like five more seasons. The cast are clearly disappointed with where the show went. D&D murdered an amazing show because they were too selfish to let another show-runner take over and they just wanted to wrap it up ASAP so they could move onto Star Wars.

    1. Thanks Cameron! Always good to hear from you! And yeah, I had some qualms with Endgame’s 2nd act, but by and large it was a great ending to an amazing series of films. BUt it does seem like we’re in an upside down world where the Superhero movie has more depth, complexity and emotional resonance than the dark, gritty historical drama.

      Yeah, I truly don’t understand why D&D did this, were they truly so selfish they couldn’t just turn it over to other showrunners to finish? Such a shame. There’s only two hopes: that GRRM finishes the books, which honestly seems less likely every day. Or someone will eventually remake the series, which given the penchant for remaking literally everything these days, someone probably will. And then, maybe, they’ll actually end the story properly.

  5. This was a great write up, I completely agree with you, it’s just so odd that the writing took such a dive for these last 13 episodes.

    1. Yeah, I’ve seen shows outlast their welcome and I’ve seen dips in quality in the final seasons of a show, but I don’t think I’ve ever encountered one that nosedived this quickly and severely. It was truly astonishing.

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