On the whole, I have been pretty disappointed by the final season of Game of Thrones and, while there were some bright spots in the final episode, I was ultimately let down by the finale. When my wife asked me, “Is there any way this episode could have ended that would have satisfied you?” I found that the answer was no. In my mind, one single episode could not save the show’s final season.
What was so bad about the finale? Did it cheapen a once-great show? Was it not the logical conclusion to the long-running story? The jury is still out on that last question – we’ll have to see how George R.R. Martin’s book series compares with the show’s ending – but even if the technical plot points were portrayed exactly how GRRM wanted it, I feel that the race to the finish and thematic emptiness in season eight betrays what I’ve come to love about Game of Thrones
Establishing the “why”
In the years leading up to the premiere of Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Star Wars fans (myself included) went crazy theorizing about who Snoke was, who Rey was, what Luke was up to on that island, etc. When the film arrived, however, many were disappointed to find the answers. Rey’s parents were nobodies (as far as we know), Luke Skywalker was another grumpy old man who didn’t want to train another Jedi, and it doesn’t matter who Snoke was because he’s dead now.
While some fans were upset with answers like “it doesn’t matter,” I personally enjoyed this approach a lot because it fits into the thematic structure of The Last Jedi. At its core, the movie is about failure and disappointment. The teacher Rey held in high regard is just a grumpy old man. The parents she spent so long to find were penniless junkers who sold her off for drinking money. The mentor who trained Kylo Ren is just looking to put another notch in his wannabe-Sith-lord belt. But all of that is okay because failure is unavoidable and the Force isn’t just for Skywalkers – it’s for everyone. All these revelations might have disappointed some fans in how they all came together, but the thematic why of it was so much more interesting to me.
So why am I rambling about Star Wars in the midst of a post that is supposedly about Game of Thrones? Because in its last season, Game of Thrones pushed the “why” of the show to the side and fully embraced the “how” of it all.
Embracing the “how”
“Winter is coming.” That’s the message that is relayed to us in the first episode of the show. From the very beginning of Game of Thrones when Viserys Targaryen tried to trade his sister for an army of conquerors, when Jaime Lannister pushed Bran Stark out of a window to protect the power and reputation of his family, and when several men of the Night’s Watch were killed by ice zombies, Game of Thrones told us what it was all about.
On a thematic “why” level, Game of Thrones has always been about rulers who are too focused on their petty squabbles and hunger for power that they refuse to address their impending icy doom, brought on by an army of the dead. The all-consuming nature of power distracts men and women from fighting the real enemy, thus leading them to their doom.
The political maneuvering was fascinating. We got hooked on a world that was based on facing consequences for every single minor action. We found people to root for, and some of them died. A lot died, actually. But at the end of the day, the story always stood thematically sound…until season eight.
The past few seasons have seen the rise of the Night King and the frantic effort among the living to join forces and build up a defense against the ever-growing army of the dead. It was *the point* of the show. The struggle for power among those who ruled Westeros and those who wanted to rule was soon overshadowed by the threat of the White Walkers. The remaining main characters made for Winterfell (save for Cersei). The pieces were in place for a final battle against the White Walkers, and considering that all of these forces were amassed in a mere six or seven episodes, the odds looked slim – especially with part of the living team not even bothering to show up.
Then, halfway through season eight, the White Walkers were defeated. Every single one of them. As Daenerys Targaryen proclaimed: “We have won the Great War. Now, we will win the Last War.” Her references to both of those wars should have been flipped. The White Walkers should have been the last war. Game of Thrones built up a world in which the failure of the living to put aside their personal battles and fight for the greater good had devastating consequences. In the first three episodes of season eight, the show decided that that failure had no more consequences. Game of Thrones shoved the “why” to the side and focused the rest of the season on “how” it all ended by rushing to tie up character arcs.
The end of Game of Thrones
Season eight moved too quickly and shooed thematic resonance to the side in favor of a story about who should sit on the Iron Throne. While there are things I enjoy about the finale, (Jon Snow not taking the throne; dragons leaving Westeros, allowing it to progress) the focus on this question left Game of Thrones without the subtext it used to challenge the landscape of the fantasy genre.
As Ramsay Bolton said, “If you think this has a happy ending, you haven’t been paying attention.” This was thought to be one of the defining lines of Game of Thrones. But in a mere six episodes, the show ended with a neat, clean finale, with Bran ruling over Westeros and the line of kings broken. A happy ending for all…the exact opposite of what the series had been building towards.
What did you think of the final season?