Epic, stunning, shocking, awe-inspiring, surprising, enticing. Many words that people would use to describe the now legendary TV series, Game Of Thrones. The HBO series took flight on our screens in 2011 and soared for six straight series, lost some altitude over series seven, and crashed hard for an emergency landing in series eight. Hyperbole or not, the ending we were given is not one I can hands down agree was all as inspired as, I feel, it should have been.
As an avid reader of the books, theories, blogs and watcher of every episode, following YouTube breakdown and meme, I was full-heartedly swallowed up within the world of GoT for its entire run, one I must say did start late in 2013 when I began university and it was first shown to me by a flatmate. From that moment, I was hooked.
Before season seven (where, coincidentally, the writers were forced to continue without the benefit of George R. R. Martin’s source material), we were watching a series often performing at the top of its game in terms of writing with brilliant story-telling, pacing, twists and turns and scale unseen on a TV screen before. From the shocking beheading of Sean Bean, through the red and purple weddings, and on to a slightly hot few steps for Margaery. Whilst theories only took us so far, it was the writing of these episodes that grabbed us and held us tight and then laughed as we time and time again fell in love with characters who died anywhere from moments to series later. Until a certain season seven.
White walkers – A Dead End
Now by no means was season seven even bad. It was an incredible season, but without doubt, on re-watch, you start to notice that it just wasn’t quite as good as the previous six. I think this is because of one key reason, it becomes generic. Over the previous six seasons, we had become used to, prepared almost, for twists and turns, deaths and tricks pulled by all. Instead, we got a season focussed around white walkers (which for all intents and purposes, we understood until season eight brought this to a climax). In previous run-ins with these mystical beings we saw many fall at their hand easily and quickly (hello Hardhome), and then rise back. Yet, over eight episodes, with most at least cameo-ing white walkers, no character is really lost to the white walkers. Even against many thousands of them, the small group of saviours sent to capture one as proof for Cersei (a massive section of plot that all felt a bit limited in thinking anyway, but we can skip over that for a moment) survived, many barely harmed. They were all saved by Dany (another annoying plot point – how did Gendry get back so quick? Drogon is quick, but that quick?) and taken back with their proof. Now, this was ok as it set up the mighty trick Cersei was ready to play with the Golden Company and her own forces, to turn on Dany and burn any chance of an alliance between them. I suppose season sevens greatest un-doing was season eight itself.
Where do we begin with those final six episodes? Well, let’s start on that point. Season seven built up the game of thrones to be more about the game of survival. We knew Cersei would strike back, but first, we anticipated a truly fantastic and brutal battle between man and walker. Instead we got an hour and 20 minutes of poorly lit (what did the Khals ride in to?) ‘meh’ battle whereby no one really died (RIP Beric, Jorah and Mellisandre) and the one major death, Jeremy the Knight King (a name the internet bequeathed unto him), was over in a matter of milliseconds. Eight seasons, a near whole season dedicated to them and him, and it was over in a blink of an eye. We as viewers always knew that Jeremy’s death would always end quickly, turning to glass like his previous generals, however, we anticipated the build-up to this to be worth it. Instead, we got no words, no explanations, no fear, nothing. Remember the time a general was next to Sam hiding behind a rock? Remember the tension? The power that general showed? We should have had that times a million for Jeremy’s final play, instead, we got a minute of staring and a quick knife to the belly (although Arya was the MVP of the first half of this season). I mean deaths on Midsomer Murders have felt more satisfying. This feeling of a season rushed, underplaying season sevens plot points, and general one-layered writing and pacing were continued throughout.
For me, episode one was the only episode that felt like it was building to something. However, even this had issues (what did the burning of limbs really lead to? We already knew the white walkers were near Winterfell). But after this initial episode that left us asking questions, it was a slip and slide to episode five, the penultimate episode. We had questionable decisions after odd resolutions like Brienne. Brienne was so strong for so long, having her key last story shots (ignoring Bran’s ceremony) leaving her crying at Winterfell resulted in a bitter taste in my mouth. This is whilst Jon was shipped back to the wall, yes this may have felt full-circle, but then what the hell was the point of the largest theory in GoT and fantasy culture lore?! That’s before mentioning the beheading of one of the few black characters in GoT with shouting of a word that again had no follow-up, oh and the quickly dispatched Golden Company (hope Cersei had a receipt). When you factor in the second episode that felt like a post-credit scene for episode one, alongside a disappointing battle and another lost dragon (usually so agile, yet we have had two down due to ‘good shots’) you have a season, that unlike its fore-bearers, felt flat.
The Final Letdown
So how was the finale to end all this? I had hoped the final episode would throw something crazy in the mix, something bigger, I hoped and wished for it. It never arrived. Dany died, after turning evil (yes she had a lot thrown at her in short space of time, but don’t forget in one of our first episodes she was set fire to after sacrificing her loves horse to bring him back to life, leading to a comatose Khal), and Jon was sent north again. For me, the most boring character in the book and series was also crowned king. I at least hoped Sansa may get more of a word here. For a boy so against taking sides or power, Bran was pretty quick to take up the throne, and surely he has a bit too much power there, all other three-eyed ravens had stayed tree bound before. The game for the throne felt very pointless very quickly.
I can’t help but feel disappointment for this season and finale, as I just loved GoT so much. No other series had so successfully adapted fantasy, had made dragons and magic watchable and attractive to all, and none had you on the edge of your seat so much. The writing and directing was outstanding often, Battle of the Bastards and Varys was often a highlight, but it all felt so let down by a final six episodes that were lost in its own hype. The season felt instilled with a need to get these finished, many rumours link this to Disney wanting to get Weiss and Benioff off to a galaxy far, far away asap, and it did many fans a disservice. I will always love Game of Thrones, and I look forward to the final two books, but I will always be left saddened by a finale that deserved to be so much more.