Endings are hard. Endings to epic stories that span across nearly a decade are even harder. Nothing is more frustrating than being captivated by a show and its characters only to watch as the final episodes fumble in the endzone. It’s been a week since the finale episode of Game of Thrones and to say there has been mixed emotions is an understatement. As frustrating as the last two seasons have been, the show was not completely ruined.
One of the more annoying memes that have sparked up in the aftermath of the disappointing series finale is the “Some of you Game of Thrones fans never watched Dexter drive a boat into a hurricane with his dead sister on board after leaving his young son in the care of a known serial killer so he could become a lumberjack … and it shows.” For one thing, Dexter’s peak never came close to Game of Thrones’ peak. So it’s not unreasonable to be upset when a show far superior has a disappointing finale. Game of Thrones fans shouldn’t have the same expectations you had for your shitty little serial killer show. Furthermore, and this may come off as contrarian, but the Game of Thrones finale wasn’t bad, it was just disappointing.
The ending isn’t really the problem, it’s the way we got there. The last two seasons (more specifically the last 4 episodes of season eight) felt more like recaps or the tv-equivalent of sparknotes as the pace the showrunners chose to take made everything feel rushed; storylines and character arcs didn’t evolve organically. To be completely frank, if I hadn’t watched the final season and somebody explained to me what happened I wouldn’t be so disappointed. Where everybody ended up wasn’t really the problem, it was the journey to get there that felt lackluster.
It’s ironic that in the wake of this finale, one of many disappointing finales that was brought up several times was that of How I Met Your Mother. HIMYM’s finale had the opposite problem. There was an emphasis on the journey in the finale season (as well as its stretch of 9 seasons) that little nuance was paid to things that ultimately didn’t matter/were cancelled out by the series finale itself. The journey was fine (it wasn’t great but definitely had its moments) but the ending was a debacle. You spend eight seasons hyping up the mother and then do the damn near impossible in perfectly casting her only to kill her off and reveal Ted is only telling the story of how they met to get the blessing of his kids to bang his ex who had turned him down countless times. A friend, who is in the minority and actually loved the finale, explained that it felt realistic because these types of dream relationships don’t last forever. I looked at him like he just farted. The fact that this dream girl wasn’t the girl he married and that the show uses the red herring of the mother over the span of 9 seasons to explain the love story between Ted and Robin is the most unrealistic incel-fantasy I have ever seen.The problem is that the creators had this ending set up from the beginning, however the success of the show turned what would have been a three-season story into a nine-season story and arcs developed and dragged on that ultimately cancelled out everything. Had the show ended after three seasons, the ending would have been perfect. Tracy McConnell deserved better.
Game of Thrones did such a great job throughout the first six seasons of really letting things happen organically. There was so much nuance and so many callbacks that it often felt like a reward to fans for noticing things. The last two seasons felt like an essay being written to fit on the rest of the page as opposed to just getting a new page. That said, most of the things that happened in season 8 were properly set up by seasons’ past but they just couldn’t stick the landing. It was like they spent so many seasons pouring a little bit of gasoline and when it came time to light the match, they ended up farting on the flame.
Case in point: it was easy to see everyone’s favorite white savior was going to end up going full mad queen on King’s Landing. Throughout the show, Dany was portrayed as somebody who felt she was entitled to the title of queen because it was her birthright. The fact that she freed slaves in Mereen and killed bad people doesn’t excuse the fact that she was really nothing more than a spoiled rich kid expecting all the riches their parents established because that was her birth right. I’d love to go into detail about the missed stigma about Dany and poorly articulate why she was always meant to be the final villain but writer Nylah Burton did it best in this twitter thread.
The disappointment isn’t with the fact that Dany went HAM on King’s Landing, it’s in how it all went down. It just felt like there wasn’t enough to spark her rage in the moment. Sure there was buildup, but there wasn’t enough of a snap to make her rage feel organic. They did all the legwork to hint at and foreshadow and then when it came time for the payoff it’s like they skipped the last half-mile of the marathon to get to the end.
The sentiment remains the same for the fates of all the main characters. Everyone’s fate ultimately feels appropriate, but the explanation and the journey to get there feels so unearned that it ultimately hinders the ending. After the penultimate episode, I had set my expectations so low for the finale that it ended up exceeding those expectations. It wasn’t great but it wasn’t the worst either. It was kind of just okay. All the ingredients were there for a classic series finale, they just didn’t cook it long enough.
The first third of the episode is actually pretty solid. Dany’s demise works but doesn’t hit as hard emotionally because of the shortcuts the show took to get there. The middle part is really where the finale stumbles. The showrunners throw exposition out the window and decide to speed through via a meta meeting of the leaders of the remaining kingdoms. A lot of people predicted that when it was all said and done, no one would sit on the Iron Throne leading to a new form of government. When Sam suggested a democracy, there was a point where it felt contrived and dumb, but also like oh they’re really going to do this, aren’t they.Then everybody starts laughing at the dumb idea. Then it gets even more meta.
A lot of this meeting felt like the showrunners were laughing at us from their stacks of money. Making Bran the King feels like them saying whoever is on the throne really doesn’t matter.The fact that Bran knew what was going to happen the whole time and still let it happen anyway, the fact that Bran answered questions about whether he was the lord of Winterfell with he was no longer Bran Stark, he was the three eyed raven now only to answer the question of whether he’d be king with “why’d you think I came all the way over here” feels like D&D speaking through Bran. It’s reminiscent (in a much less literal way) of the finale of St. Elsewhere when it’s revealed that the entire show took place in the mind of one of the main character’s autistic son’s imagination. This is only further painstakingly enforced in the King’s Court meeting when Sam reveals Bran’s writing of “A Song of Ice and Fire” scrolls, a nod that felt like a joke from a porn parody.
The rest of the Starks did quite well for themselves. Arya exploring West of Westeros feels like bait for a spinoff and considering she was the best part of season 8, I’ll probably be suckered into watching it. She was never meant to stay in Winterfell and we all knew that but as a favorite since the beginning, she is one of the few characters who can probably hold a show on her own. Sansa ending up queen of the North was an inevitability, so there’s really not much to say about it other than that it’s pretty satisfying. Jon Snow’s ending sparks some debate, and by debate I mean I interpreted it differently than a lot of other people and in the process may be giving some much undeserved credit to the writing.
As punishment for being a Queenslayer, Jon is sentenced to the night watch… again. This was so reminiscent of the series finale of Seinfeld where they get sent to jail, I could hear the theme song to Curb Your Enthusiasm playing in my head after they informed Jon where he’ll spend the rest of his life… again. One of the questions that has popped up since then is “why is there still a Night Watch?” The White Walkers have been defeated and the Wildlings are amongst the free folk. In my mind, this was a trick that Bran set up. Bran knows the Unsullied know nothing of the Night Watch and Bran is also aware that there is no need for the Night Watch. When Jon arrives and sees Tormund, he realizes the plan was to allow Jon go and fulfill his destiny of becoming leader of the Wildlings. Why else would they be leaving the wall, they’re not going on some patrol or anything, if that were the case why was it just wildlings and no crows? The folks at Binge Mode at the Ringer predicted this ending for Jon Snow and convinced me that it couldn’t end any other way. Jason Concepcion even went so far as saying the last frame would be Jon and Snow heading North of the Wall together and it essentially was so.
The surviving Starks ultimately getting a happy ending was satisfying in hindsight despite the road it took to get there. I became overwhelmingly invested in the show Weedsand watched beyond the perfect season 3 finale for several more seasons as the show headed down some batshit crazy storylines. The series finale saw a future where weed was legal everywhere and an enterprise. Having gone completely off the deep end the last few minutes of the show has the family sharing a joint on their porch soundtracked to “With Arms Outstretched” by Rilo Kiley (their first 3 albums are all tied for my favorite albums of all time by a band with two members of former child stars). It’s a sweet sendoff for a show that ultimately went off the rails. This is how I felt about the Starks closing montage. This is the closest we’ll get to this kind of ending.
There was a lot of controversy for how they did Brienne of Tarth dirty. Her and Jaime’s storyline was one of my favorites throughout the series. After the pilot, Jaime was probably the most hated character, but Brienne really brought the best out of him and turned me into a fan of his showcasing how conflicted he truly was. Even more so, she wasn’t just there to service his character arc, their arcs were so intertwined. Sure there was a romantic relationship that bloomed between the two made literal in the aftermath of the Long Night battle, but it was so much more than that. All Brienne ever wanted was to become a knight and Jaime encompassed all that she wanted. Nevermind the fact that he’s overwhelmingly handsome, his devotion to the knight’s cause and even more importantly his vow to stay true to his word to the late Catelyn Stark is what really intrigued Brienne. Him knighting her in the second episode of this season was one of the most satisfying moments in the entire series, that they could have both perished against the white walkers and we would have felt closure. Countless people on twitter pointed out watching them battle side by side was as much of a love scene as anything else and it was beautiful as it was exciting.
Jaime was never going to fully abandon Cersei and seeing him abandon Brienne to be by Cersei’s side may have been an inevitability, but man they could have ruminated on it at least a little more. Seeing Brienne in the final episode was a much needed breath of fresh air considering the last we saw of her was crying as Jaime left. People were ultimately upset that she labored over writing his entry into the Knight’s wiki scrolls after what he did to her, but I kinda like that she was the one to do that. Brienne’s entire life has been devoted to becoming a knight, something that was near impossible because she is a woman. The knight’s code is something that Brienne takes seriously so its only fitting that the last sentence she writes is “Jaime died protecting his queen.” Despite how dirty he did her, she put the knight’s code above her own personal feelings. It’s bittersweet but definitely true to her character. Even more so, its her way of paying him back for making her biggest dream come true of becoming a knight.He would no longer just be known as the King Slayer but much more and it’s because of her.
A lot of these issues have led to people who feel the need to sign a petition to redo the final season. This was dumb when people did the same for The Last Jedi, and its still dumb. These people are not alone in their disappointment, and as much as I would like to see the last season of this show done right I have accepted that its over and this is just what we get. Despite all the bad in the finale, there were still pieces there that felt right. In the grand scheme of things, I wouldn’t put this near the worst finales. On a scale of HIMYM to Breaking Bad, this falls somewhere in the middle. I put it right under the finale of the short-lived Pushing Daisies. Pushing Daisies was cancelled halfway through the second season, so they addressed all ongoing arcs in the last ten minutes of the finale. It was disappointing but understandable, as they wanted to bring closure to everything.
The Game of Thrones finale felt very similar to this, except the showrunners weren’t forced to do this. They essentially were given all the time they wanted and needed and yet chose to do two shortened seasons forcing themselves into a corner. Its even more disappointing considering so many shows like Pushing Daisies, which ended abruptly, would have really taken the time to smooth out the ending had they been given the time D&D were offered. I could understand wanting to see to something you started get finished, but countless shows have switched showrunners in their series run and sometimes getting fresh hands on it proved advantageous. I have read countless articles indicating that writer Bryan Cogman was interested in taking over as it seemed D&D were done with the series before it finished. I wonder how a Cogman-run season or two would have turned out. The lack of attention to detail and rushed storylines felt like D&D were just trying to finish this as soon as possible. I can’t help but compare it to fellow HBO show Veepwho lost its showrunner Armando Iannuci and creator after season 4. Dave Mandel took over and the show flowed effortlesslyand had what is considered to be a great series finale.
I started watching Game of Thrones after watching the South Park arc making fun of the show. I wanted to understand all the jokes and in the process become immersed into this world they built. I binged the first three seasons in about two weeks and the rest of the series was appointment television for me. I would revolve plans around watching the latest episode. Any time I missed an episode I would avoid Twitter like it had grayscale to avoid any spoilers. When the Viper lost his head, it ruined my night (the spurs also lost a playoff game that night, I believe so it wasn’t a great night for me). When Jon Snow threw hands with Ramsay leaving him a bloody pulp, my dad and I high fived each other as we watched on his iPad in a hotel in South Padre Island minutes after watching LeBron dethrone the Warriors in the NBA Finals. My girlfriend and I cried and had to take a break from binging (a rewatch for myself) after Hodor held the door. This show has been a part of my life for most of the last decade; so to say this final season ruined the show for me would be untrue, very few things could have ruined this entire show for me because of all the memories I have from watching it. To me, the only way this finale affects the entirety of the show is it keeps a great show from becoming one of the greatest shows of all time.
I will attest I have never watched Dexterand planned to until I heard how bad the second half of the series got. While I have read enough into the show and a lot of people I trust have told me it was bad for a long time before the finale, this sentence is still just a joke.
This series finale deserves another post because of how disappointing it was and how much I loved the first three seasons of this show. I still think the first season is one of the best romantic comedy sitcom premier seasons of all time.