Game of Thrones Season 8 (HBO)
Written by Dave Hill, Bryan Cogman, David Benioff & D.B. Weiss
Directed by David Nutter, Miguel Sapochnik, David Benioff & D.B. Weiss
Winter has come, and all the players are aligned for the final battle for Westeros. Daenerys Targaryen has arrived with dragons bringing her armies from the East. An alliance has been formed between the exiled monarch and the people of the North. The Wall has been breached and the Night King marches south to destroy anything in his path. Meanwhile, Queen Cersei Lannister has brokered deals with the Iron Islands and the Golden Company of Essos to serve as her protection against the inevitable battle with Targaryen. Jon Snow learns of his true parentage and how this could affect his relationship with the newly arrived leader. The table is set for a new age to begin in Westeros, but will it be any better than what has come before?
Anyone who didn’t see the divisiveness of this final season coming must be completely disconnected from social media (lucky them). There was no way the showrunners could deliver an ending that satisfied any significant majority of their audience, and it was headed down this path years ago. When Jon Snow was brought back from the dead, I knew that we were never going to get a clean ending with real finality. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t take some pleasure in the anguish and gnashing of teeth. I find any show that garners an audience this large ends up with a significant portion of insufferable people who eventually find a reason to hate everything while continuing to consume it. I never really felt like a fan of Game of Thrones, but I kept watching and found the ending perfectly okay. There are some tweaks I think that would have made it a little better, but this is what we have.
The final scene between Dany and Jon felt like something that was going to happen eventually, and neither one becoming the ruler of Westeros would have been satisfying. That said, whom we ended up with as the next king felt like a scramble to pick someone with the least fan base behind them. I do believe that Dany was set up as a figure that would eventually be corrupted by her hubris, she killed many people to get to this point in the story and didn’t leave the ones she liberated with many choices. Dany was just like the rulers that had come before in this kingdom, so sure that they were right above all else. Her reign would have been as awful as anyone. Jon retaining doubt about killing Dany was a nice touch, but I still find his character painfully dull. Dany has always been a much more compelling character than Jon, and so it makes sense people rooted for her. Neither of them was fit to rule though.
The problem with almost everything this season was that the ideas could work, but they weren’t told and developed in a way that ever felt natural. Characters switched personalities due to the plot instead of natural growth in that direction. Dany could quickly have become a tyrant willing to kill the innocent but with more development than she was allowed in this season. Bran ends up a wholly wasted character with his story completely entangled with the white walkers and the Night King. When the moment of confrontation finally arrives, he does nothing, and after the defeat of the Night King, there’s no more arc left for Bran. Jon comes back from the dead, a miraculous event. He goes on to learn that he is the next in line for the throne, the son of a Targaryen and a Stark. This leads to tension between Jon and Dany and then…absolutely nothing comes from it. Jon’s final fate revealed that his birthright has no bearing on anything. His resurrection was meaningless. If the showrunners had kept with the more nihilistic tone of books and early seasons, then a return to where you started ending for Jon would be perfect. However, when you start injecting magic and zombies and resurrections, you lose that cold hand of fate angle.
I wish the final moments had hinted at the long history that would come after this period in Westeros. That no ruler can create a utopia, that there will always be conflicts of varying magnitude. For all his wisdom, I would expect Bran would make mistakes or at least unpopular decisions that would spur on war. I wouldn’t be surprised if Westeros and the North went to war in a few generations. I would expect Dorne, learning how cool it was with everyone for the North to break off, would cede from Westeros as well. There are two paths: breaking into city-states or smaller countries and becoming a republic or democracy of some form. They sort of hit that note with the idea that when Bran dies, the heads of the houses will vote for a new leader. The chair always represented the Game in the title, you sat at the head of the table on the bodies of those you killed to get there.
I think of the lengthy history of television shows with dissatisfying endings to their audience and its pretty extensive list: Lost, Seinfeld, The Sopranos, True Blood, Dexter. It seems more often than not shows with bloated fan bases get much hate when they end. On the flipside, series that have existed in greater obscurity, struggling to find an audience or ending after a short number of seasons or much tighter writing can stick the landing better: The Leftovers, Boardwalk Empire, Breaking Bad. There’s much to be dissected and said about Game of Thrones, but I would think that if you dislike something so much you could spend that fiery passion in some other form. I’ll likely never rewatch Game of Thrones, but I don’t for a second feel that I “wasted my life” as some viewers have expressed voluminously on social media. This what we have and if it’s not what you like there’s lots of other things for you to watch and read and enjoy.