I don’t know what I can say about the final season of Game of Thrones that hasn’t already been said. And said. And written, and tweeted, and posted. It’s all out there. So let’s just recap it, shall we? These last six episodes were essentially one of the biggest letdowns in “final season” history, at least since Lost, I would say. Yet, it probably wasn’t as upsetting for me as it was for many others, simply because, though I’ve watched GoT since the beginning, I’ve never been as invested as most fans are. I liked parts of it (mostly the Lannisters and King’s Landing), others not so much. Maybe historical fantasy isn’t really my thing (unless it involves time traveling romance and redheaded Scotsmen).
So I went into these last few episodes mostly happy that it was finally ending (sorry), and still I can see what a disappointment it was. With the first couple of episodes setup for what was hyped as the climactic be-all end-all of universe ending battles, the third episode finally saw the clash with the Night King and his army of whitewalkers, and putting aside the fact that you could hardly see anything in the entire episode, the biggest letdown was the minimal number of deaths for third-tier characters like Lady Mormont, several people whose names I can’t remember, Sir Jorah and Theon Greyjoy. Theon was the only one who really went out as a hero, but come on. Several people in this episode had no business surviving the battle, namely Brienne, Jamie, and Podrick, who were right on the frontlines yet miraculously escaped every single blow. I understand not wanting to kill off characters you love, but let’s be honest- this felt like a massive copout (as did the Night King’s fairly easy death at the hand of Arya), which immediately lowered the satisfaction bar for the remainder of the season.
And yet it still didn’t meet it. The biggest disappointment of the last two episodes you’ve probably heard about by now- the very rapid descent of Emilia Clarke’s Danaerys Targaryan into apparent madness due to threats to her crown by the revelation of Jon Snow’s true lineage, and the beheading of Missandei by Cersei. Yet it wasn’t her madness itself that bothered me- it was the complete lack of foreshadowing or build-up to it over the last eight years. Not once has Dany ever been presented as anything less than a hero, and not once has there been a single worry on her part over inheriting the insanity that apparently inflicted her ancestors. We were supposed to be on her side, we were supposed to think she was the righteous heroine of the series, and never were we shown any evidence that she was capable of spontaneously deciding to slaughter an entire city of innocent civilians that had already surrendered. The show doesn’t dwell on her change of heart either. In the series finale she’s still talking as if she’d liberated those people from captors instead of murdering them, and she doesn’t appear to be off her rocker in the typical manner of lunatics. Are we supposed to think those civilians didn’t all die? Does she think they didn’t? I’m not sure the show knows the answer either.
Dany’s 180 degree turnaround at the last second makes every other character seem stupid and/or weak for standing idly by, including Peter Dinklage’s Tyrion and Kit Harington’s Jon Snow (never more of a weak, pathetic fool than in this final season). The commitment to underwhelming deaths in the last two episodes is rampant- Jaime first gets stabbed by the pirate Greyjoy in the stupidest scene of the season, before making it all the way back to Cersei, who herself gets crushed by a building in Jamie’s arms rather than going out on the deliciously evil note her character deserved, and even Dany doesn’t last long after the massacre in the penultimate episode. Her own lame death is punctuated by Drogon the dragon burning down the iron throne in a ridiculous scene showcasing his complex understanding of symbolism and metaphor, followed by a series of scenes depicting where the surviving characters wound up. Tyrion conveniently and absurdly dictates the future of the crown in a vision that seems doomed to failure, starting with Bran of all people (that’s right- Bran) ruling over Westeros.
All in all, I think what happened here was David Benioff and D.B. Weiss reluctantly following through on the results that had to take place in the outline George R.R. Martin gave them years ago, but only at the very last minute because they didn’t really want to go through with any of it. They certainly never set any of these actions up or marked the development towards the decisions these characters make, and it leaves them feeling mostly unrecognizable from the people we’ve known for several years. Technically, the show remained superb to the end, with impressive visual effects and battle scenes on a cinematic scale, but the lack of preparation and sloppy writing made for this ending falling flat on just about every other level. Perhaps if Martin ever gets around to finishing the books, the ending will feel a lot more satisfying and organic than this did.