As we continue to revel in the controversial and divisive final season of Game of Thrones we look at some of the main problems that left many fans and casual watchers alike disappointed with the ending of this fantasy epic.
1 – Daenerys
Okay, let’s get this girl out of the way first, shall we? One of the main points of contention amongst the fandom was the Mother of Dragons’ (Emilia Clarke) dark turn towards the end of the final season. Grieving, furious and heartbroken, the unstable Daenerys makes the devastating decision to torch King’s Landing to the ground on her way to punish Cersei (Lena Headey). Whilst some fans have speculated for years that Dany may go the way of her mad father, the show has always attempted to justify her ruthlessness. In this final season however the show decided that Dany did not deserve the throne and therefore had her commit a once unthinkable atrocity to cement her as being unfit to rule. A tragic end for a beloved heroine.
2 – Jon
Fellow Targaryen Jon Snow (Kit Harington) didn’t fare much better when it came to characterization. Gone was the Jon who challenged those he disagreed with, the one with a temper and snide remarks, the one who stood up for what he believed in. The Jon of season 8 feels like a hollow shell of his former self, continuously repeating the lines “You are my Queen” and “I don’t want it (the throne)”. Whilst a good reason for this may be him discovering his true parentage the show never takes a moment to show us his point of view on the matter. How does Jon feel about being a Targaryen? How does he feel about what Ned did? Is he happy with Lyanna being his mother? Add this to the fact that Jon sworn nemesis The Night King was taken out by his lil’ sis, Jon had little to do this season other than being turned into a bleached-white hero so that him killing his aunt-lover feels more tragic.
3 – Jaime
The Lannisters also didn’t fair well this season. The frustration and anger felt by fans as they watched Jaime Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) leave a teary Brienne (Gwendoline Christie) behind in Winterfell to head back to Cersei was palpable. Many fans theorized that Jaime would return to Cersei’s side to eventually kill her, fulfilling the Valonqar theory from the books. Such prophecy stated that Cersei would be killed by a young brother (Jaime was born after her). However, what happened instead was the destruction of years worth of character growth. Whilst Jaime’s last ditch attempt to rescue his twin doesn’t erase the good things he did in prior seasons, it’s somewhat painful to watch him go to such efforts. Especially when he himself acknowledges the toxicity of their relationship.
4 – No Emotional Payoff
Characters aside, another glaringly obvious issue this season was the lack of emotional payoff. Besides the funeral pyre post-battle of Winterfell, were any of our characters allowed to grieve without judgement? Where’s Yara hearing the news of her little brother’s death? Not only that, but huge emotional revelations were skipped over. The scene when the Stark sisters are told of Jon’s true identity cuts before we see their reaction to one of the most life-changing pieces of information they’ll ever hear. Tyrion selects Bran as King because of the amazing stories Bran has told him, although their conversations together play out offscreen. Jon kills Daenerys and we assume the Unsullied and Dothraki are very unhappy but there’s a time jump between her demise and the small council meeting. It very much seems like the writers David Benioff and D.B. Weiss struggled to deliver the harder emotional moments.
5 – Politics
For better or worse Daenerys’ vision was to break the wheel and build a new world order would’ve changed Westeros forever. What follows though is unfortunately more of the same. Sam’s (John Bradley) proposition of democracy may admittedly be a bit too progressive for the continent at this point. Especially given that the common-folk have no access to a formal education, and emotion-driven politics isn’t currently faring too well for us in the real world. However, the decision to choose leaders from established noble houses will only continue the cycle of oppression within Westeros. If anything the game of thrones just got a lot more competitive as potential candidates attempt to bargain against themselves for a seat at the table. All the while maintaining the power they’ve long since held. It also makes no sense for the North alone to be handed independence when the likes of Dorne and the Iron Islands have desired theirs for just as long.
6 – Narrative Structure
The storylines of Season 8 would arguably have worked better across more episodes and seasons. The eight-season long build up to the greatest battle against the Army of the Dead was over in one not-very-long night, much to the dismay of many viewers. Whilst watching Arya destroy the Night King was glorious in the moment, one of the show’s big bads was still essentially shanked by a teenage girl. With the threat of the white walkers out of the way for the first time in show’s history, the second half the season pushed forth with Dany’s rapid descent into darkness. Whilst perhaps understandable to some audience members, the show pushed this narrative in order to speed across the finish line and place characters in their endgame. How interesting would it have been to see Mad Queen Daenerys rule for an entire season or more. Would she rule with an iron fist or not? Was King’s Landing a one off?
7 – Plot Armour
No one really wants their favourite characters to die brutal and untimely deaths. However, one of the aspects that made Game of Thrones so outstanding was that it wasn’t afraid to pull shocking deaths on fan-faves. Whilst season 8 did kill off numerous big players, other characters seemed to have nine lives. Arya’s (Maisie Williams) brutal fight for survival in a scorched King’s Landing is engaging footage watch. However, it becomes somewhat problematic that she is seemingly one of only a handful of civilians who manages to survive after evading dragonfire, a collapsing bell tower, blinding thick smoke and a panicked stampede.
8 – Applying Modern Societal Standards
If you are even somewhat familiar with the source material of Game of Thrones then you would know that the world of ice and fire is socially one that is far removed from our own. Applying modern-day societal attitudes whether that be to justice, politics, gender or even incest to a medieval fantasy world seems perplexing. Whilst the show may want promote messages that audiences can accept and relate to, this was also once a show that had its main protagonist strangle a 10-year-old boy for mutiny a couple of seasons ago.
9 – Prophecies & Retconning
Whilst the show itself tells us to not buy into prophecy and myths too much, they’re hard to ignore when continuously framed as something super important. The legend of Azor Ahai, the one that will bring the dawn and save the world, was something intrinsically linked to saving the world from the white walkers. Now, one must stretch their mind to accepting that it may have meant saving the world from the brutality of fire….maybe? As for Arya killing that which has blue eyes, the line repeated to her by Melisandre (Carice Van Houten), is in fact not in the same order in which was said initially in season three (green eyes are said last, not blue). And what was the purpose of R+L=J if Jon Snow never truly embraces his true identity, and the revelation is merely used as a plot device to move pieces on a chessboard?
10 – Misogyny
Many characters have suffered out-of-character writing in recent seasons of GOT. However, the handling of numerous female characters this season was glaringly obvious and rather saddening to watch. Brienne reduced to weeping over a man in a courtyard. Sansa (Sophie Turner) indirectly thanking her abusers for their treatment as it made her a stronger woman. Sansa and Daenerys disliking one another because, to quote writer Bryan Cogman, Sansa sees Dany as very pretty and is therefore jealous of her. All of these eye-rolling portrayals of women show that whilst the show burnt itself down at the end, it torched its female characters worst of all. The treatment of the show’s only woman of colour Missandei (Nathalie Emmanuel) being beheaded in chains is an unsettling optic at best. However, given that the last three episodes focused on the conflict between Daenerys and Cersei they never spoke directly to each other all season. Instead, male characters facilitate their emotions and intentions for us.
What did you think of the final season of Game of Thrones, and do you agree with our concerns?
This article was first published on June 1, 2019