As fans and casual viewers alike continue to reel regarding the final season of Game of Thrones, we look back at the series as a whole to see whether the problems that plagued Season 8 began long before it aired.
From Season 6 onwards GoT showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss were on their own. Tasked with the colossal task of completing one of HBO’s most popular shows, despite having surpassed their source material, the series A Song of Ice and Fire by George R.R. Martin. Although Season 6 itself was a critical success, many fans point to this being the turning point in the identity of the show.
Whilst the first five seasons of the show adapted Martin’s five books, many ASOIAF readers criticised the show for omitting important storylines from the books. Gone was most of the Dorne plot, omitting multiple relevant book characters, as was the Young Griff storyline, which introduces a potential rival to Daenerys’ (Emilia Clarke) claim. Season 5 itself took many liberties with its arc, much to criticism by fans and critics alike. Most notably by giving Sansa (Sophie Turner) the storyline of being married and brutalised by Ramsay Bolton (Iwan Rheon); a storyline which is given to her best friend, Jeyne Poole, in the books.
These changes however could be explained by streamlining the story. Martin’s novels are often regarded as being incredibly complex and sometimes unnecessarily bloated. Omitting more minor plots and simplifying storylines made the show more palatable to larger mainstream audiences as GoT’s popularity grew.
By appealing to the aims of a major television network, Game of Thrones adopted more traditional Hollywood tropes. Large-scale battle sequences were jumped over in earlier seasons due to budgetary reasons but that never took away from the strength of the story. Later seasons however made such a spectacle out of battle that entire episodes are dedicated to fight-sequences, see The Battle of the Bastards or Season 8’s The Long Night. With these sorts of episodes came the emergence of large group reactions popping up on YouTube and social media. And whilst its great to see varied reactions from people who love the show cheering and screaming at whats going on, you begin to wonder whether a show like Game of Thrones was ever meant to be enjoyed at a bar and watched like the final of the SuperBowl.
Game of Thrones slowly began to move away from the political manoeuvrings and character-driven moments of earlier seasons, instead favouring spectacle, visuals and shock value, an approach which left Season 8 heavily criticised. Many critics and fans alike would have preferred far more screentime given to Daenerys’ deterioting mental state than nearly 30 minutes of her dragon razing the streets of King’s Landing, for example.
And whilst Arya’s (Maisie Williams) victory over the Night King was enjoyable in the moment it undermined seasons of foreshadowing that one Jon Snow (Kit Harington) would be the prophetic Prince that was Promised. This seeming obsession by the show’s creators to subvert expectations ultimately undercut multiple scenes foreshadowing such a showdown. Not only this but an argument could be made that subverting expectations subverts traditional tropes of the genre. Here the trope that the chosen one overcomes evil is still in play, however the hero has just changed to a less likely candidate, and therefore this aforementioned scene plays more for initial shock value than subversion.
Ultimately by omitting certain plots from the books changes the characters journeys and how they develop. Therefore by Benioff and Weiss insisting in following Martin’s ending in some format characters suffer from dumbing down, plot armour and out-of-character behaviour in order to drive the plot to its conclusion. Many argue that they should have taken the incentive to do their own ending, and for the show’s conclusion to exist as an alternative version of (as of now) Martin’s incomplete narrative.
Whilst these showrunners must be given credit where credits due, without source material and merely bullet points to go off Benioff and Weiss slowly began to conform to more tropes of the Peak TV era in order to appease their large audience, many of whom would not consider themselves fantasy genre fans. Perhaps this approach is what ultimately led to the outcry of Season 8, which is merely a symptom of issues which began long before this final stretch.