Millions of viewers have been enraptured by Game of Thrones for eight years, seventy-three episodes, and hundreds upon hundreds of hours spent watching the show, reading analyses & recaps, watching interviews, and engaging with a highly active online community. Yet what the show will most likely be remembered for are these final six episodes, and the immense backlash they inspired.
Expectations for the final season of Game of Thrones were high, as to be expected; however, the source material for the season was never fleshed out in full by A Song of Ice and Fire author George R.R. Martin and this is made apparent, particularly during the series finale. Only a handful of characters’ storylines come to a complete and logical close, while the fates of the majority of characters are only detailed summarily.
It seems that Season 8, and to some extent Season 7, represent a highlight reel of what could’ve been had Game of Thrones been extended a few more seasons. There are a number of thrilling and horrifying scenes that have historically drawn audiences to this show; however, many of them don’t carry the same dramatic weight that series-defining scenes such as The Red Wedding carried. Time, also, is noticeably missing for suspense to fester in the minds of audiences between crucial scenes.
Even so, this isn’t to the fault of the cast. Emilia Clarke, Kit Harington, Peter Dinklage, … I wish it was acceptable to list the entire cast of the season within a review because it is upon these actors’ and actresses’ backs that this season is carried. These actors, many of them for the entire eight years, have performed excellently and have uplifted any subpar dialogue or scenes that they are given. Without them, Game of Thrones could not be Game of Thrones.
The series concludes with a number of character arc resolutions and a final scene that mirrors that of the first seasons of the show and of the series premiere, respectively. While this may appear satisfying to the narrative at first, it isn’t a logical choice in the context of Game of Thrones. Thrones does not convey the existential message of The Wire and such parallels between characters (Arya/Uncle Benjen, the Kingslayer/Queenslayer, etc) are expressed shallowly at best, and the circumstances surrounding these characters are worlds apart, unlike Omar and Michael, Bubbles and Dukie, etc in The Wire.
The throughline that Game of Thrones would have done well to establish convincingly within this final season, and, in my opinion, what I believe George R.R. Martin was hoping to express based on what we see in this final season, is of the relevance of stories and of history in the public consciousness. Martin’s novels borrow judiciously from history, renewing these historical events in the memories of his readers, and the two most pivotal moments of this season- fighting the Night King’s army and determining the ruler of Westeros- are preceded with Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) and Samwell (John Bradley) discussing the impact of stories and history.
Samwell exclaims, “That’s what death is, isn’t it? …forgetting. Being forgotten… if we forget where we’ve been and what we’ve done, we’re not men anymore… just animals,” in the war room before the Battle of Winterfell, commentating on what the impact of losing to the Night King’s army is apart from the flesh and blood toll. In that same episode, Tyrion asks Bran (Isaac Hempstead Wright) to tell him the story of becoming the Three-Eyed Raven, and this scene evidently became a crucial piece of foreshadowing. And in the series finale, the text of A Song of Ice and Fire is revealed and Brienne (Gwendoline Christie) writes in the history books the story of a knight whose story might otherwise be lost to history had she not written it.
The story of the television series Game of Thrones will ultimately be one of ‘what could’ve been’. We saw in this season the limitations of the television medium in terms of CGI budget and issues of compression when streaming ‘The Long Night’ for many audiences. It is costly to produce a series like Game of Thrones, and for the most part, the series marched forward into new territory as far as what stories could be told on television and what money could be spent by a network on its shows. When the final credits for the series rolled, I couldn’t help but feel both loss and gratitude. For eight years, showrunners David Benioff & D. B. Weiss ambitiously pushed the boundaries of television with their show and entertained audiences, regardless of the duo’s mishaps in writing without the privilege of source material to draw from in later seasons. As a whole, Game of Thrones might not have been what I had hoped; however, I’d be hard-pressed to deny my enjoyment in watching the series, the last two seasons included.