Game of Thrones Ended 1 Year Ago Today: What The Backlash Got Wrong
Game of Thrones aired its season 8 - and its series - finale on May 19, 2019, to a great controversy and backlash - but the ending was actually great.
It's been one year since aired its season 8 and series finale, "The Iron Throne", on May 19, 2019, but the backlash generated by the ending overlooks a number of great elements about the last season. The was one of the most anticipated in TV history, with the HBO series having grown to become one of the biggest shows ever made. Because of that, it was always going to be difficult for it to stick the landing in a way that made everyone happy.
However, while it was always likely that season 8 would cause some controversy with its story choices, few might've predicted the extensive backlash that built up across its final six episodes (or more specifically, the second-half of season 8). Fan complaints dominated social media, critical reviews were largely negative, and there were even petitions gaining traction to remake the final season after it ended.
One year on from Game of Thrones ending, opinion hasn't shifted much. While the vitriol aimed at David Benioff and D.B. Weiss has died down somewhat just through it not being as present in the conversation, the final season and in particular the finale remains the butt of jokes and an example of how to ruin a show with an ending, but that misses much of Game of Thrones season 8's qualities.
Game of Thrones season 8 did have some major problems at its core. The major issue stems from a decision taken before season 8 was even produced, which was to truncate the final two seasons of the show into seven and six episodes respectively. This was season 7 as much as it was season 8, with characters quickly moving around Westeros, as journeys that previously took entire seasons were completed in the span of the single episode. Plot lines moved too quickly, with conflicts raised and resolved without being fully afforded the time they needed to breathe, especially in comparison to the earlier seasons of the show.
Almost all of the other s season 8 can be traced back to that choice, and while the production was still huge, it's clear that both season 7 and season 8 would at the very least have benefited from more episodes, if not another season entirely. The final episodes also largely wasted Cersei Lannister, giving one of its best characters a significantly reduced and more passive role. Euron Greyjoy was problematic, a swaggering, crude idiot who felt like he'd wandered in off the set of a different show, although that was another holdover from season 7, while the battle with the Night King and White Walkers was over too soon, a major casualty of the problems with pacing that plagued the season. The writing wasn't as strong, a continuation of the shift from the character-driven storytelling of seasons 1-4, when there were still full books to adapt, to the post-season 5 plot-driven narrative style. This wasn't at its peak of seasons 3-4, but it wasn't its nadir either.
While there were clear issues on a storytelling level, the season 8 did get rather overblown. Any art can and should be critcised, and it's equally as fine to like or dislike something, and there were plenty of valid complaints about the series, but also a lot that ended up going beyond that. On a basic level, there was a lot of anger and vitriol aimed at the creators in particular, and a lot of arguments online, that, as is so often the case, went beyond what's reasonable for discussion of a fictional TV show. The creation of petitions to remake the season were obviously never going to succeed in that goal, but the broader aim to display the discontent with the season also feels somewhat overboard, especially when it received over a million signatures. This is just one of what was a growing trend of petitions signed by annoyed fandoms, but the signing of such petitions does little to prove any kind of point, and instead suggests a level of fan ownership over a product that doesn't really exist.
This gets worse when it reaches the abuse aimed largely at Benioff and Weiss (who, again, did warrant some level of criticism for the decline in the show's overall quality), alongside out-of-context videos of the cast and the countless memes, which again displays a lack of awareness of any sort of bigger picture. As with viewers sending abuse to Rian Johnson and Kelly Marie Tran, doing this doesn't serve to make a point about the quality of the product so much as it does the fandoms doing it, with an increased number of fanbases in recent years gaining bad reputations because of such backlashes and actions of what's ultimately a minority. Memes about Dany forgetting the Iron Fleet can be funny, but when conversation shifts from humorous to more hurtful, then it becomes a bigger problem.
What's perhaps most startling with the season 8, however, is that it never arrived sooner. For sure, Game of Thrones had its fair share of controversies, as any series with so much death, nudity, violence, and rape is likely to do, but more pertinently with regards to this shift in opinion and outward anger from viewers is that season 8 wasn't the worst season of the show.
As mentioned, Game of Thrones season 7 had all the same mistakes as what followed, and these were even more egregious (there is nothing in season 8 that defies logic and suffers from pacing issues as much as "Beyond The Wall" or the Arya/Sansa/Littlefinger storyline, for instance). Season 5 of the show, too, made some major mistakes as it attempted to move past the books, including what might be the series' worst plot in Dorne, the rape of Sansa, and an overall sense of bleakness (even by usual standards) that made it all feel too depressing. Yet while some fans grumbled, there were no petitions, no calls for remakes, and no abuse aimed at the creators, who were until halfway through season 8 still fairly commended for the job they'd done, while the other elements of the show - from acting to cinematography, VFX to music, and more - were still lauded throughout. Endings are always likely to get more attention and scrutiny, but that doesn't allow for how much bigger than necessary the backlash became.
When it comes to Game of Thrones season 8, although there's a general overall anger at the direction the show goes in, there are a number of individual storylines that receive the brunt of criticism, including Daenerys Targaryen's descent into becoming the "Mad Queen", Bran Stark becoming King of Westeros, and Jaime Lannister choosing his sister Cersei over Brienne of Tarth. Mistakes like the coffee cup may go viral and get relentlessly mocked (understandably so), but it's these key character and narrative choices that ultimately get fans so riled up, because they're the final note on stories that have had years of investment pored into them.
The shift in Daenerys’ character was among the biggest narrative swings ever taken by the show, as the series turned one of its two biggest heroes into the final villain. And yet, all throughout the signs have been there in Dany’s arc. She may have always done what seemed just, but she’s also never shied away from the option to kill a lot of people. Her speech to the Dothraki in the finale has echoes of a similar speech she gave them in season 6. In season 2, she promised to "burn cities to the ground". Even in season 1, Viserys setup the idea of needing fear to rule. Destiny is a powerful motivator, and it drives people to do terrible things to fulfil it. This happened with Stannis Baratheon, a foreshadowing of Dany's own arc, and thus it happened to her too. She’s murdered slavers, Khals, and Westerosi nobles without remorse; her entire family lineage and legacy is built on taking (and keeping) power through fire and blood, and while more episodes setting it up would’ve been better, Daenerys ultimately doing the same was always on the cards.
Although not a factor in the finale itself, Jaime’s arc was similarly controversial. As with Daenerys being the hero, a lot of time had been invested in the idea of Jaime’s redemption arc, which is among the strongest developments of anyone in both books and show. And, well, Game of Thrones delivered. Jaime still did the right thing: he went and fought for the living, performing a heroic act to save the realm, and this time without earning the Kingslayer moniker. His knighting of Brienne before the Battle of Winterfell was more about her, but it symbolised his growth and inner-decency. Jaime going back to Cersei doesn’t remove any of the redemption he found at Winterfell, it simply adds even more complexity to it. Jaime, for all he wanted to be a better person, and became one to Brienne and viewers, could never be a better person to himself. Likewise, as in many toxic and complicated relationships, he couldn’t help but go back to the woman he felt he belonged with. A mix of self-loathing and love drove him back to Cersei, with whom his story was always intertwined, and thus with whom it had to end. Jaime’s story was indeed one of redemption, but it was also a tragedy too.
Making Bran the Lord of the Six Kingdoms was another major twist for the show's ending, and one that was hurt more than most by the decision to truncate the episodes (and, going further back, by the fact the character was cut from season 5 altogether). There were a couple of key moments - both with Tyrion, in episodes 2 and 4 of season 8 - that Game of Thrones cut away from, which would've shed more light on his role and would've been welcome. At the same time, though, Bran does make logical sense as a ruler, given he is someone who knows the mistakes of all who've gone before him, doesn't want for power, and won't father children, making him different to every other King and Queen. There were few serious contenders for the Iron Throne, and with Sansa fittingly becoming Queen in the North, Jon Snow sent to the Wall, and Gendry only recently installed as the Lord of Storm's End, Bran was a strong choice, and did break the wheel, creating a new political system for Westeros.
Game of Thrones season 8 also left a number of key mysteries up in the air, particularly pertaining to the Night King and White Walkers, and the prophecy of Azor Ahai/The Prince that was Promised. The latter was something the show never seemed to put too much stock in, outside of Melisandre's support of Daenerys. The former, meanwhile, was largely explained enough - the Night King's origin and motives were both known, even if they could've been fleshed out further. Again, more episodes would've allowed for better exploration of this, but spending more time devoted to the backstories of creatures who are essentially just death incarnate wasn't necessary to understand the core conflict and the desperate battle for survival it brought, with Game of Thrones wisely focusing on its human characters instead.
The final season of Game of Thrones is by no means perfect, and that goes for the series finale, "The Iron Throne", too. More episodes and longer runtimes would've been great, but whatever happened, Game of Thrones was always going to disappoint some. There were so many theories as to how it would end, and so many fans all had different wants, it was going to be impossible to please everyone. That's not the only reason season 8 is criticised, of course - it isn't just about fans not getting what they want, but the clear shift in storytelling, although again, that happened in season 5. But even within that context, what mattered most was that the writers delivered an ending that felt true to the characters and the core narrative of the show, and that's what they did.
As the journeys of each of the prominent characters came to an end, it's hard to pick fault with the destinations: Daenerys killed by Jon in front of the Iron Throne is a suitably tragic end; Bran and Tyrion as the King and his Hand is an ending neither wants, but both deserve; Arya sailing off, reconciled with her identity as a Stark but still with her own individualistic streak, is a wonderful promise of adventure; Sansa as Queen in the North is the culmination of one of Game of Thrones' strongest character arcs; and Jon Snow heading back beyond the Wall, where his heart truly belongs, is as perfect an ending for the show's main character as was possible.
Ultimately, although Game of Thrones might've got there a little too quickly, the ending was one that not only takes its inspiration from George R.R. Martin's still unfinished books, but fits - in terms of themes, characters, and plot - with the entire 8 seasons of the show. This was the .
Next: Game Of Thrones’ Ending & Real Meaning Explained (In Detail)