And now our watch is ended.
Eight seasons and 73 episodes later, Game of Thrones is over. And with it, our collective sense of community viewing. There’s no denying the impact it has had over the past 10 years, both personally and culturally (did you know that it inspired the term ‘sexposition’?). Of course there will be spinoffs and sequels and prequels (*three* are already in the works), but there’s something quite final about seeing characters you’ve hated, loved or loved to hate for the better part of a decade appear onscreen one last time. It’s bittersweet, nostalgic and a little overwhelming. Think Walter White bleeding out on the floor of his lab to the strains of Badfinger’s ‘Baby Blue’. Or the more recent, marvellously wordless last scene of Fleabag.
Now that the dust (or ash) has settled on King’s Landing, there’s a lingering sense of marvel for what has been and sadness for what it could have. For a show that’s spent so long spinning webs and moving pieces into place, the events of the final season felt like they were hurtled towards at warp speed, rather than earned. The production got gotten bigger and better, but the narrative strands meant to be tying everything together only got looser.
It’s easy enough to dunk on anachronistic coffee cups and stills of (the otherwise one-armed) Jaime Lannister with both arms intact around his sister. In a better season, these would’ve become just more meme-able content. In this one, they’re further ‘proof’ of the showrunners’ apathy, at least according to the internet, where a petition to remake Season 8 with ‘more competent writers’ had 1 million signatures at last count. So here are the larger narrative problems with this season and whether the final episode managed to fix any of them:
A failure to properly mine emotional moments: Game of Thrones features incest, a child being pushed out of a tower and crippled for life and a pregnant woman being stabbed in the stomach. It’s thus telling that one moment that angered audiences this season was…Jon Snow failing to pet his direwolf. Keep in mind that this direwolf ran into the thick of battle for him and came back bruised, with one ear missing. Then Jon decided to send him away without so much as a head scratch and “good boy”. See, now you’re angry too.
Speaking of Jon Snow Aegon Targaryen, him telling his sisters that he’s not their brother after all should’ve been one of the show’s most explosive reveals. The decision to cut away from his speech and their ensuing reactions to a decades-long secret, in an episode titled ‘The Last of The Starks’ no less, was one of the poorer creative calls the show took.
Did they fix it? In hindsight, Jon’s decision to not pet Ghost makes sense if you see the direwolf, the sigil of House Stark, as an extension of Jon’s Stark heritage. He sends Ghost off to the North, while he goes to fight under Daenerys Targaryen, aligning with the Targ side of his lineage. At the end, exiled to the Night’s Watch as punishment, Jon finally reunites with Ghost and reclaims his identity. He gets a final, fitting farewell with his sisters cousins, both of whom have their own established sense of identity too.
Military incompetence: Reams have been written and military experts called to weigh in on the season’s first big setpiece, the Battle of Winterfell. From sending ill-equipped cavalry out into the darkness to fight an unknown enemy to failing to use the two adult-size dragons at their disposal effectively, Winterfell did not fare well. Also note that Jon’s big strategic idea towards the end was *checks notes* yelling a dragon to death.
Military gaffes continued in the next episode when Daenerys, from her vantage point in the sky atop her dragon, failed to spot an armada equipped with dragon-killing crossbows below. Many will point to this as the moment Game of Thrones jumped the shark, or shot the dragon, and they’re not wrong. One Redditor did the math and found out that the bolts would have to be travelling at six times the speed of sound for the dragon hit to have been that critical. If searching for any semblance of realism in a show about a dragon-riding fire-resistant woman seems like nit-picking, it’s because the laws of physics in Westeros have, until now, resembled our own.
Did they fix it? The last war in Westeros has been fought already so there was little scope for strategic planning in the last episode, but it did a fantastic job of depicting just how demagogues are able to rile up their armies through inflammatory speeches and promises of rich rewards.
Travel at warp speed: Travel in Westeros is still largely road and sea-based, which made the characters’ ability to zip around the continent at will since last season particularly jarring. Daenerys managed to move her armies south from Winterfell (at least a month’s march) over the course of a single episode. If only someone had told Gendry, who’d been rowing for around 30 episodes at one point, about the wonders of teleportation.
Did they fix it? Somewhat. The last episode still has a time jump, with characters from far reaches of the continent and beyond showing up at the same place, but it still depicts the passage of time through Tryion and Jon’s facial hair growth. A minor improvement, considering Cersei’s hair hadn’t grown in over three seasons and baby Sam had remained a baby for just as long.
Satisfying deaths for villains: The mills of justice grind slow on Game of Thrones, but grind exceedingly fine. Previous seasons’ big bads, Joffrey and Ramsay Bolton both die in deliciously twisted ways. One’s poisoned to death at his own wedding, the other eaten by his own pet hounds. The Night King, with his army of the undead, had been built up since the first season, only to go out by a single stab to the stomach. It was by Westeros’ #1 assassin, sure, but as deserved a win as it was for Arya Ex Machina, it was just as unsatisfying a watch for the audience. Cersei ‘I choose violence’ Lannister wasn’t killed at her hands of her own brother as prophesized or at the hands of Arya ‘meant to shut green eyes forever’ Stark, but by…the poor infrastructure she was hiding under.
Did they fix it? Nope. Daenerys’ jarring switch to the dark side mid-season was just as abrupt as her death. Killed by the only other Targaryen alive, Dany got no last words and no big final scene. Any emotional resonance came from her dragon’s righteous fury at her death. It’s a testament to how good the show’s VFX team is that the sight of a CGI dragon nudging its dead mother in the fading hopes of waking her was one of this episode’s most heartrending moments.
Character arcs that were more character…circles: Of all the reductive character writing we got this season, the end of Jaime Lannister’s arc was perhaps the most heartbreaking. Having borne the stigma of being a ‘Kingslayer’ his whole life for murdering the Mad King to protect the realm, his abrupt proclamation that he doesn’t care about the innocents was out of character. As was Missandei’s final proclamation to burn down the city despite her having lived through the devastation of war herself. Bronn, a fan favourite, wandered in and out of rooms this season like a Sims character whose player forgot what to do with him.
Did they fix it? Somewhat. Jaime makes it to the Book of Brothers, filled with the deeds of every knight, a long-cherished dream. He goes from Kingslayer to Kingmaker, a twist no one saw coming. More than that, he goes from Kingslayer to knight who ‘died in service of his Queen’. Shame those words are written by Brienne, who he’s hurt immensely and who deserves a page of her own. The scheming Bronn finds himself as Master of Coin, which, if you trace his journey from sellsword, is oddly fitting. The Starks not only live, which is already more than anyone expected, but find their place in the world. The pack survives.