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(Image credit: HBO)
If there’s one part of the Game of Thrones criticism that I found unfair, it’s the way fans’ crosshairs were set on show creators DB Weiss and David Benioff when the series’ decline kicked in. It’s true that the show got more uneven once the writers ran out of source material to draw upon – particularly in how episodes were paced, and how time seemed to speed up in the show – but the opening terrific seasons of Game of Thrones weren’t a fluke. It took a lot of skill to make them that good.
Yes, the creators had great source material to work with, but there are a thousand terrible adaptations of fantastic books. You don’t accidentally make five top seasons of a TV show with that many characters. They put the work in, and built something great.
The problem is, the ending was so unsatisfying that it’s killed all of my enthusiasm to repeat that journey. Game of Thrones’ rushed-feeling finale – which killed off Daenerys Targaryen, and installed dull boy Bran Stark out of nowhere as the King of Westeros – sours the entire series. The thought of rewatching it hasn’t even entered my mind, since I know the whole thing ends on a bum note. It’s such a non-event of a finale that it’s bewildering, when you reflect on it.
The last two seasons generally are a bit guilty of ticking off major plot points like there was a big list they had to burn through. As a result, some episodes or arcs (like the fate of the White Walkers) felt rushed, which seemed unnecessary given just how successful the show was. Surely HBO would’ve been happy to have a further season or two of episodes, if it meant wrapping things up properly or continuing the story?
As it stands, it feels like Game of Thrones has absolutely vanished from the pop culture conversation – which is unprecedented for something as widely watched as this. While some fans pointlessly badger HBO for the final season to be remade on social media, probably because Zack Snyder’s Justice League showed them it’s not impossible to do this, it feels more like a cautionary tale of expectations and viewer investment.
Sometimes, serialized dramas just backfire like this in sticking the landing. It’s the price you can pay for telling a story this ambitious, and figuring out the roadmap as you go. Game of Thrones seems particularly egregious because it was such a fall from grace, and so many of us were watching it happen in real time. Lost had a similar story. So did Dexter.
Meanwhile, little-watched shows that end perfectly – like HBO’s mystery drama The Leftovers – never quite get the credit they deserve. The number of people watching is absolutely a factor in how disappointing that finale felt overall.
If anything, it’s strange that Game of Thrones hasn’t spawned more imitators. You could argue that the likes of Vikings and The Last Kingdom exist in Game of Thrones’ shadow, and certainly The Lord of the Rings show on Amazon is vying for the same audience. But a fantasy-themed drama that reaches this level of critical and commercial success still feels like lightning in a bottle. It’s such a shame it didn’t end in a way that makes us excited about it a decade later.
Congratulations on being made king, Bran. I hope it was worth it!
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