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Game of Thrones Television

A Game of Endings — How ‘Game of Thrones’ Will Forever Challenge the TV Landscape

* SPOILERS AHEAD * 

So… the Game of Thrones ending was a little rough. Ok, maybe more than a *little* rough — according to Rotten TomatoesGame of Thrones season 8 received a 58%, the lowest rated season of the show by a margin of 33%, with the next lowest being the first season with a 91%. To top it all off, the final episode of the show, titled The Iron Throne, received a 49% and the episode prior to it, titled The Bells, received a 48%, making those the only 2 episodes of the entire series to drop below 50%. Now, the word of Rotten Tomatoes may not be gospel, but to dismiss these numbers would be to dismiss the reactions of the fans who have loved the show so dearly for so long.

I present these numbers just to provide a little more concrete, statistical evidence for claims that are inherently subjective. Whether or not the final season of Game of Thrones was actually as bad as people made it out to be is inconsequential, but what cannot be overlooked is the visceral reaction that viewers had in this moment in time. I don’t think that anyone will be able to look back on this catastrophic event in television history and argue that it had no impact on the cultural entertainment landscape.

So how exactly will this epic fall from grace actually impact TV going forward? Well, as a Media Studies graduate with an emphasis on TV Drama and a 30 page essay on fan/creator interaction, I have a few ideas…

jon-and-daenerys
The complicated relationship between Jon Snow (Kit Harrington) and Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) built a huge conflict with a quiet resolution. Source: HBO.

Whatever it was that disappointed people about Season 8 —  Jamie’s return to Cersei & their deaths under the rubble, Daenerys’ slaughtering of King’s Landing after their surrender, Jon Snow’s true lineage that fails to be of any importance, Bran’s final position as ruler of the Six Kingdoms, all of these or other things — the fact was that the conclusion to era-defining fantasy drama series was a major let down for the majority of viewers. Over 1.5 million people have signed the petition for Season 8 to be rewritten with “competent writers”. HBO’s programming president Casey Bloys responded to the criticism saying they were “never going to keep everybody happy,” but that HBO was proud of the show, the ending, and the showrunner/writers D.B. Weiss and David Benioff.

And this brings to me the question that has been on my mind for a really long time (and the essential question I wrote my senior thesis on): Do the writer/creators of shows have a responsibility to serve the fans, or do the fans have to respect the decisions made by writer/creators as the authors of a work?

This question is complicated by the fact that, of course, Game of Thrones the television show was adapted from the already existing book series from George R. R. Martin. Because of this, many fans do not consider D.B. Weiss and David Benioff to be the authority on the property. But, for the HBO series they are, so what does it mean that all these viewers hated the final season?

While I agree with the fandom on the final season’s many flaws in logic, story development, character arcs, and ultimate decisions, I can’t help but feel that this was at a least a little bit a result of the fans themselves.

Before you put a dragon on me, let me explain — think about the theme at the core of Game of Thrones. The show is about a battle for power, one to rule them all, and about how ultimately no single person can obtain this power and hope to remain to morally good. If they are morally good, they’re either killed before they get to use the power, or the pressure and anxiety that comes from having that kind of power clouds their moral and logical thinking abilities. No one who sits on the Iron Throne can expect to stay there. Either they reign over people who now hate them, or they are killed. Or sometimes both.

The point is, the downward spiraling arc of the quality of the show kind of mirrors one of the show’s most beloved characters, Daenerys Targaryen. She started out as an underdog and a beacon of hope, eventually growing to immense power with a following of people she had freed from tyrannical rule. But by Season 8, she herself had become the very tyrant she vowed to destroy and rid the world of. Not that I’m comparing D.B. Weiss and David Benioff to murderous tyrants, but perhaps they are comparable to the ruthless yet righteous Dany, who won over the hearts of city after city and all the major players in the game. D.B. Weiss and David Benioff won us, the fans, over, only to disappoint us in the end.

Casey Bloys was right that the show’s grand finale was never going to keep everybody happy, but not because people didn’t know what they wanted. They were never going to make everybody happy because the fans had built the show up to impossible heights, putting it on a throne high above anything else TV viewers had ever seen. Just like the characters in the show, D.B. Weiss and David Benioff suffered the pressure of being at the top, and their pride got in the way of their decision making.

My personal issue with how bad the end turned out to be was the fact that D.B. Weiss and David Benioff are making SO. MUCH. MONEY. doing this, they can hardly be mad when people expect them to do it right. The argument that they are free to make their own choices is valid, but it ignores the fact that television (and all forms of entertainment) are ultimately products that the public is purchasing. We could argue for hours about the moral consequences of monetizing art, but the bottom line is that people pay for HBO, and they expect a certain quality from it. To say that the fan’s anger over the final season is unwarranted is like berating an angry customer who went to their favorite restaurant only to find that the chef who makes a famous pasta dish has randomly decided to change the recipe and use peanut butter instead of tomato sauce. Yes, it’s their right to change the recipe, but don’t be surprised when the customers and unhappy with the result.

It’s not that the show could not have had a satisfying ending — many fans have thought of far better ways to end it, and the show itself sets many up from very early on. The problem is that D.B. Weiss and David Benioff were too blinded by their own power, their own desire to do things their way, taking advice from no one, to actually accomplish it. It was the great irony for many of the show’s kings and queens, and then too for the gods of the show themselves. Dany goes down in the arms of her lover, Jon, who stabs her as he weeps — he knew it was the right thing to do, something that must be done, but it hurt him to do it. Are the fans Jon? Throwing their criticisms because they needed to end the terrible reign of something they once (and perhaps still) loved?

I think that what happened with Game of Thrones will serve as a cautionary tale for television in the future, both for the writer/creators who will now be encouraged to write shorter series that have been planned out entirely from day 1, as well as for fans who will be much more hesitant to put their heart and soul into something. I believe the days of series over 5 seasons are coming to an end, and I think that shows will have to work much, much harder to gain a mass following like the one we saw for Game of Thrones. It will now all be about your ending. Who cares if you can write a few good seasons? Your finale needs to be great.

Game of Thrones felt like the ultimate betrayal, because all they had to do was write 6 great final episodes, and they had proved themselves before. But apparently, no one can perform under that kind of pressure, and thus Game of Thrones enters the ranks of DexterHow I Met Your MotherLost and so many more great shows with terrible endings (and Sherlock, but I swear to you it’s not over!). By the same token, I think that fans may have learned their lesson about expecting miracles from mere mortals.

Tell UsDo you think fans are overreacting, or are they in the right to be upset by this ending?

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2 comments

    1. You’re completely right! No denying it here! GoT was a masterpiece in many ways, it’s just unfortunate that its final season will be burned into the collective memory.

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