The Engadget staff on that ‘Game of Thrones’ finale

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Billy Steele

Billy Steele
Senior News Editor

The biggest shows on TV rarely get the ending they deserve, or even one that seems satisfactory for us the audience. I think the end of Game of Thrones was fine, my problem is with how we got there.

For seven seasons, the show was methodical and meticulous about character development. Spending multiple episodes on a key decision, or factors that would play into a key decision, before ultimately arriving at the outcome. Characters would spend ages traveling between places, and the show even documented their experiences along the way. Then we hit season eight, and all of that, arguably what made the show so good, went out the damn window.

It was bad during the entire final season, and the finale just made it worse. We cut from Jon killing Dany to a council of lords and ladies that’s… some time in the future? Tyrion is clearly facing them first, and we only find out through his speech that he and Jon have been locked up for a while. Sure, the nobles need time to travel to Kings Landing, but holy hell, you can’t skip weeks of time with a blank screen and expect us to be satisfied piecing it together with dialogue. We’re also forced to figure out that Jon must’ve surrendered/confessed — because of course he did.

I think we’re all left with more questions than answers because creators David Benioff and D. B. Weiss rushed through plotlines like college student with 15 minutes to finish a paper. During season eight, the character they did the most injustice was Dany. Because of the condensed season and story, she went from helping win the Battle of Winterfell in episode 3 to burning down Kings Landing (and everyone in it) in episode 5. Hell, the last three episodes of the season, she’s basically an entirely different person in each one. Again, under the regular pacing of the first several seasons, this turn is fine, and is probably ultimately where she was headed. But with only minutes between changes, and no real insight into what she’s thinking, the whole thing was an abrupt, confusing mess.

The show also left a lot of questions about Bran and his abilities. It saw fit to install him as king, but didn’t think we needed to know more about his role as the Three-Eyed Raven, the extent of his skills, or what he plans to do with those things as king. For someone to essential to the plot of the show throughout, including the ultimate battle with the Night King, Bran’s participation in the last few episodes was shockingly limited. And now his primary concern, as king, is finding a dragon. Don’t get me started on the name “Bran the Broken,” either.

Yes, Sansa is Queen of the North. Yes, Arya is off exploring the west. Yes, there’s a king that may not turn into a tyrant. All of these things we probably would’ve been satisfied with at the show’s end had Benioff and Weiss just showed us how they got there. Instead, we’re left with a botched rush job that barely seems connected to the rest of the show. And that’s disappointing.

And for the love of the gods, remember to edit out the damn coffee cups and water bottles when you do Star Wars.


Daniel Cooper

Daniel Cooper
Senior Editor

Remember all of those people who named their kids Khaleesi? Don’t sneer, because — at the time — she was a strong, powerful female role model. It’s not their fault that, over the course of the show, the character would become Game of Thrones final villain. I think HBO could give itself a nice bit of PR by paying the $150 in court fees for those kids to get their names changed. There are just under 800 kids in the US called Daenerys or Khaleesi, and $120,000 is a small price to pay to avoid all of that bullying.

Now, a lot of digital ink has been spilled about Game of Thrones over the last six weeks, full of outrage about how the show was ending. Some of it justified, a lot of it less, so, but The Iron Throne works well as a repudiation of hot take culture. There are moments where the show makes some not-so-subtle digs at the audience for jumping the gun.

Take Dany’s “turn,” which was so controversial in the last episode because it felt rushed and not in keeping with the character. Benioff and Weiss, through Tyrion, explain that she’s always had a propensity for unjust and possibly excessive violence. We, the audience, just gave her a free pass for it because, until now, she’s been ostensibly fighting, and pushing, the “bad guys.”

The finale does help to put the last three hours of action into a slightly clearer context, but it’s been a weaker year overall. I suspect that actor contracts killed the show, since most run for seven seasons and are then renegotiated at excessive cost. At least five of the main cast had million-dollar-an-episode salaries agreed for season eight, rinsing Thrones’ already big budget. So, the creators had to get the show finished before the money ran out, and this was how.

Compressing the timeline has meant lots of moments that should have paid off well felt a little hollow. That said, the excessive battle sequences could have been trimmed in favor of more time spent with the characters. I would have preferred more time with the characters and less emphasis on showing the grueling horror of war from the ground level — but that’s just me.

I may not have found the finale entirely satisfying, but credit to Benioff and Weiss for wrapping the story in a way that was logical and emotional. It wasn’t a mess, and it wasn’t perfect in the way that, say, Breaking Bad’s conclusion was, but it worked. Much of that success is down to Peter Dinklage, who was tasked with carrying this show over the line on his back. In a couple of grand speeches, Dinklage makes the show’s endpoint feel natural.

The trend towards happy endings for everyone is something I doubt George Martin would want to copy. In many ways, every surviving character who has ever had a speaking role is suddenly in a position of authority in Westeros. That’s fun, and light, but for a show that famously has vinegar for blood, not entirely characteristic. Then again, it does come in the wake of a city-wide massacre, so any more bloodletting may have been excessive.

My nitpicks are mostly around the ambiguity of Jon’s ending — did he abscond from the Nights Watch or is he just leading the free folk back home? Also, where did all of these Night Watch people come from, given that they were nowhere to be seen a couple of weeks before? Oh, and the CG sequence during the melting of the iron throne was terrible, as if the directors forgot what perspective is. Watch it back and you can see the geography of the room suddenly shrink — making me think they should have done the effect with rear projection.

Ultimately, Game of Thrones will have to reckon with the fact that it treated its women terribly. Daenerys and Sansa (amongst many others) endured sexual violence, the aftermath of which has been treated very clumsily. Take Sansa’s curt response earlier this year, which sounded deeply hollow. And the fact that the show ended with a dude in power after the last queen (or queens? Daenerys does touch the throne, after all) was deemed unsuitable, speaks volumes.

Before the finale, I was hoping that someone would realize the folly of centralizing power in one person and create a democracy. Thanks, Benioff and Weiss, for letting the fat bearded guy suggest it and get laughed down for his trouble. Although, in Thrones world, a transition toward a Roman style of elected monarchy is progress in its own way.

In conclusion, The Iron Throne was better than fine, but I don’t feel I’m going to have much cause to revisit the show in a few years’ time.

And, just so it’s on the record, I wanna say that I don’t think George Martin’s going to finish his book series. If you read (or re-read) his initial pitch for the series, he said that if he knows what the end of his story will be, he gets bored and can’t finish. Given that he had to lay out his plans to the show’s creators years ago, and the amount of side-material he’s written instead of Winds of Winter, I think he’s forever trapped in the grip of writers’ block.

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