Here we are, at the end, and I struggle to find words to describe what I just witnessed. Disappointing? Anticlimactic? Just plain nonsensical? Which all leads us to the question: Is this the most unsatisfying ending in the history of television? I don’t know, that title has a lot of competitors, but boy, does it feel close.
We always knew this wasn’t a story for happy endings, not really. The problem is, when GRRM first told us that, he promised to make the journey worthwhile for us, and while it was, we weren’t really concerned about how the ending might gut us, because at least we were enjoying the getting there.
That all changed this season, particularly, in the last three episodes. Suddenly the journey wasn’t at all satisfying and character arcs were being betrayed left and right in a desperate attempt to pay off things the show just hadn’t set up, as if we only cared about the first and last chapters in a story.
As if we didn’t care about the growth.
However, despite how bad the last two episodes have been, I think a lot of people expected it to all lead up to something, expected that D&D actually had a reason for all they were doing, that they were trying to set up something ultimately satisfying. Maybe those people weren’t expecting real and complete satisfaction, but I think they would have settled for a semblance of that.
Instead, we get …this. Whatever this is. And that’s the problem, right there, that what we got in the end feels like it came out of nowhere – just as the character arcs we saw come to and end in the last three episodes have been a total and complete betrayal of the last eight seasons.
This was never a show that promised us a happy ending, but it was a show that promised a satisfying journey to that ending. However, a last-minute pivot (and the refusal to budge and just add more episodes) meant that we didn’t get either of the things we were promised. Instead, we got this …thing, and we were left feeling empty.
When you start watching a show, the last thing you want to feel when the screen goes black for the last time is like you wasted your time. But that’s exactly how I feel. I would have been better served watching YouTube videos of my favorite characters than investing in this ultimately unsatisfying and unremarkable journey.
So let us discuss “The Iron Throne” as we examine endings, the journeys these characters went through and what we’ve learned from these 8+ seasons.
WHEN YOU PLAY THE GAME OF THRONES, YOU WIN OR YOU DIE
This was the setup for the show, the setup for every bad and good thing that ever happened. When you play the Game of Thrones, you either win or you die, Cersei said, and boy, she was proven right over and over and over again.
Except in the end.
Daenerys was playing the game of thrones, yes, and she died. Jon didn’t really seem to be playing – or was steadfastly refusing to play a game that was being played around him – but in the end he did play, and he didn’t win or die. Meanwhile, Bran wasn’t even playing, unless you want us to believe he was always long-gaming this shit, and then boy, that’s a hella long game THAT THE SHOW DID NOT SET UP AT ALL.
Once again, like in the last two episodes, the problem isn’t really the ending. This tone of bittersweet might work for the books, and it could have worked for the show, if, and I know I’m repeating myself, but it bears repeating, there had been anything resembling proper setup.
We know why there wasn’t, the show-runners chose the way of shock value instead of the way of proper characterization, but since this is the end, allow me to dwell a little on what could have been, on Jaime’s character arc being paid off, on Brienne being allowed to be something other than just the soldier, on Arya being allowed to be find a middle ground between being a lady and being herself, on Daenerys’ “Mad Queen” turn being anything other than this insane thing where she had to be painted as Hitler 2.0 to make her ending palatable for viewers.
On this show giving anyone, you know, happiness.
But alas, the last one I never expected. I did, however, expect the journey towards this end to make sense, to be satisfying, to move me. None of those things happened, and that will forever remain the legacy of Game of Thrones – not the greatness, but the disappointment.
Allow me to quote T.S Elliot here, and say: This is the way the world ends, not with a bang, but a whimper.
THERE’S BITTERSWEET AND THERE’S …UNSATISFYING
Bittersweet is GRRM’s favorite word, I swear. Every time he so much as discusses this books he promises a bittersweet ending, and in the end, I think that’s what the show runners were going for here: bittersweet. But there’s a big difference between bittersweet and unsatisfying, and what Game of Thrones delivered was much more the second than the first.
Daenerys going Mad Queen was poorly executed, but more understandable than some of the other choices the show makes. Sansa is now Queen in the North, which she absolutely deserves, but she’s ruling by herself, alone again, even if she’s in her own home. Jon is alone too, as isolated as he ever was, even if he’s doing some good beyond the wall. And Arya? She’s suddenly found a desire to discover the world within herself, and is sailing God knows where, because family sticking together is such a cliché thing.
That’s without even going into Bran, who two seconds ago couldn’t even be Lord of Winterfell because he was the Three-Eyed Raven being all like yeah, I was meant to rule the seven, oops, six kingdoms, that’s the whole reason I was here, and also the reason I didn’t tell anyone what was going to happen to King’s Landing, because ha, long game and all.
Forget satisfaction, we didn’t even get common sense in this episode.
And considering this is the proverbial END we had a right to expect, you know, something. Anything, really. Some family bonding. A little OTP love. Hell, I would have even taken some friendship feels. All I really wanted was to feel something. Anything.
Game of Thrones, however, seems to end its run by telling us that love, the thing that makes the world go round, well, love is a sickness. It’s bad. We make bad decisions because of love, so of course, Brienne had to end up alone and the head of the Kingsguard, Arya couldn’t even look at Gendry again, Jon had to go back to being celibate and cold and Sansa couldn’t even have her siblings by her side.
Except that isn’t the same message the show has tried to send all along, and in trying to be edgy, or surprising, the show has, once again, contradicted itself. And though I understand the desire to end this tale on something that didn’t feel like the fairy-tale this has never been, letting people love each other, letting people stay together, that isn’t a fairy-tale.
That’s just life. And in the end Game of Thrones failed at showing us that as much as it failed at anything else.
In the end, the problem of Game of Thrones can be summed up in the execution, not in the actual endings. Sure, I didn’t enjoy what happened, but about 97% of my issues have to do with the fact that nothing we saw in this episode felt earned at all. You know how it could have felt earned?
There’s this thing called setup. It’s what you do in the middle of the story. It’s what gives the ending meaning. It’s also what Game of Thrones abandoned in its search to replicate shock value moments that were organic to the story in the first few seasons.
Look, if this was the story to be told, the show needed at the very least the 6 episodes they sacrificed in the last two seasons, if not one more season to take the characters from point A to point Z. Sure, they also needed some good writing and who knows if we would have gotten that, but at least we would have known for sure they didn’t mess up because they rushed it.
However, the thing Game of Thrones always really needed, the thing they always failed at, and tried to cover up with anti-stereotypical wins for their female characters was simply a different perspective BTS, one that wasn’t white and male.
Because that’s the problem with writing female characters, that when it’s only men writing them, you end up with a very shallow idea of what female characters are supposed to be, and even the good moments are devoid of nuance, because if there’s one thing white men don’t often do is spend much time thinking about what it’s like to be in the shoes of women and/or minorities.
And so here we are, at the end, with the biggest failures of this show being the one thing the show always failed at: the way they wrote their female characters. From Daenerys to Brienne, from Arya to Sansa, everything that these women went through – everything we complained about – ended not just in the most predictable way possible, but in the most wooden one.
What are complex female characters? Game of Thrones has no idea. It never did. And that’s a big reason why it failed.
The Ending We Should Have Gotten:
- Jaime never leaves Brienne, because he ain’t dumb, and when he said he was done with Cersei, he meant it. He and Brienne retire to Tarth afterwards and have about 7 children.
- Tyrion never betrays Daenerys, because Jaime wasn’t around to do dumb stuff that required Tyrion saving him, and also because he knows Cersei doesn’t care one iota for him so he doesn’t even try to save her.
- Cersei has about 734 contingency plans, and they all fail, and Arya kills her as she tries to escape the city.
- Bran actually warns people about shit.
- Grey Worm retains some morals.
- Arya invites Gendry along on her trip, because Gendry never wanted to be Lord of anything anyway, he always wanted to be with her. THEY LIVE HAPPILY EVER AFTER.
- Daenerys doesn’t go Mad Queen, and Jon doesn’t have to kill anyone or break any vows. He convinces Daenerys to let the North rule itself, and Daenerys agrees because that sounds more like breaking the wheel than anything else.
Or fine, just the first six. I would have accepted that.
Agree? Disagree? Share with us in the comments below!
Game of Thrones aired Sundays at 9/8c on HBO.