The Complex Nature of the Rushed Final Season of Game of Thrones

The issues that have plagued the final two seasons are not as simplistic as some may have you believe

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Photo courtesy of HBO

Game of Thrones Season 8 is about to air the series’ final episode this Sunday and responses in regards to the season as a whole have been……mixed (which is putting it mildly). Critics and fans alike have appear to hold a lot of animosity towards the showrunners and series creators David Benioff and D.B. Weiss for essentially developing “senioritis” and ultimately stopped caring about the series and are rushing to the ending. Some have felt that they have ruined the popular fantasy book series created by George R.R. Martin and only he can save his story from the clutches of those two.

Rushed pacing, plot-induced stupidity, and out-of-character moments have often been the complaints of the season and it’s unlikely that the final episode will satisfy the audience as a whole. It’s clear it will definitely be divisive with some fans enjoying the fantasy show and believing it to be good and those who feel it’s a godawful show that could’ve been one of the titans of primetime television like Breaking Bad, The Wire, and The Sopranos but ultimately was ruined by the very creators who just stopped caring in the end. While these complaints, critiques, and praises are true to an extent they also show how most people have a grave misunderstanding of the nature of the series.

Indeed, this is a poorly written season. Heck, the series has been poorly written since 2017’s Season 7. That season was also criticized by fans and critics with the common complaints including the lack of surprises, rushed pacing, and forced plot scenarios. It’s easy to pin the blame on Benioff and Weiss — and to some extent it’s true that a lot of the problems within the past two seasons are their fault — but the reasons as to why the past two seasons are rushed, Martin’s inability to complete the series, and the need to end Game of Thrones are much more complex than simply two writers who decided to stop giving a fuck.

Fans and critics have to remember that Benioff, Weiss, and Martin himself have been developing Game of Thrones since 2007. HBO didn’t order a pilot episode until 2008. The episode “Winter is Coming” went through a poor viewer testing and they had to re-shoot the episode and recast some of the actors playing the characters. In other words, Benioff and Weiss have been working on the series for more than a decade. Meanwhile, Martin would give the two showrunners pointers on the writing to ensure that they follow the A Song of Fire and Ice book series as closely as possible while taking some liberties to keep it interesting on the television medium. He would also try to finish up the books in the meantime and released the fifth book “A Dance With Dragons” the year the television series premiered on HBO in 2011.

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Photo by Amanda Edwards/Getty Images for Vulture (New York Magazine)

What made Game of Thrones — and by extension A Song of Fire and Ice — interesting was that it was a gritty, grounded medieval fantasy with very little magic in the world. While later seasons would feature a lot more magic, it’s still lower in quantity than most fantasy stories and it’s part of the reason why it has been so successful and able to grab the public’s attention in pop culture where other fantasy stories failed. This is thanks to a strict adherence of rules within the story. Each kingdom has its own history, geography, politics, and culture. The world also boasted dangers in every corner so it didn’t matter if you were a local peasant, a noble, a charming knight, or even a child. You could get killed at any moment anywhere. When magical elements like the direwolves, shadow demons, or the dragons appeared, it felt extra special because they were so rare in that world. As the story progressed and magic was coming back to the world, the rules had to change but that would mean the story would be forced to reestablish its structure that was implemented in order to compensate those changes.

This is were the limitations of the medium begin to show and where the problems begin to arise.

Game of Thrones is one of the most expensive television shows ever developed. Since the sixth season, each episode costs as much as $10 million. Benioff and Weiss had to coordinate five different crews in six different countries, cast new principal actors each season due to the mass amount of characters in the book series, and work with several special effects teams that feature an estimate of 3,500 people and making sure that they produce quality content for the television series. Plus, the current actors have their profiles increased and that means they find more work outside Thrones and will have to do other projects. Whether its shooting commercials, movies, or other television shows, they can’t be around on Thrones forever. Eventually they have to move on with their careers and grow as actors. At some point, you have to say enough is enough and proceed to end the series. You cannot constantly keep adding new characters and new storylines to an already expansive series. There needs to be a payoff for all the teases made during the series and adding new season after season of the overall plots going nowhere is counterproductive for a television show.

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Bantam Books

Meanwhile, Martin has yet to complete A Song of Fire and Ice and the supposed sixth book — “The Winds of Winter” — is unlikely to be released anytime soon. Ironically, this was the consequence that Benioff, Weiss and Martin feared would happen even though a lot of people figured it was more than likely going to happen at some point. You see, the fear was that the show would eventually catch up to the books and that Benioff and Weiss would have to create their own content based on what Martin told them about the story’s overall conclusion.

Initially, it didn’t seem like there was much to be worried about. The sixth season was the first season to proceed without a guide from the books and it was one of the most critically-acclaimed seasons of the series thanks to episodes like “The Door,” “Battle of the Bastards,” and “The Winds of Winter” (the episode was named after the upcoming sixth book). Meanwhile, Martin has been kind of stuck in terms of writing the books. Since he’s introduced a slew of new characters and plotlines, he’s more or less written himself into a corner and it’s one of the main reasons why a lot of those extra stories had to be cut from the television show since they would serve no purpose for the battle against the White Walkers or even the fight for the Iron Throne. Such examples include Lady Stoneheart, an undead version of Catelyn Stark who was brought back to life by the Brotherhood Without Banners, does next to nothing except kill Lannister soldiers and eventually crosses paths with Brienne of Tarth and that story is currently left up in the air. Quentyn Martell, the eldest son of Prince Doran and nephew of Prince Oberyn, planned to marry Daenerys Targaryen to unite the family houses but when he goes to Meereen, he gets killed by Rhaegal’s dragonfire after having several chapters dedicated to him. Mance Rayder is currently trying to rescue Jeyne Poole, who is currently posing as Arya Stark, from the clutches of Ramsay Bolton but that storyline is pointless since we know that the real Arya Stark is currently training with the Faceless Men on how to be an assassin and Rayder is essentially rescuing a fake Arya. Those stories lead to nowhere and don’t resolve the larger conflicts of the books so they would add little value to the television series. It’s no wonder that Martin is struggling to figure out how to bring these plotlines to a logical, organic conclusion.

Television is different. You need to payoff all the setups throughout the series or else the audience will lose interest. Tyrion at some point needs to meet with Daenerys and show her how to rule Westeros. Jon Snow’s true parentage needs to be confirmed. The threat of the White Walkers needs to be dealt with. All these things have to end at some point.

And that’s the painful reality of Game of Thrones: it can’t last forever and it has to end.

It’s not the kind of series designed to maintain longevity. It can’t be a long-term television institution like say The Simpsons or even Modern Family. It’s too dense and too expensive to go on. The plot of the White Walkers and who ultimately rules the Iron Throne needs to be resolved. Although moments like the Red Wedding, the Purple Wedding, Hold The Door, and Massacre at Hardhome are game-changing and memorable, you can only play those cards so many times. The audience already expects these things to happen. The show can’t wait for it’s reluctant creator to finish his story. Television has to move forward. It’s a gift and a curse.

However, the way Benioff and Weiss are going about it is the real problem here.

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Photo by Art Streiber/HBO

While Game of Thrones does need to end, it doesn’t mean that it needs to be rushed. The weird desire to haste the series to its conclusion has brought dire consequences to the overall narrative and it has affected the final two seasons as a whole. Thrones is a sprawling, massive series that can’t simply be resolved in a short amount of time. Much like there needs to be a payoff to the build of a narrative, there also needs to be a buildup to its conclusion. Things can’t happen just for the sake of happening in a story. Benioff and Weiss are not amateurs. They’ve been professional writers and filmmakers long before Thrones so the decision to shorten the final two seasons of the series is just weird. They would have to know the narrative wouldn’t make sense at times and key plot details would go over the heads of a lot of people and would lead to massive backlash but they did it anyway.

The belief among fans is that HBO doesn’t want the series to continue and they are having the two showrunners speed up to its conclusion. However, they have dismissed that claim and stated that the decision was theirs and not the executives of HBO. If so, then why in such a hurry to end the series? If HBO is willing to let the series linger on for just a little bit to reach its proper conclusion, then there should be no need to shorten the final two seasons and shortcut to the conclusion.

It’s painful to watch because in the large scheme of things they actually have some really good ideas that in the past would have had entire seasons built around and it would continue to draw attention. For example, the idea of Daenerys becoming the final antagonist of the series and emerging as “The Mad Queen” is an interesting concept and would actually make sense in terms of the story. One of the central themes of A Song of Fire and Ice is that power corrupts. It doesn’t matter how noble your intentions are. Once you are blinded by ambition, it can lead you to do terrible things and innocent people suffer because of it. But because they are rushing to the conclusion, her becoming a villain feels unearned since the buildup was clumsy. Last season, she wanted to free Westeros from Cersei’s tyranny and “break the wheel.” Now she wants to burn everything and become the “Queen of the Ashes” because…her nephew has better claim than her and she’s unhinged? And people don’t love her enough…or something? It’s been all over the place.

It’s not even just Daenerys’ emergence as the final villain that was a good idea ruined by rushed plotting. Other examples include Jon Snow becoming King of the North was an interesting setup towards the conclusion of Season 6 and after learning his true identity as the son of Rhaegar Targaryen and Lyanna Stark, we could’ve seen his development as learning how to be an effective monarch for his people, learning to surpass Ned Stark and Robb Stark, and defend his people against two enemies that are looking to destroy his home with the Night King and Cersei. It would have emphasized the belief that he would be a good ruler that a lot of characters have proclaimed throughout Season 8. And that storyline went nowhere. Sansa and Arya Stark learning to reintegrate with their family after being away from them for so long was turned into a useless conflict between the two sisters. Bran’s new powers as the Three Eyed Raven were never really explained. The Night King’s true identity and history were swept under the rug (although the upcoming prequel series might correct this). Dorne, the Iron Islands, and all of Essos became an afterthought. You get the idea.

In the end, it’s clear that Benioff and Weiss were ready to move on from Game of Thrones and really didn’t care how. If the recent news of them being chosen to headline the new Star Wars movies after the conclusion of the “Skywalker Saga” are any indication, they want to tackle new projects instead of constantly working on the same one they’ve been doing for more than a decade. Still, their efforts on the show shouldn’t be overlooked just because of these recent poorly-received seasons. Say what you will about the final two seasons (and yes, they are really bad) but the mere fact that this show even exists and it’s a critical and financial success is telling of how much hard work they — along with the extensive cast and crew — put into the series. Fans may not be given the satisfying, well-developed conclusion they have hoped but maybe that’s for the best. Martin himself already said that the series finale isn’t too far off from what he had in mind as the conclusion to the A Song of Fire and Ice series so perhaps we’ll get the true finale in book form as it was always intended (I’M STILL ROOTING FOR YOU MARTIN! YOU CAN GET THOSE BOOKS DONE).

Like it or not, Game of Thrones has to end even if its approach is clumsy. There’s no use complaining about what’s already done. Benioff and Weiss made their decision, took responsibility, and are ready to move on. This upcoming Sunday will be the last time the public will get to see a new Game of Thrones episode. Let’s just watch the final episode and enjoy the ride while it lasts.

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