Review: Game of Thrones Season 8— Endgame
Game of Thrones season 8. If you can’t say something nice. You know how the adage goes.
So I waited to review the final season of Game of Thrones (GoT). To simply state disappointment does GoT a disservice. Everyone already knows the issues of a rushed narrative, the lack of sacrifice in the face of an overwhelming foe, the underwhelming performance of the overwhelming foe, the quick moments of resolution lost if looking away for just a second, the eye-straining darkness, the unsatisfying demise of Queen Cersei (Lena Headly) and her brother Jaime Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) and the crowning of a character that only Gandi would choose.
Rather than take the show on episode by episode, I think it would be better to concentrate on where it went wrong, where many shows like it go wrong—Lost, Dexter, Seinfeld, How I Met Your Mother, Mash. Shows that don’t know how to end in the manner with which they reached their height, shows that broke new ground, challenged assumptions and created deep, long-running relationships with their viewers. Shows that with their last breath felt like a last breath, an acquiesce to time and the next thing, the lack of focus and delegation.
But it’s more than that. I would call it creative exhaustion. I’m sure that the cast, the creators, the studios and other associated with the production would defend their choices and their work ethic—and not being there, frankly, I am not qualified to judge the process.
As a fan however, and an analyzer of films and television, I can quibble with the outcome. I’m the target audience. If GoT Season 8 was the topic of a J.D. Power customer satisfaction survey, it would likely not end up high on the list of televisions shows that made its customers happy. I would not only slide the response widget toward low numbers on key performance indicators (KPIs), I would also offer up a few comments.
A hypothetical J.D. Power survey on customer satisfaction with Game of Thrones Season 8
Here’s how the survey might go:
1. On a scale of 1-5, how would you rate GoT Season 8 on meeting expectations where 1 is not at all and 5 is completely satisfied.
I would rate it a 2. I found the execution of the saga rushed. Many characters did not play to established personas. The struggle was not as hard as it should have been, and the outcome was disappointing. Little dramatic tension.
2. On a scale of 1-5, would you trust the GoT showrunners with future shows where 1 is not at all and 5 is completely satisfied.
3 skewing toward 4. For most of 7 seasons, things went well. And then the scales came off the dragon. Just what did it mean that Jon Snow (Kit Harington) was a Targaryen? No pushback against the Starks pulling a Brexit? Really? The purpose of Euron (Pilou Asbæk) in the narrative except as a single lucky shot at a dragon?
3. On a scale of 1-5, how would you say GoT did selecting a new King of the 7 (6) kingdoms. 1 is not at all and 5 is completely satisfied.
Bran the Broken (Isaac Hempstead Wright) is a dumb name and the whole process was stagy and contrived. Why this group of people to choose the next king? Democracy voted down as a joke? Jon Snow sent back to the broken wall to guard against the next Winter? Winter is just a season now, why do they need Castle Black, just as a place to send the black sheep? No deep discussion of why Jon can’t just stay in his room and brood? Why can’t he be the reluctant King? Humbleness and the fact he killed his girlfriend to save the realm should get him some points, no?
Bran did not deserve the throne. Bran saw (sees) things. He did not prove himself a leader nor a manager. And in practice, those who think they know often prove unable to find humble moments to listen and to learn from others. The Three-Eyed Raven may not only have failed to earn his title, but his unique abilities may also actually be among the worst a ruler can possess.
4. On a scale of 1-5, how satisfied were you with the number of people who died.? Where 1 is not at all and 5 is completely satisfied.
It’s not all about death and destruction. I don’t want beloved characters to die, but come on. The Army of the Dead was hellacious. The Night King was dispatched with barely a struggle. Bran sat under a tree in a halo of unscathed luck. A much smaller army should have marched to King’s Landing—even without the major character deaths, it appeared a lot of people died. There was never a recounting on how they fared against the Army of the Dead, but despite the first barrage seemingly just being snuffed out, looks like all those dead extras were just rounding errors on a mass of humanity we really didn’t see. And finally, Grey Worm (Jacob Anderson), should he not have taken out Jon Snow on sight before he entered the ruins to kills his crazy ex-girlfriend? And a Cersei/Dany (Emilia Clarke) battle could have been epic.
5. On a scale of 1-5, how satisfied were you with the production.? Where 1 is not at all and 5 is completely satisfied.
With the exception of The Long Night, which I’m not sure I really saw, as my 65-inch Samsung with 120hz. refresh rate and 240 motion rate, HDR, etc. etc. etc. often failed to render much beyond grey blotches. It was just hard to watch. Some shots were stunning, like the dragon wings stretched behind Dany. The problem with production comes when detail doesn’t service story, so good on the set teams, daylight VFX, etc. but coordination and collaboration seemed lacking.
You get the point.
Game of Thrones season 8: execution and details
Like the execution of any project, Season 8 came down to missed details, a lack of quality control. Even the set dressers and editors missed the likes of coffee cups left among the more rugged crucibles. The fans had lists of things that needed tying up more so than did the writers. In the rush to the end Dany’s wigs, the details of a Jamie Lanister murder and Gendry’s last name all found themselves victims of failed continuity.
Unlike other shows that anti-climaxed during their finales, GoT was victim to a unique creative gap. George R.R. Martin’s guidance from the books disappeared, leaving the showrunners to invent, perhaps beyond their capacity. It takes a kind of bravery to make the choices made earlier in the show (like the Red Wedding). And although the choice to take Dany down the dark path seemed brave, it also seemed lazy and cliché. That a strong woman leader should remain strong, remain generally ethically leaning despite her tendency toward showy atrocities to make her point, torpedoed so many better endings. Better endings for the people of Westeros, for Jon Snow, for the future of all those she conquered and freed, for the realms and for the viewers.
The tension between Dany and Jon never played out, it just sank into a single bloody moment. Jon executed the most narrow of choices permitted by his tortured soul. But if Dany had conquered without destroying, if she had confronted Cersei and gained her acquiesce if not her allegiance, we would have a very different, more satisfying end to Game of Thrones.
As a reviewer, I find myself more disturbed by the slipshod and the rushed versus the thoughtfully wrong. A choice that plays out in a reasoned way that I disagree with isn’t the same as a choice that makes no sense, tucked into a the plot doesn’t support it, or one that defies the underlying premise of a character built over years.
The knots were not tied, the weaves, not completed.
So many Game of Thrones characters were thrown under the dragon. The Knight King, Arya (Maisie Williams), DEAD DRAGON, Grey Worm, The Faceless Men, The Children of the Forest, the Lord of Light. All underserved in the rush to a conclusion.
Rushing isn’t a choice most writers make. Most writers tend toward excess rather than trim, they dig deeper into details rather than skipping steps. A writer’s process builds scaffolds upon which they tether their plots. That isn’t to say that stories don’t evolve toward a conclusion—even if the worlds in which they live in continue on.
But when it comes to the production of a story, studios, driven by financials and research, suggest that things must wrap, and the wrap must fit into a budget. And those final season budgets often create new constraints. Follow the guidelines or risk the truncation, even the elimination, of an abbreviated season. Think Southland or The Whispers or Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman orFlashforward or Joan of Arcadia or Farscape or Sliders or, or, or, or…
Not all shows actually get closure. That is probably worse than poor closure, but not always. Beloved characters like Daenerys Targaryen inspired families to name their children after the beautiful and strong Khaleesi of the Great Grass Sea, Mother of Dragons, The Unburnt and the Breaker of Chains. But then in its last gasp of dragon fire, on the knife’s edge of reason, GoT chose to plummet Dany into her crazy gene pool. She decimated King’s Landing not out of purpose or punishment, but out of some unbalanced perception. Unfortunately, unlike Trish in Marvel’s Jessica Jones, Dany never gets to realize she has become the bad guy.
There was a chance for Dany to evolve, to master her anger and cruelty, and perhaps, for Jon Snow to aid in the achievement of balance. But Jon also found new confusion in the final season, as his identity created tension. Jon remained loyal but his loyalty was not returned, even after he pledges not to seek the Iron Throne. Jon’s linearage became the thread that unraveled reason.
Buring down the throne
The most symbolic GoT moment comes as Drogon melts the Iron Throne. For many, myself included, I felt like HBO and the GoT creative team burned down the show on their way out. They left a senseless Westeros scorched—its continuity broken, its history left charred and smoldering on the tiny pixels of giant 4K TVs all over the world.
It can be argued that there were hints to all of the mediocre endings, that if the viewers were astute, we could have seen it coming. But there were also a number of unfulfilled hints that required exploring before transforming Dany into a villain and Bran into a king.
For a show known for upsetting the body cart, the creative team did not earn their leaps to unsubstantiated conclusions. For the amount of time between seasons, they could have done better.
My customer survey input on Game of Thrones season 8 is clear.
As a customer who helped pay for the R&D and direct distribution, I was left wanting more. I’m not sure I will trust GoT again any more than I trust various brands that I have abandoned for their poor customer experience, for their subpar product.
We’ll see if the prequels work or not. What HBO may learn post-Season 8 is that far fewer people will take time to invest in the new properties for fear that their expectations will be ultimately dashed. Perhaps, though, HBO will learn to service the customer and tie its bows as elegantly as Marvel did in Endgame.
A more hopeful view from early in the season can be read here.
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