As one of the biggest television shows in history draws to a close, many Game of Thrones fans are feeling a gnawing sense of disappointment.
Social media and water-cooler chat has been more distressed and bewildered than excited and awed, as sky-high hopes are dashed.
This is not just any fantasy show. It has turned conventions upside down, left us gobsmacked as major characters were brutally slaughtered en masse, and created that feeling of wonder that used to be reserved for the big screen.
This week’s penultimate episode, “The Bells”, has scored the highest ratings in series history, with 18.4 million initial viewers across HBO’s platforms. But it is also the show’s worst reviewed episode, scoring less than 50 per cent on review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes.
Chief among the complaints is that the writers tried to do too much in too little time. In their haste to tie up loose ends and usher the characters we are so invested in to the final denouement, the narrative development felt rushed and jarring.
Daenerys’ transformation into the Mad Queen has been foreshadowed throughout the show, when she watched coldly as her brother was killed with a molten gold “crown”, and ruthlessly incinerated her enemies. But as news.com.au’s GoT experts explained in this week’s newsletter, her vicious streak had always been directed at foes, while she showed compassion to the oppressed. In this episode, despite the opposition’s surrender, she suddenly decided to raze King’s Landing to the ground, along with tens of thousands of terrified civilians. It felt unbelievable. Yes, even in a show about magic and dragons, which has always been true to the boundaries of its own reality.
Cersei’s inevitable death also provoked anger and confusion. Our favourite villain died in the arms of her beloved brother Jaime, with rubble falling on their heads as they tried to flee the burning city. For some, it was symbolic of their world crashing down around them, together as always — a poetic moment.
But for many, it was infuriating. “It makes no sense after all that build up over the years, that she would just die in the arms of the love of her life,” wrote author Roxane Gay, echoing the sentiment of the masses. “The writing cannot possibly be so bad as to allow that.”
‘So Arya is going to kill Cersei?’
GOT writers : Nope
‘Jaime, definitely Jaime.’
Writers : nah, but it’s gonna be glorious.
‘Dany and Drogon??’
Writer : not actually!
Writer : pic.twitter.com/egzd8Vf8Q4
— reynold yumnam (@reynoldjag) May 13, 2019
— Johannes (@johanneshvl) May 13, 2019
— Jessica Hernandez (@jihernandez222) May 13, 2019
— Jenna Guillaume (@JennaGuillaume) May 13, 2019
— Telly Thoughts (@ThoughtsTelly) May 13, 2019
In S1E1, Jaime Lannister pushes Bran Stark out of a window. This is subtle foreshadowing by David Benioff and Dan Weiss for S8E5, where eight seasons of Jaime’s character development are similarly thrown out the window. #GameOfThrones pic.twitter.com/OJjjxBaeY3
— Master Mirror (@TheKingIsh_) May 13, 2019
Others joined in her despair, having waited all season to see Cersei suffer a deliciously nasty end. She could have been killed by Arya (and was on the young woman’s hitlist), Jon, or the brother who both reviles and adores her. Instead, she was knocked out by a few bricks, in “one of the biggest missed opportunities in TV history”, as one viewer put in.
What’s more, many thought Jaime’s return to her side appeared to come out of nowhere, after we had watched his redemption arc for several seasons.
There were many more criticisms — the way the Dothraki appeared to regenerate after most were massacred in battle with the Night King; an invincible Arya quickly giving up on revenge before running aimlessly around the city for a whole episode; Tyrion’s famed intelligence evaporating as he and Varys abruptly turned on Dany; a scheme to poison her that was far too easy to miss.
As the program has careered ahead of George R.R. Martin’s books, it has been accused of losing its edge and ability to surprise, becoming like any other generic fantasy creation.
“Lazy writing,” was perhaps the most damning assessment of showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss, who have just been chosen to helm the next Star Wars movie — or “ruin” it, in some fans’ estimation.
dany locked up her BABIES after drogon killed ONE CHILD but she’s going to burn a million innocents? make it make sense
— jade || got & endgame spoilers (@sIythurins) May 13, 2019
Mad Queen Dany has been foreshadowed for forever, yes, but the show is just so bad at narrative framing that it still feels unbelievable.
— cool cud (@kamilumin) May 13, 2019
This might be the first time I’ve actually felt disappointed in a #GoT episode. For example, I get that Euron and Jamie had beef, but a fight to the death in that moment made absolutely no sense. #DemThrones
— Jemele Hill (@jemelehill) May 13, 2019
— CarineChouchou (@ChouchouCarine) May 13, 2019
— Rings a Bel. Dracarys 🔥 (@TheBelMembrane) May 13, 2019
For like the 87th time, it’s not where the plot went, it’s HOW THEY GOT THERE. Dany can go crazy! Arya can give up revenge! But my god let these plotlines BREATHE.
I mean but also tossing Jaime’s entire redemption arc out the window was not great. OK, OK, I’m done now!
— Louis Peitzman (@LouisPeitzman) May 13, 2019
And while this episode has drawn the greatest ire to date, the entire final season has been controversial. While episode five was criticised for moving too rapidly, earlier ones were thought too slow, with scenes some found overlong and pointless.
Gifted Bran simply twiddled his thumbs as the White Walkers advanced; a dragon was felled with a large arrow in broad daylight; the showdown came too early in the season; the Dothraki’s battle strategy looked poorly planned; the Night King seemed too easily killed by a knifing from Arya; and Missandei — one of just two main characters played by people of colour — was beheaded in shackles.
Perhaps the final episode will resolve many of these issues. Perhaps not. Even the cast have voiced reservations about a final season Collider calls a “hot sloppy mess that also has some of the most striking, beautiful fantasy imagery”.
Lena Headey, who has spent most of her final season playing Cersei sipping wine for $1 million per episode, told EW her first reaction to her character’s demise was “mixed”, since she “wanted her to have some big piece or fight with somebody.”
Nathalie Emmanuel, who plays Missandei, revealed she was “heartbroken” over the way her character died, addressing criticism over the show’s lack of diversity. “Missandei and Grey Worm have represented so many people because there’s only two of them,” she said. “It wasn’t until she was gone that I really felt what it really, truly meant, until I saw the outcry and outpouring of love and outrage and upset about it.”
Conleth Hill (Varys) said it was “frustrating” that his character “became more peripheral” towards the end, confessing: “I suppose the last couple of seasons weren’t my favourite.”
For the episode to receive the worst reviews of the entire series is harsh. But the weight of expectation is almost unbearable at this point.
The sheer brilliance of GoT has set us up for a devastating anti-climax, and the writers were doomed to failure. No ending could please everyone.
Right now, it looks as though perhaps the greatest series of all time will end up pleasing no one at all.