There was never a happy way to end Game Of Thrones – at least not for its millions of fans. One person’s happy ending is the next person’s complete disaster, and, in fact, a happy ending was the last thing most fans wanted. We’ve been weaned on beheadings and burnings, a happy ending in Westeros just wouldn’t feel right. And yet, in many ways, a happy ending is sort of what we got – unless, of course, you were Daenerys fan.
Season 8 was a frenetic wrapping-up of close to a decade of TV with only six episodes to do it in. The pacing was all off, and it was clear from early on that showrunners David Benioff and DB Weiss had left themselves with far too much story still to tell. Six episodes in which to defeat the White Walkers, dethrone Cersei and complete Daenerys’ descent into unhinged conqueror, not to mention completing character arcs for everyone on the show. It was never going to be a smooth ride.
Certain characters – especially Lena Headey’s fascinating Cersei – were given unforgivably short shrift and either under-used or forced to make out-of-character decisions in order to serve the plot, which derailed Jaime Lannister’s arc. Other characters fare better in this final season, with both Stark sisters emerging as perhaps the two most successful characters in the show, and Tyrion eventually, after numerous missteps, returning to something like the character who towered over Game Of Thrones’ first few seasons, and seeing Peter Dinklage tackle some challenging material was a joy to watch.
How you feel about Daenerys and Jon’s arcs, however, depends on how much you were expecting the show to follow traditional storytelling routes. Daenerys had always been heading towards the burning of King’s Landing, but her final journey there was rushed and lacked the sickening sense of impending doom that Game Of Thrones has historically been so good at. Jon’s ending, however, was entirely fitting, even if he did have to become even dumber than usual in order to sell the Season 8 plot developments. His arc did, unfortunately, expose the fact that Kit Harington struggles with subtler material, and so Jon’s moral dilemma never quite lands.
Game Of Thrones Season 8 is the most expensive TV ever made, and it shows. Its two big showpiece episodes – ‘The Long Night‘, in which the White Walkers are defeated, and ‘The Bells‘, in which King’s Landing is destroyed, both directed by Miguel Sapochnik – are undeniably visually stunning, but the dizzy horror of ‘The Bells‘ will probably be remembered more fondly in retrospect than ‘The Long Night‘, with it’s frustrating military decisions and pitch-dark aesthetic. Arya coming out of nowhere to kill the Night King might be Season 8’s biggest – and perhaps only – cheer-out-loud moment, but the season’s best moments were the quieter ones: Bran reassuring Theon that he’s a good man as Theon prepares to give his life in service of the House he loved and betrayed. Arya calling The Hound by his first name as he went to his death. Brienne being knighted. If only Benioff and Weiss had had more faith in these quiet moments. Instead, they tried to load as many epic battles and as much incredible CGI into the final season as they could. Sure, the dragons look great, but that’s not what we watch Game Of Thrones for – we tune in for the characters, and the final season would have been more satisfying if those characters had had more room to breathe.