If you’re reading this, I’ll assume that you’re a Game of Thrones fan, so please beware – spoilers ahead. Unless you’re caught up, or don’t mind having anything spoiled, I advise you don’t read on.
You have been warned.
I have to begin by saying that Game of Thrones is one of my favourite shows. Note the “is”.
I have been a fan of Game of Thrones from the beginning – when it first aired all the way back in 2011. I loved the show from the very first, and my enthusiasm for it is boasted by posters, t-shirts, statuettes, books, even a door holder simply labelled HODOR. Some of my merchandise came to me as gifts, making it evident that even the people around me could tell how much I enjoyed the show. That could have had something to do with how much I talked about it.
My love for the show aside, I am aware of a lot of disappointment amongst other fans. Some disappointments stretch back as far as season 5, some more recently to season 8, and some, in particular, with the shows ending. And I’ll admit, despite how much I like the show I’m in a similar boat.
I am definitely still digesting episode 6 in particular, and right now I’m not entirely sure how I really feel about it, but that’s not really what this post is about.
This post is to mark the ending of one of my favourite shows. In ways, my love letter to the series. I wanted to write this post to not only illustrate my appreciation for the show, but also to indulge in a little nostalgia. However, I will do my best to be genuine in my writings and not ignore the bad in favour of the good.
Before I get into the thick of it, I should mention that I am doing the show a slight disservice in that I’m writing this post without ever having rewatched it. As much as I love the show, there were a lot of moments in it that I knew would be hard to rewatch. Plus, even after I’d decided to write this post and considered a rewatch, there just wasn’t going to be enough time.
The best I could do was to watch some season recap videos, and hopefully they’ve refreshed my memory enough to do the series justice. Shout out to Film Cram for the great YouTube videos.
The vast world of Game of Thrones
Game of Thrones was my introduction to complex story telling. And by complex, I mean there a lot going on. There were so many characters and storylines to keep up with, and I definitely struggled a bit. In fact, I’ll admit that I didn’t know Varys’ name until season five.
As much as I enjoyed the show in the beginning, I guess I was mostly into it for the surface level excitement. For the kings, the queens, knights, the lords and ladies. For dragons! I’ve always been a fantasy fan, and I was originally drawn in by the medieval setting and the magical aspects. I was also drawn in by the drama – the secrets and lies – but in the beginning, I didn’t really appreciate those aspects as much.
Over the years I fell deeper into the world and the stories, but early on my understanding of the show could basically be summarised as follows: The Starks are good, the Lannisters are bad (excluding Tyrion and the younger kids), and the Targaryens are off somewhere not in Westeros.
My attention to detail was somewhat limited, and I only really paid attention to a few of the characters. In the first season my attention was mostly on one character actually, a character who I’m sure many non-book readers agreed was likely the shows main character – Eddard Stark.
Eddard, aka Ned, was an honourable – excluding a minor, and evidently non-existent, indiscretion in his youth – and just man. Ned was fundamentally good, and in his short time on the show I rooted for him to succeed in his goals; to solve his friend’s murder; to save himself, his best friend, and his family, from the snakes in the pit that was King’s Landing; and, to generally do the right thing. It broke my heart a little when he died, but still I watched on.
After Ned died there were still plenty of characters to appreciate. For the most part I paid attention to Ned’s children, particularly Arya Stark and Jon Snow.
Arya Stark was an early favourite for me. From the moment she outshot Bran at archery I could tell she had the makings of a badass. And on top of her tomboyish and rebellious nature, I liked that she knew who she was and defied what her world’s expectations. Arya went from a skinny girl playing with her skinny sword to an almost water dancer. She was briefly an avenger, then no-one at all, but she finally settled on Arya Stark of Winterfell. Arya Stark was always a character who wanted to make her own way in life and that’s who she remained till the very end.
Jon Snow – who he will always remain, whatever name he may have been born with – was always his father’s son. Though being a supposed bastard made him the Blacksheep of the family, he never let how the world (mostly Catelyn) treated him make him anything less than a good man. Who he was, led him to taking the only path to honour a bastard could hope for – taking the black – it allowed him to rise to the role of Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch, and briefly, it even afforded him the title King in the North. But unfortunately being a good and just man isn’t necessarily how to survive in Westeros. Like his father and brother before him Jon’s attempts to do the right thing got him killed, if only briefly. And in the very end doing the right thing took him from the life and the family he’d always known. That said, I can’t say for sure that he didn’t end up exactly where he was meant to be. Even if it does feel unfair.
Though maybe not my favourite characters, I found the other Stark children’s storylines interesting too. Rob, like Jon, was a lot like his father, but unfortunately his own youthful indiscretion got him killed. Permanently. Bran’s storyline with its aspects of old and ancient magic was always intriguing and ended with a surprising – if inexplicable – conclusion. I enjoyed watching Sansa grow from an undeniably annoying, deceptive, and even entitled little girl wearing rose-coloured glasses, in the more mature and resourceful woman she became. And, I may still not like her completely, but the conclusion to her story felt fitting. Unfortunately Rickon was neglected almost entirely story-wise, so I don’t have much to say about him.
Stark children, and some of my other favourites aside, one of the storylines I found most intriguing was that of Daenerys Targaryen. Or, Daenerys Stormborn of House Targaryen, the First of Her Name, Queen of the Andals and the First Men, Protector of the Seven Kingdoms, the Mother of Dragons, the Khaleesi of the Great Grass Sea, the Unburnt, the Breaker of Chains.
Daenerys’, or Dany’s, tale began in tragedy. It started with her being sold to an apparent savage by her own brother and being raped nightly by her terrifying new husband. But she turned it around for herself. She made her husband come to love her and came to love him in return. She adapted to the new world she’d been thrown in to and became a true khaleesi to her people. Dany even got free of her brothers’ control, with a little help from her husband. Even after losing her sun-and-stars and their unborn son Daenerys stayed strong, and with her new children – her dragons – sort to conquer and create a better world. I rooted for her and I wanted nothing more than for Dany to sit on the Iron Throne, but unfortunately it ended as it has started – in tragedy. Tragedy for Dany and tragedy for the many innocent people who had been in King’s Landing when she reduced it to a pile of rubble. But in a way, even in death Dany succeeded in achieving her ultimate goal. She broke the wheel.
Game of Thrones was full of so many characters. The good, the bad, and the ugly. I loved and rooted for some, hated and prayed for the deaths of others – you know the ones – and overall just loved getting to experience the known world of Game of Thrones and everything it had to offer. And, I will always appreciate that.
For the love of theory
One of the reasons I really fell in love with Game of Thrones, was the various theories surrounding it, mostly borne from the trail of clues and foreshadowing George R.R. Martin (GRRM) so thoughtfully placed into the book series which inspired the show – A Song of Ice and Fire (ASOIAF).
I first stumbled upon the world of theory shortly after the fifth season of Game of Thrones. Many of you may recognise that easily as the season that ended with the dead of Jon Snow. I can’t really remember exactly how I ended up watching the Game of Thrones lore and history videos, and various fan theories, but I assume it has something to do with the infamous YouTube rabbit hole.
Regardless of how I ended up there, I’m just happy I did. In the summer that followed season five I watched, almost exclusively, YouTube videos about the world of Game of Thrones, its history, and its possible future.
Given the timing of my new obsession, the first theories that really caught my attention were the one’s based on the central idea that Jon Snow would be resurrected. I watched so many of those videos that by the time season six started up, Jon’s resurrection was almost inevitable. I was so glad when the overarching theory was fulfilled, however it may actually have been achieved.
Also centred around Jon Snow, the other theory I was wholeheartedly convinced of by the time it was confirmed was R + L = J i.e. the theory that Jon Snow was not Ned Stark’s bastard son, but in fact that son of Ned’s sister Lyanna Stark and Rhaegar Targaryen. The theory has and had various of pieces of evidence to support it in the books and in the show. For the show in particular, the amount of times that characters talked about Ned’s honour followed up with clearly sceptical comments about Jon being his son was enough to make me wonder – though only after listening to theories because I wasn’t that attentive.
The moment in the show when we saw what happened in the Tower of Joy, and the shot of the baby in Ned’s arms transformed into an adult Jon Snow, was so incredibly satisfying.
And as long as we’re talking about theory payoffs in the show, finally getting Clegane Bowl was pretty awesome. In fact, I think it was one of my favourite things about season 8 episode 5, even if part of me had wanted to see one of bridge4’s theories fulfilled. YouTuber bridge4 had theorised Arya would stab the Mountain right through the eye, like she had previously said she’d do to the Hound. That would have been a pretty cool end to the Mountain too.
Unfortunately for me, Cersei’s valonqar (little brother) prophecy was one theory that didn’t. It’s understandable given that that portion of Maggie the Frog’s prediction hadn’t been included in the show, but I still hoped that it would be fulfilled regardless. Suffice it to say, there are candidates for the role that would have been so satisfying to see in live action. Cersei and Jaime dying together may have been a slight nod to the prophecy, but all-in-all her death was rather unsatisfying.
One of my other disappointments as far as theory goes was that the Azor Ahai prophecy wasn’t really cleared up. Was it Rhaegar Targaryen? Was it Jon Snow? Was it Arya Stark because she killed the Night King? In the end I guess it doesn’t matter, because the won regardless of any clarification, but still. And, speaking of the Night King, I was disappointed that we never really got any satisfactory backstory or insight into his goals. In the end he really just was a big bad who wanted to wipe out humanity and nothing more. What a shame.
I guess for as yet unconfirmed theories and backstory on the White Walkers, I’ll just have to wait for the books.
On season 8 and the end of the story
So, Jon killed Dany and was for all intents and purposes banished. Bran sits on the throne with Tyrion as his Hand, whilst Sansa sits on her own throne up North. And, Arya is sailing to Westestros.
Whilst I’m not sure it’s the exact ending GRRM will opt for, I can’t disagree that it complies with his promise that the ending of ASOIAF would be bittersweet.
Bran is a good choice for a king (I feel like there’s a statement there about picking the wisest man for the job), and I’ve always wanted Tyrion to end up as Hand. As smart and cunning as his father, but a better man. The North got to regain its freedom, and I can’t disagree that Sansa will likely do a good job of ruling, even if I do think the way she obtained the throne was slightly disrespectful and again, entitled. And, Arya is as adventurous as she ever was, so no complaints there. One of the only character endings I consider myself to be bitter about was Jon Snow’s ending. Whilst I was pleased to see that he didn’t stay at the wall as he’d been told to, somewhere that he’d only gone in the very beginning because he didn’t have much choice, I’m annoyed that Jon pulled the short straw. He may have decided to make a life for himself with the wildlings with Ghost by his side, but would he have chosen it given any other choices? I don’t know.
Amongst my other disappointments as far as season 8 is concerned are; Jon’s passivity until pretty much the end; some of Varys’ actions near the end; Tyrion’s out-of-nowhere betrayal of Varys, who he admitted was his best friend; and, Varys’ rather unsatisfying death. Varys was a great character and he deserved to go out way better than that. And, on top of that there was my disappointment in Jaime for choosing to go back to Cersei. I’m going to go off on a minor tangent with this one, because it’s one that irked me the most.
I agree that I may be somewhat bias because I shipped Jaime and Brienne and I hated that they didn’t end up together, but that isn’t my only reason for being upset. Jaime going back to Cersei felt like an incredible backslide in his character for me. It was hard watching him just give up on being the good man he had been trying to be and basically choosing Cersei over himself. And, more than that I am so disappointed that he could just take Brienne’s virginity and then almost immediately break her heart. It felt so unlike the Jaime who had been starting to emerge and I don’t think that reverse in character was justified.
However, an entirely more shocking change in character was seen in Daenerys Targaryen, who went from being a mostly decent human being to a complete and utter lunatic in just a few episodes. (Yeah, I wanted to save the best for last.)
Whilst it was starting to become clear early on in season 8 that Dany was losing herself in her quest to obtain the throne, episode 5 struck somewhat harshly. I could see that madness was the direction the writers seemed to want to take Dany in, but her choice to burn King’s Landing still felt like it came out of nowhere. And, I think the clearest evidence that even the writers knew it didn’t make sense is that they basically had to spell out why she did it in episode 6.
I know that Dany becoming the Mad Queen was always a possibility. As a Targaryen madness was always something that could catch up to her, and her search for power and her goal of sitting on the Iron Throne didn’t help things. Power drove her father mad, trying to obtain power drove her brother mad, and it’s understandable that having it so close drove Dany mad. I only wish that there had been sufficient character development to make that change feel more natural. Instead, it felt like a quite jarring shift. No doubt some of my disappointment regarding the storyline stems from Dany having been a favourite character of mine – one I once dressed as for Halloween – but I think it was more so the lack of development.
From the very first season of Game of Thrones I knew that the ending would never be completely happy, but I still thought it would be good. And though I don’t feel the need to sign a petition to get season 8 remade, I’m still slightly disappointed that it all couldn’t have been more fleshed out. Maybe then the ending would have felt more sweet than bitter.
In the end, I blame the time constraints. Six episodes was never going to be enough to do all the storylines in Game of Thrones justice – even if they were movie length episodes. I think that for the sake of finishing the story in the little time they had left the creators had to make some choices that moved the story along but sacrificed the overall integrity and strength of the show. Disappointing, but maybe inevitable.
Whatever my feelings regarding the specifics of the conclusion, I can at least appreciate that the ending offered some closure. Some shows don’t even get the opportunity to provide that.
The world of ASOIAF is vast and, again, its characters plenty. David Benioff and D.B. Weiss (D&D) took on an almighty challenge when they decided to adapt the story for TV, and I respect them for even attempting it. More than that I am incredibly thankful to them for bringing the series to life and inspiring me to actually bother to read a book.
All things considered, taking the good with the bad, Game of Thrones remains one of my favourite shows.
The burdens of an adaptation
I think a lot of the criticism Game of Thrones has received over the years are, at least in part, due to the fact that it is an adaption of books. Books aren’t inherently made for TV, and so when it comes to adapting them for it many difficult choices have to be made. Characters get cut and storylines have to be shortened, and that can be disappointing for book readers.
And not only is Game of Thrones an adaptation, it is an adaptation of a book series that is still unfinished. Whilst season eight was by far the most controversial, I’ve heard book readers say that Game of Thrones started to go downhill after season five – the last season for which the writers could rely upon the books.
Many book-readers complain that Game of Thrones became too “show-like” post season 5, but at that point it was a show. It couldn’t really be a book adaptation when there was nothing to adapt. Trying to do justice to incomplete story was always going to be the greatest challenges with creating Game of Thrones and I don’t think D&D really could have ever hoped to make readers happy.
GRRM has spent literally decades writing the books so far and it may take another few decades yet. People have called D&D bad writers, which I don’t think is necessarily a fair assumption. As brilliant as GRRM undoubtedly is, it wasn’t just his genius that allowed him to write a great series. It took time, and probably some trial and error, to think about and decide on the fate of the characters, and how they would achieve that fate. D&D just didn’t have that benefit.
All of the time GRRM has taken to write the series had the added disadvantage of allowing book-readers to read and reread the series, which was as unfortunate for book-readers as it is for D&D. Book-readers have had the time to search for meaning in every sentence, create theory upon theory, and build up their expectations up incredibly high. Is it any wonder that D&D fell short.
I think I was lucky to have started as a show watcher. I got to watch Game of Thrones through the eyes of someone who didn’t have so many hopes and expectations for it. And even now, I’m happy enough with what it was.
Game of Thrones was an epic tale, and though it was not as strong as it could have been by the end, I’m still glad I watched it.
Well there you have it, my Game of Thrones nostalgia post. It was a very long post and it could have been way longer to be honest. (Game of Thrones is way too difficult to cover with just one.) Thank you to those of you who stuck around till the very end.
However long, I enjoyed writing it and I hope you enjoyed reading it. Hopefully I can write more nerdy posts in future.