Warning: For one last time, this story is dark and full of spoilers.
Valar Morghulis: All Men Must Die. All shows must end as well, and here we are on the first day of a post-Game of Thrones world.
The six weeks of this final season were a mad rush of emotions and speculation shared in offices, over meals and all over the internet. Debates and memes (RIP Dany’s coffee cup) were everywhere. For fans like myself, this time was exhausting and exhilarating, if not exactly as enjoyable as I may have hoped. But really, what a journey it’s been.
A fanatic for Lord of the Rings and the like for years, I binged the first two seasons on DVD with my father the summer of 2013. Still, it wasn’t until I was persuaded to catch the third season through, um, questionably legal means that I fell in love with Thrones.
And gods, it was a really good show! Even if many came for the “t*** and dragons,” they and more stayed for the captivating plot and endearing, masterfully acted characters. Outcasts found belonging, the good fell as easily as the wicked, and a fantasy world became a fixture in our reality. Showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss found magic in the pages of George R. R. Martin’s books, and with an ever-growing budget from HBO they turned that magic into an entertaining mix of spectacle, drama and human spirit unlike any before.
This final season at times showcased those strengths as well as any before. The Battle of Winterfell (if you could see it) was as grand as any battle ever filmed, and the second episode beautifully honored the characters we love. But the tour de force of this season was its acting. Emilia Clarke, Maisie Williams, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Peter Dinklage, Lena Headey — hell, all the actors — were outstanding in their characters’ swan songs. The moment that stayed with me the most, though, was a simple smile: When Gwendoline Christie’s Brienne of Tarth was knighted in Episode 2, my heart melted.
But the actors, artistic teams, Ramin Djawadi’s phenomenal soundtrack and all the rest could only do so much to elevate a frequently lackluster script. In Benioff and Weiss’ mad rush to conclude the series in two abbreviated seasons, which was a timetable of their choosing, so much of what made Thrones exceptional was cast to the wayside. The shocking twists of earlier seasons — Ned Stark’s death, the Red Wedding, Oberyn’s smashing duel, even Cersei’s grand coup — worked because the seeds of these events were quietly planted and well nurtured over time. They may have surprised us in the moment, but everything added up.
In the latter part of Season 8 especially, so many events were condensed into so few episodes that we were left to fill in the blanks on our own, if we could even keep straight what had happened. Jaime’s redemption arc (and entire romantic relationship with Brienne) was reversed in under an hour of television. Euron’s fleet and the defenses of King’s Landing were a grave threat one episode and laughable in the next. The once master schemer Varys was reduced to talking treason on a beach. Remember when the Night King was a mysterious force of horrific potential? What did Cersei do, again? That selection of King Bran was rather quick and easy, right?
The villainous turn of Daenerys Targaryen stands as perhaps the biggest victim of the accelerated pace. Several great articles have been written detailing why this has been problematic (look here and here and here). But in short: Foreshadowing doesn’t equal character development, and a character as iconic and admired as Dany deserved a better fall from grace than she was given. The Breaker of Chains spent seven seasons being built up as an inspiring, if flawed, force for good. A two-episode turn from hero to monster — one who destroys a city after achieving her goal, for no clear reason — isn’t enough time to adequately show a tragic arc, even with hints sprinkled over the years. The finale did her no better, with a cliched execution at the hands of her lover/rival/nephew.
The sensation that the showrunners were anxious to wrap up the show — maybe to move on to bigger things? — hampered this last season for me. I was afraid it would cast a shadow over the whole series, but awaiting the finale this past weekend brought me some perspective: Thrones is more than its ending. It’s the seasons we spent being mesmerized by grand spectacles and elaborate struggles, falling in love with queens and warriors, and watching the battle between good and evil unfold in the human heart.
Whatever my disappointments are with the final couple seasons, Thrones has had a transformative effect on my life. I’ve gained friendships and strengthened others through this show. My modest writing career began with this show. Thrones has been an entertainment, an escape and a beacon of creative possibility for me, and embracing this fandom has helped me learn more about myself. I’m forever grateful to have found it these last few years.
Fire and Blood forever.