Game of Thrones became one of the most beloved TV series of all time, but its final season is one of the most hated. What went wrong in season 8?
After reforging the landscape of television, Game of Thrones season 8 left fans disappointed and confused with a lackluster ending to the epic series. George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice & Fire books always enjoyed cult popularity, but it’s difficult to fathom the colossal leap in popularity Martin’s world enjoyed on HBO. Game of Thrones was deeply political, visually groundbreaking, and featured an impressive cast of characters. The show had become a genuine international phenomenon, its rise seemingly unstoppable. However, when the show arrived at its shortened but highly anticipated conclusion, Game of Thrones season 8 let a lot of fans down.
The story of Westeros seemed to get bigger with each GoT season and as much as Game of Thrones appeared invincible in the ratings, the series was also critically untouchable for much of its run. Naturally, there was an unprecedented level of anticipation leading up to GoT season 8, and with Martin’s books incomplete, the ending of Game of Thrones was a closely guarded secret. Game of Thrones season 8 faced an almost impossible task of satisfying its audience completely, but no one expected the ending to fail quite as spectacularly as it did. Looking back, there are a variety of factors that made GoT season 8 so bad.
Game Of Thrones Needed More Seasons
There are several problems with Game of Thrones season 8, but the majority trace back to one inarguable truth: the series needed much more time to arrive at a natural conclusion. The ending of Game of Thrones was announced well in advance, with confirmation coming while season 6 was still on the air. After audiences discovered only two seasons of Westeros action remained, they later learned those final seasons would also comprise a shorter episode count, and this caused concern since there was so much ground yet to cover at the time.
With Game of Thrones still critically invulnerable in season 6, many gave Benioff and Weiss the benefit of the doubt, but those initial misgivings proved entirely justified. Even since its debut season, Game of Thrones had been a slow build, spending time carefully crafting characters, interweaving their narratives, and exploring different parts of Martin’s fantasy world. While this measured pace could sometimes be frustrating (just how long did it take Daenerys to sail across the sea?), it was actually one of Game of Thrones greatest strengths, giving the narrative and the colorful cast of characters room to grow organically.
By contrast, GoT season 8 is a mad rush to the finish line. Drastically upping the pace, main players zoom around the map in record time, while the gripping character interactions Game of Thrones was once renowned for were curtailed to make room for plot. Not only is the gear shift incredibly jarring, but the breakneck pacing took away the depth that helped make Game of Thrones so successful, replacing it with superficial scenes geared solely towards covering the narrative ground. George R.R. Martin himself has even admitted surprise that Game of Thrones ended when it did, claiming he expected the series would need to run far longer.
The Game Of Thrones TV Series Overtook The Books
Even before Game of Thrones season 8, the show was beginning to stumble. There’s a clear correlation between Game of Thrones‘ drop in quality and the moment the HBO series overtook its source material. Benioff and Weiss never sought to adapt Martin’s books verbatim. Even in the earlier seasons, there are moments, characters, and storylines that deviate considerably. However, Game of Thrones follows each major part of the books and retains Martin’s character outlines. It took an incredibly detailed and widespread series of novels and diluted it into a cohesive, but still rich, TV story. Unfortunately, the duo was less successful when finding their cupboard of novels to work from bare.
It’s impossible not to notice the point where Martin’s storytelling ends. The shocking narrative twists of earlier seasons give way to awkward attempts at subverting expectations, such as the moment Arya kills the Night King. Deaths that provoked months of discussion became ones that lacked emotional impact. The intricate plotting became more direct, with season 8 moving from point A to point B without stopping to admire the scenery. Game of Thrones season 8 took the brunt of the flak, but the show’s decline can actually be traced back further. The more original material that seeped into the scripts, the more flaws started to emerge.
One massive problem audiences had with Game of Thrones season 8 was when their favorite characters suddenly stopped acting like their favorite characters. The most frequently cited example of such inconsistency is Dany’s decimation of King’s Landing. While the Mother of Dragons had always harbored an inner darkness bubbling beneath the surface, she remained a staunch protagonist in season 8, and her decision to burn innocent people alive seemed to come out of nowhere. The combining triggers of a fragile ego, a lust for power, and genetic destiny were all present but certainly didn’t add up to the level of carnage Dany unleashed, leaving many to cry foul.
Jon Snow went from being one of the most compelling figures on TV to a shallow and predictable hero, spouting the same lines about bending the knee and not wanting the throne until being put out of his misery by a merciful exile. Game of Thrones‘ Jon Snow had many standout moments throughout the series, but it’s telling that none of them are in the final season, which should have been his time of glory. Cersei and Jaime’s deaths also proved particularly divisive among viewers, with general the consensus claiming that neither got the end they deserved and neither acted in a way their respective arcs had been building towards.
When the story writing pen is handed from one to another, there are shifts in character, and the lack of books to guide the TV series made the unstable characterization prominent. The need to wrap things up within two seasons played a considerable part in this. The endpoint of Game of Thrones, with Jon Snow killing Daenerys and Bran sitting on the throne, isn’t problematic in itself, it just hadn’t been sufficiently built towards. With more episodes, Dany’s villainous turn and Bran’s royal rise could’ve been developed gradually and foreshadowed carefully, making the eventual big moments less confusing and contrived.
Season 8 Made Needless Mistakes
Some of the Game of Thrones season 8 problems were not easy to avoid. The number of seasons would’ve been influenced by budget restraints, talent contracts, and non-creative factors. The issue of depleted source material also can’t be laid at the door of Benioff and Weiss. Many have tried to get George R.R. Martin to speed up his writing process, and the more that readers ask the author about the fabled The Winds of Winter, the slower he seems to progress. It would’ve been unrealistic to pause the TV series until Martin released more books, so the decision to move into original content was a necessary, if ultimately detrimental, one.
Some of Game of Thrones season 8 mistakes were avoidable. From a production standpoint, there’s the infamous stray coffee cup. The Battle of Winterfell was so dark, many viewers couldn’t see what was happening. Visual gaffes can be found throughout Game of Thrones, but these seemed more frequent than before, contributing to a general sense of sloppiness compared to past seasons. As for the story and plot, the sequence of events in the Game of Thrones finale feels haphazard and poorly planned. A prime example comes when the audience sees Varys frantically writing letters shortly prior to his death. The scene feels significant but ultimately proves irrelevant.
Major Plot Points Never Paid Off
When modern TV audiences talk about the success or otherwise of a finale, they no longer measure in terms of spectacle, drama, or excitement, but in satisfaction. Long-running series are an investment of time and emotion on the part of an audience, and if that effort isn’t paid off by the ending, the entire journey can feel like a wasted exercise. By this yardstick, Game of Thrones season 8 was certainly a failure, as so many once-important plot points fell by the wayside.
The biggest victim of this was the long-running mystery of Jon Snow’s parentage. Among book readers, the R+L=J theory had been central to the series for years, with Jon’s Targaryen heritage easily the biggest point of discussion at the end of each season. Sadly, Jon being a Targaryen had absolutely no impact on Game of Thrones ending. The heroic crow of Winterfell continued to be denied his birthright, and even after Daenerys was out of the picture, Jon was sent North to live out his days far from King’s Landing — an ending that would’ve played out exactly the same if he really was Ned Stark’s son.
The importance of the Night King and his recurring symbol was swiftly dealt with in a single episode, Bran and the Three-Eyed Raven remained a sizable unknown, many of the series’ prophecies went unfulfilled, the entire Dorne story was abandoned, the mysterious masked Quaith in season 2 wasn’t expanded upon, and the fate of Daenerys’ settlements in Essos remained ambiguous. Game of Thrones ending lost sight of the show’s history for a reactive approach, ticking off what it could and ignoring the rest, and this left a large chunk of the audience feeling like the questions they’d been pondering for 8 seasons had all been for naught.
GOT Season 8 Made Earlier Seasons Worse
The biggest issue with Game of Thrones season 8 is not just that it was a disappointing finale for the beloved series, but that it retroactively ruined previous seasons. The rushed and nonsensical plot destroyed other established storylines such as Jon Snow’s faceoff with the Night King. The Night King proved himself a true threat in the harrowing Hardhome attack and the final moment of he and Jon staring each other down promised an epic showdown to come. Arya’s skills as an assassin made her a logical choice to be the one to kill the Night King but it also made everything with Jon suddenly pointless.
Among the main characters in Game of Thrones season 8, Jon Snow fared the worst. Once the undisputed hero of the series, he ended up aimless. He spent much of the final season watching things happen instead of taking part in them which made Jon’s previous resurrection in Game of Thrones season 6 feel all the more meaningless. The fake out death of who many felt was the main character of the show felt gimmicky at the time, but fans hoped it would at least have a significant impact on Jon’s story going forward. The final season proved what many fans feared; that the show didn’t have a good reason for bringing Jon back.
The arc that was the most painful to see become undone was that of Jamie Lannister. The show pulled off something extraordinary with Jamie who was the most hated character on the show from the first episode. The more that was revealed about him, the more complex he became, seen as a man who made plenty of mistakes but was on a path to save his reputation and prove himself a true knight. The most important step in that journey was finally admitting Cersei was evil and leaving her which he did at the end of season 7. The fact that Game of Thrones season 8 sent him back to her to die suggests they never understood his character.
How House Of The Dragon Sidesteps Thrones S8’s Problems
House of the Dragon seems poised to avoid the issues with Game of Thrones season 8 ending for a few reasons. Unlike its predecessor show, House of the Dragon is based on a book that Martin already finished — 2018’s Fire and Blood. This means that regardless of how long the show ends up running for and how many volumes of Fire and Blood it adapts, the series will never have to invent original material to achieve a complete-feeling ending. This doesn’t mean it won’t take creative liberties, but the fatal flaw of Game of Thrones season 8 making up its own story in lieu of waiting for Martin can be avoided.
Another significant issue with the Game of Thrones finale — the rushed pace, inconsistent travel speeds, and extremely muddy time jumps — won’t be as big an issue with House of the Dragon, since Fire and Blood already accounts for such leaps as part of its story. Because the show follows many generations of Targaryen successors, zeroing in on the Targaryen civil war, it’s inherently broader in scope than Game of Thrones, which means that big story strokes are woven into its fabric from the beginning. This has helped the pacing stay consistent throughout and avoid the Game of Thrones pitfall of cramming too much into the ending.
HotD Is Retroactively Adding Weight To GoT Moments
Some of Game of Thrones’ weird moments have been expounded upon by House of the Dragon, further pulling audiences into the lore and expansive universe that George R.R. Martin has created. House of the Dragon has almost completely reframed its parent series, adding new perspective to crucial parts of Westerosi history such as the Targaryen family, their reign before the events of GoT, and, especially, what the 7 Kingdoms were like when dragons ruled the skies in larger numbers. One way the two series are connected overall is through Aegon’s dream, aka “A Song of Ice and Fire.”
Game of Thrones story is foreshadowed when King Viserys gives Rhaenyra the catspaw dagger that almost killed Bran Stark, and explains she must keep the realm together to face the upcoming threat from the far north, the White Walkers. The catspaw dagger and Aegon’s dream are the thread that holds the series together, creating a solid connection between Game of Thrones and House of the Dragon. Another moment reframed by House of the Dragon is when Jon Snow is spared by Drogon, even after taking Daenerys Targaryen’s life. Game of Thrones scratched the surface with dragon lore and barely touched upon the connection that dragons have with their riders.
House of the Dragon expands upon dragon lore, featuring 16 dragons, with most of them having a rider. Daenerys’ connection to her dragons makes sense in the context of HotD, especially with scenes like Laena Velaryon attempting to force Vhagar to kill her. The prequel series explains dragons are more intelligent and nuanced than they are shown to be in GoT, making Drogon’s mercy towards Jon Snow less nonsensical. Daenerys Targaryen’s heritage is also reframed by House of the Dragon. When she is introduced, her brother’s diatribes about the former glory of their house sound like the murmurings of a madman — but HotD proves how prolific their reign was.
Rhaenyra says that Targaryens are closer to gods than to men, and their control over the dragons proves this bold statement. Viserys’ ramblings in Game of Thrones and his sister’s tenacity to put her family name back on the Iron Throne make much more sense in light of House of the Dragon. The Targaryens had quite a successful time ruling Westeros for many generations, and Daenerys’ eagerness to put the Targaryens back in charge may find more support from audiences upon a rewatch. So, despite Game of Thrones season 8 being a huge disappointment, at least House of the Dragon is making some of those strange moments more digestible.
George RR Martin Had Little Input On Season 8
While the complaints that David Benioff and Dan “D.B.” Weiss had no source material for Game of Thrones season 8, some might wonder why they didn’t talk more to George RR Martin about the upcoming episodes and where the story was heading. Surely, they wanted to keep the ideas from the author in mind when finishing his story on HBO. However, it turns out they didn’t bother as Martin said he was “out of the loop” by the end (via New York Times).
When asked, George RR Martin said he was not involved much past season 5. In the final two seasons, he was completely out of the picture. It also wasn’t by choice, as Martin said if anyone wanted to know why he had no idea, they would “have to ask Dan and David.” This has all changed with House of the Dragon, where Martin has a place at the planning table, reading scripts, sitting in on meetings, and previewing early cuts. If anyone wants to see what the shows would look like with Martin involved, HotD will give them a lot better look than the end of Game of Thrones.