Game of Thrones, the HBO series that took the world by storm, came to an end in May 2019, leaving millions of fans with mixed feelings. The series, which was an adaptation of George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire novels, attracted a hard-core fan base over its eight-season run.
However, the final season was met with intense controversy and backlash from viewers, leading to a heated debate that persists even today. Here, we will examine the reasons behind the controversy and take a closer look at the characters, arcs and creative choices that led to the series’ dramatic conclusion.
The Controversy: A Tale of Shattered Expectations
Game of Thrones was famous for its gore, graphic sex scenes and morally corrupt characters that spanned its Seven Kingdoms. As the series approached its final season, anticipation was at an all-time high, with viewers eagerly awaiting the resolution. However, when the final six episodes finally aired, many fans were left disappointed and frustrated by what they perceived as rushed storytelling and character inconsistencies.
The Night King and the Battle of Winterfell
One of the primary criticisms of the final season was the resolution of the White Walkers storyline. The Night King and his army of undead were a constant, looming threat throughout the series. Their eventual confrontation with the heroes of Westeros was a highly anticipated event. However, the resolution of this conflict during the ‘Battle of Winterfell’ in the third episode of the final season left many fans dissatisfied.
The Night King’s swift demise at the hands of Arya Stark (Maisie Williams) was a shock to many who had expected a more prolonged and complex confrontation. Critics argued that the Night King’s defeat felt too abrupt, rendering the threat he posed throughout the series as somewhat insignificant.
Daenerys Targaryen’s Descent into Madness
Another major point of contention was the transformation of Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke), known affectionately as ‘Dany,’ from a compassionate liberator to a merciless conqueror. Her decision to burn King’s Landing and its innocent civilians to the ground in the penultimate episode, despite the city’s surrender, was a turning point for her character.
Many fans felt that her descent into madness was not adequately developed or foreshadowed, and that the showrunners, David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, rushed her storyline to fit the shortened final season. This led to feelings of anger, as fans had invested years in Dany’s journey, only to see her become a villain seemingly overnight.
The Fate of the Iron Throne and Bran Stark’s Ascension
In the series finale, Bran Stark (Isaac Hempstead-Wright) was elected as the new King of the Six Kingdoms by a council of lords and ladies of Westeros, while Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner) declared the North’s independence. This decision was met with mixed reactions, as Bran, who had become the Three-Eyed Raven, was a relatively passive character throughout the series.
Many fans felt that other characters, such as Jon Snow (Kit Harrington) or Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage), were more deserving of the Iron Throne. Moreover, the destruction of the Iron Throne itself by Drogon, Dany’s last surviving dragon, further fueled the debate about the purpose of the struggle for power in the realm.
The Night King’s Defeat and Arya’s Journey
While the Night King’s defeat in the ‘Battle of Winterfell’ may have seemed sudden, it was a culmination of Arya Stark’s character development throughout the series. Her journey from a young tomboy to a skilled assassin prepared her for this pivotal moment, and her ability to outwit the Night King was consistent with the bad-ass she was.
The Night King’s death represented a victory against the forces of death and darkness, allowing the story to shift its focus back to the political intrigue and power struggles that defined much of Game of Thrones. In this sense, his defeat can be seen as a necessary progression rather than anti-climactic.
Daenerys Targaryen’s Downfall and Rise to Power
Daenerys Targaryen’s transformation into a tyrant and her eventual death at the hands of Jon Snow, were undoubtedly shocking developments. However, if you look closely, it’s evident that the seeds of her downfall were sown throughout the series. Power is often abused, and it’s safe to say her character ultimately chose this path. Sometimes, an unpredictable ending is more powerful than the expected ending.
Dany’s unwavering belief in her right to rule, her willingness to use violence to achieve her goals, and her increasing isolation from her advisors all contributed to her eventual descent into madness. Her actions in King’s Landing were an extreme manifestation of the inherent dangers of absolute power and the corrupting nature of the pursuit of the Iron Throne.
In this context, Daenerys’ tragic ending reflects the downside of power and the moral compromises that can arise when one is consumed by ambition and the desire to rule.
Bran Stark’s Ascension and the New Order in Westeros
Bran Stark’s unexpected rise to the throne may have been met with skepticism, but it symbolizes a significant shift in the political landscape of Westeros. As the Three-Eyed Raven, Bran possesses wisdom and foresight, qualities that are essential for a just and good ruler. His election by the council represents a break from the hereditary rule and violent power struggles that had plagued the realm for centuries.
The new system of governance, with Tyrion Lannister as Hand of the King and a diverse council of advisors, promises a more balanced and collaborative approach to ruling. Also, the North’s independence under Sansa Stark signifies a move towards greater autonomy and self-determination for the regions of Westeros.
Bran’s Role in the Narrative
Throughout the series, Bran’s storyline has been primarily focused on his transformation into the Three-Eyed Raven, a mystical figure with the ability to see past, present, and future events, as well as the power to warg into other living beings.
While this journey provided Bran with unique abilities and insights, it also distanced him from the central conflicts and power struggles that dominated the series. As a result, some viewers felt that Bran’s ascension to the throne was unexpected or unearned, given his peripheral role in the larger narrative.
Perceived Lack of Qualifications for Leadership
Another factor contributing to the controversy surrounding Bran’s kingship is the perception that he lacks the qualifications necessary for effective leadership. Critics argued that his transformation into the Three-Eyed Raven left him emotionally detached and disconnected from the people he’s now meant to govern. Additionally, his lack of political experience and military prowess raised questions about his ability to navigate the world of Westerosi politics and maintain stability in the realm.
However, it’s worth noting that the show presents Bran’s impartiality and wisdom as valuable attributes for a ruler. His unique abilities allowed him to learn from the mistakes of past rulers and make better decisions for the good of the realm. Bran’s selection as king can be seen as a break from the cycle of ambition and conflict that plagued Westeros.
Jaime Lannister’s Redemption and Tragic End
Jaime Lannister’s (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) arc is a prime example of a good redemption story. Once known as the ‘Kingslayer,’ he gradually evolves from a morally dubious character to a more honorable and compassionate man. His relationship with Brienne of Tarth (Gwendoline Christie) played a significant role in this transformation, as it forced him to confront his past actions and reevaluate his values.
However, Jaime’s ultimate return to Cersei, his sister/lover, and their tragic deaths beneath the rubble of the Red Keep, highlight the inescapable pull of his love for her and the choices he made to protect her, even at the cost of his own redemption.
The Fate of Cersei Lannister and the Cycle of Violence
Cersei Lannister’s (Lena Headey) rise and fall as the ruler of the Seven Kingdoms illustrates the cycle of violence and the consequences of ruthless control. Her manipulative nature, driven by a fierce desire to maintain power and protect her family, led to widespread suffering and the eventual collapse of her reign.
Her death, alongside Jaime, beneath the ruins of the Red Keep, symbolizes the futility of her quest for power and the ultimate price that must be paid for a life consumed by vengeance.
Grey Worm’s Loyalty and the Cost of War
Grey Worm’s loyalty to Daenerys and his role in the destruction of King’s Landing revealed the personal cost of war and the impact it has on those who fight in its name. As the commander of the Unsullied, Grey Worm was trained to be a ruthless and efficient soldier, and his devotion to Dany led him to carry out her orders, without question.
However, the death of his lover, Missandei (Nathalie Emmanuel), at the hands of Cersei Lannister, exposed the emotional vulnerability beneath his stoic exterior. This ultimately lead him to pursue vengeance and follow Daenerys down a dark path. His departure from Westeros at the end of the series signifies his search for peace and a chance to heal from the wounds of war.
Brienne of Tarth’s Legacy and the Role of Women in Westeros
Brienne of Tarth’s journey from an outcast to a respected knight and eventual member of the King’s council, was a fan favorite. Her story represented the evolving role of women in Westeros, as she defied societal norms and proved her worth in a male-dominated world. Her final act of recording Jaime Lannister’s deeds in the White Book was her way of preserving history and honoring Jaime for the sacrifices he made to fight for a better future. It proved her loyalty toward him as well.
Jon Snow’s Arc in the Game of Thrones Ending
Jon’s journey throughout the show was marked by a constant struggle to find his place in the world and to balance his personal desires with the responsibilities thrust upon him. In the final season, Jon’s true identity as Aegon Targaryen, the legitimate heir to the Iron Throne, is revealed. This revelation challenged his sense of self and forced him to confront the weight of expectations that came with his newfound lineage.
Despite the implications of his claim to the throne, Jon remained steadfast in his loyalty to Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke), whom he had come to love and support as the rightful queen. Jon’s decision to prioritize his duty and allegiance to Daenerys over his own claim to the throne demonstrated his selflessness and commitment to the greater good.
The Tragic Decision to Kill Daenerys Targaryen
In the final episodes, Jon is faced with the devastating consequences of Daenerys’ actions as she lays waste to King’s Landing and kills countless innocent civilians. This event forces Jon to reevaluate his loyalty to Daenerys and confront the harsh reality that she may not be the benevolent ruler he had once believed her to be.
In a heartbreaking decision, Jon ultimately chooses to kill Daenerys in order to protect the realm from her increasingly tyrannical rule. This choice, which goes against his personal desires and love for Daenerys, further emphasizes the call of duty and sacrifice that defined Jon’s character throughout the series.
Jon’s Exile and Return to the North
After Daenerys’ death, Jon is sentenced to exile as a member of the Night’s Watch as a compromise to maintain peace between the various factions in Westeros. This resolution, while bittersweet, highlights the sacrifice Jon must make.
In the series’ final moments, Jon is seen leading the Free Folk beyond the Wall, finally finding a sense of belonging and purpose among the people he had once fought alongside. This ending not only provides a sense of closure for Jon’s character but it’s also a tribute to his journey. It didn’t seem like the humble Jon Snow wanted to rule anyway, so we found it a fitting and believable ending.
A Rushed Ending
The ending of Game of Thrones has been criticized by many as feeling rushed, with some viewers believing that the final season did not allow for adequate development of certain storylines. Several factors may have contributed to this, including the pacing of the final season, narrative decisions made by the writers and viewer expectations.
One key factor that contributed to the sense that the ending was rushed is the pacing of the final season. With only six episodes, the final season was shorter than the previous seasons, which typically consisted of ten episodes each. This reduction in the number of episodes meant that the showrunners had to condense the remaining storylines and bring the series to a conclusion within a limited timeframe.
This constraint on the number of episodes may have led to the perception that the storylines were rushed or underdeveloped, as certain events unfolded at a faster pace than viewers were accustomed to.
Narrative Decisions and Character Development
As the series progressed, the show had to diverge from the source material, George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire novels, due to the incomplete status of the book series. This divergence required the showrunners to make creative choices in order to bring the story to a close.
Finally, the perception of a rushed Game of Thrones ending may be attributed, in part, to the expectations of the viewers themselves. With a series as popular and widely-discussed as Game of Thrones, anticipation for the conclusion was immense. As a result, many viewers may have had preconceived notions about how the story should end.
Embracing the Unpredictability of Game of Thrones
In the end, Game of Thrones was never a story that conformed to predictable outcomes. While the final season and series finale may not have met everyone’s expectations, we can hopefully gain a deeper appreciation for it.
With the upcoming release of the next novel, The Winds of Winter, fans are eager to see how Martin’s vision of the story will compare to the television adaptation. The projected release date is 2024.
Additionally, fans eagerly awaited the prequel series, House of the Dragon, which debuted on HBO Max in August of 2022, with 10 million viewers tuning in for the first episode. It currently has a critic score of 93% on Rotten Tomatoes.
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