Game of Thrones has been a colossus in TV, perhaps the most globally popular TV show of all time, it lasted for 8 seasons and 73 episodes in total. IMDB ratings for the show have always been through the roof, that is until Season 7, when they started to drop — a trend that carried into Season 8, where ratings were hitting an all-time low for the series (to be clear, not TV ratings, but quality ratings from fans). Surely that’s not what HBO, George R.R. Martin, or anyone really wanted to see?
So Why The Bad Reception?
The things with Thrones is that you have really two camps of opinions, show people and books people. I’m sure you are aware that Game of Thrones is based on the A Song of Ice and Fire novels from author George R.R. Martin, and I’m sure you are already aware that the show passed by the books somewhere around Season 5. For many of the book fans, the show started to move off in a difficult direction around the time of Season 5 for this very reason. Martin is a great writer, and when showrunners Benioff and Weiss had to push on their own, it would be fair to say that had to make changes.
However, fans of the show were generally still very happy with the adaptation and new material up to around the end of Season 6, the last full 10 episode Season of the show. It was announced that Season 7 would only be 7 episodes long and that Season 8 would only be 6. We aware assured that especially for Season 8, many of these episodes would be feature length to account for the lack of episodes. Yet, despite these longer episodes, fans of the show started being less enthused with the show around this time.
Prior to Season 7, Game of Thrones had been a very slow-paced show, with very specific arcs going across full seasons and they had a familiar pattern. The 9th episode would normally be the big finale of that season arc and then the 10th episode would show us where we were going next. They never felt rushed. Instead we had plenty of quiet moments of character building, just simple conversations between characters which both developed their own arcs and drove the plot in new directions based on the decisions characters made. The show was ultimately praised and loved for its character development and some of the best arcs we have seen on TV since Breaking Bad.
For many fans the problem that began in Season 7 was that the show started to move along too quickly, the small character moments were still there, but less prominent and were replaced by spectacle and action as the budget for each episode increased every year. In Season 7, we can see this best demonstrated in the episode “Beyond the Wall”, where some of our main characters are sent beyond the wall in a fairly idiotic mission to capture a dead Wight, to prove to Cersei Lannister that the dead were real and try and call a halt to the war. Whilst this episode had some really exciting moments for fans to watch, it also left logic and character by the wayside to achieve its spectacle. Tyrion Lannister seemed like an idiot for the first time, by trusting his sister, who suddenly started to feel like a mustache-twirling villain, instead of a complex character.
Then we have the teleportation devices that had Gendry running a world record marathon and Dany turning her dragons into SR-71 Blackbirds, and even they couldn’t keep up with the speed of the Ravens. But, as fans, we sort of forgave it for a taking a few liberties to move that portion of the plot along, to begin with at least. Looking at Season 7 overall though, you just got the feeling that the biggest problem with Season 7 was the cut from 10 to 7 episodes. With the extra time, we could have done away with the teleportation and we might also have had a bit more time to explore what happened in Dorne after Cersei killed Ellaria Sand and her children. In fact, the complete disregard for anything that happened in Dorne was also one of the main gripes books fans had of this adaptation overall. And then we have the fact that Euron Greyjoy is not given a lot of screen time before suddenly being thrust into the limelight. Book fans absolutely hated Euron in the show, because in the books he’s like a mad pirate-wizard who may have some connection with the Others…That’s the White Walkers for show only fans.
We can actually see the results of concentrating only on the main characters in the last two seasons very clearly in the scene from the final episode where they choose Bran as King. Do you know who any of those nameless Lords were who were in attendance at this meeting, I don’t. We can certainly assume that the one who looks like he’s from Dorne is actually the new Prince of Dorne who was mentioned. But we don’t know that for sure because they never took the time to explain how events were affecting anyone outside the main characters.
Season 8 – Things Get Worse
Now we get into Season 8 of the show, which had one less episode than Season 7, and for me and many fans, things just went from a mild niggle to a full-blown disaster in terms of plot, vs character and pacing. If we consider where all the characters were, and where the plot was at the end of Season 7, and then imagine that six episodes later we have finished the series with Daenerys being killed by Jon, Bran being the King and the threat of the dead all taken care of, it’s in my opinion impossible to argue that this season was overly rushed.
Let’s look at a few examples of cuts and switches that happened in this final season and yet would never have happened previously.
Every time a character other than Jon himself is told about Jon’s heritage, the shot cuts away to another scene and we are left to assume what everyone’s reaction would be. This had probably the biggest impact in the scene between all the Stark’s, we are about to see Sansa and Arya’s reactions to the news that Jon is actually their cousin and not their brother and they just cut away.
Later in the same episode, we get Sansa about to deliver the news to Tyrion, but do we get to see his reaction at all, no we do not. Not only that, but there were many other brilliant conversations which could have been written into that final season. Varys for one does nothing but stand around a look at people for the first three episodes of Season8, then in episode 4, he starts to have doubts about Daenerys. One of the big complaints from fans is that whilst the seeds were always there for Dany’s turn to tyrant, they were never tended and allowed to grow. Instead, they were industrially manufactured like an assembly line of plot points and that’s NOT Game of Thrones.
When you look at the end of the show, Bran is made King, and whilst I can see an argument for why Bran would make a good King based on what we think he can do, we really have not seen any of that. So far, Bran’s achievements are as follows: he fingers Littlefinger, he tells Jon who he really is, and he baits the Night King, and that’s it. Considering Bran’s development into the Three-Eyed Raven was one of the central arcs of the whole show, this character has been left to sit and stare at people since he came back through the wall.
How has Bran shown how useful his gift is, did he give any advice to anyone specifically, or warn anyone against an action? Well, no, he didn’t and the best example of this simply not being written for time reasons is in Season 8. In the second episode Tyrion appears before Bran and asks him to tell him his story, but again, they cut away from this and we do not get to witness that conversation, and again, are left to assume what they spoke of. Frankly, that conversation could have been an entire episode itself as Bran talks Tyrion through some of the history of Westeros, the Children, the dead, Aegon’s conquest etc, it would have been brilliant.
However, again and again and again the writers and showrunners Benioff and Weiss decided to cut all this and just get to the main beats in as shocking and quick a way as possible. Can anyone imagine The Hound and Arya leaving for Winterfell in one episode and arriving at King’s Landing the next if this was Season 2? It took them several seasons to get anywhere in previous years and the conversations they can have, at the end of their arcs are just robbed from us as the audience.
Now, it’s not just time, lack of episodes and a desire to get to the end quickly that are the problems. We have the magically multiplying Dothraki and Unsullied to contend with, ballistic arrows with the accuracy of William Tell on a good day and some very, very questionable military tactics.
If you don’t know what any of this means, just check a few online videos showing how the Dothraki and Unsullied simply multiply and divide asexually depending on how cool the shot is they want, or how many of them are required by the plot, or how the Scorpions are only accurate and deadly when the plot requires them to be…well, just re-watch the episodes. As for the horrible military tactics, just listen to anyone who knows their old military history and they can point out everything wrong with the set up against the dead in the battle of Winterfell.
But I must stress, that most of these issues would be forgiven by most fans if we had had the character development that the show became famous for. So why did Benioff and Weiss decide that 73 hours was the maximum they were going to spend in Westeros?
Star Wars Destroyed The Iron Throne
I am sure that reading LRM Online you are well aware that Benioff and Weiss are currently developing a Star Wars trilogy, and that the first of these movies is already set for December 2022. I find it hard to believe that this wasn’t a factor in negotiations between the pairing known online as simply D&D. We have been told that both HBO execs and George Martin himself wanted more season for the show. They offered D&D funding for up to 10 seasons if necessary and yet it was they who decided that they would commit only to two more seasons of shorter episode length. Perhaps some fans hoped that was because there simply wasn’t enough story left to tell, but as you can see from rest of this article that really isn’t the case at all.
This is just my personal guess, but I think they were so keen to get on board as big-time movie producers on a Star Wars trilogy that they were willing to get rid of Thrones as quick as they could. The evidence is there in Season 8 and even further back as well, when they simply chose not to write complicated dialogue scenes and instead went for tcutawayway to more action nonsense in a way that only 90s action movies can match.
I’ve used this example in a previous article, but I’m going to talk about something Alfred Hitchcock said back in the day about the difference between suspense and surprise on film. Hitchcock describes a scene where your lead characters are sitting at a desk and having a chat, suddenly a bomb goes off under the desk and kills them both, surprising for the audience, yes. However, as Hitchcock described, if you instead show the audience that the bomb is under the desk and despite the two characters not knowing, the audience does, instead of surprise you’ve built suspense and for an viewing audience, suspense is infinitely more entertaining than surprise. Game of Thrones had also been suspenseful and in latter seasons they traded all that for cheap surprises.
Is it that Benioff and Weiss were actually never truly capable of writing these characters anywhere near as well as George Martin? Possibly, but actually, when you look through some of Season 5 and 6, you notice some really nice character moments that were not yet covered in Martin’s books. And let’s remember that Benioff and Weiss are the showrunners, so they don’t write every episode, they guide the writers along with where they want things to go.
So, can anyone think of a plausible other reason why the writing, plot and character development took such a nose dive across the last two seasons other than Benioff and Weiss wanting done with the show as soon as possible? I can’t, and if they wanted done with the most successful and talked about TV show on the planet, one must assume it’s because they knew something better was coming along. And I guess when it comes to prestige and financial success Star Wars would count as something bigger. As a huge Star Wars fan myself that’s been disappointed recently, I must say I enjoyed Game of Thrones more, and personally would rather have seen the time taken to end this show in the best way possible over a good set of Star Wars movies.
Honestly, speaking with a lot of friends and fellow fans of the show, it’s hard to argue that Game of Thrones should have actually been around 90 hours all in. A full 10 episode Season 7, to iron out some of the niggles, a full 10 episode Season 8 to build up to the fight against the dead and a full Season 9 to flesh out the plot of the Iron Throne. I can think of whole episodes worth of content that could have been written and filmed which would have more naturally led the plot towards the same ending that we had, roughly speaking.
Like many fans I wasn’t disappointed by how Game of Thrones ended, I was disappointed at how shoddy a job the show did with reaching that ending in a satisfying manner. I suppose all we can hope for now is that Benioff and Weiss’ Star Wars trilogy will be good and erase the bad taste the the ending of Game of Thrones has left in many fans mouths, because I feel like we traded off one for the other at this point.
What did you make of the last few seasons of Game of Thrones and why do you think the quality dropped so hard recently on the show? Leave your thoughts in the usual place below, I am sure I could have detailed many, many more examples in this article, so let’s chat about it.
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