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‘Game of Thrones’ Ends on a Wing and a Prayer
May 18, 2019  | By Alex Strachan  | 2 comments

If there’s one thing we’ve learned about popular TV, it’s that great expectations don’t always lead to grand results.

Even before Game of Thrones neared its final appointment with destiny this weekend, it was clear this eighth and final season has proved to be less than hoped for, where the majority of the show’s rabid fan base is concerned.

And that’s even without taking into consideration the kind of hype that, just six short weeks ago, any reasonable person — i.e., adult — knew would be impossible to live up to.

A series-low Rotten Tomatoes approval rating of 57% for last weekend’s second-last episode The Bells — fine for US presidential approval ratings, but not so good for a popular TV program more used to approval ratings in the 91% range or higher for every other season Game of Thrones has been slayin’ them on HBO — seemed to be the low point of the week. Incredibly, though, that low point dropped even lower later in the week with word that more than 500,000 disgruntled fans had signed a petition at change.org demanding that HBO redo the season, with different scripts and, more importantly, different writers.

Even in a fast-evolving TV landscape where it’s now possible for viewers to choose their own ending — see Netflix’s Bandersnatch episode of Black Mirror, for example — demanding that an entire season be remade, with new writers no less, is taking things to a whole other level.

Disappointed viewers have taken umbrage with Game of Thrones’ narrative structure, the writers playing fast-and-loose with the generally accepted rules of life and death in popular storytelling, and the fate of beloved characters. The show’s original tagline, “Winter is Coming,” first unveiled in April 2011, was always going to be realized at some point. Few, though, could have predicted that after all the fire-breathing dragons, the doomed romances, political infighting, and warring clans, this final season would get such a chilly reception — winter or not.

You don’t have to be a seer to realize that Sunday’s series finale, as yet unnamed, is more dreaded than anticipated, and not for the sentimental reasons one usually associates with the end of a much-beloved story with characters we’ve come to know and love.

Just two episodes ago, the biggest scandal was that Starbucks coffee cup that somehow made it through to the final on-air version. (I still think that, despite HBO’s heated denials and actor Emilia Clarke’s apparent admission that it was her fault, it was deliberate if subliminal product placement.)

Now the bigger scandal seems to be that, without novelist George R.R. Martin’s source material to fall back on — he’s still writing the books — writer-producers David Benioff and D.B. Weiss have stumbled at the story’s most critical juncture. Martin’s next novel, The Winds of Winter is still a work-in-progress, so the TV series has a different ending. As reviewer Michael Deacon wrote in London, UK’s Daily Telegraph, “Sorry. But no. I just didn’t buy that. Any of it.”

Other reactions have been just as caustic. Game of Thrones “deserves a final season . . . that makes sense,” one angry fan posted on change.org. The final season “seems rushed,” another signatory posted. It has “totally disrespected the author,” threw eight years of good work “under the bus,” and “demolished everything that was built throughout the series . . . a result of rushed storytelling, poor character development, and overall lack of care.”

Rotten Tomatoes has reported that, no matter how high Game of Thrones’ series finale scores in the approval ratings — if it scores at all — it won’t be enough mathematically to save this season from being the lowest-scoring season of the entire series.

That said, there’s still reason to watch if only to see if the show’s scribes can yet save their tale from eternal ignominy. The only thing known about the series finale, other than a brief, deliberately uninformative 30-second teaser on Game of Thrones’ official HBO YouTube channel, is that it will clock in at an hour and 20 minutes.

Endings are hard, but as The Big Bang Theory — and before that, The Americans — proved, it can be done.  For every Dexter, there’s a Shield.

The die may be cast — literally — for Game of Thrones, but there’s still room for an ending that will uplift rather than mortify believers who lived through "Fire and Blood" (Season 1), "Blackwater" (Season 2), "The Rains of Castamere" (Season 3), "Breaker of Chains" (Season 4), "The Dance of Dragons" (Season 5), "Battle of the Bastards" (Season 6) and "Beyond the Wall" (Season 7).

And for those real-world parents who named their newborn children Daenerys and now regret it — yes, that’s actually a thing; that actually happened — all is not lost. Yet.

As Big Bang actor Jim Parsons said this past week on Stephen Colbert’s Late Show, of The Big Bang Theory’s series finale, the writers can’t get it wrong because they’ve been writing it all this time, and they can’t get it right because it’s a series finale. Someone’s going to hate it.

“A good story isn’t a good story if you have a bad ending,” Benioff admitted to Entertainment Weekly. “Of course we worry.”

Believers and doubters alike will find out Sunday if there was a reason.

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Apr 30, 2022   |  Reply
Unfortunately, yes, the ending was bad. Most of the strong female characters were reduced to stereotypes, and it was so slow and kind of boring. I watched it, but I'm not happy about it. Too bad, because I enjoyed most of the series until part way through last season and this final season.
May 20, 2019   |  Reply
Alex S.
Interesting. Because, yes, if I was to pick an exact point at which the series went, erm, south, I'd say it was at the midpoint of last season. Perhaps that point at which the original source material ran dry? I suppose one way to look at the disappointing finale is that it can't help but boost interest in the book, when George RR Martin finally gets it out there.
May 20, 2019
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