While the seventh season of Game of Thrones was riddled with logical and consistency issues, it was in its eighth and final season that the show completely fell apart. The downfall of the show nearly coincided with it moving beyond George RR Martin’s book series, A Song of Ice and Fire — its source material.
The conclusion is obvious. The writers did a fabulous job with scripting when they could use George’s books, but when they ran out of them, and had to write their own stuff (using broader plot points provided by George), they seemed to wilt and delivered a hasty, badly written, undercooked ending.
And for a show like this, which was specifically noted for its excellent writing despite the huge cast and the breadth of its world, this has been nothing short of embarrassing.
Also, it is not as if the end result, the final outcome of the two major conflicts in the show (the war against the Army of the Dead and the struggle for the Iron Throne) was that unconvincing. It would have made sense had it felt earned.
For example, Ned Stark’s death, from where this whole shebang and the show’s reputation of unexpectedly killing off major characters began, shocked many of its fans. But his beheading on Joffrey’s orders was almost a logical conclusion of his actions in the politics of a medieval-Europe inspired world.
Ned, a good man though he was, had made many block-headed decisions.
Here are just a few: his refusal to take Renly’s suggestion of taking Cersei and her children into custody, trusting Littlefinger after the man himself warned him not to, telling Cersei, who he knew to be absolutely ruthless towards her enemies, what he exactly plans to do about her incestuous relationship with her twin Jaime. And so forth.
Thus, when the royal executioner Ilyn Payne brought Ned’s own Valyrian sword Ice down on his neck, and his headless body fell to the ground (sorry for the imagery), there was a lot of shock among the fans.
But it also made sense when the hoopla died down. That is all this story has been telling us. When you play the game of thrones, to paraphrase Cersei Lannister, goodness and honour are luxuries you cannot afford.
In post-season 7 Game of Thrones, though, SHOCKING things happened just because they had shock value. They bore no connection to anything else that had happened before them. There was hardly any organic, believable storytelling leading up to those moments. And thus, there was no heft in them. They felt shallow. This narrative disconnection was one of the most vexing things about the show towards the end.
The actors had to do all the heavy-lifting in the final season of the show, to make implausible stuff somehow seem coherent and they did their best. The acting was genuinely good. But it was not enough, not nearly.
The show was also hurt by the shrinking of the world. Game of Thrones’ world felt so immersive and compelling because it was painstakingly detailed. It had its own religions, cultures, races (mythical or otherwise), dozens of noble houses with their own sigils and words, and so on.
Essos, an entire continent, ceased to matter after Daenerys crossed the Narrow Sea to get to Westeros. Even worse, I believe, was the complete eradication of the Dornish story.
The showrunners eliminated not just characters but entire storylines that should have mattered. And strangely, this made the show’s plotting only more muddled. You would think they would be able to tell a more focused story with fewer characters.
What the show would have looked like if George RR Martin finished the books before the TV series could catch up to it will always be one of the biggest what-ifs in television.