I keep asking myself: what happened with the biggest and arguably one of the best TV shows, all of a sudden? HBO’s Game of Thrones’ final two seasons made as much narrative sense as some of the show-inspired fan fiction doing the rounds on the internet. Possibly even less than them.
That it outpaced its source material — George RR Martin’s fantasy book series A Song of Ice and Fire — is, I think, mainly the reason. Since the writers attached to the show had the endpoint mapped out and were told some of the big plot points by George RR Martin, they filled out their own matter in the blanks.
This led to the last few episodes being radically different and shallow compared to what the author had intended.
First, the positives. The show remained visually gorgeous with some of the best fantasy imagery seen on screen and got even better thanks to bigger budgets. The production value of Game of Thrones has always been dizzyingly high, and in the final few seasons, there were quite a few set pieces that would not have looked out of place in a summer blockbuster backed by a big studio. The acting was great as always. The younger actors like Sophie Turner and Kit Harington became better over the years.
But despite all that eye-candy and bells and whistles, the story from season 7 onwards felt hollow because of awfully daft writing and characterisation that was in cases polar opposite to what the characters had been until that point.
After all, Game of Thrones did not become such a huge phenomenon just because of all that sheen of a super-expensive production. It built up such a ginormous fan base because of the intricately detailed characters and story and a fleshed-out fictional world with its own set of rules, cultures, religions, races, myths and even seasons that worked differently than ours.
Before this decline, there was a nice balance between the character and plot of the show. While the plot was moving at a comfortable pace, the character development was also organic and it did not feel like exigencies of the plot was dragging the characters, kicking and screaming, to the point where it wanted them to end up — like it happened in the last couple of seasons.
David Benioff and DB Weiss, the showrunners, have been accused by some fans of hasting up the series because they have another giant project in their hands: a Star Wars trilogy. This cannot be confirmed, but it certainly seemed they were in a hurry. The characters were forced to do things that were totally out-of-character for them. The writers did not seem interested in what happened between those big moments — what made this world immersive and believable despite dragons and zombies. It was the small moments that did half the work in making this show an addiction for millions of viewers.
Jaime confessing the truth about his ‘Kingslayer’ moment to Brienne, the Hound being contemptuous of everything and everyone under the sun, Tyrion playing the game of thrones as a temporary Hand in King’s Landing, Varys’ riddle to Tyrion about power, Ned’s lesson to Bran about punishment, Tyrion educating Jon about wearing insults like armour — these are just a few of those moments that I can immediately recall.
There were hardly any such memorable scenes or lines in the show after it overtook the books. The showrunners were hurtling towards the ending and for that to happen, the story was filled with plot contrivances and questionable character motivations.
As I expected, the finale was so-so. Those 80-odd minutes put an end to all hopes the fans had about it somehow redeeming the dozen episodes that came before. All the reveals the makers had no doubt intended to affect the audience felt indifferent.
There is a petition signed by a million people (at the time of writing) asking HBO to fire Benioff and Weiss and hire “competent writers” to remake the final season.
I think that’s vacuous — they are basically asking the network to spend millions of dollars and rehire all actors to fulfil the expectations of entitled fanboys (Can I petition them to rewrite some episodes of my life in which the plot and character development was pretty lame?)
But it does speak volumes about the epic downfall the show has had.
All that being said, I am going to remember Game of Thrones for all the radical and previously thought-to-be undoable things it did to the medium (George RR Martin himself thought his story was unfilmable) and to the art of storytelling. Before it went bad, it was one show that brought almost the entire TV viewing population of the world together — almost everybody watched the show and those who did not were driven to watch it to find out the cause of brouhaha — on Monday mornings (or Sunday evenings, depending on your location) to enjoy that one story together.