As Game of Thrones comes to an end, it’s difficult to not acknowledge the elephant in the room: the show is not as good as it once was. But, why? You could argue the biggest flaws came when the showrunners ran out of the source material, but I would actually say that some of the best episodes and moments were served up after that (The Winds of Winter and the Battle of the Bastards being the shining examples). Ever since season 7, I’ve felt the show has been extremely rushed, to the point of defying logic. I could forgive it, seeing as it was mostly rushing through characters traveling from one place to another, which seemed in some cases necessary to move the plot forward. However, a strange new pacing has risen in this final season that has left me mostly unable to explain. Having only two episodes left, I feel in some cases that we’ve barely seen anything happen of substance. But then I remember, that we have, just not the way the show used to present once. In “The Last of the Starks”, we have almost an entire slow-paced hour where barely anything happens. That’s okay, I get it: it’s necessary character development before we get to the end. But the problems arise once we get to the final stretch of the episode. Seemingly out of nowhere, a dragon dies, which barely strikes any impact in the show’s context, shockingly, to any character, not even Dany, and in effect, the audience. It was only a handful of episodes ago that the Night King took one dragon out, which was a memorable moment and a heartbreaking one too.
Euron and his fleet killing a dragon means they are a much bigger threat than once thought by Daenerys and company, and represents a shift in the power dynamics of the show. Cersei killing Missandei is once again proof that she is willing to play dirty. Jon’s struggle with the truth of his parentage is necessary to his character. Dany becoming “mad” just like her father once did is both ironic and symbolic, a threat that had been once unimaginable for such a character, thus making Sansa’s motivations for not liking her justifiable.
All previous ideas work on paper. Most of them have had groundwork set up from previous seasons. Then why don’t they feel earned? This season, all of these choices and moments have been so rushed and lazily written that they almost flash by before you realize they’re actually going on.
Subverting expectations was always a big element of both the books and show, and some argue that defeating the dead mere hours after their arrival to Winterfell with no casualties is, by itself, changing our predictions going into the war. However, it immediately throws out the window many others. Why has Jon always been set up as the one to end the Long Night? If he wasn’t, then why was he resuscitated by the Lord of Light? Watching the show again, why were the white walkers so hyped up then? It seems almost anti-climatic, that after so much set-up it would end in a sudden snap with no mention or questioning by the characters the day after. It doesn’t fit anymore. We had a complete episode before “The Long Night” about characters preparing to go to battle, waiting for their demise, and to see little to no consequences in what is supposed to be the biggest threat in the show is so ridiculous that it’s almost like watching fan fiction. It’s plot armor at its worst, the type that we’re used to seeing in big blockbusters but seems out of place and almost disrespectful in a world created by George R.R. Martin. In effect, watching the last episode of Game of Thrones felt like watching any other type of big-budget content available either on the big screen or small, losing the special feeling I once had watching the fantasy series in its epic glory.
To me, while these episodes can still be redeemed, it will be hard. For instance, Daenerys, a fan-favorite that we’ve seen get to this place since the first season, we’re being told, is no longer suitable for the throne. The writers have hammered so much into it that the idea of her sitting in the throne now seems unrealistic and wouldn’t fit with her uncharacteristic behavior this season, but if she just ends up going mad in the end, ending with her demise, it would also be an embarrassingly rushed plot point and borderline absurd. Jon Snow, on the other hand, is a morally perfect person that is clearly favored by the writers but never seems to reach the heights of other characters surrounding him. Him ending on the Iron Throne would be painfully predictable and frankly, almost treasonous to what the show has been about.
I’m still hoping that there’s something more. That David Benioff and D.B. Weiss purposely crafted this season in a way that we would feel like this up until this point only to turn everything on its head by the time the end comes. While unlikely, given the disappointment that has come in the last few episodes, there’s still room for an incredible payoff that we know they can deliver, because they have before. Let’s just hope it doesn’t require bending logic this time.