Spoiler alert: If you haven't seen the end of Game of Thrones and still plan to watch it at some point, read no further.
If you have been a fan of Game of Thrones, chances are that like me, you are still reeling from the ending a couple of weeks ago. I use the word ‘ending’ generously, in the way that in the movie "Flight" one might call turning the plane upside down and then right-side up again just before crashing into a field a ‘landing.’ Put simply, it was an epic mess.
What made it even more bitter for me personally was that like many people, my wife and I spent the previous 2 months re-watching almost every episode from seasons 1-7 again before season 8 came out. After putting that much work into regrounding ourselves so we could be ready for whatever symbolism and prior references the final season might have up its sleeve, the way it ended was a nightmare. Not only did it fail to answer numerous questions it had posed along the way, but it also had numerous characters do things that were totally out of character in service of wrapping up the plot.
The thing is, it was only the last two episodes where everything really fell apart. While there were elements going back to season 7 that started to challenge my suspension of disbelief (Bron shooting Drogon out of the sky on just his second shot ever from a giant crossbow comes to mind), I really think if things been done differently in the just those episodes it could have come in for a shaky but still satisfying conclusion. The way Arya took out the Night King was excellent, and the preparation for marching on King’s Landing in the next episode was kind of boring but still okay. So what went so wrong at the very last?
The Three Scenes that Doomed the Ending of GoT
1. The inexplicable inattention into detail regarding the transition Daenerys from beloved savior to worse-than-Cersei sociopath.
I get that there were plenty of signs that, if left to her own devices, Daenerys had a dark side that popped up whenever she was presented with even modest challenges to her rule. She had always been dependent on the advice she got from her confidants like Ser Jorah and Melisandre to keep her from defaulting to those tendencies, particularly in moments of stress.
However, there still needed to be something more to make her abandonment of the principles she had espoused for so long believable when she decides to raze King's Landing and kill a couple hundred thousand innocent people. To suddenly cut away from the close point of view we’d experienced with her up until then and only show distant shots of her riding Drogon as he burns everything in sight without providing any explanation as to her mental state at that moment was baffling. It was particularly noticeable because of the great care the show normally took to make sure every plot twist and turn along the way was presented in a way that made sense to the audience, even if it wasn’t what we expected or wanted.
2. When Jon kills Daenerys in the throne room.
It was cool that this scene showed how Daenerys' vision of snow/ash falling on a destroyed throne room back in Qarth in season 2 came had come to fruition, but with an unexpectedly dark twist. And the way Drogon gently picked up her body and flew away to who knows where was touching as well.
What didn’t work was everything in between. For Daenerys to go down with a whimper the way she did was a total letdown, again because the show didn’t better depict her state of mind. She’d clearly gone nuts, but she wasn't stupid and by then was also quite paranoid and feeling like she couldn't trust anyone. She would have known Jon would be horrified at what she did and have taken steps to have some guards close at hand. If they’d done a better job of showing her desperation to have someone, anyone, be there for her, be someone she could trust, such that it would cause her to drop her guard and allow Jon to get that close to her it would have made things much more believable.
Then, having Drogon torch the throne either because his mommy died by being stabbed by one of the sharp things on it (dumb Drogon theory), or because he recognizes his mommy’s desire for the throne was indirectly what led to her death (smart Drogon theory), it didn’t work no matter which way you look at it. Given that Tyrion had mentioned in a much earlier episode how smart dragons were supposed to be, I think it was pretty clear they showrunners were opting for the second explanation.
Problem is, they never did anything else in the entire show before that demonstrated the dragons possessing that level of intelligence. Even just one example at an earlier point would have made his melting the throne believable because we'd know he could understand metaphorically what it represents. But the way they sprung it on us with nothing more than a one-time expository comment from Tyrion many episodes earlier wasn’t nearly enough. It's a good example of the age-old writer’s axiom "show don’t tell."
3. The scene in which Bran is elected by the remaining lords and ladies to be the next ruler of the Iron Throne.
Over the past two seasons, poor Peter Dinklage has been forced to apply his acting gravitas to try and mask Tyrion’s increasingly idiotic thought processes as best he can. However, no actor alive or dead could have sold the impossibly stupid idea his character comes up with in the finale that the ruler of the seven, er, six kingdoms should be based on how "interesting" (whatever that means) one’s life story is.
This is about the most idiotic rationale for choosing a ruler imaginable, even in a world modeled after the latter part of the middle ages. The only part that made any sense is that it was the dumbest idea yet to come from a once clever and compelling character whose arc for the past few seasons has been reduced to trying to convince other characters to continue to accept his increasingly bad advice. A wartime consigliere you are not, Tyrion.
Then, using the rationale of having an interesting story as justification for quality leadership, Tyrion recommends Bran as the one who should sit on the Iron Throne, (er, Slagheap). I mean, come on. Pretty much every other character in that scene⸺Arya, Sansa, Brienne, Ser Davos, Greyworm, Jon Snow (although he wasn’t in the scene directly), and Tyrion himself⸺all have far more interesting stories by any stretch of the imagination. Bran’s character (and this is a criticism of the books too) only seems to exist in order to serve as a deus ex machina contrivance for dribbling out interesting bits of backstory whenever it became narratively convenient to do so. Outside of that Bran the Bland served no purpose and was the least interesting character in the whole story.
Then, to drop a neutron bomb of stupid on top of an awful idea followed by an utter failure to apply that idea correctly, all the other assembled lords and ladies, some of whom have most likely never heard of Bran let alone met him, shrug their shoulders and say "Yeah, sure, he’ll do." For a show in which people can hardly get through breakfast without having a swordfight over some minor transgression, for there not to be one iota of discussion let alone enraged screaming about what a stupid idea that is was inexcusable. Thus, in about five minutes this scene took one of the two big questions that served as the backbone of the plot for the entire series (along with whether humanity would survive the White Walkers) and turned the answer into dragonfire ash.
What makes the whole debacle even more painful is HBO supposedly would have been willing to pay for more episodes if the showrunners had wanted them. Maybe someday someone will do a proper postmortem interview with the showrunners to figure out why they decided six episodes was enough, along with the dozens of other things that went horribly wrong at the end. It’sa shame because up until the last few episodes the show was an amazing translation of George R.R. Martin’s books to the small screen. But it’s a good example of the difference between original screenplays and adapted screenplays. The showrunners did a magnificent job bringing Mr. Martin’s books to life, but when they had to take the story baton and run with it on their own, they dropped it right as they crossed the finish line.
What SHOULD have happened
Here’s my alternate ending which I think would have salvaged the end of the series just by changing up the scenes above as well as a couple more:
What do you think? Regardless, it's interesting to consider how just a few well-placed changes could have radically changed the outcome.
Oh yeah, two more improvements:
Science fiction writer