Game of Thrones Retrospective: A Year Later

Game of Thrones burning

Game of Thrones ended a year ago and it’s remarkable how disappointing the finale still is. How the mighty have fallen and the show that had once dominated our cultural landscape has now become a cautionary tale about long-running projects not sticking the landing.

Re-watching the finale now brings back even more negative emotions because we no longer have the shock of the initial viewing. As I re-read my review of the episode, I confirmed that I still have the same problems with the show’s last chapter but I also noticed that was still relatively generous in that review, probably because the true egregiousness of the episode had not yet sunk in. But after having a year to stew in bitterness and disappointment, re-watching the episode is an acutely painful experience.

Game of Thrones The Bells 3Interestingly, many parallels may be drawn between the Game of Thrones finale and the ensuing backlash it endured. There are so many meta layers to it now that the dust has settled and we’ve had a year to process what really went down.

The episode begins with several characters walking around the ruins of King’s Landing, surveying the wreckage wrought by Drogon’s attack. And this might as well be a meta moment for the audience as we survey the damage the show runners inflicted upon the story and the characters we had been rooting for for years. 

Just as there was no way to redeem Dany’s decision at this point in the story, there was also no way for Game of Thrones to redeem itself in these final moments. Too much had already been destroyed, not least the goodwill of its legions of fans.

Game of Thrones Dany

Like a satisfying series finale.

Both Dany and the Game of Thrones writers won a Pyrrhic victory in these final moments, Dany finally gaining the throne at the cost of everything else, not least her sanity and her life, and the Game of Thrones team successfully completing this ambitious project while sacrificing the quality of the writing and losing the devotion of the fans. There might as well be a meta observation that winning the Game of Thrones was never going to end well for anyone involved, even those behind the scenes.

Among the same problems I still have with the episode were moments like Jaime and Cersei’s bodies remaining intact, Tyrion still allowed to call the shots in the end, Brienne propping up Jaime’s story, and the still-baffling decision of Bran becoming king.

There would always be the unforgivable character assassinations of Daenerys and Jaime but more issues have become even clearer to me as I continued to re-watch. After trying for years to masquerade as a feminist show, Game of Thrones still had the men end up in key positions of power – Bran, Tyrion, Jon, Sam, and even Davos Seaworth having more of a say in the fate of their nation than the others. While you may argue that the Stark sisters still ended up in power, having probably the only satisfying endings in the whole show, it doesn’t make up for the fact that the show made a point of reiterating that women (Cersei and Dany) were unfit to rule. 

Game of Thrones finaleIt’s even alarming that, despite her significance in the saga, Dany gets less screen time in the final episodes than she deserves. Instead, we spend a lot of time with men like Tyrion, Jon, and Varys talking about her instead of seeing things from her point of view and at least witnessing the progression of her madness and sorrow. Dany’s arc is still one of the greatest injustices in Game of Thrones and one its most unforgivable sins.

Structurally speaking, the episode is also one of the most lackluster chapters in the show’s history, only truly engaging until Dany’s death. The second half of the episode, as I already noted in my review, was basically a checklist of plot points to be neatly and conveniently resolved, once again following the latter seasons’ frenetic pacing. It’s as if the writers knew they had no time left and so just rattled off plot point after plot point in a series of mostly disappointing resolutions (Sansa and Arya’s endings excluded, of course.)

Game of Thrones finaleThe latter half really plays out like extended exposition and, despite Peter Dinklage’s stellar performance, the Tyrion Lannister show. It’s still strange that Dany did not have him executed immediately and the character himself is surprised he survived this long. And to have him still making the major decisions for the realm with Bran the Bland probably warging off for most of his reign, is still more than problematic.

But the only virtues of the Game of Thrones finale were the elements that had been the consistently redeeming values of the show for years – the performances, the music, and the scale of the production. One cannot contest the sheer amount of resources required to put on a show of this ambition and after watching the documentary “The Last Watch,” one gets a glimpse at all the hard work it took to bring this vision to reality. For all its faults, Game of Thrones was a labor of love for all those who worked on it and while we cannot forgive the lapse in the story’s quality, we can at least appreciate all the cast and crew who sacrificed years of their lives to bring such a historic show to the fans. They are the only true heroes of this saga.

Game of Thrones finale

Game of Thrones torching its own legacy.

Which makes it all the more pitiful to realize that a cultural zeitgeist so quickly lost its steam.  In their frantic race to the finish line, the Game of Thrones showrunners tragically prevented their own legacy from enduring. A year later and people have already moved on to the next thing and those who do remember only do so with rancor and disappointment.

One of the more memorable moments in the finale was Drogon burning and melting the Iron Throne in his rage and grief over Dany’s death. This may well be emblematic of how Game of Thrones ended, a once invincible bastion of popular culture reduced to the molten metal of mediocrity, derision, and worst of all, oblivion.