“Game of Thrones” is finally complete. And for many fans, that’s the best that can be said about its final season.
Expectations for Sunday’s finale, “The Iron Throne,” were simultaneously sky high and terribly low — fans have been largely let down by this season’s offerings, but many held out hope that the final installment would bring a satisfying resolution to the various loose ends.
Based on the immediate reaction on social media and by professional critics, the episode offered moments of fan service — Ghost! — but did little to wipe away the problems that have plagued the final season. (It also offered one last apparent continuity error to get raven-eyed watchers riled up, a blink-and-you-miss-it moment you probably didn’t catch on first watch.)
[Read our recap of the series finale.]
Betrayed by the shortened season
Did the final season move too fast? Did the characters’ decisions feel vaguely understandable, but unearned by what you saw on screen?
If you feel that way, you’re far from alone.
While the first six seasons had 10 episodes apiece, the show’s creators, D.B. Weiss and David Benioff, decided to shorten the final two seasons to seven and six episodes, respectively. Writing at The Washington Post, Alyssa Rosenberg said the decision was “a choice that may go down as one of the worst in recent television history.”
Her criticism mirrored a common theme among initial reactions: It wasn’t necessarily the plot turns that were the problem. Rushing toward an ending without fully developing the characters’ motivations was the problem.
“Plenty of developments in ‘The Iron Throne’ landed,” Alison Herman wrote at The Ringer. “They just could have landed much deeper if they’d been preceded by a more meticulous set-up.”
Bran as the king? Him?
For years, guessing who would sit on the Iron Throne — or, at least, who would lead the Seven Kingdoms — at the end of the series has been among the central questions of the show.
So to end up with Bran, who was more memorable for his blank stare than for his one-liner dialogue and was disposable enough to sit out an entire season at one point, registered to some as anticlimactic.
There were arguments to be made for the youngest living Stark: He lacks ego and doesn’t appear to crave power for power’s sake, plus his skills as the Three Eyed Raven seem pretty useful for governance.
Still. Bran? In our recap, Jeremy Egner called him “one of the most unsatisfying characters on the show.”
Did the women of Westeros get shortchanged?
At the dragon pit meeting, quite a few fans were expecting the ascent of Sansa Stark, whose resilience and growth over the course of the show, paired with her experience running Winterfell, made her arguably the most qualified candidate to rule the realm.
Nope. The committee chose the man next to her. The author Roxane Gay noted on Twitter that the show’s creators could “imagine dragons but they can’t imagine a sane, smart woman as ruler of the six or seven kingdoms.”
Some fans saw Sansa’s snubbing as emblematic of the show’s treatment of women, which came under deeper scrutiny after its use of sexual violence in earlier seasons. The small council in King’s Landing was attended by all men except for Brienne of Tarth, whose only other contribution in the finale was recording the history of her male ex-lover, Jaime Lannister.
Sansa got a triumphant final shot as Queen of the North, but to some fans, she and the show’s other female characters deserved more.
“‘Game of Thrones’ was initially built on a premise of subverting established high fantasy tropes, and surely one of the most innate fantasy tropes of all involves the idea that only men are fit to rule,” Aja Romano wrote at Vox. “After a final season that saw two powerful queens reduced, respectively, to going mad and dying whimpering in a cave collapse, the show’s choice to place the future stability of Westeros on a bunch of male shoulders feels deeply regressive and thoughtless.”
Odds and ends
• After the season’s fourth episode, fans were incensed that Jon Snow left Winterfell without petting Ghost. In perhaps the finale’s most satisfying scene, Ghost finally got a scratch behind the ear. Fans were elated.
• For a creature that just indiscriminately slaughtered many thousands of people, Drogon was remarkably restrained upon discovering Daenerys had been slain.
“This is quite possibly the smartest dragon in the world, as it inherently understood that it was the corrupting power of the Iron Throne that led to Dany’s downfall, and not Jon Snow,” Nate Scott wrote at For the Win. “Or it’s the stupidest dragon in the world, as it saw a knife in Dany and assumed it was the evil chair made of knives who stabbed her, and then had its revenge.”
• One source of widespread agreement: Puberty treated Robin Arryn well, as seen by his brief appearance at the dragon pit.
• One unresolved plot hole: Did Brienne make a mess when she closed the book without letting the ink dry?
• Is Arya on the same narrative path as Christopher Columbus?
• Samwell Tarly seemed to be on his way to inventing representative democracy, until all of the most powerful people in Westeros laughed in his face. It was one of the episode’s few moments of levity.
Somehow, people noticed a memorable error in the same scene: There appears to be a modern water bottle under Samwell’s chair. The apparent gaffe came just two weeks after a coffee cup was left on a Winterfell table.