Game of moans: How a great story was betrayed at the death
As fans of the series vent their rage online in the aftermath of a disastrous finale, Ed Power analyses how writers David Benioff and DB Weiss destroyed one of the finest tales of our time
King's Landing has been razed to the ground - and with it went any possibility of Game Of Thrones pulling out of its late-season plunge into television infamy.
Jaime Lannister's redemption arc was revealed to be a cheap joke at the audience's expense in the penultimate episode, The Bells. Daenerys Targaryen was retrofitted as a destructive maniac. Not because that was where the previous 71 hours were leading, but because it was where the short-term thinking of show-runners David Benioff and DB Weiss demanded she go. Oh and 'Cleganebowl' - can we finally stop calling it that? - had all the dramatic portent of a Star Wars prequel light-sabre battle.
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The finale was just as underwhelming as we all feared. Jon killed Dany, as we always knew he would. Bran Stark, the weirdo Three Eyed Raven, became king - as nobody thought he would. Arya once again failed to use the face-swapping powers she spent so long perfecting.
Thrones isn't the first show to come unstuck in the final stages, but its crash and burn is proving to be unprecedented - as is the backlash of its hardcore fanbase and the genuine vitriol felt towards Benioff and Weiss. At the time of writing, a change.org petition to get the season remade by "competent writers" has garnered over a million signatures.
Some of the attacks are obviously over the top - this is the internet, after all. Nonetheless, much of the criticism is warranted. With so much lore and with so many pages of George RR Martin's novels still available for adaptation - the bulk of the most recent two books barely made it to the screen - all the pair really had to do was respectfully and thoughtfully piece together the jigsaw.
But it appeared they had no interest in that. Instead, with this muck-fest of a denouement, they have pulled a Three-Eyed Raven of their own, going back in time to make previous seasons of GoT completely unwatchable. What's the point, now, in revisiting the Battle of the Blackwater, knowing Tyrion Lannister will eventually be dumbed down into an earnest idiot?
And was there any purpose to the Night's Watch v Wildlings face-off of season four beyond furnishing Jon Snow with Tormund Giantsbane as sidekick?
The death and resurrection of Snow, ridiculous at the time, now tips towards farce. And why would anyone willingly sit through 'Hardhome' again, now we understand the Night King is less avenging storm than mild drizzle?
Watching 'The Bells' - let us pause to reflect that Daenerys, survivor of war, fire, physical and emotional trauma, was pushed over the edge by some chiming from a steeple! - it seemed as if Benioff and Weiss had already moved on to their next gig overseeing a Disney Star Wars trilogy.
Because that's what the episode felt like - a blockbuster by numbers, obsessed with spectacle and absolutely no interest in doing justice to any of the characters established over the past eight years.
So Jaime, after apparently redeeming himself in 'Winterfell', was content to die with Cersei. He did so having told Tyrion had he had no regard for the ordinary people of King's Landing (so why did he kill Aerys Targaryen in the first place, sullying his reputation so that thousands would not need to perish needlessly?).
And how should we respond to Arya Stark's journey from wide-eyed little girl to Night King-slaying super ninja back to wide-eyed little girl (though not so wide-eyed that she couldn't lead a mother and daughter to their deaths). Snatching the gong for utter absurdity of course is Deanerys' cray-cray moment. Married off to a barbarian as a teenager, the target of multiple assassination attempts and just out from a nasty break-up with her nephew - after all that, it was a bell that turned her around the twist?
George RR Martin had, it is true, promised a "bittersweet" ending to his novels. Certainly it is possible to squint and imagine a parallel universe in which Daenerys's descent into insanity is slowly, plausibly sketched out. One where Jaime and Cersei fall destructively back into one another's orbit. Alas, the HBO series, so eager for the finish line, had no interest in slowly tracing the protagonists' self destruction. Those who have followed the series from the outset - and fell in love with the Martin texts years previously - have watched the final season with a sense of slowly-building horror.
Incredibly 192,000 people stayed up in the UK to watch the 2am 'live' premiere on April 15. HBO in the US garnered its biggest ever audience of 17.4 million for the same episode.
But alas, as Game Of Thrones has grown in popularity so it has plummeted in quality. The backlash among a certain segment of ultra-dedicated fans has been intense. "Hacks" and "rubbish" are the most common insults thrown about. The complaint is that Benioff and Weiss are parlour tricksters interested only in big shock moments - Arya v the Night King - and lacking an appreciation of the deeper themes and subtexts of the novels.
Others accuse them of glibness in thinking they could rush Martin's story to a close over two truncated seasons of seven and six instalments respectively (pushing on even though HBO had given them the option of the standard 10 episodes). The anguish flows in part from the fact that we have all been invested in it for nearly a decade now (longer if you factor in the novels).
Perhaps we should just accept Game Of Thrones 2019 was no longer the series we became obsessed with in 2011. It had unambiguously become a thing of Hollywood - loud, cheesy, illogical.
So let's enjoy it for the big, stupid, lowest-denominator cheeseburger that it has become. That way it is likely to leave so much less of an aftertaste.