(Warning: This blog post contains spoilers throughout)
HBO wanted the final season of Game of Thrones to run longer, at least a few more episodes. But showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss wanted to end the final season after just six episodes, making it the shortest season of the groundbreaking series yet.
They should have listened to the network.
This final season, and the last two episodes in particular, were rushed to an unsatisfying conclusion.Throughout the final season, die hard fans have complained about seemingly everything. Many of the complaints were just silly. Remember the battle scene that was too dark to see? I could see it just fine on my TV, so I'm not quite sure what the complaint was. But in the final two episodes, a lot of things happened that simply needed more explanation -- explanations that could have been forthcoming with a couple more episodes.
Here are just a few of the moments that made our heads spin.
In the penultimate episode "The Bells," Danaerys Targaryen transformed seemingly in the blink of an eye into a tyrant who would burn a city of innocents to the ground. This wasn't shocking just to Jon Snow, who was in love with Dany, but it was shocking to an audience which thought she was one of the rare heroes on this show. The city had surrendered, the battle was won. What made her continue the fight? Dany's change of heart didn't really surprise me, because she'd hinted about her nature in previous episodes, in previous seasons even. But the scope of this slaughter was too much, too quickly, and without reason. Rather than explain it in the series finale, we instead saw Danaerys speaking to her troops in a scene right out of Adolph Hitler's Nazi Germany.
While fans were still trying to digest what had happened to Dany, the show continued along at a rapid pace. Jon Snow killed Dany, to prevent her from bringing on further genocide. Her dragon didn't kill Jon and instead directed his fury at the Iron Throne itself. We always knew Drogon was an intelligent dragon, but we were still a bit surprised that he'd have the reasoning capacity to blame the corrupting power of Iron Throne itself for his mother's death. Especially when Jon was standing right there! Jon survived Drogon but was arrested for murdering his queen.
Meanwhile, Tyrion Lannister had also been arrested for treason. He was still a prisoner when he convinced everyone that Brandon Stark should be King of the Seven Kingdoms. Wait a minute, Bran? How did a relatively minor character (at least for a Stark) become a king in under ten minutes?
The finale also featured a couple of awkward moments that just didn't fit the overall tone of the episode, or the series in general. During that short discussion to decide on a king, Samwell Tarly suggested that "everyone" should have a say in who rules. While democracy is a nice idea, it's also not a realistic suggestion it in a brutal world of kings and assassins. I didn't believe it for a minute, and it just rang hollow. Everyone in the scene had a good, awkward laugh.
Later on, the Small Council convened with a discussion about rebuilding the brothels. Like Sam's plan for democracy, it was a scene meant to make us laugh or maybe give viewers a sense that life would return to normal following the destruction of King's Landing. It was unnecessary, and again rushed us along to a conclusion. There was no need for things to be normal just yet, not after the destruction Dany had wrought.
Benioff and Weiss haven't had source material from which to draw for a few seasons. However, they'd been give a broad outline of where George R.R. Martin wants to go in the final two books of the series. I have no doubt they tried to remain true to his vision. And indeed, there is a lot that happened in this final season that does not surprise me. That Dani would become tyrannical is no surprise. That Jon Snow would never lay claim to a throne that was rightfully his is no surprise. That Jamie Lannister would return to his sister is no surprise. We've seen these character traits from the beginning, if only we were willing to put aside our desire for a happy ending and see the characters for who they are.
But if I'd been reading the books (please finish the books, George R.R. Martin!), I'd bet the final two episodes happen over several hundred pages. Martin would inevitably write more than necessary to make sure readers understand the motivations of each character, to make us understand how Brandon Stark really could be accepted as King of the
Seven -- er, Six Kingdoms (another surprise). George R.R. Martin hinted as much in a blog post following the finale:
"I am working in a very different medium than David and Dan, never forget. They had six hours for this final season. I expect these last two books of mine will fill 3000 manuscript pages between them before I’m done… and if more pages and chapters and scenes are needed, I’ll add them.”
There are plenty of people who are upset at how it all ended and feel an unsatisfactory ending ruins the whole show. Okay, whatever. If you enjoyed the past eight seasons, or even just seven of them, why let the final season ruin it for you?
Series finales are hard. They come with high expectations, and someone will always be disappointed (not counting the finale of Newhart -- the best finale ever). Benioff and Weiss had it tougher than most. They were dealing with a cultural touchstone, and the pressure was especially high for them. They could have done better. Just not in six episodes. If only they'd taken the time to really make the most of this final season.