“The worst moment in GoT history was the moment the showrunners announced-with Thrones at its peak after Season 6-they were going to wrap up the series with just 13 more episodes.
It was inexplicable then; it is inexplicable now. One of the great unforced errors in TV history.” -Rany Jazayerli
However you feel about the events that unfolded over the last 2 seasons of Game of Thrones, the writer’s single biggest miscalculation (if we’re being kind) was failing to recognize (or recognizing, then ignoring) the fact that 13 episodes wouldn’t be enough time to finish the thing right.
Before the season started, the two biggest conflicts that remained unresolved centered on the Night King and the throne, respectively. I tried my best to outline how the show might unfold and I landed on Battle of Winterfell first, then who ends up on the throne second, splitting the season into 2 arcs. When I spoke to my friend Brett about it, he disagreed, arguing correctly that the show had built the war with the White Walkers as the existential conflict of the show. He wasn’t wrong – but the lingering second conflict was the variable. In the Lord of the Rings Trilogy, the existential battle against Sauron’s forces at Minas Tirith is the biggest visual conflict, but the actual A-storyline was Frodo getting the ring to Mt. Doom. This was established in the first movie: everything else humans did was an attempt to buy time for Frodo to do his job. Significantly, though both plotlines took place in discrete settings, they tied to the same conflict. That’s why those films were able to settle things in a final battle and epilogue; the conflict ends once the ring hits the lava, everything after that is just meant to give the audience closure.
I reasoned that the Battle of Winterfell could not possibly extend beyond the 3rd episode because the show would need enough time for the human ramifications to play out; the show, after all, is called Game of Thrones. That was always the A-storyline. As a result, I assumed that the humans would win at Winterfell, obviously at great cost. The fulfillment, then would not come from whether or not the humans would win, but from the denouement of the 3-eyed Raven/Night King relationship. When those concepts were eschewed completely, it had the side effect of making the entire plotline feel empty. In my opinion, it was a critical misunderstanding of where tension comes from. Because the outcome of that clash was never really in doubt, satisfaction could be had at paying off storylines and witnessing key character deaths. Those things never happened.
After Winterfell, the writers left themselves a mere three episodes to resolve the conflict of the throne, then really wrote themselves into a corner by using the penultimate episode to feature Dany’s turn and the razing of King’s Landing. By the end of that episode, only one question really remained: Are they really going to end this thing with Dany on the throne? If your answer was “no”, then it spawned sub-questions.
I believed they would not, so then I asked the following questions:
A) If not Dany, how do they get her off the throne?
She alone wasn’t the problem, it was the dragon, the Unsullied, and the Dothraki. How do the “heroes” deal with them?
B) If not Dany, is it Jon?
Jon had the strongest claim to the throne, but my considerable gut told me that he wouldn’t end up there, either. If he had, it would have been fine, but it just didn’t seem like something the show would do. It seemed too obvious, if that makes sense.
C) If not Jon, then who?
The only “name” characters with a legitimate shot left were Tyrion, Sansa, and Bran. But then at this point, any of them make about as much sense as anyone else, but Tyrion would have been the longshot because he’s a Lannister and a dwarf. Both traits were hinderances for him throughout the show.
My co-workers and I spent the week speculating about the show. Then, late Thursday, my friends came across a purported spoiler for the last two episodes which was posted to a forum site the Sunday “The Bells” aired. Here it is:
I’ve posted this because I want to point out a few things. First, yes, the spoilers were almost 100% correct. More importantly, however, a list like this shouldn’t encapsulate two 80-minute episodes so well. To read them without context makes them seem like highlights or outline notes. And yet two columns of bullet points summarize the final two episodes because these are the points they had to hit and they literally didn’t have time for anything else.
When I read the spoilers, I wasn’t upset with the choices. Honestly, we had already kind of narrowed everything down to those eventualities, anyway. This was just a confirmation. Once you start exhausting plot possibilities, there’s only a few ways things can play out and be believed. What strains the suspension of disbelief is the how? of these points, and those could only have been answered with more time.
Going back to my question A: [Dany] alone wasn’t the problem, it was the dragon, the Unsullied, and the Dothraki. How do the “heroes” deal with them?
Jon killed Dany, as expected. Then they completely ignored any kind of assumed fallout:
Drogon doesn’t kill Jon for killing Dany but melts the throne? I’ve seen hilarious explanations online: Drogon understands metaphors far better than anyone gave him credit for, and Did Drogon smell the steel of the sword that killed Dany and assume the throne killed Dany?
Without a body, Jon would have had to confess to killing Dany. How does Greyworm not kill him on the spot? How is it that the Unsullied and Dothraki do not start immediately blowing up shop? If the Unsullied and Dothraki are leaderless and are simply going to sail away from Westeros anyway, why does it matter what they do or don’t do with Jon Snow? Or Tyrion? The negotiation at the end of the episode is based on a weird assumption that Dany’s forces would react with a measure of discipline. Sansa refers to some “Northern Forces” outside the dragon pit, but wouldn’t Dany’s forces want to fight? Isn’t that what they specifically do? I thought that Bran might finally warg into Drogon and decimate Dany’s forces. It would have been messy and quick – but at least it would have made more sense.
Despite being on the sidelines for the two most important battles in recent Westerosi history, all the lords of the realms show up and now have a say in the biggest decision of their lives. And they make it 10 minutes. I’ve spent more time thinking about what to order from Agu Ramen and it still didn’t work out.
I guess my point is this: in and of themselves, these details aren’t terrible. It’s the fact that they happened at breakneck speed without any kind of explanation or development. Had the final 2 seasons of the show been a full 10 episodes, you still get 3 episodes after the battle Beyond the Wall to show preparations at Winterfell (essentially Episodes 1 and 2 of season 8) and maybe even start the battle to use as the cliffhanger into Season 8. Then, even if the battle doesn’t conclude in until the end of Episode 2 of Season 8, you still have 8 episodes to do what the show tried to do in the final 3. Think of how much more detail could have gone into choices like Dany’s turn and murder, or the choice to install a new king. It could have been 8 episodes of what the show does best: palace intrigue.
The best metaphor I could come up with for what happened to the show after season 6 is this:
It’s Saturday night. You plan for beef stew for dinner on Sunday but you also know that you’re going to the beach earlier in the day. So you prep the carrots and potatoes ahead of time so that all you have to do is brown the beef and throw everything into the pot the following afternoon. But then you stay at the beach longer than expected and get home as the sun’s heading down. You have all the ingredients ready. Maybe you like your beef stew with more battles or more nudity or less Euron or whatever. To each his own. Anyway, the thing you don’t have now is enough time because in order for the stew to be good, you’ve got to let it slow cook. What the writers did was choose to let the stew cook for an hour and serve it knowing that the carrots and potatoes would still be hard, that the beef wouldn’t be tender. Yes, it’s beef stew. They still got all of the ingredients in there but as soon as you take a bite, you know exactly what happened – it didn’t cook long enough, it didn’t simmer. It’s still beef stew but you know it’s nowhere near as good as it could have been if they had taken more time with it.
That said, I am grateful for my friends having talked me into it. I got a solid three months of geeking out, theorizing, and anticipating. Aside from the Mets actually being a competent baseball organization, there’s nothing I love more. Yes, it ended badly, but so do all rollercoasters in that they have to end at all.
We’re here to say goodbye to Game of Thrones: writers, actors and actresses, crew who set aside their differences to create a wonderful show together so that others might enjoy it. Everyone in this world owes them a debt that can never be repaid. It is our duty and our honor to keep them alive in memory for those who come after us and those who come after them for as long as men draw breath. They were the fire that ignited the minds and hearts of men, and we shall never see their like again.