Regardless of how one feels regarding the ending of Game of Thrones, it will forever be remembered as one of the most successful shows ever written. This last season of the show is worthy of its scrutiny mainly because the characters that we fell in love with early on in the show no longer exemplified the values that progressively began to define them. Daenerys went from the protector of the general public to ruthlessly torching them alive, Tyrion quickly evolved from “drinking and knowing things” to simply just drinking, and Jaime’s entire redemption arc was forgotten in an instant. The shortened season 8 essentially became like drinking an energy drink, that engages you while you are consuming it, but once it wears off, leaves you feeling empty inside, and maybe even a little sick. Therefore, while the ending of Game of Thrones certainly had its fair share of hits and misses, I will be specifically focusing on the mishandling of the mystical elements, the questionable plot development surrounding a lot of the Starks, and the Hound’s overall character arc as points of emphasis when considering the strengths and weaknesses of the ending of Game of Thrones.
The first significant weakness of the final season of Game of Thrones can be identified in directors’ Benioff and Weiss’ handling of the magical elements that can be considered to be integral to the core nature of the world of Westeros. The arc of the Night King and the White Walkers has to be one of the unique identifiers that can be specifically tied to Game of Thrones. The show spent all 8 seasons building up the threat in the North as the biggest threat to humanity only to have it all conveniently disappear within a single episode, creating more questions than it answered. There was no resolution regarding what the Night King’s intentions were other than just pure destruction, we don’t know if this means that the Night King has been permanently defeated or if there’s a chance the White Walkers could return in the future, or whether Arya’s actions have ensured the permanent end of Winter as they know it. Additionally, the manner in which the Battle of Winterfell was handled was comical, to say the least. The strategic failure of the army of the living cannot be ignored since it is simply inconceivable how terrible that battle was handled. It does not take the mind of a military expert to know that the living had a simple objective: hold their position and defend Bran. Yet, it is inexplicable why they would sacrifice their entire cavalry charging an opposition that was unlike anything any of them had ever seen, even if brute-force attacks are characteristic of the Dothraki. Moreover, Drogon and Rhaegal were basically nullified on the sidelines, partially due to the Night King’s storm, but having had a 2 to 1 dragon advantage over the dead, the living dragons could have certainly provided a lot more support to an already greatly outnumbered infantry force of the living. Lastly, the way the Night King was ultimately defeated is unimpressive, to say the least, due to how the army of the dead and its generals completely failed to notice Arya as she conveniently appeared out of thin air to save the day. One could almost be forgiven for wanting the army of the dead to have succeeded in the Battle of Winterfell in an attempt to at least give White Walkers a more convincing and realistic resolution.
The buildup and short-coming of the Night King and the White Walkers were not the only mystical element that fell short of its true potential, the show also created a lot of build-up around the magical abilities of the many-faced God, yet rarely made any use of Arya’s face-shifting abilities. This aspect was particularly disappointing as a majority of Arya’s early character arc was spent exploring a rather intricate, and at times confusing, storyline in Braavos that seemed as though it would prove to be significant later on in the show. Yet, in reality, this ability that Arya spent so much time and effort trying to acquire was only used in her ploy to get revenge towards the Frey household, which one could argue that she could have done without her mystical abilities. Moreover, the face-swapping abilities was another area that ended up creating a lot of questions that never got any real answers, leaving us questioning why so much emphasis was placed upon that particular aspect of Arya’s story. Arya, however, was not the only Stark who had a major part of their storyline seemingly thrown out the window during the last season of the show. The mystery behind Jon’s lineage was another part of the show that involved many years of build-up and ultimately proved to relatively pointless. Jon’s identity as Aegon Targaryen meant nothing beyond simply another source of paranoia for Daenerys, which one could argue she might have still eventually developed towards the well-liked and honorable King in the North, even though Jon was the true heir to the Iron Throne. The failure to translate major storylines that took multiple seasons to be developed, like Arya’s face-swapping abilities and Jon’s true lineage, into more significant roles in the final season of Game of Thrones has to be one the major letdowns of the show’s ending.
There is, however, no part of the season that raised more questions than Bran’s mystical abilities as the Three-Eyed Raven. Not only were they used at an extremely inconsistent rate, but they also proved to be essentially worthless throughout the entire last season. Bran’s ability to warg into animals and/or people was set up to potentially be an extremely useful trait in the battle against the dead. Yet, what did Bran choose to do instead? He pointlessly warged into ravens and flew around the battlefield during the Battle of Winterfell. And while the use of ravens to scout out the movements of the enemy could have proven to be a useful tool for the army of the living, Bran did not attempt to relay the battle information he was observing, once again proving the uselessness of his supernatural abilities. The crippling of all the aforementioned mystical elements is an indication of a larger trend; despite having built such a strong foundation involving the mythology of the world of Game of Thrones in the early seasons of the show, in the final season of the show, the producers Benioff and Weiss didn’t seem all that interested in actually fulfilling the true potential of a lot of the magical aspects that captivated millions of viewers, which is disappointing to say the least.
The uselessness of Bran’s abilities as the Three-Eyed Raven is not the only issue regarding Bran’s character from the latter part of Game of Thrones. In the finale, he essentially implies that he has possessed at least some sort of knowledge of the future by saying “why do you think I came all this way?” when Tyrion asked him if he wanted to be the king. This essentially makes Bran the mastermind behind everything that went down since he became the Three-Eyed Raven, which indicates that he allowed thousands of lives to be sacrificed both at the Battle of Winterfell and during Daenarys’ siege of King’s Landing all in his pursuit of the crown. The crowning of Bran is also a significant red flag, as a major emphasis of the show was centered around Daenerys’ quest to “break the wheel”, yet crowning an individual whose lifespan can last for thousands of years is not a step forward towards a more progressive and brighter future. Especially if you consider the unique abilities that Bran possesses which essentially means that Westeros has now been transformed into a state under constant surveillance by their relatively omnipotent crippled King. Additionally, as with most things regarding Bran’s character, we have no idea what Bran’s true intentions as the king might be. In his appearance at the new council meeting, he appears entirely indifferent in any ruling matters and expresses only an interest in finding the only remaining weapon of mass destruction, Drogon.
Meaning that despite all the good and bad things that Daenerys achieved in her pursuit of power, her impact on Westeros’ hierarchical power structure proved to be very minimal.
While there are a lot of areas that are worthy of criticism within the last season of Game of Thrones, it does indeed have redeeming factors beyond the cinematic spectacle and visual artistry of many of the breathtaking scenes. In my opinion, the way the show handled the entirety of Sandor Clegane’s storyline is one of the few instances worthy of outright praise. Not only did they give fans what they wanted in the form of the Cleganebowl, but they truly completed his arc sensibly and compellingly. In the Hound we were able to witness the progression of a man who had nothing to live for except revenge, have his heart opened up by Arya, be beaten nearly to death by Brienne, fight for something bigger than himself against the White Walkers, and ultimately achieve his only goal in life by defeating his brother. His bond with Arya proved to be the perfect unconventional relationship that consisted of features ranging from that of a master and apprentice mixed with a peculiar father-daughter relationship. Not only did he teach her how to become a master killer, but in his final moments, the Hound managed to convince arguably one of the most stubborn characters to not to follow him down his path of vengeance, violence, and hatred. This speaks to the significance in the bond between these two very different characters, as it is one of the more compelling and convincing scenes in the show and is the perfect ending to their shared narrative. The spectacle of the actual battle between the two brothers lived up to every expectation and as they spiraled to their fiery doom, one can’t help but feel a sense of relief that after everything the Hound has had to endure throughout his life, in his final moments he has accomplished the only thing in life he ever cared about: killing his brother.
So while it is true that the ending of Game of Thrones was certainly underwhelming, it was not a total failure since at the minimum, on a technical level, it still produced plenty of magical moments. The only reason the storyline is worthy of so much scrutiny is because of the potential that it established throughout the entirety of its runtime. Even in what a lot of people consider to be the worst season of the show, it still managed to produce a lot of breathtaking cinematic moments that proved that it can still be considered a great show, even with a flawed ending.