THE BREAKER OF CHAINS
(The phrase “Spoiler Alert” has permeated the media so frequently in the last few weeks that it’s probably unnecessary to repeat it. But I’m providing that alert anyway to anyone who hasn’t yet seen the final season of Game of Thrones, and who doesn’t want the ending spoiled.)
As futile – and maybe dangerous – as it may be to enter into the raging battle over the conclusion of Game of Thrones, I’ve become combat weary over the barrage of criticism hurled at the creators of one of the greatest television series ever made. So I feel compelled to weigh in.
The power of great stories is that they remind us who we are, and reveal to us what it means to be human. They can show us parts of ourselves we’ve forgotten, or denied, or never experienced first hand.
In most of the stories I love most, these revelations inspire us, and show us our potential for courage and love and fulfillment. They say, “You, too, can be a hero! Like the hero of the story that enthralls and entertains you, you can transform, stand up for the truth of who you are, do what is right, and connect with the rest of humanity.”
But some great stories choose instead to hold a mirror to the darker sides of our humanity. They remind us of the potential we all carry to be blinded by our wounds and our pain and our anger and our desires.
This, to me, is what Game of Thrones has always done. For the entire series, David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, in adapting and then departing from George R. R. Martin’s epic novels, have brilliantly explored the ways that an unchecked desire for power and control and revenge can fracture our relationships and destroy our humanity.
I confess that I, like so many others, was distraught at the end of this season’s Episode 5, “The Bells.” How could Dany – the beautiful, sympathetic, courageous, and sometimes wise character I had loved and rooted for and admired for eight amazing seasons – turn into this vengeful, genocidal instrument of wanton slaughter and mass destruction?
This wasn’t what I wanted at all! I wanted Daenarys, the powerless, abused and enslaved girl who was introduced in the very first episode, to complete her arc and become the strong, loving, forgiving and just leader she was meant to be. I expected her to keep her promise to liberate the people of Kings Landing from their tyrannical queen, not to level their city and burn them alive.
So when Episode 5 ended, I called my brother Jim – a much more devoted and knowledgeable fan than I am – to commiserate. He understood my pain and disappointment, but he pointed out that Wiess and Benioff had been leading us to this moment from that very first episode. Beneath whatever love or compassion or humanity Daenarys might have shown, she was always a Targaryen, the Mother of Dragons and the Breaker of Chains. And in the end, Dany was unable to let go of this identity.
As she gathered her army of warriors and slaves, crucified their oppressors, burned her enemies alive and executed those who wouldn’t bend the knee to her, Khaleesi repeatedly justified her actions by claiming she had to remain the fearsome queen who would rule the Seven Kingdoms and lead her followers to victory and freedom.
So in “The Iron Throne,” the series’ much-maligned final episode, Dany’s story becomes a tragedy. Her inability to let go of her identity as the heir to the Iron Throne leads to her destruction.
Overwhelmed by her sense of abandonment and betrayal, both by her enemies and by everyone she has trusted or loved, she feels threatened and angry and afraid. As she says to Jon, “I don’t have love here. I only have fear.” And so the dragon awakens.
Because she now feels only fear, she protects herself and her identity by ruling with fear. Her essence – the potential she has to be the just and moral leader we want her to be – has succumbed to the threat of losing her destiny.
And like every tragic hero, she’s unable to overcome her fear and do what is right, or loving or fulfilling. In that horrible moment atop Drogon, when she unleashes all her destructive rage, her protective identity wins the battle for her soul. She’s condemned to the loss of her essence – and in this case, her life.
After Daenarys and her armies obliterate all of Kings Landing – the helpless and innocent along with her enemies – she stands before her followers as their queen. When she vows to lead them on a march to liberate “all the people of the world,” Tyrion and Jon see with certainty the leader she has become.
This is where the impact of Game of Thrones’ theme – its lesson to us all – is most powerful.
How often in our history have we whooped and hollered and pounded our spears in the ground, cheering for some leader who has played on our fears and promised us a life of power and glory and safety and superiority?
How many times have we followed these chosen ones on crusades of hatred and destruction, all in the name of bringing freedom and resurrection to our flag, or our God, or to all of mankind?
Again and again, under the spell of these White Walkers, we become wights ourselves, marching aimlessly and mindlessly toward the destruction of all that is good, always in danger of turning the world into the Dark Night.
This is why Tyrion’s climactic speech to the surviving leaders of the Seven Kingdoms is so powerful, and the outcome of the series so right. He pleads for a new order, where instead of might or genealogy or raw ambition, leaders are chosen based on history and reason and the needs of the people they serve.
Tyrion has always been my favorite character, serving as our eyes and ears as he makes his way through the pain and the folly, and sometimes the love and majesty, of this fantastic world we have entered.
Out of his hard won wisdom, he nominates Bran to be their king because Bran is humanity’s memory. Instead of leading the Seven Kingdoms to some promised land of power and perfection, he will help them remember their triumphs and their losses, and in Tyrion’s words, “…the mistakes we made.”
The wise imp knows that only by facing, and learning from, our fears, our weaknesses and our humanity, can we make the world a better place. Our attachments to the false identities we present to the world to suppress our fears – these are the chains that must be broken.
At the end of the series, the Iron Throne and all that it represents is destroyed, and at least the possibility of a less harsh, more just world is born….
Westeros will be ruled by a king with no heirs, and no ambition….
Sansa, who has gone from a naïve girl, to a horribly victimized woman, is now a free and independent leader of her own kingdom….
Yara will be the first woman ever to rule the Iron Islands….
Brienne, though grieving the love she found and then lost, is now a knight….
Arya, whose mission has long been to kill all who wronged her and her family, is now off to see what lies beyond the world she’s always known.
And then there is Jon Snow, the leader who never wanted a throne, who has been banished to Castle Black. He, too, is a tragic figure for whom duty was indeed the end of love.
Had Jon found the courage to simply love Dany, and stand by her, and keep the secret she begged him to, regardless of family honor and the laws of the land, perhaps she might have found her own courage and become the leader we wanted her to be.
But because he remained in his identity too long, and realized the consequences of his actions too late, his only option was to find the courage to kill his queen. And now he is exiled back to the Wall.
Along with his direwolf Ghost (also an unwanted member of his litter who was born when his own mother died), and in the same location where Game of Thrones began 70 episodes earlier, we last see Jon joining the freefolk as they head into the North to find a new home, and a new future.
If Dany’s death and Jon’s loss make Game of Thrones a tragedy, then like the best tragedies it doesn’t just give us a lesson for avoiding our own downfall. It also leaves us with a sense of hope. If we can remember and learn from our mistakes, and somehow find the courage to embrace our humanity and live our truth, then the world can be a better place.
I understand the pain that so many feel because the saga did not end with the happier, or more romantic, or more uplifting resolution they might have hoped for or expected. But even in the face of all that disappointment and anger, my question is this….
Game of Thrones gave us an unequaled television experience that captivated and enlightened millions of viewers around the world. With an epic story, and a multitude of rich, complex characters, it stirred deep emotions, and generated conversations and analyses and arguments that brought together all of us who loved it. So instead of now berating its creators, shouldn’t we simply be saying, “Thank You?”
– Maester Hauge
P.S. By the way, now that you’ve read all my thoughts and opinions about Game of Thrones, your comments and criticism are truly welcome….
And thanks, Jim, for all your insights and understanding of our favorite show.
I think I am probably one of the last three? people who have never seen GoT. Can’t say I am even interested in going back and catching up on it all.
But without knowing the characters, your analysis is interesting and thought provoking. That in itself is a huge plus for any writer.
It’s been 7 days since I posted my article about Game of Thrones. My primary motive was to counter all the negative reactions to the final season, especially the final episodes. Having loved the series, and the finale, I just thought I’d regret not adding my thoughts and defending a show I loved so much.
Never did I imagine that what I wrote would generate 42 (!) comments, plus more on Facebook and Twitter. I’m overwhelmed and grateful to all of you who took the time and effort to share your thoughts and feelings and analyses of the show, and your reactions to the points I made.
As I must admit, I especially loved hearing from those of you who agreed with me about the series, and who praised my analysis. I’m way too susceptible to praise, and your compliments and kind words were a wonderful ego boost. Clearly, you are all wise and insightful.
To those of you who didn’t agree with my conclusions (and right now you outnumber that other group by about 4 to 1), I deeply appreciate how kind and respectful your posts are. At a time when discourse seems to have generally devolved into verbal warfare, you were gracious, polite, and (for the most part) complimentary.
More importantly, the arguments and analyses you presented were thoughtful, intelligent and well expressed. Many of you offered ideas and points of view I hadn’t noticed or considered when I was watching or analyzing the series. You haven’t changed my feelings about the ending, or the meaning I took away from it, but in some cases I’ve had to (grudgingly) admit that maybe it could have been done better in some ways.
But here’s what pleases me the most. My career – and my passion – has always been about helping writers and filmmakers and storytellers touch people as powerfully and deeply as possible. So to have written something that got you all thinking, writing and arguing about what makes a story great, and how stories can and should entertain us and reflect our humanity, makes me feel happy and fulfilled.
So thank you all, for letting me share in your own passion for Game of Thrones, and for your commitment to the art and power of storytelling.
Alas, Hollywood. Often greed and avarice drive a story too far, beyond a good ending point. No matter how experienced some writers become, the hardest lesson is to know when to end a good thing. I have not read your analysis for fear of influencing mine. I will do that now.
Best regards, John
I’m loving reading every one’s analysis and commentary and find it immensely useful as a writer and comforting as a viewer. The journey has been a thrilling ride.
GoT is like STAR WARS, LORD OF THE RINGS, or MARVEL movies. They are part of the common culture and contemporary lexicon. If you haven’t seen, discussed and explored these stories, you believe you are missing out. They are the phenomenon to be experienced, embraced and discussed.
The outpouring of reactions to the final season of GoT proves audiences invest both intellectually and emotionally in story which is what writers both hope for and rely on. And when people invest, they develop expectations. The bar GoT set for itself with the first few seasons was exceptionally high. I have already expressed my gratitude for George RR Martin and all HBO staff and crew as a separate post, to not undervalue their contribution and efforts with an empirical critique. However, I would also like to say that I, too, had expectations – not for specific events or outcomes – but of the high caliber of writing. The final season’s writing was a considerable departure from earlier seasons. I can only explain this dissonance as an excessive volume of intrusive thoughts as I watched which kept me from being swept into the story world. What kind of intrusive thoughts? Questions. But not the kind the writers wanted to elicit. Categorically, these questions were “why’s” and “how’s.”
As writers, know it’s the kiss-of-death if your audience is asking themselves “why” and “how” when they shouldn’t be. (I won’t address them all, but a few minor ones are: Why did Jamie bed Brianne? How was Missandei captured? How did Euron find Jamie Lannister on the beach? Why did Dany dive down with Rhaegal into lethal fire from Euron’s ships? Why did she do it from the front, instead of flying around behind the regatta and melting them? How could Tyrion find his siblings’ bodies given the collapse and the logistical probability? And how did Bran’s time travel fit in?) I think deconstructing Season 8 would be immensely edifying from a writing perspective and would love for anyone to care this much about anything I write about to take the time to savor it as I am this story! And please, reply to this post if you agree or disagree or If I’ve missed a nuance, which is always possible.
For me, two things impacted my level of satisfaction with the final episode: Dany’s arc and Tyrion’s speech.
Dany’s character arc was not believable. Given who she was as a former slave risen to Breaker of Chains, why would she burn the city? The over-weighted bulk for her character in seven seasons has been about her leadership and compassion. The change to “the dark side” happened in a relative blink. I agree that her inability to let go of her claim to the throne forces her demise, but I don’t see it on the screen. Sufficient material/evidence of this eventual, (logical/organic) progression of decent into madness/the dark side was absent in earlier seasons. The device is more apt as a thriller novelist’s “twist” at the end of the book. I felt cheated. Even when she said, “I don’t have love here, only fear.” It is not enough. This is a moment of understanding, but within one episode, she goes from this understanding to embracing the concept of terrorizing and murdering innocents in the firestorm. It’s too far, too fast. I empathize with her disappointment when she realizes she isn’t loved, but I don’t believe that it’s the bridge to where she’s going. Her growth trajectory wasn’t laid (or peppered) in the first seven seasons. Dany crucified the slavers, but it was closer in ethics to eye-for-an-eye, (the slavers crucified children!) which still allows for the argument for justice, not a clear step towards despotism. When we get to Dany’s speech to the troops about continuing to “save people of the world,” we see she’s committed to this path and that she is delusional about her actions, motivation and identity. Her murder at Jon’s hands is logical given these events. However, in the moment of her death, I am detached because I’m still asking myself “why are we here?” I literally lagged because I couldn’t accept the character arc. As the fan rooting for her, loving her, it’s so hard to watch because I believe she was sacrificed for the plot “twist” and if feels fake.
The second thing that impacted my satisfaction was Tyrion’s speech to the surviving leaders of the Seven Kingdoms. I found it weak, the opposite of what it was should have been as the denouement of the series.
Firstly, it occurs two full months later. Time lapsing forwarding kills tension and it begs the question, if there’s no need for a ruler, since there hasn’t been one for eight weeks, why all fuss? The whole series is predicated on WHO SITS on the IRON THRONE at EVERY MOMENT. It was antithetical to the world of Westeros that everyone who could’ve seized power, sat around waiting for Tyrion’s opinion – who was at their beck and call in the dungeon the whole time.
Secondly, Tyrion’s pleading for a new world order is nullified when he suggests the new order as Starks: Jon (unofficially, beyond the Wall), Bran (Iron Throne) and Sansa (the North). He pleads change but proposes a Stark oligarchy, not a Lannister or Barthian one.
Thirdly, “There’s nothing more powerful in the world than a good story. Nothing can stop it. No enemy can defeat it.” Tyrion says. (We’ll ignore the obvious meta commentary.) But why is Bran the Broken’s story as mystic-time-traveling Stark better than Jon’s resurrected-Targaryen-rightful-ruler-of-the-Iron-Throne story? You’d need to debate these before coming to a concrete conclusion. Isn’t that what Tyrion usually does for us? Not this time. We are expected to accept Tyrion’s assessment, but the question lingers as to the pros and cons of this wisdom and I don’t follow.
Fourthly, why would Tyrion propose Bran, who has no experience in organizing or leadership be a better choice for King than Jon? It’s not just about the story; it’s also a political dilemma which Tyrion would consider as a pragmatist. This choice is out of character. It seems the writers needed an ending that kept Jon from being king because it was too obvious, but the setup of Bran as King needed so much more realism in the story world.
Both Dany’s arc and Tyrion’s speech disappointed me. I invested. I loved. My heart broke with Dany – not because of what happened to her character organically, but because of how her character was manipulated too quickly to be satisfying. Tyrion’s speech had little of the logic that always cohesively tied together his poignant insights. I am left with the emotional hangover and so many “why’s” and “how’s” going through my head. I’ll wait with hot cash until George RR Martin’s final installment hits the shelf. I’ll read it with desperate hope that it will provide answers and allow me to use the HBO visuals to revise the story and put my heart at ease.
What lost me 100% with this show was Arya materializing out of thin air as if she was teleported a la Star Trek and one-shotting the Night King. Not only could I not see what was going on in the episode —which I was later gaslighted over by the production crew telling me that it’s my TV and certainly not their poor choices—they insulted my intelligence many times in that awful episode. This isn’t about what I expected. Sure, Jon was the obvious choice to be the one to take out TNK, and to add in a twist could have been a welcome subversion, but the way these morons shoe-horned Arya into an arc that wasn’t hers was very, extremely, astronomically, infinitely poor.
I can only call it lazy, rushed writing. Obviously D&D were ready to move on to Star Wars, a shinier and much more prestigious IP.
And no, D&D did NOT foreshadow it.
Also Benioff is quoted as saying something similar to “Themes are for high school literature classes.” Which pretty much says to me that they didn’t have themes of their own, no, they were using GRRM’s.
I had once respected this blog, I had even shared it just this day with an aspiring writer, and this article has given me pause and I regret sending it on because there are so many fundamentals in writing that were ignored by the writers of GoT in this final season. Someone like Michael SHOULD be seeing such BLATANT and ELEMENTARY errors and flaws in writing.
I enthusiastically agree that GAME OF THRONES was a to-die-for experience as an audience. It cannot be forgotten. I’ve taken a couple of weeks to get over the emotional hangover. The power of the finale – the mere act of its transpiring – knocked me over on both intellectual and heartfelt levels.
For anyone who has ever worked on a film or television set, the immense coordination of skill and talent to tight deadlines and tighter specifications is a known quantity. It is the craft of film making. For those who don’t, imagine that a show like GoT (one season), is like coordinating the building of a skyscraper from a concept to completion. It is that complicated. And look at the display of staging and production wealth that we got from that team at HBO!
For this reason, I would like to THANK every person from Execs to Drivers (and everyone in between) for their dedication and time.
I have immensely enjoyed my journey with GoT and feel an intimate level of gratitude to George R.R. Martin for his vision, talent and execution. It is a hallmark of accomplishment for his story to have been communicated and shared in both book and film to so many adoring audiences.
THANK YOU, ALL!!!
In the interest of hearing all sides, I have discussed this to great length with many and feel better about it in the end. I appreciate it for what it is and still love the show which I feel fell pray to so many colossal stories. This does not mean I believe that the story was completely served. I believe that the need to make a huge climax, and the scope of filming required to do that was what inevitably caused the lack of tactile pacing in the episodes. Ultimately, the lack of time to write the script in order to ensure the massive compressed shoot schedule, the stories complexity and subtleties suffered a bit.
– I agree with the larger story points Michael presented in the article and came to the same general conclusions myself. I do feel that the path taken was Jon and Danny’s trajectory from the get go.
– The non explanation of Bran’s powers, the white walker kings actual identity, and all the “Magic” in the world that exists, is part of what killed me. I feel like in a world where the rules were established early on as to how the “magic” rules in the world worked, I feel they were entirely lacking in incorporating these elements into the ending. Even if magic were to die off again as it had been doing for centuries, just to have a spike of it for the wars and then disappear, I feel integration and explanation would have been more satisfying.
-Pacing. Even if the content was exactly ass is, there are ways to make this more comprehensive. Battle of the bastards did so much in making sure you felt the panic and the strategy. The final battle with the night king pales in comparison for an active battle plan. Even if it was meant to be we only have half a plan, leaning in to it would have been better. Also, there was a twinge of this, but I feel like if there was a more palpable sense of civil war before going into the battle of the Red Keep, I feel like the tension during the battle could have been propelled further and would have helped the feeling of betrayal and the lashing out of armies (all of them) against the innocents. Also splitting up the battles so they take place of half an episode and finish on another would also be a good use of pacing.
Unresolved issues that would have explained alot.(Personal theories of mine that could have been explored to help with further world integration)
Tyrion – There are many fan theories, but the integration of the mad king raping Tywins wife, or having an affair with the mad king to produce a Targerian/ Lanister would have been a good start.Tywin was always being snubbed by the mad king from puttin ghis eldest into kingsguard to renounce his inheritance to not marrying Cerci to the prince, all put Tywin at cold war with the Mad King. Tywin murdering his wife when finding out Tyrion was a Targerion (incest breeds genetic abnormalities / also the hair color not being blond) would have helped explain much. Would have additionally explained the hatred and reminder of his wifes undoing and set up a parallel between Jon and himself that they did play to during the season. Also would allow Tyrion to have that connection to the dragons and would be the reason that the dragons accepted his touch in freeing them.
The night king – would have been fun if he had been Targaryan but not required. Have not flushed this out much but the purple/blue eyes being close, and the fact that all the old Valarians were fighting the children of the forest would have been some fun history that could have been explored.
They stayed way from Jon being fire proof but I believe that also would have been something that could have potentially helped with the melting of the throne scene. The dragon had not shown any real ability to understand anything beyond a one word command, and though dragons are methodologically supposed to be uber smart, there just wasn’t any precedent for it to understand the politics of what the symbol represented or what the gesture might signify.Having the dragon burn Jon and thereby melt the throne while Jon lived would have been a poetic way of having the pain of Danny’s death mark the end of tyranny having “duty and truth” survive.
Again, overall, many may disagree with my thoughts and claim that if that overall, if these were executed that the stories history of killing characters randomly, might not be served.Personally it would have helped me understand the would further. (poor ending of a post, ran out of time at work… excuse the bad ending 😉
Dear Maester Michael,
Many thanks for taking the time to analyse the damp ending of GoT, and for giving us the opportunity to respond. I have been a diligent follower of your very informative youtube videos and articles on your site, so it means a lot.
I feel the problem is not necessarily what happens to Dany and Jon. Danaerys’ wrath has been signposted before and much as we would have wanted her to have a happy rest-of-her-life, it was never very likely to be. And Jon was always going to be the next Mance Rayder. The problem is that the characters who have survived George Martin’s penchant to kill off his creations and acquired layers of depth in the process — Jon , Tyrion, Varys, Arya et al — just give up at the end, walking around looking stunned, taking the cheap options of stabbing a princess while hoping that her large army wouldn’t go crazy and go on a further murderous rampage. Much better to have Arya use her multi-face magic to kill Dany leaving someone to fight a conventional war against the Targaryen minions, or have Jon and Arya fight, etc. — these would all have been in keeping with the long buildups for those characters. Instead, we have someone who ran out of books to adapt being told by a studio executive to end this tale in a dozen episodes who has been scrambling to find some pat endings that don’t create more conflict and extend the series further.
Perhaps a lesser let-down would have been to not at all go over who got to rule what but leave us with the theme that it was a Pyrrhic victory in which there was nothing to inherit across the seven kingdoms but misery and corpses.Regardless of who inherited what, it is the writers’ job to convince us that that was the appropriate ending. And there, I think, they have definitely failed. ‘Sit down Uncle’ wouldn’t cut it with most stories, let alone one with such an elaborate build up as GoT. I think we got to witness a lot of chickening out in the face of the countless complex story threads and while the who-got-what-at-the-end story point might well have been what should have happened, nothing expresses the tail of GoT as well as the horse’s face in that popular meme: https://www.reddit.com/r/funny/comments/bjr4z0/its_a_horse/
Michael, thanks for writing about it.
I really believe that the problem was not the end itself, but the lack of character development for this last season. The madness of the queen and how she got there… I don’t think it was consistent with the whole series.
We were used to incredible character developments during all the series. We wanted to see the tragedy of Jon and Dany, but we wanted it done the right way!
There were flaws that we never expected to happen in GOT episodes…
But, anyway… even if the series finale were amazing, we’ll be sad anyway, because it’s over.
By the way, love your content and your work.
Thank you for this article. Well put and insightful as usual. I was not overly disturbed by the ending of GOT and thought other than Dany’s death, it all was brilliantly crafted and entirely appropriate. The only “problem” is that Dany’s decline was too subtle with not enough time being dedicated to it–a little more to show us her descent into becoming and choosing to be the person who could fire-bomb thousands into death needed more screen time. Then I would have been 100% on board with it.
“The high mission of any art is, by its illusions, to foreshadow a higher universe reality, to crystallize the emotions of time into the thought of eternity.” (The Urantia Book)
When Jon is being asked, what’s “out there”, he says: Nothing.
To me, THAT is the true disappointment. He might have said, “I’m not sure”, “I don’t remember” or smth of the kind. Instead, the creators chose the most hopeless verdict of all.
Even apart from that, I am left with a sense of a final judgement upon humanity: we are only capable to unite in the face of some common danger, but as soon as it’s gone, we return to exterminating each other. In the end of the day, the animal side of the human nature is ALL there is…
A very sad verdict.
I had no problem with Daenerys death at all. The world of the seven kingdoms is already so rotten that the only thing that seems familiar is another death. I don’t agree with it but it is the premise so I accept. Ever since she killed the slavers she seemed more like Pol Pot to me than a princess.
My problem is that the directors have lost touch with the premise of the show. In these last seasons they just become crowdpleasers and everything feels like a stage. The battle scenes are absolutely ridiculous for example. It would be completely in line with the world of the seven kingdoms for related tageryans to get married but because the directors feel to scared to challenge their audience they leave it on this weird prodemocray endnote as if that was the moral of the story.
I never thought of it that way. Perhaps the ending is a timely suggestion and warning of what can happen in our tumultuous time and the weighty political and personal choices that we need to make in the near future.
Yes! Let’s hope many more people recognize the analogy to our reality, and act to prevent an equally devastating fate.
I confess that I did not make time to watch GOT until this year and so had to binge watch, being hooked from the first season. I think your opinion is darn near perfectly mine, and the grumblig is so quintessentially our modern bad manners and propensity to trash whatever we do not agree with in this country. Genius is my one word critique. I rather thought the ending might have been a set up for the continuing saga in the future, like Star Wars the gift that keep giving for decades. Thank you for taking the any hours it must have taken to write such rich and beautiful critique. Could have been the master plot by the creators themselves. I always wonder if they make things up as they go along, or have a finished master plot, plan before starting.
Greetings Maester Hauge, thank you for your analysis and your brother’s help as well. I did not see the story through the same eyes as everyone else although you come the closest. I thought that Dany could go either way, and her actions at each juncture would show which trait was strongest. As a person from a former British colony, I saw her as a coloniser, using her powers somewhat ruthlessly. She freed people so that they could bend a knee and serve her. That’s not freedom, just a new ‘owner’. I had a feeling when she first banished the man who served her so faithfully, that she would grow more cruel with power. She knew that Jon was the true heir to the throne yet ordered him to forget this heritage, never speak of it, and love her both as a queen (bend that knee) and as a lover (but they are related!). The ‘related’ part made me think of Cersei. (sp?).
I think the end was just and right. Jon returned to his Direwolf and the family that kept him safe – the family of his first love (Ygritte?) who he married in real life. ;-). Tyrion was also my favourite character next to Jon. Arya’s training prepared her to be the one to take out the Night King. Sansa deserved to be queen, and like Brienne of Tarth becoming a knight, she became the ruler of the North in times when the female hero –I don’t have the words — is timely.
I loved it!
Also, the way the Kingdoms were now ruled, there would be no war. The leaders were all Starks. Even Jon leaving the wall and joining Ygritte’s family – she was the first female hero: a quick-witted and courageous young spearwife. She displayed great skill as an archer. Living north of the Wall, she was well skilled in survival, was staunchly loyal to the cause of Mance Rayder. She valued her status as a free woman, and disparaged those living south of the Wall as ‘kneelers’, who blindly followed hereditary leaders instead of choosing a king.
Perfect for Jon. His joining and possibly leading her people was great!
Thank you so much!
The final season of GOT was problematic for more than just the ending. In addition to the unfulfilled promises made since season one, like the incredible impact the revealing of Jon’s true legacy would have on everything which ended up amounted to little more than some chatter and gossip, there was also the execution of the ending. There was a great deal of poor/sloppy writing and gaps that the audience was forced to fill in.
For example, after Jon killed Dany the next scene we see is what is presumed to be weeks possibly even months later when he is a prisoner and his fate is being decided. So we are to believe that Grey Worm, Dany’s sworn protector and the rest of the Unsullied as well as the Dothraki discovered his treason and simply imprisoned him instead of killing him on the spot? That they then sent for all of the various rulers of places they didn’t even acknowledge as independent from Dany’s own authority to make a decision on what should happen to her killer?
They were also incapable or unwilling to consider the true perspective and actions of characters they could not directly identify with. I won’t go into detail here but the criticisms of the roles and dialogue of women and racial minorities on the show are also very valid and added to the overall disappointment of the final season. While some of that could not be helped based on the characters in the books there were areas they could have improved and chose not to. This season felt like some episodes were painfully drawn-out and boring while others were whiplash fast and confusing. With two years to create six episodes it isn’t wrong that people expected way, way, WAY better! I don’t feel for the writers or owe them any kudos. They simply proved that with the books to guide them they were adequate writers at best and without the benefit of Cliff Notes they couldn’t pass the test.
Writers of this show should be on cloud nine instead — people watched, stayed and are so darn engaged and vested in the characters that … I can feel nothing except awe.
I am just surprised Michael watched this show, and happy because now I know the piece has way more depth than its memes.
Not seen it yet. Wondering if this would be the backdrop for Michael’s series on conflict.
Nah. GOT is entertainment, and in exchange for bucks, the entertainer fulfills a contract with the audience. My contract with the series was for action, adventure, romance, mystery… anything but tragedy. Tragedy is not entertainment these days. It’s sermonizing in costume. Not interested. The ending was a fail, and that’s without getting into the whole issue of motivations, set up, arc, and so forth. Bad ending badly done.
Hi Michael. Thank you. I’ve been having this argument with my family and friends since the finale. I too have always been team Danny but, even her dragon could see that she had crossed the line. Drogon not only allowed Jon to enter the building, he declined to punish him for killing his mother. Furthermore, he destroyed the iron throne, the very thing that drove Danny to madness. As you mentioned, the characters ended in the positions they were born for or, in Bran’s words, “You were exactly where you were meant to be.” I could see no other ending for this wonderful show.
LOVE your analysis Maester Hauge!
I think GOT fans are disappointed because the death of Breaker of Chains seems lazy. Similar to the end of Sopranos, the audience is left with something incomplete because TV is written for $, then entertainment, then concludes with $ as the guiding principle: Actors can’t/won’t stay on a show forever. Producers/writers want the next big thing and/or prequel. The sets were freaking god-awfully expensive.
– Even if GOT and all its amazing expert artists could play their parts forever like Hope and Bo Brady on Days of Our Lives (who I swear look the same age and possibly better when I was a teenager 30+ years ago – there is never going to be a perfect or even remotely “good” ending to GOT.
The story is great. The audience should be given Cliff notes with the book’s original ending alerted to: no surprises: GRRM has an interview scene like Band of Brothers, and says…this is what happened and why.
There will be 8 episodes or 8 seasons. Period.
These amazing series simply don’t know how to say goodbye because they’ve spent almost a decade obsessed with gaining our undying love and devotion.
GOT producers/writers – Chalking up a tragic ending to “artistic license” comes across as phony and lazy.
“Oops, I didn’t know what else to do creatively – so instead of creating, I simply used my newfound God-Complex to destroy.”
Btw – I love that she burned the city – let her be “one bad bitch” – “hell have no fury like a scorned woman.” But don’t make her champion of women’s rights (slave women must be married if they are to be bed) and Abe Lincoln emancipator – just to turn into Kim Jong Un’s…firing squad…sitting on the back of a dragon.
On a side note…Michael – you are the most complete expert I’ve ever read – bar none.
Thank you for your gift of writing and analysis! It makes me a better writer and English teacher!
I dunno, Michael. I found all the numerous scenes of Tyrion manipulating whomever would listen, that Dany was tooooo dangerous and had to be destroyed. Of course, he was In jail for his traitorous activity and he exhibited much poor judgment throughout the series. Yet Jon, listens to him. Jon! To the end he knows nothing. Ned would have smacked him upside the head. And let’s just gloss over all the evil Cersei has done in her sick quest for power. Only Jamie was honest enough to know who he was and acknowledged all the wrongs he had committed. And that there was no redemption for him. So in the end the Lannister way of rule survives and goes on its merry corrupt way. Dany was a true leader and the writers failed to show any sinking into madness. A blotchy face just doesn’t count. Remember in Saving Private Ryan when the captain lets the young innocent soldiers live, and then in the ultimate twist of fickle fate, they are the ones that kill the captain? His benevolence brought his destruction, just as Dany’s benevolence to Tyrion brought her demise. Her scorched earth policy toward Kings Landing would have ended that Lannisterian corrupt way of governing in the Kingdom. So In my humble opinion, the writers failed the story. You don’t put your readers through all that for 12 years! and just end it with a same o same o ending. I’m not sure how GRRM would have wrapped it up but I cannot believe we were deprived a more enlightened ending All the men win, Sansa has to ex herself out completely to keep the north no one else wants and Dany gets sucker punched by the no nothing. This is supposed to be fantasy not reality. Throw the girls a bone here. Sheesh.
Always great to hear your thoughts. Thank you.
As many here said, I believe the main criticism is not about the characters arc, but that they weren’t earned. Character was sacrificed for plot, which is fine sometimes, but that was the case in the past 7 season.
Nonetheless, the GOT ride was amazing!!! it was history in the making and indeed a thank you is in order
Having not watched the show do to its HBO must have graphic sex in it. I can relate to what you have said. I can relate to the story plot. Many shows for the past nearly 20 or more years have spent a lot of time focusing on the dark rather than light, SOA, Breaking Bad etc, come to mind. These and so many others all force us to watch a train wreck taking place. Maybe its because we are witnessing in real time how such unfettered power has been used by the Empire we live in today. Since 9 11 our lives were forever taken over by a entity that hid in the dark but has taken too walking in the light. This entity has been methodically stripping away our dignity and freedoms. This entity is not from a distant land but from within our own land. The ruthless warlords portrayed in GOT and other TV shows and movies is reflected on our TV screen on a daily basis. I think that’s why so many shows have taken a turn for the darker no hope side, its art reflecting life and we all know it. Best
Steve, thank you for your comment. Yours is the first I’ve read or heard that speaks of our times dating from 911 and the effects on our society of having our minds so crippled and terrorized. I for one am sick of it, and am finding it boring, frankly. ‘Evil’ has only one, predictable ending and effect on people, really. Far more dangerous and interesting to dare to love life and really live it.
Thanks Simone, for your feedback, I Agree 100% Love is the answer not hate! It is much harder to make true love stick in film as its not dramatic, whereas evil is dramatic so that why its a central theme to a lot of what comes out of the industry. I do think Eastwoods Grand Tarino hit the mark of self sacrifice in a non traditional way of story telling.
If your interested, I have taken it upon myself to be that voice of love and encouragement by launching a series of short vids and audio productions on Linked In which is all about lifting people up and challenging each other to be a better person. you can find my stuff at stevejohann com. Thanks again
Steve, Simone, I’m with you! Art should create hope, not bury it again and again.
Wow, you guys made my day, and you especially Michael, for giving us this forum, and then directing all of us back to each other again! I wouldn’t have revisited this page had you not chosen to highlight it. Write on!
Absolutely brilliant, hits the nail on the head, and I agree with you Micheal unequivocally. Thank you for this, I feel the same about the show and the fact that people have criticized it is beyond me.
Perfectly executed finale!
Hits all the beats, her desire, her wants and needs, succumbing to tragedy.
Unfortunately, we live in an age where everybody thinks they know everything, fueled by social media and where people believe their opinions matter.
They don’t, storytelling is an art form and the writers of the show should be honoured.
It was an absolute pleasure watching it throughout the years.
Bravo Michael, I doff my hat to you for this post!
Michael thank you for your thoughtful, intelligence, impassioned analysis. I enjoyed reading your thoughts. GOT is the best written/acted TV series I’ve seen to date. Impeccable. Oh, how it pulled us in! My only regret with the last episode is that I felt it ended too soon, too quickly, too tidy, and altogether uncharacteristic of this great saga. (I understand logically that it’s only a show and we’re lucky they closed it out and did not just walk away.) The mid-season great war was, however, on the opposite end of that spectrum – most likely the best episode I’ve witnessed on TV. I’m still fist pumping the air for our heroine, Arya. Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us . I’m choosing to remember what I loved about this great series.
While I agree with the aesthetic of the ending, it was the mechanics of the delivery that made the crowd hate it. It was rushed. We were given one trajectory for character arc(s) for 7 seasons, then suddenly, many of them inexplicably changed. If the writers had even taken one extra season or a few episodes to develop those arcs, I suggest there may not have been such an ugly backlash.
I agree we were always shown Daenerys’s tendency, and maybe it was an exercise in subtlety, but was it too subtle?
It was for me.
I agree with the other commenters. The pacing was the main problem. I think we could have accepted most of the fates of the characters but due to the pace of the storytelling, none of it made sense. It was very rushed, and I think this is why fans are angry.
We know that HBO wanted more seasons, and were willing to pay, and that George RR Martin also thought there should be more, but the writers had lost interest. Fans feel rightly cheated. We invested years of our lives in these characters that were so deeply developed in early episodes but whose endings were rushed. Also there were huge moments that I did not believe in like The Long Night where everyone seemed to survive impossible situations. And then the Night King got killed without explanation by a character with no real connection to him.
It didn’t matter whether I agreed with the story in the finale or not; I was thoroughly bored throughout the episode (and many episodes in season 8), and by the end, I didn’t really care what happened to anyone. That’s not good storytelling, if you ask me. And we shouldn’t have to go back with hindsight to analyse it to see why maybe it was good. I really wanted to love it but it was pretty bad.
In my comment I forgot to speak on the Night King and what a waste of time that ended up being so thank you for bringing it up! All of the strange circular almost octopus looking symbols, the requirement for male infants, none of it was explained at all. While the Night King didn’t talk maybe a flashback by Bran, the all-seeing of the past could have helped let the audience know the origin of this enemy and what he ultimately wanted and why. This storyline was literally the driving force for much of the plot since episode one and it was left so unfulfilled. Why did Jon even have the option of taking the Black? Why would the Night’s Watch continue to exist when the very reason for their being has been exterminated? Are they just watching the snow fall? Or is there a chance a new Night King could rise? I guess we’ll never know!
I did not know that HBO wanted more seasons and that it was the writers that chose to bail! I hope that everyone who is disappointed at D&D’s execution of this show decline to support their future projects. I know I won’t watch anything they put out because even if it starts off good it will most likely just get more and more disappointing.
Thanks, Michael for your assessment of the GoT series ending.
Although I agree with some of your sentiments, I have to disagree with many of the choices the series writers made. Many of the choices, in my mind, did not make sense. For example: the reluctant hero. Being a life-long student of the Hero’s Journey, we all know the story of “the man who would be King”. He has to be a David who faces a Goliath. We have all been brought up with the lonely little farm boy who grows up be the knight who would slay the evil king — in this case it was Jon Snow putting his sword through Daenerys… I’m sorry but it all seemed so nonsensical and anti-climatic!
And the choice of Bran, a visionary who knew that many people would die, including Theon, who in my opinion was one of the best characters in the whole series, and who would be sacrificed for nothing…. I understand the theology of having Bran be king — but it has to be remembered that Westeros is NOT a progressive liberal society! It is a harsh world where young boys and would be leaders are poisoned or beheaded — and there is no sympathy for the handicapped (Arya was once blind and begging).
The rules of the tyrannical and medieval world were broken. All that had come before, the battle for the iron throne, came to a wince of an ending. Many were hoping that the Night King would’ve been the one to put an end to King’s Landing and Cersei’s Rule. That would’ve been much more satisfying than the ton of bricks!
But it’s over now and I have moved on to writing my own stories — and hope to have learned a critical lesson about writing a satisfying ending.
All of this is moot, in my opinion. It’s intellectualization of art.
Joseph Campbell said a work of art either strikes you or it doesn’t. It has power or it doesn’t. That’s primary. Any effort by your brain to explain why it does or doesn’t is secondary.
Especially with a hero’s journey, the mythic images have to line up. They’re like a combination lock of tumblers.
Luke casting his light saber down, surrendering, as the last action he took before winning and finding atonement with his father was perfect story metaphor. Everybody got it, in their gut, beyond intellectualization, beyond words. It worked. And viewers left elated and inspired.
Tragedies can work, can click, too. Ie: The Godfather. And viewers leave with a widening resonance within, a raised awareness.
GOT failed. It did not work. Ultimately, they intellectualized it all, lost all sense of “where does this WANT to go,” which is obviously how Martin penned the novels, and the “creators” steered it straight into an iceberg.
Our job is to serve the story, never take ownership of it. That’s how it dies on the vine time and time again. There’s is a world of difference between bringing yourself to the story and bringing the story to yourself.
The creators of GOT were the ones who fell victim to their egos, their identities. This debacle is their tragedy.
“The creators of GOT were the ones who fell victim to their egos, their identities. This debacle is their tragedy.”
Are you a writer? If so, I hope no one, ever, friend, foe or colleague ever eviscerates your effort.
Thanks for your insightful analysis, Michael. GOT is based lightly on the history of Lancaster and York, so murder of the innocent, treachery, abandonment and victory for the least likely is an appropriate ending.
We would like a happy ending but tragedy is a very powerful medium.
Well said, Michael . . . so much so it brings a tear to the eye!
Like you, Michael, I too, was satisfied with the ending for all the reasons you stated. I saw Daenerys unable to complete her character arc because she retreated into the fear-leadership, which was how her brother and her father led. She wanted revenge believing that Cersei had won (survived) by the ringing of the bells and she couldn’t let that happen; she wanted Cercei destroyed. If the town had remained unscathed, Cersei would find a way to rise again.
Jon was forever honest and true to the people, and to protect the people from another Mad ruler, he had no choice but to kill the one he had loved because the person he loved was now gone. To him, Dany was just a shell of another bad ruler.
I had called the ending (with a friend) that Bran would rule with Tyrion by his side, and that Ghost would reunite with Jon as they returned to the north. It’s where both really wanted to be.
It was Tyrion who had the wonderful character arc, from a sad no-nothing player to a man of stature and wisdom. I saw him as a Buddy Character from the beginning, always willing to tell people the truth whether they wanted to hear it or not.
GoT is one of the best series ever for so many reasons, especially for those that you’ve named. Thanks for the terrific explanation of the ending, as only you can do regarding plot and character!
A couple of responses: At the end of Game of Thrones, there is no end to it. The Game of Thrones will go on as it always has. Yes, there may be a respite from the internecine warfare on all sides, Hobbs’ war of all against all, but it will return because the survivors have chosen to maintain the structure that they know rather than daring to try something new. We should know that from our own world in which the game of thrones never ends.
Jon is ultimately a coward. He hasn’t the courage to directly confront Dany but, in effect, chooses to stab her in the back. Nor has he the courage to actually love her, if, indeed, he does. I thought it would be fitting if her dragon burned him to a crisp. He deserved it.
Dany, though temporarily off the rails, is the true breaker of chains, the breaker of the wheel. But even if successful in her goals, the odds are that whatever her reforms, they would not long survive her death no matter if she conquered the whole world. Consider Genghis Khan or Alexander and what happened to their empires.
Ultimately, human beings are human beings with all the virtues and flaws and possibilities we each contain. The Game of Thrones does no end but goes on and on and on and …
thoughtful and eye- opening analysis! Thank you for shedding some light on such a controversial topic. I like the use of screenwriting terminology in this context especially, since its a rational approach.
It would’ve been better if it hadn’t felt so rushed. However, I loved it all the same for all the reasons you mentioned. Anyone who expected a truly happy ending hadn’t been paying attention the previous 7 years. I don’t blame the writers at all for the dropped threads and neglected details that the entire previous seven series had held to with such importance. HBO was the culprit for not giving them more time to unfold the final season. BUT, it’s fiction, and the major lessons to be learned were there and that’s what I chose to remember instead of grousing over something that I can’t control or rewrite. It’s a story to be enjoyed and I loved the lessons in the end. As a storyteller, I was very gratified when Drogo melted the iron throne, because it’s what I’d been expecting as an ending for the past three years. That moment was perfect. And now on to the next wonderful tale that film makers and storytellers can bring to us through television and motion pictures.
Thank you for your thoughts on the final season.
I had similar feelings, strangely, after a few days that whatever happened was actually inevitable and was being foreshadowed right from the beginning.
However, I’d really like to know about your thoughts on how the story was paced in the final season and would it be more effective if the number of episodes and the length were increased? If some more time was given to absorb..
Also, do you think the watching habits affect the way we perceive or respond to a story? For example, would my experience be different if I binge watched the final season rather than picking every episode for seven days till the next one arrived?
In spite of all the criticism, I also see a lot of love from the people as I felt they hated it so much because they loved the show and wanted it to be much more satisfying. Though, in Ramsay Bolton’s words – If you think this has a happy ending, you’re not paying attention.”
Looking forward to hearing from you. Big fan of all your classes on Udemy and YouTube. Love you Sir
And thank you for existing.
Thank you for that genuine reflection. I still feel the final season’s storylines were uncommonly underdeveloped or rushed. But from what you wrote I do believe that a lot has to do with me not wanting to “break MY chains”.
What I loved is now gone…or on Hulu.
Well said and worth saying Michael!
What’s interesting about this analysis, Mr. Hague, is it completely destroys everything you have ever said about character and arc in a story. It shows these ‘theories’ for what they truly are: back-fitting a story to a theory.
If what happened the last season of ‘GoT’ makes sense to you, then everything you have ever written about stories being ‘about change’ is bull shit. Not one of those characters acted in a way supported by anything that went before.
Thank you for your views on GOT.
I agree with the story’s decision to make Danny violent in season 8 because there was plenty of clues leading up to it. That and the loss of her protectors who kept her sane made me feel that this decision wasn’t just pulled out of thin air.
However, I don’t agree at all with the pacing of the ending. There is a weight to the audiences response that has validity.
Pacing ruined the ending.
When I think of ending a poem, a song, a musical composition, a martial-arts kata- if one rushes to the end, it feels just not-right. A rushed ending makes a mockery or a “whatever feeling” to the journey that came before it. Take the more drawn out ending of The Return Of The King. The ending was extremely drawn out. Yet it felt more right then the car-slamming-on-the-brakes ending of the game of thrones. After a long journey home, I wish to ease into the garage, and take a deep breath.
Only with such an ending to such an amazing journey can I sleep well at night.
As usual, your analysis is profound and insightful. I would only present this argument; that the ending of GOT, while dramatically satisfying, was not earned. In their rush to close out the series and move on to other things, the Two Davids rushed the arc of Daenarys character to the point that she seemed to go crazy in a moment, rather than unraveling slowly, as the Mad King did…and perhaps, as Targaryen’s are predisposed to do. Her own brother’s downfall crossed several episodes, but her didn’t. This, more than the ending itself, was what I think sparked such a strong reaction in all of us who had been so invested in her character.