Who knew that the latest victim of Game of Thrones would be the fans?
At least, that’s how it seems at the moment. As HBO’s smash-hit fantasy drama inches to its conclusion, dissatisfaction from some quarters of viewership has become more noticeable, with the two most recent episodes of the series rated as among the series’ lowest on Rotten Tomatoes while former die-hards rage on Twitter and reddit about Thrones’ direction.
Now, close to a million fans are petitioning to have the whole thing remade, specifically disavowing the work of showrunners David Benioff and DB Weiss and claiming that they’re rushing the end of the drama so they can slink off and make a Star Wars movie.
It’s definitely become clear that Benioff and Weiss’ most recent work has rubbed fans up the wrong way – but personally, I think it was almost pre-ordained that the series’ end would disappoint.
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For one thing, no show with as many viewers as Game of Thrones could create a conclusion that would satisfy absolutely every fan. Some people might have wanted a happy ending, some people a sad one, and the old maxim proves true – you can’t please everybody.
Fans have also had the series swirling around in their heads for years, if not decades if they read the books, and have long harboured half-formed ideas about how they’d like the story to end. What finite, onscreen and necessarily limited version could compete with the boundless leaps of your imagination – which coincidentally doesn’t have to deal with the practicalities of writing, budgets and TV production?
But this doesn’t let Benioff and Weiss off the hook. While we can forgive them for writing a final Thrones season that doesn’t please everyone, when it begins to alienate so many die-hard fans, we have to look at what exactly has gone wrong.
Personally? I think they were placed in an almost impossible position.
I’m not necessarily excusing the choices they’ve made – I’ve found the last two series rushed and lacking in the series’ usual internal logic, as much as I’ve enjoyed certain parts – but when they started the series, the pair of them did great work adapting George RR Martin’s sprawling, complex saga of books for TV.
Fans loved it, casual viewers were drawn to it, and even Benioff and Weiss’ additions to the series – including a favourite scene between Mark Addy’s Robert Baratheon and Lena Headey’s Cersei and the epic Massacre at Hardhome – were popular with those tuning in.
Fast forward a few years, and Martin STILL hadn’t turned in another book. Suddenly, Benioff and Weiss had to continue the story with only the barest bones of the final plot (as supplied to them by Martin) and little idea of the weird and wonderful routes Martin would go down to get there.
With that in mind, it’s not entirely surprising that things started to speed up. It’s one thing to find a way to bring Martin’s ideas to screen, and quite another to make up new plots and characters completely separate from his books just to keep the story going for longer.
Already, fans were complaining at how long Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) had spent mooching around Meereen, a problem Martin himself has admitted he struggled to solve without bringing her over to Westeros too early. Previously, they’d complained about how long Theon’s torture storyline had played out. Now that it was clear Martin wouldn’t be there to fill in the gaps, I can fully understand the impulse to wrap everything up and stop characters just spinning their wheels while the actors became increasingly keen to move on to new roles.
Of course, it’s possible it was the wrong impulse. By far my favourite episode this year – and since the season six finale, if I’m honest – was this series’ second instalment, A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms – a story all about spinning wheels as the characters reflected on their lives and found some small comfort before potentially meeting their doom in the next episode.
In seasons seven and eight we’ve missed that slow-burn breathing space, and the series is poorer for it. But would it be better if they kept things slowly moving along, inventing new obstacles to hold off the ending? I’m not convinced.
Hell, the only way Martin has managed to keep things interesting (having originally planned to have a somewhat uneventful five-year time-jump for his main characters that he’s instead writing through) is to add more and more subplots and characters to his books that ARE doing interesting things, making them increasingly unwieldy as a result.
Look, this final series of Game of Thrones has been disappointing, uneven, sloppy even. I’m sure there’s a version of this version that could have been more satisfying, better written and more popular among the fans.
But I’m also sure that a large proportion of viewers would have hated that ending almost (if not as much as) they did this one – and no amount of virtual signatures from entitled fans can change that.
Game of Thrones concludes on Sky Atlantic and NOWTV at 2am and 9pm on Mondays