Endings Are Not Stoppings: On Game of Thrones, And How We Conclude Our Stories

Endings Are Not Stoppings: On Game of Thrones, And How We Conclude Our Stories

“Dear Penthouse Letters…”

Ahem. So. Endings are fucking hard.

They just are. It’s hard enough with one book, much less seven or eight books (or seasons of television, or movies, or what-have-you). The more epic the tale, the tougher it is to conclude that journey, because you’re not just concluding a “plotline,” you’re trying to tie dozens of threads — character, primarily — off in pleasing and appropriate knots. Some are tied together, others more grand than others, some get no knots or bows at all and are snipped cruelly with a pair of scissors. The larger the story, the more threads you have to deal with, and the goal is to have woven them into some kind of tapestry — not just a bundle of loose, untied threads that dangle in a waterfall of unfinished narrative. And Game of Thrones was a very large story, indeed. To its credit, it was both epic and intimate, beautiful and harrowing, twisty and entangling. I say with no small appreciation that the existence of this show is genuinely astonishing, and it is due credit to George R.R. Martin and the showrunners that it not only got to happen, but happened in a way that made it one of the biggest, most satisfying, and routinely most upsetting television show of the last decade, if not of all damn time. Big show. Big audience. Lotta meaty, chewy stuff.

It is therefore worth noting that no matter what Game of Thrones did last night, its ending would’ve been disappointing to someone. There is no way to satisfactorily end such an epic undertaking — especially such a morally and emotionally complicated undertaking — in a way that values every viewer and every fan. Everyone had their favorite characters, their pet theories, the questions they hoped would be answered. Who will be king, why did the White Walkers arrange things in a mysterious spiral, why did Bran just Warg off from the Battle of Winterfell in a bunch of fucking crows I mean was he trying to poop on something or just get some sweet sweet berries or what.

I’d like to say I’m still processing the episode, but really, I’m not. I was mostly bored by it — it contained a great deal of pontificating and mumbling and walking around, and not to a whole lot of effect. It had a few good moments, and one or two truly beautiful moments, and for me, as is my way, I like to unpack what I didn’t like in a sort of grander, storytelling way. Like, what does this mean for other storytellers and writers? Are there lessons to be learned? The answer to that is, only if you want, of course. Because as is my constant refrain: this shit ain’t math. What one person finds boring and unsatisfying, another will find invigorating and perfect in all that it concludes. So I do this for me more than I do it for you. You, of course, will come along for the ride as I try to figure it out, and maybe you’ll find something in here, too — to agree with, to think about, to stir your agita so badly that it causes you to make ten angry YouTube videos.

Once again, though, let’s do some spoiler space.

This time, a photo of an egg which also looks like the poster to the 40-Year-Old Virgin.

SPOILERS NOW INCOMING.

Awooga, awooga.

There were, of course, things I liked about this episode, and it’s wisest to begin with those. Dany emerging with the dragon’s wings framed behind her is perhaps one of the most gorgeous pieces of cinematography in the whole show. Jon Snow being a continued lump, good. Sansa as the Queen of the North is obvious. Jon got to pet the dog and live a life of quiet contemplation with his lover, Tormund. I am pro- all of these things. Yay these things. Huzzah and hooray.

But my overall feelings toward the episode were… well, as with the prior episode, I’m not mad, I’m just disappointed. I felt a kind of quizzical discomfort throughout, this slowly growing feeling that the time put into the show was not returning to me in any kind of narrative satisfaction. It was a treacly episode, like pudding sliding down a wall. And then the pudding reached the floor and then the episode was over and it was like, oh. Oh. Okay. That happened. That was a thing that occurred that I was passive witness to. All right. My wife was sitting next to me — she watched the first couple seasons until the brutality became too much, but she has sat with me on most of these last season episodes — and she was, “I only peripherally pay attention to this show, but even I’m somehow unsatisfied by this.” It lacked energy, for one (Bran’s mopey mystical delivery is perhaps a very good metaphor for how this episode felt), but for me it was more than that, one that I realized late last night, as various storms raged through our area, waking my ass up again and again —

The show didn’t feel like it ended.

The show felt like it stopped.

It’s like a premature death — one day your uncle is there, the next he’s gone, and there’s no saying goodbye, no real concluding paragraph to the end of his life. His obituary is just, “and then he got pancaked by a bus, the family is accepting charitable donations to Uncle Gordon’s favorite Possum Sanctuary, we respect your privacy in this difficult time.”

A good ending, as noted, ties up a lot of threads — character threads, ideally, but of course plot threads too — but an ending is also usually something that surprises us, and it does so in a way that while we are surprised, we aren’t shocked. In other words, it’s like a surprise party on or around our birthday — we didn’t know it was coming, but it’s also not completely bizarre. That’s how surprise parties work. It’s not a surprise birthday party four months after our birthday, because what the fuck is this, Dave, my birthday was four months ago, Dave, you tremendous piece-of-shit, maybe if you didn’t get high all the time on the couch we could pay attention to other people. Fucking Dave.

A bad ending fails to negotiate with or render those threads and surprises in a satisfying way. And I’d argue that’s what happened here, at least for me — and again, the way I look at this is mostly through the lens of characters, because let us repeat the motto: Characters Are Why We Care.

*rainbow star shoots across the sky*

Dany: She shows up, gives a kind of Fantasy Hitler speech in another language that somehow even Jon Snow and Tyrion understand, then smiles to Jon and is like, wow we’re gonna make the Kingdoms so cool, and he stabs her and she’s dead. And that’s it. That’s it for one of our main main characters. The curtain doesn’t close on her so much as it tries to close on her body, and comically keeps opening and closing on her cooling corpse as a dragon melts the Iron Throne in a heavy METAPHOR ALERT. (Turns out, Drogon is Old Valyrian for “on-the-nose.”) Most of Dany’s character beats in this episode are put in mouths of other characters. Men decide her fate in the margins of the show. She has no awareness, no reckoning. She’s there. And then she’s not. I do understand that this show sometimes gives us send-offs that are lacking in pomp and glory, but this felt like they were euthanizing her. It was her time, those gathered in hospice say as they casually up her morphine intake. It felt weak and particularly curious for a queen who had just last week been hella paranoid about Jon Snow — now she wants to hug it out and convince him it’s all cool, while they’re all alone, and he’s kitted out with sword, knife, and armor. Again: she’s there, and then she’s not. Dany just sorta stops(Though only after the show retroactively villainizes her — there’s a lot of late-stage, “Well, even though we and the show treated her like a conquering hero, don’t we all really recognize now she was a batshit genocidal maniac? Good talk. Go stab her.”)

Arya: The show found its purpose for her in the Battle of Winterfell, and since then, has had no purpose for her. She doesn’t try to do anything in this episode. On the attendance sheet, she is merely marked ‘present,’ and then is gone. I like where she’s going (and if there’s not an ARYA GOES ON A MURDER VACATION spin-off I will eat my fucking television), but the show really has no idea what it wants from her anymore. She barely tries to convince Jon of anything. She’s somehow still in the city after… leaving the city. At the Electoral College meeting she’s content to just sit there, mostly. The show had a plot purpose for her and now that the purpose is over, it doesn’t know what to do with her on the chessboard, so it moves the Arya piece to the edges with an awkward shrug.

Brienne: Another character whose purpose has been met and is now mostly just there. She got her knighthood, she got her Lannister Love and subsequent heartbreak, and now she’s mostly just hanging around. She gets to tell Jaime’s story, of course, but not her own, because hashtag feminism. Her story, again, just… stops. It has no shape. It just gently runs into a wall and then has a nap.

Bran: Who the fuck is Bran. I mean, I know he’s the Three-Eyed Raven and is a theoretically half-immortal seer, but we haven’t had much sense of who he is — and now he’s king *nervous laughter* ha ha what the fuck. I guess? I guess. I dunno. No fault of the actor but Bran is one of those characters who clearly had a confused role in the show — you can tell, because at the Battle of Winterfell he’s mostly just there, like a painting on a wall or a bowl of scrambled eggs. He jumps to some crows for no good reason. He has some connection to the Night King which doesn’t matter and won’t be revealed. He’s just a Magical Wheelchair Boy who… is again, the king? Really? Him? Her? Egg? *extreme Thor voice* Is he though? Wh… why? His story doesn’t just stop — it arguably just begins. I do like the evolution of the power concentrating into the hands of nobles, and I like that in a roundabout sense, Dany did get what she wanted in that she broke the wheel — but she broke it so that Westeros gets Bran? Bran. Bran?! … Bran. Bran, like the thing that helps you poop. BRAN.

Sansa: Bran, though? Really? I know we’ve moved onto Sansa but that just makes me even madder that it’s Bran? Listen, Sansa gets probably the best ending here, in that she’s baller enough to be like, THE NORTH REMAINS FREE, YOU FUCKHEADS, and then she Nopes the hell out of the sheer wreckage of King’s Landing to rule her ICE KINGDOM. Just the same, in that line up of people sitting there, she shoulda been the Queen of Westeros. When Tyrion was like, “Stories matter and who has the best story?” and then it’s like, Arya is a faceless murder princess who killed the Night King, and Sansa has endured countless abuses and challenges to emerge as the smartest, coolest, most strategic player in all of the land, and then Tyrion is like, “It’s Bran! His claim to fame is that he fell out a window!” Hey, what? What the fuck, Tyrion? Sansa. It’s Sansa! It’s fucking Sansa, you dingle.

Tyrion: The smartest character, besides Sansa, is now the stupidest. He seems to recognize it. He gives Jon a kind of motivating speech, I guess, which theoretically urges Jon to kill Dany because Jon is just a lump of cold poop you can mold into whatever shape you want. I guess he ends where he should: as the power behind the throne. But he’s kinda been that at multiple stages, too — and here, we see a similar problem in him as we do with Sansa. There’s very little state change between them. Sansa is the unofficial queen of the north and is now of the official queen of the north. Tyrion is long a power behind powerful people, and he remains the power behind powerful people. He was the hand, he is the hand. There’s little interruption in that narrative line — again, little differentiation in shape. Stories capture contrasts and pivots — they are, when operating well, about challenging a status quo, not just in a world, but more importantly, for the stories of our characters. And there is no shift in the status quo for him. Or for a lot of these characters.

Jon Snow: I liked his ending. I think he’s a dong. And I like that the show seems to realize that, too. Good, go back to the north, you no-nothing, know-nothing hunk. Stabbing Dany was probably the most effectual thing he’s done in several seasons. Go pet your dog, dipshit.

And that’s that.

We conclude on a cool Regional Council meeting where they all joke about how they’re going to rule, not once acknowledging that the entire city is basically dead, you fucking pigs, and then the Starks get their time, mostly alone, not really together, with minimal emotional pay-off between the characters. The sisters don’t get a moment, really, not together. Bran is cryptic. Jon is haggard. Credits roll.

It just feels like this show didn’t really know how to have a shape to most of this — the Night King just stops. He’s there, then he’s dead, and there’s no more problem. Cersei and Jaime are there, and then they are killed by a thin layer of bricks. Dany gets got. Arya goes away. Sansa and Tyrion continue. Bran and Jon are the the only ones who seem to have some shape to their endings — a state shift, a break in their status quos. Jon’s as a reiterative return, Bran’s as something new. Whether they’re earned, I don’t know. But so much of what went on didn’t really matter. The White Walkers, the spiral, Jon’s heritage, various prophecies, Gendry, Cersei’s pregnancy, and on and on. They all seemed to be plotty things meant to motivate characters, but when their usefulness in that regard had faded, those plotty things were simply put back in the toybox. Once again contributing to the feeling that this was a show that did not end so much as it simply stopped.

A great disappointment for me is that the show has long been interested in the minutiae — and now it’s forgotten it. Were I writing the end to this season, and really, the end to the show, I believe I would’ve given each of our principal characters an entire episode for them to grapple with the enormity of what the fuck just happened. Give us their emotions. Give us time between them where they find peace, or horror, or truth, or comforting lies. Allow us time to see how Dany would rule (meaning, not well). Show us how Sansa rules. Show us Sansa and Arya being sisters again. Give us something. Anything. Some shape to the narrative. Some time to grieve. Some time to end.

But that’s what we storytellers do — we try to figure out how we’d make it our story. And this one isn’t mine. It was what it was, and I can only reckon with it in the ways I know how.

As with all things, Your Mileage May Vary. And it should vary! And it’s entirely awesome if you found this satisfying — that is of course why stories are interesting, not because of universal appeal but because we all bring different eyes and different hearts to them. We each see a different story, and so if you dug it, I high-five you. It didn’t work for me, though again, I recognize that the show has long been one I’ve grappled with in many ways. At the end of it all though, it remains a stunning achievement, worthy of its place in television history.

I just wish it ended on, for me, a more satisfying note.

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54 responses to “Endings Are Not Stoppings: On Game of Thrones, And How We Conclude Our Stories”

  1. You’re right. The ending is just there though I wasn’t entirely disappointed with it. It just felt rushed. Like the writers just wanted to be done with it so they just threw a bunch of battles together, killed a few people, and pulled something out of their asses to put a pretty glittery bow on it and call it an ending. I’m holding out hope that George Martin will have a better ending (or at least a more satisfactory explanation for the ending) in his books when he finishes them. If he finishes them.

  2. Damn good post. I think you sum things up pretty well. I like the idea of giving each of the main characters an episode to work things out. There has to be time for proper resolution. Of course, they needed more episodes to properly bring the characters to where they needed to be in the first place. The truncated nature of both Seasons 7 and 8 bore bitter fruit. People online are going ‘the writers are incompetent!’, but I don’t think so– I don’t think they were given enough screen time to do things right.

    I’m glad to see someone else want the Adventures of Captain Arya, West of Westeros. I would be all over that.

    • Unfortunately, it was the decision of the showrunners and not HBO for these last seasons to be shortened.

      HBO in fact, wanted to give them more episodes.

      They said as much in a interview with Entertainment Weekly.

      Here’s a direct quote: “HBO would have been happy for the show to keep going, to have more episodes in the final season,” Benioff

  3. THANK YOU for this, because lord, I had a lot of the same thoughts. It felt like so many of the character just ceased, not even in a too-neat way. But in a “I guess we’re done?” kinda vibe. And it wasn’t satisfying emotionally at all.

    A few things bothered me. The fact that Arya was going to close very specific sets of eyes — it was even brought up a few episodes back — was dropped. At the time, she had a pair of green eyes left to complete the prophecy, or whatever you want to call it. And it NEVER happened. I had assumed she’d kill Cersei, but then rocks fell, everyone died. (Side-note: Tyrion was quite compelling crying over his siblings, but I really don’t know that we needed that moment.)

    Bran is the worst. I mean, seriously. We didn’t really get to know him well enough, and neither did a lot of the people on that council who were like, “Cool, be king!” I felt like there might’ve been more of an argument, too, when Sansa was like, “The North is going to be it’s own thing.” But everyone just kind of shrugged? It was strange.

    I thought it was also weird that all of the siblings kind of went there own way again, without even taking a moment to spend time together. I kind of expected a moment between all of them, after the chaos had passed without them dying.

    Arya’s quest to see the world was okay enough, I guess. But I wanted more for her, somehow, although I can’t articulate what right now (I need more coffee).

    Lastly, I didn’t love or hate Jon returning to the night’s watch. But it felt particularly anti-climatic. Like, he technically has a claim to the throne, as did Gendry, and was simply returned to being nobody. His lineage was made out to be SO important, but nothing came of it, except to create a modicum of tension between him and Dany. Beyond that, it had no point and no bearing.

    Lastly, the dragon mourning Dany might’ve been one of the most compelling moments — right up until it didn’t incinerate Jon, but somehow knew enough to melt the throne down. Like, EXCUSE ME? The dragons always understood commands, but since when did they understand symbols and politics? It was crazy weird.

    • It’s puzzling, too, because Varys seemed to be sending off crow-texts about how Jon was really the real king, and I guess… the crows are dead? Bran WARGed those crows? Wtf.

      • YES. I was also uncertain whom he was sending those to, now that I think about it. But how did THAT get dropped? And Bran’s reaction read more as blah than all-knowing. It was WEIRD. I was a bit surprised that they honored Gendry’s title, after Dany died. He had a claim to the throne AND didn’t murder anyone, so….

        • Yeaaaah, it’s strange. Like, I get that not every PLOT THING is gonna be addressed — but so many things seemed irrelevant. So much! YEAH, NONE OF THAT MATTERED, and not in a cool, thematic way (which was the point of the White Walkers) but in a, “Eh, fuck it,” way.

          • Right! So many of the things introduced were made out to SEEM important, only to have them totally dropped and ignored. It’s like they got to the last two episodes and were like, SHIT — now WHAT?

          • I did wonder how they could send the sole remaining Targaryen to the wall. It’s not as if his brother was ruling and he would be in the way…

            Oh, wait.

    • “His lineage was made out to be SO important, but nothing came of it”

      Going into it last night, this was the one thing I knew I wanted: for Jon’s lineage to mean nothing. It didn’t get a lot of play, but the one thing I knew in my bones was that the novel series was born on tearing down fantasy narrative tropes, so if there had been a “You’re the lost heir! The one true king!” thing that put him on the throne, I’d have been mad.

      • I guess it’s not that I want it to literally mean something cosmically, or supernaturally — but like, it literally mattered to a whole lot of people. It was how the entire kingdom functioned for a very long time, and further, with Varys sending off his little missives, it was clear it had VALUE as currency, and then this episode was like, haha fuck that. They didn’t even *address* it after Tyrion’s chat with Jon. It was barely mentioned, like so many things, a piece of the story kicked behind the plot as it churned forward. GoT used to deal with all the little inconveniences — they built up like sediment. But here they just ignored it all. For so many things.

        • I think part of that (and, again, stuff here SO RUSHED, so it’s hard to feel the urgency) is the need to come up with a solution that will get the Unsullied to go, “Fine, whatever” instead of “Fuck all you people, we’re tearing it all down”, and any mention of “Maybe Jon could be King” would be in the latter category. I think the only reason Jon and Tyrion were even alive (and this is, of course, subtext when it should have text) is the Unsullied had almost all sense of personal initiative beaten out of them. They can only follow, so without any “execute Jon and Tyrion” orders, they were just like, “OK, put someone in charge who can give us those orders”.

          But, yeah, its value just vanished once it did its job of undermining Dany’s confidence.

          I mean, Jon got a “nice” ending, but I think the back half of the narrative would have worked better if Drogon had roasted him and the throne, thus leaving that utter vacuum there for the Conference Of Now What?

      • I would’ve been more interested in that happening if Jon had decided to keep it a secret. That would’ve been a fascinating decision from a character standpoint. From a narrative standpoint, it felt like a dropped thread amid a sea of them.

    • I read all the books and I believe I remember that Knights don’t write their own entries, and often time their squires-turned-knights would write the entries when they died. So in that sense, Podrick will be the one to write Brienne’s story in the future. Obviously the show didn’t state that, but I figured I’d throw it out there.

      • That’s good to know, thank you. As someone who watched the entire series but didn’t read the books, that detail completely escaped me. Unfortunately it left me with a really disheartened impression of that scene.

  4. Immediately after Dany was killed, I paused the playback and looked at the time remaining. I said aloud, to my cat, “What the fuck are they going to do with 40 more minutes?” As it turns out: not so much. There was nothing particularly shocking about the events of the finale, though I likely couldn’t have predicted them with any great accuracy. All of the resolutions were of the, “Yes, I can see that,” sort. I think it was telling that during the Electoral College scene (I’ve seen a few folks dub it such), the closed captions referred to many of the people saying “Aye” to Bran as “Man,” “Other Man,” and “Man 2.” These were characters we were supposed to be impressed by but they couldn’t be bothered to be given names.

  5. I was someone who WAS satisfied with the ending (not gonna waste your time with why or try to refute anything). I just wanted to say that I loved your post, and you put it into words beautifully. I wish everyone appreciated the nuance of storytelling and would be ok having differing opinions on something the way you celebrate it

  6. Incisive analysis as usual. But mostly I wanted to say how gorgeous your Wanderers cover is. Absolutely stunning! Best of luck with the launch. (There is a typo on your Amazon blurb. Thought I’d point it out just in case no one has noticed that before.)

  7. Nailed it. My exact opinions, all here, except minus the yelling and ranting that my husband and I did while trying to process it.

    I was particularly upset with Brienne’s ending and I’m surprised I haven’t seen more fury about how this badass woman knight was forced to silently write the heroic story of an abusive man as her last act. Talk about erasure. And talk about how women are supposed to quietly brush crappy treatment under the rug and fix everything so it looks nice. The fact that they did this to Brienne and thought it was somehow touching was jaw-dropping. (And I loved the fraught Brienne-Jamie friendship/romance as much as anyone.)

    • Agreed! It was clear that we were supposed to be touched by her finishing HIS story, but jfc, NO. I’m still livid about his sudden return to Cersei, honestly — especially given how poorly he treated Brienne in his departure. They’d established how much he valued her as a PERSON, when he knighted her — so his callousness just rang so hollow for me. And the acting of writing his story might’ve been done as closure for her character, but there was no real indication of that. It was poorly handled on so many levels.

    • Brienne’s ending reminded me of a criticism of Mikki Kendall’s criticism of Missandei’s death: “Missandei’s story is what happens when the writers can not imagine a world where Black characters are fully developed.” Brienne’s story stopping when Jaime’s does – and her elevating Jaime’s story over her own – is what happens when the writers cannot imagine a woman’s character development and story not revolving around a man’s.

  8. Assuming he doesn’t die of old age first, I eagerly anticipate the George RR Martin version of events. It certainly won’t be what we’ve seen on TV.

  9. “Jon got to pet the dog and live a life of quiet contemplation with his lover, Tormund. I am pro- all of these things.”
    You’re pro Tormund having to settle for Jon?

  10. Thanks so much for this, Chuck! Absolutely agree with this.

    I stopped enjoying the show quite a few seasons ago but got interested again because Endings Matter – and with a story this intricate and epic, surely I could learn stuff about storytelling from The Big Ending…?
    I did. I learned what I don’t want to do.

    I really like how you contrast stopping and ending. With a show that’s always been full shock twists and dead ends, pulling off merely another one of those and calling it an ending is… well, stopping. Because you’re just doing what you’ve always done until you’re not. And your choice to leave off when you do becomes suddenly arbitrary and makes it look like you just kinda… gave up.

    And your story runs gently into a wall and takes a nap. That’s exactly how that feels.

    Guess I have to put in the work myself and figure out what endings mean and how they shape stories. Dammit. 😉

  11. I completely agree with what you said here: “A great disappointment for me is that the show has long been interested in the minutiae — and now it’s forgotten it.” That has been the hardest thing for me. It was such a slow-moving, intricate show, and the minutiae was what I enjoyed most! There was so much depth to the story and characters, and this season completely stripped that away, to the detriment of the show.

  12. I wanted so much more death and betrayal. Death! And! Betrayal!

    And scheming!

    Tyrion should have died for his dumb dumb dumb betrayal to Dany last episode. Jon could have also been killed by Dany out of paranoia. And hey, there you go, now we ahve a queen who is getting a little too bloodthirsty. Cue Sansa to spread the wrod she killed the true heir to the throne, cue Arya for a second great revenge kill (finally).

    Death and betrayal and ruthless consequence for everything, good and bad, is what made this show great. Sigh, where did to GO this season?

  13. It had to be Bran because Bran can’t sire children. That was the whole point. He’s an elected king, a first for Westeros, but in order to make electing kings an institution it needs to be repeated at least once. When Bran is ready to step down or dies, he’ll have no heir who will be tempted to claim the throne and the council will elect another and at that point hopefully the realm will have finally moved away from primogeniture (ie, broken the wheel). It’s sociological conflict and resolution stuff like this the show did so well with in the early seasons and then moved away from in favor of forcing all the major characters to speed-date in the last two seasons. It was nice to see it again.

    • But did they actually remove the temptation for the (figurative) throne? That’s what we’re meant to believe, but the logic just doesn’t work for me. Westeros is now a hereditary oligarchy. When it’s time to elect the next monarch, who are they, these lords and ladies who literally laughed at the idea of a popular vote, going to vote for? One of their own. And if every great house thinks they have a shot at the crown, well, I don’t see how this ends well. What they really needed was some kind of constitution or charter (cough, Magna Carta), some kind of lasting change that either visibly shifted power away from the monarch, defanging it, or ensured that the next election is not going to be decided by whoever doesn’t have a knife sticking out of their back or the most gold in their pockets. For a show so steeped in political intrigue to just hold this up as a magic cure without even engaging with the idea fully disappointed me.

  14. I really thought Gendry would be king–He was the TRUE heir as a legal Barratheon, and he was also a common man. As such, he would have had a foot in the old world, and a foot in the new one. Other than Sam’s idea, Gendry, to me made the most sense. Bran himself says that he’s the link to the past–how does that make him the future of Westeros?

    Bran makes sense in the books because you get a lot of Bran the Builder backstory and, I suspect, would have gotten more as the books progress. Show-wise, no sense.

    Arya and Sansa had the most interesting stories, other than Jon’s rteurn from the dead. God love Peter Dinklage for delivering the illogical selection of Bran in such a convincing way.

    • Agree about Gendry. Also, it would be deliciously ironic for the show to end as it had began – with a Barantheon on the throne – and very in keeping with GoT’s “does anything actually matter” narrative nihilism.

  15. I haven’t been watching, just playing along at home. But this whole thing makes me think of my first ending to my first novel. Which hit the right plot points, but didn’t ring true.

    3 complete throw-it-away-and-try-again revisions later, I’ve got something I think works.

  16. As a writer also, I totally concur with the idea that endings are very difficult. And I can’t even imagine the pressure put on you when you’re writing for a show with such an epic cast of characters and plot lines AND you’ve got budget limitations (and your own plans) to end in a certain number of episodes.

    Benioff and Weiss said they’d planned to tell a 70-hour story that became 73 hours. They designed and wrote for that. They may even have been under pressure to conform to that budget before they said it publicly. Whatever the reason, GoT had to be done in that framework.

    Writing a novel, you can go as long as you like. Writing a script? Not so much. Things are going to get left out. Strokes will be broader. Decisions will be made. Viewers will agree and disagree with those calls.

    • HBO offered them 10 eps for S8 and they turned it down. They chose this time frame, and imo the show – and the viewers – suffered for it. Even people who liked the season have said it felt rushed, so whatever the reason for their decision, I think D&D made a huge mistake saying no to HBO’s offer.

  17. Thank you for acknowledging how badly Brienne was treated, erased from Jaime’s life in his last conversation with Tyrion, then forced by the writers to cover for his cruelty, as if her pain and her arc meant nothing. Every review I’ve seen talks about the stupidity of Jaime and Cersei dying by falling bricks, but with no acknowledgment that Brienne’s story was dropped and she was made just an accessory to Jaime’s journey and his completely unmotivated return to Cersei. It’s as if the writers stopped seeing her as a person, so the reviewers did, too. Thank you for seeing her.

  18. Spot on. I was put off by the way they used Dany’s out-of-context past rants to justify her actions, ignoring literally everything else she said and did. The person she acted like is not the person the show spent seven seasons building. I think all the foundation George R.R. Martin laid was ignored so they could just say, “Surprise, mother-effers! It’s Bran! Y’all didn’t see it coming, did ya, DID YA?! All your expectations were red herrings and you get BRAN. ENJOY.” I think it’s prideful to toss aside the rightful expectations of viewers just to be shocking. That’s my issue. If you’re going to throw everything away, at least leave us with someone we actually would want to see on the Iron Throne. Bran is the poster boy of Characters I Don’t Care About.

  19. I agree with most of your criticisms. It is INSANE to me that Sansa wasn’t at least floated as a possibility for the Queen – not by Yohn Royce, who’s been treating her like the Queen all this season anyway; not by Jon, who knows Sansa was right all along about not bending the knee to Dany; not by Tyrion, who knows exactly what Sansa is capable of and has admired her mettle ever since her days in Joffrey’s court. I mean, I think there’s an excellent chance she would have said “fuck no, I just spent years being treated as a pawn – raped and held hostage and forced to watch my father die – by others who wanted the throne, get that cursed shit away from me.” But it would have been nice to see her asked, yanno? Even just a scene between her and Tyrion where he alludes to the possibility and she shuts him down. But at least she got a A throne, and probably the best ending of the bunch.

    Brienne’s ending is the one that really pissed me off. In a episode ostensibly all about the power of stories, we’re shown her adding to Jaime’s instead of writing her own?! It’s like the writers didn’t know what to do with her now that “her man” is dead. I so wanted Sansa to ask her to lead her Queen’s Guard in the North. It would have been a nice acknowledgment of how devoted Brienne has been to the Stark girls, as well as a feminist moment in a show severely lacking them.

    Jon deserved the ending he got. I’m glad he didn’t become King. That Bran did is, well…actually pretty on-brand for a show all about mediocre white men failing upwards while smart, capable women are either villainized, victimized, or both. Truly, Game of Thrones IS the show for our times.

    My one difference of opinion is on Arya’s ending. I liked it. It was a nice LotR shoutout as well as feeling true to her character. Arya has spent the entire show pushing back on what was expected of her – as a Stark, as a noble, as a woman – and I think it’s completely in keeping with her story to survey her somewhat limited options now that nobody needs to be good and knifed and decide “no, I’m going to keep forging my own path.” (I’m *less* enamored by the implication that she becomes the Westerosi Columbus, but…female characters uncomfortably evoking colonialism is ALSO very on-brand for this show.)

    • I kinda felt like Arya should have died. Like, when the Hound warns her about the consequences of revenge, she should have turned to him and been all “Are you kidding? I already killed so many people. I murdered an entire family. Like, the biggest family. I fed this guy’s children to him, and then I smiled while I slit his throat, and then I poisoned the rest of his kids and grandkids while I was at it. There had to have been at least a hundred people in there. I’m up to my freakin’ eyeballs in vengeful blood. If anything, I should be teaching you about getting revenge.”

      • But Arya dying would have completely fucked with the “what do we say to the god of death?” “not today” through-line of the show. She’s was always going to be the Girl Who Lived, the prodigal everyone thought was lost, only to return home in the hour of greatest need (i.e. the Night King). Out of all the characters, her story is the one that hews closest to the classic Hero’s Journey, albeit with a abnormally high body count. Also, killing her after she broke her own wheel by deciding not to get revenge against Cersei would have made zero sense from a storytelling perspective.

  20. I definitely like the idea of Bran as king, though it was executed poorly. That’s actually more or less my opinion of this season in aggregate: interesting ideas that fell flat not only because of the rushed pacing but also because they didn’t quite fit with the world of the show – like they were trying to jam an octagon into a hexagon-shaped hole. And that makes sense: D&D were adapting an outline of a different but related project, A Song of Ice and Fire. But the show is ultimately not the books, and the bullet points that Martin plans to hit in ASOIAF don’t necessarily work quite as well in Game of Thrones. Obviously this is speculative, but I think GoT might have been better served if D&D had completely disregarded Martin’s outline (or declined even to look at it) and produced entirely original content from season 5/6 and on.

    For example, left to their own devices I suspect D&D would have picked Sansa as queen. The reason they went with Bran was because (I’m almost positive) it’s part of Martin’s outline. But Bran is more important in the books, and the whimsical “fairy tale” feel to his chapters seems like it’s setting up Tyrion’s speech about Bran’s “story” in a way that the show simply has not. Again, it’s a good idea – but it’s not the right idea here.

  21. Tyrion at least understands some Valyrian. Its not suggested that Jon actually understands her.. Tyrion is asking Jon about her tone during the speech

  22. Your hospice allusion was not good. Hospice does not hasten death, despite what you and others ignorantly believe. I work in hospice. Morphine is not “casually turned up”. Unfortunately ignorant beliefs about hospice care (equating it with euthanasia) cause people to avoid hospice care that could greatly enhance their quality of life. I wish you had not written that.

  23. THIS…just THIS post right here is EVERYTHING I have been feeling. Chuck Wendig you are, have been, and probably will be for a while, an important voice in literature, at least to me.

    *off-topic thought* I definitely need to get back into writing….

    But yes…this last season DID feel rushed and SOOOO many things didn’t get answered. I’m not sure if its because they wanted to hurry and get it done so they could write for star wars or they just ran out of ideas….but man…I’m disappointed.

  24. Thank you for this. Clear, reasonable, fair and fun to read even if the subject is about disappointment.

    I’d like throw a couple more things for you to “wtf” about.

    Yara Greyjoy, who only aligned herself to Dany after receiving her assurance that the Iron Islands would become independent from the realm, is a-ok with being ruled by King Bran, after seeing Sansa getting independence for the North.

    The writers completely forgot about this or just didn’t care about her character.

    Bran. Creepy Bran. He who isn’t a person anymore. He who has no want and because of it turned down becoming Lord of Winterfell, travels to King’s Landing and not only accepts Tyrion’s proposal of him being the next King but implies that he knew all along this was going to happen.

    So you have to wonder, what else did he know?

    Bran also rarely volunteers information, speaking mostly when spoken to. Yet he does but one thing this season that has consequences which was to push Sam to reveal to Jon his true parentage. We all saw the consequences of that but why did Bran insist to Sam that he had to tell Jon then and there? No one benefited from it, except for Bran.

    It led to him becoming King which since he accepted it means it’s something he wanted. And then there’s the showrunners admitting in a “behind the episode” for the “The Long Night” that Bran can see the future, which would make him the biggest monster and puppet master of the show.

    Unless of course, in his visions he conveniently missed out on a dragon dying, Missandei and ya know, a genocide by dragonfire.

    And lets not forget that Dany was barren, there was no chance of a new Targaryen dynasty. Should she and Jon have stayed together and oblivious to his parentage, they’d have been the last Targaryen’s and the line would have been broken anyway.

    So many plot holes, so little care.

  25. Wow, so much to unpack. I basically agree with all your points even if I still sat there, crying my heart out so it kinda wasn’t unsatisfying, but it was?
    (Though the more I think about the more incensed I am about certain narrative choices that just ugggh)
    But that aside, I want to touch on something that I haven’t seen mentioned yet and that figure quite starkly (pun actually not intended) in my viewing experience and that was the incongruence of one major character of the show this last season – the music.
    Maybe it’s because I’m immensely partial to music, especially as a narrative device, the clanging absence of it, and the muted, washed out quality of it when it was there felt oppressively present to me. Now I don’t know whether it’s the same kind of narrative fatigue and slopiness in the writing department or a deliberate artistic choice on the part of the producers to depict the unravelling of a world at the end of all things, but I was really thrown by the dissapointing score. Not one new conclusive theme in the entire season and where the original themes we’re glimpsed, they felt as half finished and indecisive as the characters sometimes. And since Ramin Djawadi literally built a library of worldbuilding motives that underscored so many pivotal moments in the show not only with emotion but also the leading perspective, much like the chapter titles in the books, I consider the music a supporting character of the show, a narrator as much as any of the visual ones, it just struck me to only hear battle noise and explosions where we had the Light of the Seven before, one of the most evocative and suberbly constructed dramatic pieces of music I’ve ever heard and the score of what I strongly consider the high point of the series in retrospect.
    Maybe that is why I felt both invested and strangely divorced from this last journey, I don’t know, but I just wanted to put it out there in cases I’m not the only one…

  26. Yes, to me it felt like it stopped as opposed to ending but stopping and ending is the difference between a car that goes kaput on the interstate and a car picked up by the big jaw-like thing moments before it’s to be dropped in the crusher. The car on the interstate can be restarted, and that’s the feeling I got from this GOT finale, that they were leaving open the *possibility* of restarting the story. Dany’s dead, but Drogon flies off with her body. Jon Snow was dead, and subsequently brought back to life. Could Dany return to the land of the living? Why not: Jon was stabbed–what was it–seven times? Dani was stabbed once.

    If something were to happen to Bran the Broken there are several potential contenders who might have a valid claim on the throne. John Snow, Sansa, Edmure Tully and, mayhaps … Dany. Arya was always the odd-one-out, but she’s there in the wings ready to swoop in if need be, as is Grey Worm. We could also say WHEN something happens to Bran the Broken because the average lifespan during that era was probably very short compared to today’s lifespan, and Bran is a cripple, which can lead to a host of problems. Within a decade, say, he might perish from natural causes related to his paralysis. Ten years down the road I’m not so sure that everyone would be happy about electing a king or queen with this “Aye” business. After all, old habits are extremely difficult to break.

    So, we will see. Eddard Stark taught his daughters to rely upon the strength of the pack. Now the pack has dispersed. There’s a lesson to be learned here, isn’t there?

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