Why the Final Season of Game of Thrones was Always Destined to Fail
The following is a general opinion of the Game of Thrones series and does not contain specific spoilers of the final season.
Whether you have been an avid fan of Game of Thrones since the beginning or have somehow managed to live outside the lore of the 7 kingdoms for 8 plus years, you’ve probably heard by now the pandemonium over the final season and, as of last night, the series finale.
In the era of binge-watching television and blockbuster fantasy film franchises like Star Wars and Lord of the Rings, very few books, shows, or movies have lived up to the fandom associated with Game of Thrones. Between Comic Con, Reddit threads, and viewing parties, for years now fans have felt a deep connection with the characters and their fight for the Iron Throne.
According to Vanity Fair, most popular shows never exceed a budget of $10 million per episode, but Season 8 of Game of Thrones cost upwards of $15 million per episode. HBO knew the stakes were high to produce a final season that would set their fans’ minds ablaze with dragon fire (in the best possible way, of course).
But with a measly 6-episode season, many fans felt from episode 1 that the plot was going to be rushed. And as of the second-to-last episode of season 8, fans were so outraged by the direction of the show that they spawned a petition demanding writers David Benioff and D.B. Weiss re-do the final season, which amassed over 1 million signatures.
But are the show writers really to blame?
Any Harry Potter fans here may remember the tension between JK Rowling’s writing pace and the production schedule of the films. There was a nearly 3-year gap between the July 2000 publishing date of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire and the June 2003 publishing date of Order of the Phoenix. And an additional two years between the final two books, respectively. Warner Brothers worried that the child-turned-teenage actors Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, and Rupert Grint would outgrow their roles as Harry Potter, Hermione Granger, and Ron Weasley. (Funnily enough, looking at the actors today, I personally feel they still could pull off playing teenagers! Anyone else agree?)
But let me ask you this: can you imagine a world in which Warner Brothers decided after the 3rd film that they could no longer wait for J.K. Rowling to finish writing the fourth book? Imagine if Rowling agreed to give them the general idea of where the series was heading and they could take it from there.
Put on your “the book was better” sweatshirt and stay with me here.
I understand that George R.R. Martin is 70 years old. I understand that finishing even one book is a taxing process and that the incentive greatly decreases when you don’t necessarily need a paycheck anymore. Not to mention the incredibly complex world he has woven with prophecies, gruesome battles, old grudges, and dragons. I doubt I could handle the amount of pressure he’s felt as the creator of Game of Thrones, as fans clamor for the next book to be published. And I’m sure HBO relieved much of that pressure by adapting his series.
(You knew that one was coming.)
I also think this is exactly what went wrong. It’s not about production budget. It’s not about a story arc or even a perfect ending. It’s about the details.
Franchises like Game of Thrones become what they are because fans can read and reread. They can get lost in the imagery, imagine their own version of the story’s events and then compare it to what ends up on screen. Because they can theorize and dissect the words on the page and figure things out before they even happen.
It will never solely be about how incredible the visual effects are. Nor will it be about how talented one actor is. It will always come back to interaction.
And, sadly, George R.R. Martin was unable to keep up his end of the interaction. Which consequently meant that HBO was unable to fulfill their end. So the fans are the ones who suffer the consequences.
The internet is a special place that we can complain about this for days, petition for a new season, and, from a safe distance, bash a network that has brought us many groundbreaking and satisfying shows as well as some very talented writers. We are allowed that priveledge.
But let’s not forget that a well-oiled machine requires all the cogs to be in place and functioning at full capacity. And when that’s not the case, a perfect product is nearly impossible, no matter how much we will it.
So while I join the general consensus among fans of disappointment, I do not think we need a season re-do.(Goodness knows that $90 million can be put to better use!) But I do think it will take much more than George R.R. Martin finally finishing the Winds of Winter to gain back the immense fandom lost last night.