Menagerie Menagerie Feature

Game of Thrones: A game of subverted expectations

It was easy to fall in love with Game of Thrones. Before, if you asked any fan why they enjoyed it, you would be met with a variety of answers. Some enjoyed how the show continuously subverted tropes in the fantasy genre, how it explored morally complex themes, and even the meticulous way the vast and detailed world was brought to life.

However, while past seasons offered a variety of reasons for people to almost unanimously fall in love with the show, Game of Thrones crawls to a conclusion that similarly offers a variety of reasons for those with an immense love for it to turn their backs on the series with an almost equally immense sense of disgust or hatred. It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly when it all went wrong, but the nosedive in quality in nearly every aspect apart from the technical—bar a stray Starbucks cup—is there for all to see over the course of eight seasons. The biggest reason the show falls flat is due to the abandoning of what made people—ourselves in particular—love it so dearly. While the show once was an example of hard work and meticulous attention to detail, its ending ends up ringing like a work of lazy, uninspired, and clueless writers who just decided to give up.

(There will be major spoilers for Game of Thrones beyond this point.)

All men must serve

One aspect where the story begins to appear lazy and uninspired is the characters. In recent seasons, characters begin to behave inconsistently from previously established in-world logic. Instead of the characters’ decisions deciding their plot, they now become slaves of a script they have no control over. The writers clearly had a destination they wanted the story to end at, and it’s as if they were willing to cut whatever corners they could to get there as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, the excellent characters were the first to go. Considering that the characters essentially serve as the heart of the story, to ruin them to this degree is akin to ripping that heart right out.

For some characters, this means their complex, layered, and consequential journeys thus far are cut abruptly and completely wasted, with them being forcibly shoved into an ending in the most grotesque manner. One example is Jaime Lannister. The “Kingslayer” starts the series off as an incestuous lover, having no concern for anyone but himself and his twin, Cersei. This is the story of a man who was shunned for having made one decision—to “slay” an ill-intentioned leader—that he believed was right, and through that became cold and selfish. Throughout the course of the show, his cold and selfish nature erodes, being replaced by a man who truly cares for people, concluding at a point where he leaves Cersei, his abuser, and goes to Winterfell to fight for the living.

His story then abruptly concludes with him denouncing the people that he had grown to care about, and returning to his abuser to die with her. What kind of message does this send to people who identified with the character, some of whom may have suffered abuse at the hands of another, seeing Jaime’s story end like this? While something like this could happen in real life, at this point in the story Jaime’s relapse was uncalled for. And this bastardization does not end with Jaime Lannister—all the characters in the show suffer equal degrees of unnatural and lousy writing. Nearly every character can be identified with in some way, and to see all of them treated with utter disrespect and apathy—from the benevolent Daenerys’ abrupt turn to the dark side, or the once-intelligent Tyrion’s constant fumble after fumble—is an absolute disservice to fans who have fallen in love with them for who they “truly” are.

All men must die

Game of Thrones used to be a show about realistic consequences. The many previous deaths, though shocking, all made sense, as characters’ choices in one way or another led to their demise. Contrasting this, the show became afraid to put their characters in harm’s way, as they are constantly in situations with no possibility of survival—yet they survive anyway.

From the beginning, we are reminded time and time again that honor will not keep you alive, consequences are real, nobody is safe, and most importantly, “in the game of thrones, you either win or you die”. And yet, in the eighth season of the show, characters are put into situations where unnamed characters perish, and the main ones come out unharmed. Varys tells Daenerys that the Dothraki were nearly wiped out in the Battle of Winterfell and that only few remain, and yet an entire army can be seen celebrating Daenerys’ victory at King’s Landing a few episodes after. Characters like Jon and Tyrion, who have been intelligent to some capacity in the past, make dumb decisions after tactical failure, and end up getting rewarded for them.

GIF by Christian Kit

Where the world of Game of Thrones used to feel real, these constant betrayals of what the show used to stand for have made it so that the show feels more fake than ever. The lessons we as fans have taught ourselves to remember and abide by are now worthless, and there’s the sense that we are being told that we have wasted our time having taken great care to learn these things in the first place. The writers have spat in our faces, and we are expected to applaud.

And now my watch has ended

Toward the eighth season’s end, a picture on Facebook circulated of Game of Thrones depicted in the form of a drawn horse, with the drawing becoming noticeably worse as it approached the seventh and eighth seasons. This very much rings true, and it’s anyone’s guess as to why the show’s decline has been so steep. Perhaps it might be the lack of material to work on since the show has finally gone beyond the books, and because of this, the writers are experimenting. Despite George R.R. Martin giving the writers an outline of the ending, the execution did not give the story the justice it deserved. Perhaps it was due to time constraints, as previous seasons—bar season seven—had 10 episodes to tell their story, the eighth season just had six which was not enough time to believably develop the story toward its predetermined end. Either way, there is no denying the reality of the haphazard way this story—one that we once proudly could express to be one of the greatest stories ever told—has concluded.

What makes a great story is subjective, but for most fans of the show, Game of Thrones will never reach the heights it could have, and the difficulty in swallowing this pill is the pain of falling out of love with something that used to bring forth so much life. Like the memory of a past lover, it’s difficult to reconcile at first heartbreak. In shambles, we wonder why it had to be this way and how something so great could go so bad so fast.

However, no matter the ending, there will always be the good to look back on. The Red Wedding, Tyrion’s Trial, The Mountain and The Viper, and many more iconic moments that we’ve held dear in our hearts for the longest time will never fade. In some way, it was a miracle that a show so great could even exist in the first place. Maybe someday, remorse toward how it ended could be replaced by gratitude that something so miraculous existed in the first place. It may never happen, but in the aftermath of tragedy, it is a small solace.

Enrico Peliño

By Enrico Peliño

Westin Perez

By Westin Perez

Leave a Reply