"When the aftershocks of the finale fade and we get a bit of distance from the whole thing, it will become apparent that Game of Thrones itself unwittingly became the victim of an ironic and agonizingly protracted Game of Thrones ending," says Matt Zoller Seitz. "The show had all the money in the world and could’ve taken a lot more time in production — and demanded a lot more of the audience’s time — than it did, and that might’ve corrected some of the problems that plagued it during its second half....Like The West Wing after Aaron Sorkin’s departure and Seinfeld after Larry David’s, something was off so profoundly that you could see how hard the series was trying to pretend it hadn’t really lost anything. You could feel the struggle, and the insecurity emanating from that struggle, even if you still enjoyed the series as a spectacle of horror and terror, a war film, or a soap opera. It had become the kind of show that felt comfortable retroactively explaining everything about Dany’s decision to roast King’s Landing by having two men recap her life story and argue about whether her actions were defensible (a sensitively acted scene, but essentially a Reddit thread come to life). The kind of show that would have a dragon make like the supercomputer at the end of WarGames ('The only winning move is not to play'). The kind of show that would have Samwell Tarly present what looked suspiciously like a tell-all memoir written in quill pen, titled A Song of Ice and Fire. The upshot is a meta-death as disturbing as any the series has given us. Ned Stark is losing his head again, there’s blood on the floor of the reception hall, Jaime’s hand is coming off. But it’s sadder somehow, because it’s more like a real-world death, where the person you love gradually turns into something you no longer recognize, and nothing — not rationalizations, not petitions, not science, not faith — can stop it. But we had to watch."
It's hard not to be cynical about Game of Thrones' idealistic ending: "When the show applies simplistic idealism to the problem of who should rule, it’s hard not to turn the show’s own cynicism against it," says Lili Loofbourow. "Tyrion’s case for Bran hinges mostly on his 'brokenness.' Yet Bran, not unlike Daenerys, is a character with rare and worrying powers: He can see the past and some of the future, take possession of people and animals, and spy on literally anyone. He doesn’t need a master of whispers. Like Daenerys, Bran’s physical appearance makes him extremely easy to underestimate—as indeed Tyrion (who has experienced this himself) seems prepared to do. At least Bran is innocent, you might argue, but this too is wrong: One of the greatest tragedies on this show was Hodor’s death staving off the undead—and now we know Bran sacrificed Hodor so that he could survive to become king! Bran not only warged into the gentle giant, he also traveled in time to ruin Hodor’s life years earlier. Did Bran know then that he would become king? And what does this say about his not wanting it? None of this matters, though. I don’t think the series had any intention of planting those seeds of doubt. Game of Thrones used to invite readers into its philosophical conundrums, but it grew stingy over the years and maybe a tad tyrannical: The finale is telling you what the right answers are, whether you believe them or not."
Emilia Clarke overcame weak scripts to deliver a stellar final season performance: "Emilia Clarke, who played this character for almost a decade, had one hell of a tricky job ahead of her in acting Daenerys’ evolution this season," says Caroline Framke. "After years of playing her as a paragon of empathy, she had to tap into the character’s latent violent streak — one that the show had heretofore used sparingly to underline her thirst for justice — to rationalize her downfall. She had to retain Daenerys’ intrinsic personality while gradually dismantling it, playing her cards close enough to her chest that The Turn would still come as a surprise. She had to walk an astonishingly thin tightrope to Daenerys’ horrible death, and without more solid justifications for that journey in the scripts, Clarke mostly had to walk that line alone. She sold the depth of Daenerys’ loneliness, fury, desperation, and startlingly fierce love through some of the show’s most obfuscated, confusing hours. Even as final scenes stood on increasingly shaky ground, Clarke nonetheless delivered a titanic performance that never lost sight of who her character was — a feat that stands in stark contrast to the scripts’ weaker attempts to do the same."
If David Benioff and D.B. Weiss didn't frantically and sloppily rush through the final two seasons, the series finale could've worked: "By compressing the final leg of the Westeros journey in weird, messy ways that warped the tale — and by turning the show, over the years, into a contraption designed to unleash 'big twists' and expensive set pieces — Benioff and Weiss undercut their own assertion," says Maureen Ryan. "Yes, stories do matter and can last centuries. They can change the world — if they're so well-made and affecting that they're undeniable. They have to hit people where they live, not just overwhelm them with shock and awe." Ryan adds: "By the time the series finale rolled around, Game of Thrones was a puzzle with some missing pieces, and that state of affairs existed because Benioff and Weiss had flattened the characters and their relationships so much that the show had largely become a series of bumpy contrivances. Honestly, I wasn't angered by the finale as much as I was overwhelmed by a feeling of anticlimactic lethargy. Yes, the shot of Dany with Drogon's wings stretched out behind her was cool. But for a while now, many of the drama's best visuals have been divorced from anything else that matters. Pretty pictures do not make for an involving story unless that story is meticulously and effectively told."
The series finale delivered warm, dull closure -- like so many finales: "I went in thinking—foolishly, obviously—that a series which has featured such a punishing array of beheadings, rapes, castrations, Red Weddings, rat cages attached to stomachs, incest, villains getting eaten by dogs, and so on might offer something strange and intense at the end," says Emily Nussbaum. "The Internet theory that Daenerys had been poisoned appealed to me, as opposed to the notion that she’d 'snapped' and committed genocide simply because she was biologically insane in the Targaryen membrane—or, worse, that’s she’d gone mad because of a bad breakup. I thought there might be some cool twist, some snappy and quotable political insights. Maybe Arya would use one of those wicked face skills she’d learned as an assassination intern! But no dice. Instead, the finale delivered what an unfortunate percentage of finales have provided for the past twenty years: warm, cozy, dull closure."
The series finale betrayed Game of Thrones' core themes: "In its final season, Game of Thrones dispensed almost entirely with trying to make sense of its characters’ internal motivations — let alone the complex political reality that its psychological realism initially helped create. People did things because the plot required them to, not because their actions were consistent with their past behavior. Battles were decided purely by narrative convenience. In one episode, Euron pretty easily killed one of Dany’s dragon with a well-aimed ballista, but in the next episode, no one could seem to hit the sole dragon that remained. And the politics of the show, a key part of what made it feel so different and fresh way back in 2011, completely fell apart — to the point where it was impossible to treat the series as having anything like verisimilitude. Unlike some viewers, I don’t object to some of Game of Thrones’ big concluding plot points per se. Daenerys going mad could have made sense, as could Bran becoming the king. The problem was the execution: The show so prioritized shock value over cogent character development and attention to political detail that the complex reality of Westeros — the element of the series that had previously engaged so many viewers so deeply — crumbled like a King’s Landing tower blasted by dragonfire."
Bran is a strange choice to be king -- if he is even still Bran: "King Bran dispenses no wisdom," says Kathryn VanArendonk. "He exhibits no charisma. His primary qualifications seem to be that he doesn’t want the job, no one is scared of him, he can’t create a dynasty, and there’s a decent story to tell about his rise to become the most powerful man in Westeros. Apparently he can also see the future, which is surely helpful for any king, but remember: In this final season, he never saw fit to mention any of his visions until they’d already happened. He can also warg into other animals, a skill that, like his predictions of the future, rarely does much to help him or anyone else. In essence, a vote for King Bran is like voting for the guy on the reality show who had a good story, who never made alliances with anyone, and who won not because of his fantastic skills, but because he never pissed anyone off. Bran did not come here to make friends, but he also didn’t throw anyone under the bus. Bran was the king of least resistance, with the added bonus of some superpowers that definitely are real, but which are dubiously useful at best."
Why didn't Bran save King's Landing?: "Bran is Chekhov’s warg, basically, which makes his arc one more thing that Game of Thrones has left insufficiently explained during its run, but which also speaks to a kind of moral laziness," says Megan Garber. "Game of Thrones, in elevating Bran—and in treating his elevation as a happy ending—is making essentially the same argument that Daenerys did, when she insisted to Jon that her dragonian draconianism was justified in the grand scheme of things: Some people in Westeros, nameless and faceless to us if not to those who knew them, had to perish so that a better world might come into existence. They died, so that the Six Kingdoms might live. We are not meant to do much questioning about the moral calculus of any of this. The show moves on to become a Seinfeldian buddy comedy in part to telegraph that. It makes Bran the effective winner of its 'game'—and treats his new reign as a kind of victory—to telegraph that."
Game of Thrones became like a dragon that was hard to steer with a mind of its own: "The thing about dragons is, you look at all that armor and musculature, and it’s a wonder they’re able to fly at all," says James Poniewozik. "Game of Thrones may seem like an obvious hit now, but it wasn’t. It was a genre that hadn’t worked at scale on TV before. It would require a standard of production it wasn’t clear TV could achieve. Add in a sprawling geographical and political story line, and it could have — and nearly did, with its legendarily bad unaired pilot — crashed and burned on takeoff. It soared instead, but as it built mass and speed, it became hard to steer and seemed to have a mind of its own. It didn’t manage the artistic greatness — Tolkien as filtered through The Wire — that it aspired to. But it was a staggering, if uncontrollable, entertainment. In succeeding and growing, Game of Thrones became HBO’s 800-ton dragon. And where does an 800-ton dragon go? Anywhere it wants to."
It arguably ended just about as well as one unwieldy, sprawling, complicated epic could end: "In doing so, embattled writers and creators of the HBO series, David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, at least convincingly and effectively steered a very difficult series to a conclusion that made enough sense, will make enough people happy and was, from this vantage point, more than enough to effectively 'stick the landing' as critics often wonder about when pondering these series finales, though it would be impossible to please everyone, a fate that brilliant series through the best ages of television can attest," says Tim Goodman. He adds: "Storytelling is hard; epic storytelling harder. Making a great television series for even one season is pretty damned difficult. If you manage to get to five seasons and still be in the conversation about whether your content is great or not, you're doing something extremely rare and arguably heroic, at least in the consideration of the arts. So just the fact that Game of Thrones was still being discussed as a series in the upper echelons of dramas — where I have no problem placing it — is an impressive feat that a lot of viewers just can't fully conceptualize."