"To its credit, Game of Thrones didn’t change the core characteristics of (George R.R. Martin's) A Song of Ice and Fire to make them more palatable to TV," says Alison Herman. "Instead, it was TV itself that was changed. Never before had a show baited and switched its audience about the very concept of a protagonist; never before had a show included hourlong battles with the financial demands of a feature film; never before had a show carried such an overwhelming mass of detailed lore that it could single-handedly support its own explainer industry. Part of what Thrones’ legions of fans have responded to is old-school craftsmanship, in the form of great performances and richly outlined characters. Much of the appeal, however, was novelty: Viewers weren’t used to feeling the disorientation that came with Ned Stark’s beheading or Jaime Lannister’s gradual redemption, so they stuck around for more. The sheer feat of translating these subversions, and balancing them with the practicalities necessary to create an actual television show, ought not to be understated. Whatever criticisms they faced for their relatively original storytelling, (David) Benioff and (D.B.) Weiss proved themselves to be master adaptors." Herman adds: "A cruel paradox of Thrones’ later seasons, then, is that the show effectively trained its fan base to hold it to the same logical, methodical, unsentimental standard as the earlier seasons and books did fantasy tropes. A decade ago, A Song of Ice and Fire so effectively commented on sword-and-sorcery mainstays it changed how some readers saw the genre; now, Game of Thrones has preemptively taught its viewership to reject the shortcuts and workarounds it’s taken on the way to Sunday’s conclusion. Because many of the flaws in Thrones’ home stretch aren’t unique to Thrones. They’re products of typical TV logic—exactly the kind Thrones initially rejected, and can no longer resist."
Game of Thrones was an imperfect show for its era: “Game of Thrones debuted in 2011, at an inflection point for American television and American politics," says Alyssa Rosenberg. "Later-stage Golden Age antihero dramas such as Mad Men and Breaking Bad were heading toward their conclusions and the idea of a Republican 'war on women' was taking hold on the left. During the series’ run, Hillary Clinton suffered a shocking loss to Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election; white nationalism surged back into public life; the #MeToo movement exposed the prevalence and impact of sexual violence; climate change took on a new and apocalyptic urgency; and a spike in television production splintered the water-cooler conversation possibly beyond repair. As a result, Game of Thrones took on a prismatic quality. Turn it one way and the series was an argument that trauma gave its female characters moral authority; shift it just slightly, and the show suggested that they couldn’t transcend the damage that had been inflicted on them. The White Walkers, the show’s uber-supernatural villains, stood in for the perils of climate change — until they were vanquished with a single blow. The slaves Daenerys liberated in the early seasons of the show were props in a white-savior narrative until they were invoked as proof that she would never break bad. The show’s cultural footprint suggested that rolling out a television show week by week was still the best way to create community around art. Or its viewership numbers, modest by historical standards, could be evidence for an argument that our culture has fragmented beyond repair."
Why the series finale will be fine: "This is not an ironic 'fine' like the meme with the anthropomorphic dog in a burning room," says Hanh Nguyen. "(David) Benioff and (D.B.) Weiss are good at hitting the moment, no matter how loosey-goosey they are at leading up to it. That’s why the War of Winterfell — with its abysmal military strategy and nonexistent stakes for the main characters — ultimately feels satisfying. Give Arya Stark (Maisie Williams) a surprise Night King assassination set to Ramin Djawadi’s score, and it’s pure magic on a show that increasingly seems to abhor magic. So too with the finale. All the pieces have been maneuvered — albeit poorly and illogically — and are now poised for each of their big moments. With nothing left but these end points, Benioff and Weiss can allow themselves to fully realize each one, since they wrote and directed this final episode."
The tragedy of Daenerys Targaryen: "The bottom line is that Daenerys faced a Machiavellian dilemma," says Sean T. Collins. "Is it better for a ruler to be feared than loved? Would she allow her enemies to live, or would she pay them back for the life of exile and abuse they forced upon her? She chose the path of House Targaryen’s words: 'Fire and Blood.' So a terrible crime was committed but not by showrunners D.B. Weiss and David Benioff against the character or the viewers. Rather, with the Dragon Queen’s sacking of the city, Game of Thrones gave us something more powerful than a plot twist: a tragedy."
Game of Thrones destroyed Danerys' point of view at a crucial moment: "Interiority is crucial to this sprawling story," says Nina Li Coomes. "It’s why we cared enough to keep such a big roster of characters straight in the first place. It’s why we root for Tyrion but shuddered at Ramsay Bolton, even though both character murdered their fathers. When the explosions end and the dust clears, we want to know who is still standing and who we’ve lost, who has learned something and who will return to their old ways. The spectacle of dragons, White Walkers, and epic battles draws us in, but it’s the feelings, failures, and growth of Game of Thrones’ characters that keeps us locked in its thrall. At its best, the show is as much a series of intimate psychological portraits as it is sweeping fantasy drama. But over the course of the last two seasons, showrunners D.B. Weiss and David Benioff have largely abandoned the POV-focused storytelling that made Game of Thrones shine."
How Game of Thrones' surprises lost their edge: "So why aren’t this season’s surprises as satisfying as the old ones?" asks Ben Lindbergh. "It’s because of the contrast in what creates the surprise. Thrones’ past surprises stemmed from meticulous plotting and careful character work; we may not have seen the climactic moments coming (unless we’d read the books), but they felt right in retrospect. The recent surprises don’t seem so premeditated. These twists have upended expectations because they come off as half-baked."
Stephen King thinks he knows why the final season is so hated: "I've loved this last season of GoT, including Dani going bugsh*t all over King's Landing. There's been a lot of negativity about the windup, but I think it's just because people don't want ANY ending. But you know what they say: All good things..."