The disappointing ending to the latest and last series of Game of Thrones betrays an artistic and political laziness from the writers, argues Sean Ledwith
The biggest television drama of the century so far came to a juddering finale last month. For the past eight seasons, the epic battles, betrayals, conspiracies and power-plays enacted in HBO’s Game of Thrones has enthralled an expanding global audience that peaked at 40 million viewers in the US alone for the last episode. Ironically as the show’s popular appeal has accelerated, its critical reputation has gone in the opposite direction, with the Rotten Tomatoes website rating the final season as the worst of the lot. Over one million fans were so irate with the turn of events in the last season that they signed an online petition demanding that the final six episodes be re-made with a completely different script!
The last two episodes especially proved massively divisive among the show’s fanbase as Daenerys Targaryen, up until that point the figurehead of revolutionary change, turned out to be just another mass-murdering tyrant consumed by delusional ambition. Such an unexpected hand-brake turn in the character arc of a beloved character understandably left many viewers feeling cheated and disappointed. Alexandra Occasio Cortez and Elisabeth Warren, the two most prominent women on the US left, were among those who expressed exasperation that the frequently problematic gender politics of the show had concluded with an antiquated message that powerful female leaders are likely to become emotionally unstable.
Based on the best-selling fantasy novels of George RR Martin, the television adaptation of Game of Thrones for the most part of its eight-year run tapped into the anti-capitalist zeitgeist of this decade. The first season, broadcast in 2011, overlapped with the emergence of the Occupy movement and the Arab Spring. Subsequent seasons have run alongside the rise to prominence of radical left politicians such as Corbyn and Sanders articulating an agenda of reversing inequality and confronting entrenched elites. Apart from Daenerys herself, other elements in the show such as the Brotherhood Without Banners and the Faith Militant have pursued the interests of the downtrodden masses at the expense of the aristocratic dynasties that control the fictional realm of Westeros. Daenerys spoke of the need to ‘break the wheel’ of rotating cliques and the High Sparrow told an aristocratic antagonist that ‘you are the few, we are the many’.
Some of the opprobrium now being hurled at David Benioff and Dan Weiss, the show’s writers and producers, is based on a sense of frustration that these undercurrents of emancipatory politics were not fulfilled in the climax of the show. The slide in the quality of the scripting was perhaps inevitable in light of the show’s development beyond the limits of Martin’s books. The author has been suffering from the most notorious modern example of writer’s block for a number of years now.
Benioff and Weiss have also been enticed away by the promise of millions of dollars from Disney to work on yet another re-boot of the Star Wars franchise and evidently wished to slam the lid on the Game of Thrones project as soon as possible. Daenerys’ under- developed degeneration from tribune of the oppressed into despotic pyromaniac made little dramatic sense and played into the familiar reactionary trope that any aspiration for revolutionary change will end in ashes.
Similarly, the abrupt dismissal of the threat of the zombified White Walkers in the third episode struck many fans as a piece of lazy plotting on the part of the producers, leaving one of the show’s most intriguing plot lines to literally melt away. The untimely disappearance of the White Walkers was a missed opportunity to make a telling point about the unique nature of the threat of climate change. The mysterious invaders from the North were widely interpreted as symbolising the overwhelming challenge to humanity to put aside national differences and unite to find solutions to environmental degradation. The anti-climactic resolution of this strand to the story was a miss-step on the part of the writers and robbed the show of the chance to make a powerful message about ecology that could have been its greatest legacy. In defence of Benioff and Weiss, it could be argued they usefully reminded us of the dangers of ‘revolution from above’-albeit a little too graphically in the case of Daenerys’ dragons.
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