*SPOILER WARNING FOR GAME OF THRONES FINAL SEASON*
There have been moments in modern history which alter the course of pop culture forever. Jaws with its low-tone score caused a flood of fear and sparked a wave of aquaphobia across the nation; Star Wars forever changed the science fantasy genre; and The Matrix’s bullet time effects are all seminal moments that have cemented these names in history changing their medium forever.
Today we live in a brand new world. We live in a post-Game of Thrones world. It was a series like no other. Its vast scope and broad horizons gave every episode a unique cinematic feel like no other show before it. Many television shows have had a broad scope — however, none has captured the cinematic feel like GOT. Every episode felt like a short theatrical film. It took the world by storm. The series has been on the forefront of the pop culture lexicon since its debut in 2011. So much so that Social Security Administration data has confirmed since the series debut, parents have started naming their newborn babies after characters from the show. The number of names given based on GOT characters to children from 2011 to 2019 has grown exponentially.
So what happened? How does a show that scored an average of a 94% critic rating on Rotten Tomatoes between its first and seventh seasons with an average audience score of 93% achieve a divisive 52% critic rating and an audience score of 34% for its final season? What went wrong? What was different between its first seven seasons and its last?
One major noticeable difference between seasons 1-7 and its final season is its run time. Clocking in at 430 minutes over six episodes, season 8 is a fraction compared to the series average of 562 minutes over 10 episodes (aside from season 7 which was seven episodes long).
One of the attributes of GOT which lead to its rise in popularity was its in-depth characters and their steady, purposeful, and gradual development. Characters’ storylines and plot points were expertly weaved together with subtlety and calculated precision. The length of the majority of the series’ seasons allowed the plot to move forward at a steady pace, giving scenes the ability to breathe and come to life on their own while not rushing to their conclusion. Though many scenes throughout the series are fast paced and can come unexpectedly to the viewer, there have been literal hours spent building a foundation to these climaxes which lead to a greater appreciation of its outcome.
With the absence of four episodes, the final season of Game of Thrones comes off as rushed and ill-paced, which is far from how previous seasons have handled things. Prior to season 8, there was a deliberate and measured pace to the series. However, with 132 fewer minutes in the season (of which two full episodes are dedicated to climatic massive battle scenes), subtle character moments are few and far between. Though there are some shining character moments in the final season, it is difficult to argue they were given the amount of time needed to truly appreciate every nuanced facial movement and eye shift.
HBO recently released a two hour documentary on the making of its final season. Within this documentary, there is some compelling information as to the production of the season. Its production time was extremely limited. With only a few weeks of principal photography given, it is baffling to know there were two whole years separating season 8 from 7.
It is safe to say the outcome of the final season of Game of Thrones is divisive. Many fan theories were either proven or disproven. Whether the end of the series is what was expected is another story. It can be argued the road to the end was fast-paced, hurried, disorganized, and poorly told. In the HBO’s making-of documentary, there is a scene where the entire cast has a table read of the script. Listing to the script narrator narrate the scenes while the actors read their lines for the first time is emotional. The descriptions of what was to be filmed and the dialogue that was to be recited draws out more emotion and entertainment than what was given to us on screen. It would conclude the screenplay of the final season is better than the produced outcome.
Game of Thrones spawned a cultural phenomenon and gave birth to Red Wedding Reaction videos and Red Wedding Reaction-Reaction videos. Though the vast majority of the series is amazing and a fantastic achievement in television and film production, one can only wish it had stuck its landing and given us the consistency in storytelling and visual narratives loyal fans and viewers came to know and love.
Now, we are left with some questions. Why did the showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss choose to adopt a six episode narrative as opposed to their normal 10 episode arc? Do we as viewers and fans throw the baby out with the bathwater and declare the series ultimately a failure all because many are unhappy with its final season? Game of Thrones is a good show; however, if it was given the time to explore its final season with as much deliberate pacing as its previous seasons, then it would have had the potential to be not just good, but the greatest ever.