I have a confession: I used to be pretty into Game of Thrones. (In the background, you can hear thousands of fans screaming at my use of the past tense.) And here I am, discussing why I’m dubious over whether I will enjoy the ending. Because I think this show has completely lost direction and thought. Or also maybe wasn’t that amazing in the first place.
First of all. There have always been problems with this show. But seasons one through three were clever, with a clever subversion of typical story structure at every turn and villains you couldn’t help but empathize with and nothing left to expectation. I never had any idea where it was going or who to empathize with and I loved it. Almost every character got my empathy; almost every character had my investment. Because there was the brilliance of this show: Game of Thrones was about fucked-up people doing fucked-up things, and yet every single one was so highly motivated they were impossible to not care for. The perfect heroes did not win and neither did the perfect villains. It was the characters in between who remained, the characters in between who we were forced to empathize with and engage with.
But this show… come on guys, let’s be real, this show has really lost its train of thought and coherency. Most of the interesting characters are dead, first of all. The remaining interesting characters stopped undergoing character development about three seasons ago:
- the writers have sort of given up on trying to make Cersei an interesting villain, even though she is? allegedly?
- Sansa’s character development is absolutely the best thing about this show but she’s stopped growing and changing at this point like she’s sort of just… there, not as well written anymore, Sophie Turner is carryong this character on her back
- Tyrion hasn’t grown and changed since whenever he went to be with Dany, which was like… halfway through season five? I think? or the end of season four? a while ago? and he has? a lot of growing left to do
- Arya spent literally two full seasons in the same place learning to kill people, and then eventually she was like “no i need my identity,” and then she left, and then… didn’t grow or change or have any arc around identity after that
- Daenerys Targaryen is absolutely one of the most stagnant characters on this show like she grows in season one and then she’s just there to do badass things which is cool… for a while. also still just, the most blatant white savior character
This show uses… everything as a plot device, and rarely, if ever, commits to long-form character development or thematic arc. Name one theme of the last few seasons. (Hint: the theme of women getting revenge I hoped they would develop has been disqualified.) Characters do not grow and change; they change when the narrative wants them to and then don’t face consequences or change in the long run. In the show currently, death is constantly used as a plot device. The everyone dies nature of the show was interesting when it was unexpected, and thus subversive; it is no longer unexpected, and now it only happens to characters we don’t really care about. It has been said a thousand times: killing off the loved ones of the lead characters does absolutely nothing for us as the audience and is lazy and boring and always has been.
And what’s wild! is that! even while using everything as a plot device! the plot is still not there! name one plot point of season five. I dare you.
Ughhhhhhhh everyone acts like this is such overdone criticism, but I swear I have a point. This show really does the most.
You can find an overview of the whole sexual assault & sexual violence with regards to Sansa here and one for Cersei here. The fact that I just had to link two different articles feels like it should make a point? But anyway, here’s a quick overview:
In the first season, Daenerys was sexually assaulted by her new husband, Khal Drogo, even though in the books it was a consensual moment. Later on in the fifth season, Sansa Stark was sexually assaulted by Ramsay Bolton as Theon Greyjoy watched. Many critics called the scene unnecessary as it also wasn’t in the series, while others, including Benioff and Weiss, argued that it played into the show’s brutal world they had created.
And here is the defense selected by the showrunners, from a Time interview:
“It’s still the same basic power dynamic between men and women in this medieval world,” Benioff said. “This is what we believed was going to happen.”
…yeah, this isn’t… I mean, this world also has dragons? But that’s not the real problem: it’s odd, as a commenter put it, that the argument of the literal showrunners is: “There really just wasn’t any way we could comprehend a woman not getting raped. Sorry :/”
In a 2014 piece entitled “Rape of Thrones,” The A.V. Club made an argument I happen to agree with: there is a way to use sexual violence in a story that progresses the story forward and doesn’t sacrifice the characters’ integrity, but Game of Thrones has repeatedly neglected to do that.
It’s hard to shake the idea that Game Of Thrones, the show, doesn’t see a problem with pushing a scene from complicated, consensual sex to outright rape… Rape is a tricky thing to use as character development, for either the victim or the rapist; doing it twice raises a lot of red flags. It assumes that rape between characters doesn’t fundamentally change the rest of their story—and it assumes that the difference between consent and rape is, to use the parlance, a “blurred line.”
This show is incredibly male gazey and it is impossible to even pretend it is not. Anyway.
I also want to acknowledge that this show has always had some issues regarding homophobia and racism. It’s just that those issues have only been exacerbated by further seasons.
- You can read about some of the homophobia here but generally I think this show does such an insane job stereotyping all two of its gay characters and using their suffering for plot points. all two of its bisexual characters are introduced in a brothel having threesomes and like… you get it. incredible
- Here’s a really good post about the white savior narrative but like. general summary: a white woman saves thousands of brown people from slavery. this is NOT helped by the fact that all of her advisers are also white people. this show is generally also incredibly white, containing two token black characters and two token Characters Of Ambiguous Ethnicity who are the slutty bisexual trope exemplified. all four of these characters would make my faves list, but their writing is not exactly good.
- this show can’t handle trauma for shit. i’m not even going to provide links about this one just. literally not a single character has had their trauma dealt with in any kind of meaningful way. please take a good long second and consider why we could spend two seasons watching Theon get brutally tortured (after one scene? we got the point of that? it continued for no? plot reasons? or character reasons really?) they all just push it down and then go kill people idk
This show markets itself so much off being unpredictable, blah blah blah. Let’s just be honest: the ending is… fairly likely to not be that shocking. There are only actually a few major players left, and all the endgame pieces (the ice dragon) are in place. Here is my current list of possible endings:
- John and Dany end up on the throne of the south, Tyrion becomes one of their advisors, Sansa ends up on the throne of Winterfell with Brienne and Arya in various power positions, and variations (very likely)
- Cersei wins somehow (very unlikely)
- the Night King ends up on the throne of everything (also very unlikely. would also be dumb and annoying)
Like, we’re concerned about who’s going to live and who’s going to die. Obviously. But I’m… somewhat concerned that we’re going to go for an ending with very few plot twists and simply some surprising deaths.
(In that same train of thought is my question of why everyone is a fucking Targaryen now. But maybe that’s just me really hating the blood is thicker than water narrative.)
But, here’s the thing: things do not need to be unpredictable to be good. So maybe…
Listen, the thing I will say about Game of Thrones is this: it’s entertaining. Really, it is. But for me, it has stopped being that.
I can point out every single problem I have with how the narrative treats its queer characters and its female characters and its characters who suffer from any sort of mental illness and its characters of color. But what it comes down to is a fundamental diversion from what this show started out being about, to me: a show about a hundred flawed characters, all of whom are people. This show, in later seasons, fundamentally fails to recognize that any of its characters, and especially its marginalized characters, are people.
I think that’s kind of sad! Personally, because this show had a lot of potential to say some compelling things.