Not to say I told you so, but. I did tell you so. I really did tell you so.
I feel like it’s not really a controversial opinion that Game of Thrones, season eight, was not good in any way, shape, or form. It is interesting that I am upset by this final season because to be quite honest, all my faves ended up fine. Arya Stark’s ending is a clear spinoff setup but it’s good enough; Brienne of Tarth didn’t get an amazing ending but she’ll live on as a Knight of the Seven Kingdoms, aka her DREAM; and my favorite character, Sansa Stark, got arguably one of the more satisfying endings of the show, ending up in a position of power that she has worked her ass off for.
I say this not to brag but to establish that I am as unbiased towards this ending as anyone can possibly be. However, that doesn’t mean I can’t still see a mess when I watch it.
Here is a thing I said about Game of Thrones in my original post:
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.
I want this put on my gravestone, because ho boy, this season only got worse on this element.
Here are a list of some minor things about this season that are bad:
- The season quite literally switches main villains three seperate times and it’s fucking tiring
- Missandei is fridged for Dany to go mad. This is a lazy choice.
- Cersei being killed by falling rocks has been beaten to death but seriously, why
- The plot structure of the final episode does not exist
I hope you enjoyed this list.
Jamie Lannister going back on his character growth is a terrible choice that has absolutely no impact on the narrative as a whole beyond making it more hopeless and less interesting.
Moving on. No wait, I want to go into this, because I’m actually so angry about this.
Jamie Lannister is a terrible person. This has been known. He is a deeply flawed person. This has been known. He is also a person who genuinely does want to be seen with genuine love (beyond that of his sister who has gone evil) and, at his best moments, to do what he believes to be good. When, at the end of season seven, he discovered his sister never planned to help save the world, but only to sabotage it, he finally made the choice we’d been seeing him build to for years: to leave her and do the right thing. Which he did. Succesfully. For four episodes.
And then the show decides that no, actually, he’s decided fuck character growth, and is going back to his sister. For some reason. And he still loves her. For some reason.
I seriously think this choice is so bad on multiple levels. First of all, it makes no sense for his character. SECOND of all, it’s an incredibly boring choice from a narrative standpoint. I seriously am so bored. You spend seven seasons on a character arc and then throw it out so he can, what, be with his sister for ten minutes and then die by falling rocks? With absolutely no impact on the narrative?
As Laura Hudson’s tragically depressing Game of Thrones Recap puts it:
“Nobody grows. Nobody gets better or more interesting. The story of ‘Game of Thrones’ right now is a story of regression, of spectacle over humanity. Maybe the saddest moment in all of this is when Jaime, the poster child for the redemptive character arc, the man who has earned better and earned better and earned it again, is offered happiness and hope and throws it all away because the plot demands that he has to be in King’s Landing for the next couple episodes. That’s the problem when you stop caring about characters, about humans in your stories, and only care about the denouement and not how you get there. You become cruel, and you force people to be cruel to themselves and others to get them where you need them to go, and you say that it is the story of the world.”
Also, not to be in love with Brienne of Tarth on main, but the idea that anyone could leave Brienne for Cersei because she’s better is just appalling. I’m appalled.
Brienne of Tarth I’d risk it all for you
I am not here to be queen of the ashes. –Daenerys Targaryen, literally last season
Up until now, the narrative tended to sweep the bad choices of Daenerys Targaryen under the rug. For season after season, they chose to romanticize her bad choices, justify them in-text, make them look glorious. And in season eight they chose to suddenly have her go mad and decide violence justified all.
Dany Targaryen is a deeply flawed character and always has been. Perhaps the deepest flaw comes not in her characterization, but her narrative role as a white savior character.
“She’s not her father,” John Snow says, right before Tyrion Lannister contradicts him. But up until yesterday, he was right: Dany was desperate not to be her father. And she did bad things, yes a lot of bad things, refusing to respect conventions besides hers and resorting to violence far too quickly. But she did not purposefully kill innocents. That is literally one of her defining character traits, is that she does not kill innocents.
That’s not all that bugs me about this decision. The defenses we’ve gotten for the decision to have her go mad have revolved around her crucifiction of a group of slaveowners. From Ew’s defense of the Mad Queen decision: “Dany finds 163 slave children crucified. She decides to crucify 163 masters in retaliation without regard for their individual guilt or innocence (in the killing of the children).” Is this a fucked up choice? I mean, yeah. But the idea that killing a group of slaveowners, seasons ago, is somehow on par with burning a city of innocent people to the ground… that doesn’t sit well with me.
There are sensical directions the show could have gone with this character’s violence. But killing innocents is not one of them. As an article for the Verge puts it:
But taking that rage out on the weakest, most helpless people available still feels frustratingly out of character for her. It’s a betrayal not just of her people, but of all her ideals and goals. “I am not here to be queen of the ashes,” Daenerys tells her ally Olenna Tyrell in season 7. Now she’s exactly that — though probably not for long since it falls on the last of her allies to punish her for what she’s done.
Frankly, I think the biggest proof I need to say making Dany go spontaneously mad is a bad choice is to say: D&D keep feeling the need to explain her damn headspace. By the way, this is driving me fucking nuts. Word of God is meant for fun tidbits about your work; if a choice or character trait isn’t established in your narrative, it doesn’t make sense in your narrative and you need to fix it, not just explain it after it airs.
This is what we’re going to talk about, and frankly, the simple main point of this article. A. Good. Twist. Is. Not. About. Shock.
What the narrative of the show fails to realize is that a narrative is not constructed via a series of shocks to the audience. The plot twists on Game of Thrones that we remember it for — Ned Stark’s death and the Red Wedding being the two best examples — make sense. They occur and are heartbreaking and unexpected, but when we look back on the narrative, we see how they were set up and foreshadowed. Ned’s desire for peace has had devestating consequences; Robb has picked marriage for love and died as a result. We are heartbroken, perhaps upset at the indiginities of the world, but we are not dissatisfied; we only want to watch more.
(There’s a discussion to get into here of where the show might go too far into torture porn, a line I think it crosses somewhere in season four with Theon’s arc. But that’s a much longer post.)
But the reason these twists are shocking is because they go against what we expect from narrative, not because they go against what we expect from characters. Every character’s actions in the Red Wedding episode make sense to their development thus far; it is simply that we don’t expect two of the show’s most powerful players to be brutally murdered in quick succession.
These twists are well-formed. The deaths are respectful to their character growth and weighty within the narrative. Perhaps more importantly, the consequences are long-lasting even up to later seasons; the Starks get their revenge on Walder Frey at the beginning of season six, and on Littlefinger, a major player in Ned’s death, at the end of the same.
Now, let’s compare to the shock value of season eight. Putting Dany on the throne would not have been a perfect ending, but with some sense of growth for her, it could have said something. Killing Jaime in a way that is respectful to his character development would have said far more than removing his character development for the sake of shocking the audience. Perhaps I was shocked by these twists, but a good twist is fundamentally not just about shocking the audience. It is about going against what the audience expects, but still coming out with something the audience can look back on and appreciate.
It is not transgressive for viewers to expect you to say something, and for you to instead say nothing.
I am going to attempt to rewrite this season in a way that is ultimately more satisfying narratively. As I don’t want to be accused of doing this simply because My Faves Died (which they honestly didn’t) I will leave every character in exactly the same ultimate place. I will also leave prior seasons the same even though season seven is a trainwreck, which means I can’t change things such as the incest plotline. I will simply make the journey more interesting.
Episodes one and two of the show are fine… pretty much the way they are. There are things I would change for reasons of character growth: for example, building up Sansa’s desire to be queen better, and the inevitability of that role for her. (I love the choice to put her on the throne at the end on so many levels, including it being satisfying narratively for the Starks and for her personally, but it needed more buildup within this season.) I actually genuinely thought episode two of this season was good as fuck.
Episode three is where we make the first big change: by killing off Dany in the battle for Winterfell.
Hear me out. The Battle of Winterfell is a pretty damn good episode: Arya killing off The Night King is one of the best moments of the season, and plot points like Tyrion and Sansa talking again made me fully tear up. However. The characters who die in it are fairly minor. By killing off a major character such as Dany (I think it would have to go along with losing one of her dragons, as well), we end episode three with major consequences. Maybe she could die attempting to get at the Night King, and have her last move to be to attempt to help Arya get to the Night King. (Because good character deaths require meaning.) It would also be really satisfying, if done right, for her last scene to involve discussing with Tyrion or Greyworm or Missandei her desire for the wheel to be broken.
I’m not going to stop the wheel. I’m going to break the wheel.
Even if not done right, you end episode three on a note of: okay, where the fuck do we go from here?
Which brings us to episode four. In the original season eight, episode four is essentially filler before episode five, in which both Dany and Jamie go through major character changes. In this version, we have a new plotline to follow. Tell me how this sounds:
Missandei, Greyworm, and Tyrion must grapple with the loss of who they thought was their leader, as both Sansa and John both attempt to decide who should lead what invasion, and whether they actually want any throne… leaving both with very little support. The one remaining dragon requires a rider, and John learns to bond with it. Meanwhile, Jamie makes a decision of his own: to go back to Cersei.
Okay, so here’s where another big shift comes.
We can all agree Cersei’s death was boring as fuck, right? I want to quickly say a thing about her death. The show is very, very clear to establish that Cersei, as a child, saw a witch, who predicted that she would die at the hands of “the valonqar,” meaning little brother, who she believed to be Tyrion but who was clearly being set up to be Jamie.
I guess they just kind of forgot about that this season, along with the younger-and-more-beautiful-queen prophecy Anyway, not the point. You know who’s also technically Cersei’s little brother? Jaime.
Here’s my proposed plot for episode five:
With Jamie now in King’s Landing doing who knows what, John and Dany’s armies (the latter now led by Greyworm) converge with the Ironborn to march on King’s Landing. Maybe we can also get Yara’s army in here, or the now leaderless Dornish forces, because seriously I don’t get why this show decided to just throw away all its other powerful characters last season.
Big battle involving exactly one singular dragon, badly ridden by Jon Snow, occurs. Euron dies. All other plot points of episode five approximately occur, it’s just that Cersei is the ultimate villain here. Arya sneaks into the city to try and kill Cersei herself.
Cersei does not die in the battle because she’s a bad bitch like that. We see her and Jamie about to run off, escaping the city yet again. Jamie hesitates. He then kills her. However, she stabs him as she’s dying because again, bad bitch like that. As Jamie dies, Arya watches the scene from beyond, seeing the end of his legacy.
We end the episode with Jon walking in and the dragon burning down the Iron Throne anyway because that scene was actually awesome.
Okay, so. I feel like I would actually have legitimately loved this as an ending for Cersei because it’s very bad-bitch (she’s such a good villain.) but also a good send-off for Jamie, because it ends on an honorable note for him. and . What’s really wild is that you can quite literally reuse half of the script from that Jon-kills-Dany scene
which I’m not sure is a coincidence but whatever and write a very satisfying scene. (Sending my friend Celia a lot of love for talking through this specific choice with me because it’s absolutely great.)
The final episode is now dedicated to setting players into the positions they hold now in the show. This can go… about how the second half of episode six goes. But maybe with some pretty big changes. Let’s talk.
The only death change I really think this adaptation could use would be keeping Missandei alive and putting her in a power positions. I know I said I wasn’t going to keep my favorites alive but. I also do what I want. And I just frankly think she doesn’t need to die for either narrative reasons or story reasons, she doesn’t get a good death, and I would put her on the list of more competent and deserving characters of a happy ending. Also, giving a happy ending to basically your only two named black characters is (this is a sad fucking statement) subversive of audience expectations. So there’s that.
First of all, I think the wheel actually needs to be broken and have all the kingdoms go independent. They’ve been foreshadowing this for ages and Bran, as the smart man he is, would probably understand this as a good idea. Sansa has already gotten her own throne (which she DESERVES). Yara Greyjoy is the queen of the Iron Islands now but if they went independent… that would kind of slap.
In writing this post I realized that the show quite literally does not reveal the fate of Ellaria Sand, or who’s going to rule Dorne now. (This article is so fucking salty and it’s hysterical.) I like Dorne even though RIP the Dorne plot and I don’t like plot holes and so I’m going to suggest episode six of this show should involve discovering she’s alive and having her go back into place as ruler.
Is this a perfect season of television? Absolutely not. The travel time skips alone are horrifying and I’m still just… confused as to how make killing Dany truly work. This is the rough draft of a proposed plotline and I literally spent one hour designing it and it’s not meant to be perfect. The point I’m making is even by only making a few changes, the show becomes far more narratively fullfilling.