Game of Thrones Finale: A Writer’s Perspective

jon snow and ned stark

It’s over, done with, finito, the end of an era!

The greatest television show in history has reached its conclusion—and so, naturally, countless opinions manifest in the form or worshipful odes or vicious diatribes.

No doubt there are already thousands of reviews chronicling the Game of Thrones finale, but there should be one from a writer’s perspective. Good or bad, great or horrible, we writers can always learn something from these things, so let’s see what Game of Thrones aka The Song of Ice and Fire has to teach us.

A Twist is Not the Same as Good Storytelling

Something M Night Shyamalan took a while to grasp is something the writers of GoT failed to learn: twists should be considered a tool in a writers’ arsenal, not the goal.

From a literary standpoint, the unfaithfulness of the finale with all that had come before it was dissapointing. The series has shown time and again, in brutal ways, that whatever terrible things can happen, will happen. We’ve come to love the series for this very thing, this unique and entertaining—and often flagrant—penchant for flying in the face of traditional fantasies.

GoT is not your traditional fantasy, where all the main players in the fellowship make it to the end, where those who survive all have happy endings. In Westeros and Essos, bad things happen and no one is exempt. This has been made clear throughout the series.

But the finale decided to upend this theme and wrap everything up nicely with a bow.

It made me kind of miss the old Night King.

the night king

Hardest Decision of Jon Snow’s Life—Made in the Time it Takes to Stroll Past a Dragon

Perhaps we could have swallowed the writing of the finale if we had been given time to see and to process character motivation.

But this necessary literary device was sacrificed for spectacle, a la the MCU. We long suspected Jon would be forced to kill Daenerys to prevent a mad reign. And we saw her becoming mad. But Jon didn’t seem to realize this until early in the final episode. When Tyrion finally convinced him she needed to be bled, he simply takes a stroll up the street, passes Drogon the sleepy bouncer, and approaches the completely unprotected Queen of the Ash Heap. They have a little discussion (I was disappointed we didn’t get to see one final Dany berserker rage and hear one last classic Targaryen threat, just to remind us of her madness), and then Jon simply slides it in, nice and easy.

We didn’t get to see this tragic young man come to accept his tragic role over the course of several episodes. He ‘says’ he loves her. But that, my dear writers, is telling, not showing.

wolvering vs jean greyThe similar scene in X-Men: The Last Stand, where Wolverine kills his beloved Jean, is far more powerful, for a number of reasons:

(1) the music is moving and builds to a crescendo (2) we are actually shown how difficult this decision is for Logan

(3) much time—most of the movie—was given to building up to this scene, lending it gravitas, and

(4) we glimpse Jean’s humanity in the end.

But the GoT version felt rushed. If this was the culmination of all that had come before, then the decision should have weighed heavily on Jon for some time, and we should have been shown him reaching this heart-wrenching decision through much time and psychological turmoil. He reached the decision and acted on it in a time span of roughly ten minutes. It felt like an afterthought, which in literary terms was disrespectful to the build up that had so excellently been established and executed for many seasons.

Sansa the Snark-Stark

Speaking of disrespectful, evolving the character of Sansa from a long-suffering girl/woman to a world-class game-of-thrones player should have been awesome and one of the best character arcs of a fantastic series. Instead, her character changed suddenly from victim to furious royalty to snarky judge. Again, instead of showing us something, the writers, who had done such a phenomenal job for 6 seasons, suddenly decided to tell us that Sansa is the smartest person in Westeros. In seasons 7 and 8 a number of characters suddenly decide and proclaim that Sansa is super duper clever. The reason it is better to show your audience (watchers or readers) something rather than telling them something, is that when by telling them, you disrespect their ability to pick up on things. By telling us she was so smart, the writers were telling us that we were not smart enough to deduce this on our own.

Maybe they did this because they weren’t sure how to show it. So in lieu of cleverness displayed, they make her snarky. During the Council of the Dragon Pit she dissed both her uncle (poor Edmure) and her brother. “I love ya, bro, but I ain’t bending the knee to the likes of you.’ Gods forbid she set an example to the other lord and ladies.

Ironically, the writers made all these powerful lords and ladies look like idiots (including the brilliant Sansa) by having them all laugh at Samwell Tarly (the actual smartest person there) when he suggests they create a democracy.

By having them laugh aside this intelligent suggestion, the writers show that their characters have learned nothing from all the recent tragedies and the mistakes of all those kings and queens who came before them. A democracy would have changed the continent, changed lives for the better. It would have shown that these powerful leaders had learned from the mistakes of their forebears, and that they genuinely wanted to create a better world.

Instead, they gladly continue to play the various spokes in that Wheel Daenerys hated so much, a Wheel that is remounted courtesy of Tyrion, whose IQ dropped when he decided to serve Her Majesty the Entitled Brat.

And for an Encore – We’ll Play the Same Music

Instead of a fantastic new soundtrack for this episode of episodes, we are given more of the same. Great music, but we’ve heard it all before and the composers hardly made an effort to improvise on the familiar themes.

Mysteries Revealed – But They Don’t Really Matter in the End

GoT’s has long been filled with mysteries, a storied and hidden past.

One of the biggest mysteries of the series, finally revealed, was the parentage of Jon Snow. A great story and revelation this was. And yet, in the hands of these writers it turned out to have no effect on the finale. It wasn’t even brought up in the Council of the Dragon Pit!

They made such a big deal about Jon being Aegon Targaryen. It satisfied his long held question of who his mother was. It made him the greatest threat to Daenerys’ claim to the throne, and it legitimized the world’s most famous bastard.

 

It should have meant she would try to kill him (if she was mad, which clearly she proved to be). It should have meant Jon was faced with the same decision his father/uncle had faced. As Littlefinger had said to Ned, ‘all the power is yours, you need only reach out and take it.’ Jon could have seized it for his own by struggling to make alliances in secret, maneuvering with his sisters and Bran to subdue Daenerys and Drogon and the armies of eunuchs and Mongols. But instead of all this entertaining subterfuge (which would have created great and prolonged tension between Jon and Dany), we were given a long walk and no mention of his heritage.

In the end, the biggest kept secret in the world, revealed, meant nothing. Jon, like his father/uncle, failed to seize power. And because of that, Westeros still does not have a king who never sought the crown.

Bran the Broken

Which brings us to Bran. If Bran’s plan was always to take the crown, if all the devastation and mayhem and murder happened because of his machinations, that would have been acceptable and faithful to the world of GoT’s. But the writers had never given the least hint of this. So when Bran is asked if he wants to be king, and he responds ‘That is why I came all this way’ it felt . . . fake and untrue to his storyline and character.

If Bran had been manipulating events to place him in a position to become king (which would have been entertaining), then the writer’s should have shown some indication of this beforehand. There should have been foreshadowing. Something. Instead, we get a cappuccino cup and water bottle.

Nice job.

Any writer can trace the lineage of the Game of Thrones downfall, from a literary standpoint, to its exact moment of failure.

littlefinger death

The moment the writers began to screw it all up goes back to the season 7 finale, when they executed Littlefinger. That was our first sign that they didn’t know what they were doing, that they couldn’t be trusted to properly handle these beloved characters, to be faithful to their established natures and storylines.

From the beginning, Lord Baelish was presented as a supremely cunning character. He orchestrated the War of the Five Kings. Thousands of people died, kingdoms were torn apart, and whole houses were wiped out, all because of his machinations. Then, he positioned himself into gaining a fortress, an army, respect and fear. He was written as being so clever, in fact, that only two characters ever knew just how dangerous he was: Varys, because he knew things and didn’t drink; and Sansa, because he took her under his wing to teach her how to play the game of chaos.

Lord Baelish was the Emperor Palpatine of Game of Thrones. And yet, even after he discovered that the Three-Eyed Raven knew his secrets, the writers thought such a clever player would just linger and toil in Winterfell, waiting for the inevitable throat-slash.

Such an intelligent character requires intelligence and a deft hand to write. Littlefinger had just explained to Sansa to imagine the very worst things people could do to you, and then to plan how to use that against them. But instead of following his own advice, he did nothing? This was the first example of the writers making a character act out of character. And it was a warning sign of things to come.

Arya at least was handled well. She remained true to herself. Faithful to her nature, she decides to go off alone. That was good and fitting. Someone should have mentioned that the whole world owes her a debt, but I suppose it’s enough that she has Needle, right here.

A Storm is Sometimes Just a Storm – Apparently

Did anybody else notice the gathering snowstorm in the shell of Kings Landing? I was like, ‘Oh dang man, Night King Junior is on his way to King’s Landing’ but then it turned out, nah, it’s just a little squall. It don’t mean a thing.

And after Jon does the deed, we are not shown anyone’s response to it (except for Grey Worm, but like so many others, this character had been mishandled by the writers, made to betray his nature, thus making him unlikeable).

And then it just kind of . . . ends?

Just about at the end, we are shown various familiar faces (who survived the Kings Landing massacre simply by merit of not being there or not doing anything while there) gathering for a small council meeting. Once again we have Samwise Gamgee pointing out something illuminating, and everyone else dismisses it as so much fluff. Thanks for the nod to Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire, anyway, boys. Nice try at vindicating yourselves, writers, but the truth is you are no George R.R. Martin. It was all just a game for you, whereas he moved beyond the Game, into a Clash, a Storm, a Feast, a Dance, all leading to the Winds of Winter.

Have you noticed, in your literary opinion, that there has been a marked decrease in personality since the season 6 finale? This goes in hand with the previous observation that the writers decided to take a page out of Michael Bay’s How To Handbook and replace character with spectacle.

For six glorious seasons, GoT’s was filled with fascinating characters: Introductions, interactions, clashes, arcs and demises. But when the writers realized that they had to conclude things within 13 episodes, they deduced that they had not prepared well enough. So, to bring everything to a head, they focused on dialogue info-dumps dispersed between bouts of intense action. The result: long tedious boring chatter episodes (devoid of character development and entertaining character interactions), sporadically alleviated by Something Actually Getting Done.

Thank Arya, thanks Samwell, thanks for the sacrifice Jon.

The neat happy ending was further evidence of a missed opportunity by writers who forgot that their world used to be filled with mystery and magic and brewing threats. Why were we not shown the infant White Walkers? We know by the Gruff Men Seeking a Zombie March that not all wights are connected to every Walker. Certainly some of these infant non-racist-named Walkers survived Arya’s Valyrian blade?

And wouldn’t it have been more interesting if it turned out that one of the dragons was female, and somewhere in Dragonstone there is a nest of fresh dragon eggs? Imagine witnessing in the final shots a little dragon snout poking out of an egg as Drogon the Dread looks on. Wouldn’t that be better than watching a long slow northward march of the not-so-wild-any-more Wildlings?

I did appreciate seeing Jon almost smile when he realized he had saved all of these people and domesticated them. But, like his father/uncle, he couldn’t smile for real. He is half Stark, after all, and that’s always better than being a full on stark-raving mad Targaryen.

The point is that for years this world was filled with mysteries and threats of all kinds. It was firmly established that there was always some great danger lurking over the next rise. You vanquish one evil only to face another. This constant darkness, this lurking monster is one of the things that made the world and series so enthralling.

In the end, the writers decided to show that there were no more threats, no more monsters, no more intrigues, no more mysteries.

Sorry, but your world now sounds very boring. Safe, sure. But no one wants to explore a safe world. I see now why a sequel was never in the plans. If you want to enjoy this world again, you will have to visit its past, for its present and future have become the Songs of Nothing.

Readers and writers may rejoice that, in literature at least, Winter is Still Coming!