- Warning: There are spoilers ahead for the entire season eight of “Game of Thrones.”
- Poor pacing, mishandling of its female and POC characters, and a tendency towards speed and spectacle rather than honest character development are some of the biggest problems critics have with the final season of “Game of Thrones.”
- Fans were so fed up with season eight that they started a Change.org petition to get HBO to remake the series “with competent writers” that has over one million signatures and counting.
- Visit INSIDER’s homepage for more stories.
When a TV series comes to an end, fans and critics alike just want justice and a proper send-off for their favourite characters. But it’s hard to please everyone, and the final season of “Game of Thrones,” which ended this past Sunday, was no exception.
Season eight of “Game of Thrones” has left critics and fans more divided than ever as viewers take issue with the show’s writing, pacing, and character development.
Here’s why most people are so unhappy with the end of “Game of Thrones.”
For better or worse, showrunners David Benioff and D. B. Weiss ran out of plot from creator George R. R. Martin’s original text some time ago
After season five ended, fans of the books and the TV series were once more on equal footing. The lack of source material left for the show to go off of meant that all fans had no idea where the tangles of plot and manifold characters were headed.
And that’s really where the trouble began. After the source material had run dry, many thought the quality of writing from showrunners David Benioff and D. B. Weiss dropped significantly, especially when compared to George R. R. Martin’s original books. One clear example of fans’ dissatisfaction is the “Game of Thrones”-focused subreddit r/Freefolk Googlebombing the writing duo so that their photo currently shows up when you search the phrase “bad writers.”
To be fair to Benioff and Weiss, seasons six and seven – the first two without Martin’s core source material – weren’t nearly as despised by critics or fans as season eight turned out to be. Season six received a 94% certified fresh score on Rotten Tomatoes, and season seven is right behind it at a 93% certified fresh rating.
But perhaps this is also why season eight is so painful to viewers. They aren’t just quick to hate everything that isn’t Martin’s original source material – they know that Benioff and Weiss can write compelling stories all on their own – but they didn’t love their imagined ending to one of the biggest fantasy spectacles of recent memory.
A fan petition on Change.org asking HBO to remake season eight “with competent writers” has nearly 1.3 million signatures as of the time writing this piece.
Petitions, aside, critics are in agreement with fans and aren’t afraid to say so.
Some critics have pointed out that the show’s problem with its female characters has only gotten worse
Many fans and critics have taken issue with how the women of Westeros are treated on HBO. From Sansa Stark seemingly implying she was grateful for her abusers because they made her stronger to the writers pitting Mad Queen against Mad Queen, viewers have called the storylines of “Game of Thrones” female characters problematic at best and sexist at worst.
“Female characters and their experiences with trauma are often portrayed not in a human or vaguely thoughtful and sympathetic manner but, rather, as moving chess pieces by male writers,” Kylie Cheung at PopSugar wrote about season eight, episode four, “The Last of the Starks.” Cheung goes on to cite numerous examples, from Cersei Lannister’s walk of shame in season five to many female characters’ experience with rape and incest.
To be clear, it isn’t that critics and fans are upset that these characters aren’t getting happy endings, it’s that the endings either don’t make sense or leave viewers feeling as though no character development has taken place.
“The best-executed major plot turns are moving and tragic because they feel surprising and yet inevitable,” Maureen Ryan wrote for the Hollywood Reporter. “Given the right kind of in-depth character development, we could have wept for the choices Daenerys, Brienne, Sansa or Cersei made.”
In the “Game of Thrones” universe, POC characters often pay the steepest price and seem to exist only to further other characters’ plot lines, and not as fully realised people with interior lives of their own
Missandei’s death in season eight, episode four, “The Last of the Starks,” was one of the most controversial moments of season eight.
Missandei is beheaded at the orders of Queen Cersei in front of Daenerys, driving her towards an emotional break on the show. INSIDER reporter Kim Renfro pointed out that many thought this moment was an example of “fridging.” Fridging is when creators kill off a woman character – in this case, a woman of colour – to merely drive the plot forward for the protagonist through their grief.
As the only woman of colour on the show, some viewers believed Missandei’s story was reduced to a mere plot device to further Daenerys’ narrative arc.
The optics were also upsetting. Laura Hudson at Wired asked a simple and direct question on behalf of fans: “Who thought it was a good idea to put the only black woman on the show in literal chains and then murder her to make a white woman have feelings?”
Critical responses to the lack of diverse casting on the show are not new, but this moment was a clear indicator to some critics of the depth of the problem and how it negatively impacted the show.
“Game of Thrones has always received criticism for its racial politics. And when you consider Daenerys’ white saviour narrative in Meereen, and the overwhelmingly white lead cast, these criticisms are very valid indeed,” Jo Bradley of Film Inquiry wrote.
“Yeah, listen, I’m pissed about Missandei dying because Missandei was a good character played by a good actress,” William Evans of Black Nerd Problems wrote. “But like, I can’t get on board with the ‘this is offensive to kill the only Black woman on the show’ narrative. It’s a lot more offensive that she was the only Black woman on the show.”
Pacing – and more specifically, the frenetic rushing to get everyone’s story told as quickly as possible – is also a major problem that critics have called out
When “Game of Thrones” returned after making fans wait anxiously for two years, the response was overwhelmingly positive: Season eight, episode one is rated 92% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes, the highest-rated of the final season.
Still, even back at the beginning of the final season, critics like Rob Bricken at io9 saw signs of trouble that only got worse throughout the last season.
“The issue is, the episode was so packed full of important moments but was done so workman-like, it felt like the show was trying to get all of these scenes done and out of the way as quickly as possible,” Bricken wrote about the season eight premiere.
Other critics pointed out these pacing issues started well before the final season of the show.
“For some reason, ‘Game of Thrones’ has spent its last two seasons trying to accomplish in 13 episodes what should have taken at least 20,” Judy Berman at Time wrote about the show. “An epic that excelled when it embraced patience, character development, and detail is now hurtling full-speed toward its finale like that army of White Walkers charging through the remnants of what used to be the Wall.”
But the single biggest problem that critics have with season eight is that nothing feels authentic and earned
For ages, speculation that Daenerys would turn into the Mad Queen has been rampant. And certainly, there could have been a way to do the idea justice. But many fans and critics don’t believe the show was successful in fully realising Daenerys Targaryen’s dark turn.
“With ‘The Bells,’ the fifth and penultimate episode of GoT’s final season, Benioff and Weiss have well and truly ruined seven seasons’ worth of careful character-building, not to mention immensely impressive work from Emilia Clarke, in one fiery fell swoop,” Barry Hertz wrote for the Globe and Mail.
“They not only gave Daenerys the least-earned character turn in the show’s history – maybe in television history – they rubbed our faces in this colossal mistake for what felt like an eternity,” Maureen Ryan at the Hollywood Reporter wrote.
The season’s problems followed it into the finale, which some critics said felt strangely paced and unfulfilling
“It was clumsy and frustrating, especially because if you squinted, you could see how the outcomes could have been powerful if the lead-ups hadn’t been mismanaged,” Jeremy Egner wrote for The New York Times.
This mismanagement didn’t seem to make many fans mad, but rather made them feel surprisingly nothing at all.
“For the most part, the finale felt oddly flat. For a show I’ve invested countless hours in, both professionally and as a fan of Martin’s books, I figured I’d at least tear up about the prospect of saying goodbye to these characters,”Laura Prudom wrote for IGN.
When the credits rolled on “Game of Thrones,” the overwhelming emotion felt by many fans and critics was relief. And after seasons of horror and spectacle, that is a resounding disappointment.
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