HBO's epic adaptation of author George R. R. Martin's fantasy series A Song of Ice and Fire came to a close this past weekend to rather mixed reviews. The final season of Game of Thrones has proven to be polarizing among fans and critics alike, with the season earning its worst critical ratings by a significant margin.
The penultimate and finale episodes of Game of Thrones hold the lowest two Rotten Tomatoes scores of any episode in the series at 47% and 49% respectively, with the overall season earning a 67% score, well down from the 90% or higher ratings all previous seasons of the series have earned. Audience reactions have been considerably worse, with the season holding just a 36% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes. A fan petition was also launched, demanding that HBO remake the season with "competent writers," garnering more than 1 million signatures to date.
Series finales for long-running, popular television shows are always polarizing. While Game of Thrones earned popularity for its willingness to subvert audience expectations, whether it be Ned Stark's execution, the Red Wedding or Jon Snow's death, the series has continually done things that other series haven't. So, why has the Game of Thrones series finale met the same fate as other series?
"The Iron Throne" certainly subverted fan expectations throughout, as it sought to close out the story that began all the way back in 2011. That being said, the series finale also didn't make a whole lot of sense.
Much of this can be attributed to the decisions to cap the series at eight seasons while reducing the episode count over the last two seasons to just 13 episodes. This placed the writers in a bind, as narratives were forced around the big moments that Martin seemingly let showrunners D. B. Weiss and David Benioff know about when the series surpassed the books. These big moments took place in such a short span of time that many decisions felt rushed and unearned. The series finale was no different.
With just 80 minutes left to close out the series, "The Iron Throne" had more than a few head-scratching moments. The aftermath of Jon Snow murdering Daenerys Targaryen following her genocide of King's Landing provided its fair share of these moments.
Drogon's decision to let Jon live, instead choosing to melt the Iron Throne before flying off with Dany, didn't make much sense. Nor did the Unsullied taking Jon prisoner. Earlier in the episode, Grey Worm was executing Lannister prisoners of war in the streets for being on Cersei's side, so why would Grey Worm allow Jon to live after murdering his queen?
Furthermore, Jon is then allowed to take the Black again as a member of the Night's Watch. With the Night King dead, Jon's punishment for murdering Dany amounts to nothing, really. He gets to live out his days North of the Wall with the Free Folk and Ghost, where he's always felt most at home.
Jon surviving the finale also seems to go against what was established earlier in the series, specifically in relation to the prophecy of Azor Ahai and the resurrections of Beric Dondarrion and Jon Snow by Red Priests. While the argument can be made that the series finale did in fact prove Jon Snow was Azor Ahai, the Prince that was Promised, his survival negates that. In "The Long Night," audiences learned that the Lord of Light continued to resurrect Beric as he still had a purpose to serve, namely saving Arya during the Battle of Winterfell so she could go on to kill the Night King. Surely by killing Dany, Jon's purpose was served? So, why is he still alive?
Drogon killing him would have provided the most logical conclusion to his arc while also serving to fulfill the prophecy of Azor Ahai. The sword that burst into flame after the Prince that was Promised plunged it into the heart of his lover was never a real sword. Jon was the sword. The sword in the darkness that brought light to Westeros by removing the Targaryen line from the throne.
While Jon's conclusion didn't make much sense, neither did the ending given to Grey Worm and the Unsullied. While attending the council to name the next ruler of Westeros, Tyrion Lannister, a prisoner of the Unsullied for betraying Dany, tells Grey Worm he doesn't get to choose what Jon's fate is. It's a moment that defies all sense of logic.
Dany sacked the city of Astapor to free the Unsullied from the chains of slavery. She delivered them the agency to make their own decisions. To live their lives as free men. Yet a prisoner of theirs is allowed to remove that agency to govern themselves following the murder of their queen.
And that's not to mention the fact that Tyrion, who is still a prisoner, is allowed to have a say in the future of Westeros and to become Hand once again, this time to King Bran.
Apart from Ser Brienne being chosen as Lord Commander of the King's Guard, Bran's small council is chock-full of people that probably shouldn't be there. Bronn, now the Lord of Highgarden, is named Master of Coin, which seems a questionable move at best. He's repeatedly proven himself to be loyal only to the highest bidder, and now he's in charge of the continent's money?
Most questionable, though, would have to be Samwell Tarly's promotion to Grand Maester. This is a move akin to a medical school dropout being named Surgeon General. Sam didn't forge a single link of his Maester's chain, and yet he's now the head Maester of the continent.
It was always going to be difficult for Game of Thrones to provide a satisfying conclusion to its story, especially given the short amount of time that the showrunners allowed for. That being said, the final season, and more specifically the series finale, could have continued the show's penchant for subverting fan expectations with the same logic and reasoning that fueled so many other big moments in the series. Unfortunately for fans, it didn't and it's why "The Iron Throne" has joined the pantheon of disappointing TV finales.
Game of Thrones stars Peter Dinklage as Tyrion Lannister, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau as Jaime Lannister, Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister, Emilia Clarke as Daenerys Targaryen, Sophie Turner as Sansa Stark, Maisie Williams as Arya Stark and Kit Harington as Jon Snow.