Criticism moves swiftly online, and perhaps nowhere was that more obvious than in the response to the eighth and final season of HBO's Game of Thrones. Before the season even concluded, it was ripped apart and transformed into endless memes, but its final Emmy Award win for Best Drama may indicate fans were too harsh in their assessment.
With its 2011 premiere, the hit fantasy drama not only endeared itself with audiences but also established itself as an inventive and ambitious project that frequently subverted expectations for the genre.
In a vacuum, that promising start would make little about the series' record-breaking 32 nominations for its final season, and its third Best Drama win, surprising. However, we know that many devoted viewers eviscerated those final six episodes, which were criticized for discarding long-developing plot elements, including a once-important prophecy, and even logic for the sake of expediency.
But were fans too quick to judge? After all, concluding the dozens of plotlines was bound to be an arduous task, no matter what. Needless to say, doing so in a way that would satisfy all, or even most, longtime viewers was virtually impossible. Previous seasons set up not only a continent-spanning war to decide who sat the Iron Throne, but a looming, otherworldly threat from the icy North.
The high-minded plot details were never truly the strength of Game of Thrones, anyway. Some of its greatest moments came in intimate character interactions, such as when Arya and the Hound finding embers of friendship within the ashes of their world. The biggest highlights from the plot-related elements always came with cataclysmic events that dramatically altered the status quo, such as the execution of Ned Stark or the burning of the Sept of Baelor.
When you take a step back, the final season holds many of the same elements that attracted fans to the series in the first place. There was special attention given to character moments, with the second episode, "A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms, depicting most of the central cast biding their time on the eve of the Battle of Winterfell, the conflict between the armies of the living and the dead.
And when it came to cataclysmic events, the final season certainly delivered. "The Long Night" was criticized for how anticlimactically it resolved the threat of the Night King and the White Walkers. However, given the episode's focus on the battle for the fate of Westeros, it's a little difficult to see what was so anticlimactic about it. Melisandre lighting the Dothraki horde's weapons aflame was thrilling enough, but watching them extinguished by a sea of darkness doubled down on the drama.
If that wasn't enough, Daenerys' destruction of King's Landing two episodes later carried the kind of spectacle for which Game of Thrones is known. Her descent into madness and despotism at last complete, the episode "The Bells" was as expectation-defying as the series ever was. It's possible that in criticizing the show as falling off in quality, what truly changed wasn't so much Game of Thrones as fans' perception of it.
Say what one may about the Emmy Awards selection process, but the Best Drama victory comes in a year with fierce competition. With critically lauded contenders like Better Call Saul and Killing Eve vying for the same award, it's all too easy to pass off Game of Thrones' win as some token gesture. The response may well be that Emmy voters celebrated Game of Thrones' legacy rather than the quality of the final season, which raises an important response: So what?
The series was a masterclass in storytelling and character development. It was frequently so ambitious that perhaps it set its sights higher than it could ever reach in this final six episodes. However, there were nevertheless triumphant moments within the final season that deserve recognition. For a show once hailed for its seems unfair to focus so heavily on the risks it took that didn't pan out. In the game of thrones you win or you die, and whichever direction the last season went it was a whole lot of fun playing.