Game of Thrones has finally come to an end. But not everyone is happy how the show did so. I have been a die hard fan of the books and show for years. Despite its faults, I still enjoyed watching the final season of GoT, but I would have ended it much differently.
Ending a story requires tying up every character arc into a nice, neat bow. With a story as complex as GoT, that is exceedingly difficult. So I don’t entirely blame show producers David Benioff and Dan Weiss from brutally destroying some of our favorite characters’ stories. But I think a better ending could’ve been done. Let’s break the story down arc by arc to see what they did wrong. Then see how I would’ve ended it.
The Night King
Ever since the first scene of Game of Thrones, the show has foreshadowed the confrontation between the White Walkers and the world of men. The actual game of thrones among the lords and ladies of Westeros is a distraction. Compared to the Night King and his army, the Iron Throne is a trivial matter. What truly matters is the Great War between life and death. And to win that war, all our favorite characters needed to put aside their differences and to unite as one.
The Night King was the largest threat in the show. He was the climax. So why did he feel so anticlimactic?
I think it all just ended too quickly. Say what you want about Season 8 Episode 3, “The Long Night”. There are certainly issues with lighting, military tactics, and so on. But the biggest problem is that the Night King died. Of course, he had to die eventually. Regardless, he didn’t even make it past Winterfell. We got no illustration of how dangerous the Night King actually was. Sure, he destroyed Last Hearth, but we didn’t see that happen. We only saw the Night King attack Winterfell and then he lost.
In my opinion, the White Walkers should have destroyed Winterfell and several characters along with it. The rest of the characters would have to flee south while the Night King conquered basically all of the North. The stakes would be high and hopes would be low. “What if the Night King wins?” the audience would ask. But our characters would get one last desperate attempt to defeat the Night King, and when all hope seemed lost, they would finally succeed.
Another issue with the Night King and the White Walkers was that they did almost nothing. The Night King flew on a dragon for a little bit, raised some dead, killed Theon quickly, and then stared menacingly at Bran. The rest of the White Walkers literally did nothing. The army of wights was terrifying, but what about their leaders? Shouldn’t they have been even more fearsome? Show us what they can do. Especially show us what the Night King can do. We need to know that the Night King is dangerous, not just his army.
Finally, there is the issue of mystery surrounding the Night King. What does he want? What are his personal motivations? Who is he? Some people compare the White Walkers to forces of nature, and nature doesn’t have personality or motivation. It just acts as if with a singular purpose. But that’s boring. Also, the Night King was a person and is now just a blue, ice person. Give him some humanity. We don’t even hear him speak for god’s sake.
Okay. Fine. No speech makes the Night King scarier, so I can live with that. But we at least need to learn more about the Night King through some of Bran’s visions. He can’t just be pure evil because the concept of evil is exactly what George R.R. Martin strove to destroy when he wrote A Song of Ice and Fire. People, even ice people, are not wholly evil. They have motivations. I would have loved to see some personal connection between Bran and the Night King, perhaps through some weird time travel Three-Eyed Raven business. Make it personal. Don’t make the Night King go after Bran just because he knows things. Don’t make the Night King wipe out humanity because he’s a mindless ice zombie. Why does he want to end humanity? Tell us!
I will surely discuss this again, but the final two seasons suffered from too few episodes. Why do you need to shorten the seasons? Slow down. By doing so, David Benioff and D.B. Weiss could have flushed out more characters like the Night King and better paced the show to set up for their finale.
Although I do not have any major qualms with how Jon’s character arc ended, I do have several nitpicky critiques.
First off, Jon’s dialogue really suffered during the final season. I swear the only thing he said was, “But she’s my queen!” Yes, Jon. We get it. Can you please say something intelligible for once? You know nothing, Jon Snow, but that doesn’t mean you’re capable of only one thought. Show some expression. Give the actor Kit Harrington a chance to act.
Second…*takes a deep breath* this one got me seriously pissed off. Pet Ghost. That is a loyal pupper. He fought in battle with Jon multiple times, saved his life, sat by his corpse until he was resurrected, and apparently lost an ear in the battle at Winterfell. The bond between the Starks and their direwolves is spiritual and it’s suggested that Jon is so connected to Ghost that he can warg into him. But in Season 8 Episode 4, Jon sends Ghost away with Tormund without even touching the poor direwolf. You pet that doggo goddammit! Yeah yeah CGI budget. Yeah yeah yeah Jon pets him in the final episode. I don’t care. Too little, too late. Ghost is a good boi and he deserves better.
Okay. I lied. I do have a major qualm. Jon’s entire story arc revolves around preparing for and defeating the Night King. All Jon ever talked about was the White Walkers and the army of the dead. In addition, the Lord of Light allowed him to be resurrected from the dead for a reason. It seems pretty obvious that reason was to kill the Night King. Yet, who kills the Night King? Arya. Why? Until that point, she had no interaction with the White Walkers. Meanwhile, Jon has fought them multiple times and even had an epic stare down with the Night King at Hardhome. It’s Jon’s fight. It’s Jon’s moment, not Arya’s. When Arya actress Maisie Williams told her boyfriend that Arya kills the Night King, he said, “Should be Jon, shouldn’t it?” Exactly.
Also, throughout the show, as in the books, people discuss Azor Ahai, the prophesied hero that defeated the Night King before and would do it again. Most theorize that Daenerys or Jon is Azor Ahai. Melisandre claimed it was Stannis, but then decided it was actually Jon. Another red priestess claimed it was Daenerys. Regardless, Jon seems like the most likely candidate. Anyway, who did the show reveal as Azor Ahai? Uh…no one. They just completely dropped that prophecy. Are you kidding me? Did you forget?
When we first meet Jaime Lannister, he is an arrogant man devoid of honor. Jaime is known as the Kingslayer for stabbing the Mad King in the back, so we are positive he is an evil, honorless man. Yet, the more we learn about Jaime over the course of the series, the more we realize he’s actually not a bad guy. In fact, he even had his reasons for killing the Mad King. Over time both we the audience and Jaime himself learn that he is not such a bad guy after all.
Regardless, there is still some evil in Jaime. He’s not perfect. But that evil is undoubtedly connected to his sister/lover Cersei. After all, every evil thing he’s done has been for her. Yet, for some reason, Dan and David chose to make Jaime return to Cersei, even after she threatened to kill him, even after she abandoned the side of the living in the Great War, even after he found a purer love in Brienne of Tarth. All that character development was wasted so Jaime could return to where he started as a character. He abandoned Brienne a day after they had sex just to die alongside his sister. That’s just rude.
I understand that it’s poetic for twins to come into the world together and leave the world together. But it’s even more poetic for Jaime to complete his character arc by killing Cersei. Since everything evil about Jaime is connected to Cersei, Jaime must kill Cersei to kill the evil within himself. Besides, Jaime realized what a monster she had become. He knew it was his responsibility to stop her. If Jaime abandoned Brienne to take responsibility for the monster Cersei had become, I would be okay with that. But that’s not at all what happened and I have no idea what Dan and David were thinking.
Not to mention, the Valonqar prophecy from the books states that Cersei will be strangled to death by her younger brother. Cersei obviously suspects Tyrion of being the Valonqar (Valyrian for younger brother), but Jaime is also younger than her. Sure, the books and the show aren’t the same thing. But the Valonqar prophecy is just another reason why Jaime should have killed her.
Above all other ruined character arcs, I think Daenerys’s was one of the worst. Her story was so inspiring for many women. Initially she was sold to Khal Drogo like a broodmare. She was a silly, little girl that got raped and abused. Yet, Daenerys slowly transformed into a heroic leader. She freed slaves, protected the innocent, and showed compassion when the helpless suffered. Daenerys became the sort of leader destined to lead Westeros into a better world. Many people believed in her, including Varys and Tyrion and Jorah, so we the viewers believed in her too. Therefore, it came as a huge shock when suddenly Daenerys started to massacre the innocent after her enemies surrendered. It felt like a huge change in character.
Having said that, I don’t think Daenerys’s ending as the Mad Queen was a bad one. She always battled against the legacy of her father. Daenerys even showed some brutality of her own with her cold attitude towards her brother’s death, her heartless murder of the Dothraki Khals, and also with her execution of the Tarlys. However, most of those people deserved to die.
The issue is one of pacing. If Game of Thrones showed Daenerys being cruel to innocent people, then we might have believed it when she suddenly snapped. Maybe if she got paranoid and saw enemies all around her, she would execute some innocent people. Then we wouldn’t find it so shocking when Daenerys truly went mad. But for that, we needed more episodes.
Also, I think one of the issues with Daenerys’s descent into madness in the show was that it made no logical sense. Daenerys was angry at Cersei, so when Cersei’s army surrendered, why did Daenerys kill innocent people? Just go to the Red Keep and kill Cersei. Done.
As I already discussed in the Night King section, I think there should be a connection between Bran and the Night King. But other than that, what made Bran so disappointing this season? He didn’t do anything. All he did was sit there and stare at people.
In the battle at Winterfell, what did he do? Warg into some birds and fly around. That’s it. And after that? Absolutely nothing. Bran, you have super powers. Use them for the gods’ sake. Oh and after the battle, what did Bran do? Continue to stare at people and do/say next to nothing.
Also, Bran becoming king felt incredibly random. The lords and ladies of Westeros just said, “Hey, what about that cripple kid? Let’s make him king.” Then everybody was like, “Yeah, screw it.” Apparently literally no one else could be king. I understand a good leader must be smart and doesn’t necessarily want to be a leader, but you need to provide some clues to show Bran could become king. Otherwise, it’s just lazy writing.
The show did tease something more complex and intriguing. When asked if he’d like to be king, Bran responds, “Why do you think I came all this way?” So does that mean he saw the future and did what was needed to become king? If this is the case, remind us that Bran can see the future. Or does that mean he simply had ambitions to become king? Either are interesting options, but we get no sense that they were options beforehand. Bran even told Tyrion that he doesn’t want anything at all anymore. At the very least, you could have Bran say he doesn’t want anything anymore, and then when Tyrion is leaving, have the camera show Bran smirking. This would show that there is something more going on. But we got none of this.
I actually don’t have too many complaints about Cersei’s arc. She lived her whole life for her kids. All the evil she committed was for their survival. But now all her kids are dead, ironically because of her actions. Understandably that would screw her up and turn her into a monster. Not to mention, she supposedly has another bun in the oven, so she’d do anything to protect it and her reign. She’d risk her whole city and keep striving to win the game of thrones until the very end. That makes sense.
My complaints? First, Lena Headey is an amazing actress. I don’t think she got the dialogue she deserved. She deserved better writing so she could flex her acting chops. Instead we just saw Cersei stare out a window for most of the season.
Second, as per the Valonqar prophecy, Cersei is supposed to be strangled to death by Jaime. It just seems like a more suitable ending from a visual perspective too. By this point, Cersei has become an evil monster. All the other evil monsters got killed in long, satisfying deaths. Joffrey choked to death on poison while Ramsay got eaten alive by his own dogs. But Cersei just got crushed by some rocks. Yawn. Too quick. Too boring.
Arya went on quite the journey. She even became the hero during this final season. But her character arc was not about becoming a badass warrior. Arya’s quest has always been to rejoin her family.
For a while Arya focused on revenge. She recited names of people she wanted to kill. Then she went to Braavos and became “No One”, a nameless, faceless assassin. But Arya couldn’t truly become “No One” because she always longed for her family. She was always a Stark. The lone wolf dies, but the pack survives. Arya belonged with her pack.
That’s why it makes no sense for Arya to leave Winterfell to assassinate Cersei or die trying. She would want to stay with her family. She was alone for so long. She lost so many loved ones. Now Arya’s just going to up and leave on a suicide mission? That’s silly.
My problem with Tyrion is not so much with his ending as it is with how he acts throughout the season. If I asked you to describe Tyrion in a word, you might say “clever” or “intelligent.” But every single decision Tyrion has made in the final season has been terrible. It seems that David and Dan deliberately made Tyrion look like an idiot so Daenerys would get mad at him. Sansa even made a quip at Tyrion, saying that she was disappointed in him because she once thought he was the smartest man in Westeros. Tyrion is just an idiot in Season 8. Go back to the first few seasons. Listen to any dialogue with Tyrion in it and you’ll realize how much worse it’s gotten.
As for Tyrion’s actual character arc, it’s fine. I think it’s acceptable. But to change a character’s key trait? That is unacceptable.
I know Bronn isn’t exactly a major character, but he’s still a fan favorite. So it still hurts to see his character get messed up. Bronn began as a greedy sellsword, who looks out for himself and himself only. Yet, as Bronn hung around Tyrion and Jaime, we discovered that he actually had a heart. He showed affection for Tyrion and even risked his life to save Jaime on numerous occasions.
Clearly, Bronn does have a heart, especially for the Lannister brothers. Thus, when Cersei asks Bronn to kill them, it should be a moral quandary for him. But in the show, Bronn has no trouble threatening Tyrion and Jaime to get Highgarden. All the emotion is just forgotten. Again Bronn is made a man of greed. Oh and I guess we’ll just graze over the fact Tyrion has no authority to simply give away one of the wealthiest kingdoms in Westeros.
Varys is another one of the smartest characters in the show. Think back to his conversations with Littlefinger. Their conversations showed how each of them was clever, conniving, and ambitious. But in the past few seasons, Game of Thrones has shown very little of Varys. When he is in the show, he just spouts off exposition. We don’t see him do or say anything clever anymore.
Not to mention, Varys’s death seems like a quick excuse to conclude his arc and be done with him. Betraying Daenerys when she turns evil does seem like a Varys thing to do. However, Varys would not sit by writing letters as men came to take him and execute him. He would think up a sneaky plot to kill Daenerys. He would use his information and connections to leverage people and ensure his escape. The only way Varys would die is if someone else outsmarted him. But by no means would he just accept death.
Tormund is the only Wildling we truly care about, but I think there are some key problems with the logic in the Wildlings’ actions. They spent the entire series trying to get south. Yes, this was in part because of the White Walkers. But it was also because the Wildlings were simply unlucky people that ended up on the wrong side of the Wall when it was built. The whole time they’ve been trying to get south to find warmer, more fertile lands. When they finally got south of the Wall, they were offered the Gift, a large section of unused land in the North. Perfect!
But at the end of the show, the Wildlings go back north of the Wall. Why? They spent their whole time trying to get south and now they’re just going back? They have free land! The Gift is still in the North. It’s still cold like their original home. Why not stay there?
Also, Jon and the Wildlings kinda sorta became the new Night’s Watch. But why do they need a Night’s Watch? What are they watching for? The White Walkers are gone. The Wildlings are allies. Is it just a prison? I don’t understand.