HBO’s fantasy series, Game of Thrones, based on George R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire books, garnered between 9-12 million viewers per episode in season seven, with its finale alone capturing 16.5 million viewers. With the show’s eighth and final season debuting in April 2019, let’s take a moment to reflect whether the world’s most popular show is worthy of its title, or if its popularity outstrips its substance.
Below, we’ll explore three reasons why Game of Thrones is absolutely epic, and three reasons why it was an epic fail.
Too many plot lines to nowhere.
The Game of Thrones series spends an inordinate amount of time developing pointless characters and half-cooked, directionless plotlines. What ever happened to Gendry, Robert Baratheon’s on-the-lamb bastard who escaped ensnarement by Cersei Lannister and the sorceress Melisandre – still out there rowing his dingy? Why has the show devoted so much time to doomed and, frankly, boring characters, like Maester Pycell and Xaro Xhoan Daxos? (They’re not even worth Googling, trust me.) Why is the romantic relationship between Grey Worm and Missandei so important? And what on Earth are those Sand Sisters of Dorne on about? If season eight is anything like the last seven seasons, we may never know.
It’s just plain gross.
Heads are literally always rolling in Westeros, and seemingly, without much purpose other than challenging its audience to hold onto their dinners. Oberyn Martell’s head is smashed to pulp; Joffrey explodes from the inside from poison; Ramsay Bolton is devoured by dogs (he deserves this, but still, it’s stomach-turning); characters are immolated in ritual sacrifice and by dragon fire. If the gruesome depictions of death weren’t enough, the show is rampant with sexual violence, sometimes inventing characters that never appeared in the books (like Ros, a prostitute whom Joffrey tortures to death) seemingly for the purpose of depicting sexual brutality. The prevalence of violence and gore reveal that Game of Thrones is not focused on storytelling but on shock value.
Too much genre mixing.
Game of Thrones can’t make up its mind about what kind of show it wants to be. It is simultaneously fantasy, zombie thriller, medieval political drama, and dungeons and dragons choose-your-own-adventure. The characters are drawn from too wide array of genres; Ser Barristan is reminiscent of a knight of the roundtable while Bran Stark is Westeros’ answer to X-Men’s Charles Xavier. In its ambition to incorporate a broad catalogue of supernatural elements, Game of Thrones ends up with a mish-mosh of other-worldly ingredients that simply don’t coalesce. If the show’s final season were to produce a kraken for Daenerys to fight on the way to Westeros, one would be confused, but hardly surprised.
It’s all about equality.
For an utterly primitive underworld, Game of Thrones possesses a surprising amount of egalitarian themes. Daenerys is the most overt symbol of the show’s ideological affinity with equal rights, rising from a child-bride to anti-slavery Queen of the Dothraks and Mereen. And Daenerys is but one of the series formidable women, demonstrating the show’s lean toward gender equality. Let’s not overlook Cersei Lannister, one of the strongest (and meanest) female characters on television. In Game of Thrones, women have as much (if not more) authority and power as men. They are warriors like Brienne of Tarth and Arya Stark, sorceresses like Melisandre, diplomats like Lady Olenna Tyrell, or women of great spirit like Osha. Even women who appear meek at first, like Sansa Stark, undergo powerful transformations which allow them to stake their own claims to their fate.
In Game of Thrones, black sheep are not without virtue. Sandor “The Hound” Clegane (Joffrey’s hired sword) displays unexpected empathy and goodwill towards both Arya and Sansa Stark, whom he later attempts to rescue. While The Hound commits many murders and even attempts to ransom, he is not without a moral code, as seen through his rejection of Joffrey and later by avenging the death of the man who had once nursed him to health. The Hound is not alone. Theon Greyjoy is a complex character who turned against his adoptive Stark family only to help Lady Stark escape the clutches of Ramsay Bolton. There is hardly a character more sympathetic or surprisingly upright character than Tyrion Lannister. The whipping boy of his family, Tyrion nevertheless employs his cunning in their service; he successfully protects the throne against the invasion of Stanis Baratheon and the city against financial ruin. An indefatigable pragmatist and drunkard, Tyrion is doubtless popular culture’s most beloved antihero.
Game of Thrones excels at being unpredictable, especially since its bold departure from the novels’ plotlines in season three. Alliances are constantly in shift, and major power players rise and fall through the course of a single episode. I don’t care how much you love the show or how many times you’ve seen each episode – until season seven, you still have no clue whose kid Jon Snow is, and it will take until season eight to finally know who will sit on the Iron Throne. These mysteries and more guarantee viewers will return to watch the end of the story unfold in 2019.
The Bottom Line: Game of Thrones offers viewers a vibrant and bold world with compelling characters and endless amounts of intrigue, peppered with a fair share of plot holes and dead ends. What do you think? Will Westeros emerge victorious from the impending winter, or will it be mired in its own storm of confusing plotlines and characters?