Viewers of all long-running prestige TV shows share a single, understandable fear: that their hours of investment and fan-theorizing and nervous anticipation will conclude not in a blaze of glory and well-earned resolution, but with a messy, incoherent thud.
To put it more simply, we’re all worried that the ending is going to suck.
Of course we are. We have good reason to be. LOST really did a number on us, and then The Sopranos infuriated a lot of people (not me, but a lot). I’ve never seen one second of Dexter, but I was pretty sure those folks were going to burn down the internet when that show ended.
And now, as so many of us turn our attention to Game of Thrones’ season finale this Sunday night, it’s fair to wonder whether or not our beloved show is going to join the long list of great shows that imploded as they drove toward their conclusions.
Many, many spoilers ahead.
Even the most ardent defender of season seven’s embrace of teleportation (Westeros is supposed to be the size of South America, but, in the interest of hurrying the plot along, characters suddenly move from one side of it to the other in no time at all) would admit that, at this moment, the show seems more concerned with simply reaching a conclusion than actually earning one.
Add to that the baffling, seemingly contrived conflict between the Stark sisters (I’m holding out hope that we’re being wildly misdirected by this one, but either way, it’s frustrating to watch) and the paper thin logic behind the journey beyond the wall, and GoT die-hards have good reason to be nervous.
If you are one of said die-hards, you might be thinking, “But these last couple of episodes have been bonkers! There’s an undead dragon in play now! How can you be griping about the end of the show when there’s still so much we don’t know?!” Well, let’s take those one at a time.
So much amazing stuff has happened since Danaerys torched the Lannister army; isn’t the show just as compelling as ever?
The short answer to this is yes. Probably.
But compelling isn’t the same as good. Think of it like this: a basketball game that finishes with a final score of 56-54 and features a game-winning jumper is compelling because the score is close and the game came down to the final possession. But if both teams shoot 35%, turn the ball over 20 times apiece, and the refs call a ton of fouls, nobody would say that the game was played at a high level (aside from fans of the Big 10).
That’s where we are with GoT. The teams have played a great game for most of the first six seasons, but now we’re heading toward crunch time and nerves are starting to play a factor. Things are getting sloppy and it feels like the drama is a result of ineptitude, rather than quality plotting and characterization.
Suddenly, writers who prided themselves on playing a very long game are blowing through multiple major plot developments per episode. Characters who’ve acted one way are suddenly making decisions inconsistent with nearly everything we know about them. Logic and pacing are being tossed aside in favor of rapidly escalating conflict and a contrived sense of urgency.
Even if the show has skimped on reasoning this season, we ended up with a freaking undead dragon! Isn’t the battle this surely sets up worth sacrificing logic and pacing?
Sure, seeing Viserion transformed into a White… Flyer (?) was incredibly dramatic and almost certainly needed to happen, if only to level the playing field for the war to come. The end result is cool and keeps viewers wondering what’s going to happen next, but again, Game of Thrones’ hallmark has been how methodically these chess pieces have been set up on the giant board that is Westeros. For the writers to rush at this point risks weakening the foundation of what comes next. And that's exactly what they did. They had a shocking, possibly necessary plot point to get to, and proceeded to get there by making otherwise smart characters do stupid things without providing a meaningful reason for their stupidity.
I can hear you mocking me. It’s not like any of these criticisms are going to lead to me not watching the show’s last seven episodes, after all. But Game of Thrones has thrown its hat into the Great TV Shows of All-Time ring. Shows that bungle their conclusions don’t last very long in there. Endings can’t just be cool or feature a bunch of character deaths. They have to feel earned. Our heroes can live or they can die, their relationships can crumble or they can ride into the sunset forever. Whatever the outcome, it has to feel like the writers are playing by the rules they’ve established throughout the series, and it suddenly doesn’t feel like that’s true.
Ok, fine. But let’s not rush to judgment before the show actually, you know, ends. There's still time to set things right.
Totally fair. Though it’s true that this season has featured some narrative contortions that an olympic gymnast would find impressive, it’s by no means too late for the show to pull itself together and deliver the kind of conclusion that leaves fans both wanting more and totally content with how it plays out.
Perhaps the writers will concede that they sped things up now to deliver a massive payoff next year.
If they do, it’ll be easier to forgive the missteps of the first six episodes of this season, and the show’s legacy ultimately won’t suffer much.
If they don’t, they’ll have botched one of the great story-telling opportunities the medium have ever seen.
Those are high stakes, I’ll grant you. Lucky for us, that’s often when Game of Thrones has been at its best.