Game of Thrones: On Moments Unearned

I'm unsure at what point it just becomes piling on to criticize the Game of Thrones final season and finale in particular.  Given volume, it might have been five minutes after Brienne closed the book on the series.  I come here not to kick GoT while it's down (well, not much), but rather offer suggestions for making the ending more palatable.  Needless to say, spoilers abound.

There were several issues with the series wrapping up, and my contention is that the problem is not the outcome but how the path to get to the final state of things was achieved.  The series desperately needed an additional episode or two to properly set everything into place, combined with perhaps some reshootings of specific scenes to have better continuity.  It seemed like the show ran out of some self-imposed time limit and just spent the last few episodes speeding from plot point to plot point.  But the problem is that GoT doesn't normally speed along that way: it has usually earned its plot points by showing, even subtly, the path there.  For example, though many complained about Arya being the hero who defeated the Night King, it was well set up between Melisandre's prophecy, Arya's travels picking up necessary skills, being handed the critical weapon by Bran, showing off her skulking skills to Jon just a couple episodes prior, and showing off the move that allowed her to strike the fateful blow while sparring with Brienne.  That was proper setup of a major plot point, providing a veritable Chekov's arsenal.  Had the show done the same with so much of its resolution, I don't think we're having the same discussions of disappointment (though let's face it, fans will always complain).

From my perspective there are seven problematic aspects of the GoT resolution:

  1. Bran?  Really?
  2. What happened to all that Aegon Targaryan buildup?
  3. The fall of Dany left a bad taste in the mouth (though it might have been all that blood).
  4. What was the point of any of the Arya stuff after she offed the Night King?
  5. Why in the world did Grey Worm just accept the Great Council's decisions?  How are Jon and Tyrion even alive at that point?
  6. The mysterious multiplying of Unsullied and Dothraki.
  7. The immediate about face of Jaime.
It is my contention that all of these could have been resolved by filling in the many blanks that the actual episodes left, and I have some small amount of faith that the books, should they ever be published, will fill much of this in because of their ability to go directly into the thoughts of its major characters.  The show couldn't exactly do that, but it could have provided some pivotal scenes.

Show Dany's fall more explicitly earlier

Consistent with her feelings toward Jon would be nice too.
We were given hints to Dany's state of mind during the lead up to the destruction of Kings Landing, but aside from her depression after the execution of Missandei, they were generally quiet hints.  Having her talk more openly about "breaking the wheel" during her time at Winterfell and having her have more dramatic outbursts or exhibit more outright paranoia would have helped her complete heel turn seem more organic.  Part of the problem is that while she'd expressed those revolutionary concepts, had shown extreme (and well-earned) concern about being betrayed, and had proven at times to be a single-minded despot, those aspects hadn't been out front and center since she left Mereen.  Having Daenerys exhibit problematic behavior more openly (most likely with Jon dismissing it as the pressure of preparing to defeat the Night King) would set up Dany's actions in Kings Landing more strongly.

Dany's triumphant time in charge of Kings Landing needed to be longer as well.  She, Jon, and Tyrion needed to have time to set up her final fate to be the result of a war of ideologies and provided more drama over what side Jon would end up taking.  I think having Jon sneak a dagger into the heart of the dragon queen mid-kiss could have been much more profound in its impact if it had been the culmination of a longer struggle within Jon.

Give Bran a whole lot more to do

Oh yeah, I went there.
If you cock your head the right way, making Bran the king makes a certain bit of sense.  He has a certain amount of wisdom that someone who can see all of space and time should have.  He's about the only one in Westeros who hasn't made any enemies (outside of the Night King).  And with the Iron Throne a melted slag heap, it's economical to select a king who can provide his own seat of power.

The problem is that this season of GoT gave Bran little to do other than sit there and look spacey.  Having him provide more counsel to Sansa and Dany would have helped.  Having the characters outright recognize how he moved the victory against the Night King forward (for example, giving Arya the fateful dagger) would have provided more evidence that they actually had respect for the young man sufficient to accept him as a king.

A key scene that would have been easy to include but was inexplicably skipped over would have been to show at least some of the discussion between Tyrion and Bran the night of the Battle of Winterfell.  Tyrion wanted to know all about where Bran had gone and what had happened, and noted they had a long night to spend talking.  Had we seen even a little bit of that discussion, it wouldn't have been such a headscratcher when Tyrion nominated Bran for king.

But most importantly, the audience needed to have respect for Bran, and the Battle of Winterfell undercut that completely.  Read the many complaints about how it was handled, and you'll see repeatedly the confusion and derision over Bran warging into crows only to do absolutely nothing.  Having him more instrumental in the battle (aside from being the star of a poorly planned honey trap) would have helped set up the audience for accepting the reign of Bran the Broken (as well as not having everyone call him Bran the Broken to his face).

Expand the Great Council scene

Reminding us who half these idiots are would have helped.
Making Bran the king would have been easier to accept if there had seemed to be more thought put into it by the decision makers.  In my opinion, the heart of the final episode should have been the gathering and proceedings of the Great Council.  Game of Thrones will be remembered for its epic battles, but it's built on a foundation of political scheming and diplomatic discourse.  Having that out front to escort the series out the door would have been both appropriate and necessary for making the final outcome more logical.

Part of the problem is that so many on the final Great Council were there just to laugh at Sam's feeble attempt to invent democracy and say "aye" to Bran.  But they are all representing houses that went through a lot during the series, and GoT at its heights would have wrung a lot of drama as each attempted to sway things to their wants and needs, watching the group as a whole spiral to its inevitable conclusion.  Too many of the Council members were complete ciphers, despite all of them being characters known to the audience at one point or another.

Having the Council squabble over the next king (including discussion of whether to put Jon/Aegon on the throne, which was criminally skipped over, throwing away the entire Varys letter writing campaign plot line) for some time, probably to the point of making it look like the land was about to fall back into civil war would have been a proper trigger for Tyrion, desperate to prevent further bloodshed, to think outside the box and nominate the kid in the wheelchair.  At that point, Bran's apoliticalness would have been a key asset.  The extended discussion would have also provided more opportunity for Sophie Turner to flex her Queen Sansa aspect, making it a bit more believable that everyone would be fine with the North splitting off.

Have Arya rescue Jon from immediate revenge/justice from the Unsullied

Even Arya seemed to be wondering what the hell she was doing there.
Of course, to get to the Great Council, Jon and Tyrion have to survive long enough to see it and Grey Worm has to make the decision to accept their deliberations.  This was my biggest problem with the finale.  Grey Worm had absolutely no motive to not slaughter the man who killed his devoted queen nor to stand by and watch all these white people put "The Wheel" back together.  My answer to that?  Arya.

Since killing the Night King and saving all of Westeros, Arya mostly played war zone tourist.  Fans had wanted to see Arya kill Cersei and later Dany, but I think their deaths were appropriate for their narratives.  But the way things worked out, all of Arya's screen time was really for nothing other than to give the director a chance to shoot some artistic slow motion white horse action.

My answer: have her stop Grey Worm from killing Jon.  She's the one who killed the guy that even dragon fire couldn't make a dent in.  If anyone could make the Unsullied and Dothraki horde back down, it would be She Who Killed the Night King.  Have them show honor and respect to her in the immediate aftermath of the Battle of Winterfell.  Then actually show the immediate aftermath of Drogon's departure with Dany's corpse.

Surely Grey Worm would have charged in with his men to find out what happened and found a broken Jon there.  And surely Grey Worm would have lost his mind and wanted to exact justice right there (and a heartbroken Jon might have let him).  But then from nowhere comes the Night King's Assassin to stay his hand.  Grey Worm would no doubt want to his queen's killer to cease breathing as soon as possible, but facing off against the Girl Who Saved the World (I'm really enjoying making up these titles) is no easy thing for someone with the honor and superstition of an Unsullied.  After all, she killed the undead and could move like the wind.  Perhaps they had a legend about someone like her back in Slaver's Bay.  Having Arya back down an army would have been powerful stuff, and she might have convinced (or threatened) Grey Worm into abiding by Westeros justice.

This also gives Grey Worm enough time to cool down from his initial thirst for vengeance and realize once more he hates it in Westeros.  Why would he want to stick around and try to quell these idiots who wouldn't accept his benevolent queen?  He's seen so much battle and lost so much, maybe it's time for him to build something for a change.

Fill in a couple more holes

Dany's greatest magic was her amazing expanding army.
Two other major inconsistencies were one of character (Jaime) and one of logistics (how big was Dany's army?).  Both could have been cleared up with a little bit of work.

A huge portion of GoT fans booed Jaime's about face on poor Brienne, running back to Cersei in an almost cold and cruel way.  The fact that she remembers him fondly after taking her virginity and scuttling back to sis is a bit puzzling and frankly off-putting.  But this could have been resolved by simply having Jaime be honest with her.  Having him realize he can't live with himself with his sister and the love of his life in danger is natural.  Having him be honest with Brienne ("I hate her but I also love her -- how can I stand by and watch her be slaughtered?") and then convincing her to stay behind when she inevitably, nobly wants to accompany him ("No, your duty is to Sansa.") would have made the whole thing easier to swallow without feeling artificial, like he'd suddenly taken a chair to Brienne during a tag-team title match.

As for the Unsullied and Dothraki, they sure seemed to multiply quickly between the end of the Battle of Winterfell, the initial attacks on Kings Landing, and the triumphant speech at the Red Keep.  I can imagine showing that many Unsullied and Dothraki during the height of the Battle of Winterfell would have been difficult (especially since many of the extras played both good guys and undead during the battle), but in a show that successfully CGIed dragons into almost every episode, painting in a larger crowd in the battle scenes shouldn't have been impossible.  This seems like it should be a minor thing, but when just enough soldiers magically show up to support the narrative in each scene, it makes it difficult to really feel like the stakes are all that high as they prep for the next battle.

The Restructured Season 8

To sum up, many of the issues in Season 8 could have been fixed with a few small changes and a willingness to add an episode.

  1. "Winterfell": No real changes other than to give Bran more to do and have Dany be more visibly erratic (but not too much just yet).
  2. "A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms": More Bran and Dany as above.  Also show the discussion between Tyrion and Bran.
  3. "The Long Night": Show what Bran is doing more, possibly by using his warging to give constant narration of the state of the battle and directing forces to where they are needed, probably before anyone else realizes they're needed there.  CGI in a sufficient number of surviving Unsullied and Dothraki.
  4. "The Last of the Starks": More Dany being slightly erratic, waiting for the last straw to break with Missandei's execution.  Change the way Jaime leaves.  Show a more representative state of the Unsullied and Dothraki.  Have the Unsullied (or at least Grey Worm) honor Arya and (possibly) introduce her seeming role in Slaver's Bay legend.
  5. "The Bells": Show Varys's letters getting out and being delivered to the heads of the remaining houses.
  6. "The Wheel": New episode that starts as "The Iron Throne" does but lengthens out the timeline several days as Jon struggles with his decision about whether to support or stop Dany.  Jon kills Dany as before.  Drogon melts the Iron Throne and flies off with Mommy.  Grey Worm captures Jon but doesn't kill him after Arya intervenes.  The episode ends with the remaining armies of the Great Houses, called by the letters from Varys, arriving at Kings Landing.
  7. "The Iron Throne": The expanded Great Council, with all the political maneuvering and yelling that one would expect.  Grey Worm decides he's had enough of all these westerners.  The outcome of the series remains the same.
JL Franke is a fan of both hard science fiction and hard fantasy.  He has been collecting comics for over 40 years and has been an on-and-off active member of online fandom for 25.  Those interested can find other writings at his personal blog,  When not geeking out, you may find him at a baseball park or cheering on his favorite college and pro football teams.  In his spare time, he is chief scientist for a research and development laboratory somewhere in the Washington, DC greater metropolitan area.
Game of Thrones: On Moments Unearned Game of Thrones: On Moments Unearned Reviewed by JL Franke on Wednesday, May 22, 2019 Rating: 5
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