A Look Back at Game of Thrones Season 8
A look back — one year later — at one of the most criminally under-appreciated works of art in recent culture.
Written by Dvir Ben Asuli.
Exactly one year ago, we gathered to witness the final season of one of the biggest television phenomenons of all times. While the season was unprecedented in terms of the scale of the production and its ambition, many watchers found themselves disappointed with how some of the story arcs wrapped up. I decided to take a look back at one of the most criminally under-appreciated works of entertainment in recent memory.
Looking a year back, I remember it was just as painful to watch Game of Thrones’ empire collapse on top of its head as it was for anybody else, but for an entirely different reason. I honestly enjoyed every single moment of the season and saw it exactly as what I always expected the epic ending of GoT to be. Of course, all the online negative buzz was impossible to ignore. For me, it was just frustrating to see all this happening with honestly not understanding where it’s all coming from. I was expecting everyone to snap out of it at the ending of each one of the last 4 episodes (which of course, never happened). Ever since the Blu-Ray came out in December I’ve been eagerly waiting for the semester to end so I can rewatch the whole season, and while watching it again I couldn’t help but get angrily frustrated knowing a masterpiece of that magnitude was viciously slaughtered merely by Internet memes, at least the way I see it. Also, I was never afraid of being the one standing against the crowd, something that has to happen from time to time in the culture we got to where Twitter and Reddit unconsciously set the consensus for millions of people.
So in comparison to all the previous seasons, this was the first one I remember feeling watching completely as an individual, rather than as a community. The season provided me some of the greatest moments of the entire series, with epic battles and twists and turns in a scale I couldn’t have even imagined. In my perspective, every single character arc rounded up tightly, while providing a satisfying and logical conclusion that kept sure they don’t sway into the Hollywood/Disney type of endings fantasy epics often tend to divert to. And of course, the most valuable asset that came from the season is Ramin Djawadi’s brilliant soundtrack album, which I continue to repeatedly listen to on almost a daily basis.
As you might have expected, I also had my own issues with how some of the story arcs wrapped- it was controversial, to say the least. The key phrase here really is you can’t possibly please everyone. Especially when you have such a huge crowd. But honestly, what can you do- that’s the vision George, David, and Dan envisioned all along. All in all, I am satisfied with how things turned out, and just like ever since around 2013- Game of Thrones remains my favourite TV series in history.
The internet and social media played an integral part in the whole hate-bandwagon that was generated around the show’s final season. The expectations from the season were impossible to meet to begin with, and as every great writer would have done, Benioff and Weiss decided to stay true to their vision and the story and made unconventional choices regarding the plot- choices that met with disdain by the “fans” later on. Back on the days of Seinfeld there was an outcry when the show didn’t end in the good old happy way sitcoms often end with. Lost made some controversial turns in its last episode, to say the least, and was met with similar claims. On the Sopranos, David Chase opted to tie up the story in one of the most original and beautiful ways ever seen on the genre- and viewers just didn’t feel that. They didn’t however had the effect of social media and internet trend to heat up the whole thing to the scale the GoT controversy had reached.
Starting with kidding around about lighting issues in one episode quickly escalated to making claims completely out of touch with reality about supposed issues with character choices and plot advancements- all done through message boards, reckless Facebook comments and memes. A more recent corollary would be Star Wars, that with the release of The Last Jedi the “fans” took the phrase “toxic fan base” to a whole new level. Merely the fact that the most popular subreddit in the entire Reddit site for 2019 was the one dedicated to hate Game of Thrones shows how much of a blind trend this whole trashing thing became, and demonstrated how fugazi fandom entitlement reached a completely different level with the show’s final season. That disrespectful “petition” online to remake the season obviously marking the peak of it.
All this toxicity didn’t just come out of nowhere, to be sure. A toxic fan-cell regarding GoT was always strongly present, at least since the show started to strongly divert from the written source material. But once the show started to make real controversial decisions regarding plot lines millions of people were following for years, their outcry echoed much louder than ever before, slowly sweeping the consensus. Pretty much ever since Arya killed the Night King, that Internet trend started to prominently dominate social media- infecting how people perceive the season and how they experience it, a trend that’s constantly feeding itself.
The season was indeed controversial, and even in a normal situation I assume many people would have had issues with it — if something receives valid criticism it’s completely fine, but that’s most definitely not the case here. They did made a lot of controversial choices that a lot of people would have had problems with even if they watched the season in a “vacuum”, to be sure. But as I stated before those same brave choices they made only paved way for the petty complaints the toxic cell of the fan-base always had to connect to more people and become this extreme consensus. If the mainstream became making personal insults to the same people that brought you the same 7 season you used to obsess over so much back when it was “cool” to, which are quite frankly two amazingly nice and professional human beings- that’s when you see something is broken. People are just going along with what’s trendy at the moment.
I guess one of the main things the last season did was to make us look back at things we thought we knew about all the characters we’ve been following for years and look them in an entirely new context and perspective. It is actually mighty impressive how much foreshadowing we got in the earlier seasons- things that were right in front of our eyes but we preferred to interpret in a way that was more comfortable for us back then. It was all there! But when the norm is to opt to the “bad writing” argument I imagine it is much easier for people to face the several unconventional decisions the writers made in this season with that state of mind in stead of inspecting how differently we should have interpreted everything in the first place.
Another thing that managed to surprise me and caused an enormous uptake in people’s turn against the season, and perhaps the show as a whole, was how quickly some tended to believe unverified fables they read online and treat them as fact. Supposed statements about the cast of the show allegedly hating the season went out of context on a daily basis, and fugazi reports about the show-runners Benioff and Weiss allegedly rushing the conclusion of the show to move on to a Star Wars project were cited by millions, tought there was not a bit of truth in them. While they did have several Star Wars movies planned at the time of the airing of season 8, Benioff and Weiss have stated that their plans for the remainder of GoT were already mapped out in 2013, long before Disney approached them. Most importantly, their Star Wars project was only due to come out in 2022, and since the show wrapped filming in 2018, the production tables of both series were not even remotely overlapping. The shorter number of episodes in season 8 notwithstanding, the production of these final six episodes took twice as much time as a regular old 10 episode season, so the production wasn’t even expedited. On top of that, a few months after the show aired its final episode, Benioff and Weiss chose to sign a hundred-million dollar deal with Netflix that forced them to withdraw from the Star Wars project, citing that they didn’t have time to do justice to both deals — indicating that the Star Wars project wasn’t on high priority for them in the first place.
Thankfully, this whole internet thing seems to be living inside its own bubble since the final season did amazingly well at the several awards outlets. Of course the controversy did show it’s influences on the show’s performance at award season, but generally speaking this influence was almost non-existent, as the show won pretty much the same awards it usually used to win and also gained the same nominations across the different guilds and professional circles. Zooming back a little bit to the bigger picture, the show did pretty amazing when it came to recognition from its peers in the industry. There’s no actual definition to which award ceremony is considered “legitimate” and which is just a group of people that decided to pick their favourites, but on a quick overview on IMDb, it’s listed that among the Award shows this site documents GoT has a total of ~900 nominations in it’s 8-seasons run, with around 350 of them that they actually won. This number, to put it bluntly, is simply insane. You can go through every acclaimed show you know- if it’s The Sopranos, The West Wing, Mad Men or Breaking Bad, none of them has a number that’s even close to this count (and keep in mind, it’s the very same pool of awards IMDb documents across all shows). And if we look at only the prestige ones, mainly those given by professionals from the industry, GoT did pretty amazing in particular.
Looking at the the Television Academy Awards, they built their love towards the show slowly yet steadily, by granting the first 4 seasons of the show awards mainly from the Creative Arts categories, for the people working behind the curtains on the technical aspects of the show. Once the undeniable masterpiece Breaking Bad left the building, the love the Academy held for GoT completely blown up- and right now it holds the record of the most wins in history for a scripted series- with a dazzling 59 trophies. I remember waking up at 3am at September 2015 to watch the ceremony, and I just couldn’t believe what I witnessed. The show won a total of 12 Awards, including the major categories of Outstanding Drama Series, Writing, Directing and Supporting Actor for Peter Dinklage- and with that set a new record of most wins by a show in a single year. The year afterwards it managed to tie it’s own record with another 12 wins- 6 of them for the legendary Battle of the Bastards episode, including Writing and Directing, that made this episode the most awarded single episode in Emmys history. For Season 7, the show won the long overdue Outstanding Music Composition Emmy for the first time, an event that repeated recently for Season 8. Season 7 racked a total of 9 Awards, which might sound not so much in comparison to the previous two years, but it still a very good number compared to how other classic shows fared in history.
But I must admit that the moment that made me the proudest in the Television Academy was just this year, when they declared they do not subscribe to the unwarranted hate-bandwagon that took place on Social Media regarding the show’s final season, and appreciate it for the monumental achievement in television history that it was- giving it 32 nominations (the most any show ever received). Last September it reclaimed its record once more with 12 Wins in total, including the prestigious “Outstanding Drama Series”. In fact, the divisive final season of GoT is actually the most awarded final season of any show in history, which is satisfyingly ironic in my view. By granting the show the “Outstanding Drama Series” Emmy for the fourth time, GoT joined the exclusive club of only four other shows (including classics The West Wing and Mad Men) that reached this highest ever number of wins in said category. Peter Dinklage also repeated the Supporting Actor win for the fourth time this year, beating Breaking Bad’s Aaron Paul previous record and making him the actor that won this award the highest number of times. Alas, it’s sad to think that Peter Dinklage remains the only cast member to win an Emmy for GoT- with the most notable snub, in my opinion, being Lena Headey. This year they managed to get 9 acting nominations in total, an impressive number for a show of any kind, which might at the bottom line split the votes among it’s nominated actors and cost them the trophy. Ideally, wins are awesome, but nominations count as well. And in that aspect GoT holds another record- the most Emmy nominated show in history with a total of 160 nominations. With another special Emmy the dedicated show-runners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss was awarded recently- the “Emmy Founder’s Award” at the International Emmys Ceremony which is basically a special award granted to very specific individuals that made a remarkable mark on the TV landscape, the show’s total Emmys count increased to a nice rounded 60.
On the same note, not only awards are indications for a show’s success. While no trophies were given at any of these scenarios, GoT managed to do wonders even when it comes to its fan following. Every year the show broke new viewership records at HBO and several episodes of it, not even only the notable ones, managed to beat the years-old ratings record the Sopranos finale set. Ever since around Season 5 it was also reported as the most illegally torrented show of every year and also the most engaging one on social media- yes, even when the internet hive-mind had good things to say. Exhibitions and concerts of the show flourished across the world, and many fans took guided trips in certain places of Ireland, for example, where the show was shot.
Let’s get back to the final season, this time in terms of the plot. The entire White Walker’s arc ended with the most amazing spectacle I’ve yet to witness on television. While as an episode I like the “Battle of the Bastards” a little more, in the term of directorial achievements that’s like the most impressive I’ve ever seen on television, if I’m one to judge anyway. Plot wise, it truly seems to be the only logical end for this problem. After an entire night of excruciating fighting, the Night King came down from his dragon, accompanied by his entourage to kill the Three-Eyed Raven and begin the ending of the human race. Of course it could have been nice to see him one-on-one with Jon Snow in a sword fight, but realistically speaking- why would that happen? We saw what happened when Jon tried to engage in a personal battle with him- he just rose the dead around him, preventing him from even starting the battle in the first place. The only plausible way for him to get killed is by a stealthy assassin who’ve been actually training for this exact type of combat in the last 7 seasons.
Also I have always been more of a Stark fan, so I was pretty satisfied with how a huge chunk of the major characters ended up. The Daenerys twist didn’t come as much of a surprise for me since I knew it headed this way all along- and while the season definitely could have used a couple more episodes — the fact it happened all so fast just emphasised how, while just enough happened to push her off the edge, she lost it. It’s not like she developed some evil nature that needed to be nurtured over time, and she is certainly not remembered as a villain of any sort, at least the way I see it. She lost all of her close advisors at this point, and despite being the one responsible for saving the Seven Kingdoms from total annihilation by the Army of the Dead, the Westerosi didn’t accept her as well as her eastern subjects did in the past- in fact, they quickly preferred one of their own, which factually did have the better claim, a secret she begged her lover not to let out. Adding that to the loss of two of her children, and of course, the Targaryen gene looming in the background, she was a victim of consequences, or as Peter Dinklage nicely summed it up once, “This happens. Monsters are created”.
Moving on to the origin, her downfall was surprisingly enough not by her direct enemy Cersei Lannister, but in a huge part due to Sansa Stark that, again, did not do it out of evil nature. She simply played the game of thrones better than anyone else, continuing the legacy of her mentor and ending up exactly where she wanted. In the end, conspiracy and strategy burnt the whole war to the ground, and not armies physically battling each other. Jon Snow perhaps got the most fitting conclusion of them all, leading the Free Folk in the Real North, where he really belongs, following the footsteps of a figure he admired, Mance Rayder. Don’t get me started regarding Jaime Lannister — which hearing claims from people about it’s character-arc being ruined in the last episodes make me wonder if same people ever really understood his character at all. And as for the shadiest decision of all, Bran becoming the Lord of the Seven Kingdoms- well I have a complete conspiracy theory as to how the sneaky Three-Eyed Raven manipulated his path, starting with alluring Jojen to his cave, and going eventually all the way from beyond the wall to whatever is left of the Iron Throne- so the situation is not as innocent as most viewers present it to be.
Did the show have a happy ending, though? Not at all. It got the saddest endings of them all- most of its watchers abandoning it to move right onto the next trend, completely disregarding the past and making personal insults on the same people that provided them with all the other seasons they used to enjoy back in the day. And the frustrating part is that it’s completely unwarranted. Perhaps the greatest show that ever aired on Television finished it’s run with a marvellous final season that managed to stay true to the characters and universe while breaking all the rules and presenting even deeper layers to all the characters we thought we know. At least I know I am completely at peace with the closure we got, and uphold the final season as the only way a massive show like Game of Thrones could have ended- and an amazing conclusion to almost a decade long of dedication. Basically the best television may ever get. The show finished it’s run with an impressive haul of awards from all the possible Academies and Guilds, and I just hope that while approaching this season in the future, without marinading in the constant 2019 internet climate or perhaps simply after the books ending will turn out to be similar, people will see this season in a whole different light.