Okay, yes- the headline is clickbait. Obviously there will be no remake any time soon- certainly not in this generation- no matter how many people sign that petition. And death has been a cornerstone of the franchise since the very first scene of the very first episode of the very first season. But we are now less than 24 hours away from the series finale, and quite honestly, it feels like an episode of “Deal or No Deal” where the main choices are between the suitcase with $4 or $8. So how did we get here?
The Law Of Diminished Returns
All the significant deaths in the show’s earlier history had a purpose greater than the characters themselves. Ned Stark was sold to us as the main character, and he was around just long enough for us to be invested in this deception. He was the first McGuffin Protagonist in television history. When he lost his head, the viewers lost their minds. But as it turned out, this is what really kicked the show into another gear. The truth, in hindsight, is that Ned really wasn’t long for the GOT world- the survivors in this reality are cunning, devious, one step of the game, etc. etc.. Ned was as straight a shooter (or swordsman) as it gets. Had he somehow lived, we probably would have grown increasingly tired of his “honorable” behavior.
This is even more true of Robb Stark and Katlyn Tully Stark. Robb was a pretty boy who thought he had it all figured out. Katlyn offered wisdom such as, “Never trust a Greyjoy!” -right in front of Roose Bolton, no less. Their deaths took place in arguably the most famous scene in GOT history- aka “The Red Wedding”- which is really saying something. Given that Arya was right outside the gates when it all happened, it really had us invested in the tragic fate of the Starks, as well as the horror felt inside and outside of the wedding. These are characters (along with Robb’s wife) who were far more important in death than in life.
Things started to turn, ever so slightly, in season 4. Yes, we ALL wanted Joffrey dead. As the most unique hybrid of spoiled brat and ruthless tyrant ever depicted onscreen, his mere presence sickened us. But he was a worthy antagonist for the series- almost TOO worthy- which was never recaptured once he left. And it’s true that his death produced one of the most interesting subplots of the series for a while, leading up Tyrion’s trial and outburst. But once that simmered down, King’s Landing just didn’t seem quite as interesting- especially after Tywin Lannister got taken down, as well. (I couldn’t have been the only one hoping for an Arya vs Tywin face-off down the road.) Basically, Cersei was left to carry the whole thing on her own, which she did a great job of. But then the Tyrells were killed off, along with the High Sparrow. These were Cersei’s greatest opponents, and they all deserved a better fate (from a storyline point of view) than, “Cersei blew them all up.” And now, in addition to that, Cersai and Jamie are gone! And what was all that about her getting pregnant? What was the point in that, other than Tyrian to remind us, for the trillionth time, that Cersei isn’t a monster because she loves her children?? Calgon, take me away!
SUBPLOTS BURNED TO THE GROUND
The ever sprawling subplots were always a potential weakness in Game of Thrones, as the universe expanded beyond The Wall, King’s Landing, and Winterfell. (I’m excluding Daenerys’s journey, as that was basically a separate universe with only one thing happening at a time, prior to Tyrion and Varys arriving.) I can only speak for myself, but I had trouble keeping track of it. By the time I finally figured most of it out, it turned out not to matter, because someone was always getting killed and changing direction of the whole thing. The Veil, The Iron Born, Dorne, Stannis Baratheon, The White Walkers featuring The Night King on Lead Guitar…where the hell did that all take us? How does ANY of that fit in to where we ended up, with King’s Landing laid to rubble? Back in season 3, I complained there was too much “Khaleesi” (I didn’t know her real name, since Jorah kept calling her that). In hindsight, they should have spent MORE time on her, as her descent into madness was the main thing that ended up mattering. Along the way, they could’ve mixed in some Sansa, Arya, and Jon- the TRUE protagonists of the show. (Sorry to not include Tyrion, everyone’s favorite character, including mine. But since he was reduced to an incompetent, overly-sentimental adviser, his journey didn’t matter much, either.)
As I’m typing this, I realize how cynical it all is. The true answer lies in the fact that the writers probably didn’t plan this far ahead. All the subplots were entertaining while they were going on. But this show isn’t Happy Days, where we can just watch the episodes we enjoy, and just shrug off everything after the shark was jumped. This is more like a movie series, like Lord of the Rings, where all these different elements are supposed to matter in the end. This was true of Harry Potter, which also lost some steam as the series went on- as most series do- but made sure that long insinuated story arc were ultimately explained. I’d be happy to take all of this back if I’m wrong, but with exactly one episode left, it’s hard to see that being the case.
EXCLUDING THE DRAGONS, WHAT WAS THE POINT OF ALL THAT SUPERNATURAL STUFF?
Stannis got the Red Lady pregnant. To some sort of demon monster, who killed Renly. (Some say it was dark magic. I just think a one thousand year old woman getting pregnant is bound to lead to some complications.) That was the last we heard of it. Jon Snow was dead. Then he wasn’t. The Red Lady told us Stannis was going to lead a great army. Then he didn’t. There was a mystical king of the undead, leading to a massive attack beyond The Wall. There was a Three Eyed Raven who knew the past, the present, and the future. There was a faceless man who spoke in third person. But at the end of the day, we’re left with the Starks trying to defeat Daenerys, which begs the question, WHAT WAS THE POINT OF ALL THIS???
SANSA THE TORTURED…AGAIN
The stuff with Joffrey was very convincing. When Sansa was being humiliated and enduring unimaginable cruelty, we all felt the cruelty with her. And then…Joffrey died. So, Sansa ends up being “rescued” by Littlefinger. She showed some real growth in her dealings with Littlefinger. And then? Littlefinger drops her off at the pound, to be with Ramsey Bolton. HUH?
Ramsey’s hold of Winterfell was one of the more worthwhile subplots, even in hindsight. Having Rickon run towards Jon in “The Battle of The Bastards” finally gave Rickon a reason to exist in the GOT universe- and that reason was to die. (Sorry, Rickon, but you know it’s true.) But did we need to get poor Sansa involved in all that? She ended up escaping (I still don’t know how, but whatever…) and going back to the Veil. Wouldn’t it have been better for her to be at the Veil the whole time, where we can watch her and Littlefinger play against each other? From what I understand, that’s what happened in the books. And Ramsey was more of a Theon story-arc, anyway. Inserting Sansa in there just felt gratuitously cruel. And there’s plenty of cruelty in Game of Thrones that we don’t need anything gratuitous thrown in there.
Oh, one more thing- Littlefinger playing Arya against Sansa seemed to have so much potential. Bran telling them the truth just felt like the easy way out. Littlefinger’s demise was inevitable, but like so many of the other deaths late in the series, the whole thing just felt rushed.
Daenerys vs Jon may have been a worthy battle, had there been more of a buildup. As I’ve said before, I was expecting Jon to be torn between Sansa (and Arya) going against Dani. But that’s all been ripped to shreds. It’s a simple battle of good versus evil now. The most curious thing to me is not so much how it will play out in the show, but how it will play out in our culture– we are living in a time where strong female leads are all the rage. Now, Game of Thrones has left us with the strong female lead turning into all rage! And not 100 Aryas, or Sansa, or Yaras, or 10 year old girls running The House of Mormot (seriously- what was THAT all about??) will be able to make up for that. The potential fallout from this is likely to be the most interesting thing of all.
Even though the series fell apart at the end, it’s still worth remembering that this throughout most of its run, Game of Thrones was one of the greatest TV shows of all time. It’s just that the early seasons were the best- basically, everything through season 4- and it’s not even close. This is near unanimous opinion. This isn’t to say I don’t respect other opinions- I’ve had plenty of opinions throughout my life that go against the grain, and I have a strong distaste for those who mistake conventional wisdom for absolute truth. So if you like the later seasons better, that’s fine. But if you’d like to make a case as to why, in the hopes of having others reconsider their own, it had better be a good one.