Spoiler alert! The following contains details from the “Game of Thrones” series finale.
Talking about “Game of Thrones” was always better than watching “Game of Thrones.” Especially at the end.
The HBO series, a cultural phenomenon with no precedent and no clear successor, ended on Sunday with an 80-minute series finale, “The Iron Throne,” and it didn’t go down in history the way its creators David Benioff and D.B. Weiss likely intended.
The series’s last note was distinctly out of tune, and the rushed and nonsensical final season led to a maudlin coda that didn’t fit in the ethos of the series. And while so much of “Thrones” was exquisite television, this ending betrays most of what came before it, not unlike the infamous “How I Met Your Mother” finale, which soured many fans.
Time will tell if the fans who loathed the finale will be able to get over it and love “Thrones” again. But the end of the juggernaut series has consequences (particularly for HBO and its wallet) beyond the reaction to this episode. Once the hype fades, what the show will leave behind is a hole in the cultural conversation where passion and anger used to thrive.
If you know any diehard (or even casual) “Thrones” fans, they likely haven’t shut up about “Iron Throne” since the moment the credits rolled. That’s just what happens the week after an episode of “Thrones” airs. We all show up to work a little late, a little tired, but fired up with our opinions about who did what right or wrong in Westeros. And then we do it again the following Monday.
As bad as the finale was, when we look back at “Thrones” in 10 or 20 years, I don’t think we’re going to focus on all the plot holes (although there were many), character inconsistencies or any other criticism. I don’t know if we’ll really focus on the cool dragon battles or the shocking deaths that we loved, either.
What we’ll remember is how we felt about it, how we talked or tweeted about it, and how for a moment in time a fantasy series with ice zombies and fire wizards was a collective obsession, an inescapable phenomenon that even non-fans couldn’t resist commenting on. Because the finale was incredibly milquetoast, it’s not “Thrones” the show that will last in our collective memory, but the larger, more mythical “Thrones” phenomenon.
“Thrones” has always been a water cooler TV show, the kind of zeitgeisty appointment television that is rarely seen anymore, as streaming increases in popularity. The amount of internet ink and workplace discussions spent on “Thrones” far outpaces the number of people who actually (legally) watched it. This year alone, people sent over 100 million tweets about “Thrones,” according to a release from the social media site.
For eight years, we experienced the thrills, the sadness and the anger together. Think back to the videos of fans watching the Red Wedding or Jon Snow’s (Kit Harington) assassination. Remember the joy at Joffrey’s (Jack Gleeson) demise or the terrified awe we had when Cersei (Lena Headey) blew up the Sept of Baelor. And don’t forget the fan theories; we figured out Jon’s parentage long before any of the characters did. Even the worst parts of “Thrones” were a collective experience, whether it was the sexual violence, racial problems or bad writing. When we were disappointed in it, we were disappointed together.
All 73 ‘Game of Thrones’ episodes ranked: Including series finale ‘The Iron Throne’
In the final weeks of the series, anger was the dominant emotion, as the writing and characterization suffered in a mad dash to the finish line. That anger was given voice by absurd petitions for a redo, think pieces (some of which I wrote), misplaced coffee cups and water bottles and an avalanche of dissatisfied tweets and memes.
Fans spent more time dissecting the episodes than the time it took to watch them. So while on Sunday Westeros lost Dany (Emilia Clarke) and an Iron Throne, the real world lost something that brought us together, for good or ill.
Listen to this week’s episode of USA TODAY’s podcast, The Mothership, to hear our Film and TV Critic rate the “Game of Thrones” series finale.
Theoretically, author George R.R. Martin can change the legacy of “Thrones” by publishing the final two books in the “A Song of Ice and Fire” book series. Whether his narrative takes the same path as the series could change how we feel about the story of the Starks, Tagaryens and Lannisters. But there’s no guarantee the books will be published (the sixth has already been delayed). So the ending of the show may just be the final conclusion.
But in the end, this story was never in the control of Benioff and Weiss or HBO or even Martin. It ballooned out into the world and became something bigger.
“Game of Thrones” is dead. Long live “Game of Thrones” fans.
Say goodbye to the ‘Game’:
- Series finale recap: A disaster ending that fans didn’t deserve
- Sophie Turne slams fan petitions
- The finale ratings are in
- Why ‘Thrones’ is actually about millennials
- Will the books end like the TV series?