Game of Thrones - After All this Time, it Still Hurts
I know. It's been years. I should be able to move on. And yet...
(Big ol' spoiler warning, by the way.)
Pop culture juggernaut Game of Thrones ran from 2011-2019. Based on George R. R. Martin's (still, as of February 2023, unfinished) fantasy series, A Song of Ice and Fire, the series aired on HBO, and even held the record for the most pirated show for a while.
It was incredibly popular, so much so that there was a sect of people who decided, "I haven't watched it," was a personality trait. And when the series spiraled downward so catastrophically, these people loudly flaunted how happy they were that they fought against the grain.
As for myself, I was still in high school when the first season premiered. I had never heard of the books, but based on what cultural osmosis showed me, I knew I'd definitely like it.
I remember seeing pictures of Arya Stark and Daenerys Targaryen in Entertainment Weekly and genuinely thinking they were the same character, like the silver blonde hair was a wig and Daenerys was Arya's alter-ego or something, due to Maisie Williams and Emilia Clarke's unique eyebrows.
(I'd really like to go back in time and ask my sixteen-year-old self to work on her critical thinking skills, but I digress.)
Though I wanted to watch all of Game of Thrones as it was airing, it wasn't meant to be. My mom didn't call her cable provider to figure out she was overpaying and finagle her way into getting HBO until I was well into college.
Fortunately for me, one of my roommates senior year gave me her family's HBOGO password solely to let me watch Game of Thrones, which I quickly caught up on. And by the time I was home from graduation, I only had to wait a little while to watch season seven as it came out.
Now, it's important for me to preface the rest of this piece by saying I'm not the most critical media consumer.
And when I say that, I mean I watch things to enjoy them.
I'm not trying to poke holes. I'm trying to soak up as much serotonin as I can. Sue me.
I'm in the minority of people who actually liked season seven. From what I heard, it was well into the uncharted territory, as season five was the last season with a book to adapt from. And though season six was still highly regarded by fans, season seven was where most seemed to think it really fell off.
I remember people complaining in the subreddits, r/gameofthrones and r/freefolk, saying how stupid certain plot points were. Especially Tyrion's grand plan to bring a ragtag group of warriors over the Wall to bring back a wight and show Cersei that the Long Night 2.0 was coming.
I've gotta be honest, though. "Beyond the Wall" was a joy to watch for me. Mostly because my favorite characters were finally all together.
Yes, Sandor "The Hound" Clegane (my number one fave) was already travelling with Beric Dondarrion and Thoros of Myr before the Wight Hunt, but they hadn't yet met Tormund Giantsbane (number two).
I liked Gendry just fine, same with Jorah (mostly due to Iain Glen's performance).
Honestly, Jon Snow was always very meh to me. I didn't really get his popularity, aside from Kit Harington's looks, but that's just me.
The only way that group of wight hunters would have been better for me was if Davos (number three) had actually gone with them instead of staying at the Wall, but I'm glad he wasn't in danger. Unlike Thoros, whose death made me really sad.
And while "Beyond the Wall" was ragged on by many in its audience, you cannot tell me Tormund and the Hound's interactions weren't the highlight of the episode. I was purely giddy watching them talk, watching Tormund try to make friends with the bitter, curmudgeonly Hound.
I could go on all day about how much I love them, but I'll restrain myself.
What I'm trying to say is that I was into Game of Thrones at the beginning of its decline. Well, I actually hated season five, but...that's likely because the Hound was still presumed dead at that point. I was miserable until the end of seas--
Nope. Restraint. Move on, Emily.
Despite how some people were feeling throughout season seven, season eight actually had an incredible start. Hopes were high. People were saying episode two, "A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms," was in contention to be one of the best episodes of the whole series.
Then episode three happened. "The Long Night."
The White Walkers finally launched their wight army on Winterfell. Pretty much all the likable characters fought valiantly, with only a few notable ones actually perishing.
A lot of viewers complained because the color correcting in the episode was just so dark and they could hardly see what was happening. I happened to be watching in a room without the lights on, so I didn't really have this problem, myself.
However, what most people complained about was the episode's ending.
What pissed me off was Theon Greyjoy's needless death in the name of "character development."
What pissed everyone off was Arya Stark killing the Night King in the name of "subverting expectations."
I think I can understand where D.B. Weiss and David Benioff were coming from. The series (including the books) provided a more "realistic" outcome to a lot of fantasy tropes. In fact, Robb Stark pretty much served to the turn the "I must avenge my father" trope on its head with his undoing in the infamous Red Wedding scene. And people still talk about how shocking Ned Stark's execution was in the first season.
Still, there was no point in having Arya kill the Night King. Sure, they can talk in their behind the scenes featurettes about how Arya's assassin training "led to it," all they want, but this was just ridiculous. It was always meant to be Jon Snow. It should have been Jon Snow.
Hell, I would even take Tormund Giantsbane doing him in. At least he had a connection to the Night King plotline throughout the series.
It's weird, though, because my hatred to this episode's ending only came after the credits rolled and I really thought about it.
I remember watching the episode on the edge of my seat, nervous about my favorite characters dying. (Dolorous Edd got me, I won't lie.) And then when it was Arya who dug her dragonglass dagger into the Night King's armor, I distinctly remember jumping to my feet and lifting my arms in a silent cheer.
Arya was my favorite of the "main" characters. Of course I was happy in that moment.
But it wasn't satisfying.
The critical thoughts started rolling in as I awaited the next episode in the coming week. "The Last of the Starks." More like The Last of my Enjoyment.
I (I!) walked away from that episode with a sinking feeling in my gut. Not because I saw Missandei getting beheaded in the background. But because I could tell that this season was bad.
But I kept on trucking, hoping that maybe that episode was a fluke. Begging the universe.
I watched the last two episodes when they aired. And the only thing I felt good about was my boy, Sandor Clegane, getting a satisfying ending. Cleganebowl finally happened. That was good. Thanks, Weiss and Benioff, for that.
I distinctly remember my brother sitting with me for the last two episodes. He hadn't watched the show, but he'd heard that it was crashing and burning. I think a small part of him wanted to see it for himself. I know a bigger part of him wanted to relish in my misery.
Then the credits rolled on the series finale, "The Iron Throne." My brother looked to his left, and surely saw me staring at the screen, pale-faced, muttering, "I wasn't...disappointed."
If I think back to that time, it's likely I said that as some sort of subconscious attempt at self-preservation. That this show that had consumed me for the three years I spent watching, for the hours of binge-watching I did in anticipation of season eight coming out, for the whiteboard countdown/drawing of the Night King I slaved over to actually mean something.
Another important thing to know about me is that the Law of Diminishing Returns hardly applies to me. My father, a former English teacher, was shocked that I could reread the same books over and over again when I was a kid. And it's the same with me for my favorite movies and books.
But I (I!!) can't even do that with Game of Thrones.
And it's a shame because the first four seasons are incredible.
Once or twice in the years following its disastrous ending, the thought of rewatching just up to the end of season four has floated through my mind. But then that sinking feeling I had from "The Last of the Starks" returns.
And that feeling is pure dread.
Dread at knowing how it all ends. At knowing that all of Jaime Lannister's character development gets destroyed. At knowing that Tyrion will be reduced to dick jokes and drinking. That Daenerys will become the homicidal maniac she fought so hard not to be (and for that to happen out of nowhere).
Even just looking at clips of my favorite moments of the show bum me out.
And before you ask, no, I have not watched House of the Dragon. Yeah, some of that has to do with my enjoyment of the lore being destroyed along with King's Landing. But really, I never found the Targaryens to be that interesting. Sorry.
I will say, I'm glad to hear that House of the Dragon seemed to do well. I'm just not likely to ever watch it.
Yeah, it's been a long time since the series ended. It was just a show and it really shouldn't matter this much to me. I'm not angry about it anymore. Just disappointed. Which we all know is objectively worse.
If you're still feeling feelings about Game of Thrones, let us know in the comments. We can get through this together.
If you enjoyed the show all the way through, let us know as well. I love to hear other perspectives. Also, I'm jealous of you.