Will House of the Dragon bring back disappointed Game of Thrones fans?

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Game of Thrones Seasons 1-8 and the teaser trailer for House of the Dragon.

Practically everyone I’ve spoken to, from hardcore fans to casual viewers, felt that Game of Thrones ended in a way that was rushed and disappointing. Individual reasons for disappointment may vary, but the broad consensus is that Game of Thrones Season 8 – and to a degree parts of Seasons 6 and 7 too – didn’t provide fans with a satisfying ending to a well-established, decade-long story. Now that we’ve seen the first teaser for House of the Dragon, and gotten a release window of 2022, the question I want to ask is simple: can the new series successfully bring back fans who were disappointed with the way that Game of Thrones ended?

I haven’t gone back to re-watch Game of Thrones since it went off the air in mid-2019, and I’m not alone. As I wrote last year, at the height of the pandemic when folks were stuck at home looking for films and shows to binge-watch, Game of Thrones didn’t even enter the conversation. The way the ending landed for fans was so bad that it made going back and starting over an unappealing prospect. Despite the first few seasons being some of the best serialised television ever brought to screen, even those fantastic scenes and episodes are now tainted for many fans with the knowledge that the story they set up went off the rails.

The way Game of Thrones Season 8 ended has left many fans with a bitter aftertaste.

This article isn’t a re-hash of my Game of Thrones Season 8 arguments. If you want to get my full thoughts on what happened with Game of Thrones, I have a two-part essay which you can find by clicking or tapping here. Instead I want to use Game of Thrones Season 8 as a starting point for the conversation about House of the Dragon, because whatever HBO and George R R Martin might want people to focus on as the new show’s marketing campaign kicks off, there can be no denying that it exists in its predecessor’s shadow – for better or for worse.

One thing that struck me about the House of the Dragon teaser was how heavily the new series is borrowing from Game of Thrones in terms of aesthetic. It’s a prequel set in the same universe, so similarities are to be expected, but if I didn’t know any better or I’d been out of the loop for a couple of years, you could’ve shown me the teaser and told me it was Game of Thrones Season 9 and I’d have believed it. We aren’t just talking about obvious things either, like the Hand of the King badge or the throne room set. The way the teaser used camera shots, the lighting for scenes and characters, and even the music all leaned very heavily on Game of Thrones.

Everything about this shot, from the lighting to the position of the camera, feels like it has been lifted directly from Game of Thrones.

It’s hard to see House of the Dragon as its own thing right now, and that could become an issue for HBO. Any prequel or spin-off naturally relies on what came before, but when you compare House of the Dragon to similar projects, there are key differences. Star Trek: Enterprise created an entirely new look for its 22nd Century setting, one which aimed to blend the modern world with Star Trek’s futuristic technology in a way that felt like a half-step between the world of 2001 and Captain Kirk’s 23rd Century. It didn’t always succeed at that, but it made the effort to distinguish itself from other parts of the Star Trek franchise.

Even the Star Wars prequels changed up significant visual elements. Some of the starships and armour designs shown off in the prequel trilogy managed to feel like a natural ancestor of the familiar Star Destroyers and Stormtrooper helmets we knew and loved from the original films. Other prequels and spin-offs likewise make an effort to appear new, different, or to have at least some distinctive elements that make the project unique. I didn’t see any of that in the House of the Dragon teaser.

The familiar emblem of the Hand of the King.

When HBO greenlit House of the Dragon and considered scripts and story treatments for at least four other Game of Thrones spin-offs, the original show was riding high. Maybe Seasons 6 and 7 had started the process of tarnishing its halo a little, but there was hope and optimism that Season 8 would see the series end on an explosive high note – setting the stage for prequels and spin-offs and getting fans incredibly hyped for what was to come. The ending of Season 8 killed much of that hype stone-dead, and in the intervening couple of years it really does feel like Game of Thrones has completely dropped out of our collective cultural conversation.

In that environment, House of the Dragon needed to do more in this first look to reassure wayward fans that lessons have been learned and that there won’t be a repeat of Game of Thrones Season 8. The teaser needed to demonstrate that House of the Dragon will be worth fans’ time and investment because it’s something different, a series with a planned story that won’t go off the rails. By showing us something that felt very familiar and very samey, this first teaser hasn’t achieved any of those objectives. Instead it seemed explicitly designed to offer fans more of the same – more Game of Thrones. It’s as if the overwhelmingly negative reaction to Season 8 fell entirely on deaf ears at HBO.

The lighting in this shot feels just like the lighting in the Game of Thrones episode The Long Night… and that isn’t a compliment.

Imagine being a huge Star Wars fan, then absolutely hating Return of the Jedi. It’s hard to remember now, but that film was once considered the weakest part of the Star Wars trilogy, with fans deriding things like the Ewoks and the Death Star redux storyline. But imagine being a Star Wars fan who’d absolutely detested the way Return of the Jedi ended – and then a few years later being offered the Star Wars prequels and The Phantom Menace. Would you want to go back and get invested in that world all over again? Or would you be cautious, unwilling to make a commitment to a new story when the last one just plain sucked? That’s the position many Game of Thrones fans – or ex-fans – are in at the moment. HBO is offering more Game of Thrones to a fanbase embittered by the way Season 8 was handled.

None of this addresses the merits of House of the Dragon. The series may very well be good – as the first five-plus seasons of Game of Thrones were. But the task that lies before it is a difficult one, and I don’t think that the way it’s being marketed – at least based on this first teaser – has helped.

Promo poster for House of the Dragon.

House of the Dragon has to demonstrate that there’s more to Westeros than Daenerys, Jon Snow, and the Night King. It has to take a familiar setting and make us care about new characters and new factions all over again, to reset the lands of A Song of Ice and Fire and potentially tee up even more shows and films down the line. It has the task that Star Trek: The Next Generation had in 1987 – to demonstrate that a successful series can become a successful franchise.

For all of the lore and detailed history of Westeros that George R R Martin has written over the years, only one part of that has thus far made it to the screen. Many fans, even those deeply invested in the television show during its run, were only aware of events like Robert’s Rebellion, Aegon’s Conquest, or the Dance of Dragons from throwaway lines spoken by characters in dialogue. The lore of Game of Thrones was backstory for the events happening in that show – and whether any of it will translate to standalone projects and stories is now up for debate.

A return to the throne room in King’s Landing seems to be on the agenda.

Where Game of Thrones excelled in its earlier seasons was its sense of scale. The world-building beyond the characters we got to know was exquisitely handled, and it was only in the latter part of Season 7 and through Season 8, as the number of characters and locales shrunk, that that sense of scale diminished. In short, the world of Westeros does feel lived-in, as though there are more stories out there to be told. That’s a huge point in favour of House of the Dragon – and other potential spin-offs that may be coming in future.

House of the Dragon also has the task of trying to appeal to new fans. Perhaps those who tried Game of Thrones but found its large number of characters confusing in those first few episodes, or fans of the books who didn’t give Game of Thrones a chance, as well as a broader television audience. The show can’t just rely on fans of the original series to flock back – it has to have more to offer beyond the existing fanbase.

King Viserys I in the teaser for House of the Dragon.

With The Witcher Season 2 coming soon, Amazon’s Lord of the Rings prequel, The Wheel of Time, and now House of the Dragon, there’s a lot for fans of fantasy to look forward to. That’s also a potential pitfall for House of the Dragon, though, as Game of Thrones blazed a trail in the big-budget fantasy television genre that others are now scrambling to follow. House of the Dragon won’t have the genre all to itself, and Amazon’s Lord of the Rings series in particular will be a major competitor.

Although I have gripes with the way Game of Thrones ended, I’m interested to see more of Westeros. But “interested” is as much as I can muster right now. I’m not hyped, I’m not excited. I’m interested… cautiously so. HBO has work to do to rebuild trust between its creative team and the fanbase, and the number one objective has to be convincing lapsed fans to get back aboard the hype train. I don’t believe that the right way to go about that is simply to say “here’s more of the same,” because that’s what fans got burned by last time. House of the Dragon has to balance its place in the expanded franchise with offering something at least slightly different, and from this first teaser I saw nothing even superficially so.

I’d love to see House of the Dragon be successful. Heck, I’d like to see it surpass Game of Thrones and reinvigorate interest in Westeros and A Song of Ice and Fire after the disastrous ending to Game of Thrones tainted the brand. Maybe then George R R Martin might actually finish the novels! A fan can dream, eh?

House of the Dragon will stream on HBO Max in 2022. All properties mentioned above – including Game of Thrones and House of the Dragon – are the copyright of HBO and/or Warner Bros. Television. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Where did Game of Thrones go?

Spoiler Warning: There will be spoilers ahead for Game of Thrones, including all of Season 8 and the series finale.

At time of writing, people all over the world are still enduring varying degrees of lockdown and quarantine. Tens of millions of people aren’t working at all, and of those who are, many are working reduced hours and/or from home. Despite the fact that the production of films and television series has ground to a halt, as well as major disruption to release and broadcast schedules, many people are digging into their box sets and streaming subscriptions looking for something to watch to kill time.

There are many wonderful shows being re-watched and talked about, but one that has had practically no attention is Game of Thrones, despite once being regarded as one of the best television shows of all time.

Game of Thrones redefined what a television series could be. It made the geeky, niche genre of fantasy positively mainstream. It firmly established that multi-season serialised storytelling is not only possible, but something audiences respond well to. It demonstrated to production companies and networks that investing cinema-level money into television can be worthwhile. And it’s not a stretch to say that practically every television show produced after its 2011 premiere borrowed something from its production and storytelling methods. It is a landmark in the history of television.

So why isn’t anyone talking about Game of Thrones in mid-2020?

Promo poster for Season 1 of Game of Thrones.

It was only last year, little more than a year ago to the day in fact, that the finale of Game of Thrones was broadcast. The episode is the show’s worst-rated ever according to both critics and, by every reliable measure, its biggest fans. The question I’m asking today is simple, but the answer may be complicated: was Game of Thrones’ final season so badly-received that it essentially extinguished any support the show had? Did that ending undo five, six, or seven seasons’ worth of the best television ever made? Has Game of Thrones been wiped off our collective cultural map?

Firstly, let’s acknowledge that there had been criticism of perceived declining quality in Game of Thrones since at least the end of its fifth season – hence my remark above. Some fans and viewers felt that the show’s writing and pacing had begun to dip around that time – which, perhaps not coincidentally, is the time the show’s storyline went beyond the end of the most recent novel in George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series, 2011’s A Dance With Dragons. Seen in that context, perhaps a continued decline in the way the show was received is just something natural – culminating in a disappointing finale.

But it feels like there’s much more to it than that. We’ve undeniably seen many shows go on too long and lose their edge over time – but Game of Thrones is, as we’ve already established, not a normal television production. The rules don’t apply in the same way, largely because the story has been building up over every season. Every character killed, every army moved around like chess pieces on a board, every line of dialogue and character relationship had all been carefully crafted and built upon to get the story to this point. It has been one continuous story, and getting bored of it before the end is akin to putting down a novel unfinished. Television shows of the past (and present) which have suffered from running too long had almost always wrapped up their initial story and were telling new and different ones by the end. Look, for example, at Supernatural, now in its fifteenth season, if you can believe that. The initial story in Seasons 1 and 2 was about brothers Sam and Dean Winchester trying to defeat the Yellow-Eyed Demon. That antagonist was gone by the second season finale. Every story in Supernatural that came after was at best a sequel and at worst tacked-on. This isn’t the case for Game of Thrones.

Perhaps, in time, it will come to be seen as a mistake to commission a television project of this scale based on an incomplete series of novels. When production began, four novels of a planned six had already been published. A fifth would follow shortly after the premiere of Season 1, and the planned six novels was revised to include a seventh at some point in there too. I understand the argument that it wasn’t possible to know in 2011 that the sixth novel, The Winds of Winter, would take so long to write. But it wasn’t inconceivable, and a plan needed to be made. Unfortunately the way George R. R. Martin claims to write is without a detailed plan – preferring to let events unfold as he writes them, rather than planning in meticulous detail where every character is heading. The result of these factors is that, when the show caught up to the end of A Dance With Dragons at the end of Season 5, there wasn’t much for the showrunners and writers to go on beyond a barebones outline of the final stages of the story.

The cover of 2011’s A Dance With Dragons – the most recent novel in A Song of Ice and Fire.

The show is also not a fully faithful adaptation of the novel series, as fans of A Song of Ice and Fire can attest. A number of characters have been significantly changed or cut entirely, as were some significant storylines. The show has also been willing to cut some of the story points that it did adapt if it was determined that, for whatever reason, they were not popular with audiences. As the two projects – the novel series and the television series – diverged over the first five seasons of the show, it’s possible that some aspects of the story that would prove to be important – either in and of themselves or because of how they affected other aspects of the story – were missing or fundamentally altered, leading to the differences between them becoming even more pronounced.

Just like how The Walking Dead takes characters, settings, and storylines from the comic book series but makes major changes when adapting them for television, so too has Game of Thrones. This doesn’t have to be a bad thing in and of itself, but a writer like George R. R. Martin is rather unique, and it seems clear now that the showrunners and writers of Game of Thrones – principally David Benioff and D. B. Weiss – just aren’t on the same level, especially when it comes to a world Martin knows intimately because it’s a world he created. Benioff and Weiss were outstanding at adapting someone else’s work when the story had been fully established; they were far less competent at making their own creative narrative choices.

The seventh season is where this began to become apparent, at least from my point of view. The mission Jon leads north of the Wall to capture a wight is, at best, questionable. And the way it unfolds is a prime example of how the final couple of seasons’ pacing felt off compared to earlier seasons. In what was essentially a single sequence we had characters travelling hundreds of miles, when it had been established many times across the show’s run that some of these journeys can take weeks or longer. As I think I’ve mentioned before, a story being inconsistent within its own world is one of my biggest pet peeves in all of fiction. Despite that, however, Season 7 was decent overall. I enjoyed it, and I felt it set up what could be an engrossing final season.

By the beginning of Season 8, the surviving characters are essentially in two camps. There’s the group at Winterfell, led by Sansa, Jon, and Daenerys, and the group at King’s Landing led by Cersei. The Winterfell group will face the show’s overarching antagonist, the Night King.

The Night King in The Dragon and the Wolf – the finale of Season 7.

The story of the White Walkers, the Night King, and the Army of the Dead had been set up literally in the first scene of the first episode of the first season, and ever since, we as the audience knew that this threat was coming. As interesting as the wars and politicking was, at the end of the day we knew that it wouldn’t matter who was King or Queen if they ignored this bigger threat, and that really, the only hope the characters would have of survival is to overcome their animosities and differences and work together. This is why, as George R. R. Martin has said himself, the White Walkers are an excellent analogy for climate change!

Many characters across the first seven seasons had warned, informed, and prophesied about the Night King and his Army of the Dead. They had been set up as the main antagonist in the series, the biggest threat that all of our characters – heroes and villains – needed to be frightened of. The Night King was said to bring a winter that would last forever, plunging the whole world into bitter cold and darkness. Some of the characters who had sounded the alarm and who seemed to know the most about this threat had been killed off in earlier seasons, but that knowledge had been passed along. The reason most characters gather at Winterfell at the beginning of the season is in anticipation of this very fight.

The final sequence of Season 7 sees the Night King atop his undead dragon destroying part of the Wall and leading his army south. This was incredibly powerful, showing off the Army of the Dead at full strength – tens of thousands of zombies, if not more. This felt like the moment that the whole series had been building toward – and it’s the crux of why the eighth season fell flat.

When it was announced that Season 8 would only consist of six episodes, I was concerned. Season 7 felt, at several points, that it would have benefited from a few extra scenes here and there, and while making that season ten episodes instead of seven longer episodes might not have increased the actual runtime by more than a few minutes, the week-long break between episodes might have gone some way to mitigating the impression that some characters seemed to rush from place to place as if they had Formula 1 cars instead of ravens and horses. Season 8 being shorter still was a worry; it felt like they might not have enough time to effectively explain and wrap up everything left over.

As mentioned, there were two primary camps of characters at the beginning of Season 8. But within those groups there were many individuals whose stories were not even close to concluded; too many to list. Six episodes needed not only to resolve two major wars, including the war against the biggest, baddest antagonist in the whole show, but also give each character a satisfying end – dead or alive, their stories needed to feel conclusive, because a Game of Thrones sequel featuring the same characters simply isn’t on the cards. My initial concern was, sadly, proven right. Not only wasn’t there enough time to allow everything to unfold naturally and at the right time, but in retrospect, some of the limited time they did have was wasted.

Episode 2, A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms, is a slow, character-centric piece, following many of the characters at Winterfell on the eve of battle. On first viewing I loved it, but in retrospect much of it was wasted time. Not only did practically all of the major characters survive the battle – an issue in and of itself which we can look at in a moment – but given the failure of the Night King’s storyline, this dead time should have been allocated to explaining and advancing what was going on with him.

All of these characters, who took up so much time talking about basically nothing in Episode 2, A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms, survived the Battle of Winterfell.

The Night King promised to be an existential threat to our characters. He wanted to essentially turn them all into wights and bring about an eternal winter. He was threatening, and he led a massive army. Previous engagements quickly turned into routs as he and his forces used a combination of their ice magic and sheer numbers to destroy the assembled wildlings north of the wall and even bring down a dragon – with one single hit! Yet the Night King doesn’t last a single episode south of the wall, and is killed in his first major engagement against a significant force. It was as if Game of Thrones was in such a rush to get to the Cersei-Daenerys fight that the Night King was just dropped.

I’m fine with Arya being the one to land the killing strike on him. It can be argued through the Melisandre prophecy that it had been hinted at, and it makes a good use of her assassin arc from earlier seasons, as well as being a twist on the expected use of those assassin skills to kill Cersei. That point doesn’t bother me. But we needed to see two major things from the Night King and his army in Season 8, and we got neither. We needed to see them win. They needed to win a major pitched battle somewhere against someone, and they didn’t. In his entire campaign going back to the first season, the Night King had never faced a significant opposing force. The wildlings were disorganised and lacking in significant weapons and equipment, as well as defensible positions. The rout at Hardhome was little more than a massacre of civillians. And the Wall was just that: a wall. An inanimate object. Destroying it was no mean feat, but it didn’t exactly put up a fight. The forces amassed at Winterfell are thus the first real opponent the Night King faces. His “Long Night” lasted precisely one night, as he was dead before dawn the next day.

The second thing we needed to get from the Night King was why he was there. What was his endgame? And why was he coming? The explanation feels like it was so tantalisingly close; between the Three-Eyed Raven, the Children of the Forest, and Sam digging into restricted books, we should have got a better answer. As it is we got an ambiguous throwaway line from one character, and then everyone moves on to the practicalities of battle planning.

For me personally, this is the failure of Season 8. Seven seasons’ worth of story, lore, and background was thrown away in a single episode. The biggest threat turned out to not be a threat at all, and not only did he lose and die with no real explanation as to who he was, what he wanted, or what he would have done if he’d won, the entire battle only killed a couple of major characters – both of whom (Theon and Jorah) had seen their arcs conclude. The story then brushes off what happened and rushes to the next objective with barely an acknowledgement of what had been accomplished, and with no examination at all of the implications.

As a storyline, the Night King was billed for seven seasons as the main event. There was still the war to be fought against Cersei, but I felt that was going to be little more than an epilogue, something to wrap up the remaining loose ends after the main event. What we got feels like a bait-and-switch, saying at the last moment that actually the Night King and his seemingly invincible magical Army of the Dead was just another villain, and that the big bad of the whole season is… Cersei. Maybe there’s a message there about how the real baddies were us humans all along, but it got lost in what was a truly epic anticlimax that dragged down the entire story of the series.

I can actually think of a better structure for Season 8. One which gets most of the characters to the same point by the end, and which still only consists of six episodes. This would, in my opinion of course, fix the major issues with the Night King storyline. Let’s go over my Season 8 plan very quickly:

At the end of Episode 1, the Night King engages in his first major battle. A small force, perhaps consisting of Night’s Watch and some wildlings, is overrun and obliterated in moments, with a named character like Edd being killed. Episode 2 skips most of the eve-of-battle drama that, in the real Season 8, ended up being little more than fluff, and is where the Night King’s forces arrive at Winterfell. The battle plays out more or less as it did in the show (though I would take this opportunity to kill off at least one additional major character) and ends on a huge cliffhanger: Winterfell falls! Episode 3 sees the survivors engage in a fighting retreat, heading south. By this point, Sam and Bran have put their heads together and used a combination of Bran’s newfound powers and Sam’s book knowledge to piece together the Night King’s origin, and firmly establish why he’s coming and what the actual, specific implications will be. They also learn, at this moment, that stabbing him in exactly the same place as the original dragonglass dagger will shatter the dagger and un-make him, ending the war. Arya would overhear this. In the next battle, perhaps at a location like the Twins, all will seem lost. The Night King’s forces will seem unstoppable and he’ll make his way to Bran. Arya will step in and do her thing – but this time the camera work will be better so we can see exactly where she stabbed him. In the actual episode it looked like she stabbed him in the gut; I didn’t even get that they were going for the same spot as the dagger until I read that later. From there, at the beginning of Episode 4, the season can unfold more or less the same as it did, as I feel that would “fix” the Night King.

Now let’s look at the character who seems to draw the most flak from fans for the way her character turned around in a short span of time: Daenerys.

Daenerys’ character arc in Season 8 was rushed to say the least.

For seven seasons, Daenerys had been the “breaker of chains”, looking to build a better world for her subjects. There had been hints that she had the potential within her to succumb to the madness that afflicted her father and others in her family, but still many felt that the rapid turnaround from where she was in Season 7 to where she ended up at the end of Season 8 came from nowhere. Fundamentally, I think the issue some folks have is that they were firmly on “Team Dany”. They supported her as one might support a football club or political party, and they wanted to see her win and end up as Queen. I can sympathise in a way; I had been on “Team Stannis” at the beginning of the show – he was the lawful king, after all! But I disagree that the shift in her character came from nowhere, and if it had been set up better and had more time to play out, it could have worked.

In my silly little fan-fic above, I said that I could make the Night King’s storyline work in a six-episode season. Having him play a role in the first three episodes, and with some more backstory and explanation given to both his motivation and how to defeat him, I stand by that. I think it could have been made to work. Daenerys’ turn to madness couldn’t.

While we had indeed seen a small number of hints at the possibility in past seasons, there are two points to consider. Firstly, it was just that: a small number. And secondly, they were hints. If this was the ultimate destination for Daenerys – and I’m sure she will take a similar path in the books if and when they’re written – we needed to see it built up slowly and steadily, not ham-fistedly dumped in with two episodes remaining. The fundamental principle is this: Daenerys suffered the loss of two of her dragons in quick succession, she suffered the loss of her lover Jon, whose true parentage gives him a stronger claim to the throne than she has, she lost Jorah, who had been by her side the whole way and was arguably the only Westerosi she trusted, she lost Missandei, and finally, the deaths of so many of her soldiers meant that the war against Cersei – who had betrayed her trust – was now in jeopardy. In short, she went through a heck of a lot, and combined with her family history, her going mad isn’t inconceivable. But it happened too quickly.

Within basically three episodes, Daenerys goes from the noble queen who tried to make peace with her enemies and offered her own forces to save the North to the mad queen, nuking a whole city and massacring civilians and surrendering troops. Such a dramatic turnaround needed way more time to play out – a whole season, at least. And to cap it all off, within a few hours of going postal on King’s Landing and declaring her intent to conquer the world, she’s dead. Over seven seasons we saw her grow, slowly and steadily, in confidence, strength, and leadership. And in three episodes right at the end she goes nuts and gets stabbed. I can understand why people are upset about that, even if I personally felt that it wasn’t Season 8’s worst error.

This may have always been Daenerys’ final destination, but how she got there simply didn’t work for many fans.

If Season 8 was going to be so short, we needed to see way more movement toward Daenerys’ character transformation beginning in at least Season 6 in order for it to feel like a genuine arc and not a bolt from the blue. Some fans of the show who were firmly on “Team Dany” may have still been upset about the ultimate destination for her character, and in a show that encouraged its viewers to support one faction or another in previous seasons, perhaps that is inevitable. But most people would have recognised that this was the way she’d been going for some time and her ultimate turn – epitomised by the scene in Episode 5 where she sits on her dragon listening to the bells ring out in King’s Landing – would have felt more natural.

However, the problem here is that the main events precipitating her fall into becoming the new Mad Queen all happened in a short span of time. The losses she suffered which led her down that path basically all happen from Episodes 2-4 of Season 8, and that just rushed her transformation. If there is an argument for Game of Thrones needing at least one extra season, it’s that. Daenerys’ character turn may be understandable and natural, but it happened too quickly and the events that led to it happened over such a short span of time that none of them were able to be seen to have their full impact. We missed seeing how each moment affected her and how each loss contributed another step down a dark path. In Episode 4 alone, Daenerys has to say her final goodbye to Jorah at his funeral, sees the Northern lords hailing Jon as a hero – Tormund even uses the word “King” – and then suffer Jon’s rejection again, learns that Cersei has reinforcements at King’s Landing, sees Rhaegal killed brutally by Euron’s fleet, loses many of her ships and surviving soldiers in the ensuing sea battle, and sees Missandei killed. While Game of Thrones has never balked at throwing a lot of depressing circumstances at a character, this is too much to take in all at once for us as the audience, and the meaning and impact of each individual loss and defeat is not given time to sink in.

In the very next episode, Daenerys has her dramatic turn and burns King’s Landing. Even taking one episode in between the events of Episode 4 and the sack of King’s Landing, focusing on Daenerys as she comes to terms with what happened, would have gone some way to mitigating this rushed feeling. It wouldn’t have been enough, but it would have been something.

I definitely feel that these two points – the Night King and Daenerys’ madness – are where the season fell down. The Night King was the most egregious for me personally, but I understand the strength of feeling surrounding Daenerys too, and in both cases, it’s painfully apparent that more time was needed to allow these stories to properly conclude. HBO, who produced Game of Thrones, offered the showrunners as much time as they needed: including extra episodes in Seasons 7 and 8 as well as the possibility of at least one more season. George R. R. Martin has said he would have liked to see the show go on to at least a tenth season and that there was enough story to extend it that far. It was a production decision to curtail the show at Season 8, and to cut down Season 8 to six episodes. In hindsight, both of these decisions were mistakes.

The Night King’s death scene wasn’t even sufficiently lit or well-framed, and the fact he lasted one episode is a pathetic waste of the show’s most intimidating threat.

There were myriad other problems, though. The plot armour that protected many fan-favourite characters at the Battle of Winterfell is one example. Too many main characters survived and were able to continue their stories, when Game of Thrones in earlier seasons had never been afraid to cut down a character in their prime. Many fans were upset at Jaime’s perceived character regression, and while I will defend that point as a story beat as I felt it worked for his character and has a lot to say about love and loyalty, it was undeniably rushed. Like the point with Daenerys detailed above, Jaime’s turnaround comes from nowhere in one short sequence. Perhaps it was intended to recapture the magic of earlier seasons’ surprises, but as a character many fans were invested in the surprise fell flat.

The show also dropped a number of plotlines, either because they couldn’t be made to fit or because there wasn’t enough time. Sansa leads the North to its independence, but what of Dorne and the Iron Islands? Yara had been promised the Iron Islands’ independence in Season 6, and every Dorne plotline was abruptly dropped from Season 8, including Ellaria Sand, who was last seen in the dungeon at King’s Landing. Her absence suggests she died, but this was never seen or confirmed. No mention is made of what will happen to the people of Essos in the aftermath of Daenerys’ death. She had left one of her lieutenants in command of her eastern empire, but the show just ignores all of that after she arrives in Westeros. The Lord of Light and the Brotherhood Without Banners are both ignored after the Battle of Winterfell, despite the Lord of Light’s prophecies being important in earlier seasons. The surviving Dothraki and Unsullied are shuffled off away from Westeros with no clear leadership or any indication of what will happen to them. Cersei’s alleged pregnancy, which the show hinted may be fake, was never paid off in any meaningful way. Jon’s true parentage became an issue for Daenerys briefly, but was promptly dropped. The Iron Bank, which loaned a huge sum of money to the crown of Westeros, is not mentioned, despite the fact that they would want to collect on that debt. No one at the Electoral College (or whatever we’re calling that council at the end of Episode 6 that anointed Bran as the new King) even suggested Jon, despite him being one of two potentially “legitimate” claimants along with Gendry – who was also ignored at that meeting. There are others, some of which had been set up in earlier seasons and ignored for several years prior to Season 8.

What happened to winter? Game of Thrones’ world has seasons which last for years at a time, and the show is set during a “long summer” – one which has lasted many years and should, according to many people at many different points across the series – result in an equally long winter. At the beginning of Season 7, winter finally arrives. The Night King brings colder weather and darkness with him, but after he dies winter itself seems to go away. This ties in with what I said earlier about the Night King’s lack of a satisfying explanation, but if it’s supposed to be the case that he somehow controls winter itself, that needed to be communicated to us as the audience. It would have raised the stakes and would have explained why the show’s world resets to being spring after a winter that lasted a few days at most. In any case, it’s something that needed further explanation. I understand that from an aesthetic point of view, ending the show with the characters in the depths of winter might not have felt as victorious as an ending that was bright and sunlit. And it would have raised questions about whether they all have enough supplies to make it to spring. But again, Game of Thrones has never shied away from half-victories and outcomes with consequences.

The “Electoral College” of Westeros.

This ties in with another point: Game of Thrones basically got a happy ending. Jon survives and goes to live with his friends beyond the (remains of) the Wall. Sansa reigns as Queen in the North. Arya sets off on a voyage of exploration. Tyrion, Bronn, Sam, Brienne, and Davos rule Westeros as Bran’s council of advisers. Aside from Daenerys and Jaime, the main “hero” characters from the beginning of Season 8 survive – and not only that, they win. Someone had to win the titular game of thrones somehow. But after a lot of talk about changing the system and “breaking the wheel”, the main characters basically reestablish the existing form of government. Bran, as he cannot have children, may be succeeded by another monarch chosen by an Electoral College, but is that system sustainable when a new monarch takes over who wants to pass the throne to his or her child? There were only a handful of people at the Electoral College, most of whom were aristocrats, so it wouldn’t be difficult for a future monarch to manipulate the council into giving the succession to his or her child or chosen successor.

Speaking of Bran becoming king, this is the final point where many people felt the story went completely off the rails. I’m in two minds on this point. On the one hand, I agree that it came from nowhere and that it contradicts what Bran said earlier in the season about not wanting to rule or govern. On the other hand, when compared to the Night King’s story being such a colossal anticlimax, I don’t think it’s all that bad.

If what we’ve been told about the show working toward the same endgame as the books is true, then Bran will end up as king there too. But I’m sure if he does, it will be better-explained. What we got was a single speech by Tyrion nominating him for the role, which seems to take everyone by surprise, including several characters at the Electoral College who have their own claims to the throne. Everyone then just… goes along with it. It’s over and done with in the space of five minutes, and then a few minutes later the credits roll and that’s the end of the series. Game of Thrones is a show that definitely became aware of its reputation for throwing up genuine surprises, and I wonder if that could explain the decision to make Bran king, or at least the manner in which it unfolded.

In-universe, there’s no guarantee Bran would be a good king. We’ve seen so little of his abilities as the Three-Eyed Raven that we don’t know what, if anything, he could do beyond warging into various animals and remembering a bunch of stuff from the distant past. As someone so concerned with the history and memory of the world, is he too detached from current events to be an effective leader? If he delegates basically everything to his council, are those people well-suited to govern? Let’s look at them: Tyrion and Bronn are both known to be people who enjoy drinking and visiting brothels, yet they’re Hand of the King and Master of Coin respectively. Davos and Brienne may be competent, though Brienne has never been in a genuine position of leadership before. Sam as Grand Maester simply feels like fan-service, because how is he possibly qualified or sufficiently skilled and experienced to be in that role? He spent a short time as an apprentice at the Night’s Watch, a very short time as an initiate at the Maesters’ Citadel, after which he ran away and stole some of their books, and suddenly from nowhere he’s appointed Grand Maester. That just seems odd. In short, in addition to all of the problems the new system of electing a monarch could easily create, the current leadership of the Six Kingdoms is, at best, questionable.

The rulers of Westeros at the end of the show: the characters who won the titular game of thrones.

To wrap things up, where I personally feel Game of Thrones failed in its eighth season was in the handling of the Night King. That was the worst and most egregious fault, and it stems from a decision to rush through the remaining story beats. Partly the fault lies with showrunners David Benioff and D. B. Weiss, who chose to end the show prematurely rather than hand over the reins to someone else. But it isn’t fair to lay all of the blame at their feet. HBO allowed them to go down this route. And George R. R. Martin hasn’t finished his novel series, meaning that when the show caught up to the books, they ran out of material to adapt. As I’ve already said, I think in time, giving the show the green light before the novels were finished may come to be seen as a mistake.

The reason no one is really talking about the series any more is because of how badly its final season landed. The story of Game of Thrones is no longer that it’s “the best television show ever made”. That title, if anyone still assigns it to the series at all, comes with a major caveat, and an asterisk saying “except for the ending”. Game of Thrones’ fanbase almost universally dislikes the final season, and while the individual failing(s) that people are most upset about varies, there is agreement overall, even from the show’s biggest supporters, that Season 8 did not achieve what it should have, and that it was too short. Almost as quickly as it emerged in 2011, Game of Thrones has vanished from the cultural map. Its legacy exists in the way today’s television shows are produced, and the existence of series like The Expanse, Star Trek: Picard, The Mandalorian, Amazon’s upcoming Lord of the Rings prequel, and many, many others owes a lot to the trail that Game of Thrones blazed. But the show itself is tainted with disappointment, and because it’s one long story, a bad ending means many people are put off rewatching the earlier seasons. The current lockdown/quarantine moment would be ideal for binge-watching a show like this, but its universally-panned ending means that practically no one is. That’s sad, because the show deserves better.

Game of Thrones will be remembered by its fans, and we already know that at least one spin-off series is in the works. And its broader impact on television storytelling will last for years, if not decades. No show produced in its wake has avoided the influence of Game of Thrones. But its final season has meant that it’s no longer a show that millions of people will sit down to rewatch for a second, third, or fourth time. In that sense, Game of Thrones has disappeared.

I wrote a follow-up to this article a few days later, covering other points and going into further detail on others. You can find the follow-up article by clicking or tapping this link: Further thoughts on Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones is available on DVD and Blu-Ray. The series is the copyright of HBO. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.