May 20, 2019

SHOWBUZZDAILY Series Finale Review: “Game of Thrones”


There was never a real-life game of thrones behind the scenes at GAME OF THRONES, and perhaps there should have been.  After six brilliant years adapting George R. R. Martin’s novels to television, series creators David Benioff and D.B. Weiss found themselves out of books and without a clear path to Martin’s ending.  (Reportedly, he did give them some guidance on where the books will eventually go.)  They declared that they would finish the epic saga in just 13 more episodes split over 2 seasons, and HBO, despite doubtless wishing the massive hit would continue, supported them.  The result was a patchwork of some dazzling sequences but also misshapen pacing, bungled character arcs and entire sections of story that went unresolved.  It’s instructive to compare the landing of Thrones with Veep, where after several seasons series creator Armando Iannucci passed his torch onto David Mandel, who triumphantly ended the series last week.

To be sure, while Game of Thrones didn’t conclude as well as its first seasons led viewers to hope, it was never less than compulsively watchable, and even at its most annoying, it was leagues ahead of the true finale failures whose trophy belongs, perhaps eternally, to Lost.  That was true of the finale as well, written and directed by Benioff and Weiss, which provided some satisfying closure, but was also lacking in depth and genuine surprise.

The finale separated neatly into halves.  The first dealt with the immediate aftermath of last week’s epic episode, in which Danaerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) definitively switched from Breaker of Chains to Queen of Ashes, via her spectacular but horrifying dragon roasting of just about all of King’s Landing, after the town’s troops had already surrendered.  The ensuing scenes made it clear that Dany was well on her way to becoming a true tyrant in the guise of a freedom fighter, and after a sort of shaming pep talk from the imprisoned Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage), Dany’s erstwhile lover Jon Snow (Kit Harington) reluctantly stabbed her in the heart, prompting Dany’s beloved Drago to demonstrate his grief, and possibly some political commentary, by melting the Iron Throne itself to goo.

The second half, set several weeks later, worked out the future of Westeros in a remarkably straightforward way.  After a lengthy meeting of the heads of the kingdom’s houses (it felt like a royal board meeting), Tyrion convinced them to select Bran Stark (Isaac Hempstead Wright) as the new monarch–but of only six kingdoms, since Sansa (Sophie Turner) declared the independence of Winterfell, which everyone accepted immediately.  Jon was banished to the North (once again), Bran insisted on Tyrion as his Hand, and Arya (Maisie Williams) went off on a ship to explore the unknown west.

Just about all of these developments had been widely predicted, and it certainly felt right to see Sansa crowned Queen of the North, Jon with the wildings (and Ghost!) past the Wall, and Tyrion leading debates on naval appropriations and brothels.  The cast, as always, delivered, and Dinklage in particular made the most of his opportunity to be the leading character of the finale.  But because Benioff and Weiss had never really developed the seer version of Bran as a character, his appointment as King seemed like a contrivance, and other characters were given the briefest of farewells.  The show never returned to the magical part of the saga, with no explanation offered of the Night King or hint that some version of the undead might still exist.  Despite all the deaths and dense plotting, things wound up with a predictability that was a bit dull.

Game of Thrones was a genuine television event–perhaps the last on its scale that we’ll ever see, in term of ratings–but rushed as it was in the end, it didn’t live up to its potential to be one of the all-time best.  It provided an enormous amount of pleasure and also some disappointment, and many fans will always wonder if missed its own opportunity to sit upon TV’s Iron Throne.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."