Game of Thrones season 8 finale: Our global reactions

Perfect or underwhelming? The CNET crew reacts to the final chapter in HBO's fantasy epic. Spoilers!

Richard Trenholm Former Movie and TV Senior Editor
Richard Trenholm was CNET's film and TV editor, covering the big screen, small screen and streaming. A member of the Film Critic's Circle, he's covered technology and culture from London's tech scene to Europe's refugee camps to the Sundance film festival.
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Richard Trenholm
12 min read

Game of Thrones is finally over. The season 8 finale brought a fiery end to the on-screen adventures of Daenarys, Jon Snow, Tyrion, Sansa and the rest of George RR Martin's creations, leaving fans with a lot of strong feelings.

As we gather around watercoolers and hashtags to discuss the HBO show's ending, here are some of the reactions and opinions being shared in CNET offices around the globe. Was the final episode perfect or underwhelming? Did the right person claim the throne(s)? Was it all about the subtext or the little details? Spoilers to follow ... and be sure to add your own take on the show's end in the comments section. 

A game of two halves

By the time we reached the end I was exhausted. The finale itself was an episode of two halves, with the first being remarkably shot and executed. Emilia Clarke -- just give her a thousand awards. Dany's final moments were impeccable. Then she gets stabbed, Drogon thinks the chair killed her (seriously?) and she leaves the show and … everything just goes downhill from there. 

Besides Edmure Tully showing up just to be told to sit down, the back half of this episode was really not satisfying. The wheel, which seemed destined to be broken, ended up just turning a little further, except with one less kingdom to rule over and a slightly different spiky chair. What was all this for? We could have had a succulent Westerosi democracy. Instead, we have Bran the Broken and a runaway dragon.

Hopefully someone takes care of that in the sequel.  

-- Jackson Ryan, Sydney

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You win or you die.


Low-key finale

Well, that was a bit … underwhelming?

I went in expecting a finale with all the punch of the penultimate episode, and instead we got Jon Snow trotting around the Night's Watch again and Bran heading up what was possibly the most low-key cabinet meeting in political history. Although as an editor, mention of a Master of Grammar position almost made the entire snoozer of a session worthwhile.

There were some exciting moments, of course. The makeout session between Dany and Jon that ended even more awkwardly than the last one. Drogon (who apparently understands symbolism) burning down the Iron Throne that represented so much chaos and bloodshed. But all in all, the episode felt more muted and less emotionally affecting than I had hoped.

Standouts, on the other hand, included Sansa finally getting the crown she deserved -- yassss queen! Seeing Tormund again (call me Tormund?). Ghost getting the nuzzle he should have gotten last week (such a good boy). Brienne making sure Jaime's legacy lived on. And good ol' Tyrion surviving to be a bureaucrat bargaining for brothels and boats.

-- Leslie Katz, San Francisco

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The hot seat.

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The perfect ending

I had such little hope for the final episode after the show's collapse last week. I was absolutely ready to be disappointed. But the showrunners pulled it off. I feel complete. 

They managed to layer fulfilling scene upon fulfilling scene: Tyrion throwing the pin of the hand down the stairs. Jon confronting Dany and being the one to end her life. Drogon annihilating the Iron Throne and flying off with Dany's body. The elite of Westeros choosing Bran as king (though I really never saw that one coming). Sansa declaring the North's independence and becoming queen. Brienne finishing Jaime's story. Sam becoming Grand Maester. Arya heading west on who-knows-what adventure. And Jon playing with Ghost -- hooray!

I also appreciated the moments of humor, such as Sam suggesting democracy and Bronn proposing the rebuilding of the brothels. I am trying to come up with something I hated, and I just can't. It was the perfect ending for me. I can't wait to watch it again.

-- Natalie Weinstein, Austin

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As good as we could've hoped for

A Song of Ice and Fire ended with the former (Jon Snow) giving the latter (Dany the dragon queen) exactly what she deserved -- especially after Jaime disappointed us all by failing to do so with his queen.

The first half of the episode was beautifully tense, with the shell-shocked Arya, Jon and Tyrion reflecting how we all felt after last week's horrifying kill-fest. I loved the image of Drogon's wings spreading behind Dany's back, reflecting her demonic nature for a split second -- and looking super cool.

Part two wasn't quite as successful. Wrapping up everyone's plotlines following a few accelerated and mildly disappointing seasons was a tall order and it all felt a bit tired by the end. There was a sense that everyone ended up where they were supposed to be (hi Ghost!), which was satisfying. And that new Dornish prince better build statues honoring Oberyn.

It'll be fascinating to rewatch the whole series and trace Bran's journey to the throne, where he'll undoubtedly spend much of his time warging into Drogon and exploring Old Valyria.

-- Sean Keane, London

The senseless circle

It should have been a statement greater than any character arc. War and politics are an empty never-ending circle.

Maybe I'm still feeling after-effects of last week's episode. Even though this episode had moments striving for emotion -- and sometimes they got me -- I couldn't help feeling the show's lasting message is that the wheel keeps turning, no matter what. What if everyone died? What if history forgot everyone's names, all the characters we followed for years? Would it be senseless?

A new regime's attempts to make things right, rule wisely and chart bold courses for worlds unknown felt too optimistic for a show filled with chaos. How long would this group last until someone else emerged?

For the characters left, it seemed like they all got the end that perfectly fit. The poetry worked. But that isn't Game of Thrones' usual reality. Plans change. Arcs abruptly end. Courses shift. I didn't want tidy. I wanted a larger-scale sense of history's infinite loops.

-- Scott Stein, New York

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Sansa was robbed

Yes, Sansa became queen of the north, but don't you feel like she deserved … more? Her personal growth over the course of the show and the leadership qualities she's demonstrated left her far better qualified to serve as queen of the Seven Kingdoms than Bran. It's not that I don't think Bran had a crucial part to play, but he was off somewhere else most of the time (often in the past) and I think he's only ever been suited to play an advisory role. I've never been particularly invested in him as a character, or in his story arc, so to see him take the throne doesn't feel like a truly satisfactory ending.

The tying up of storylines felt a little heavy-handed overall, not to mention rushed, and I also felt the two halves of the episode weren't fused together particularly smoothly -- almost like we'd missed a scene between Dany's death and the convening of the lords and ladies of Westeros. It's also a shame that Jon Snow doesn't get a bit more credit for everything he did. He's been annoying me all season, but I still felt bad for him in the end.

I'm really glad Tyrion survived though. Tyrion was the best.

-- Katie Collins, London

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Queen of the north.


The little things

My only real beef this whole season was Daenerys' fire-flinging character swerve. I don't mind that they went there, I just didn't feel like it was properly set up or earned. I'm even good with Jaime's now-confirmed ending. He was always a bad dude, he just experimented with good guyness for a while before re-embracing his bad dudeness. I wasn't surprised, just disappointed in him.

What's done is done and now I'm cool with the finale. King Bran. Queen Sansa. Adventurer "Please Make a Spin-off Show" Arya. Jon Snow as Mance Rayder Jr. riding off with Tormund into the best buddy flick ever.

I've been telling friends and family for a long time I thought there might be no Iron Throne left by the end of the series. I was right about that as far as the physical form of the chair went. Now know-it-all Bran can steer the kingdom when he's not off warging into rogue dragons. Good thing he has Tyrion to keep him grounded.

After eight seasons of stress, drama and blood, I was ready to embrace the embers of hope scattered across the finale. But the little things are what made be happiest of all: direwolf scritches, Ser Podrick, Stark sails and my hero Brienne looking smashing in her Kingsguard armor. You go, girl.

-- Amanda Kooser, Albuquerque

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A Stark goodbye.


Farewell Tyrion

Peter Dinklage as Tyrion Lannister was one of the reasons I got into Game of Thrones years ago. He has the best story arc out of all the characters in the show. Dinklage's performance in the finale was moving, powerful and satisfying -- something I wish I could say about season 8 as a whole.

Also, Samwell Tarley only invented democracy on the spot, that's all.

-- Patrick Holland, San Francisco

Arya the adventurer, yes please!

The character who deserves a future full of excitement and adventure got her wish. Arya Stark literally grew up during this series, and she ends up as a noble warrior. Unlike other fans who want the whole season to get a reboot, I found myself happily cheering during the series finale all because of Arya.

I loved that revenge didn't make her bitter at the end, because she made a decision to look toward her own future and to explore west of Westeros -- to see the world beyond the map she's always known.  

I can only imagine what kind of adventures Arya will have, like a high-seas Pippi Longstocking. But I know that of all the characters who got out of the series finale alive, she'll never be the one I worry about. While others' lives are in shambles or they're under immense pressure to lead, Arya is only beholden to herself. She may not be the queen of an old world, but she will most definitely succeed as a discoverer of a new one. Safe travels, Arya.

-- Bonnie Burton, Los Angeles 

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Reading the subtext

It seemed to be leading up to being about bending the knee to AI in a global one-world government (a surveillance state formed after an ends-justify-the-means genocidal tyranny) and the hope that once nationalisms are ended we can set off to explore the unknown as an "interplanetary species."

Evidence for this interpretation: The new king is Bran, who knew what was going to happen the whole time and therefore must have intended his takeover of the throne, which evokes AI outsmarting us all because the Borg knows all. The Mountain's Terminator-esque Frankenstein is a stand-in for inevitable transhumanism. And finally our heroes set off to explore unknown worlds beyond the walls and seas of Westeros... just like space-exploring Elon Musk would have us do.

I don't think any of this was intended by George RR Martin necessarily, but the subtext is absolutely there if you look for it.

-- Sarah Tew, New York

Wait, this guy?

Before the finale: wow, I hope we get reasoning and info and a great ruler and a look into the future, not just indiscriminate death.

After the finale: wow, we're really all just gonna get behind the guy no one listened to and everyone thought was cray. OK.

The showrunners (David Benioff and D.B. Weiss) basically decided to wipe out every great moment book readers had been waiting to see play out with their mutilated version of fanfic in season 8.

HBO / GIF by Caitlin Petrakovitz/CNET

Cool cool cool. (It's not cool, to be clear.)

-- Caitlin Petrakovitz, San Francisco

An unexpectedly happy ending

After the carnage of last week, I thought the stage was set for a decidedly horrific finale: Dany kills Jon, Arya kills Dany, Cersei stumbles from the crypt and kills Sansa (who is, remember, still married to Tyrion -- I thought they might grudgingly decide to rule together).

Instead, we got the genuinely surprising death of Dany at Jon's hand, followed by the incredibly awesome moment of Drogon destroying the Iron Throne. I couldn't help but nod in approval: "Good! Look at all the misery that thing has caused."

All told, it was a quiet, reflective, redemptive episode that I mostly liked. After so much suffering, the Starks finally emerge triumphant. The only head-scratcher for me is why the writers and directors made Bran such a quiet, seemingly mopey character all season. All hail Bran the Sleepy!

-- Rick Broida, Detroit

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Bring on the books!

Now we've seen what happens when you rush the ending of an epic like Game of Thrones, it's time to see what original author George R.R. Martin does with the rest of his story. If the ending is the same and Bran the Broken is king thanks to an assist by Jon, surely Martin will at least take his time building up to it rather than fitting into an abbreviated finale.

-- Oscar Gonzalez, New York

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No more Targaryen Bad Egg syndrome

Game of Thrones was a big deal -- a series that lodged in our collective consciousness because it was as messy and moving as reality and had nearly as many characters. I'm not as distressed as many viewers about the showrunners' sacrificing that sprawling complexity to find closure. But I couldn't abide the attempt to rationalize Daenerys' murderous streak. Yes, I understand she slaughtered a lot of people on her way to King's Landing -- thanks for the recap, Tyrion -- but much of her story was about compassion for those suffering under a brutal regime. I think we were supposed to see her brutality as some combination of Targaryen Bad Egg Syndrome and a strategy to thwart anyone else who'd try Cersei's human shield strategy. We knew she'd never be a mild queen, but her final burn-the-village-to-save-the-village bloodlust left me unconvinced.

Still, they had to end it somehow, and I was happy that after her death we got more of the Game of Thrones I'd hoped for: plot surprises and characters standing on their own instead of just being tools to advance the Daenerys and Jon story. I'm glad Jon and Grey Worm never had a tidy reconciliation (though the Unsullied's mindless obedience to Daenerys made a mockery of their supposedly voluntary enlistment). Arya's grand adventure west of Westeros was a random send-off, but perhaps there wasn't a good story to build around a master assassin who finally outgrew or outlived her revenge list. I'm intrigued that, although democracy might not have caught on, we did get at least some Westerosi cultural recognition of queens, wargs and women in the military. 

But what was with that sprig of green sprouting north of the wall? Now that the Dead are dead, will Westeros finally get normal weather?

-- Stephen Shankland, San Francisco

And they all lived happily ever after

There were some totally loopy elements in the Game of Thrones finale -- Tyrion as Chief Meeting Room Chair Adjuster! Sam invents democracy! And so many plot threads were just ... dropped. It didn't seem to matter in the end that Jon was a Targaryen, or Gendry a Baratheon. Or that Cersei was (we think) pregnant, or that Maggy's prophecy said she'd be strangled by a little brother, or that Dany had her own prophecy about someday bearing a child.

What happened to Varys' final messages? What was up with Bronn threatening Jaime and Tyrion? And don't even get me started on the damn Prince Who Was Promised. Why was The Golden Company even there? Did the Night King's spiral pattern ever get explained? Maybe I was in the bathroom then.

But the part of me that selfishly wants my favorite characters to come through unscathed is OK with the ending. Jon, Tyrion, Sansa, Arya, Sam and even boring old Bran all lived to fight and connive another day. Tormund and Brienne, who both seemed like characters who'd sacrifice themselves in battle for sure, survived unscathed, and even Ghost got his scritches. So now the Game of Thrones story belongs to those who heard it, and you can unwind the plot threads in your imagination however you like. In my version, Syrio Forel and Arya meet up and go off sword fighting together. They have a blast. You'd probably like it.

-- Gael Fashingbauer Cooper, Seattle

Not a bad finale

I was prepared to be genuinely upset by the final episode, but I was happy with how everything wrapped up. The twists and turns had a more familiar Game of Thrones taste because they let us briefly dream of a world where Jon was Dany's moral compass, then stabbed that vision in the heart. It reminded me of what they did in the Red Wedding or the Battle of the Bastards.

Bran was the best choice for king even if he was a surprise. Tyrion serving as a hand for a third monarch seems fitting after all the mishaps he had advising Dany -- third time's the charm, I guess!

The north gaining its independence under Sansa made sense after the huge sacrifice they made to save the world from White Walkers. And Arya needed something that was "her," so why not make her an explorer?

I'm happy Jon kept going north at the end. I would've been upset if he was sentenced to life after saving the world more than once. And that reunion with Ghost and Tormund was a feel-good moment.

The finale doesn't excuse how fast the White Walker conflict came to an end, the poor character development for Dany's fury and the bad writing. But the ending definitely saves the show from being ruined like Lost was.

-- Tania González, San Francisco

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Originally published May 20.