Game of Thrones season 8: Are we headed for a major letdown?
Dueling commentary: Some fans are pegging the world's biggest show to become the world's biggest bummer. Is that fair?
Jackson RyanFormer Science Editor
Jackson Ryan was CNET's science editor, and a multiple award-winning one at that. Earlier, he'd been a scientist, but he realized he wasn't very happy sitting at a lab bench all day. Science writing, he realized, was the best job in the world -- it let him tell stories about space, the planet, climate change and the people working at the frontiers of human knowledge. He also owns a lot of ugly Christmas sweaters.
Daniel Van Boom is an award-winning Senior Writer based in Sydney, Australia. Daniel Van Boom covers cryptocurrency, NFTs, culture and global issues. When not writing, Daniel Van Boom practices Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, reads as much as he can, and speaks about himself in the third person.
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Game of Thrones
, the biggest prestige TV drama that has ever existed on planet Earth. For almost a decade, we've championed the Starks, certain Lannisters and one Targaryen. We've mourned for the Starks several times, as well as heroes like Olenna Tyrell and, of course, Oberyn Martell. We've showered the show with praise for eight years.
Most fans agree Game of Thrones has been really good for a really long time. But the tide seems to be turning.
The Battle of Winterfell ending with an Arya Stark KO was where it started. Flickers of dissatisfaction were all over the internet. Reddit threads are full of disillusioned long-time fans. Twitter, an unusually joyous bastion of Game of Thrones fandom, is a battleground. With episode 4, "The Last of the Starks," those flickers became unavoidable conflagrations, swallowing up all the online oxygen.
There's still considerable buzz around episode 5, but it excitement certainly seems to have subsided since episode 3. Like Dany's heart, we're divided between our love and our expectations.
What's happened to Game of Thrones? We've decided to grab two of the finest Maesters in the Citadel to hash it out. In one corner, self-confessed Game of Thrones stan Daniel Van Boom, and in the other, disappointed, mad king Jackson Ryan.
Jackson Ryan: Dan, how did we get here? What are people mad about?
Daniel Van Boom: Game of Thrones is basically the new Star Wars. Every time anything happens in Star Wars, there's a large segment of the fanbase that's furious. They take it so seriously. And that's cool. Being passionate about something that's deeply affected your life is fair, but at the same time a lot of the criticism reeks of misguided expectations.
The last few episodes of Game of Thrones have definitely had flaws, but they're still high-quality TV.
JR: Hold your dragons, mate. No one brought Jedis into this discussion. Let's stay focused here. The internet gets mad at a lot of things, and the last episode of Game of Thrones provoked the online beast.
First, let's talk about not petting Ghost. Tell me you have some justification for this that isn't "CGI is expensive." It is unjustifiable. They could have crowdfunded a better ending for the direwolf! It's nonsense.
Ghost going unloved does speak to some of the greater issues at play here. The internet is mad because, within the space of four episodes, Game of Thrones has gone from a show where no character, plotline or prophecy seems set in stone and every action is carefully laid out to the audience, to one where everything seems wildly obvious and all the characters' motivations make zero sense except to serve one purpose: getting to the finish line.
DVB: The show isn't over, amigo. Seems only fair to see what the end looks like before we dissect the means of getting there.
And I don't think anything is wildly obvious. What is obvious? I don't know who'll sit on the Iron Throne. Plus, season 1 of the show was good-but-standard fantasy until episode 9, when Ned Stark died and everything got crazy. Then it seemed like Game of Thrones' true hero was Rob Stark and, just when that seemed to be the direction, everything changed. So a perception of predictability is the precondition for Game of Thrones' best, most surprising moments.
Episode 4 definitely had problems. Jon not patting Ghost was dumb, even if you can blame it on technical difficulties.
I think most of the flaws in season 8 come down to David Benioff and D. B. Weiss cramming everything into six episodes instead of 10. This was worse in season 7, where characters could apparently warp the space-time continuum. But it still feels like there are shortcuts being taken, and opportunities missed, to accommodate for the shorter season.
A good example: Arya and The Hound are probably hanging out right now, riding together to King's Landing, and I bet we're not going to see any of it. The show's pace now, where every second counts and needs to push us to the finish line, just doesn't allow for the type of relationship we saw between them in season 4.
I don't really understand why they're doing it -- probably because they have less source material here than for previous seasons. But Game of Thrones is such a good show, and its development so expert, that I'm going to assume there's a reason they're cramming more events into fewer episodes, that the alternative would have been worse.
Most of what's disappointed me about season 8 is what hasn't happened and what we haven't seen. But what we have seen has been mostly good, often great.
JR: It's strange because every second does count. When you sit down and agonize over recent episodes frame by frame, you feel like a lot of time is being wasted. And I have agonized, Dan.
All of a sudden, we have Tyrion and Jaime laughing and discussing Jaime's sexual encounters. The Hound and Podrick being wooed by a couple of Northern ladies. Tormund just being a sloppy drunk for laughs. Every second counts, but we're just trampling over the same ground and going for cheap laughs now?
Weird medieval flex.
We quickly say goodbye to Bronn, Sam, Gilly, Ghost and Tormund in this episode because they've served their purpose. That makes it super weird to watch Tyrion and Jaime wax poetic about tall lady sex instead of giving us a bit of TV that resonates emotionally.
This is the endgame and we're seeing Podrick cuddle ladies? We get it, he's got a big pod! Benioff and Weiss threw a touchdown pass to themselves on the final play to win the Super Bowl and it feels like they're about to fumble the ball. I don't think people would mind if the show ended somewhat ambiguously, as long as our characters -- our faves -- didn't just start acting contrary to how they have for seven(ish) seasons.
Does that make Game of Thrones a bad show? Not at all. But it does make it difficult to see a future where the internet doesn't send death threats to Benioff and Weiss or start a hashtag for #RemakeGOTSeason8. I'm worried for those guys. They've really done a great job!
DVB: Yeah, but that's kind of my point. The internet is going to send death threats to Benioff and Weiss no matter what they do.
What I really think is happening right now is people are coming down from the Battle of Winterfell. For whatever complaints people have about it -- that it didn't give sufficient weight to the White Walker threat, that parts of it didn't make sense -- it was certainly an emotional peak. After that, The Last of the Starks feels relatively pallid.
It's worth remembering that most people remember moments, not episodes, and moments are the payoff to build up. I think people understand that episode 4 was always going to build up the next epic payoff. But at this stage of the game, so close to the finish line, it deflated them. In retrospect I think people will see that the episode was a return to form of sorts, since Game of Thrones is mostly about politicking and the tempestuous interpersonal relationships between different characters.
Watch this: Game of Thrones Season 8 Episode 4: The good, the bad and the coffee
I don't really understand your beef with Tyrion and Jaime hanging out or Tormund getting crunk. Episode 4 did have flaws, but its job was to build suspense around Daenerys' fork-in-the-road moral moment, and raise the serious question about who should sit on the throne.
JR: Sophie Turner's Instagram game will outlive this show and rightly so. She has truly hop, hop, hopped into our hearts.
Look, the Battle of Winterfell was much better than the absolute garbage they served up in episode 4 and you're probably right -- expectations were (are!) high. Still, the key events in this episode reminded me of your fan fiction theory suggesting Jon Snow was yelling "GO!" to an invisible Arya Stark in episode 3. These half-hearted, happening-off-screen events have become more common, predominantly in seasons 7 and 8.
Remember when we watched Ned Stark slowly read through a tome about the history of the houses in Westeros? What a time.
It's like there's a second show happening off-screen right now. It seems like poor writing. To explain character motivations and desires we have to make do with what we're given or just make believe. That was never the Thrones way, was it?
The 38 most gut-wrenching Game of Thrones deaths, ranked
DVB: I think we're kind of making the same point then, that the pace of this season is just too fast for its own good. And I broadly agree.
But the question isn't "is the show flawed?" because everything is flawed. The question is, "Do those flaws make the show unenjoyable, and are they sufficient to sully the show's until-now stellar reputation?"
I can understand the argument that it does the latter, because maintaining such an elite-level production is difficult for one season, let alone eight. But the show is still super good.
Jaime and Cersei. Jon and Daenerys. Arya doing whatever crazy shit she has planned. The show still has a lot of threads to tie. Season 8 hasn't been perfect, but it has been good enough that I have faith in these plotlines to have satisfying conclusions.
JR: "Everything is flawed" is some real dark, Red Wedding-type thinking, Dan.
I'm not trying to sully Thrones' reputation. This isn't an indictment on Game of Thrones overall, it's just... Endings are really bloody hard. Ending a sweeping fantasy epic spanning eight years of human existence so that everyone watching will be happy is near impossible. I'm forgiving! I just wanted something more, this late in the game. Just some logic.
Just some respect for Ghost, man! (I'm really cut up about Ghost, alright?)
I'm scared. In the Game of Thrones, you either win or you die, Dan. Many of the comments I've read this week suggest the faith in Benioff and Weiss is all but gone or hanging on by a thread, like Ghost's right ear. On recent form, I believe we're headed for disappointment...
Unless you can give me one final reason Game of Thrones will deliver in its final 160 minutes.
DVB: Two words. Clegane. Bowl.
Actually, I think the kids put it in one word. Cleganebowl.
Either way. Get keen.
Originally published May 9.
Update, May 10: Adds Twitter reactions.
Update, May 12: Adds Twitter reactions ahead of new episode.