By this point, it’s clear that many — if not most — “Game of Thrones” fans aren’t pleased with the speedy conclusion of the HBO show’s eight-season story. Given how beloved and acclaimed the drama has been for nearly a decade, that’s surprising in and of itself. But even more shocking is that showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss seem to have anticipated the backlash — and that fans are actually enjoying making fun of the final season.
In “Inside the Episode,” behind-the-scenes segments that air immediately after each episode, Benioff and Weiss often address the very moments that have become bull’s-eyes for controversy. They sometimes feel like a defense of the show, as if the creators realized they would have a lot to explain to their rabid fan base — one so deeply invested in the story, it would question every decision the pair made.
One of the most criticized scenes this year was also one of the most unexpected, and not in a positive way. It came in the fourth episode, as Daenerys Targaryen, Tyrion Lannister, Jon Snow, Grey Worm, Missandei, a bunch of Unsullied and others head to King’s Landing to demand Cersei’s surrender, immediately after defeating the army of the undead. Euron and the Iron Fleet appear, catching everyone off guard. Euron fires off a few projectiles from his scorpions, which kill Rhaegal the dragon. It all leads to the unceremonious beheading of Missandei, and all of it seems . . . rather pointless.
After the episode, fans revolted online, primarily wondering two things: Since when are dragons so easy to kill, and why didn’t Daenerys expect the attack? Many were also flabbergasted by the dragon slayer’s identity:
“Euron? The worst fun uncle in the history of fun uncles? The creepy social climber who pressured Cersei into sleeping with him despite the fact that he didn’t even bring the elephants? THIS GUY has accomplished the same near-impossible feat the late Night King once pulled off? . . . [He] apparently has a preternatural penchant for physics on par with Archimedes,” wrote Anthony Schneck at Thrillist.
The showrunners addressed this minutes after the credits rolled.
“While Dany kind of forgot about the Iron Fleet and Euron’s forces, they certainly haven’t forgotten about her,” Benioff said in the “Inside the Episode” segment, an explanation that was panned by fans so much that it became a running joke.
This isn’t a stand-alone incident. On the next episode, Daenerys — long thought of as one of the show’s heroes — breaks bad and decides to use her remaining dragon to torch King’s Landing, innocent citizens and all. While her turning into the Mad Queen fits the story — the writers dropped clues along the way — many said it happened far too quickly.
As the criticism began rolling in, the cycle repeated itself.
“I don’t think she decided ahead of time that she was going to do what she did,” Weiss said. “And then she sees the Red Keep, which is, to her, the home that her family built when they first came over to this country 300 years ago. It’s in that moment, on the walls of King’s Landing, when she’s looking at that symbol of everything that was taken from her, when she makes the decision to make this personal.”
The showrunners declined The Washington Post’s request for comment.
At one time, “Game of Thrones” trafficked in surprise and spectacle. Truly unexpected moments such as the Red Wedding or jaw-dropping productions such as the Battle of the Bastards kept fans hanging around digital (and, who knows, maybe even actual) water coolers long into the week after the eventful episodes.
But those days seem to be over. With Season 8, it’s the criticism of an episode, and the criticisms of those criticisms that keep people talking: “ ‘Game of Thrones’ current breakneck pace is gutting its most anticipated reunions,” the Verge declared. “ ‘Game of Thrones’ simply gave up,” Esquire cried. In a headline one week later, the magazine described the show using a word that can’t be printed in a family newspaper.
The critics of the critics think everyone needs to just chill out and enjoy the ride. This Sisyphean debate just keeps going and going. All of which means there’s constant conversation around the show. So much so that all this criticism has even begun to be memefied.
One clever fan repeatedly intercut that moment of Benioff claiming Daenerys forgot about the Iron Fleet with various clips of the Mother of Dragons saying things such as, “We need to find Euron Greyjoy’s fleet and sink it.” The meme, and others riffing on it, became so popular that it earned an entry in Know Your Meme, an online database of memes. Meanwhile, Google Trends shows the phrase “Dany Kind of Forgot About the Iron Fleet” dramatically spiked days after the fourth episode aired.
And that’s only one of many.
One fan recut the Rhaegal death scene to make it more believable, by having only one arrow strike the dragon. On Reddit, the video received nearly 60,000 upvotes and garnered nearly 3,000 comments, all praising the editing job, such as one user who wrote, “Over 100 million dollar budget and 2 years of production, some random person on the Internet edits a scene better.”
Even the show’s cast has expressed its doubts about the final season, as demonstrated in a video compilation of interviews that’s aptly titled “3 Minutes of the Game of Thrones Cast Being Disappointed by Season 8,” which racked up more than 5 million views and counting, in less than four days. In it, Kit Harington (who portrays Jon Snow) literally calls the finale “disappointing.”
Then he adds, “No, ‘epic.’ I don’t know. [It’s] one of those ones.” It’s unclear whether he’s joking or not.
Regardless, given that last week’s episode was the most-watched in series history, it’s clear those critiques aren’t actually hurting HBO.