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One Year Later, Was the Game of Thrones Finale Really That Bad?

Tyrion Lannister, before things went from bad to worse. Photo: HBO

Does a TV show’s ending invalidate what came before? I don’t think so: Lost and Battlestar Galactica remain stirring examples of the Golden Age of TV even if their last episodes were silly, while Breaking Bad’s cop-out of a finale didn’t taint the series that preceded it, or for that matter, the one that followed. Still, a subpar ending often leaves a sour taste in fans’ mouths, like someone ripping a fart while walking out of a delightful dinner party.

Case in point: The Game of Thrones finale, which was so widely disparaged upon its arrival one year ago that it almost retroactively invalidated everything good ever said about the series. “A mishmash of poignant moments and puzzling turns,” wrote the New York Times recap. “Topples all of [the show’s] carefully crafted credibility,” raved Vulture. With some notable exceptions, a consensus emerged that Thrones had turned in one of the worst finales of all time. After eight seasons of buildup, the most buzzed-about series of the decade ended with one major character dead, another exiled, and Bran Stark as king of the Seven Six Kingdoms — a denouement that seemed to offer little dramatic payoff or thematic resolution. Audiences hated it!

But context is everything. Before the finale aired, viewers were already primed for outrage. The episode came on the heels of two abbreviated seasons that marked a sharp drop-off in quality, full of hollow characterizations, slapdash pacing, and plotting that all but abandoned traditional notions of cause and effect. And just one week before the finale, the episode “The Bells” had sparked a full-on revolt, as the beloved Daenerys Targaryen embraced her inner Curtis LeMay and became the show’s ultimate villain, a heel turn many fans could not abide. In this heady atmosphere, the discourse was primed to amplify the finale’s faults, and overlook its strengths.

A year on from the finale, I attempted an experiment. What if you stripped away all of this, and considered the Game of Thrones finale with fresh eyes? With 12 months of hindsight, is the episode really as terrible as it seemed back in 2019?


One Year Later, Was the GOT Finale Really That Bad?