Spoiler alert for all of Game of Thrones!
I audibly sighed as I began writing this piece. This has been an article I’ve been thinking about since Season 7 of HBO’s mega-hit Game of Thrones. I had planned on writing this at the end of the penultimate season, when I believed the show had hit rock bottom. It couldn’t get any worse, I figured. I had nothing to fear, for the ending of the series was bound to redeem a season of missteps.
“Oh, you sweet summer child. What do you know of fear?” – Old Nan, A Game of Thrones.
I should have listened to Old Nan in the first book of the A Song of Ice and Fire novel series that the TV show is based on. I knew nothing of fear. I wasn’t afraid that this upcoming season was going to be terrible. Why should I have been? After all, despite the lows of season 7, it still had some fantastic moments. I couldn’t have been more wrong. I had plenty to fear. I don’t think anyone could have predicted what happened over the last six episodes of the show. And if my tone so far hasn’t given it away, I’m not talking about the plot. Season 8 of Game of Thrones was rushed, sloppy, poorly edited, and frankly painful to watch as a long-time fan. By the season’s end, I could barely contain my anger. The poor writing systematically destroyed almost nine years of development for some of my favorite fictional characters. I could forgive some of the show’s misgivings if at any point it seemed like the show runners and writers gave a shit about the seven seasons that came before this one. A show that once prided itself on nuanced, complex, well developed characters now revels in visual spectacle and Michael Bay-esque set pieces—when they felt like editing.
I could rant for pages and pages about the poorly written dialogue, the nonsensical character motivations, the overabundance of CGI and violence meant to distract fans from the terrifyingly bad writing. Instead, I’m going to harp on the most heinous of Season 8’s issues: Season 8 took 7 seasons of character development and tossed them out the window. Game of Thrones, in its best moments, is barely a fantasy. It is a well written character drama with a high fantasy backdrop, which is what made it so appealing in the first place. It’s no secret that fantasy pre-G.O.T. wasn’t intensely popular in the mainstream. Pillars of the genre like Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter were popular, but didn’t approach anywhere near the level of popularity that Thrones did. This is because of the strength of the characters. By and large, they aren’t magical. They belong to royal houses, but they’re complex characters with motivations that make sense. It’s easy to step into their world despite the fantastical elements. You find a character you love (or hate), and they become your gateway drug.
This is also why the reaction from across the Internet to the finale was so scathing. While the fantasy elements like dragons, magic, fights with legions of undead increased in frequency, we saw less and less of the characters we love. When they are on screen, they’re making decisions or saying things that just don’t add up. I’m going to look at one character who is emblematic of the downfall of Game of Thrones: Ser Jamie Lannister.
It’s a true credit to the show that this character went from a villain who pushed a small boy out of a tower to hide his incestuous relationship with his sister to a fan favorite and hero. And yet, he does. Jamie is an established character when the show begins. He is a member of the King’s Guard, a sort of fantastic secret service. He is well known for being one of, if not the greatest swordsman ever to live. And yet, he is most known for two things: First, a viscous rumor that he and his sister Cersei Lannister have been in a sexual relationship since they were very young, and that Cersei’s children are actually Jamie’s and not her husband King Robert Baratheon’s. Second, and most importantly, Jamie Lannister is known by his much earned nickname: Kingslayer. Before the show began and King Robert took the Iron Throne of Westeros, the country was ruled by King Aerys II, The Mad King. The night that Robert’s armies began to sack the capital city, Kings Landing, Jamie broke his sworn vows to protect his king and put a sword through the back of the Mad King. This act allowed Robert to take the city, and the Iron Throne itself. As king, Robert pardoned Jamie and allowed him to retain his position as a member of the King’s Guard. The moniker stuck however. In the initial seasons, Jamie seems proud of the title and revels in it. He is a proud braggart, and has the skill with a sword to back it up. That is, until the third season, where Jamie is captured and has his sword hand amputated. Suddenly, Jamie can’t hide behind his sword or bravado. Jamie’s losing his hand to another man with a sword, someone who Jamie could have easily defeated in a fair fight, absolutely crushes him. This leads to one of the most emotionally charged moments of the show in which Jamie reveals the reason he killed The Mad King to Brienne of Tarth:
Jamie had to lose his hand, lose what made him the Kingslayer, to admit to anyone the truth behind his actions. His actions, unbeknownst to anyone for years and years, saved thousands of innocent men, women, and children from death by incineration at the hands of their Mad King. He’s lived with this false reputation all his life and wore it not like a badge of honor, but like a shield defending him from the words of the rest of the world. “Jamie. My name is Jamie” is the last thing he says before he loses consciousness from
pain in his wounded arm. It’s a beautiful, haunting scene in which we see a character transform before our eyes. So imagine my shock when this happens in episode 5 of season 8.
Watching those first 12 seconds still fills me with unbridled rage.
What happened to the Jamie in the bathtub, shields down, and vulnerable? How did that change? Jamie all of a sudden forgets the most pivotal moment in his life? The one that drove his character for
seven seasons? All of a sudden, at the end of the show, The Kingslayer has returned: but he’s no better with a sword and still down one hand. There’s no reason for this old version of Jamie’s character to show up here, especially when you consider how he got here in the first place.
When the Kingslayer dies and Jamie is reborn, he begins to break away from his sister Cersei. They’ve been in love for essentially all of their lives, but over the course of the show she proves herself cold and calculating. She is abusive and commits atrocity after atrocity in the name of herself and her family. As Jamie rises from the ashes of the Kingslayer, he begins to question his love for Cersei. Eventually when the larger threat of an undead army to the North becomes a reality, Cersei hopes that the undead will destroy her enemies and bolster her chances of maintaining her grip on the Iron Throne. This is the straw that breaks the camels back for Jamie. He tells Cersei that he intends to fight for the living and rides north, defying the orders of his lover and Queen knowing full well he might not ever see Cersei again. He does so knowing he isn’t the fighter he used to be. But he rides off anyway, knowing himself and what’s actually important: the lives of the innocent men, women, and children he’s been defending since he killed the Mad King.
I won’t get into my gripes with the battle against the undead army, but suffice to say all of the heroes lived and the undead were defeated. In celebration, Jamie gets together with his longtime friend Brienne of Tarth. Their romance is believable and truly marks Jamie’s transformation. He has finally broken whatever tied him to Cersei and found love in the arms of another woman, one who knows the truth of who he was and why he did what he did. Brienne is still the only person to know the truth of what happened between Jamie and the Mad King. What a fantastic end for Jamie – in the arms of a woman who loves Jamie for his honor and convictions, and shares his propensity for goodness.
Oh wait, just kidding! I had almost forgotten that nothing matters and that characters making stupid decisions is a solid substitute for character development in this final season. Jamie rides back into certain death, this time not to save innocents, but to selfishly save his sister. Just why?! There is no indication that Jamie wavers in his decision to come north. There is zero reason for Jamie to all of a sudden decide that Cersei is what means the most to him after he left her side specifically because she had no regard for the lives of innocents and he does. So Jamie rides south, and arrives just in time to have a shot at saving his sister. But before he can get to her, he has a run in with the cartoonishly villanous Euron Greyjoy.
Euron, who at this point has tried to woo Cersei with promises of a naval fleet to help defeat her enemies, pulls a knife on Jamie for…reasons? Euron says it’s evident that the city is about to fall, and he walks straight past a boat he could have used to escape. But he challenges Jamie to a fight because…he has a weapon with him and why not, I guess? The fight ensues and Jamie suffers two pretty lethal looking stab wounds, but does best Euron. One of the last things Greyjoy says is “Another King for you.” Jamie escapes the fight, climbs to the top of the Red Keep where Cersei is and attempts to escape with her before ultimately dying as the city crumbles around them and they are crushed by falling rubble.
Jamie Lannister was a nuanced character who had conflicting motivations, and felt real. He had a full, complete arc. And then the writers tossed it into a wood chipper. The last thing we remember about Jamie Lannister, the man who was defined by his ability with a sword, is that he overcomes his loss of limb by defeating Euron and reclaims the title of Kingslayer. His growth didn’t matter. All of the moments that transformed Jamie from villain to hero didn’t matter. Jamie’s decision doesn’t make sense, and frankly neither does the fact that he defeats Euron in their duel. It’s not like Jamie ever really improved with his left hand. He didn’t fare well in the battle with the undead just a few episodes prior. His defeat of Euron seems to only happen so that he and Cersei can die together. Which teaches us what, exactly? That Jamie can’t rid himself of his love of Cersei? Even though he already has upon leaving her side to fight for the living? It’s so mind boggling. Why ignore all of Jamie’s character development? I don’t mean to say that the event itself, Jamie dying with Cersei, is nonsensical. I could see it, sure. But it doesn’t make sense in the context of the show. There’s no time to explore a Cersei-less Jamie. His decision to up and leave Brienne and ride back to save Cersei is jarring. We’re meant to believe that Jamie himself, in two episodes, has completely regressed back to the point at which he began.
Jamie is just one example of this kind of character regression and is all over the final season of Game of Thrones. It’s so sad that the legacy of this once great show is going to be heavily marred by this mess of a finale. Apparently we all have the show runners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss to thank for the rushed six episode season. According to an interview with Weiss and Benioff, HBO offered them funding for more episodes but they turned it down, standing firm on their belief that they could wrap the show up in six episodes. They were wrong. So, so, plainly and obviously wrong. With the announcement that the pair are helming a new entry in the Star Wars franchise in 2022, I can only hope it’ll be more like their first few seasons than their lasts. But I know about fear now. And I am afraid.