'It means a lot to me': Why Game of Thrones finale is hitting fans hard
Series set high standard for TV storytelling but finale might have a tough time meeting expectations
The hit fantasy series Game of Thrones has set such a high bar for cinematic storytelling and character development on television that it might have a tough time living up to expectations as the series draws to a close Sunday after eight seasons.
"It just was such an all-engrossing show," said Port Moody, B.C.-based superfan Nancie Green. "The characters were very well-defined, very, very personal ... Season eight has definitely taken that and thrown it in the garbage."
Green isn't alone in her views. An online petition was started after episode four calling for HBO to "remake" season eight of its drama with "competent writers" but it didn't gain traction until episode five last week. The petition has now surpassed one million signatures.
The series has raked in record numbers of viewers for its final season — an estimated 43 million on average per episode across all platforms — but it's also facing mounting criticism that goes beyond the Starbucks cup mistakenly left in a scene. The show's plot points, writing and character arcs in its final episodes are leaving many fans baffled.
"A lot of this final season has come off too jarring," said Shirley Li, a culture writer for the Atlantic.
Character development 'disappointing'
To non-watchers, episode five, entitled The Bells, might have looked like just another hour and twenty minutes of castles crumbling, dragons breathing fire and townspeople burning to death on the epic series originally based on George R.R. Martin's novels. But fans saw several major characters turn in arguably uncharacteristic ways.
Perhaps most egregiously, the once noble and hopeful leader, Daenerys Targaryen, descended into madness and killed both the ruler and commoners of King's Landing even after they surrendered.
"It's all been plot, plot, plot," said Li. "It's just been plot first over character work and I think for a lot of fans and for a lot of critics, that's a disappointment. Especially for a season that's supposed to be wrapping up all of these threads."
If some viewers come away dissatisfied with a conclusion they believe to be inauthentic, it's at least partly due to the show's own high bar set over the years.
This is a series that became television's most expensive ever, according to Variety, reportedly costing $15 million US per episode this season. Its breath-taking cinematography included exotic locations from Iceland to Croatia (and even near Calgary). Showrunners postponed the penultimate season just to find a backdrop that was grim and cold enough.
Series pushed the envelope for TV
It even created its own set of languages for complete credibility. With the sheer volume of players involved in the production and the potential for leaks, the show took extra precautions to maintain secrecy.
"Security was so tight ... that I only got the lines that I was supposed to translate this season, nothing else," said David Peterson, the Garden Grove, Calif.-based creator behind Game of Thrones' Valyrian and Dothraki languages.
"Not only that, I believe that they fed me fake lines to translate on occasion for this season and also mis-attributed some of the lines on purpose just so I wouldn't know, for example, which characters were going to be alive or dead by the time the finale rolls around."
The series, Li said, has "pushed the envelope" for what TV can accomplish.
"I think in a lot of ways it opened the doors for writers and for networks to be a little bit more ambitious," said Li. "It introduced us to incredible actors ... I think the legacy of Game of Thrones is robust. There have been a lot of positive takeaways."
Watching with half-covered eyes
Green said her takeaways from the drama go beyond basic fandom. Much of the trauma experienced by the regal characters draw a "parallel," she said, to what she's experienced in her own life.
She said she grew up in a dysfunctional family, was involved in a fire at the age of 15 and after being given a poor prognosis from a cancer diagnosis over a year ago, isn't sure how long she has to live.
"One of the things that I said I really would like to live for — sounds silly — was to be able to see the last season of Game of Thrones. It means a lot to me."
Despite her disappointment with the current season, Green said she'll be watching the final episode with millions of others around the world. But it won't be easy.
"It's one of those things where you put your hands over your eyes but you can't look at it. You kind of open your fingers because you sort of have to see it, but you don't really want to see it."
With files from Mrnali Anchan, Jackson Weaver and Laura Thompson