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What’s happening: “Game of Thrones,” HBO’s epic fantasy series based on the novels by George R.R. Martin, aired its final episode on Sunday night. Since debuting in 2011, the show has become one of the cultural touchstones of the internet age. It has set ratings records and been the most popular target for illegal downloads. “Game of Thrones” has won a total of 47 Emmys and was named Outstanding Drama Series three times.
Online communities dedicated to forecasting the twists and turns of the elaborate story have millions of members. The show has inspired fantasy leagues, a torrent of memes and even baby names. The show was so popular, even tiny mistakes like an errant coffee cup or water bottle spotted in scenes became news stories of their own.
Why there’s debate: Though the popularity and cultural impact of “Game of Thrones” are indisputable, there is debate about where it fits within the list of all-time great TV shows. The show’s boosters contend few programs have featured such a deep web of storylines and blockbuster filmlike action sequences.
Detractors, many of them devoted fans, argue the series lost its way in its later seasons, when the show’s timeline began to outpace Martin’s books. A petition calling on HBO to remake the final season has reached more than a million signatures. The emphasis on massive battles, they say, has undercut the character development and relationships that made the show great in its early seasons. There is also criticism of the program’s treatment of female and minority characters.
Some TV critics believe, whether it has dipped in quality or not, that “Game of Thrones” will hold a special place in television history as the last “water cooler show.” Viewers’ attention has become more and more divided amid the boom of streaming services, they say, and “Game of Thrones” may mark the end of an era when a TV show could capture the public imagination.
What’s next: Though the original show may have ended, tales from Westeros look to only be expanding. HBO has announced a spinoff series starring Naomi Watts, set thousands of years before the events in “Game of Thrones.” The pilot is reportedly set to start filming this summer. Martin has said there are as many as three other potential spinoffs in development. The show’s lead producers, David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, will move on to take over the “Star Wars” franchise, and members of the sprawling cast will appear in a variety of projects in the near future.
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“Game of Thrones” is one of the best shows of all time
“There are television series that more people have watched, that more people have loved, series that have more specifically aided our growth as a society, better showcased a single performance or more clearly set a template for other shows to follow. But “Game of Thrones” ... is, and will possibly remain, the only television series that can be truly described as epic.” — Mary McNamara, Los Angeles Times
“The ultimate honor, however, I’m absolutely sure of — “Game of Thrones” will always be justifiably discussed in the upper echelons of the greatest dramas of all time, whether inside the Top 5 or just outside of it. Let that shake out over time and on individual lists.” — Tim Goodman, Hollywood Reporter
“Game of Thrones” marks the end of the “water cooler” show
“Because of the very specific circumstances that existed when it first aired in 2011, it has formed an intense relationship with millions of fans, and I doubt any subsequent television show could ever replicate it.” — Emily Dreyfuss, Wired
The show should be remembered for both its successes and its failures
“There are so many different levels to telling the story of a television fantasy epic. On some of those levels, ‘Game of Thrones’ was a jaw-dropping success that’s forever raised the bar for what can be done in this medium. On others, it fell maddeningly short.” — Alan Sepinwall, Rolling Stone
“Game of Thrones” will be remembered for spoiling its chance at greatness
“What was true of this season before the finale, in other words, is still true now that it’s done: All of this would have worked so much better with more time. ... The episode’s first pivotal moment, though, is the one that suffers most from this season’s condensed timeline, and lands with a fraction of the impact the show clearly hoped for.” — Melissa Leon, The Daily Beast
Shortcomings of the final season shouldn’t tarnish the legacy of the series as a whole
“The only problem with complaining about Season 8 though, is that the whole series from start to finish is … and here I search for the right words … an absolute f***ing miracle.” — Ross McCammon Men’s Health
“For as much as the show devolved somewhat in its final seasons, it always held on to something beyond spectacle, and its series finale asserts that in ways that reinforce ‘Game Of Thrones’ status as a singular television experience.” — Myles McNutt, The AV Club
The show fell apart without Martin’s books as source text in late seasons
“‘Game of Thrones’” departed from its literary source material in Season 6, leading to a range of odd plot points and character behaviors, some so baffling that you may ask: Why bother with the show anymore?” — Elahe Izadi The Washington Post
“In its clumsy execution of catastrophic proportions, ‘Game of Thrones’ set fire to its own sense of purpose … leaving behind nothing but the taste of ash in our mouths.” — Jess Joho, Mashable
The show was diminished by its poor treatment of female and minority characters
“It seems like ‘Thrones’ just has a blind spot — a tremendous lack of effort when it comes to the arcs of its minority characters.” — Ben Philippe, Vanity Fair
“As a TV series, the women are props for spectacle and shock just as much as the dragons and white walkers.” — Kelly Lawler, USA Today
Finishing the show in a satisfying way was an impossible task
“Coming as it did from an unfinished series of novels whose conclusion the series has been tied to since its earliest going, could barely have been made satisfying, and certainly not in the time the show had given itself for its final season.” — Daniel D’Addario, Variety
“Game of Thrones” was ultimately held back by the limitations of TV
“A Song of Ice and Fire was an explicit reaction against television, which made its adaptation inherently subversive TV. And what some have interpreted as ‘Game of Thrones’ shedding the qualities that once made it exceptional is, in fact, a capitulation to its format. ‘Game of Thrones’ may be the biggest television show of all time, but at the end, it couldn’t transcend television.” — Alison Herman, The Ringer