Unsatisfying 'Game of Thrones' finale doesn't live up to epic story arc: Today's talker

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On Sunday, the series finale of HBO's "Game of Thrones" aired. The fantasy show, based on George R.R. Martin's unfinished series of novels, ran from 2011 to 2019.

Martin can finally finish 'GOT' books 

By Nancy Kaffer

If you thought this would have a happy ending, you haven't been paying attention. But if you thought it would have this ending? Yeah, I didn't either. 

A satisfying series finale doesn't have to be what you want, but it should be what the story needs. A series finale that works should feel authentic to the story preceding it, and to the characters who have populated it. 

Did this hit the mark? Eh. The series finale tied up loose ends. But that's really what it felt like — resolving details that didn't have much emotional heft or meaning. 

"Game of Thrones" was probably the most complicated show on television, set in a world so dense that it's possible to have a conversation of depth and substance about it. George R.R. Martin, the author of the books upon which the show is based, has said that he intended "Game of Thrones" as an antidote to the high fantasy stylings of folks like J.R.R. Tolkien, whose heroes are heroic and whose bad guys are real bad. Martin wanted more nuance. More depth. 

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And for the show's first five seasons, that's what we got. But once the show outpaced the published books, things changed. The show's final seasons have felt rushed, a mad race to squeeze in resolutions to plot arcs that should have played out over weeks, not hours. 

For the first time in at least five years, I believe there is a chance George R.R.Martin will actually finish the books. 

When the "Game of Thrones" run began in 2011, Martin hadn't finished the books on which the show is based. He still hasn't; the most recent book published just weeks after the show's first season aired, and Martin has famously struggled to resolve plots and timelines. 

Had the showrunners brought the show to a more satisfying conclusion, Martin would have had little incentive to finish the series. It's safe to say fans are not satisfied, and Martin has a chance to tell the story he intended.

The first installment of Martin's series published in 1996. The first episode of "Game of Thrones" aired in 2011. A lot has changed since then. 

As a lifetime superconsumer of fantasy, I can tell you that the field has become markedly more diverse and this is a good thing.

Martin's opus is written about a fantasy Europe, largely from the view of fantasy Europeans, and much of the brutality he describes is authentic to medieval warfare. Martin uses that kind of violence very intentionally, as an antidote to the kind of sanitized warfare of other high fantasy writers.

So, it's really perplexing that the "Game of Thrones" writers chose to add rapes to Martin's story. 

Three major characters — Dany, Cersei and Sansa — are raped on screen but not on the page. For Dany and Cersei, the showrunners turned consensual sex into rape; the showrunners transplanted Sansa into a minor book character's plotline that happened largely offscreen. 

It's weird and it's gross. That a lot of folks agree is, I hope, a sign this kind of storytelling is on the way out. 

Nancy Kaffer is a Detroit Free Press columnist, where this column originally appeared. Follow her on Twitter @nancykaffer.

What others are saying

Eliana Dockterman,  Time: "Either due to time restrictions or lack of source material or just plain lack of creativity, the show took shortcuts this season. And those shortcuts tended to rely on the laziest of sexist stereotypes about crazed, power-hungry women. ... Figures in mythology and history ranging from Moses to George Washington to Harry Potter have been heralded as heroes because they came to power reluctantly. Those figures also tend to be male. How do our stories cast women eager for power? As evil queens. And now Daenerys Targaryen is a cliché."

Daniel D'Addario,  Variety: "That the show didn’t do whatever George R.R. Martin is to publish justice is a shame. But what it did accomplish was something generational. More than most series, this show has demanded unusual loyalty throughout its run, a loyalty rewarded with standout episodes and moments that naggingly suggested, throughout, that there might be a higher calling for a show about gamesmanship than even providing a satisfying answer to the question of who wins. The finale, paradoxically, may matter less here, so obsessively devoted was the show’s fan base to minutiae of every installment as though it were the season’s marquee episode."

Alyssa Rosenberg,  The Washington Post: " 'Game of Thrones' ends on a note that is as fantastical and optimistic as anything that happens in the high fantasy it ostensibly critiqued. ... I actually sort of chuckled when Jon Snow reunited with his direwolf Ghost, once a powerful magic creation but now reduced to a loyal, very big Good Dog. It was a fitting reunion, and conclusion, for a show that shrank itself down to size in exactly the same way."

What readers are saying

I liked the unpredictability of what happened, "Game of Thrones" was never going to be a neatly packaged happy ending for everyone. If the final season lacked in dialogue and pacing, it more than made up for it in epic scenes and cinematography that was far beyond anything in television or in most cinematic movies. It will be a long time before we are treated to such a luxurious series again.

— Tony Goreta

I'm surprised that I'm saying this, but I think I'm actually good with everything that happened in the finale. It felt normal and peaceful, considering. They had seven seasons of craziness. It feels nice to think all the kingdoms chose peace and quiet over continued war and chaos.

— Cynthia Michelle

This last season was a complete disaster, not just the last episode. Poor and lazy writing is clearly evident. Computer-generated imagery and big explosions took priority over common sense, substance and following the characters' arc. 

— Jonathan Coutin

It wrapped things up in the best possible way — every major character ended up where they should. ... It’s really an impossible thing to make everyone happy. It’s a show folks, get over it.

— Elaine Brown

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Unsatisfying 'Game of Thrones' finale doesn't live up to epic story arc: Today's talker