Let Us Pity the Critics of Game of Thrones
We have entered a new location in Westeros – not one shown by the map in the opening sequence, or visited thus far by any of the characters. We are now in the echo chamber.
I tried to tell everybody just a week ago. I told everybody to chill. But with every successive airing of Game of Thrones – with only one left – it has become a shibboleth, a rite of passage to voice your complete and sheer displeasure with everything that *you* find unsatisfactory about the show. There are talks of what is 'earned', what 'should' be going on, and what is 'right'. Everything is discussed not in context of what actually happened in the show, but through the lens of what was liked and disliked. And once an iota of dissatisfaction is loosened in the echo chamber, it resonates back and forth, infecting the air with a hatred that is almost palpable. This chamber transcends time too – it's gone back and retroactively categorized entire previous seasons as dogshit, because this season is already oversaturated with hate and the rest needs somewhere to go.
I'm not one to be a contrarian, at least for the sake of being a contrarian. There's no inherent value to zigging when everyone is zagging. I truly believe that, for the most part*, Thrones has done a great job. And you don't have to agree with me. I don't want to have to convince you that what happened makes sense, because I don't believe that's how media should be consumed. I think that you should watch it for yourself and take away what you take away, but Thrones has become like sports and politics. You watch the games or follow the news, read your favorite writers and listen to your favorite podcasters, and eventually adopt their opinions as your own while you drown in the venom seeping from your pores.
*Things I think are definitely open to criticism: the Dorne storyline, the Hodor causality loop, the way-too-quick elimination of the Night King, Euron's late introduction and shoehorning into the main plot, and pretty much anything related to Bran. But unlike most people, I can recognize these flaws and not use them as proxies by which to denigrate every decision the show has ever made.
Before we get into any of the ridiculous criticisms, I want to express my sadness for these people. I pity them. I lament their inability to enjoy great television without feeling the need to skewer it, their minds readily composing angry tweets before the end credits roll onto the screen. I rue their insistence on a limited scope of outcomes, and their rejection of anything that does not conform to their established expectations of what a fantasy television show should look like. I mourn for their ability to be entertained, for if they remain unsatisfied at the conclusion of such an epic adventure, they may never be content with any piece of art ever again.
The characters are one thing, but even the mechanics aren't out of reach for the residents of the echo chamber. You're confused about the fast travel construct? You don't think that Bronn should have been able to travel from King's Landing to Winterfell in the span of a couple episodes? You don't like that Jaime was able to make it to Dany's war camp between episodes? Fine. FINE. Let's have three episodes where we see Jaime sadly riding down the King's Road on a horse while Dany just sits around and waits. Remember when everyone got bored of Dany being stuck in Mereen for two seasons? That's what the damn show would have been like. You want it a show about dragons and people coming back to life and an army of the dead to be more 'realistic'? Then let's talk more about how the dragons should be fed! Remember those throwaway lines in the premiere? That's what the next few episodes would have been about! Where do the dragons get food? Maybe that's why Rhaegal didn't see a bigass arrow coming for him, because he didn't have enough VITAMIN A! Let's argue about how Drogon should have eaten Lord Varys instead of burning him, because why waste a good source of calories? You want all three of the dragons to have survived because they're supposed to be virtually impossible to kill? Okay, the last episode could have been 20 minutes since the city would have burned down three times faster. The battle vs. the Night King would have been a crisp half hour, without the need for an Arya sneak attack. Is that what you wanted to see? Is it? You think that killing off Missandei was problematic because she was one of the only non-white people on the show? That might be because Westeros is literally a continent of WHITE PEOPLE. You think that killing her was problematic because it apparently served to motivate a man? Turns out it did a great job of motivating a woman too. You were dumbstruck as to why Dany didn't fly around the Iron Fleet and roast them after Euron shot up Rhaegal? It's because they can literally see her coming – it's not like she can fly around them without them noticing. You were complaining about how Euron had pinpoint aim with a moving target and a precision weapon? I didn't hear you bitching when Ramsay Bolton pierced a running Rickon Stark right through the heart from an aerial shot hundreds of feet away. You want Jon to pet his stupid direwolf. You might have missed that Ghost has barely had ten minutes of screentime in the entire show, and the two haven't shared a meaningful moment since they were at Craster's Keep several seasons ago. You're wondering why Cersei didn't have Dany's small coalition butchered when they met for a last-minute negotiation? Did you see what Drogon was able to do to the entire city? Cersei and Euron were sitting on the top of a high wall on a platform made out of cardboard, and she probably wasn't a fan of what Drogon might do if Dany wasn't around to control him. You wanted Cersei to have some secret plan to bring Dany down? She was counting on the fact that she had less morality than anyone else, never expecting that Dany would take the turn that she did. Just listen to how ridiculous you sound. This is a show with an omniscient teenager who calls himself a raven, and you think that horses shouldn't be able to ride just a bit faster?
Of the main characters, it seems like no one can catch a break. If you step inside the echo chamber, you'll quickly come to believe that every character – from Jaime to Dany to Tyrion to Jon – has seen their arc go to shit.
Everyone wanted to see Jaime end up fighting for the good guys, or at least see with Brienne long term instead of Cersei. After all, that's how redemption arcs are supposed to go, right? Jaime was probably the most instantly-hated character – before Joffrey or Theon got a chance to take that mantle. And we spent seasons getting to know him, seeing how he didn't deserve the title of Kingslayer, how he treated Tyrion with respect when no one else would. But let's not forget – he literally pushed a child out of a window with the intent to kill him. He strangled his own cousin to death so he could have a chance of escaping his prison. I don't care how many years it's been, if you're capable of things like that, there's a darkness within you that can't fully be purged. And you know how I remember that? It's because Jaime fucking told us himself, right before he left Brienne to ride to King's Landing. For many years before the show started, for his entire life, Cersei has been the thing that matters to him most, arguably the only thing that mattered to him. He had allied himself with her until last season, only leaving because he felt an obligation to fight for the living – an obligation which, by the way, has been fulfilled. Jaime made a choice. It may not have been a choice that you liked, or a choice you wanted him to make. But it was a choice consistent with his character, because he is someone who can't bring himself to see that he deserves better. He has no obligation to be a good person. Sure, it makes us uncomfortable for a redemption arc to take a cruel turn, one we're not used to seeing. Yet, Jaime is an addict, an addict that broke his sobriety and fell into his old ways when he felt them calling out to him. As one-time fellow villaim Ramsay said, "if you think this has a happy ending, you haven't been paying attention."
Somehow, there's still a debate of whether Daenerys' 'Mad Queen' arc was deserved or earned. This is a character who was perfectly set up for this kind of role, such that there was a preponderance of Mad Queen theories before the show even started. Dany barely batted an eye as her husband Khal Drogo murdered her brother-turned-enemy Viserys in Season 1, even though her brother was the only surviving member of her family and her only 'friend' (to the point that she named a dragon after him). The bit about the Gods flipping a coin every time a Targaryen was born was brought up by Cersei as early as Season 2. She threatened the 13 at the gates of Qarth with complete annihilation when they refused to let her in, specifically saying "we will lay waste to armies and burn cities to the ground." She openly speaks about destroying Mereen's Masters by crucifixion in Season 6, and actually goes through with it! She (for no reason) threatened to burn Varys alive, and actually did burn Randyll and Dickon Tarly alive (also for no reason) in Season 7. Her family's motto is literally "fire and blood," words she invokes quite a few times herself. She has lost everything that is important to her – her husband is dead, her son is dead because of her brush with dark magic, two of her 'children' are dead, her closest friend died protecting her, her other close friend and confidant was executed, her two advisors betrayed her, her lover betrayed her and also might upend her life's mission. If all of this is unearned, then I don't know how you can ever justify anything.
And of course there's Tyrion, whose apparent stupidity people are continuously surprised at. We talked about this before, but expecting him to be unfailingly smart is the definition of a one-dimensional character. If you want someone short who serves as comic relief, then Hot Pie should be your favorite character. If you want a genius who never makes mistakes to ally himself with someone who has three living dragons, it's not going to be much of a competition. It's a completely new job for him – I don't know anyone who's instantaneously excelled in a new position working for a supervisor with the constant threat of death over their head. While Tyrion served as the Acting Hand, he did several useful things to consolidate his power (exiling Janos Slynt and exposing Grand Maester Pycelle as Cersei's spy) and that of the Lannisters (bringing Dorne into the fold by marrying off Myrcella and brokering Jaime's release with the promise to return Sansa and Arya to Catelyn Stark). None of those things apply in his position with Dany. He's thrust into a role for which he is most unqualified, his only credit being that he is (by his own admission) the most skilled Lannister-killer alive. Yet, he is consistent in his belief that life should be prioritized over all else, vouching for the Tarlys in open defiance of Dany, trying his best to appeal to Cersei's humanity and desire to live, making Dany promise that she would relent after the capital's bells had been rung, and freeing Jaime in the hope that he alone can convince Cersei to avoid further bloodshed. He is not a war general devoid of emotion. He makes decisions through the framework of his core beliefs, not by casting them aside. That his decisions proved misguided in retrospect are not a failing of his character, but emblematic of the one thing he has sought to protect – humanity.
Perhaps most importantly is the benching of Jon Snow, a once-main character who has apparently been marginalized to the point that he's only capable of saying "BOOT CHEESE MAH KWEEN." This is yet another case of defying the archetype – while Jon is the character around which the franchise-altering twist is based, it wasn't a requirement that he face off against the Night King. Like redemption arcs, the idea of boss fights are so ingrained into our head, that we cannot fundamentally accept an outcome where the ultimate symbol of good and his (or her, but usually his) counterpart of darkness do not engage in a battle of swords or lightsabers or infinity stones. So when Arya, whose entire arc has been about how to kill people more effectively, kills the Night King, it's somehow jarring. And for some reason, it's incomprehensible that Jon has remained loyal to Dany (at least until now) despite the fact that he has always looked to Ned Stark's honor as his guiding star, and that he did indeed bend the knee. It's the same honor that drove him to tell his sisters the truth about who he was. Even as he saw King's Landing burn, he tried to hold his own soldiers back and killed one of them who was trying to assault a civilian woman. Jon has been given more to do than anyone this side of Dany, and will presumably have a lot going on in the finale.
All of this to say: even if you don't like the paths that characters took on the show, you should acknowledge (at least to yourself, if no one else) that they're within the realm of the character's possibilities. It might be discordant with what you're used to, but that's why we fell in love with Thrones in the first place – unceremoniously killing off primary characters is a once-shocking, now-beloved staple of a groundbreaking show. When it comes to the final episode of the series airing this Sunday, turn off your phone. Don't go on Twitter right before or right after. Don't overanalyze and think about what happened two scenes ago. Just watch as one of the greatest moments in television history plays out before your eyes, and try not to have an opinion for once. Take a step outside of the echo chamber, take a breath of fresh air, and take in every minute of Westeros around you. And before you craft your next opinion, remember: it's okay if you don't get everything that you want.