As the ending neared for the most talked-about TV series on the planet, its most die-hard fans and some of America’s most unforgiving television critics were piling it on. The show wasn’t as smart as it used to be, now it was all about action. The writing wasn’t true to how these people viewed the characters, especially not the women. The story moved too fast in an effort to catch up with the simple fact that the show was ending, betraying a much more measured approach in earlier seasons. There was even an online petition demanding that the eighth and last season be remade.
Some of this criticism was dumb and insulting, some of it had interesting points. Above all it reflected an understandable sadness that it was all ending.
Based on George R. R. Martin’s series of fantasy novels (titled ”A Song of Ice and Fire”), Game of Thrones took us to a medieval-looking world and focused much of its sprawling storyline on the battle for the Iron Throne, a seat of power that granted the ruler authority over the Seven Kingdoms. We were introduced to members of families that fought over the Iron Throne. The House of Stark was ruled by Ned (Sean Bean) who had several children that would dominate the entire series, including Sansa, Arya and Bran (Sophie Turner, Maisie Williams, Isaac Hempstead-Wright), and Jon Snow, an illegitimate son who served in the Night’s Watch, a brotherhood of men patrolling the Wall in the north, a mythical barrier keeping an unspeakable threat at bay. There were also the Lannisters, with the evil Cersei (Lena Headey) having a secret romance with her twin brother Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau). Because he was a dwarf, their sibling Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) suffered all kinds of humiliation all his life, but still always found himself near the center of power.
Far away from the Lannisters and Starks, a young woman, Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke), had been exiled but was now fighting to claim the Iron Throne, raising an army in the process… as well as a few dragons.
Facing a unique problem
Game of Thrones faced a unique problem during its run. Martin had not finished writing all of ”A Song of Ice and Fire”. Still, he remained involved in the production of the show throughout, approving the general direction of the story. The series came with a hefty price tag, which really showed – sumptuously filmed in several locations (including Ireland, Iceland and Croatia), Game of Thrones was a visual treat, designed by top filmmakers, accompanied by an ambitious, years-in-the-making music score by Ramin Djawadi. Even if later seasons tended to introduce more spectacle in the shape of a few episodes that focused on battles whose sheer size had never been seen in a TV series before, they still remained true to the concept.
Game of Thrones delivered moments that were intellectually demanding, cleverly planting clues that would point to revelations made several seasons later, but also lived up to what some would say symbolized a typical HBO series, complete with extreme violence and provocative sex. The shock factor was at times undeniable, such as in one of the show’s most memorable episodes, the bloody ”Red Wedding”.
One reason why events like that upset viewers was because we all cared about the characters and what happened to them. Among the cast’s standouts were Dinklage, hilarious and tragic as the cynical hand of the king, Headey as the icy and spiteful Cersei, Williams as the young girl who went through extraordinary supernatural experiences, and Clarke whose journey wasn’t unlike that of some real-life revolutionary fighters turned dictators.
Game of Thrones 2011-2019:U.S. Made for TV. 73 episodes. Color. Created by David Benioff, D.B. Weiss. Novels: George R. R. Martin. Theme: Ramin Djawadi. Cast: Peter Dinklage (Tyrion Lannister), Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (Jaime Lannister), Lena Headey (Cersei Lannister), Kit Harington, Emilia Clarke, Sophie Turner, Maisie Williams, Iain Glen, Alfie Allen, John Bradley, Isaac Hempstead-Wright, Jerome Flynn, Conleth Hill, Rory McCann, Gwendoline Christie (12-19), Carice van Houten (12-19), Liam Cunningham (12-19), Kristofer Hivju (13-19), Nathalie Emmanuel (13-19), Aidan Gillen (11-17), Natalie Dormer (12-16), Stephen Dillane (12-15), Jack Gleeson (11-14), Charles Dance (11-14), Iwan Rheon (13-16), Richard Madden (11-13), Rose Leslie (12-14), James Cosmo (11-13), Michelle Fairley (11-13), Jonathan Pryce (15-16), Oona Chaplin (12-13), Jason Momoa (11-12), Sean Bean (11), Mark Addy (11), Harry Lloyd (11).
Emmys: Outstanding Drama Series 14-15, 15-16, 17-18; Directing 14-15, 15-16; Writing 14-15, 15-16; Supporting Actor (Dinklage) 10-11, 14-15, 17-18. Golden Globe: Best Supporting Actor (Dinklage) 12.
Quote: “Winter is coming.” (Bean)
Last word: “One practical thing we’ve learned as writers is how to work almost anywhere. We had specific, persnickety routines, before. This chair, this coffee mug, this time of day. When we started ‘Thrones’, it quickly became apparent that our old ways of working would prevent us from getting the scripts done on time, and that this in itself could destroy the show. So we got better at working wherever we were, whenever we could. And that’s been really helpful, realizing that what we thought we ‘needed’ to work effectively was really just a kind of magical thinking, and that we could get words down anywhere. They weren’t always good words. They often needed to be rewritten, and rewritten again. But they fed the machine, and kept things moving.” (Benioff and Weiss, Deadline)