Creators David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, adapting the series from George R.R. Martin’s fantasy novels, have spent seven seasons spinning story webs, weaving plot threads together to join fan-favorite characters in the show’s final season. The HBO series is considered one of TV’s most influential prestige dramas, earning a massive following, garnering awards for its superb performances and epic battle sequences, and when it began its swan-song run, it seemed it might go down in television history as one of the greatest shows of all time.
And it still might, but it won’t be because of how its writers chose to have it end.
Few shows as adored and grand of scale have been able to stick their metaphorical landing but Game of Thrones is burdened with even greater responsibility – to wrap up a decades-in-the-making storyline that has yet to be finished by its original author. GRRM has been famously slogging through the final chapters in his A Song of Ice and Fire series with the show having gone “off-book” seasons ago.
There was a noticeable difference between seasons adapted directly from Martin’s work and the creators’ own imaginings, but season eight has not only bungled its six-episode farewell, it’s thrown it into a raging fire.
Currently, the show’s last handful of episodes has earned a 73% critic’s score on Rotten Tomatoes, with episode five’s “The Bells” pulling in a grim 53% rating on the review aggregation site. That’s a sharp decline from the show’s previous seasons, but even without those numbers as proof, a quick glance at social media after the show airs will confirm that even the most diehard of fans are struggling to understand why they show they’ve loved for nearly a decade has suddenly become unfamiliar, and worse, unrewarding.
But the writing might have been on the wall a lot sooner than we thought.
In a brilliant Twitter thread detailing GoT’s plot woes this season, University of Connecticut professor Daniel Silvermint theorized as to why Benioff and Weiss seem to be faltering so spectacularly. Weiss and Benioff convinced Martin to hand over the rights to his work over lunch in Los Angeles years ago after they correctly guessed who a main character in the books (Jon Snow’s mother) was. Martin made the decision to trust them to adapt the books into a show for TV.
So Benioff and Weiss always knew how this game would end, which meant they were working towards something and had a finite amount of time to get there. As Silvermint explains, Benioff and Weiss, by nature, are plotters. They’ve been constructing a house with a blueprint when it came to Martin’s work, they had the bare bones of where the story would go, and they had a fully-fleshed out ending. The problem is that what drew us to the series wasn’t necessarily its endgame but its storytelling capabilities. Martin hooked fans through intricate world-building and meticulous attention to detail, giving his characters full autonomy over their own stories, often explaining that the reasons for entire novels and delays in those novels was because Martin is what’s known as a “pantser,” lit-slang for an author who enjoys writing by the seat of his … you get it. “Pantsers” are notorious for meandering through their stories, putting so much effort into creating fully-rounded characters with rich pasts and letting the story “choose” where it wants to go that the stories have trouble reaching an ending point. It’s why Martin has added more installments to his series and struggled to finish the damn thing. He’s kept adding to character arcs that push the action to expand further and further until he’s left trying to join together branches of plotlines that have seemingly grown out of control.