Game of Thrones TV Review by Timothy McGrath

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A short review of Game of Thrones including my views on the quality, enjoyability and overall impact of the show through its eight seasons. I chose to do this because I binged the entire series during lockdown.

Game of Thrones is one of the most successful, and polarising, TV series of all time. From its humble, rustic beginning seasons to the epic spectacle that it grew to become, GOT (Game of Thrones) captured the imaginations of mainstream television audiences in a way that no fantasy work ever has, and perhaps ever will. In terms of commercial success and popularity, it is on par with its fantastical big screen counterparts, such as Lord of The Rings and Harry Potter, unprecedented for a for a television show in the fantasy genre. It is truly a pop culture phenomenon, and its impact has led to a shift in both the perception of the fantasy genre and the blockbuster potential of the television medium.

QUALITY TELEVISION

Parallel to GOT’s cultural impact and success is the quality of the product itself. It is, by all definitions of the word, an epic narrative on a grand scale. Viewers are transported to all corners of Westeros, across the sea to Essos and North of The Wall to spend time and build relationships with a staggering abundance of characters. And it is these characters, and the audience’s complicated relationship with them, that is the heartbeat of Game of Thrones. Beyond the stunning visual effects, fights, blood, gore, nudity and fantasy tropes that the show is known for, it is the character’s that are at its centre. Their stories are what hook the audience in, as they become invested in the outcomes of their favourite, and some of their least favourite, characters. From the minute they’re introduced, we’re invested in their trials and tribulations. We truly love Arya Stark, a fictional character, which is why we root for her even as she becomes a monster. We truly hate Ramsay Bolton, which is why we cheer as he is eaten alive by his own dogs. Their outcomes hold powerful emotional resonance.

The middle seasons of Game of Thrones, in particular, are a masterpiece in my opinion. An abundance of events are taking place and characters moving in each episode that it’s hard to keep straight, yet nothing feels rushed and everything feels important. The budget is high, the action is phenomenal and the gore is shocking, yet the show unbelievably still feels highly nuanced and grounded in realism. GOT is gritty, shocking, unforgiving and unforgettable at its peak.

RISE AND FALL

The meteoric rise of Game of Thrones is a thing to behold, however the show’s tumultuous end is, unfortunately, the first thing that fans and critics alike think of when reflecting upon their relationship with the show. GOT’s first season saw an average of 2.52 million viewers tune in per episode — a healthy number, no doubt, but a small one in comparison to the 11.99 million that watched every week in its eighth and final season. In fact, the show’s average viewership rose every single season of its tenure. The quality, unfortunately, did not. After receiving a tomatometer score of at least 90% (certified fresh) in all of its first seven seasons, courtesy of Rotten Tomatoes, GOT’s score plummeted to 55% (rotten) in Season 8, and its audience score of 31% paints an even darker picture.

The pop culture arc of the series can be likened to that of a Rockstar. It was superb when it started, and it was only a matter of time before it rose to fame. Then, as it became more popular it grew to be even more exceptional before it, unfortunately, fell apart in a very public, Brittany Spears-like meltdown. And it’s pretty easy to figure out where it all went wrong — the series-long payoffs just didn’t, well, pay off. Part of what made early seasons great was that this epic story was clearly building to something incredible. These characters were destined for glory, failure, triumph, heartbreak, and everything in between. Through everything that happened, like The Red Wedding, The Mountain breaking The Viper, The Night King bringing down the wall, Daenerys hatching Dragons, etc., no matter how joyous or devastating it was, there was always something even bigger coming around the corner (Drogon, anyone?).

Some may say the expectations and suspense of the finale were impossible to live up to, and they’re probably right. But still, the show missed the mark on almost everything we craved. Some critics say it was a true writer’s ending, and to that I say… at least throw us a carrot. There’s subverting audience expectations, and then there’s repeatedly slapping the collective audience in the face. From Jaime Lannister’s redemption (or lack thereof) to Cersei’s demise, to Daenerys descent into mad queen and Jon Snow’s exile, the viewers that invested so much energy and emotion into GOT were left unsatisfied. The showrunners ran out of book to inform their decision-making, and they seemed to run out of gas as well. 6 episodes was never going to be enough to conclude this monstrous narrative and tie up every loose end, and it showed. Everything felt rushed, and nothing was earned. I wanted to like the last season, I really did. I knew that my friends hated it, and I wanted to be different. However, binging the show through lockdown, living and breathing Game of Thrones for weeks, and having it end on such a dire note left me feeling empty inside. But still, I’ll watch it again. I’ll ride the rollercoaster again, and through all the ups and downs I’ll treasure every moment, because Game of Thrones is a one in a million show and watching it is a once in a lifetime experience.