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Are Fans Satisfied With The 'Game Of Thrones' Series Finale?

May 20, 2019
Originally published on May 20, 2019 6:43 pm
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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Last night, HBO's sweeping, epic fantasy series about knights and dragons and zombies and blood came to an end after eight seasons. "Game Of Thrones," based on a series of books by George R.R. Martin, has run 70 hours. And now the question today is, did it stick the landing in a satisfying way?

Glen Weldon's a panelist on NPR's Pop Culture Happy Hour. He's been staying up all night filing recaps of each episode. He's here to help us grapple with that question. Hey there, Glen.

GLEN WELDON, BYLINE: Hey, Audie.

CORNISH: So first, let's remind people the very basic plot of "Game Of Thrones" that was sustained for something like 73 episodes.

WELDON: Sure. The family that we get to know at the very beginning is the Stark family. And they are a family of northerners who are noble of heart, and they believe in honor. And this is a very brutal world where things like honor and nobility do not protect you. In fact, they just put a big old target on your back.

So in the first season, the lead character is killed unceremoniously, and that sets off this huge chain reaction of vying for what's called the Iron Throne - the kingdom, basically.

CORNISH: Did the series deliver on its promises, right? Did it end in a satisfying way beyond just who won the crown in the end?

WELDON: Right. Well, it depends on who you talk to, right? Because social media is kind of up in arms today, but that's - social media amplifies the loudest voices.

CORNISH: Not just up in arms. (Laughter) There's a petition to redo the entire last season.

WELDON: Yeah. Yeah. I mean, there's a lot of strong opinions out there. I don't have one because the show ended fundamentally differently than it began, right? So the early seasons were about establishing these characters, establishing the relationships and establishing how brutal this world was. And the conflicts would go on for an entire season before kind of exploding at the end of each season.

In the latter seasons, it became all about plot - about moving these characters across the map as quickly as possible so they could perform certain tasks and make certain choices. So it was kind of a view from 30,000 feet.

CORNISH: Now, what's wrong with that, right? Part of the legacy of the show is that it was high-stakes - they were willing to kill off a big character early - and also that there were so many characters.

WELDON: Right.

CORNISH: So at a certain point, don't you have to move the plot along?

WELDON: You do. And, in fact, the people who wanted this show to have more trudging - people that say, well, they can't get that far across this giant continent; we have to see them walking. I didn't want to see people walking.

CORNISH: Yeah (laughter).

WELDON: I wanted to see things happening. And so I didn't mind the pace picking up toward the end. But the thing that happened is you can feel it in the bones of the show because at a certain point, they ran out of books to adapt. And they had to kind of make it up, or at least follow the outline that George R.R. Martin provided for them. The problem is it feels like they're ticking boxes following an outline. So a lot of the character beats, a lot of the relationships kind of fall by the wayside.

That's fine as far as it goes, except in a case as happened this past season. And no spoilers, but there is a character who has to make a choice that has to feel to us surprising and inevitable, like surprising in the moment, but then when we think back on it, we go, oh, that's what that character would've done. That is a very tough narrative fictional needle to thread - the toughest one to thread. And they didn't do it for me because I just didn't buy that this character would do the thing that they did.

CORNISH: One last thing. What is our post-"Game Of Thrones" TV landscape - right? - either for us as viewers, or maybe fantasy fans, or for HBO?

WELDON: Well, for HBO and fantasy fans, you just have to wait a bit because there is a prequel, actually, to this series coming along. There's some other potential spinoffs in the works at HBO. And over at Amazon, they're preparing a massive "Lord Of The Rings" property. So there's going to be plenty of swords and fighting and dragons no matter where you look.

CORNISH: That is Glen Weldon, our in-house expert on fandom, also a panelist on NPR's Pop Culture Happy Hour. And if you want to hear more about this conversation, if you want to argue with us about the season finale, you can listen to a special episode of Pop Culture Happy Hour, which is in your podcast feed now. Glen, thanks so much.

WELDON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.