So guys, I know I’ve not written much lately, but I feel compelled to write given my strong reaction to Season 8 of Game of Thrones. Full disclosure; this post is being written after the first five episodes have aired but before the series finale.
It’s no secret that the audience reaction to this final season has been less than positive to say the least. Many of the writing choices made by the showrunners have come under heavy fire with the main criticism being that they have sacrificed character development for spectacle. Unfortunately, I can’t say I disagree with popular opinion. It’s a shame as the source material is excellent and the production values of the show are outstanding. Each and every person involved in the show has given their all to it, but that doesn’t balance some serious errors of judgment in writing.
All that being said, I have given a lot of thought about changes I would make to the season to improve it. My goal here is to make as few changes as possible while better serving the overall narrative and character development.
The most significant cause of criticism and for me the biggest writing error was the decision to neutralise the White Walker threat only half way through the season. This was the big life extinction event threat that has been teased since the prologue of season one. Additionally the apocalypse was diverted by means of a plot device that many felt was unjustified leaving many to feel the resolution was unearned.
Like many, I’m really not happy that Arya killed the Night King. There are two main overarching story arcs in the show. The first is the Game of Thrones, the fight for control of Westeros and the right to sit on the Iron Throne. The second is the Song of Ice and Fire or the impending White Walker attack. Arya’s story throughout the books and the first seven seasons has been about learning her assassin skills to avenge her family for their losses in the Game of Thrones. Now maybe I’m misunderstanding here, but she has never expressed an interest in becoming involved in the Great War against the White Walkers. The prophecies linked to the Great War also seem to point to Jon not Arya as the solution.
Since they chose to ignore prophesy for time constraints or another reason and go that route, I have a few suggestions to improve the plotline. They should have owned it. In show they should have discussed it and realised that the Night King cannot be defeated by military means and that an Arya assassination is the Hail Mary solution, the throwing of the Ring into Mount Doom. The whole Bran bait trap would still work as currently in the show. Jon would explicitly accept that his role in the Night King’s defeat is to fight to ensure that the NK doesn’t sense a trap and that enough of the living survive to matter – Aragorn to Arya’s Frodo if you like.
They’d need to find a way to have Arya not be positioned in the Godswood straight off, but otherwise her story could play out very similarly. There would still be a lot of tension about will she make it? Beric’s death would mean more since we know what it was buying; Arya’s chance to do her thing. There would be no need for Mel to tell us why; we would be shown why it mattered. Arya’s losing courage would make sense knowing what she was facing and Mel could still do her bolstering. We could also get that lovely scene with Bran and Theon, thinking that Arya didn’t make it, and then when she does her ninja act and succeeds it will feel more earned. Also with Jon’s role being clear, there would be less frustration at his being useless. Heck there is even no need to cut his struggling to reach Bran in the Godswood in the belief that Arya had failed. I would also have Arya die, emphasising the cost of killing the Night King.
On other matters. I would also have Brienne and Jaime consummate their relationship BEFORE the battle. Brienne would die in the battle sadly, witnessed by Jaime. This would explain his motivation for buggering off back to Kings Landing. What’s the point of fighting for honour when honourable people like Brienne die anyway? There would be nothing left for him but to return to Cersei. It would still be unclear if he plans to kill her or kiss her. Brienne’s death would really mean something and Jaime’s character arc would not be butchered as much. I understand that they were going for a theme of Cersei’s an addiction that Jaime couldn’t beat, and maybe that will play out in the books but much better written. Rheagal the dragon would also die in the Battle of Winterfell.
If Arya didn’t die killing the Night King, she and the Hound should have had their “Sandor… thank you” conversation back in Winterfell. Arya’s main arc is done now. There is no need for her in Kings Landing. Cersei and Euron should have fallen more easily. Euron should not have been able to kill a dragon with his super ballistae. Dany would have destroyed the Iron Fleet as she did. Cersei and Qyburn would talk about setting off the wildfire caches setting up a Cersei Mad Queen expectation to be subverted by Dany. The Varys/Tyrion/Dany/Jon betrayal arc could play out very similarly.
The whole battle for Kings Landing could play out as on screen but with one key difference. Dany orders Jon to bring her Cersei dead or alive personally. This means that we’re following Jon rather than Arya throughout the destruction of Kings Landing. Arya’s only purpose was to have someone sympathetic to follow, which is now fulfilled by Jon. It adds an element of does Dany want to take out multiple claimants to the Iron Throne in one swoop? Additionally, by having Jon witness the carnage at such close quarters, even he cannot be stupid enough to ignore what Dany has become. Heck you can even have him ride off on that white horse if you like.
I would make a change to Cleganebowl; it should have been made crystal clear that the Hound makes a conscious choice to face his fear of fire to take out his brother.
I’ve still not decided on how to fix the Jaime/Cersei ending. Any suggestions?