Some things shouldn’t be rushed. Baking a cake. Painting your house. Cooking a Hot Pocket. If you can’t be patient with these things, the results will be disappointing, messy or painful.
The eighth and final season of “Game of Thrones” was a lot like undercooking a Hot Pocket. The writers saw 1:00 left on the microwave and popped it out too soon, tossed it on a plate and threw it down in front of us. It looked beautiful on the outside, but inconsistency reigned within.
Some parts were warm and delicious like we wanted, but too many others remained cold and undeveloped. It wasn’t so much the contents of the Hot Pocket that ruined the experience, because we’ve tasted these ingredients before. It was the rush in making it.
The culmination of an incredible story was squeezed into six episodes instead of the usual 10, and, like an undercooked Hot Pocket, microwaved for too little time. The exterior was as breathtaking as always, thanks to the inimitable actors and a cinematography and visual-effects crew that remained dedicated as ever. They made scenes like the aerial dragon battles exhilarating, and the burning of King’s Landing horrifying.
The writers, much like the little frozen spots inside our cheesy lunch, seemed intent on ruining this beautiful exterior. The golden crust matters less once it’s in your mouth and you find out the inside is ice. The writing of the final season was definitely ice, much like the White Walkers who loomed over Westeros for so long only to be rendered pointless in the end.
Consider the fact that the main villain of the season changed three times in six episodes. When we begin the season, the Wall has fallen and Army of the Dead is coming. The long-prophesied Long Night is upon us at last — except it takes just one night to dispose of the Night King. If you can stomach the biggest threat to humanity quite literally shattering so easily, or at least forget about that awful turn, you could reasonably be excited to see Cersei Lannister become the final villain.
After all, Cersei survived this long, so she must have had horrors beyond our imagination planned for the finale. Olenna Tyrell said her greatest failure when it came to Cersei was a failure of imagination, of not anticipating the unspeakable things she would do (blowing up a megachurch!) to cling to power. Well, forget all that, too, the writers said, because Cersei died under a pile of rubble, crying and with no plans. Jaime died with her, and so did all his supposed evolution as a character.
With the Night King and Cersei both disposed of so easily, we’re supposed to believe Daenerys Targaryen is actually the final villain. The character who was a protagonist until literally two episodes before she died. The character who was guided by protecting the weak for as long as we had known her — whether it cost her husband’s life or required her to lock away her beloved dragons — was the biggest threat in the end.
Dany went mad and had to die, but it happened in two episodes and felt cheap. It wasn’t earned. Again, the content at the heart of this meal isn’t the issue. The idea of a hero who develops a god complex and becomes a homicidal conqueror had the potential to be as good as melted cheese. But it was never given the chance. Instead of showing us a gradual transition in Dany’s psyche from loss and isolation, the writers relied on an awkward mashup of old dialogue in the “previously” segment before the episode even started. It was the biggest, most frozen center of a Hot Pocket you could bite into.
Most of the protagonists got the happiest endings we could imagine for them, except Daenerys. Nobody even mourned her, aside from her dragon. We were supposed to turn on her as fast as she turned on being a good person, but that’s not what made “Game of Thrones” the best series running for so long. The intrigue, the dialogue, the pacing, the subtlety — these things made this show more compelling than anything else on television for the majority of a decade.
The final season wasn’t lacking these things entirely, but they were too infrequent to make the ending as meaningful as the journey. No episode exhibited these things better than the second, “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms.” Before the impending war with the dead, Winterfell’s inhabitants share one last intimate night together. The characters speak and drink and sleep together to remind us how far they’ve all come, why they care for each other and why we care for them. There’s even a haunting original song like the older seasons often had to accentuate the entire affair.
The first 15 minutes of the final episode were also beautifully written and shot. Tyrion Lannister crying over his siblings’ corpses was a gut punch. Jon Snow’s internal war between honor, love and the common good swelled until he cried and took the life of the woman he loved. If that had been the same scene at the end of a fully developed season, it wouldn’t have felt quite as empty.
Like that scene, the Starks’ happy endings rang a bit empty. The series had treated most of the magic and prophecies of its world carelessly since it ran out of source material from the books, but it was especially egregious when it came to the Starks. Bran’s all-knowing visions and Arya’s magical disguises amounted to little that made use of those abilities. Sansa became a queen but also a lone wolf in the North after emphasizing that only the pack survives.
Jon Snow’s true parentage was nothing more than a plot device to make Daenerys angrier. His ending north of the Wall probably made him the happiest, but sending him to the edge of the world for killing the tyrant everyone wanted him to kill was tragic and senseless.
It’s terrible to think that “Game of Thrones” could have been the best television show of all time had the final two seasons just taken more time to develop the end game. Had the writers matched the energy and talent all the actors and cinematographers maintained the whole time, this Hot Pocket could have been more fulfilling than inconsistent throughout. Instead, eating it became its own song of ice and fire, and we have the burnt tongues to remind us.