Game of Thrones Season 8 has been divisive in the most extreme sense. Fans have been criticizing showrunners and writers David Benioff and D. B. Weiss for rushing through the storylines and character arcs resulting in plot developments and twists that didn’t really land the way they should’ve. There’s almost a unanimous consensus that it was due to the shortened episode count of the final two seasons, leading fans to launch a petition to remake the final season with more episodes and better writing.
For the longest while, the general impression has been that Game of Thrones episodes are incredibly difficult and costly to produce, resulting in a shorter run time to keep the budget manageable at a TV level. That assumption, it appears, was only partially true. Old interviews have surfaced revealing that HBO was open to having more episodes in Game of Thrones and even more seasons, if needed. That same interview claims Benioff and Weiss actually wanted to end the show at Season 7, but HBO coaxed them into making another final season, greenlighting the budget for the necessary set pieces.
This is the hard part of what we do. We started this journey with David and Dan. It’s their vision. Would I love the show to go 10 years as both a fan and a network executive? Absolutely. — HBO programming president Michael Lombardo on Game of Thrones ending
The showrunners themselves corroborated this statement, thereby absolving HBO of any sins in truncating the final seasons.
HBO would have been happy for the show to keep going, to have more episodes in the final season. We always believed it was about 73 hours, and it will be roughly that. As much as they wanted more, they understood that this is where the story ends.
— Game of Thrones showrunners David Benioff & D. B. Weiss on more episodes.
HBO was even willing to turn Game of Thrones into a big-budget summer blockbuster movie, telling Benioff & Weiss, “We’ll give you the resources to make this what it needs to be, and if what it needs to be is a summer tentpole-size spectacle in places, then that’s what it will be”. If that’s the case, budget was clearly not an issue since a Game of Thrones summer blockbuster movie would’ve easily cost north of $200 million to produce.
George R. R. Martin, whose books have been exceptionally long, was himself of the opinion that the show could easily run past 10 seasons. This was his response when being asked back in 2018 on why Game of Thrones was coming to an end.
I don’t know. Ask David and Dan when they come through. We could have gone to 11, 12, 13 seasons, but I guess they wanted a life. If you’ve read my novels, you know there was enough material for more seasons. They made certain cuts, but that’s fine. — George R. R. Martin on why Game of Thrones is ending.
Now, it looks like the decision to shorten the season length and sprint to the ending has backfired heavily. Season 8 is no longer the show that Game of Thrones used to be and that’s something even those who’ve praised the episode by ignoring the writing deficiencies staunchly agree wtih (myself included). The battle with the White Walkers which was built up since the Season premiere ended in a single episode without any insight into who the Night King really was or why the Walkers were marching ahead; after all these years, they never got past Winterfell. Daenerys Targaryen swiftly switched to Mad Queen mode when the episode demanded, instead of gradually transforming and embracing her Targaryen roots over more spaced out episodes. Gone are the ever expansive worlds and details; the storylines are now heavily condensed, resulting in characters being left shortchanged or omitted entirely.
Tonight, Game of Thrones airs its final season. In less than six hours, the show that’s kept pop culture busy for the better part of the last decade comes to an end. And I should be excited for witnessing that end on the big screen. But I sort of echo Jon Snow’s feelings when he died.
I feel nothing.
Season 8 has been a technical marvel of TV production. It has shown that a lot can be achieved with serialized storytelling on TV, perhaps a lot more than what’s possible even in film with its limited 2-3 hour running time. On that front, I have the highest regard for the show’s production team, the cast and the entire crew who brought the Battle of Winterfell and the Battle at King’s Landing to life. Were it not for their efforts, I would’ve scored the episodes a lot lower than what I did. But of course while writing is seriously important, more so to a show like Game of Thrones, there are a lot of other factors that make or break a show.
That said though, Season 8 as a whole has fallen woefully short of expectations. Now Game of Thrones has one final episode left to redeem itself and absolve itself of its sins. The question is, can it be done?