Well, That Made No Sense
A Game of Thrones Rewrite
I think we can all agree at this point that the Game of Thrones finale didn't go anywhere near as well as fans would have liked. Whether you'd been reading the books from the beginning or not (and, hey, good luck ever seeing the book series come to a conclusion), your eyes were likely glued to the TV when the final season aired. It was one of the most talked about TV shows in recent memory, but it's final season landed about as well as the finale of Seinfeld (look it up if you're too young to remember). It was an utter catastrophe, at least as far as fan expectations were concerned, and even those that weren't as invested could generally agree, "you know, this probably could have gone better."
While I'm sure running a television show is hard, and it has to be incredibly draining, you have to think that the creators of the series, David Benioff and D. B. Weiss, had all they needed to get the ball across the goal line. Not only did they have the notes of where George R.R. "It's done when it's motherfucking done" Martin wanted the series to go. They also had basically all the money they could want thrown at them by HBO (who were deeply invested in seeing the series finish out properly), and they were given extensions for the series, if they wanted it, taking the show up to 10 seasons just to tell the story right. Instead, as reported not only by the creators themselves but just about everyone else who watched their "process", the creators were "done" with Game of Thrones just as soon as they ran out of written material to work from (the actual novels) and just started phoning it in for Season 6, Season 7, and Season 8.
Much of the anger is thrown at season eight, and rightly so, but it is fair to note that the wheels came off the vehicle in season six. The slow, steady, methodical planning of the previous seasons was thrown out in favor of narrative convenience, fast travel, and plot armor. It all came to a head in season 8, though, where the rushed storytelling created absolutely laughable moments -- "Oh no, all the Dothraki have died in a pointless and futile attack on the undea- oh, never mind, they're all back in the next episode." -- but it as the overall narrative that really bore the worst bile. The creators had to tie the series up with a nice bow, and yet it seems like they decided on the worst ideas, the worst impulses, and then got bored and just let it play out as fast as it could so they could collect a paycheck and go make a Star War (note: after the finale of Game of Thrones bombed, their Star WarsThe modern blockbuster: it's a concept so commonplace now we don't even think about the fact that before the end of the 1970s, this kind of movie -- huge spectacles, big action, massive budgets -- wasn't really made. That all changed, though, with Star Wars, a series of films that were big on spectacle (and even bigger on profits). A hero's journey set against a sci-fi backdrop, nothing like this series had ever really been done before, and then Hollywood was never the same. project, along with all their in-development projects, was scrapped). It's tragic, really.
It's been three years since Game of Thrones went off the air and clearly HBO is hoping the stink of that failure has faded enough they can launch a spin-off, House of the Dragon, a prequel set 200 years before the main series. Whether that's really going to work or not is up or debate -- plenty of fans have already expressed their disinterest across the 'net, all turned off by that awful finale season -- but the new series does give us an opportunity to look back at the eighth season and see just what could have been done to fix the mistakes of Benioff and Weiss. There had to be a good way to tie all this up, right? Well, let's try.
Before we get into what we would change, first let's go over what happened. So, the lead up to season eight had seen many people vie for the Iron Throne that ruled over the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros. Among all the attacks, battles, betrayals, counter-betrayals, and general fuckery among the noble classes, things had shaken out such that the North, led by King of the North John Snow, had seceded from the Seven Kingdoms, much to the chagrin of the current occupant of the Iron Throne, Cercei Lanister. John, of course, had already pledged his allegiance to Daenerys Targaryen, the last heir to the Targaryen dynasty that had ruled the Iron Throne up until about a decade prior when most of that clan was killed and the few stragglers were put into exile. Having battled her own way up through Esteros (the continent to the east), Dany had an army, three dragons (the only dragons in existence), a good chunk of land that loved her (out east), and the means and potential to take over the Iron Throne. And with the North Kingdom behind her, she even had some Westeros legitimacy.
The battle for the throne wasn't the only issue, though; there was also the army of the dead, the White Walkers, coming in from further north. The cold country far to the north was blocked off from the Seven Kingdoms by a giant wall of ice, but as we saw, that wail had just crumbled at the end of season seven. The White Walkers are led by the Night's King, and he wants nothing more than to pour south and kill all of humanity, adding their bodies to his vast army so he can rule a land of the dead. John and Dany think that the White Walkers are a more pressing threat than the battle for the Iron Throne, but Cercei only wants power so, despite saying she'd help the North battle the dead, she consolidates her power south and waits.
In the events as they play out in the eighth season, a massive battle takes place at Winerfell, the seat of power in the North. Many people die (although no one important to the story), and much architectural damage is done, but in the end the Night's King is defeated not by John Snow (the king prohesized to save humanity from the dead), but his awesome assassin sister, Arya. This then frees the North up to go after the South and, wouldn't you know it, having a dragon (only one of the three is still alive at this point for very stupid reasons) basically makes it so you can conquer a kingdom. After watching her best friend get killed, Dany instantly snaps, goes and burns down most of the Red Keep (don't worry, it's magically rebuilt, mostly, in the next episode).
Despite her being shown to be a kind and caring rule, Dany suddenly becomes Dragon Hitler, so John has to kill her (again, for reasons), and then some kid no one really cares about (John's younger brother, the utterly bland Bran) is made King of the Six Kingdoms (the North is out, yo). John is sent to be part of the Night's Watch for his crime of killing Dany (even though the Night's Watch is under the command of the North and the North just left, yo). John's eldest younger sister, Sansa, is made Queen of the North, and peace and happiness reign. It's all very unsatisfying.
So the first thing we need to tackle is the order of events. Because the seventh season ends with the wall coming down and the zombies invading, a timer was put on the series. "Oh no, we have to deal with the dead right now!" Season 8 is hobbled instantly for that reason, so I think it's fair to say that if we're going to fix this last season was have to start our work back in Season 7 and, at the very least, halt the destruction of the wall until it's narratively more convenient for us. That actually means we should probably also start the rewrite all the way back in Season 6, eliminating all the fast-travel that made events of later seasons so stupid, and also maybe delay when Dany loses some of her dragons (and how), but that's a giant scope and I want to focus on just what we can do with Season 8. So let's just say that the wall doesn't come down until later, maybe at a mid-season finale of Season 8, so we can focus on other matters.
With the army of the dead coming, John and Dany go to the Red Keep to bargain for an armistice while they handle the dead (in an organized and thought-out fashion). Cercei, being Cercei, rejects all evidence about the dead and only wants to consolidate her power, so at what should have been a peaceful meeting she calls in her guards and attempts to attack the representatives from the North. Presumably some of our important characters die here but John and Dany are able to escape with a small cadre of warriors. This puts the pressure on them to deal with Cercei now, before the dead, because the North won't survive with a crazy ruler to the South attacking along with an army of the dead to the Far North invading.
So Dany, in a fit of rage at Cercei's betrayal, sends her three dragons to attack the defenses (and just the defenses) of the fortress. However, what she didn't realize was that the fortress had weapons that could actually pierce dragon hide (in the season this is revealed by a really stupid attack via a single ship that perfectly kills a dragon; we'd change this to the reveal being at the fortress and multiple shots being fired such that one lucky spear takes out a dragon). Dany freaks out, seeing one of her dragons get murdered as they were like her children (a real, evolving character trait for her and her beasts). She saps a little and, crying, takes out fiery vengeance on the city, killing thousands. While this is an atrocity, it's understandable as the dragons were her babies. People are appalled at what she did, herself included, but they also all are able o say, "well, she had every reason and this doesn't make her a bad person, just a grieving mother."
The defenses of the fortress weakened, and a portion of the city surrounding smoldering, the armies march to the castle to take on Cercei. With both sides engaged, we can have Arya sneak into the castle to hunt down Cercei. Killing Cercei was the top priority for the girl, something she's been promising she'd do for seven years (after watching Cercei's machinations get Arya's father killed right in front of her). While the actual season of TV says she has a change of heart and decides not to kill Cercei (because that is absolutely a plausible choice that a girl who raised herself for seven years to be a cold-blooded killer would make), let's not deny her the right. Cercei could watch the two armies battle each other from her high loft, laughing at the fact that even with all her power and dragons, Dany couldn't take over the fortress (we could even show Dany being gun shy about using her dragons again after the carnage she just caused in a fit of pique).
Thankfully there's shadowy Arya right there, and she sneaks in, kills Cercei, and kicks her body off the parapet, sending it tumbling all the way down (in a mirror to how Cercei also had Arya's brother, Bran, crippled when he was thrown from a tower). The evil queen is dead, all the armies stand down when they seen her body in the middle of the plaza, and without a better ruler to follow, everyone takes the knee for Dany. She's finally gained what she wanted, and while it came at a cost for her soul (which she absolutely isn't proud of), it does give her the conclusion of this storyline that started all the way back in season one.
So now we can turn out attention to the armies of the dead. While the group down south cheers and celebrates their victory (while a fire brigade works to stop part of the town from smoldering), a raven (the bird-based message system in Game of Thrones, which is like a physical Twitter only less of a cesspit) arrives, saying that Bran (who is up North because no one cares about Bran) has seen a vision of the White Walkers pulling down the wall. Everyone realizes they have to stop celebrating (although we can get some of the great character moments from the "Night at Winterfell" episode before this happens) because there are more pressing matters to attend to.
They drop everything and hurry back North, and now, if they want to get to Winterfell before the fortress falls to the dead. They march back double-time, while we see one place after another fall to the armies of the dead as they make their march for Winterfell. Tired and exhausted from the march, they get there just in time to immediately have to face the dead, and that's when the Battle of Winterfell happens; not after a night of celebrating but right at the edge of the fortress when the armies haven't even had a chance to catch their breath.
Doing it in this order means that the Dothraki can make a futile and stupid charge, as is their way, and when they all die it actually means something (because now they really can't just come back in the next episode). As the dead pour forth the battle grows more and more bleak. The is a foe that can't be reasoned with, or made to run away, unlike their own forces who quickly start to dwindle as the tide of battle quickly turns against our heroes. Another dragon falls, and then the Night's King resurrects it as his own undead beast (a power he has) and suddenly things look absolutely bleak. It's only by the sacrifice of John Snow, throwing himself off the last dragon (as he rode while Dany grieved the death of a second one of her "children") at the Night's King, that he's able to kill the undead ruler and fulfill his prophesy (that he would kill the King, and with the King dead the rest of the undead army crumbles, too). Sadly, this last attack allows the Night's King to deal John a mortal blow as well.
Dragged to Winterfell, John has one last conversation with Sansa, making her the heir to the North (which is lords acknowledge as he just killed the Night's King and kinda earned this). She promises to keep the North free and independent, which the lords like, and the John gives her a smile and dies (for real this time, not like in Season 6 where he was resurrected via shadow magic). Sansa then makes Arya her "Hand of the Queen", which Arya rejects (because that's not Arya's style), before then passing the honor on to Bran (because Bran has to have something to do and ruling the South shouldn't be high on that list).
Things, however, aren't alright. Dany, at this point, is pretty strung out. She's lost two of her three "children", as well as most of her devoted army, all to protect a land that, seemingly to spite her, just declared itself permanently independent. She unleashes her rage in words, then calls for her dragon, threatening to level Winterfell just like she did to a good portion of the Red Keep. The people of Winterfell worry because they don't have the means or ability to take on a queen mad with grief and rage, but then Jamie, brother of Cercei (and her incestuous lover), who turned his back on his sister (which, indrectly, led to her not having someone to cover her back when Arya stabbed it). Back before the events of the show Jamie killed the Mad King (the last Targaryen), a betrayal of that king that turned Jamie into the "Kingslayer", a mocking name that stuck with him ever sense.
Seeing that he has to take up his sword again, Jamie attacks Dany, killing the Queen of the Seven (Six) Kingdoms, maing him a Queenslayer now, too. Then he dies when the last dragon turns on him as there was too much blood on his hand (he lost his other hand in the series way earlier). The dragon grabs up the dead queen (which was actually a poignant moment in the original season) and flies off, never to be seen again. This finishes Jamie's story (better than the series managed) and still ends with Dany dead, as apparently was her fate.
So who ends up winning the "game of thrones"? No one. All the claimants are dead and with the North having declared itself free, the other kingdoms follow suit. The lesson learned from all of this is that when all this power grabbing and betrayal plays out, no one gets to win. The only way to win, as they say, is not to play. In fighting for so long over the Iron Throne everyone simply ensured that no one would ever get to win. The Red Keep is in ruins, all the heirs are dead, so everyone breaks apart and goes their separate ways (which, yes, could lead to a distant sequel series when some new threat rises up to try again). Most importantly we don't get a ham-fisted ending that tries to hand-wave away everything that happened while Bran, for no good reason, ascends the throne.
Honestly, I doubt this is what Martin has in mind for his grand conclusion, but rumor also is that having seen what fans thought about the broad strokes of the ending, Martin is already considering changing things around. I happen to like this better as it still gets us more or less where the series was heading -- John fulfills his destiny, Arya kills a bunch of people, Sansa takes the North out of the game, and Dany dies having gained the throne but become the villain. In the process, though, it's an ending that feels much more earned and doesn't try to justify really bad character choices just to get to a pat conclusion.
So, yeah... I think that's how you fix it. Someone in Hollywood, go remake the whole series. I have your ending right here.