It should go without saying, but "here be spoilers" for all eight seasons of the show, up to and including the series finale.
First of all, it's amazing at the longevity of this show. It premiered in April 2011 and concluded in May 2019, providing eight years of dramatic fantasy television to a mainstream audience. This is an enormous feat for fantasy, and especially fantasy television, which often is not taken seriously outside of the genre. (Increasing fantasy's appeal to the mainstream is always one of my goals when I am writing.) This show began when I was thirteen and didn't even know what I wanted to do with my life, and now I'm twenty two, published, and about to begin my career as an educator. Surreal is a word that comes to mind.
I think the great strength of this show is its characters, and most of the credit for that can be given to George R.R. Martin and the extraordinary cast that Benioff and Weiss assembled. Really, the actors and actresses were what brought the show to life. The Lannisters (Tyrion, Cersei, Jaime, and Tywin) in particular were some of the most consistently impressive actors on the show. Ser Brienne of Tarth and Bran Stark were also outstanding choices who really expanded their roles into something special.
Where the show suffered most was in its plotting, and its inability to capture all of the themes that made Martin's novels so special.
One of the great things about A Song of Ice and Fire is how the books fooled so many of their readers: they're famous for promoting a "dark, gritty, realistic" sort of fantasy that is supposed to be quite unlike what Tolkien and his contemporaries wrote; this is, however, patently false: the series begins in a very grounded setting, but gradually works in all sorts of magic, mythology, prophecies, miracles, and so much more. The show largely abandoned that, or used it as a means to an end. I think I was most disappointed at the resolution of the Night King and the army of the dead, which I feel has always been the "true" villain of the series. I was also disappointed that the showrunners chose to forget about the religions (especially the Lord of Light, who fizzled out like a sparkler in a hurricane) and about the approaching winter, of "Winter is coming" fame-- which has been the tagline of the show since the first days.
Really, the show was a terrific adaptation until it outpaced the books in around season 5 or 6. At that point, Benioff's and Weiss's incompetency as writers and producers really shows. They really are fantastic directors until they have to do anything more than that, which is a damn shame. This show had the potential to be the next "Lord of the Rings" in terms of fantasy adaptations, and instead it's shaping up to be closer to Lost or Battlestar Galactica. (Disclosure: I adored both shows, but neither ended particularly well, and as a result it's hard to recommend them.)
I think the characters who suffered most at the hands of the showrunners were Daenerys, Tyrion, Jaime, and (oddly) the Night King.
- Daenerys' strength has always been in her compassion and ability to rule without being a tyrant; contrast those characteristics with her sudden snap and desolation of King's Landing in the last few episodes. I think her story as the Mad Queen has the potential to be compelling, but it was unearned and revealed the authors' pen too much.
- Tyrion is the cleverest man alive, always able to talk himself out of any bad situation and to talk his allies into unlikely success; contrast such a man with the Tyrion of the last two seasons, whose sole purpose is to make mistakes in judgement, whose suggestions can be assured will lead inevitably to failure. I don't think he needs to have impeccable judgement and never be wrong, but again, it became clear that the writers were manipulating him to intentionally make wrong decisions because that's what the story required. It was lazy and sad, as he is easily one of the most compelling and interesting characters in fantasy.
- Jaime is a man of strange honor, whose desires for self-survival, his incestuous relationship with his sister, and his betrayal of the last king are themselves betrayed by his chivalric defense of men and women across the seven kingdoms, even leading to the loss of his hand, and his hard decision to protect the kingdoms of men against the Night King though it means almost certain death. This is a man with an arc, an arc which is almost entirely abandoned because the writers didn't know of another way to write him out of the story. (And seriously? Falling rocks killed the Lannister twins? I'm definitely not one for spectacle, but c'mon.)
- The Night King is a particularly interesting character, in part because we know so little about him. The series opens with the threat of White Walkers and their ghastly wights, and much of the final two seasons are spent exhorting the great, impossible threat that they pose to the Seven Kingdoms. "Winter is coming," we are told, and on its heels come a cold, unfeeling foe, who-- Oh, wait, we'll just yeet him in one episode. No mention is made thereafter of their origins, history, motivations, or the destruction they left in their wake. No sacrifices are acknowledged or enduring, as the writers retcon the ones that really matter (i.e. the Dothraki and Unsullied casualties). I'm aghast at how casually and carelessly these incredible antagonists were discarded.
What do you guys think? What do you think are the strengths of the show? What are its weaknesses?