People love finding a scapegoat. When something goes wrong, there always has to be someone to blame. In sports, a loss tends to be pinned on a single player who made a bad play, instead of the entire team for not doing enough to win (Bill Buckner never deserved the hate!). And in television, a bad final season of a beloved show can cause every ounce of frustration to be directed towards show runners who never deserved the hate. Such is the case with Game of Thrones and show runners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss.
The final season of Game of Thrones had problems – lots of them. It could be narratively incoherent, thematically inconsistent, and visually indiscernible. At its worst, it enraged fans, and at its best, it only somewhat satisfied them. For Benioff and Weiss, this wasn’t the way they wanted to go out.
But it was obvious in the final season that they did want to get out. With a Star Wars trilogy all lined up and a nine-figure overall deal with Netflix, it seemed like the duo was ready to sail off into the west, past where the maps stop, and do something new. After producing six ten-episode seasons, seven and eight were only seven and six episodes long, respectively.
Benioff and Weiss are certainly not without fault when it comes to the disappointing final season. Whether the inconsistent themes come from Benioff’s comment that, “Themes are for eighth-grade book reports” or the duo’s desire to move on to something new, the ending of the show was obviously rushed.
The reason they got into the show in the first place was because of their love for George. R. R. Martin’s novels. They read the books and wanted to be the ones to bring the story to the screen. And they got the chance to achieve this dream. For six seasons they adapted Martin’s works to consistently increasing popularity. But it seems that once the source material stopped their enthusiasm waned, and thus the shorter final seasons. Once they lost their driving force, Benioff and Weiss were obviously itching to move on to other creative possibilities.
If you go online and search “David Benioff and D.B. Weiss,” you’ll find countless posts, podcasts, video essays, think pieces, and memes that go into why the duo ruined the thing we loved. They’re accused of being bad writers and storytellers who only created good television because they had the books to go off of. But to call these two men bad writers or poor storytellers because of the way the show wrapped up is completely missing the mark. They’re the reason the show ever existed in the first place.
Simply having source material does not automatically mean your show or movie is going to be good. For every The Lord of the Rings trilogy, there is The Hobbit trilogy, Eragon, and the Percy Jackson series, never mind every bad Stephen King adaptation and the thousands of other poorly adapted pieces of literature. Peter Jackson was able to make The Lord of the Rings an all-time great film series because his whole life was consumed by making these movies as perfect as they could be – and they are each perfect. But The Hobbit trilogy is 90% steaming trash because the director’s heart wasn’t in it like it was the first time around.
It’s similar with Benioff and Weiss. They had their vigor, zeal, and excitement for the source material through the first six seasons, which are near-perfect television from beginning to end. They were full of beautiful cinematography, gripping action, and genuine heart derived from character relationships. These seasons, of course, were not adapted word-for-word from the books. They had to make specific creative decisions to create a show that was actually good. There was the famously bad unaired pilot, which was largely reshot to get what we have today. From that point until the end of season six, it seemed Benioff and Weiss could do no wrong.
But of course, the final two seasons do exist and the duo now has a completely different reputation. While Benioff and Weiss aren’t the sole reason the ending was an overall failure, it is made out to be that way in the public consciousness. Thanks to a Twitter thread detailing a Q&A with the two writers, we now realize just how little they knew about filmmaking when the show was in production. These quotes are perfect fodder for the notion that these guys were never fit to be in their position in the first place. But if they had stuck the landing, the narrative surrounding the show’s production would be completely different. It would be about two relative unknowns pulled from obscurity to make one of the greatest shows of all time.
In the same thread, there are quotes explaining how the duo felt like they were at an expensive film school in the early days of Game of Thrones. The two of them were in way over their head, but still managed to learn and produce something genuinely great that got people excited. They were then dealt a hand where they ran out of material to adapt, which is what they were best at in the first place. This doesn’t mean they’re bad writers – it just means they aren’t George R. R. Martin.
Benioff and Weiss have since backed out of their Star Wars movie trilogy, which was slated to begin in 2022 (the important clarification here being that they backed out and were not fired, no matter what the Angry Twitter Eggs say). This is probably for the best. Rian Johnson made a Star Wars movie that half of the fanbase hated and the other half loved. The “hate it” half was so outspoken that it sometimes seems like they’re the majority. But Benioff and Weiss made a final season that 98% of fans hated – imagine the backlash if Benioff and Weiss had produced a just mediocre entry into the Star Wars canon.
Now, all of this isn’t about plot holes and inconsistencies, of which there are many in the final couple of seasons of Game of Thrones – I’m not denying that at all. It’s about throwing around undeserved vitriol and blame as a projection of your anger and disappointment. After all, these guys created the show for us all to get mad about in the first place. People are allowed to express disappointment, frustration, and anger. But what we need to get into our heads is that as fans, we don’t own the things we love. We may have all the merchandise and all the hours spent consuming these stories, but the stories themselves are created by other people. And changes from the source material aren’t inherently bad, either. Film and literature are two separate mediums, each with their own strengths and weaknesses.
It’s easy to feel like we deserve a better ending, or that the story itself deserved better. Heck, I wish the entire Star Wars sequel trilogy could be much more coherent than it is. But at the end of the day, there are so many different forces at play when it comes to getting something like Game of Thrones or Star Wars made. It’s easy to get caught up in the hype and the internet discourse, but there are fortunately many other pieces of art and storytelling out there waiting to be consumed. This seems like the cop-out answer, but it’s true. If you’re expecting the world out of one specific thing, you are bound to be disappointed and let down. If and when this happens, the best way to respond is in a measured and reasonable way. Again, just search Weiss or Benioff’s names on Twitter and you’ll see how over a year later, people love to randomly throw out angry tweets at two guys who just wanted to tell stories and learn. Plus, complaining about the final product of a show or movie doesn’t get you anywhere productive. The Snyder Cut is a unique example because of outside circumstances, but the changes to the Sonic movie were an unnecessary reaction to a vocal minority.
As Vox’s Emily VanDerWerff put it, the final season of Game of Thrones was “conceptually interesting” even though it missed the mark at completely following through. While the overall story is serviceable, to put it generously, Martin’s infamous bullet points were not enough to produce a coherent season that tracks from one episode to the next. Transitioning from adapting tomes to adapting an outline is – I’m assuming as I’ve never created the most popular and talked about piece of pop culture at the time of its airing – jarring and difficult. When your motivation is lacking and your map is gone, you’re destined to stumble.
The behind the scenes of Game of Thrones can serve as a cautionary tale. When you’re tackling something new and ambitious, try to comprehend the journey you’re about to embark on. If at first it seems you’re doing well, it doesn’t guarantee a perfect ending. David Benioff and D.B. Weiss perhaps didn’t understand the full scale of their undertaking, and by the end, they had fallen flat on their faces.