If Game of Thrones‘ final seasons suffers from the same problems as the last one, will it change the show’s legacy?
I didn’t like Game of Thrones seventh season. In fact I hated a lot of it. Even before the disappointing finale, when Arya and Sansa’s issues were resolved with a completely unearned twist (and un-Stark like “trial”) at Littlefinger’s expense, I wrote about why the season was easily the show’s worst. Characters made moronic and illogical decisions to reverse engineer big moments, the show destroyed its established sense of time and space, and the inexplicable survival rate of major characters felt like fan service. These issues haven’t improved in hindsight either, and I’m not alone in feeling that way. Plenty of fans and critics alike have shared similar sentiments about poor writing and a rushed story on social media as they’ve done their own re-watches.
So what happens if the final season is just as bad? If the show goes out on a disappointing note, closes with its two worst seasons, and botches one of the most anticipated finales ever, how will we remember Game of Thrones?
Bad endings can change the way fans remember a TV series. No one talks about Dexter without mentioning its subpar last few years and laughable lumberjack finale. The same is true with How I Met Your Mother, whose disappointing last season was capped off by a finale that retroactively ruined everything that came before it. It’s possible to go out on such a bad note you forever change the way you’re remembered, even by those who loved you most. (Hello, still-angry Lost fans!)
A show, even the most popular on the planet, doesn’t have to stick the landing to avoid that kind of ignominy. Seinfeld is still among the best sitcoms ever despite a mediocre final season and a panned finale, and The Office‘s post-Michael Scott years are mostly a side note no one focuses on. But Game of Thrones’ last year will be far more important for how it’s remembered. The show has been building toward an ultimate showdown from the very first scene when the White Walkers attacked. It’s hard to score well on the judge’s scorecard if you face plant your landing.
If that happens and the show’s final season is as bad – or worse – than season seven, will we consider it a major disappointment overall, as a great series that had the attention of the world but collapsed under its own weight when it mattered most? Will all the time and energy we’ve collectively invested in this show seem wasteful in retrospect? Our best guide might be the way we still feel disappointed about season seven, which felt like a different show altogether. So if the final season is a mess, how would we reconcile that with the show’s overall impact?
We wouldn’t in the short term. But legacies aren’t formed in the short term. As Tywin Lannister told Arya, a legacy “is what you pass down to your children, and your children’s children; it’s what remains of you when you’re gone.” And what will remain of Game of Thrones will go far beyond the final season.
The way we watch and experience television together has already changed so much that Game of Thrones is a living relic. Being a fan as a collective experience doesn’t happen anymore, and certainly not on the scale of Thrones. So its legacy will be the near decade of hype, videos, conversations, theories, and excitement millions have had, no matter how good or bad the final season is.
What show even comes close to garnering the attention of a mass audience like Game of Thrones does? Stranger Things comes and goes in a week and we move on. When’s the last time you read a theory about NCIS? When Game of Thrones is gone, the shared communal experience of obsessesing over the same show might go with it. It has no immediate successor, and possibly no successor ever, as more streaming makes television an insular binge. (Fittingly, our best hope for anything similar might be the Game of Thrones prequel series, and it hasn’t even filmed a pilot)
A bad final season or a terrible ending will hurt Game of Thrones artistic merits, and it will lower its standing in the Pantheon of great television show, but it won’t destroy its legacy, because that’s not what we’ll end up remembering about it when we forget about being disappointed by a couple of bad seasons.
What we’ll remember is how much fun it was to read and talk about it between episodes, to look forward to something that connected people at a time the world was getting more and more fractured. Even if the final season isn’t what we hope it will be, someday we’ll look back and be glad we experienced the disappointment together.