'Game of Thrones' Series Finale: What the Critics Are Saying

Game of Thrones E806 - Still 8 - Publicity - H 2019
Helen Sloan/HBO

[This story contains spoilers for the series finale of HBO's Game of Thrones, "The Iron Throne."]

Game of Thrones has closed the book on its series, wrapping with a super-sized episode that saw a new ruler ascend to the now-metaphorical throne of Westeros. The eighth and final season was contentious for both fans and critics, with many taking issue with the introduction of certain plot elements and the breakneck pacing of the season, which consisted of just six episodes.

But after eight years, epic battles and plenty of death and destruction, a new monarch was crowned: King Bran the Broken. The Stark siblings then went their separate ways — Sansa to rule the North as an independent kingdom, Arya to explore what's west of Westeros, and Jon banished to the King's Watch after betraying his aunt/lover/Queen Daenerys Targaryen.

Here's what the critics said about how they got there:

Writes The Hollywood Reporter's Tim Goodman, "It arguably ended just about as well as one unwieldy, sprawling, complicated epic could end. In doing so, embattled writers and creators of the HBO series, David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, at least convincingly and effectively steered a very difficult series to a conclusion that made enough sense, will make enough people happy and was, from this vantage point, more than enough to effectively 'stick the landing' as critics often wonder about when pondering these series finales, though it would be impossible to please everyone, a fate that brilliant series through the best ages of television can attest."

While viewers might not necessarily agree with the ending, that's their prerogative, Goodman argues. "You can be as unhappy as you'd like since you cared deeply enough to watch it until the end, no small investment of time and dedication," he writes. But ultimately, "this is a series with a different level of difficulty even among the other series that a majority of critics would put on their list of Top 10 Dramas Ever. With a book source that is exceptionally dense and, most important, unfinished, Benioff and Weiss and HBO had to first lug an almost impossible amount of story over the long haul and then, somewhere deep into that run, try to figure out where that haul would actually end. ... Was it perfect? No, because it couldn't be. Was it enough to course-correct some of the more truncated story decisions from this season? Yes, I believe it was."

Alyssa Rosenberg of the Washington Post argues that the episode — and the series — ultimately failed its female characters, writing, "For a show that was so often, and so effectively, about women, the final episode of Game of Thrones spent most of its time on men. For reasons of both theme and execution, this was a mistake. After all this time, seeing Sansa crowned should have been an absolute triumph. And while it was delightful to see her shut down her feckless uncle Edmure Tully (Tobias Menzies) in the midst of his pitch to be the first elected king of Westeros, it is wild that Game of Thrones condensed her bid for Northern independence into a couple of sentences."

The series' fatal flaw, in her eyes, lies in "Benioff and Weiss’ decision to make two truncated final seasons of the show, a choice that may go down as one of the worst in recent television history."

The Philadelphia Inquirer's Ellen Gray writes, "The only mystery about Dany’s death, which occurred a bit less than halfway through the finale, is why she had to die almost immediately, when Euron Greyjoy (Pilou Asbaek) practically delivered a soliloquy last week after Jaime Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) ran him through with a sword."

And Refinery29's Anne Cohen notes, "For years, Game of Thrones has lulled us into believing that its women would end up in charge. In the end, it’s only Sansa, by sheer force of will, who wears a lesser crown. The wheel hasn’t broken; the patriarchy is still alive and well in Westeros."

Rolling Stone's Sean T. Collins writes, "the last ever GoT episode — titled, appropriately enough, 'The Iron Throne' — is a quiet, and quietly lovely, affair. It begins in death and ends in life. As the books written by both author George R.R. Martin and his creation Samwell Tarly proclaim, it is a song of ice and fire … and the melody is bittersweet. ... Bran, Arya, Sansa, Jon: In their final destinies, the heirs of House Stark all defy their house words, 'Winter Is Coming.' After showing us a nightmare for eight seasons, Game of Thrones finally dares to dream of spring."

The New York Times' Jeremy Egner notes of Westeros' ultimate ruler, "Bran has long been one of the most unsatisfying characters on the show. He’s almost a man, as he told Jon back in the season premiere, but he’s mostly a tool of convenience designed to relay narrative information we couldn’t get otherwise — whether it’s scouting the White Walkers, revealing “Thrones” prehistory or dropping knowledge bombs. Bran theoretically has access to all information, but seems to access it only when and in which way the story needs him to."

He adds, "Game of Thrones became a global phenomenon largely by upending expectations, and one way it achieved that was by using the calcified conventions of the fantasy genre against us. The noble patriarch defined by his morals? Gone in the first season. The prince, his valiant son who followed his heart? Slaughtered along with his pregnant wife. This was a Shakespearean saga about power, blood and loyalty, we once told our skeptical, fantasy-averse friends. Not some show about dragons and wizards. And then in its final episode, a dragon committed the story’s most potent symbolic act and a wizard was put in charge."

Kelly Lawler of USA Today writes, "In the final episode, 'The Iron Throne,' Thrones was unrecognizable. It was hacky; it was cliched. Every character left standing received a saccharine coda. It was all too simple, too clean, even with a major death and a surprise contender for the Iron Throne. Closure is one thing, but pandering is entirely another." The episode "didn't gracefully swerve into another lane, it careened off a cliff. And looking back at the series will never be the same."

Laura Prudom of IGN writes that the episode felt like it was ticking boxes "rather than watching moments and character choices develop organically." The episode "certainly wasn't a disastrous finale, or one that will tarnish the legacy of the show (more than the reaction to 'The Bells' already has for some fans, anyway), and by allowing some of our favorite characters to survive and thrive ... it offered a note of hope that last week seemed almost unimaginable. But compared to all the potential there was in earlier seasons, it's impossible not to wonder what might have been, had Benioff and Weiss agreed to more episodes and more breathing room to let these conflicts develop in a way these characters deserved. At least we'll have Martin's final books to offer more insight into how we got here and why, if they ever arrive."

IndieWire's Steve Greene writes, "The assumption that Game of Thrones would end with an ultimate victor rarely entertained multiple notable figures left alive to share the spoils. In this, the waning moments of its story, 'The Iron Throne' carved out space for a logical way for a split reign to feel righteous, if not completely earned in every respect."

CNN's Brian Lowry notes that, though imperfect, the show ended as strongly as possible for a story so complicated: "In the final analysis, the first half of the last episode — both written and directed by showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss — was strong, logical and satisfying. Overall, it wasn't a one-for-the-ages finale, held up against the best examples of them and the abundant hype, but it wasn't an unworthy one either." Ultimately, he writes, "It's too bad that the show couldn't completely stick the landing. But when you fly that high, a few wobbles are perhaps inevitable."

The Atlantic's David Sims writes, "After a largely disappointing lead-up, I was at least satisfied by where the pieces fell. ...It was a finale undeniably steeped in fan service, giving audience favorites like Brienne, Davos, Sam and Bronn seats on the new small council and doing away with literally every bloodthirsty or unstable member of the cast."

He notes that the pacing of the season made the story developments in the final episodes jarring for viewers, writing, "As a fan of the TV show, I felt battered into submission. This season has been the same story over and over again: a lot of tin-eared writing trying to justify some of the most drastic story developments imaginable, as quickly as possible."

Finally, Daniel D'Addario of Variety writes, "That final season did certain things very intelligently, among them killing off the Night King in the third episode to allow three installments devoted solely to the endgame in Westeros. What it failed to do was seed the ground either for Bran’s ascension to rule the Seven (or, with an independent Winterfell, Six) Kingdoms or, more crucially, for the sudden genesis of democracy. The jump from Daenerys’ death amidst snowfall and her removal by dragon from King’s Landing to, suddenly, a sunny clime in which Westerosi potentates are, putatively only weeks later, discussing the management of government is jarring and random."