What’s Right About That Fan Petition to Rewrite Season 8 of GoT
by John King
Probably like you, I’ve seen a lot of online posts that begin, “I haven’t seen Game of Thrones, but—” or “I stopped watching GoT, but—.” I am not going to summarize the show for those unfamiliar with it.
There is a fan petition for HBO to completely remake season 8 of Game of Thrones, and by the time this appears, more than a millions signatures will be on it.
Numerous of my social media friends have mocked the existence of such a petition. Fans are entitled snowflakes. Well, sure. They are fans. They are fanatical. They care a lot.
Fans do get out of hand, such as the nitwits who decided to Rick and Morty the shit out of a McDonald’s Rick and Morty publicity stunt. Those are idiots who don’t understand the show they are fans of.
The creator of the petition, however, is not shrieking from a McDonald’s countertop. This is the whole message of the petition:
David Benioff and D.B. Weiss have proven themselves to be woefully incompetent writers when they have no source material (i.e. the books) to fall back on.
This series deserves a final season that makes sense.
Subvert my expectations and make it happen, HBO!
The phrase “woefully incompetent writers” can mean many things. I want to be more precise about why I think Game of Thrones has fallen apart in episodes 4 and 5 of Season 8: the contract with the viewer has been violated.
Each story begins with a premise that becomes a promise about what the story will be about.
If the Harry Potter series concluded with Malfoy or Dudley becoming the messianic wizard instead of Harry, the viewer has a right to feel like the writer did not live up to the story that was promised.
An arrogantly foolish slop-artist might say, “it is important for me as an artist to subvert your expectations.” What such writers (and I am looking at you Rian Johnson) overlook is that the subverted expectations should reveal interesting truths and still be relevant to the story that was promised rather than some rando shit.
Let’s grant that Daenerys Targaryen’s genocidal turn in the next-to-last episode of GoT can be accounted for. David Benioff and D.B. Weiss subverted our expectations, and maybe one wanted a morally loftier ending for the series, but plenty of foreshadowing was in place. Daenerys was harsh. Visually and emotionally, the scene when she decides to decimate the surrendered city didn’t seem to make sense, but in terms of the long arc of her story, maybe it could have if presented better.
The problem is that nearly all the surviving characters have become unrecognizable and nonsensical.
After the battle of Winterfell, Jon Snow—who doesn’t want the throne, who is a reluctant leader because he doesn’t believe in the commonplace attitudes of those in authority—gives a ceremonial funeral speech that is a boring boilerplate military speech of exactly the kind Hemingway mocked in A Farewell to Arms. John Snow has become what he hates without there being any motivation to do so. The set piece of the funeral needed a military oration. The queen who Jon Snow has bent the knee to has a subservient, non-speaking role in the funeral because she might have expressed real emotion and something surprising perhaps.
Before the battle of Winterfell, Tyrion Lannister, a master strategist, somehow doesn’t anticipate the strategic shortcoming of hiding in a crypt from an opponent who can raise and enlist the dead for his army. That didn’t appear on his decision tree. Peter Dinklage marveled at that bit of non-characterization.
Brienne of Tarth behaves like the most noble knight in the series, even though she was not officially a knight until episode 2 of season 8. She is tough and stoic, and does not have a lover because of her devotion to her duty, and her sense that if she adopts a publicly feminine role that her persona as a fighter would be even more challenged than it already is in this patriarchal trash-heap of a world.
Benioff and Weiss have her blubbering like a hysterical maiden when Jamie leaves her to go die with his sister. She becomes Sansa Stark in the early going of season 1 of GoT because women be crying, am I right?
Or maybe they just recorded Gwendolyn Christie after she read the script for that episode.
Jamie goes to die with his sister because she is his soulmate. Okay, maybe he reverts to his weird incest-y self.
Tyrion and Jamie hug and weep—they weep—before Jamie enters King’s Landing for the last time.
Arya Stark, a spooky mystical assassin who didn’t have a childhood due to the horrific world of Game of Thrones, gives up the revenge she planned since season 2, gives up on her mission a hundred yards from the destination because of a sentimental speech given by the Hound—the Hound!—who is himself on a revenge mission that he hasn’t thought much about for the entire series. Benioff and Weiss make Arya—the woman who slayed the Night King—the perfect innocent child running and crying for her life during the annihilation of King’s Landing because they needed an innocent POV character to show undergoing the trauma of war before she rides off on a symbolic white horse.
The nihilistic Hound experiences PTSD in battles, but he needed a more heroic arc tacked on apparently, and Arya needed to be redeemed in her innocence, even though her ability to outgrow her innocence was my favorite part of the series. She reverted to being a scared child. Making the Hound behave like the scared child would have subverted my expectations, but also been appropriate for his character.
The contract with the reader or viewer means that one cannot introduce a story as important and then say, “fuck it,” whatever, I can’t be bothered. We continue watching to find out what happens next. What happens next doesn’t have to be happy, but does need to matter.
In The Manchurian Candidate, there is a sleeper spy who is brainwashed, but will leap into his programmed action when triggered by the Russians.
Benioff and Weiss have treated most of the surviving characters of Game of Thrones like they were sleeper spies all along who, when triggered, would become like robots. Complex characters who deconstructed fantasy tropes disappeared into those exhausted tropes. They have become mostly meaningless puppets for the spectacles Benioff and Weiss have imagined.
Some men just want to watch the world burn.
The million plus fans who signed the petition to redo season 8 of Game of Thrones are right to claim that a contract has been breached with “The Last of the Starks” and “The Bells.” A tacit contract with the viewer—these are who the characters were, and their stories will be other than random—is not really enforceable, but hopefully sends another cautionary message to creators to tell better stories.
Currently, Benioff and Weiss seem to be the writers for the next Star Wars film trilogy after The Rise of Skywalker. I hope that Lucasfilm will learn from its recent misstep of tossing out a contract with the viewer (what Kevin Smith called little fuck-you moments from Rian Johnson to J. J. Abrams’s story, and jeez there were a lot of them). A storyteller needs to love the characters in the story enough to remember who they are, and to see them and their potential, and not just the clichés that can wallpaper over something resembling a human being. Characters are more than icons to move carelessly about as their writers set these imaginative worlds on fire.
Telling a story can be difficult, but some people need to try harder. If for no other reason than the cast and crew are working so damned hard.
John King (Episode, well, all of them) holds a PhD in English from Purdue University, and an MFA from New York University. He has reviewed performances for Shakespeare Bulletin.