(This story contains spoilers for the final episode of “Game of Thrones.”) By David Gaffen
(Reuters) – After eight seasons and 73 episodes, HBO’s long-running smash “Game of Thrones” came to its conclusion on Sunday night, with one more shocking demise and an unlikely character named as king.
With its last episode, which ran roughly 1 hour and 20 minutes, the medieval fantasy series, based on the novels of George R.R. Martin, wrapped up the storyline for more than a dozen characters and intertwining plots.
The show’s fierce competition for the fictional Iron Throne – the seat for the show’s ruler, made out of hundreds of swords – ended first with a death, and an unexpected choice to rule the show’s fictional kingdom of Westeros.
It brings to a conclusion a show that became the cornerstone of HBO’s primetime offerings, but its final season was also its most divisive, with both fans and critics finding specific plot developments – particularly its handling of one of the primary characters – troubling.
The final season has broken records for HBO, which says it has so far averaged 43 million viewers per episode in the United States alone – an increase of 10 million over Season 7 in 2017.
Most notable in fans’ criticism was the malevolent turn by Emilia Clarke’s Daenerys Targaryen, the “Dragon Queen,” who used her dragon to lay waste to the show’s fictional capital after her enemies had surrendered.
The move angered fans, as the episode, titled “The Bells,” currently garners the weakest ratings amongst all episodes in the show’s eight-season run on Rottentomatoes.com, which aggregates critics’ reviews.
Clarke’s character had engaged in brutal actions in previous seasons, similar to other leaders depicted in the story, but the decision to kill tens of thousands of innocent people was viewed by many as too drastic based on the character’s previous actions.
The show’s final episode features her demise at the hands of her lover (and nephew, as this show featured numerous incestuous relationships) Jon Snow, played by Kit Harrington, who kills her, fearing her tyranny merely mirrors those who came before her. Her last living dragon then burns the Iron Throne, melting it down with his fiery breath.
Without a ruler, numerous members of the show’s noble houses eventually go with an unexpected choice for king, that of Brandon Stark, played by Isaac Hempstead Wright. In the show’s premiere episode in 2011, Brandon was pushed from a high tower, crippling him, but awakening mystical powers that eventually allow him to see the past and the future.
From its ragged beginnings – the show’s original pilot was never aired, instead undergoing substantial re-shoots and re-casting of several characters – it became a cultural phenomenon. Its budgets grew, with a per-episode cost in its last season running as high as $15 million per episode, according to Variety. It also won numerous primetime television Emmy Awards, including three awards for “Best Drama.”
It became known for unexpected, nerve-wracking moments, including the first season’s death of Eddard Stark, the nobleman played by Sean Bean, featured heavily in the show’s marketing campaign, and Season 3’s “Red Wedding,” a massacre of critical characters in the show’s fictional wars that author Martin drew from medieval Scottish history.
HBO already is in the planning stages for a prequel series to take place thousands of years prior to the show’s fictional timeline, while its creators, Dan Weiss and David Benioff, are slated to make the next series of “Star Wars” films.
Reporting By David Gaffen; Editing by Michael PerryOur Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.