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Feature Article

Game Of Thrones: "The Iron Throne" Review & Recap -- A Fitting Finale, A Botched Journey

Game of Thrones spoilers ahead!

Game of Thrones has reached its end, with the series finale airing this past Sunday to all-time record ratings for both the show and HBO. Season 8, Episode 6 brought the long-awaited ending to the show's main storylines, but was it actually satisfying? You can check out our thoughts in the review below. If you were unsatisfied, there's still hope for the books to handle things differently, as A Song of Ice and Fire author George RR Martin says the books' ending won't be exactly the same, as you'd expect.

Next Sunday, HBO will premiere a two-hour Game of Thrones documentary, The Last Watch, which has just gotten a new trailer. That will take a behind-the-scenes look at the making of the show's final season. For more, check out these finale Easter Eggs and references and a look at an interesting theory about Bran.

Given the smelly trash fire that the episodes leading up to it were, there was never any real chance of Game of Thrones' finale, Season 8 Episode 6, "The Iron Throne," being anything other than a disappointment. But at least they tried.

There's a parallel universe somewhere where this exact episode was preceded by two full seasons of the phenomenal storytelling that Game of Thrones was once capable of, and in that brighter timeline, the show went out on the right note. It still would have been bittersweet, but it would have also felt earned, which this definitely did not. Too many plot points were swept under the rug and too many endings came from seemingly out of nowhere for this to feel satisfying.

Unlike the nonsensical Dothraki charge in Episode 3 or Euron's magic scorpion bolts in Episode 4, there was nothing particularly terrible in the Season 8 finale; we got some surprises (Bran the Broken), while other plotlines concluded exactly as they needed to (Arya sailing West, and Brienne finishing Jaime's page in the Kingsguard book). It just all felt a little tawdry thanks to the path we took to get here.

Look at where the show's biggest characters ended, in broad strokes: Jon never fully embraced his secret identity, which was disappointing, but fitting; he'll die a Stark, in the North, as he lived. (I kept waiting all season for something to make me start thinking of him as Aegon Targaryen instead of Jon Snow, but it never happened, seemingly by design.) Dany wound up being her father's daughter after all, which is depressing, but not unrealistic. Some combination of Bran, Sam, and Tyrion--the characters who are supposed to be smart--rewrote the rules of Westerosi politics, transforming the realm from the hereditary monarchy it's been for centuries into, essentially, something resembling a representative democracy. Sansa is Queen in the North, Arya leaves for her own adventure, and the Six-Plus-One Kingdoms are left in somewhat capable hands.

Let's talk about King Bran the Broken, First of His Name (and here's a good joke about that very weird title). On paper, yes, he makes a good king. And it's not completely incomprehensible that he winds up on the throne, since the show established that everyone just sort of accepts his Magic Powers of Knowing Everything as fact for some reason. As with the rest of this, I think there's a version of this ending that lands better--one that follows a story in which Bran wasn't written out of an entire season and didn't return to the show as a soulless, dead-eyed husk of a character who did nothing for several years.

There's an alternate theory for why Bran winds up on the throne that involves things like the Three-Eyed Raven's true identity, both characters' skin-changing/warging abilities, and cryptic Bran statements about how he's not really Bran anymore. But since the show never really committed to any of that (seriously, when was the last time Bran actually warged into anything or anyone and did something useful?), we have to just take what we got at face value. Whatever.

Jon killing Daenerys definitely falls under the umbrella of "things that were inevitable but that doesn't make them any less sad." This episode had some insanely beautiful and effective shots, from Dany walking out to address her soldiers with Drogon's wings spreading behind her to the pivotal scene in the throne room, up to and including the dragon flying away with his dead mother clutched in one claw. Where did he go? Maybe Bran will find him, maybe he won't. Like so many other things in Game of Thrones' neutered final season, that's beside the point.

This is the thing: An ending can make sense without feeling satisfying. The reasons why Game of Thrones' finale felt disappointing have less to do with the ways things actually wound up, and more with how we got here. If Bran had actually been present as a character and not just a doorstop for the past couple of seasons, fans might have cheered at the idea of him ruling over Westeros. If Dany's full-on murderous insanity had been properly built up to--as opposed to simply foreshadowed and then flipped on in an instant, which unfortunately isn't the same thing--her death could have been one of the most emotional television scenes ever, rather than something that felt like it simply needed to be done for the Story to continue its breakneck freefall toward a Conclusion.

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The moments that worked best in "The Iron Throne" were the ones that were properly set up long ago, like Brienne finishing Jaime's page in the White Book of the Kingsguard. It's the right kind of bittersweet: The Jaime that we got to know over these eight seasons (and five books) wanted nothing more than to leave a legacy that could stand alongside those of past Kingsguard greats like Ser Arthur Dayne. And who knew that side of the Kingslayer better than Brienne?

But therein lies the quintessential difference between page and screen: If you only watch the show, do you know that side of Jaime? In George R.R. Martin's books, events play out from specific characters' perspectives. When we're seeing the world through Jaime Lannister's eyes, we're also privy to his inner monologue, thoughts, feelings, dreams, hopes, and fears. When the show was still based on the books, it felt similar--in early seasons we usually understood why the characters did the things they did. The show did a great job letting us get to know them.

In more recent seasons, it's felt like the show kept us at arm's length, deliberately leaving things offscreen--like Bran, Arya, and Sansa plotting against Littlefinger, or Dany learning to ride and control Drogon--in order to build up surprises and cinematic climaxes. Those moments often worked, but they also left us wondering exactly how the pieces fell into place behind the scenes. Maybe showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss orchestrated that shift deliberately, or maybe they just didn't have the answers and so chose to not even try to come up with some. R'hllor knows George R.R. Martin has a hard enough time--the story's complexity is often cited as one of the reasons the books take him so long to write.

The point is: The broad strokes of this ending may be what the author has in mind, and, if he ever manages to finish his own story, this may be the ending that we ultimately get. But the way we get there will likely be characterized not by the bad taste of a botched rush job, but by the careful plotting, endless detail, and realistic, complex characters that the story actually began with.

Here's a silver lining: Even if you wanted Jon on the throne in the end, you have to admit that finally seeing him pet his direwolf again is an even better conclusion to his story. At least they got there in the end.

Photos: HBO/Helen Sloan

Got a news tip or want to contact us directly? Email news@gamespot.com

mrougeau

Michael Rougeau

Mike Rougeau is GameSpot's Senior Entertainment Editor. He loves Game of Thrones and dogs.
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Avatar image for ZombieVirolina
ZombieVirolina

Fickle fans never disappoint. Whenever a celebrated series finishes its run without being cancelled or wearing out its welcome, the fans always whine about how bad the ending is, when in reality they were just pissed and felt betrayed that it ended. Same thing happened with Breaking Bad, The Sopranos, LOST, etc.

Avatar image for aross2004
aross2004

@ZombieVirolina: So you're trying to tell me that the shows you mentioned had good finales? LMAO!

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ZombieVirolina

@aross2004:

Just the response I expect from the type of fan I just talked about. The only thing wrong with the endings was that they ended and you felt betrayed.

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Obiroid1

come on now arya cant kill every villain in the show geez

Avatar image for id0ntkn0w7
ID0ntKn0w7

"Smelly trash fire" - not the best writing in this article, but I suppose it's an apt description of gamespot's coverage of this season. You posted an article on the main page of a video game website with a headline spoiling the death of a character who debuted in season one. Just a year ago, you and all the other nerd sites had the common courtesy to entitle these articles "Let's talk about THAT moment" or to bother with spoiler warnings at all. Now you're just like all the other morons on social media who just can't wait to tell people who haven't seen it yet who dies and who killed whom.

Avatar image for ZombieVirolina
ZombieVirolina

@id0ntkn0w7:

I couldn’t go on GS this week because every 3rd story on the front page was about GoT trying to spoil it and I had no time to watch the episode until later in the week. Fanboy journalism at its worst.

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madjoe123

some questions keep lingering in my head:

1. What is Benjen Stark up to, randomly coming on-screen when he is needed (like saving Bran or Jon north of the wall)... will Jon meet him again?

2. Will Drogon take his queen to a priestess (the second one who reminded Varys of what he heard in the flames?) and bring her back to life?

3. Craster's babies became white walkers in a ceremony, but the need and purpose of those babies were never explored (apart from the simple need to create more white walkers, why specifically them?). Why did the Night King march south? And why did he NEED to kill Bran? The North will remember, even if Bran dies...

4. Why invest so much time on Faceless men if it is to be used just once to kill Frey? Surely they should have used it to kill atleast one major character... maybe the Night king.. Arya sould have killed a white walker and taken its face.

5. The Prince(ess) that was promised.. right ... lost in transit.

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aross2004

@kingodin11: Trigger alert!

Avatar image for Mogan
Mogan

@aross2004: Lol. No kidding!

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aross2004

@Mogan: The only thing I really learned here is that everyone is an asshole.

I'm so confused...

Avatar image for thebadjesus
Thebadjesus

I’ve only read two reviews, here and IGN’s, but as someone who thought the finale season was very good I find it funny/hypocritical that people are complaining about the last season feeling rushed and being optimistic for the chance to read it how it should have been. Granted, I’ve never read these two critic’s reviews of the most recent book, but back when it was released you’d have been hard pressed to find a review of it that didn’t harp on the idea the George R.R. Martin seemed to have forgotten how to write a concise story, sticking to what’s important, and not spending a terribly large portion of the book on a storyline that likely would have been better summarized in exposition. I was and still am one of the people who felt that way about A Dance of Dragons. At the time I remember thinking how the TV show just feels so much better paced and reviews of the book often mentioned that Matin should possibly take cues from the show’s creators when it came to pacing and editing out what’s not essential.

Of course, that was then and this is now, and if all our complaining has to follow some sort of logical thread we might run out of things to complain about.

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megagood2345

@thebadjesus: Almost everyone I know thinks that the best part of GoT was D&D taking Martin's longwindedness and distilling the good parts. I look forward to reading Martin's take, which will be too long but will give sorely needed context and detail about some of the story beats. It won't be perfect, but it will make Season 8 better.

Is that enough to avoid being labeled hypocritical? :)

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SiegeInd

Here is what I would like to have seen.

They seemed to make a big deal that Bran was the first person to take control of a human.

I was really hoping at the end of the long night episode when the night king was about to kill bran he could warg into the night king and by doing so be in control of the dead army.

They would then march the dead army south with the rest of the army. Of course, with the dead army marching south now on the good guys side it would still bring winter ( a necessary sacrifice. Forcing a lot of refugees/citizens. to march south along with everyone else.

Its during this journey south that the general public could find out that Jon is the rightful heir and support build form him and not Daenerys.

They seems to forshadow that the dead army was going to reach kings landing in season two with Daenerys visions. It would have been cool to see that happen but the twist that they where fighting for the good guys

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aross2004

@siegeind: No.

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Cayde

Fun fact xD

Someone ring the bloody bell.

That will improve.

I don't believe you're mentioned, ahem.

Ser Bronn of the Blackwater, Lord of highgarden, lord paramount of the reach and master of coin...... In full, my lord hand!

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peterhorner1867

The series as a whole was rushed but it was to be expected. Despite it, I enjoyed it.

The final episode however was terrible. It made me cringe.

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aross2004

I have 4 words for GoT fans; The Wheel of Time.

I have 2 words for George Martin; Robert Jordan.

Sorry, I just couldn't resist ;)

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lonepaladin

@aross2004: I'm glad someone said it. When they were talking about complicated plots, I immediately thought of Jordan and was thinking what a shame WoT never got this much hype, though I really enjoyed GoT. To be fair, I haven't read Martin's books yet, so I can't say whose plot writing is more intricate, though Jordan is quite difficult to top.

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ssjdra

Nothing was wrong with the plot but everything was wrong with cramming it into 6 episodes. We went from Daenerys being the savior of the world to two episodes later completely mad and butchering civilians. The build up to and the battle with the Night King should have been an entire season. Daenerys descent into madness, the siege of King's Landing and the conclusion of the series should have been another full season. If they would have done it in two full seasons they could have spent a lot more time on character development and gave us the "why" behind all of it.

Avatar image for izraal
Izraal

@ssjdra: Seeing a lot of responses like this perplexes me. The final episode specifically spelled out the "whys" quite clearly with characters speaking more to the viewers than other characters. Tyrion summed up that Dany has always committed brutal murders, which were praised because people felt she was justified. Everyone around her enabled her sense of divine right. Dany herself confirmed her belief in her destiny to change the world, and with that assumption she can do no wrong in pursuit of that goal. Additionally she made it clear that she understood Cersei was using innocents as a shield, and she sent a clear message that nothing, including that, would stop her.

There isn't a need for more development, as the "why" was clearly stated. Dany had made it clear she intended to "liberate" the entire world at any cost. Future civilizations resisting her liberation force will know they cannot hide behind their innocents and the threat of collateral damage - nothing will stop her from breaking the wheel. The dialogue made all this quite clear.

I think, as I've stated before, that many people complaining they wanted a "longer telling of the story" actually wanted a *different* story told. The story was about people empowering a zealot and failing to recognize it until it was too late. People *wanted* a story about someone's moral code eroding, in other words, about Dany changing. The actual story was that Dany had been who she always was, she didn't change. Too many members of her cult of personality failed to recognize who she really was until it was too late.

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Tekarukite

@izraal: agreed, 5000%

It's only "rushed" because there are no *new* story lines to replace those that were ending. There have been several "sudden" endings throughout the series, like the defeat of Stannis or Rob Stark, that are not that different than stopping the White Walkers or the destruction of Kings Landing.

It's only a "switch" when you don't appreciate that the entire plot of Daenerys was that her followers didn't recognize that she was just as bad for the throne as those they opposed.

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lonepaladin

@izraal: Nicely put, though we as viewers could see her zealous nature from the start. And this became more obvious when they placed her side by side with Jon Snow, seeing the difference between their two temperaments. And though, like her followers, we enjoyed seeing her decimate her enemies early on with dragon's fire, she appeared to be a contender like the others, with a major character flaw that meant they would perish before the story's end. For awhile, I actually thought Tyrion would be the one to sit on the throne because he was mocked by the other characters as being the least able, which made it funny at the end of the show when he said that he obviously cannot be king because, after all, he is a dwarf, like an aside to those thinking they were clever in guessing it would be him.

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henrythefifth

Here is an idea for another GoT article, Gamespot:

Go thru the whole series again, and find out if Lannisters really did pay their debts! Or was there a Lannister that did not pay up before end credits rolled! (hint: there was!)

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Baconstrip78

Trash-writing from the writer who brought you X-men Origins: Wolverine.

Season 6 was when they ran out of source material and season 6 is when the show started going down hill. This is not a coincidence.

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Oobga14

@Baconstrip78: Love Ian McShane, but that filler ep with the Hound meeting McShane was the clearest sign for me that D&D completely lost it.

People complain that D&D should have done more eps. I think they should question what those guys would have actually given them with additional episodes. More bad filler, more bad writing, more examples of characters doing things out of character, more inconsistencies and plot holes. This was for the best that these guys wrapped it up ASAP. The only option there ever was to get a proper story and conclusion was to wait for the books.

Avatar image for Baconstrip78
Baconstrip78

@oobga14: Agree, especially with your last point.

There are a host of great fantasy writers out there. Had I been George and been suffering a clear case of writers block, I would have called on one to co-write. They could have knocked out the two books in 4 years total and not left it up to hacks to destroy everything.

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aross2004

@Baconstrip78: George should snag Brandon Sanderson who finished the Wheel of Time series after Robert Jordan died, (and knocked it right out of the park).

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Baconstrip78

@aross2004: My coworker suggested the exact same writer.

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timthegem

I'm really looking forward to the spinoff where Arya explores the dark side of the moon that somehow nobody knows about. Mr. Martin promised shiny unicorns and I guess that's what we'll get, by golly gosh darn it.

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JohnnyKChop

I have gripes about this season, however, calling it a "smelly trash fire" is just insane. The production value and acting alone warrant a better opinion than that. Give me a break.

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Bread_or_Decide

@johnnykchop: What would the internet be without hyperbole? It was average at worst and best but people always go to such extremes.

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hampton2003

overall im ok with the ending we got, it feels like a decent compromise where all the survivors get something and nobody gets completely screwed. It can be argued that John got screwed, but i interpreted his final scenes as content and accepting of decision made; it reminds me a little of LOTR frodo, who at the end couldnt move past the trauma of the events, some wounds just wont heal. the band breaks up and goes their separate ways, and thats always gonna leave a sour taste in the fans mouths. Any GOT fan will have had countless discussions about who will end up on the iron throne, debating with friends and family and why character x does or doesnt make sense. Ive long had the answer that nobody was gonna get it, and i a way i was right. I just couldnt see the cookie cutter ending of John taking the throne, thats not John, much like Arya will never be a lady. Not everything has to matter in the end, like Johns birthright or Jamie's redemption character arc, just because these details exist, doesnt mean they have to be used or they are pointless. you can argue its bad writing, but if you are only including details that "have to matter and mean something," then the end becomes predictable.

Overall i enjoyed the final season, with the exception that ep 3 and 4 had huge issues (plot armor, poor character decisions), which largely rippled from ep 3 and the way the battle was depicted to the audience; ep 3 almost broke the season. i really enjoyed ep 1, 2, and especially 5, because at least the battle felt plausible (something ep 3 sorely lacked) and righted the season 8 ship in a focused direction to end on. Ep 6 was as good as it could be, tidying up major loose ends with a few exceptions and give a divided audience, who was never going to be happy regardless, a ending that is neither horrible nor amazing. its just and acceptably ok ending.

Avatar image for Bluppis
Bluppis

@hampton2003: most people I've talked to don't mind the result of the finale but much like the whole season the writing is kindergarten level.

Take Jon's "punishment" for example. He gets sent to the Night Watch (why would that even exist anymore) but then leaves with the wildlings (who for some reason has been waiting at the wall?). And to follow the oath of the Night Watch to not heir any children etc etc.

Why would the unsullied be fine with this? They have no concept of the night watch or what it actually entails. There's also literally no one who stays behind to make sure he keeps his word.

That's not punishment, it's a slap on the wrist.

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hampton2003

@Bluppis: yeah its definitely not and iron clad deal about Johns punishment, the only logical way i can try to justify it is John will keep his word, or in this case the "agreement" that he will serve at the night watch; preventing another war. living beyond the wall with the wildlings isnt really breaking the agreement. he's still serving out his life sentence in the same area, he is just stretching his legs, its got a big back yard. Im convinced by the end John is tired of it all (leading, fighting, suffering) and wants some peace, he seemed content to be with ghost and Tormund.

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sonicare

THERE BE SPOILERS HERE!!! Granted you should know this by the article's title.

This reviewer is spot on with his criticisms. If you like this last season of GoT, that's great. It had some very good points and epic scenes. I thought the cinematography and the music were wonderfully done. However, like many viewers and critics, I also felt unfulfilled by much of the storyline and conclusions

I'm willing to ignore a lot of the smaller issues that others seem to be nitpicking over - teleporting forces, rapidly respawning unsullied/dothraki, heat seeking ballista missles, baffling army deployments, etc. It's a fantasy series and I can suspend my disbelief. Secondly, I don't need a happy fairy tale ending, nor was I ever a member of team Dany. But something just seemed to be missing this season. I can't quite put my finger on it - whether it was failure of many storylines to come to meaningful or consequential ends, lack of development of plot lines, etc. Something just felt hollow and unfulfilling to me. Maybe others found what they needed in it, but I was left bewildered and unsatisfied.

A few plot points that bothered me:

Despite Jon and Bran having much of their background and seasons devoted to this aspect of the white walkers, neither seemed to have much to do with its resolution. While I like Arya, she had no connection whatsoever to the night king or his army of the dead. She had never been north of the wall, nor participated in any of the "winter" parts of the story. So having her kill the night king seemed more like an attempt by the showrunners to subvert meaning and relevance with surprise.

Yes, you can make arguments about needing jon to help raise the army and bran's purpose in drawing out the enemy, but that reasoning is somewhat drawn out and weak.

The show made an enormous deal of Jon's heritage, including having a beautiful episode culminating in the revelation of who he was (loved the shift from the baby's eyes to his). But in the end, it was essentially meaningless. What was the purpose of him being the true heir? Why devote that much time to it?

Avatar image for bababooey12
bababooey12

@sonicare:

Lol so what your saying is you were upset because Jon didn’t get to kill the night king...some people just find anything to complain about lol. I didn’t know this whole entire series that Jon was the only one destined to kill the night king. I mean Arya being at the battle along with everybody else and her killing him doesn’t make sense right lol. No what wouldn’t make sense is if she killed him and wasn’t even present at the battle, but considering the majority of the characters were present it really could’ve gone in any direction with who killed him, in the end it was her though. As for devoting time to showing who Jon really was why not? Again I don’t think it meant well he has to be king and was destined, it was always meant to be that in the end anybody could’ve been king or queen(part that hint is in the title of the show). I’m confused too, like someone else stated at all the backlash on the final two seasons and especially the finale all because it “felt rushed” what it comes down to is people are upset their person didn’t end up on the throne, especially the ones who named their children after characters from the show lol bet that really made them mad.

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sonicare

@bababooey12: Not what i said at all. What I'm saying is that Arya had absolutely no connection to the night king. Her story arc never involved the white walkers or the army of the dead. It would have more fulfillment if she had some involvement with him prior to her teleporting ninja air strike. They could have had podrick or alys karstark kill him as well.

I did not like this season. I thought it was poorly written. I never complained about the outcome. For example, I'm fine with Danerys going mad. But I thought the writing did an incredibly poor job of selling that to the viewer.

I'm entitled to an opinion, like everyone else. If you liked the season, that's great. I'm not attacking your viewpoint. I really enjoyed the series, but I felt this last season was a big departure from the quality of the previous seasons. I wish I had enjoyed it, but it lacked fulfillment and meaning for me. Not because of the outcome, but because of bad storytelling.

Avatar image for Bluppis
Bluppis

@sonicare: It's not really nit picking when the rules for how the world work started changing from episode to episode. Sure it's fantasy but the way the world it takes place in work has been fairly consistent throughout the years and I would say that's a big part of it's success. It's Game of Thrones not The Hobbit.

This, and all the other points you made, is simply because of the horrible writing that's not really new for this season but they managed to reach an all time low.

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DeadlyMustard

This is probably the review I most agree with out of the ones I've read so far.

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alastor529

I can always trust this comment section to be contrarian to whatever the majority opinion is.

if the majority DOESNT like something, this comemnt section will be favroable toward it


if the majority LOVES something this comment section will be disfavorable toward it and call it overrated

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MisterVulpes

@alastor529:

Half-Life 2 is awful, Metal Gear Survive is the game of this generation?

-Edge of Fedora

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Mogan

@alastor529: It's easier to get attention that way.

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CRAPCOM1926

i knew this TV show was overrated after what happened to me with The walking Dead. Better go watch Avatar The last Air bende Cartoon instead.