At this point, to say many were unhappy with the ending of HBO’s “Game of Thrones” would be an understatement. Fan dissatisfaction and disappointment had been building for weeks, and it all came to a head with the airing the show’s final episode.
While the cinematography, visual effects, and musical score were once again exceptional—and rightfully praised—the series finale left an awful taste in the mouth of quite a few “Thrones” fans. They were promised “bittersweet,” but only got the “bitter” part.
The final season of “Thrones” currently sits with a 36 percent overall audience score on Rotten Tomatoes. The final three episodes sport ratings of 58 percent, 47 percent, and 49 percent respectively. On Metacritic, the finale scored a dismal 2.7 out of 10. In short: the smallfolk are not pleased.
It’s been a long, hard-to-watch fall for the once-great series. Seasons 1-4 of HBO’s flagship program were must-see entertainment—prestige television at its finest. Regrettably, as the show began to outpace the books, showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss were left to write entire seasons from a few bullet points provided by creator George R. R. Martin. After the disastrous Dorne/Sand Snakes plotline of season 5, it became apparent that without clearly mapped directions, Benioff and Weiss might have trouble piloting the ship.
Single episodes (such as season 6’s outstanding “Battle of the Bastards”) temporarily staved off criticism, but writing concerns surfaced again in season 7 after the absurd “wight retrieval mission” and a contrived plot involving the Stark girls and the formerly brilliant Littlefinger. Season 8 further exposed Benioff and Weiss’s deteriorating writing skills when important character arcs were either ignored, completely destroyed, or changed mid-flight without clear motivation or properly laid groundwork.
Ultimately, it was rushed, sloppy, and at times downright disrespectful writing that led much of the fandom to turn on a show that once was universally acclaimed.
You Can Fill the Void
Fans who long for the rich, intelligent writing found in the earlier seasons of “Thrones” can certainly re-read Martin’s books. Unfortunately, an arrival date for the sixth book in the “A Song of Ice and Fire” saga is still TBA. Those wanting to know how close Martin’s ending will mirror the one Benioff and Weiss provided will have to wait even longer for the seventh and final volume. The last book is set to be titled “A Dream of Spring” and is due to be released sometime this century.
Many dissatisfied “Thrones” followers are looking to soothe the emotional let-down of the series finale. Martin’s books, however, aren’t the only option. For folks who need to quench their thirst for fulfilling fantasy, grand world-building, captivating characters, and quality narratives: Middle-Earth lies waiting. “Thrones” fans who have never read Tolkien’s work, or haven’t delved into it in a long while, will find in Middle-Earth much of the fulfillment they didn’t get from Benioff and Weiss.
To start, it’s worth remembering that J.R.R. Tolkien was a major influence on Martin. As a child, Martin was deeply affected by Tolkien’s books. Martin calls Tolkien a “pioneer,” hails “The Lord of the Rings” as a “masterpiece” that “changed his life,” and says his respect for him is “second to no one.” Although the “A Song of Ice and Fire” series is far darker in tone, explicit in content, and grey in morality, Martin’s saga would not be what it is without Tolkien.
In its original book form, or in Peter Jackson’s Academy Award-winning film trilogy, “The Lord of the Rings” can be a newfound joy for “Thrones” exiles. It abounds with all of the things critically missing from the last four seasons of HBO’s series.
Returning to Middle-Earth
Those frustrated with the lack of backstory for the Night King, the White Walkers, and the Three-Eyed Raven will find in “The Lord of the Rings” fully developed characters, intricate histories for entire civilizations, and complex mythical languages created from the ground up. For those hungry for additional Middle-Earth lore, “The Hobbit,” “The Silmarillion,” and “Unfinished Tales” provide further background and history. In 2021, fans can dive into Amazon’s still-untitled “Lord of the Rings” television project set in the Second Age—before the events of “The Fellowship of the Ring.”
“Thrones” followers angry over what season 8 did to the character arcs for Jaime, Arya, Dany, or Bran will find excellent resolutions for characters like Aragorn, Frodo, Sam, and Gollum. Tolkien treats both his main and secondary characters with respect. They react in ways that befit their development. When twists, turns, and surprises occur, plot points can be traced back to careful planning and solid character evolution.
Battle sequences in the “Rings” films are exciting, tactically sound, and—unlike the Battle of Winterfell—properly lit. Just on its merits alone, the Battle of Helms Deep warrants a re-watch of “The Two Towers”—if only to be reminded of how a complicated battle can be filmed at night, in the rain, with a cast of hundreds, and be simultaneously thrilling and watchable.
Tolkien’s “Rings” series has occasionally been maligned by modern commentators as being overly simplistic or too tidy in its good versus evil narrative. In truth, “Rings” has its share of moral dilemmas and grey characters. Heroes and leaders are tempted by malevolence and darkness throughout Tolkien’s drama, and not all remain uncorrupted or make it out alive. Sacrifices are made. Not everyone gets a happy ending. The conclusion is certainly more sweet than bitter, but unlike the finale of the TV adaptation of “Game of Thrones,” the ending feels earned.
One unintended consequence of the “Thrones” fallout may be a whole new generation of fantasy enthusiasts searching for something to scratch the itch left by Benioff and Weiss’s lackluster send-off. It may also spark a homecoming for many “Rings” fans who took Tolkien’s fulfilling ending for granted.
While “The Winds of Winter” may still be a long way off, the magic, brilliant storytelling, and lovingly crafted world of “The Lord of the Rings” is there for those wishing to fill the “Game of Thrones”-shaped hole in their hearts.