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‘Game of Thrones’ series finale recap: A disaster ending that fans didn’t deserve

By Kelly Lawler, USA TODAY

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(USA TODAY) — Spoiler alert! The following contains details from the “Game of Thrones” series finale, Season 8 Episode 6, “The Iron Throne.” Read our recap of Season 8, Episode 5 here.

This isn’t what we signed up for.

When “Game of Thrones” premiered eight years ago, it was instantly clear that the series was something different. It was a story that broke the conventions of the fantasy genre, not one that was a slave to them. Yes, the “Thrones” books and the series were inspired by J.R.R. Tolkein’s “The Lord of the Rings,” but they also subverted that trilogy. We all know why. Ned Stark lost his head. The Red Wedding killed Robb and Catelyn. The Mountain killed the Viper. Tragedy and injustice were as baked into the series’ identity as dragons and battles.

But that’s not the show that aired its final episode Sunday night. 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 Iron Throne” would have been a fine ending for a different kind of TV show. It would have been heart-warming and satisfying landing for a series that had long warmed hearts. But over the years, “Thrones” has been a story where the good guys didn’t win and the bad guys didn’t get their just desserts. The world that the writers built wasn’t fair, and good people suffered for no reason. It wasn’t a particularly rosy theme, but it was one of the reasons the series became such a massive hit; why it felt like relatable in spite of its otherworldy setting. It was never a fairy tale. It was as messy and broken our world is now.

“Iron Throne” is an episode that will go down as one of the most controversial series finales of all time, in the same camp as “Lost,” “Dexter” or “Battlestar Galactica.” For many fans, it is likely enough. After all, the Stark siblings found happiness, safety and their place in the world, Tyrion is hand of the king, Sam is a maester and, heck, even Podrick Payne gets to be a knight now. Everybody who was good got their reward. Dany got her comeuppance for her crimes. And there’s even an argument to be made that by going for a happy-ever-after, “Thrones” subverted the expectations of everyone waiting for a bloodbath.

But that’s not what “Iron Throne” did. It didn’t gracefully swerve into another lane, it careened off a cliff. And looking back at the series will never be the same.

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