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All TV series must die! Sunday night's final episode of Game of Thrones is a good opportunity to reflect on the series' legacy. Like many viewers, I have plenty of complaints about what the show-runners did in the final season, and also Season 7 before it. At the same time, it's hard to deny the series' impressive achievements, which build on those of the books by George R.R. Martin on which it is based. If the show were not so good to begin with, we wouldn't care so much about its failings.
NOTE: The rest of this post contains many spoilers about both the series finale, and other previous episodes.
The most obvious strengths are the series' intricate plotting and characterization, and its willingness to upend traditional fantasy storytelling tropes with horrific events such as the "Red Wedding"—unexpectedly killing the "good" protagonists and showing that heroism is not enough to ensure that good triumphs.
Another distinctive theme is the emphasis on the idea that the dangers of political power require institutional solutions, not merely the replacement of bad rulers with good ones. Early on in the story, it sometimes seems as if the all will be well if evil rulers (like Lord Tywin), and deranged ones (like King Joffrey and Ramsay Bolton) are replaced by good ones. But it gradually becomes clear that even the few relatively well-intentioned lords, like Ned and Robb Stark, are largely unable to help the people. Only institutional change an overcome the structural flaws built into the Game of Thrones. No one is truly worthy to wield the vast power of the Westerosi monarchy, symbolized by the Iron Throne.
As Daenerys Targaryen famously put it, the goal must be to "break the wheel" of political power, not simply spin it in a different direction. The point holds true even though she never had a clear idea of how to do it, and in Season 8 (somewhat implausibly) came to exemplify the very sort of evil she had previously opposed.
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