The Obvious One Reason the ‘Game of Thrones’ Finale Failed

If you have yet to witness the magical disappointment – according to widespread criticisms and audience views alike – that is the Game of Thrones finale, you’re likely not a true fan of the previously hailed epic saga.

Game of Thrones took its final bow on May 19, and to the dissatisfaction of fans everywhere, failed to hit the high note the show is accustomed to reaching. While many reasons have been cited for the show’s unfortunate descent from phenomenon status, much of the attack centers on Daenerys’ turn to madness and the season’s lack of proper development.

'Game of Thrones'
‘Game of Thrones’ | Photo by Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic for HBO

When it comes to a conclusion as widely anticipated as Game of Thrones, there is no excuse for poor execution. The show has been consistently adulated for its unique take on the medieval fantasy genre, and its tendency to eschew the thematic and narrative tropes tied to the realm. The series was a groundbreaking art that, come the season finale, embodied the very formula it had so long evaded.

So, how can we group all the narrative disappointments under one umbrella? How can there only be one true issue at the heart of Game of Thrones’ failure? Easy: the season and ultimate finale was an expectation violation.

Why the ‘Game of Thrones’ finale was one big expectation violation

The Expectation Violation Theory is a major psychological and social theory usually applied to direct communication studies; however, it’s philosophy is far-reaching and applicable to the discussion at hand, for a show does communicate with its fanbase through narrative and thematic consistencies, social media discussions, and more.

To put it simply: when interacting, people tend to communicate with an expectation of how the other will react. When this expectation is violated, people will behave negatively or positively based on the scenario and environment at hand. In the case of Game of Thrones, the writers, through the script and social media outlets – have been communicating in a very particular, and consistent, manner with the fanbase.

The writers have established an understanding of what constitutes the meat and potatoes of Game of Thrones. In short: Noble men lose at the hands of deceptive men. Innocent children are pushed out of windows to protect their secrets.

From season one, Game of Thrones has been delivering on the same expectation: the line between good and evil cannot, and will not, be drawn. There is no black and white divide between hero and villain, but instead, we are divided by individual attributes: intelligence, cunning, manipulative prowess, seduction, trustworthiness, etc.

The good guys don’t always win, but really, no one can be reduced to “good” or “bad.” This is what made Game of Thrones different, and by delivering on this front with such consistency, it laid the foundation for fans’ expectation regarding the fall-out: a surprising, yet inevitable ending perfectly suited to the show’s tendencies and characters. However, this is not what fans got.

The ‘Game of Thrones’ finale went for a vanilla twist

At the end of Game of Thrones, the saviors lived, the suddenly “mad queen” met her inevitable fate, Sansa became Queen of the North, and Bran became King of Westeros at Tyrion’s suggestion. It was, for all intents and purposes, quite the kumbaya moment, and, as a result, quite contradictory to all that is Game of Thrones.

The show had communicated one message all along: never assume that people will meet the fate they deserve, and then violated that previously consistent message. Game of Thrones failed because it built an expectation it could never deliver on.

Would a sad and tragic ending have been widely admired if it was more in line with GoT? Maybe. However,  it’s also entirely possible that the writers felt fans would have – at last – desired this expectation violation, for as the theory posits, the reaction can be negative or positive depending on the relationship between the people.

Game of Thrones built a relationship with its fanbase based on trust: fans trusted that the show would always neglect the predictability inherent to a good vs. evil divide, and then violated that presumption. Technically, you can consider this similar to a suspense-driven twist ending; however, they should have known that a twist (an expectation violation of one kind) doesn’t satisfy when it’s more vanilla than an expectation match.