As the dust settles on the final season of HBO’s Game of Thrones fan reactions are sharply divided, with some calling the conclusion rushed and nonsensical, while others seem perfectly satisfied with it. But the numbers don’t lie — season eight is generating much lower scores on both IMDB and Rotten Tomatoes than any of the previous seasons, and critical videos on YouTube are generating hundreds of thousands of views as disappointed fans gather to commiserate and talk through their grief.
So what went wrong in the Seven Six Kingdoms? Why were so many fans underwhelmed with the most anticipated television finale in years?
To find out we turned again to social media, to a thread on the Game of Thrones subreddit where thousands of fans reacted to episode five, “The Bells,” one of the most divisive of the season — you know, the one where Daenerys loses her damn mind and bathes King’s Landing in dragon fire.
Normally it would be incredibly time consuming to analyze a Reddit thread containing tens of thousands of comments, but with Pathfinder Text Analytics we were able to create a visual concept map of fan reactions that allows us to quickly zero in on what some fans disliked about the episode:
The map clearly sorts the text data into four distinct themes. Daenerys’ theme in blue is dominated by her transformation into a ‘mad queen’ who incinerates the city of King’s Landing with her trusty dragon Drogon. The Starks are grouped together, along with Tyrion and Varys and various other allies — the “good guys,” if you will. Cersei and Jaime Lannister form the third theme, along with several other characters who were with Cersei towards the end.
The final theme centers on reactions to the show’s writing and production and is dominated by fans’ disappointment, particularly with how the characters were written. Which characters in particular? We can learn more by looking at a heat map of the word disappointed, which shows which words are connected to disappointment in fans’ comments:
The heat map shows a connection between fans’ disappointment and Daenerys’ transition to a mad queen, which clearly was problematic for some viewers. But a much stronger association between disappointed and Jaime suggests that the conclusion of Jaime Lannister’s story — being crushed to death while embracing his sinister sister Cersei — may be the aspect of the show that fans were most disappointed by.
Exploring some verbatim comments sheds further light on how fans felt:
“The one thing that really bothers me is the Jaime and Cersei death. I understand having a character that seems to be redeemed who has a backslide, showing that not everyone deserves redemption. Or, more importantly, not everyone feels like they deserve it, and create a self-fulfilling prophesy. But I just don’t know how to parse the Jaime/Brienne and Jaime/Cersei stuff. Did he love both? Were there two Jaimes, and the outbreak of total war brought out the bad one? Can Jaime only be good when there is a Big Bad not related to his family? I don’t know, something tells me this will be the thing I like least this season.”
— Reddit commenter jlynn00
“The biggest and saddest death this episode: Jamie’s story arc. Rest in peace.” — Reddit commenter venbOy
After all, Jaime arguably had the most complicated and morally redemptive journey of any character, starting as a pure villain who cavalierly pushes a child out a window and gradually worming his way into fans’ hearts as he developed a sense right and wrong and came to terms with the loss of a hand and, along with it, his defining skill as a swordsman. And so his turning back to Cersei may have been more problematic for fans than Dany’s turning into a genocidal maniac, or at least so the data suggests.
Did Jaime deserve better? Only George R.R. Martin can say for sure. But until A Dream of Spring is released in 2045 and we learn how the story really ends, all we have is the HBO version, and for some fans that clearly wasn’t good enough.
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