Thrones goes out in a fiery finale

| AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS 21 May 2019

After eight years of chivalry, sex, death and dragons, Game of Thrones fans worldwide had just 79 pulsating minutes to get a final fix in one of the most hotly anticipated events in television history.

The blood-spattered tale of noble families vying for the Iron Throne had its final episode yesterday morning, Hong Kong time, in a ratings juggernaut that has demolished audience records.

While many watched at home, perhaps with a goblet of Dornish red wine and a punnet of Braavosi cockles, thousands celebrated and mourned the show's denouement at viewing parties in bars, banqueting halls and backyards from Alaska to Armenia.

"We want people to love it. It matters a lot to us. We've spent 11 years doing this," Dan Weiss, who directed the 73rd and final episode with fellow showrunner David Benioff, told Entertainment Weekly.

One of the darkest and most controversial prime-time series ever made, Game of Thrones has been the target of criticism over the years for senseless violence and its repeated use of rape as a dramatic device.

The scriptwriters have brutalized women, killed children, depicted graphic sex and had their characters hacked, stabbed, flayed, poisoned, decapitated, burned alive, eye-gouged and eviscerated - all in close-up.

Adult themes have not deterred fans, however, nor the industry itself, which has seen fit to make it the most decorated series in history with 47 Emmy Awards.

Airing in 170 countries under the portentous tagline "Winter is Coming," the show is also the most expensive ever, with a budget of US$15 million (HK$116.7 million) an episode in its final run.

The season seven finale set an all-time US record for premium cable TV with 16.5 million people watching live or streaming on the day of transmission and 15 million more tuning in later.

Season six was the first to move beyond the source material - George R R Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire novels - and carve its own path.

Critics said it marked a return to form, with the narrative allowing female characters to demonstrate complexity and moral agency.

The shortened final two seasons have been more of a mixed bag, with many fans furious over what they consider poor writing.

Most notable in criticism was the malevolent turn by Emilia Clarke's Daenerys Targaryen, the Dragon Queen, who used her dragon to lay waste to the show's fictional capital after her enemies had surrendered. That angered fans. The episode, titled The Bells, now garners the weakest ratings of all episodes.

Brutal acts by Clarke's character in previous seasons were similar to those of other leaders, but many viewers saw the decision to kill tens of thousands of innocent people as too drastic.

The final episode featured - spoiler alert - her death at the hands of Jon Snow, her lover (and nephew, among numerous incestuous relationships portrayed), played by Kit Harington, who kills her, fearing her tyranny merely mirrors that of predecessors.

Her last living dragon then burns the Iron Throne, melting it with fiery breath.

"In the 11th hour, Game of Thrones turned Dany not just into a Mad Queen but into a crazy ex-girlfriend - the laziest of sexist tropes," remarked Daily Beast writer Melissa Leon.

A Change.org petition called "Remake Game of Thrones Season 8 with competent writers" had comfortably passed one million signatures by the time of yesterday's finale.

For Alyssa Rosenberg of The Washington Post, the show resonated profoundly at an "inflection point" in American culture and politics.

The show's terrifying supernatural White Walkers were an allegorical embodiment of the "new and apocalyptic" urgency of climate change.

And its sexual violence serviced the debate around the #MeToo reckoning.

But according to James Poniewozik of The New York Times, "What made Game of Thrones emblematic of its time is how it divided its audience from start to finish, right down to the matter of what a happy ending would even constitute. It gave its intense fandom multiple angles to debate as well as to enjoy."

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