There's really no "right" way to finish a series. Throughout the history of television, from M*A*S*H to Seinfeld to The Sopranos to Lost, writers have struggled to tie up long and complicated stories in a way that satisfies their tremendous audiences. Highly anticipated TV finales have always left fans confused, frustrated, and miserable - and unless you've been living under a rock for the past few weeks, you know that Game Of Thrones is no exception.
But while GoT's final season is hardly the first TV ending to disappoint fans, it is the first one to disappoint such a massive fan base in the era of big data. For the first time, it's possible to discover not just how many people tuned into this massive television event, but who liked it, who didn't, where people felt it went wrong, and how well it matched up to their expectations - in other words, we can now back up the incredibly subjective work of TV criticism with hard science. Millions of Game Of Thrones fans have voted on Ranker lists about practically everything related to the show's eighth season, which gives us access to some surprising insights into exactly how viewers feel about the controversial finale.
From the surprising to the satisfying to the infuriating, we took a look at how Game Of Thrones' final season stacked up against fans' expectations. And in many ways, what we found was far different from the portrait being painted by critics, commenters, and a very vocal minority of outraged fans.
Fans angry about the direction of Season 8 have been grabbing plenty of headlines, with over a million of them signing a petition to have the final season remade with more "competent" writers. But according to Ranker data, rumors of an outraged GoT fanbase have been greatly exaggerated.
Our poll gathering fan reactions to the series finale confirmed that everybody was confused by "King Brandon," but beyond that, the most popular reactions were either positive or ambivalent. 73% of voters were "happy for the Starks," the most popular reaction to the final season on the list, while 61% were so excited by the final episode that they want "eight more seasons!" Also high on the ranking were middling reactions like "I thought it was decent, but the show's not as good as it used to be" and "I'm a bit underwhelmed." But straight-up negative reactions like "I feel totally betrayed" are far less popular, garnering only 30% upvotes. Given all that bad press, it's interesting to see how divided viewers actually are about the final episode.
Game of Thrones fans learned a long time ago to expect the unexpected. While other shows might be known for delivering the kind of happy endings that viewers so badly want to see, GoT strives to do the exact opposite. Time and time again throughout the series, the writers have added shocking twists to their story that seem designed to keep fans on their toes. So, maybe the fact that so few people saw Bran's ascension to the throne coming should count as a win for everyone in the writers' room.
Asked to guess who would be crowned at the end of the story, Ranker readers were relatively bearish on the prospects of "Bran the Broken." It's hardly surprising that Bran wouldn't poll as well as series favorites like Jon Snow and Daenerys, but it's got to sting a little bit to end up behind The Night King and Gendry. Hopefully, total power over the seven - scratch that - six kingdoms will offer a little bit of salve for that burn.
While fans struggled to predict exactly who would end up on the Iron Throne at the story's conclusion, they did far better at guessing how larger story arcs would be resolved - that is, they developed some pretty accurate fan theories.
The theory our readers liked best was the one that suggested Daenerys was fated to die after burning down King's Landing from the beginning, and it turned out to be 100% accurate. Fans also correctly foresaw that Sam Tarly would turn out to be the (at least partial) author of A Song Of Ice And Fire, a history of the events following Robert Baratheon's death. Ranker voters whiffed on a few other theories (Daenerys did not end up trying to kill Jon Snow, unfortunately for her), but all in all, it seems like fans really have the writers pegged after eight seasons of big and often horrifying surprises.
Bran's rise to the throne didn't just surprise GoT fans - it also did a pretty good job of ticking them off. Our readers put Bran's story very close to the bottom of the list of their favorite series-long character arcs, indicating they weren't too pleased with the writers' unexpected decision to end the finale with his coronation. Fans were far more fond of Arya's gradual transformation into a top assassin, as well as Tyrion's journey from cynical philanderer to noble politician.
One surprising insight we pulled from this list is that Daenerys' downfall, which caused a literal firestorm in the show and a figurative one on social media, was actually not all that unpopular among fans. At #15 on the list, it's not one of our readers' favorite story arcs, but it still has a good deal more upvotes than it does downvotes. The same can't be said for the stories of Bran Stark, Cersei Lannister, and Lord Baelish.