What the hell happened to Game of Thrones?

Whatever the opposite of sticking the landing is

Thrones stands as the top rated television show on IMDB, with a ridiculous 9.5 out of 10. HBO adapted George RR Martin’s dense, hyper-detailed universe with flair and smarts, combining the fantasy and political elements to produce a pop culture juggernaut. You can’t click a site on the internet without finding some shoehorned post mentioning the show, including this one. It brings me no joy to highlight this season’s abject awfulness, an inexcusable fumbling on the goal line that manages to question the series’ place in the cultural pantheon. From discarding seven seasons of character development to turning the Night King from a series-long terror into a brief inconvenience, the writers missed nearly every major moment so far in season eight while installing plot armor thicker than Tormund’s beard. Showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss entered this season with a 3-0 series lead, and we’re staring at a game seven blowout loss with only these final two episodes to save the show.Don’t take my word for it. Browse any of the three major Thrones subreddits and you’ll see the boiling rage of a fanbase unable to comprehend the nonsensical plotting and character assassination plaguing this season. The showrunners can’t help scoring own goals in every behind-the-scenes clip, from claiming their decision to cut a goodbye for Jon and his spiritually-bonded direwolf stemmed from challenges with “CGI creations” to lobotomizing Dany and explaining that she merely “forgot” her enemies had ships. They even left a Starbucks cup in a scene, made worse by the fact they were featured in that exact scene in a cameo!The series, perhaps the closest we’ve gotten to monoculture in the splintered content space of 2019, now faces previously unthinkable critical and fan backlash. Is this just a sign of the superfans rebelling, or has the public given up on the show? Thanks to the IMDB databases, we can find that answer. 


IMDB provides a variety of rich datasets to query against, and for today we want to isolate the prestige shows, the content that inspires critical think-pieces and obsessive fandom. Game of Thrones sits as the top-rated television show currently, and as such, we should focus on our analysis on its most obvious competitors. Do other shows have the same precarious decline in quality as the series concludes, or is this isolated to our favorite Westeros fantasy?To do so, I first found the top 250 ranked television shows by number of ratings, hoping to get a handle on overall popularity. Then, within that dataset, I wanted to find the specific cut of shows to work with, as Thrones fits both as a prestige drama and an obsessive cultural phenomenon, a cult-classic that just happens to also be the most popular show in the world. One note: IMDB unhelpfully lets users rank the show as a whole, in addition to specific episode ratings, so for accuracy’s sake I went ahead and recalculated the average by looking at every episode’s score.

Performance among the fellow elite

For my first pass, I wanted to focus on the contemporaries most often ranked within the Thrones pantheon. We’re talking about classics like The WireBreaking BadThe Sopranos, and Mad Men, with special inclusions for the undervalued classics like Justified or The Americans. I added Lost in this pool as well, a show I haven’t personally watched but have heard often that the writers barely stuck the landing after early promise.

Thrones ends up the worst out of this grouping, with its last season dropped roughly 12% below the series average. In fact, Thrones and Lost are the only shows to have a worse season ending average than the one I calculated, as the rest either kept the pace or, in the case of Breaking BadThe Americans, or Justified, had a better last season than the series average. Here's how those changes look graphed out.

How bad is it, doc?

Quite bad. I recreated this calculation for every show within the top 250, and Thrones does not find itself among the strongest group of dramas. I eliminated some still-running series and animated shows to get a better pool for comparison.

Look at that collection of misfit toys that Thrones has joined. Dexter ended its run with an inexplicable lumberjack subplot, while That 70's Show tried one last season without Topher Grace and failed miserably. Scrubs had the perfect ending published and ready to go, until they tragically came back for one absymal season focusing on new med students (that starred a young Dave Franco, shouts to him). Perhaps the best examples here are the two productions plagued by problematic actions of their leading men, as House of Cards and Two and a Half Men boast the two largest drops in quality for their final season. Two and a Half Men replaced the imploding Charlie Sheen with Ashton Kutcher, and their last season rating dropped nearly 30% below the series average. Sexual assault accusations against Kevin Spacey forced Netflix to completely rewrite the Cards final season, and despite Robin Wright's best attempts, the quality plummeted quicker than Rhaegal getting one-shotted by Hunter S. Thompson's coke dream of a pirate.

Where does this leave us?

We have two episodes left in this abridged final season, but I've yet to meet a fan that has any sort of optimism for this ending. Game of Thrones still boasts a high overall rating, but barring some last-second miracle in these last two shows, they might be joining a more infamous list of dramas that flubbed the ending.The battle for the throne might consume the plot, but a bigger battle for critical acclaim breaks out on the IMDB pages. Never go full House of Cards.