Hundreds of thousands of Game of Thrones fans were not the only folks who found some fault with the record-breaking series' final season. Numerous members of the show's sprawling cast openly critiqued the narrative choices made by the franchise's creators, David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, during Season 8 -- including some with vitriol that would make Ian McShane proud (recall, of course, that McShane dubbed Game of Thrones "only tits and dragons" before appearing in a Season 6 episode). Ahead, a look at the Game of Thrones actors who expressed some serious doubts about Season 8.
Sophie Turner (Sansa Stark)
While Sophie Turner defended the show's writers against a fan-led petition that called for the final season to be rewritten by "competent" scribes, the Sansa Stark actress did say she had hoped for some different conclusions for her character and other Game of Thrones mainstays. Speaking to TheWrap in August 2019, Turner said, "I thought Arya would kill Cersei. And I would like to have seen Sansa and Cersei reunited, or Arya and Cersei." That said, Turner added, "But there were so many ways the story could have turned out. I felt very passionately about the ending for Sansa, and I was very happy with the ending that turned out for her."
Kit Harington (Jon Snow)
Harington was brought to tears by the Game of Thrones scripts, but even he had some concerns with how the ending would be received. In an interview with Entertainment Weekly published after the Game of Thrones series finale -- but conducted on the show's set well before the last batch of episodes aired -- Harington said he expected the show's ending to "divide" fans, especially because of how the character arcs for Cersei and Daenerys were resolved.
"One of my worries with this is we have Cersei and Dany, two leading women, who fall," he said, before explaining why he thought the twists worked. "The justification is: Just because they're women, why should they be the goodies? They're the most interesting characters in the show. And that's what Thrones has always done. You can't just say the strong women are going to end up the good people. Dany is not a good person. It's going to open up discussion but there's nothing done in this show that isn't truthful to the characters. And when have you ever seen a woman play a dictator?"
Speaking to The Hollywood Reporter for an interview published in August 2019, Harington added that he was disappointed Jon Snow didn't get to kill the Night King (who was offed by Arya Stark), but accepted that unexpected twist. "I was a bit pissed off, only because I wanted to kill the Night King!" he said. "I think I felt like everyone else did, in that it had been set up for a long time, and then I didn't get to do it. But I was so happy for Maisie [Williams] and Arya. I was secretly like, 'I wanted to do that!' Especially because I love fighting with Vlad, who also played the White Walker I fought at Hardhome. I've never seen a better swordsman. But it was a really great twist, and it tied up Maisie's journey in a really beautiful way. Over the seasons, we've seen her build up these skills to become this hardened assassin, and she uses it all to kill our main antagonist."
Bryan Cogman (writer, producer)
Bryan Cogman wrote some of the most beloved episodes of Game of Thrones in the show's history, but the even the producer acknowledged the series' final episodes were difficult for fans -- not that the challenge was necessarily a "bad thing."
"I still don't know how I feel about a lot of what happens this season and I helped write it," Cogman told Entertainment Weeklybefore the final season even aired. "It's emotionally very challenging. It's designed to not feel good. That said, I don't think that's a bad thing. The best drama is the type you have to think about. There's a dangerous tendency right now to make art and popular culture to feel safe for everybody and make everybody feel okay when watching and I don't believe in that. The show is messy and grey and that's where it's always lived -- from Jaime pushing a little boy out the window to Ned Stark's death to the Red Wedding. This is the kind of story that's meant to unsettle you and challenge you and make you think and question. I think that was George's intent and what David and Dan wanted to do. However you feel about the final episodes of this show I don't think anybody will ever accuse us of taking the easy way out."
Maisie Williams (Arya Stark)
Many fans were surprised Williams' Arya didn't fulfill her destiny by killing Cersei in the show's final episodes. Add Williams herself to that faction. "I wanted Arya to kill Cersei even if it means [Arya] dies too," Williams told Entertainment Weekly. "Even up to the point when Cersei's with Jaime I thought [while reading the script], 'He's going to whip off his face [and reveal it's Arya]' and they're both going to die. I thought that's what Arya's drive has been."
Williams said the arc she did experience during the show's final episodes allowed her to return Arya to her childhood. "It's not a Game of Thrones ending for Arya, it's a happy ending," she said. "It gave me a place to take Arya that I never thought I'd go with her again."
Gwendoline Christie (Brienne of Tarth)
In an interview published by Entertainment Weekly after the episode in which Brienne and Jaime finally consummated her unrequited love (after which Jaimie left Brienne in tears to return to Cersei), Christie said she was so dismayed by the character turn that she needed to go for a walk. Asked if she had questions for Benioff and Weiss after reading the script, Christie said yes.
"It was partially because I love this character and I read about this character [in George R.R. Martin's novels] before I saw the show. So we all have our own ideas about how we think the character is going to develop. Sometimes your ideas become set in your mind, and sometimes David and Dan write something you didn't expect and find difficult to comprehend," she said. "This character has been very impactful in my life and in the way I think about women and in the way they're portrayed in the media and the way they're treated in society. [Playing Brienne] has challenged many of my beliefs and has been really resonant. So there were some things I didn't expect. If there's a character you care about and you feel like they go through some sort of hell, you feel protective toward them. Also, because of the modern world you live in, you're aware of how other people react to the character. There's a feeling of wanting to honor the character and also to bring her to life."
Lena Headey (Cersei Lannister)
Headey's time on Game of Thrones ended with the show's penultimate episode, when Cersei Lannister and her brother-lover, Jaime, were crushed by the crumbling Red Keep after Daenerys' villainous turn. In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Headey said her reaction was "mixed" when she first read the death scene, adding, "I wanted her to have some big piece or fight with somebody."In June, Headey elaborated further on her feelings about Cersei's fate.
Speaking to The Guardian, the actress didn't hold back: "I will say I wanted a better death," Headey said, adding, "Obviously you dream of your death. You could go in any way on that show. So I was kind of gutted."
As for how she broadly viewed the show's final season, Headey said, "I invested as a viewer and I have my favorite characters. And I've got a few of my own gripes. But I haven't sat down [drunkenly] with David [Benioff] and Dan [Weiss] yet."
Still, despite all those comments, Headey acknowledged Benioff and Weiss were in a tough spot. "But I just think they couldn't have pleased everyone. No matter what they did, I think there was going to be some big comedown from the climb."
Previously, Headey said she and Jaime actor Nikolaj Coster-Waldau discussed her contentious death scene, and she found it to be "the perfect end for her" despite the misgivings.
Conleth Hill (Varys)
Speaking of "mixed," that's how Conleth Hill described finding out he was going to die. While speaking to Entertainment Weekly, Hill said, "Part of you didn't want it to finish. Part of you is, 'Oh, that's very good.' And part of you is, 'Oh, that sucks.' Very, very mixed. Bittersweet. I think it's really good in retrospect now that I've had the time for it to sink in."
The actor, who had seen his prominence on the show diminish over the years, also said he was disappointed with being sidelined. "That's been my feeling the last couple seasons, that my character became more peripheral, that they concentrated on others more. That's fine. It's the nature of a multi-character show. It was kind of frustrating. As a whole, it's been overwhelmingly positive and brilliant, but I suppose the last couple seasons weren't my favorite," he said.
Despite those comments, Hill claimed at San Diego Comic-Con in July 2019 that the backlash to Game of Thrones' final season was a "media-led hate campaign."
Charles Dance (Tywin Lannister)
Actor Charles Dance last appeared on Game of Thrones in Season 4, but the actor watched the final season just like everyone else. His reaction? "I was confused," he told Good Morning Britain. Dance added, "[I] got to the very end and I thought, 'Hmmm, okay...' There's little Arya, she's going off on a cruise somewhere. Poor Jon, going back up north beyond the wall. And then there's Tyrion. And all the people left alive are sat around the table saying, 'What are we going to do now? Should we have a cup of tea?' Or something. And I thought, 'Ahhh, I don't know.'"
Nathalie Emmanuel (Missandei)
Emmanuel was the only woman of color with a significant role on Game of Thrones and her death in the final season raised some eyebrows from fans, many of whom have long dinged Game of Thrones for its lack of diversity. While Emmanuel said she was very thankful for the show and its fans after the episode aired, she later reflected in an interview with Entertainment Weekly that she appreciated the criticism directed at the show for how it handled Missandei's death.
"The one thing I would say is I really had wished that I had more time or scenes this season maybe with Daenerys or even with Cersei, scenes where we get to see her being brilliant before she dies," she said. "I think that might have eased the pain a bit more for people, and reinforcing a friendship that she and Dany had because we haven't really seen anything for a few seasons, but I think she's so fiercely loyal to Dany, and I think she was until the bitter end, and it's almost fitting for Missandei really, in a way."
Pilou Asbæk (Euron Greyjoy)
By all accounts, Asbæk loved playing Euron on Game of Thrones and found the fate of his character (he was stabbed by Jaime, but not before Euron put the Kingslayer on death's door) to be supremely satisfying. But even Asbæk wasn't above making a joke about some of the final season's plotting. Asked by Vulture why Euron's aim got so much worse between episodes (after he previously was able to shoot down Rhaegal but couldn't manage to do the same thing to Drogon), Asbæk quipped, "Because they needed it for the storyline?"
Natalie Tena (Osha)
The Harry Potter actress told the Yahoo! podcast White Wine Question Time that while she enjoyed the final season's initial three episodes, her experience took a turn for the worse after that. "The caliber of writing towards the end and the plots and everything that happens and how they wrapped it up compared to any other season, any other bit, it just feels like it's been written by different people," she said (via Uproxx). "It doesn't make sense, for me." Tena added that her "boyfriend had to leave the boat because I was ranting for an hour at him about how much I didn't like it. And then I rang my friend to rant to him."
Emilia Clarke (Daenerys)
Of all the actors who have played a role on Game of Thrones over the last eight seasons, it's Emilia Clarke who might have had to undergo the biggest change in the shortest time span. Fans have expressed outrage over Daenerys' turn to the Mad Queen, complaining that the shift has been rushed and out-of-character for a person who was previously viewed as one of Westeros' potential heroes. While Clarke hasn't outright attacked the show or the Dany twist, she has expressed some interesting thoughts on the final episodes. Speaking to Vanity Fair last year, Clarke said the ending of Game of Thrones "f---ed me up," especially because it marked the last statement she'd have on the character: "Knowing that is going to be a lasting flavor in someone's mouth of what Daenerys is..." she trailed off.
Later, during the final Game of Thrones episodes, a resurfaced video from last year's Emmys red carpet was used as further proof of Clarke's dismay at the last season. The hilarious clip found Clarke being asked about how she liked the show's ending, to which Clarke replied with a laugh, "Best season ever!?"
The viral video is part of a longer interview with Entertainment Tonight that adds a bit more context to the quote: Clarke had previously said the final episodes made up the "best season ever," and it could be inferred that her apparent shady response to the second question was nothing more than a bit of media training designed to protect the cast from spoiling the show (publicists often give actors a series of talking points to use during interviews, especially when it comes to secretive franchises like Game of Thrones).
So, best season ever?
Clarke never went that far (she did, however, express a good amount of gratitude for her time on the series), but in interviews with both Entertainment Weekly and The New Yorker published after the series finale, the actress explained her thoughts on Dany's fate -- dead at the hands of Jon Snow after committing genocide against the innocents of King's Landing.
"I cried," Clarke told Entertainment Weekly about her immediate reaction to the ending. "And I went for a walk. I walked out of the house and took my keys and phone and walked back with blisters on my feet. I didn't come back for five hours. I'm like, 'How am I going to do this?'"
Asked by The New Yorker if she expected fan backlash to Dany's end, Clarke said yes. "I always knew that the show was never going to satisfy everyone," she said. "I watched and loved too many television series to ever think that would be possible. The stories are too vast, the characters too complex. The show is, in a certain way, divisive: 'Whose side are you on?' Also, if you're pleasing everyone, then it's probably quite tepid. But to me, it seemed like the only way it could end."
But despite that acceptance, Clarke added she had hoped to have more scenes in the final season with either Cersei or Missandei (or both). "I would've loved to see a bit more between Cersei ... I feel like there was ... The genocide was there. That was always going to happen. And I just think more dissection and those beautifully written scenes that the boys have between characters -- that we are more than happy to contently sit there and watch ten minutes of two people talking because it's beautiful. I just wanted to see a bit more of that," she said. "But I'm in no position to critique the geniuses that have written eight seasons' worth of wonderful stuff."
While she wouldn't critique the finale, Clarke did have moments of self-doubt, where she hoped the character's fans would still be there in support after the end of the show. The actress recalled to The New Yorker what it was like when Beyoncé approached Clarke at an Oscars afterparty this year and expressed her approval.
"I see this vision, this angel, this incredible woman float towards me," Clarke said. "I can't quite control myself. And Beyoncé says to me, 'Oh, my goodness, it's so wonderful to meet you. I think you're brilliant.' I just couldn't handle it! I was on the verge of tears. I could see myself reflected in her eyes. I could see her go, 'Oh, no. I misjudged this. This girl is crazy and I'm not going to have a real conversation with another celebrity. I'm having a conversation with a crazed fan who's looking at me like a rabbit in the headlights.' Which is exactly what I was. I said, 'I've seen you live in concert and I think you're amazing and wonderful! Wonderful!' And all I wanted to scream was 'Please, please still like me even though my character turns into a mass-killing dictator! Please still think that I'm representing women in a really fabulous way.'"
Game of Thrones episodes are available via HBO.