The similarities between the finales of “Succession” and “Game of Thrones” are fascinating — as are the widely divergent reactions to them … at least online.
Is it possible that the ending of “GoT” prepared HBO viewers for the way that “Succession” wrapped things up?
(What follows is full of “Succession” spoilers, so you’ll want to steer clear if you haven’t seen it yet. And if you haven’t seen the “Game of Thrones” finale, well, the statute of limitations has expired for spoilers on that show.)
Both shows were about a battle to take the throne and rule an empire — a literal throne in “Game of Thrones” as ruler of Westeros; a figurative throne in “Succession” as CEO of the Waystar Royco conglomerate.
In “GoT,” Daenyrys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) defeated her enemies and claimed the Iron Throne — only to be stabbed to death by the man she loved, Jon Snow (Kit Harrington). He realized that giving the seriously flawed/mentally unbalanced Daenyrys that much power would be a disaster.
In “Succession,” Kendall Roy (Jeremy Strong) was on the verge of defeating his corporate enemies and was about to take control of the conglomerate — only to be figuratively stabbed in the back by his sister, Siobahn/“Shiv” (Sarah Snook). She realized that giving the seriously flawed/perhaps mentally unbalanced Kendall that much power would be a disaster, so she cast the deciding vote against her brother in a board meeting.
In “Game of Thrones,” a character pretty much no one thought would end up ruling Westeros, Brandon Stark (Isaac Hempstead Wright), was crowned king. He ruled six of the seven kingdoms; his sister, Sansa (Sophie Turner), became queen of the Kingdom in the North.
In “Succession,” a character pretty much no one thought would lead Waystar Royco, Tom Wambsgans (Matthew Macfadyen), became CEO. It’s not as powerful a position as it once was, because the company has been acquired by GoJo and he’s subordinate to Lukas Matsson (Alexander Skarsgård).
(Not that Bran and Tom are all that similar. Bran was remarkably and magically wise — he had become the Three-Eyed Raven; Tom was a sycophant and a fool.)
The similarities between the two shows were never as stark (no pun intended) as they were in their finales. But throughout both series, most of those reaching for the crowns were fundamentally unfit to rule.
But the reactions, at least online, to the two series finales were remarkably different. Whereas “Game of Thrones” was pilloried, “Succession” was praised — for giving us endings that were substantially similar.
I remain unconvinced that the overall reaction to the “Game of Thrones” finale was as bad as some would have us believe. It lived mostly in social media’s echo chamber of nastiness, where it cycled out of control as the nattering nabobs of negativism sought to top each other.
(For what it’s worth, if you go back and watch the last season, even the last episode, it’s a very good ending.)
Even though I knew it wasn’t going to happen, there was a piece of me that wanted Daenyrys and her dragon, Drogon, to triumph, take the throne and live happily ever after with Jon Snow. A lot of the show’s greatest detractors seemed disappointed that they didn’t get a happy ending, lashing out even though they seemed unwilling to admit that.
All of which makes me wonder if viewers, having been through the “Game of Thrones” experience, maybe went into “Succession” with eyes wide open. If you thought there was going to be a happy ending, you just weren’t paying attention.
If you go back and watch “GoT” from the beginning, you can see that Daenyrys was never the heroic figure many viewers (including me) thought she was. She was cold, cruel and murderous. Boy, was she ever murderous.
We rooted for her because her enemies were, for the most part, even worse. So most of us didn’t fully understand that she would be a terrible queen until the last couple of episodes.
No such problem with siblings Kendall, Siobhan and Roman Roy (Keiran Culkin). Sure, we rooted for them at times — because their enemy/father, Logan Roy (Brian Cox), was so much worse. But from the beginning, viewers could see that they would each have been terrible CEOs.
I am absolutely not arguing that “Game of Thrones” wasn’t as good as “Succession.” They were both outstanding series, that — despite the similarities I’ve listed here — were wildly different.
But maybe the audience for the latter was better because of the former.
I AM NOT AT ALL SURE the producers of “Game of Thrones” deserve any criticism for not making it clear that Daenyrys was a ticking time bomb. She did, after all, kill a lot of people. Including those she burned to death or had crucified. And she would have killed more if not for the moderating influence of Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage) and a few others.
But judging by how many viewers seemed not to notice how terrible Daenyrys was, perhaps the producers didn’t make that clear enough.
MY BIGGEST CRITICISM of “Game of Thrones” remains that the eighth and final season wasn’t long enough for the narrative it covered. It needed another 2 to 4 hours.
“Succession” got the timing right, however. As much as we might have wanted more, four seasons and 39 episodes told the story and told it well. There’s something to be said for knowing when to end a TV series.
I AM SORT OF STRUGGLING with how Shiv voted in the “Succession” finale. She handed the company to Lukas, knowing that he was going to name her estranged husband, Tom, as CEO. Really?
Although she professed love for Kendall, she must have hated him even more than she hated Tom.
I choose to blame Logan — a monster and a terrible father — for causing all of this.
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