Say what you like about the Game of Thrones finale, it did bring closure. It also closed the gate, if social media is any guide, on The Iron Throne making ‘best finales’ lists in years to come.
But now the ash has settled, how does Game of Thrones’ last hurrah stack up against other celebrated series?
The Sopranos, 2007
This one makes several best and worst lists for the same reason: the final scene. Tony sits in a diner with Carmela and AJ while Journey’s Don’t Stop Believin’ blares from the jukebox. Meadow parks her car awkwardly across the road and walks to the entry. The bell rings as the diner door opens. Tony looks up. The screen fades to black.
Why? Was Tony killed by an unseen hit man for cooperating with the FBI? Fans wanted to know and weren’t happy they were denied. But that was the beauty of the scene. Even if he was looking up at no one significant, Tony would be fearing the ringing of diner doors for the rest of his life.
Almost 122 million Americans watched the two-hour send-off: that alone says something. The episode was a little bloated, but was lauded at the time and has aged well.
The ‘Hawkeye’s recovered memory’ gimmick was a rip-off of an earlier episode where Captain Pearce becomes ill after smelling a GI’s swampy uniform. But it worked nonetheless: we all suspected that was no dead chicken on the bus. A fitting departure for a much-loved series after 11 years (almost four times as long as the war it depicted) and a graceful way to press home M.A.S.H’s key theme that during war lofty intentions are no barrier to terrible harm.
The Veep finale screened just over a week ago, which is interesting as it took a parallel approach to GoT – a political warrior takes no prisoners in finally, and brutally, forcing her way to the highest office. But when Selina Meyer unleashed the dragons in her finale it felt right, if no less ugly.
Selina had always been an awful person, tempered for audiences mostly by her hilarious, foul-mouthed reactions to the idiocy of the creatures surrounding her. But in setting up her main rival for blackmail and framing her loyal dogsbody Gary before the FBI, Selina showed she was literally capable of any corrupt act.
The bittersweet concluding scene reeked of overdue justice: 24 years later, Selina’s body is interred with full presidential honors only for coverage to be interrupted by breaking news of the death of Tom Hanks.
Breaking Bad, 2013
Another note-perfect conclusion to a long-running series. Walt comes out of hiding to arrange his affairs before cancer takes him. Through his usual meticulous planning he ‘makes things right’ with estranged wife Skyler and son Walt Jr, and destroys the drug gang terrorising Jesse. In taking bloody vengeance, Walt is partially atoning to the person he wronged most, Jesse.
Primarily though, he’s acting out his admission to Skyler that his pursuit of crime as the drug kingpin Heisenberg had long since stopped being about providing for his family. Walt cooked meth, stole from and killed gangsters because he enjoyed it. A single-episode criminal revenge saga as intricate as the Coen brothers’ labyrinthine classic Millers Crossing and no less satisfying.
Another that would make just as many worst as best lists. Diverted to a small town through a near-death flight mishap, the gang fall foul of the law and must defend themselves in court. A rogue’s gallery of those they’ve crossed over the years, from the Soup Nazi to the Bubble Boy, are only too eager to attest to their characters.
The problem with this finale mirrors that of GoT – the terrible behavior of the characters seems fashioned to fit the concept. Jerry’s pals were always conceited and self-centered, but would they really mock and film an overweight man getting car-jacked? (Well, perhaps George would.) Was Seinfeld mocking its own audience? The audience didn’t care: the two-part finale attracted 76 million viewers.
Honourable mention: Mad Men, 30 Rock, Friends
Dishonourable mention: Lost, Dexter