The numbers are in and they are either very good or very bad, depending on which ones you’re looking at. As expected, Game of Thrones has set yet another ratings record, this one being the third time in five episodes here in season 8. First it was the premiere, then it was The Long Night, and now it’s The Bells, which has brought in 18.4 million viewers according to HBO. The Long Night had 17.8 million two weeks ago, which was the old record, and it’s almost certain that the finale will jump up even higher.
These ratings show just how desperate HBO has been to hold on to Thrones as nothing else on the channel comes even close to these viewership figures. It’s why they were willing to let the show go on forever, if the showrunners wanted, and why they’ve developed an entire slate of prequel spin-offs, one of which is already entering production. But it’s unlikely they will ever be able to recapture the magic that is happening now with each episode averaging 43 million viewers in season 8 when you add up all the different services and later viewing throughout the week.
But these days, the question is how many of those people are enjoying what they’re seeing?
The backlash to the last few episodes of Game of Thrones has been fierce, and no episode has proven more divisive than The Bells which saw (spoilers ahead) Daenerys go full Mad Queen and destroy King’s Landing, and Jaime throw away all his character development to die in Cersei’s embrace.
The Bells is the lowest critically rated episode of the series, currently sitting at a 47% on Rotten Tomatoes. That is well below the previous record holder Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken in season 5 which had that atrocious Dorne fight scene and Sansa getting raped by Ramsay Bolton.
But it’s not just critics who dislike the episode, it’s also a good chunk of fans, who have rated it a 6.8/10 on IMDB, the second lowest in show history by a wide margin (Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken was 8.1 as the third lowest). The only episode rated lower is The Last of the Starks at 6.1, which I would agree is a worse episode overall. At least The Bells was very pretty.
I’m not going to go off about why everyone is so upset about The Bells, as I’ve already spent about 10,000 words across five articles on that. But suffice to say it’s not just that “bad things happened to/were done by characters we like” as we have never seen this level of complaints through any of the other big, tragic turns in the show’s history. It’s about how this was executed, and as I’ve said before, much of this is due to how rushed seasons 7 and 8 have felt due to the totally unnecessary constraint of the showrunners making them 7 and 6 episodes each.
Everyone is bracing for the finale. Record ratings are assured, but will people like it? The trend is…not positive.
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