Some of the later seasons of Game of Thrones can be a bit divisive — but their most criticized aspects can often be traced back to the earliest episodes, which got most fans hooked in the first place.
- Three scenes from the show's later seasons got considerable criticism for their use of Gratuitous Rape, which many viewers found to be in poor taste. First there was the scene in Season 4 where Jaime forcefully has sex with Cersei right next to Joffrey's corpse, with the creators being inconsistent on whether it was rape (even though the scene was fully consensual in the book). Then Season 5 had Sansa's brutalization at the hands of Ramsay Snow (which happened to a completely different character in the book), and Gilly's Attempted Rape by the Night's Watch (which wasn't in the books at all). But signs of this trend could be seen as early as the first episode, where Khal Drogo outright rapes Daenerys on her wedding night, even though the book's version of that scene had him simply arousing her until she consented (albeit with Questionable Consent due to her age and the underlying circumstances). This scene also got some criticism at the time, but it was quickly forgiven due to being a relatively minor change compared to the later ones because it was used to show the character development of Daenerys from a weak little girl to a strong leader. Many of the later seasons lack any reason for it beyond simply being "dark and edgy".
- The series has always teetered on the brink of Torture Porn, with frequent depictions of brutal executions and punishments that sometimes push the boundaries of good taste. Even Season 1 raised a few eyebrows with an extended scene where a would-be assassin is punished for an attempt on Daenerys' life by being stripped naked and forced to march behind her rider column until collapsing from exhaustion. But many critics thought the show really crossed the line with the treatment of Ros the prostitute (who's brutally killed offscreen by Joffrey and gets a gratuitous camera pan up her naked corpse) and Theon Greyjoy (who's brutally tortured and castrated by Ramsay Snow over the course of multiple episodes). Not only were those later scenes extra unpleasant to watch (even by Game of Thrones standards), they were also conceived entirely for the show; Ros' death didn't happen at all in the books (since Ros was a Canon Foreigner), and most of Theon's torture was just implied—while the show depicted it in stomach-churning detail.
- The tendency for the show to take a subplot given to a female character in the books and either cut it or reduce its importance in favor of some of the other, male characters, often by killing her off or putting her in a Damsel in Distress situation. While the shift of focus from Catelyn Stark to her son Robb in the first few seasons was more understandable due to the shift from the POV format of the books and she was still given plenty to do, later seasons saw the removal or altering of several important subplots such as the almost complete removal of Selyse Baratheon, eventually resulting in her death by her own hand in Season 5, killing off Talisa Stark in the Red Wedding in Season 3 while her book counterpart survives, the complete removal of Lady Stoneheart, with the Brotherhood Without Banners still under Lord Beric Dondarrion and the responsibility of the BWB as the resisting force in the Riverlands removed. This extended to gratuitously killing off the Canon Foreigner Ros at the hands of Joffrey, solely to establish how evil Littlefinger is and have him voice one of his pompous monologues, and as mentioned above, shifting Sansa Stark's story arc from becoming Littlefinger's Bastard Understudy to that of her friend Jeyne Poole from the books, which results in the above mentioned rape by Ramsay Snow.
- Though the first season set the tone in regards to character mortality, with the death of Ned, character deaths seemed to go up rapidly after the show gained a reputation for them, and even more so after the showrunners ran out of published material and started to make their own (in Season 6). Nowadays, major characters die Once an Episode, with many coming Back for the Dead, leading up to accusations of Darkness-Induced Audience Apathy.
- It's become something of a running joke that the show includes so much tragedy and human cruelty that even its biggest fans sometimes find it hard to watch. The thing is, though, it was generally easier to tolerate in the earlier seasons because the writers at least played fair and allowed the tragic storylines and depraved characters to develop organically — so it never felt like they were just tormenting the audience for the sake of it. The infamous "Red Wedding" is a good example: sure, it was tough to see the Starks betrayed and massacred, but it still felt like a fitting climax because it made sense; Robb's Honor Before Reason mentality had long been established as one of his defining traits, and it was well-established that the Lannisters had a talent for buying loyalty. Even Joffrey's sadism (as over-the-top as it could be) wasn't that unbelievable, since it was made clear that Tywin and Tyrion were the ones really running the show. But compare all of that to the later seasons, when the Boltons become the unchallenged rulers of the North, even though it was never made clear how they were strong enough to command that much influence. Where Joffrey was a chilling portrait of a budding sociopath enabled by his powerful family, Ramsay Bolton is practically an outright serial killer, making it a bit less believable that he could handle ruling an entire kingdom by himself.
- Season 7 was much criticized for being inconsistent about the size of Westeros and frequently distorting travel times for the sake of drama. The climax of "Beyond the Wall" is often cited as the moment that finally killed Willing Suspension of Disbelief; in order for Daenerys' climactic Big Damn Heroes moment to happen, Gendry is forced to send a message for help across the span of an entire continent, and Daenerys is forced to fly back across the span of the same continent after receiving his message—all in the span of maybe 24 hours. As fans have noted, this was a problem in earlier seasons too. Most notably, Littlefinger regularly popped up all over the Seven Kingdoms whenever the plot required it, even traveling through warzones with surprising ease. Most people were willing to overlook that, though, since it led to plenty of compelling moments of character interaction, and wasn't usually a case of breaking the plot to save the main characters from certain death. It strained credulity a bit more when the Sand Snakes seemingly teleported from the docks of Sunspear to the harbour of King's Landing, and when Varys somehow managed to travel from Sunspear to Meereen (crossing an entire ocean) just for the sake of a single dramatic moment in the finale.
- Starting in Season 5 when the show began to overtake the books, they started killing off many characters who weren't yet dead in the books. They got some confirmations via Word of God (most notably Shireen Baratheon) but some like Ser Barristan, Osha, Rickon Stark, Myrcella, and Doran were considered a bit anticlimactic or done just for the sake of it. This actually happened back in Season 3 with Talisa Stark - who is killed in the Red Wedding - when her book counterpart Jeyne Westerling survives. This one worked because the character disappeared from the narrative afterwards in the books anyway, and in the show the character wasn't too well liked. Not to mention that the death more than delivered in the Tear Jerker department.
- The more lenient critics of Season 7-8 note that many of its controversial moments (the White Walkers being abruptly dealt with, Jamie returning to Cersei in spite of his Character Development, Daenerys' FaceHeel Turn, etc.) actually fit the series being a Genre Deconstruction, subverting audience expectations. The difference was then it had the intricate writing to make those developments come of as logical, realistic outcomes that the characters made, while here it came off as contrived (discarding previous characterization) in order to force the outcome the writers wanted. The reason instances like Ned Stark's death or the Red Wedding were unexpected was that it didn't seem likely that the series would kill off main characters in such a fashion, even though it made perfect sense in-universe and served a narrative payoff as the consequences for their actions. On the other hand, most of the plot twists in the seventh and eighth season were unexpected because they were laughably implausible, inconsistent, or had no narrative force behind them. An example of the twists of this is Battle of the Bastards in season 6 and the Battle for Winterfell in season 8, where ultimately the Big Bad of the battle is not beaten by Jon Snow as viewers expected but by someone else. In the case of the former, however, it was Sansa getting her revenge on Ramsay in a satisfying conclusion after all the hardships he did to her, and she killed him in a manner that made sense for the setup and her character (and while Jon didn't kill Ramsay, he did get to defeat him). The latter, however, has Arya killing the Night King on very flimsy foreshadowing and in a fairly absurd fashion. This was despite Jon and the Night King being set up as almost rivals since Season 5, alongside it being one of the main motivations of Jon for years of his life, while Arya had pretty much nothing connecting her to the Night King aside from her being good at killing things and him needing to be killed. Meanwhile, while Jon did get some closure with Ramsay, his contribution to the fight with the Night King was memetically summarized as "screaming at a dragon," which didn't help in a season that was already infamous for not giving him a lot to do.
- The series always seemed to have trouble with the supernatural elements in the books, which led to a lot of magical elements being Adapted Out: Euron being a warlock, the Horn of Winter, Lady Stoneheart, etc. These omissions were forgiven by most fans at the time, since they were fairly minor elements that could be safely squirreled to the side or justified in different ways, and some of the magical elements that did make it in at least fell into Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane. However, it became a major problem in the eighth season, when the major supernatural elements that the show did keep (the White Walkers, the Lord of Light, and the Three-Eyed Raven) ended up amounting to almost nothing. Bran's Story-Breaker Power just results in him telling Jon Snow something that never really affects the plot, the White Walkers turn out to be a massive Anti-Climax Boss, and the Lord of Light has no resolution whatsoever. Even the dragons—supposedly intelligent, willful, and powerful—end up being little more than attack dogs until Drogon's rather abrupt show of intelligence results in him sparing Jon's life and melting the Iron Throne. The show's clumsy handling of those concepts just became harder to ignore in the final episodes when they were forced into the spotlight, and suddenly the story hinged on the writers having to deliver on them.
- Much has been made of Daenerys Targaryen in the last episodes of season 8, having her burn down the city of her enemies including women and children after they'd already surrendered. Many seeing this as a complete nonsensical end to her character arc and some even going as far as to say it was a character assassination. It is speculated that her razing King's Landing to the ground was one of three major moments George R.R. Martin had told the about in advance and they weren't able to pull it off. A case can be made for Stannis Baratheon at the end of season 5, he was a man of firm principles and unshakeable belief in himself only to burn his own daughter at the stake, something a lot of book fans took umbrage with. It was defended by the writers as something that George R.R. told them would happen (referring to the burning of Shireen). The difference between audience reaction to the two events is that Daenerys has been consistently presented as the main character of Game of Thrones second only to possibly Jon Snow. All of her actions in the past have been presented as morally right, heroic and she is presented as some sort of chosen messiah figure to everyone she frees. Stannis meanwhile was always presented as far more sinister, with darker music and a lot more characters questioning if he would be a good ruler of the realm. This meant that Daenerys had a lot further to fall and a lot more fans to disappoint with a mishandling of her character than Stannis did.
- As Lindsay Ellis points out, Pandering to the Base was a major issue with the series even in its glory days; it was just easier to tolerate when it mostly affected minor plot developments rather than major storylines that developed for years. In particular: many major characters' arcs seem to have been influenced less by what made sense for the narrative, and more by how much the audience seemed to like them, which led to problems down the road when the conclusions to those arcs were reached and no longer made sense for their characters. This was an understandable pitfall for a series with one of the biggest and loudest online fandoms in the history of television.
Tyrion Lannister's arc was arguably an early example of this. In both the show and the novels, he's presented as a clever, charismatic antihero who—while undeniably flawed—is generally one of the more good-natured nobles from the Great Houses. But when audiences fell in love with the character thanks to Peter Dinklage's performance, the writers often seemed to downplay many of his less sympathetic traits (like his ruthlessness, his manipulativeness, and his attitude towards women) in favor of making him a straight-up hero. Among other things, this led to his romance with Shae being reimagined as a genuinely loving relationship, rather than a torrid (and slightly creepy) love affair between a sex worker and her wealthy client who pays her to pretend that she loves him. And while this decision wasn't necessarily bad on its own, it ultimately led to problems when it came time to adapt Shae's death in Season 4—an important plot point that couldn't really be Adapted Out without affecting the rest of the narrative. Since the showrunners apparently wanted to avoid making their most popular character too unsympathetic, they changed the story considerably; so while the books have Tyrion strangling Shae to death in a fit of jealous rage after he finds his father buying her services, the show has her betraying Tyrion at his trial, with Tyrion later killing her in self-defense after she tries to stab him. Many fans and critics took issue with the resulting story for being inconsistent with both characters' established characterizations, but most were willing to forgive it.
People weren't so forgiving when it came to the final episodes of the series, where Daenerys Targaryen's arc finally had to be brought to its long-awaited conclusion. Much like with Tyrion, the writers apparently picked up on how popular Daenerys was, so the preceding seasons generally portrayed her as far more sympathetic than she ever was in the books. As a result, while the books generally depict her as the highly ambitious heir to a Big, Screwed-Up Family who wants to rule the Seven Kingdoms because it's her birthright, the show spends about six straight seasons showing her as an unambiguously heroic Warrior Princess who's destined to lead Westeros into a Golden Age by "breaking the wheel". There was nothing initially wrong with this change—but it led to major problems when the writers ended the series with her massacring thousands of innocent civilians in the siege of King's Landing, strongly implying that she was Evil All Along (an ending that would make much more sense for the books' version of the character). The inconsistent writing wasn't exactly worse than in Tyrion's arc in Season 4, but it was harder to forgive when it was in a hugely important plot point in the series finale.