The 'spectacular' Game of Thrones season finale

The first season of HBO's fantasy series ended Sunday with a near-universally praised episode. What makes the show so good?

A scene from HBO's "Game of Thrones": The epic fantasy series ended its first season with a bang on Sunday.
(Image credit: Helen Sloan)

HBO's big-budget epic Game of Thrones and AMC's quiet, slow-burning thriller The Killing both aired their much-hyped first-season finales Sunday. And while the final twist that concluded The Killing's freshman year had many fans griping, the Game of Thrones finale is being praised as one of the best episodes of television this year. That caps off a "brilliant" first season, which followed seven noble families in their violent struggle to win control of the medieval Iron Throne. What exactly makes Game of Thrones so great?

It shows an incredible commitment to storytelling: With "formidable" characters that have evolved in "amazing ways," the first season of Game of Thrones wasn't "just good for a fantasy series, it's been an amazing piece of storytelling, full stop," says Ben Kuchera at Ars Technica. The show isn't afraid to embrace "heavy exposition" and shocking plot twists, treating each viewer "like an adult," and trusting that they'll "understand the intricacies of the series." Simply put, season one of Game of Thrones produced the "best ten episodes of television this year."

"Why Game of Thrones is the best thing on television"

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Game of Thrones has the HBO magic: Four years and "many dramatically shaky series" after the divisive series finale of The Sopranos, Sunday's episode of Game of Thrones will go down as the moment that HBO "finally got its mojo back," says Matt Zoller Seitz at Salon. The "eerie," "mesmerizing," and "spectacular" episode was the result of a "meticulous, season-long buildup" reminiscent of the best of The Sopranos. It was the "right balance of terseness and sweep," and "the best first season of a cable series" since Deadwood in 2004.

"Game of Thrones takes wing"

And it's only getting better: Game of Thrones has faced criticism for being a "woman-hating series," but Sunday's episode spotlighted strong female characters, says Cynthia Dermody at The Stir. The "major transformations" over the course of the finale hinted at a promising twist for the show's future: "a female protagonist in the next season." We can't wait.

"Game of Thrones' season 2 will be even better than season 1"

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