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Nikolaj Coster-Waldau responds to critics of Game of Thrones' final season: 'We worked our asses off'

By Matthew Jackson
(Helen Sloan/HBO)

Game of Thrones' epic final season concluded this year, closing the book on one of the most successful television series of all time with even more ratings records for HBO. The final season won't just be remembered for the droves of people who tuned in to watch it, though. It will also be looked back on as one of the most divisive seasons of television in recent memory, thanks to negative reviews from both critics and fans that, at one point, even included a failed (obviously) petition for HBO to simply rewrite and reshoot the whole thing.

The cast and writers of Game of Thrones are no strangers to criticism, but even for this show the backlash to Season 8 was particularly intense. At the Con of Thrones event over the weekend, star Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (Jaime Lannister) acknowledged that, and noted that, even if they weren't publicly responding at the time, the show's stars were paying attention.

“Every season has been intense in terms of the attention and discussion, but it was extraordinarily intense for a final season,” Coster-Waldau said at a fan Q&A event during the con, via HuffPost. “And we have this WhatsApp group, the actors, and I saw some people getting a little upset because some of the stuff is vicious, and if you make the mistake of start reading all that s**t, because if you guys get really angry about something ― I’m sure you did, some of you ― so you write to each other and go, ‘F***ing assholes. This is so not what would happen! They ruined, they butchered George’s world!’ It’s just fun for you, but of course some got a little upset.

“There was that kind of weird feeling of, ‘What the hell? We worked so hard,’” he continued. “I’m not asking anyone to feel sorry, by the way. That’s not what I’m saying. I’m just saying how it was to get through that whole thing."

Much of the criticism of the final season was aimed directly at showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, who were responsible for steering the direction of the entire story, particularly after the show ran out of books in George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire saga to directly adapt. The show's plot picked up its pace dramatically in the final two seasons, which led to things like characters crossing vast swaths of land seemingly overnight and, ultimately, the villainous turn of Daenerys Targaryen, which was a particularly ripe target for criticism. While the development may have been foreshadowed, the moment of the turn itself happened rather quickly for many fans, and it became the key symbol of a final season that, overall, felt rushed to many fans. This all led to speculation that Benioff and Weiss in particular had decided to speed through the final stages of the story in as few episodes as possible, in part because they wanted to finish the series and move on to work on their previously announced Star Wars films.

For Coster-Waldau, that was a particularly unfounded accusation.

“For anyone to imagine or to think that the two creators of the show are not the most passionate, the greatest, the most invested of all, and to for a second think that they didn’t spend the last 10 years thinking about how they were going to end it is kind of silly,” he said at a later panel. “And also know that they too read the comments. And it is, even though you sit on your own and go, ‘F***ing stupid writers. A**holes.’ They really ― like everyone on Game of Thrones, every single person and there are thousands ― we worked our asses off to make the best show we could for the ending.”

Coster-Waldau's defense of the show, and of the emotions of those he worked so closely with for years to make a series that ultimately became so big that some measure of online hatred couldn't be avoided, is a reminder that real people inhabit every fictional world we love on television and in the movies. Criticism is one thing, but anger is another, and while Coster-Waldau seems to accept both as a response to making such a massively successful show, he's out to remind everyone that human beings who take pride in their work are still there behind all the dragons and the ice zombies.