Data show “Game of Thrones” is taking a historic critical nosedive

David Benioff and D.B. Weiss couldn’t nail the last season of Game of Thrones.
David Benioff and D.B. Weiss couldn’t nail the last season of Game of Thrones.
Image: Reuters/Caitlin Ochs
We may earn a commission from links on this page.

They just couldn’t stick the landing. With one episode left, it is all but certain that the eighth season of Game of Thrones will be considered its worst. Our analysis suggests it’s been a truly historic fall.

To figure out just how bad things have gotten for Game of Thrones, we turned to data from IMDb, a source for information about TV shows and movies that also includes ratings from users. Most episodes of Game of Thrones have received well over 30,000 ratings. The first five episodes of season eight of the show averaged a score of 7.6 on a 1-10 scale. No prior season received less than an 8.9.

This season’s low score is largely driven by horrible ratings for its fourth and fifth episodes, which received a 6.2 and 6.9 respectively from the close to 100,000 IMDb users who reviewed them. Less than 4% of all shows on IMDb with at least 1,000 reviews get less than a 7.0 rating. It’s possible that the scores will increase as more people review these episodes, but unlikely. Our data is accurate as of May 14, 2019.

Most critics point to rushed storytelling and nonsensical plot choices to explain the Game of Throne’s downfall. The show is now completely beyond George R.R. Martin’s books, its source material, and the show’s creators seem lost without it. (Though they are unusual, some critics do still defend Game of Thrones.)

According to IMDb data, the show’s nosedive is nearly unmatched. We examined 82 television shows that lasted at least five seasons, in which every episode received at least 2,000 reviews on IMDb (almost all of them are from the 1980s onwards). Among those shows, Game of Thrones season eight is the second worst decline from a previous season. Only the last season of the political drama House of Cards did worse.

The most disappointing TV seasons, according to IMDB ratings

The steep decline of House of Cards points to some of the problems with using IMDb for this type of analysis. Since IMDb rating is open to anyone, shows are periodically targeted by organized groups for bad reviews—this is called “brigading.” For example, it seems likely that House of Cards season six was brigaded by a large number of users who gave the season’s episodes ratings of one. The other biggest issues with using IMDb for our analysis is that voters skew heavily male and young, and towards people who spend a lot of time on the internet.

Still, most shows don’t receive brigading attacks—it does not seem that Game of Thrones is suffering from one—and ratings are generally reflective of wider critical reception. The problem for Game of Thrones isn’t our methodology; it’s that the show is bad.

The chart below shows the performance of Game of Thrones compared to other critically lauded dramas of the past several decades. Shows like Mad MenThe Sopranos, and The Wire all held up over many seasons. Breaking Bad even received better scores towards the end.

It’s not just IMDb users who have soured on the show.

On the website Rotten Tomatoes, which scores movies and TV shows based on the share of positive reviews they receive, Game of Thrones‘ final season has also taken a beating.  Season eight has received a score of only 71 (out of 100), after scoring above 90 in all previous seasons. Rotten Tomatoes data is not available for many TV shows historically, so it is difficult to compare this decline to other falls from grace.

For many viewers, Game of Thrones is an all-time disappointment. Perhaps if and when George R.R. Martin finishes the books, the show can be remade to rectify these mistakes. The realm of TV watchers deserves better.