Since its premiere five weeks ago, the final season of Game of Thrones has suffered jarring pacing issues and disappointing (or downright nonsensical) resolutions, which have affected the show’s fans to the point that the internet becomes exclusively a place to air one’s Game of Thrones grievances for the 24 hours following each episode’s start time. There are likely myriad reasons for this extreme shift—from budgetary and timing constraints, to the pressure to please both diehard and casual fans—but most of the blame probably lies with a lack of published source material. Creators David Benioff and D.B. Weiss had five of author George RR Martin’s novels to use as a foundation for Seasons 1 through 6, but to rely on “major points” told to them by Martin “five or six years ago” to wrap up the final two. What began as a meandering and sometimes laborious exploration of politics and power is now a clunky fantasy epic with about 20,000 words left to write and only half-an-inch left on the page.
An inverse of sorts occurred to another HBO series throughout its final season. With Game of Thrones, venturing beyond the page transformed the show into something unrecognizable. In the case of Veep, however, blatantly referencing the current state of American politics had a similar effect. It was a different kind of show, and came to a wonderfully dark and satisfying conclusion because of it.
In Sunday night’s series finale, Selina Meyer became POTUS after winning a vulgar, ruthless, and uniquely 2020 game of RISK. She mercilessly buried her opponents in scandal and made countless false promises at her party’s convention, irreparably destroyed her relationship with her daughter Catherine’s family after agreeing to reinstate a ban on same-sex marriage to earn the endorsement of a homophobic (and presumably closeted) congressman, and pinned her most ruinous financial and treasonous crimes on her tragically loyal bagman Gary. Even moments of humanity, like when she fell to Ben’s side after he collapsed on the floor of their skybox during a heart attack, were cut short once she became distracted by her own self-interests.
The show used to find more joy in Selina’s monstrous behavior, perhaps because viewers could more easily defend her as the byproduct of a toxic environment. She had overcome so many odds to become VP, and participating in terrible behavior meant to secure that ultimate promotion was just her keeping up with all the misdeeds surrounding her at any given moment. She was always one among many—until, in the final season, she stood alone. As was foreshadowed in the show’s first episode, coverage of her funeral 24 years after her election was interrupted by some devastating breaking news: The death of Tom Hanks.
Rewatching episodes from the show’s first few seasons, when Meyer was more often the bullied than she was the bully, is a lot like scrolling through your social media posts from the same time. Life was simpler, our troubles were more trivial, and people loved using Instagram’s multitude of hideous filters as a way of combating our phones’ subpar camera lenses. Politics used to be funny, right? Or was the fact that we believed it our problem all along?
In the pilot, first broadcast on April 22, 2012, Vice President Selina Meyer’s narcissism and megalomania manifests more quietly, as though she considers herself to be the temporarily inconvenienced hero in the second act of her story. Her biggest mistake is using a pejorative in a speech, and it’s overcome after a closed-door meeting with the chair of the American Foundation for Adult Mental Disabilities. Back then, that was the behavior that outraged the populace. By Season 7, not even Meyer’s decision to drone strike a wedding (and kill elephants in the process!) would derail her ascent to the presidency. Nor would the decision to make Jonah Ryan, a man who believed in abolishing math because it is a Muslim creation, her VP.
Veep’s finale wasn’t an indictment of the American people per se, but it was hard to watch without a nagging feeling that maybe viewers shouldn’t have been laughing so much from, oh, let’s say 2012 to late 2016. I’ve chatted with people who are disappointed in the show’s sudden turn from broad satire of American politics to ripped-from-the-headlines commentary on current events–specifically the rise of populism, complete with direct analogues for several prominent figures in the Trump administration–but I can’t imagine another way for the show to have ended that wouldn’t have resembled the scorched earth (and precedents) David Benioff and D.B. Weiss have brought to Game of Thrones. How could Veep ignore our political reality in good faith, especially when we all know where that sort of ignorance tends to lead? This is the final season we deserved—a dark and dizzyingly hilarious indictment of, yes, our embarrassing political system, the Trump presidency, and the 2016/2020 campaigns, but also of the show as it once was.
But the series finale saved its most devastating bit of commentary for last, when jumping ahead for Meyer’s funeral. Turns out, the United States of the Veep universe did eventually find a leader it could be proud of: Richard Splett. It just took 24 years to get there.
Bobby Finger is a writer and co-host of the podcast Who? Weekly.”