Friends, we gather here today to witness the end of an era. No matter how you feel about the actual ending of Game of Thrones — and believe me, I have thoughts, and we will get to them — there’s no denying the impact that this show has had in its eight years on air.
That said, what a meh finale!
You may remember that last week’s episode, “The Bells,” featured Daenerys Targaryen going full Mad Queen on King’s Landing, fulfilling the prophecy from the House of The Undying. This resulted in the worst-rated episode in the show’s history, as we were subjected to this former fan favourite completely decimating the Westerosi capital — and any hopes we had of a satisfying outcome to this deeply beloved show.
And now, well, this. To be fair, we could have seen it coming. By all accounts, the ending of "The Iron Throne" is in line with George R.R. Martin’s original vision for his universe, which means it’s basically Lord of the Rings fanfiction.
As in J.R.R. Tolkien’s tale, the would-be heroes are cast out of the paradise they want to build: Dany dies minutes after touching the Iron Throne for the first time; Jon, who wielded the knife, is sentenced to life beyond the wall; and Arya, the one who beat death himself, is choosing to push the boundaries of human knowledge by going beyond the known borders on the map.
Instead, the world will be rebuilt by the ones so often relegated to the sidelines: Bran, who basically becomes the George Washington of Westeros; Sansa, who will rule the North as an independent nation; Tyrion, who will repent for his mistakes by helping to fix them; Bronn, who now controls all the money (lol); Davos, who's in charge of his beloved ships; and Ser Brienne, who has finally earned her spot on the Kingsguard of the sole reigning monarch, rather than one of any number of usurpers.
It’s an ending that is overwhelmingly Biblical in nature. That last scene with Jon leading the wildlings to freedom had such strong Prince of Egypt vibes that I started humming “When You Believe.” And yet, it all felt overwhelmingly predictable — and not all that compelling.
For years, I felt utterly unable to predict who would end up on the Iron Throne. The show threw so many twists and turns, offered so many potential outcomes, that it seemed impossible that one would take the lead. But after last week’s episode, not only was it fairly clear that we were going to end up with “Bran the Broken” as protector of the realm, I suddenly didn’t care all that much. Dany’s sudden transformation into a zealot was the final straw in a season that has seemed hell-bent on undermining years of character building.
After last week’s annihilation of King’s Landing, this episode felt a lot quieter. Most of the action revolved around a group of people choosing a system of government, which may be momentous in history books but isn’t all that interesting to watch.
We open a scene of harrowing death and destruction, the result of Dany’s fire rampage last week. Tyrion walks through what’s left of King’s Landing, barely able to look at the piles of charred bodies — many of them children — and the dazed, bloody survivors.
Even in light of this devastation, Daenerys isn’t done. In a rousing speech to her troops, she makes her ultimate plan crystal clear: She won’t stop until the whole world is, in her words, “liberated." No emotional attachment or sentiment will stand in her way. She arrests Tyrion and sentences him to death for helping Jaime escape, even though he and Cersei are both dead — a fact confirmed by Tyrion, who somehow finds their bodies in the bowels of the castle. They are remarkably well preserved for two people who were crushed to death by an entire tower.
This all doesn’t sit well with Jon, who earlier got into a pissing contest with Greyworm about whether or not to kill the remaining four stray Lannister soldiers. He visits Tyrion in jail, and the latter provides a helpful recap of all the bad things Daenerys has ever done: She burned the slave masters of Slaver’s Bay, crucified the nobles of Meereen, burned all the khals alive, etc. This is David Benioff and D.B. Weiss basically saying: “See guys, she was crazy the whole time!”
It's meant to remove any moral ambiguity. And therein lies the fundamental weakness of this finale. Game of Thrones is a show built entirely on such conflict. We began the show hating Jaime Lannister, only to follow him on a complex arc that took us on ups and downs. We often rooted for Littlefinger, a genuinely heinous man, and sighed at Ned Stark's good-hearted naivete. The beauty of this story was that it had no heroes, only flawed people who sometimes did good things, and more often did not. But by removing the conflict from Jon's decision to kill Dany, the show essentially neuters itself. It makes us indifferent.
Tyrion asks Jon, who remains pathetically loyal and defensive, to kill the queen. There’s no way that she will overlook his claim to the throne for much longer, but if he won’t save himself, he should probably do it for his sisters. There’s no way Sansa is bending the knee.
Dany’s final monologue with Jon in the throne room, minutes after having marvelled at the Iron Throne she spent so long coveting, feels like it was written for another character. When Jon accuses her of raining fire down on innocent children, the woman who freed countless slaves so babies would never have to be separated from their mothers again just shrugs. It’s okay, Jon, don’t you see? It’s all so we can have “a world that is good.”
Daenerys has always been a strong believer in herself and her divine right. But she was never a zealot to the point of madness. And perhaps that’s why her death felt anti-climactic. It all rang false. (Also, it took her two seconds to die.) In typical sad-boy fashion, Jon pretends to agree with her, and stabs her mid-kiss, only to be confronted with a very angry dragon. Drogon, in a laughably on-the-nose piece of symbolism, literally burns down the Iron Throne in protest.
Fast-forward several weeks, and Tyrion and Jon are both prisoners of Greyworm and his Unsullied. But since this is still Westeros, a council has been formed to figure out how to deal with them. It’s a nice way for everyone — even Edmure Tully and crazy little Robyn Arryn, who has grown up...hot?? — to get together for one last hurrah. Greyworm wants to have Jon executed, but Tyrion points out that’s not his choice to make. Westeros first, guys!
Anyway, long story short, there’s a fun little conversation about democracy. Sam suggests that everyone should get the vote and gets laughed offstage, Edmure tries to nominate himself as king and gets monumentally shut down by his niece, and finally, Tyrion suggests Bran. Stories, he posits, are the most powerful unifier of men. So, why not have the socially awkward weirdo who can see into the past rule over a huge population of starving, poverty-stricken citizens? He knows all the bad things we did, so he’ll never repeat them! Yada yada yada, all hail Bran the Broken, first of his name!
All, except Sansa of course, who, though she loves her brother, has not come this far to lose her kingdom to a man. She demands that the North remain independent, as it was for thousands of years before the Targaryens first came along.
As for Jon, Bran compromises with Greyworm by sending him back to the Night’s Watch. The Targaryen line will end with him, and since Bran can’t have children, Westeros will no longer have to suffer at the hands of rulers who have inherited the job from their fathers. Cue "Battle Hymn of the Republic!"
Deciding what to do with the realm takes quite a while, and so the final moments of the episodes go by rather quickly: Arya ends the episode on the deck of a ship, spyglass in hand, ready to find out what is west of Westeros. (I half expected her to yell “Now, bring me that horizon!”); Sansa, giving off major Virgin Queen Elizabeth I vibes, gets crowned Queen in the North (the only really clap-worthy moment of the finale); Tyrion and the King’s Council are trading jokes as the camera pulls back, like it’s a sitcom; Greyworm and his fleet sail off to Naath, Missandei’s homeland, to free more slaves and fulfil Daenerys’ dream; and Jon, who finally gave his damn pet a sign of affection, heads out beyond the wall with Ghost, Tormund, and the remaining wildlings, to freedom. As far as closure goes, it’s all fine.
But there’s one moment that really didn’t sit right with me. Brienne, now head of the Kingsguard, finds Jaime’s entry in their book of legends, and adds in all his great deeds (although I choose to believe she’s using it as a burn book). This is meaningful because you’ll remember, Tywin once made fun of how short it was. And it would be sweet, if it didn’t feed into a season-long pattern of women propping up a system that feeds on the legends of men despite them having done all the damn work to solve things. Why shouldn’t Brienne write HER name in the book? Why hasn’t Arya gotten the kind of recognition she deserves for killing the goddamn Night King? Why did Cersei, the most ruthless, independent woman on this show, die in the arms of a man? And, though I’ve never been a fan of Daenerys, dying betrayed by a dumb dumb like Jon is no way to go for the Mother of Dragons, Breaker of Chains, etc.
For years, Game of Thrones has lulled us into believing that its women would end up in charge. In the end, it’s only Sansa, by sheer force of will, who wears a lesser crown. The wheel hasn’t broken; the patriarchy is still alive and well in Westeros.
And with that, I'll bid you adieu. [Insert requisite “Watch has ended” joke here.]
Game Of Thrones is available to watch on Sky Atlantic and Now TV