Warning: Spoilers from the Game of Thrones Finale are ahead.
Update: This story was originally published on May 19, 2019 at 10 AM ET.
Long live Game of Thrones. Whatever your opinions are on season 8’s writing quality – and trust us, folks have a lot of opinions — the ending itself has been set in (dragon)stone. That’s because writer George R.R. Martin, who wrote the Song of Ice and Fire book series from which Game of Thrones is based on, sketched out the story’s basic end many years ago — and spilled the beans to show creators D.B. Weiss and David Benioff. The show’s finale unfolded more or less as Martin intended.
Allow us to explain. Martin has always spoken about how J.R.R. Tolkien, who wrote the Lord of the Rings trilogy, is one of his biggest influences. In 2015, Martin spoke to Sean T. Collins at the Observer about how he modeled the ending of ASOIF after the Scouring of the Shire, which occurs at the end of the Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (this scene is not in the film adaptation of the book). In this chapter, Frodo returns home to the Shire after destroying the One Ring, only to find that it has been razed by Saruman, a wizard who was once good, but later was corrupted by the power of the Ring. Is this sounding a little like last week’s dracarys party?
In the interview, Martin also said the “tone of the ending” he desired was “bittersweet.” Last week’s episode was as bittersweet as it comes. Reddit user sam1405 pointed out that the “good” guys — Daenerys, the Unsullied, the Northmen — began killing innocent people and soldiers who had already surrendered, while the “bad” guys — the Lannister army — were seen guiding civilians to safety. Cersei herself succumbed to her fate in the most heartbreaking way, by fearing for her unborn child.
Now that we've seen the finale episode of Game of Thrones, the references to Lord of The Rings are almost too clear, down to the Starks saying goodbye on the docks, much like Sam and Frodo did.
However you feel about Game of Thrones season 8, it’s worth noting that Martin’s ending is not a literary outlier, despite his penchant for subverting our expectations. Yes, we still mourn Ned Stark, but in the end, Game of Thrones is a story about people. Martin’s story emphasizes that people, no matter how heroic or valiant they are, are still difficult and complex and occasionally give into their worst impulses. Most of us just don’t have dragons to cause mayhem when we do.