Nine years, eight seasons, and 73 episodes later, we have come to the end of a grand journey. If nothing else, there has never been another epic fantasy TV show like Game of Thrones. I will always be thankful for high production value epic fantasy on my television.
So how does the Game of Thrones finale itself stack up? Surprisingly, I like it a lot. It is more denouement than climax, and it can’t fix the issues with what has been a very weak season, but I liked it a lot nonetheless. Among other things, it is bittersweet, one thing Martin has always insisted that the end of his story would be.
“Love is the death of duty.”
FULL SPOILERS below the cut.
I don’t think there has been a nudity warning for the last four episodes. That has to be a record.
The previously-on focuses on Tyrion and Cersei, Jon and Dany . . . and Arya covered in blood, ashes, and dust. No sign of the Night King, Euron, and Qyburn. There are limited storylines left to resolve.
The actual episode opens with Tyrion walking through falling ash in the rubble of what once was King’s Landing. Jon, who knows a thing or two about the dangers of walking alone, doesn’t want Tyrion to continue without an escort, but Tyrion insists.
The Red Keep looks surprisingly whole.
Jon and Davos come upon Grey Worm following Dany’s orders to kill all who followed Cersei. It is a tense scene, but Davos convinces Jon to speak to the queen. Jon walking into the remains of the Red Keep alone seems like a dubious choice, but Jon is always down for a little LEEROY JENKIIIIIIINS!!1! Arya watches with the same expression on her face we have. Despite pausing to kill all those Lannister soldiers, Grey Worm beats Jon there.
Dany gives a triumphant speech to her Unsullied and Dothraki (no Northmen appear to be in attendance) that echoes Khal Drogo’s promise from season 1. But Dany’s ambitions don’t end with Westeros. She is already turning her eyes back toward Essos. More wheels to break and omelets to make.
Meanwhile, Tyrion finds Jaime’s and Cersei’s bodies, which seems . . . improbable. Apparently if Jaime and Cersei hadn’t been standing right there they would have been fine. Rather than run, Tyrion openly calls Dany out for her actions and tosses away his symbol of office. Dany orders the Unsullied to take him.
Dany stares down Jon but says nothing before marching off. Arya reminds Jon that Sansa won’t bend the knee and that Dany knows who he really is. So, basically, everything is Sansa’s fault.
Tyrion asks Jon if there is life after death. Jon judiciously answers, “Not that I’ve seen.”
Tyrion points out that the fighting isn’t done and asks Jon if he would have done what Dany did. They both know he would not have. Tyrion then repeats an argument he saw in a YouTube video about Dany’s past killing. He casts her as a utopian. The Westerosi don’t have the benefit of a hundred years of communist history, but Tyrion is smart enough to know what that will lead to.
Interestingly, Jon and Tyrion also bring up Jon’s service in the Night’s Watch.
Tyrion points out that Dany will surely execute Jon. Something Jon should have thought of before he entered a well-guarded cell. Despite Tyrion openly encouraging treason in front of the open cell door, they let Jon leave.
Dany, in front of the Iron Throne: “I expected something bigger.”
Jon approaches her, armed, while she is alone in front of the Iron Throne. Jon isn’t the only one who needs to learn to be careful about where she walks alone.
Dany still wants Jon, though. He tells her that she will always be his queen. And stabs his dagger deep in her chest. This is close to the 45-minute mark, but it feels early in the episode.
Drogon approaches and attempts to nuzzle Dany awake. Now Jon knows how Ghost felt. When Drogon cries out in rage, you can see that Jon is ready to die. Drogon’s rage flames miss Jon but melt the Iron Throne. Break the wheel, indeed.
Drogon flies off with Dany’s body. Damn, there went Jon’s ride.
Grey Worm takes Tyrion to the dragon pit. Does . . . does he know Dany is dead? He must, because we find a bunch of people there who we thought were in Winterfell, not to mention Yara and what appears to be a Dornish prince. Grey Worm explains: they hold Jon and the city. Yara points out that not everyone there has forsaken Dany’s cause.
Davos, as usual, seeks to make peace. He speaks of payment; the Unsullied want justice.
Davos has been stealing Tyrion’s thunder, but Tyrion encourages the assembled lords to choose a monarch. A lot of characters we haven’t seen for a while show up. Not just Gendry, but Sam, Bran, Robin, and Edmure, who apparently wants to put himself up for the job. Sam suggests democracy, which, for all its merits, is poorly suited for the task at hand. The lords respond with suggestions that dogs and horses be given the vote as well, which is at turns sad, hilarious, and all too true to how elites see the hoi polloi. This is another instance where the writers seem to be rather directly responding to internet chatter.
“There is nothing in the world more powerful than a good story”: Tyrion, pitching George R.R. Martin on not killing him off, and also stumping for Bran. Giving the crown to someone who displays zero remaining empathy seems . . . questionable. He quickly garners support. Not, though, from Littlefinger Junior. The North will not bend the knee. She wants this more than Jon back. Bran agrees. I am a dyed-in-the-wool Northern separatist, but it seems a little weird to have a Northern king when the North won’t be part of the kingdom.
Bran makes Tyrion his Hand. Tyrion doesn’t want it; neither did Bran want the crown. Tyrion rightly points out Davos would be the better choice; Bran picks him anyway.
Grey Worm, representing the Unsullied, is displeased. Jon goes to the Night’s Watch in compensation. Westeros may not need the protection of the Night’s Watch, but it does need somewhere for bastards, broken things, and inconvenient heirs.
Grey Worm, meanwhile, is headed for the Isle of Naath. (If you don’t remember, this was Missandei’s home.)
Sansa will be queen of the North. Arya will not return. Instead she will explore to the west, past where all the maps end.
Brienne, wearing again the traditional armor of the Kingsguard, begins writing the rest of Jaime’s story in the Big Book of the Kingsguard, ending it, “died protecting his queen.” Unfortunately, she closes the book without blotting the ink with sand. Now no one will be able to read it.
At the first meeting of the Small Council, Sam shows up wearing a Maester’s robes, along with Davos and . . . Bronn. I guess Sam didn’t get Highgarden. Bran points out the Masters of Whisperers, Laws, and War are missing. As is Drogon. SER Podrick arrives to take Bran away 5 minutes after the meeting starts. I see Bran isn’t changing every tradition.
Jon arrives at Castle Black to find Tormund waiting on him. He even finds Ghost, who, just like a dog, takes him back even though he doesn’t deserve it. He then appears to immediately abandon his post, heading north of the Wall with the remaining Wildlings.
“Our queen’s nature is fire and blood.”
“You think our house words are stamped on our bodies when we’re born?”
I am a little surprised that Jon and Tyrion didn’t take off as soon as the battle was over.
The ash falling throughout the first part of the episode makes for arresting visuals.
It isn’t just ash falling, though. Winter really is here. Snow is falling on King’s Landing as well. Which would complicate any flight by Jon. Later, though, north of the Wall, there is only a bit of snow on the ground. Hardly the snows a hundred feet deep we were promised.
The shot with Drogon’s wings spreading behind Dany as she walks out to look over the orderly ranks of Unsullied and wild remnants of Dothraki, with King’s Landing smoldering in the background, is amazing.
Game of Thrones is a show that relied heavily on shocking twists. By the finale it doesn’t have much powder left in its horn.
The subtle tie of Dany to communism is effective. I just wish the show had been more adept at setting that up throughout her storyline. And the anti-utopian angle is a good one. The writers shouldn’t have kept it in their pocket until the last episode.
Still, Dany never really gives us a rational reason for torching the city itself, and the show writers never really give us an irrational reason.
A dragon with no master is no real threat. He will kill livestock, sure. He will even kill some people. But he won’t burn down any cities on his own.
Bronn and his magic crossbow were a bit of a Chekhov’s Gun left unremoved from the mantle.
Zero warging or Faceless Men’ing. Minimal dire wolves. Do not like.
Structurally, the show writers faced a daunting task. How do you wrap up an epic fantasy in 1-1.5 hours? I cannot say they succeeded with aplomb, although I hesitate to say it could have been done better. Looking back on the season, killing off the Night King and the existential threat with him took a lot of air out of the series, and, as I mentioned above, this episode feels more like denouement than climax. It is unfortunate, then, that I did not like the previous episode more.
Sansa as Queen of the North makes sense, if only by process of elimination. It is ironic, though, that the Stark with the least love for the North would wind up ruling it.
There are any number of problems with Bran as the choice for king. But not because he can’t bear children.
Game of Thrones, and in particular A Song of Ice and Fire, can be viewed as a warning on the downsides of hereditary rule. Dany couldn’t bear children after the incident with Mirri Maz Duur. Robert had no legitimate children. Cersei’s children were both illegitimate and unfit. Stannis only had a daughter. Renly was uninterested in producing an heir. Fitting, then, that Ned and Catelyn Stark’s fecund loins would carry the day.
Moving from a hereditary monarchy hopefully represents progress. First the high lords get more power, then the little lords, then the big merchants, then the yeoman and artisans, then everyone. Hopefully there are not too many wars of succession.
One advantage to Bran, at least, is that he is unlikely to saddle up and lead his own wars of aggression. Thinking about Westeros through the lens of English history, the English certainly suffered for many decades from wars in France pushed by the monarch. A big downside to Dany would have been crushing taxation to finance the invasion of Essos.
Destroying the Iron Throne is a symbol for the end of Targaryens in Westeros. They weren’t great for the continent. Now, finally, decades after Robert’s Rebellion, Westeros can move on.
The Night’s Watch is a fitting punishment for Jon. The show has been far too easy on him for “deserting” the Night’s Watch. Who would believe he really rose from the dead, after all? This is, of course, undercut by the final scene suggesting he deserts again.
More successful is the thematic struggle encapsulated by the line “Love is the death of duty.” It harkens back to Jon’s time with the Night’s Watch. It ties Jon’s arc to Jaime’s failure. And, most of all, it ties in Jon’s actions with his complicated relationship with Ned Stark and duty.
George R.R. Martin promised us a bittersweet ending, and the show writers certainly gave us that, whether or not it is one that Martin would have written or even will approve of. We get the sweet with Tyrion, Arya, Sam, Gendry, and Brienne. We get the bittersweet with Jon. We get the bitter with all those damn people dead—in King’s Landing last episode, in the North in the first half of the season, over much of Westeros as wars raged over eight seasons—and with the suggest that Jon deserts the Night’s Watch again. Even the sweet give us some bitter as well. Tyrion won’t be happy as the Hand and lost both his siblings. Gendry lost the love of his life. Some poor woman loses because Ser Pod will never marry.