Game of Thrones Series Finale- A Review and Critique- Season 8, Episode 6, “The Iron Throne”:
Game of Thrones Series Finale- A Review and Critique- Season 8, Episode 6, “The Iron Throne”:
So, let’s get this out of the way early. I am going to establish this upfront before I receive any hostile blowback for my later comments in this article: this series finale was a disappointment to me and a vast majority of fans of the show!
However, it was a disappointment because it was only a letdown due to a few, albeit major factors:
- The writing for the past twelve episodes was forced and fumbled, thus ensuring any ending was most likely going to dissatisfy.
- The two main actors meant to carry the load of the high drama (Kit Harrington and Emilia Clarke) were not necessarily two of the strongest actors on the series (their love affair lacked chemistry from the start and was difficult to accept), thus they could not really pull off the tears or pathos needed in their final moments together to effectively move the audience.
- The musical score, which usually was spot-on, was a major no-show at key moments of high drama. Music can sometimes hide the flaws of a weak story or plagued acting, which it did effectively at other times in this series. Unfortunately, it failed here.
- The death of Daenerys was anticlimactic, thus everything that followed was bogged down by our disappointment from that scene.
- And, the ascension of the most lifeless, stuffy character on the show to the seat of the throne as the new king was not necessarily the “huzzah!” moment we all were hoping for.
That all being said, and yes again I was disappointed, I will try to write this piece in an objective fashion that actually looks at the character and narrative choices–yet there were key holes in both, as there is going to be in any major show of this scope–and I am going to defend the final episode in terms of what the story was trying to argue.
Again, this was a Disney-like ending with “happily ever after” splashed all over the canvas with the stench of some malodorous perfume. In previous reviews, I discussed my profound desire and need for a Shakespearean tragic ending, or at least an ominous and empty ending which would have seemingly fit the nature of George R.R. Martin’s writing.
But that is not the ending we got. We got the antithesis of what I desperately pined for.
Nevertheless, this show is not about me. And if the ending is not what I wanted, it only gives me the right to gripe out of selfishness and egocentric pains. That’s it.
But the ending we were provided, though all hokey and all smiles and all rainbows throughout the entire second act, was in fact both plausible and logical….and it was the best ending for the good of the realm, if we genuinely are supposed to care about the good of the realm.
Now I have listened to the Daenerys Targaryen fans cavil about how the writers destroyed her character; they see it as a character assassination of the highest caliber. I am not George R.R. Martin, but I did see the 60 Minute interview with him where he did suggest that Weiss and Benioff were ending the show in much of the same fashion that he plans (or planned) to finish his stories. So I am left to believe that Dany’s Caligula-like turn was always written in her stars. Of course, there are many articles you can search on the internet now which will point out the copious amount of evidence to support that she was always a tad maniacal, and that we just missed these clues/scenes because we loved her character and the liberating spree she was undertaking. That smile was infectious. Let’s be honest, she is a hot, badass woman who is freeing slaves a rejecting barbaric traditions Essos. How could we not cheer for her?
Still, I even hear many Daenerys Targaryen fans clamoring that she did not go mad and that she was just doing what a queen needed to do in order to claim her throne. Well, if that is your position, then I don’t think we are watching the same show or we just have different perceptions of what constitutes “crazy”; therefore, my upcoming defense of the plot choices probably won’t make any sense to you. LIke, ever. You will always be #Team Targaryen. And, there is nothing wrong with that. That is your choice as a fan.
Okay, so now if we are accepting that Daenerys was undoubtedly crazy or tumbling down a tyrannical rabbit-hole in these final three episodes, what does this mean for the narrative? Well, there are several things that had to happen to effectively close this story.
First, Tyrion finally accepts that Varys was correct in his assumptions on Daenerys and he honorably removes himself as Hand of the Queen; moreover, he willingly accepts his punishment of treason for betraying his queen. This is a just and magnanimous act, something that is not only fitting to his character, but any other choice would have been generally implausible. Up until this moment, Tyrion said “no thank you to beliefs” and had only bent the knee to one person: Daenerys. So to go all-in on Daenerys and finally realize he made the wrong decision, it would be un-Tyrion like if he did not take the moral high ground and own up to his tragic mistake. Without her, and now without Jaime, what did he really have left to live for?
It was Tyrion’s noble surrender to his fate that begins to tilt Jon in this same direction. Jon and Tyrion have always had an underlying understanding of each other, being that they were both general outcasts from their families and society. This was established early into the first season. Furthermore, they both tried to stay loyal to their queen, even when faced with the undeniable truths of her spiral into “Mad Queen” status.
This takes us to the most pivotal scene of the first act of the finale. As Jon and Tyrion discuss what is to be done with Daenerys, Jon tries to remain loyal to his vow–as his “father” Ned would have done–and he does not wish to undertake the course of action that Tyrion pleads for: her death. But as Jon is leaving the room, Tyrion asks Jon to consider what Daenerys will due to Sansa, Arya, and the North (including the Free Folk) if and when they refuse to bend the knee to her–which they are most certain to do after the way she laid waste to King’s Landing. Sansa would never allow the North to capitulate to Daenerys now, I think she never truly intended to. Even Tyrion acknowledges that Sansa littlefingerly played him with the information of Jon’s true heritage, as Sansa knew it would cause the pain and distrust in Daenerys that lead to her tragic downfall. I am not insinuating that Sansa knew she would crack, but I think Sansa knew that the secret would cause enough CHAOS in order for her or Jon or someone else she prefers to climb that ladder. As we were told early in this season by Arya, Sansa is the smartest person she knows, and that is far climb from the Sansa who mostly irked us in the first season or two.
Is Sansa the real winner of the game of thrones? When you look at the big picture at the end of this episode, I think so.
But I digress, at the end of the first act Jon confronts Daenerys as she literally reaches the Iron Throne and is about to sit down upon the achievement she has basically strived for throughout the entire series. Yet, just as she is about to claim the throne, Jon enters the room and they engage in their final encounter together. Daenerys, like all mad despots and tyrants who have been absolutely corrupted by absolute power, tries to explain and rationalize her actions both now and in future actions to come. Most tyrants have been known to use the premise of creating peace and liberating the world under their rule to be the clear rationale for their bloodthirsty actions–this is nothing original. But Jon can no longer trust that she will never again engage in a similar action, even if he so desperately wishes to believe her rationale. And as they embrace, he poetically stabs her in the chest (yes, this is where the real hokeyness of the scene plays out). Not exactly the Shakespearean ending I wanted, but it did have shades of a Juliet-like ending, sans the whole suicide angle. It also makes Jon the new Queenslayer, thus a thematic connection between him and another Lannister is established as well.
Everything seems to have come full circle in this story.
Unfortunately, this is clearly the moment that divides fans, especially those who have championed Daenerys this entire time. And this is the moment that is sure to create everlasting anguish in the hearts of many viewers. But this is also the fulfillment of a prophecy. It has long been speculated that Jon Snow was the Prince Who Was Promised (Azor Ahai), and the person who would “bring the dawn”. For most of the series, fans assumed that this prophecy would be fulfilled when Jon inevitably slays the Night King; however, the writers put the kibosh on this theory during episode 3, “The Long Night”, as Arya was the one who killed the Night King. That was supposed to be Jon’s kill! That was supposed to be Jon’s prophecized moment! It was supposed to be the conclusion to his arc! Confused fans were left scratching their heads in puzzlement of how the writers could completely botch or disregard this ancient and critical prophecy?
But they didn’t.
See, ironically, Daenerys set sail for Westeros on a quest to “break the wheel” of power and the stop the “game of thrones” that has ravaged Westeros for most of time, as she told Tyrion in season 5, episode 8. Remember, her little speech: “Lannister, Baratheon, Stark, Tyrell, they’re all just spokes on wheel. This one’s on top and that one’s on top and on and on it spins.” Sorry, to break it to you Dany, but the Targaryens were part of that wheel, too! The true irony was that Daenerys was just another spoke on that wheel, just another cancerous cell eating at the heart of the kingdom. She was quite literally “crushing those on the ground” as well.
This is buttressed in season 7, episode 4, “The Spoils of War.” Daenerys wants to take her dragons, at a critical moment in the war she is currently losing to Cersei, and basically destroy the Red Keep and the city of King’s Landing. She is about to ignore her counselors and Tyrion’s perpetual pleadings as she turns to Jon, the only other leader she somewhat admires at that time, and asks what she should do. Jon reminds her of what made her an unconventional, transformative leader and why people have followed and believed in her rule. He then admonishes, “but if you use them [the dragons] to melt castles and burn cities, you’re not different. You’re just more of the same.” Daenerys heeds Jon’s warning–this time–and takes the fight to the open field versus the Lannister army. A fight we all cheered because it was against the Lannisters. But this was just another clue to her unraveling, as directly after she burnt both Tarly men for refusing to bend the knee, even as Tyrion continued to plead that this is not the menacing course for her to take. Again, we didn’t care and we were quick to forgive her because it was Randyll Tarly and his Dick-on son; two characters we could care less about. But they had surrendered, and it was unnecessary to kill them. Even Sam points this out early in this final season to Jon, stating that Jon would not have done what Daenerys did.
Yet, now we arrive to the moment after she did actually “melt castles and burn cities”, killing an unknown amount of innocent men, women, and children of King’s Landing, thus making Daenerys just “more of the same”; some could argue that she is even worse than most of her predecessors. So with the plunging of the dagger in her heart, Jon ultimately kills Daenerys, which ultimately breaks the wheel of power once and for all, which ultimately leads to the new, just methods of choosing a king and ruling the seven (six kingdoms), which ultimately fulfills the prophecy of him being the Prince Who Was Promised. Jon Snow’s mission was to save the realm from ice and fire, which he did.
With me so far?
The final encounter of act one is a face-to-face meeting between Jon and Drogon, a dragon clearly despondent over the death of his mother. Just as it seems like Drogon will exact revenge for his mother’s death by killing Jon (which truthfully, I would have preferred as an ending to his character), Drogon burns the Iron Throne, melting the seat of power that he knows was the true culprit of his mother’s demise. Smart dragon!…. Whether or not Jon’s Targaryen roots conveyed this message in a sort of Targaryen telepathetic method to Drogon is left unknown, but I believe Drogon understood fully what the impetus was that drove Daenerys’ to this moment, to her demise; moreover, he acknowledged the vileness of the power the Iron Throne possessed. Say what you want about this ending, it is a fitting conclusion to the narrative.
This, of course, takes us to the second act of this finale, which I assume is the part where fans are even more displeased. Plagued by both empty acting and happy-ending feels–not to mention several holes in the narrative–we arrive at a meeting of the remaining major characters. A clearly imprisoned Tyrion is taken by Grey Worm to a sort of a Knights-of-the-Roundtable-like meeting where he lays out his idea for a new government in Westeros: the ruling seats of power will now vote on who is king rather than allowing birthrights and corruption to make this decision; which, when the rest agree on this method, is actually the final conclusion to the everlasting “game of thrones.”
And as we know, Bran is selected as king! Yay?!?!
A moment when I am sure 99.9% of fans rolled their eyes, yawned in disgust, yelled at their televisions, or just said, “Well, that ruined the entire eight seasons! Really? Bran!?!”
And don’t get me wrong, I was one of those 99.9%.
See, my initial reaction was that the showrunners ruined the ending with this selection as I never considered Bran a viable option as a leader. Hell, Bran never considered himself a viable option as a leader. Although, now it can be argued, especially by his comment to Tyrion at this meeting, that he knew this would happen all along. As Bran has told several characters up until this point, everything they said and did got us all to this moment.
But, when I took a few hours to step back and consider the selection, to be honest, it was actually the right selection. Now, don’t roll your eyes at me and just consider the reasoning:
I am aware that Bran is an uninspiring, characterless character (redundancy intended for effect). I am aware that he has all the charisma of a bombing comedian on stage. And I am aware that it feels like shoddy writing when a character who was absent for the entirety of season 5 was somehow awarded the most prestigious ending of this show: the position of king. But, when you consider what it would mean to truly “break the wheel” and end the “game of thrones”, Bran is the perfect choice. Tyrion was right!
Bran’s role as the Three-Eyed Raven, with his mastery of history and his greenseer abilities, allows him the skillset to see the consequences of every action and understand the broken nature of the previous system of rule. In addition, Bran’s lack of an emotional response, though commonly and seemingly a flaw for any leader, is actually a major pro for the Seven Kingdoms. Bran would never rule by arrogance, or by pride, or by want, or by loyalty to house, or by any of the other tragic flaw that seemed to have plagued most previous rulers. If you truly want a time of peace without the worry of corruption, then Bran is the logical choice….for now.
The most ironic, and even comical moment of this meeting is when Sam stands up to suggest that their society become a true democracy, where the people decide the ruler and have the final voice in the government. And yet, this is met with sardonic laughter and even mockery, proving that their society is not ready for a jump to such an extreme, even if we, the audience, realize that Sam is correct and that is the purest form of government that they should be considering.
So yes, those in power still selfishly cling to their power, but the openness to a slightly more democratic mode of government is the breaking of a new dawn.
And then we are left with the denouement. Even more Lord of the Ringish fairytale moments, where Tyrion leads his first small council meeting as the Hand of the King for Bran, packaged with the minutiae and frivolity of meaningless tasks, such as rearranging the chairs in order for proper preparation…yes, they live in a world where now they can focus on the simpleness of life at these meetings, rather than the chicanery, corruption, and vile nature of previous small councils; it’s a world where even Bronn is cluelessly the new Master of Coin, with no understanding of Westerosi economics.
Finally, we close with shots of the remaining Starks. As it should be. Because truly, this story was always their comeback story.
And though it is not the ending I think any of us truly envisioned for their characters–well, besides maybe Sansa’s–it is an ending that makes sense.
Sansa is the new Queen of the North, reigning in a new dress adorned with Tully colors, Weirwood tree leaves, the patterns and flair of Margaery Tyrell’s previous dresses, a Littlefinger-esque collar (man, I missed him this season!), and a crown that closely resembles Cersei’s, which are all elements that serve as a nod to the people who shaped her character and brought her to this crowning achievement.
Arya has decided to live the life as “not a lady”, where she takes off to voyage west of Westeros, looking out over the ship’s bow as she did towards the beginning of her character’s dark journey in the finale of episode 4.
And Jon returns to Castle Black (yes, I too wonder why the hell there is still a need for a Night’s Watch?), reunites with Ghost and a blushing Tormund, and then leads the remaining of the Free Folk north of the wall again…most likely, to live in relative peace and harmony, away from the trials of Westeros.
And truly, though I really felt like I hated this decision, this is the ending that Jon Snow would have wanted.
So it is clear the writers thought out the endgame of this series, it was just in the execution that I believe we all agree they dropped the ball.
So now fans of the show are left to debate, scream, bitch, and protest about the treatment they felt the received from a show they had loved throughout the first six or so seasons. I understand all the frustrations, and it saddens me that the legacy of this great show might be tarnished by the choices of the final season, which is what I stated I feared in my previous article.
Yet, I remain optimistic.
The same scrutiny and ire fell openly upon great shows like the Sopranos, and Lost, and Seinfeld after their final seasons and series’ finales; however, years later these shows still reign atop the mountain of the great and revolutionary programs in the history of television. And I am confident that once the calm of the hurricane generated in response to the disappointing ending of this show quells, Game of Thrones will take its rightful place as one of the greatest television experiences any of us have ever been privileged to enjoy. Eventually, it might sit upon the television throne, reigning above all other previous shows.
Like Daenerys, we all went a little mad in response to the series finale.
But unlike Daenerys, we all get a chance to chill out and return to our senses, without the fear of Jon Snow coming to end our madness.
Thankfully, life does not exactly imitate art in this regard.
(Side note: I know I glossed over some other scenes from this finale that deem mentioning, such as Edmure Tully’s nonsensical jump to try to argue his claim to be king (this was one of the funnier moments), or Sam presenting Tyrion–in true Bilbo Baggins fashion–a book about A Song of Ice and Fire, or Podrick somehow ending up in a Kingsguard uniform (yikes), but I think the hammy-ness yet harmlessness of these moments speak for themselves)