We have arrived at this point, friends. Game of Thrones is over. After 8 seasons and 73 episodes, the Song of Ice and Fire has concluded. After The Bells, it seemed clear where the show was headed (hello, Mad Queen was telegraphed from very early on in the show) but I was incredibly surprised at all the twists and turns and details that David Benioff and D.B. Weiss added in this finale, The Iron Throne.
We begin with the immediate aftermath of Dany’s attack on King’s Landing. Tyrion, Jon, Aryra, and others walk soundlessly through the rubble, their eyes falling on the scorched remains of citizens, innocent people killed for no reason. Tyrion heads down to the lower levels of the castle, where he finds Jaime and Cersei dead, together. Peter Dinklage puts in the work of a lifetime in this episode, taking Tyrion full circle as a man who had always been confident in his ability to say, “I drink and I know things” but now realizes he has made a horrific mistake that has cost him everything – his friend, his brother, and his home, not to mention the lives of thousands. He throws the sigil marking him as Hand of the queen to the ground, rejecting his role and rejecting Dany. She has him thrown in a prison, where he begs Jon to see that he’s the only one who can stop her from killing more people.
Dany shares none of Tyrion’s grief and seemingly remains unaware of the nightmares she has caused. Jon tries to stop Grey Worm from executing the remaining Lannister soldiers under Dany’s orders, and at this moment, Jon’s conviction finally begins to crumble. He’s seen children dead in the street and she has not.
Things come to a head when Dany stands before her armies, addressing each one in their native language as their queen and uniter. This speech solidifies for our remaining characters that Dany’s motivation to “liberate” people by hurting evil men is no longer enough for her. As she runs through the list of cities where she might sail and take her armies, she mentions peaceful, safe ones like Dorne. We haven’t been concerned about Dorne since season 5, so it’s a bit jarring to hear it come out of Dany’s mouth. Not only this, Dorne is an ally. What would Dany have planned? She and Jon meet up in the Red Keep, where he implores her to show mercy, and she is convinced that a merciful time will come…after she’s sailed across the kingdoms in the Targaryen name.
Jon has always been loyal and dutiful, and has always tried to do the right thing even though he’s not always sure what that means. Jon does the unthinkable. He pledges his loyalty, kisses her passionately, and drives a knife through her heart. Drogon, sensing his mother has died, flies to the Red Keep and wails, burning down the Iron Throne in grief and flying away with Dany’s body.
The show then jumps a matter of weeks. Jon is imprisoned and the lords and ladies of Westeros are completely at a loss as to what to do now that there is no queen, the next logical royal is the one who killed her and is thus ill-equipped to be king, and the Unsullied are feeling vengeful. Let us begin Tyrion’s comeback tour. Brought before the council assembled on a dias under some tents, a still-shackled Tyrion states his case that rather than defaulting to bloodlines, which has only gotten them poor leaders and war, the most powerful people in Westeros should choose their king or queen. Grey Worm acquiesces, and after several very dumb ideas (one Stark uncle who no one remembers embarrassing himself and Sam suggesting democracy), they turn back to Tyrion, who suggests Bran.
Bran?! Bran who spent the battle against the White Walkers as a bird to get a better view? Bran, who doesn’t want to be king and doesn’t know anything about being a king?
What’s especially interesting about this scene is the clear power play between the Starks and the Unsullied (who still represent Dany as queen). In the intervening time, Sansa has brought her legion of Northmen to King’s Landing to keep the Unsullied in line. Yara has no good solutions, only that she hates that Jon has put them in this position and thinks he deserves whatever the Unsullied have planned for him. Arya gets her first badass moment where she tells her she’ll slit her throat if she threatens Jon again.
This scene speaks to how tense things are and how war might break out all over again. Tyrion makes the case that their only chance at unity might be the unconventional choice, to break the wheel by choosing someone who doesn’t want to impose his will and can’t father tyrants.
Bran’s journey has often been lampooned as being winding, boring, and pointless but I think it’s almost worth it for what we got here, which is that Bran finally got a job. Jokes aside, here’s a kid who got pushed out a window and spent a chunk of his time away from his family and presumed dead, only to return as something other-than-human and yet still capable of human attributes like empathy and mercy. Now he shows that he’s capable of sacrifice because he doesn’t want to be king but understands the need to keep peace.
He also understands redemption, as his first official act as king is to make Tyrion his Hand. Tyrion doesn’t want the role, understanding that his mistakes were too great and that his counsel is no longer reliable. Bran tells him that he will spend the rest of his life atoning for his mistakes instead, working towards this better future.
Sansa does something remarkable and wise, negotiating with her own brother to secede the North from the Seven Kingdoms. Even though there’s now a Stark ruling the kingdoms, she knows that her people would not all accept his rule. Sansa has grown into such an incredible character in these 8 seasons, from a prim and proper girl whose biggest aspirations were to be a lady, to a ruler and a builder of nations. Sansa Stark becomes Queen in the North.
So what to do now with Jon? He can’t be king, he can’t go free, and he can’t be left in prison. Bran decides to send him to the Night’s Watch. His final scene with his family is both wrenching and triumphant, as they have to say goodbye but they do so as a family that survived and are building towards a brighter, kinder future. They have freed the kingdoms from the tyranny of the Lannisters. This scene also provides us with a closing for Arya, who has decided to sail west to explore the uncharted waters beyond Westeros.
As a portend of how Bran’s administration might go, Tyrion sets up his first meeting as Hand of the King and the group of Davos, Bronn, Sam, and Brienne is a nice bit of levity to such a dark and heavy episode. Bronn is there, supporting the now Six Kingdoms as Master of Coin. He immediately proposes devoting funds to rebuilding all the brothels, leading to squabbling and Bran almost smirking over his motley band of advisors.
Brienne also finds time to tell Jaime’s story in the book of the Kingsguard. She could have written a lot of things and chose to point out his bravery and nobility in trying to help Winterfell and trying to save King’s Landing. Ultimately, he died with Cersei but this isn’t bitter for Brienne. She’s not that kind of knight. She writes about the man she knew, the man she loved. He began the series as a Kingslayer but he moved past it to find new depth.
It is fitting that the final scenes of the show are with Jon, Arya, and Sansa.
When Jon arrives at Castle Black, he finds the Wildlings and Tormund instead of a Night’s Watch, along with a very good boy who he finally shows the affection he deserves. Through 8 seasons, Jon Snow was the man who belonged neither here nor there but slowly gained the trust of everyone around him, even the Wildlings, and proved he was fit to lead. In seasons 7 and 8, he finally reunited with his sisters and discovered his true parentage and nobility. When Jon finds Tormund at Castle Black, no doubt something Bran was aware of, he regains his freedom and rides again alongside a people he made his allies and friends, showing that a crown isn’t necessary for a good man to do good things. In retrospect it is fitting that he isn’t the king of the Six Kingdoms, but likely takes his place as the King Beyond the Wall. One doesn’t need noble blood to lead.
Arya and Sansa are shown in a montage, Arya preparing her weapons and tools and setting sail under the Stark banner and Sansa donning her new royal garb and receiving her crown. In the beginning the sisters didn’t understand each other, and didn’t understand how women could be many things all at once. Arya and Sansa both found their calling as a fighter and as a queen, respectively, and both depart the show taking their rightful places. There has been so much written about Arya’s faceless man training and Sansa’s nightmarish time with Littlefinger and Ramsay Bolton. Both women have suffered immensely, and though these experiences threw them into the fire they emerged despite that fire. They proved they were strong enough to adapt and overcome the horrific actions of men.
Throughout its 73 episodes, Game of Thrones redefined what television was capable of, not just when a show received millions and millions in its budget, but what a sprawling cast filming in multiple countries could do when creating a cohesive world of kingdoms, queens, kings, rivals, and scoundrels. It has given us thrills, delights, laughs, scares, and controversy. No matter what you think of the show as a whole, its cultural impact is undeniable. In the next few days, HBO will report the number of people who watched the season and if the figures for previous seasons are any indication, it could be close to a hundred million.
We are done with what some have called the last appointment viewing show. We won’t be able to chat about new episodes anymore, and yet I think it’s best to be okay with that. I miss Game of Thrones already, but this ending was really well done and gave each character a good ending that they truly deserved. Undoubtedly, there will be differing opinions on Dany’s fate but I believe it was quite fitting. After all, the show was never truly about who would get the Iron Throne, but who would keep it.