However just or unjust it may be, television shows are often times judged for their final episodes. From a storytelling standpoint you’ve already drawn everyone in, you’ve won their trust, you’ve gained their fandom/love now all you’re left to do is stick the landing. No pressure, right? We live in a world of nearly impossible expectations that social media often makes impossible to achieve. Yet, an amazing final episode can go a long way, in some cases erasing the memory of an uneven season. Popularity and soaring expectations seem to go hand and hand, and many shows have collapsed under the weight of their popularity. The finale for The Sopranos was twelve years ago and we’re still discussing it and the ramifications it has on the legacy of the show. The finale for How I Met Your Mother seemingly ruined everything that came before it. The finale of LOST is often times discussed as a massive disappointment, and while I make the argument that that’s incorrect and that people misunderstand the events, it hasn’t stopped that finale from tarnishing the legacy of the series. Ending a show is one of the most difficult maneuvers in all of television and very few have pulled it off with great success. Breaking Bad, The Shield, MASH, and The Office have all managed to stick the landing of their final episodes, but we mostly remember the Seinfelds or Battlestar Galacticas.
Game of Thrones was given an impossible task. A show that has reached the height of pop culture royalty ending a story before the source material. Something like that is unheard of and automatically divides the fandom. There are those who would have wanted to see these events unfold within the pages of George RR Martin’s novels, arguing that the show has been at its best when playing off the source material, and while we’re still holding our breath on those release dates, HBO’s Game of Thrones could be the only definitive ending we get to this series. Martin has struggled with finishing the sixth book and the idea of there being a seventh novel is almost comedically heartbreaking. There was a time in my life where I said I would stop watching the show and would wait for the conclusion of the books before going forward. I wanted the conclusion to come from where it began, I’m a purist that way. Eventually, I changed my mind as I realized that a book ending might never come. I wanted some form of closure.
We’ve been told that the series finale of Game of Thrones follows the plans of George RR Martin and I guess we’ll have to wait and see if that’s true. For now though, “The Iron Throne” is the conclusion to this story and it’s clear leading up to the episode that the fandom is fiercely divided. There are those who have loved this season and others who have signed a petition in the hopes of seeing it remade. Part of that plays into the trend of hating things because they’re popular and some of it plays into fans with legitimate gripes. Getting swept away in a story is one of the greatest gifts of life, but sometimes we forget that the story isn’t there to serve us. It’s there to service the characters and the narrative and with that in mind, the series finale of Game of Thrones certainly stuck the landing.
After all the theories and debate, we now know who sits on the Iron Throne, and it may come as a surprise to some. Maybe not those making the odds in Vegas but for the rest of us, how many of you actually had Bran Stark sitting on the Iron Throne when all was said and done? Likely not many and that in some ways speaks to the beauty of this finale. It’s not a matter of subverting expectations or taking a hard left when the audience thought you would go right. Bran Stark becoming the King of Westeros is a bigger statement to this universe. That the Iron Throne is just a chair made of swords… or a puddle of melted steel now. It may be the driving point for a number of these characters and the foundation to their arcs, but it’s not what defines them or this narrative. Game of Thrones at its core has always been about the character.
It would have been easy to peg the finale of Game of Thrones as more heartbreak and tragedy. After all, we’ve witnessed the Red Wedding, we’ve watched the Viper lose his trial by combat, we’ve watched Cersei annihilate her enemies in wildfire, and most recently we watched Daenerys burn King’s Landing to the ground. And while the finale brought its share of heartbreak and tragedy, it also brought with it a sense of optimism and hope for the future. Invoking the idea that maybe the wheel can actually be broken. Optimism is an emotion that is as foreign to Westeros as the Dothraki. Yet, its presence in the finale cannot be ignored. The old world has been literally burnt to the ground and from those ashes rises something new. Something unexpected and with it comes hope. Not just for our characters but the future of Westeros.
Oddly enough it is Daenerys Targaryen that is the catalyst for this hope, just not in the ways that she believed. After burning King’s Landing to the ground, Daenerys should have had everything she ever wanted. This is a woman who spent the majority of her childhood off of Westeros believing tales that there were those who would rise up and join her cause if she was ever to return. She was supposed to be the promise of change for Westeros. A new direction that would fully represent the people living in the Seven Kingdoms. Once she arrived though she didn’t find the love she was promised. She was treated like an outsider who didn’t understand the inner workings of Westeros. Obtaining victory cost Daenerys everything, and once it was procured, what did she do? She declared war on those who failed to see her reasoning. The shot of the Mother of Dragons walking towards her army with Drogon’s wings strategically placed as if they’re sprouting from Dany’s back is a powerful image and one of the series finest. This is the Dragon Queen in all her glory and she does not disappoint. Daenerys coming off the greatest victory of her life gives a very dictator-like speech to her forces. King’s Landing is not enough. All of Westeros and beyond must be liberated. The wheel must be broken and those who would be crushed by it must be saved. Emilia Clarke shines here as she delivers this speech with such fierce power and intensity. Daenerys is gone. So wrapped up and consumed with the notion of breaking the wheel that she’s failing to see that she’s still spinning on it. Nothing that she declares is any different than any other ruler in Westeros history. Either you bend the knee or you’re crushed.
The Daenerys Targaryen that we were hoping would save Westeros and change the future is gone. Consumed by madness and lost in her convictions, she waits to rage war on those who oppose her. At this moment she loses all that she has left. Tyrion, in a public act of defiance, throws away his Hand of the Queen pin and is taken into custody. Daenerys knows that he freed his brother and feels he conspired against her and now he is set to be punished. For eight seasons Peter Dinklage has delivered strong performance after strong performance and “The Iron Throne” is more of the same. His raw emotion discovering the bodies of his siblings underneath the ruble of King’s Landing and his pleading with Jon Snow to do what’s right for the kingdom is some of Dinklage’s best work and provided the finale with a scene that anchored what was to come. Jon Snow, a man of loyalty and honesty, tries to reason away Dany’s actions even if he knows they’re wrong. Not being able to admit that he would do differently if given the opportunity is the largest indictment of the Mother of Dragon’s actions Jon can give, but Jon Snow wants to believe his queen is still there. Ever the optimist and refusing to give up on people, Snow hears what Tyrion is saying but still believes that the Daenerys that they love, to different degrees of success, is still there. Somewhere.
But she’s not. Jon speaks with Daenerys, right as she’s about to sit on the Iron Throne, in an attempt to find reason for her actions. The scene is beautifully shot and rich with emotions as both Kit Harington and Clarke attempt to balance the future of Westeros on the edge of a blade. In the end, Daenerys claiming that the people of Westeros don’t have a say in the choices ahead is the final straw. As the two embrace, Jon Snow slides a dagger into the heart of his queen and saves Westeros from her reign. It is the most difficult decision of Jon’s life and Harington delivers the gravity of the situation beautifully. Daenerys Targaryen dies without ever sitting on the Iron Throne, carried off into the fog and ash by her one remaining dragon who melts the Iron Throne in a fit of rage. While Jon Snow is taken captive and is crushed by the weight of his decision. This is the ending of Game of Thrones. This is the heartbreak and tragedy. The woman we were meant to believe in is dead driven mad by her pursuit of power, and the man who has always done the right thing at great personal cost broken in her wake.
The remainder of the episode plays out like an epilogue. A council is devised of the leaders of all the great houses and after a moving speech from Tyrion, Bran Stark is elected the King of Westeros. Sansa, stays loyal to her declaration earlier this season, and asks for the North to be its own separate kingdom and is granted that wish as she becomes the Queen in the North. A title that is well deserved and well earned. Sansa has survived so much vileness and has used that pain and suffering to grow into a strong, intelligent woman. The North is in great hands with Sansa Stark.
Varys said that sometimes the best leaders are the ones that don’t want to lead, and perhaps Westeros has found that in Bran. If his first council meeting is any indication he’s more than happy to let his subordinates govern while he does his Three Eyed Raven gig and hopefully that leads to a brighter future for the realm. A body of government who have their best interests with a king who won’t interject his own personal agenda… as he doesn’t really have one.
But what’s to become of our characters now that war is over? Tyrion is sentenced to be Bran’s Hand to atone for all his past mistakes. Jamie Lannister gets the redemption he fought so hard to reject when Brienne writes of his accomplishments in the book of the King’s Guard. Brienne herself being the head of the King’s Guard with Pod a knight. Bronn doesn’t kill anyone, thankfully, and gets High Garden. While Arya chooses to find out what’s west of Westeros, an ending that remained true to the character. It would have been all too easy to send her to Storm’s End to be with Gendry, but that’s not her. She’s set to roam the world getting into adventures and if there’s a petition for that series I would sign it in a heartbeat.
As for Jon Snow, he returns to where it began. The Wall. Killing the Mother of Dragons doesn’t come without punishment as Jon is sent back North but perhaps this is more just than punishment. We’ve always known that Jon has had the North in him. The true North if you’re to believe Tormund, and his arrival at Castle Black is like him coming home. It helps that he’s reunited with Ghost and finally gives that good boy the petting he deserves, but it’s more than just that. This is where Jon has always belonged. As the episode ends with Jon and Tormund leading a group of wildlings outside of the Wall it seems that maybe Jon has found some semblance of peace. That yes, he’s been sent to the Wall as punishment but now that he’s beyond its gate, who’s going to say that he has to come back? Perhaps Jon can be the next King Beyond the Wall, but knowing him he doesn’t want it. More than likely, maybe he can quietly live out the rest of his days in the one place he’s belonged this entire time. A poetic and beautiful ending for a character who has done so much for others with such tremendous self-sacrifice.
In the end, Game of Thrones ends on a promise that things will get better. Not just the way the new council says goodbye to their king, but as a whole. A message of hope from a show that often drowned in despair. A beautiful way to say goodbye to these characters we’ve invested so much of our lives into. The Iron Throne was just a chair after all. It’s those who make up this universe that makes it thrive. And who knows, maybe we’ll get to see them again if the books are ever published, but for now, this goodbye rings bittersweet in the best possible way. Time will tell where Thrones lands in the upper echelon of greatest television shows of all time, but for now, our watch has ended and it’ll be a long time before we experience another show of this magnitude again. That’s something to be celebrated.