I’ll spare you the pretensions or semantics and get right down to it. This final season of Game of Thrones has been a contentious, if not highly polarizing one. There were moments of rapturous greatness that renew my faith in the show and some moments in which this season left me underwhelmed. We even wrote a whole piece on how the show was getting progressively worse season by season at some point. We love this show dearly but by no means would we ever pull punches on Game of Thrones, we’ll judge it by the high standards the show has set for itself since day one. So believe me when I say: This is how it should end. For 9 years we’ve dreamt and envisioned how the war for the throne would have ended. With all sorts of wild theories and plausible plot points some of us saw coming a mile away.
Who would sit on the Iron Throne? Would the world be a better place than it was before when all is said and done? What will befall the faiths of all those we hold dear? Will there still be a throne left? All those questions and more were thoroughly and beautifully answered in the series’ swan song, and here’s why.
The Death of A Dragon
We see the aftermath of Daenerys’ rampage throughout King’s Landing and it is a terrible sight to behold. The streets that once filled with the hustle and bustle of life are now silent, smothered under a shroud of ash and dust. We see through Tyrion’s eyes the horrors inflicted on the people of the city. A man walks by with his skinless back exposed, burned beyond repair. The Unsullied “liberators” execute disarmed Lannister soldiers without hesitation and Dothraki hordes revel in the decimation of foe and innocent alike.
I couldn’t help but empathize with Randyll Tarly at the beginning of the fifth episode of Season 7 “Eastwatch”, the way he looked with sheer disgust at Daenerys and her army. Describing her as a “foreign invader, one with no ties to this land, with an army of savages at her back”.
Her brutal massacre (because it certainly wasn’t much of a battle) of the city proves every one of his worst suspicions of the Targaryen to be true. Beyond the massive loss of life disturbing Tyrion, he finds his breaking point upon seeing the lifeless bodies of the only remaining family he had left. For the longest time, Tyrion has been a supporter of Daenerys despite the Randylls, Sansas and Varys of this world telling him that he’s wrong. He can turn away no longer when he facing such a personal loss.
He approaches Daenerys amidst the triumphant cries of the Dothraki and the droning of Unsullied spears to toss his title as Hand to the ground. That moment was so powerful for me. He refuses to be the Hand that brings ruin and death whenever the head chooses to go. Naturally, Daenerys has him locked away to await judgment.
While in captivity, Tyrion is visited by Jon to discuss Daenerys. Within that conversation, we see their back and forth wonderfully encapsulate the conflicting feelings they (along with us the viewers) have for Daenerys. Jon still tries to defend his queen, arguing that she isn’t defined by her family’s history of fire and blood. Tyrion rebuts stating that people should be however judged by their actions and she has slaughtered more people than the Lannisters ever could in a single day. Jon then attempts to justify that she was under a great deal of mental stress from the loss of her dragon and friend, Missandei. It’s insane because these are the exact same conversations fans of the show are having at the end of the previous episode!
The showrunners were aware of the potential controversy sparked from such a drastic event and proceeded to have characters discuss its ramification meaningfully in the show. It confirms that “The Bells” is far from a clumsy climax. It’s the catalyst to a greater conflict to come, the inner turmoil raging within Jon. It was especially poignant the way Tyrion raised up the fact that people were cheering her on when she murdered “evil men” like the slavers of Meereen, Astapor and Yunkai.
That affirmation is what led to King’s Landing. The psychology of reinforcing her violent tendencies as good and justified had fully manifested in her rampage, and I can’t help but I was complicit to it. How many times, did he cheer her own when she rained fire down on the “bad guys”? What does that do a person? Jon walks away, even more confused and conflicted than when walked in.
Then we see it. The vision Daenerys saw in the House of the Undying in the tenth episode of Season 2 “Valar Morghulis”. In the vision, she saw a ruined Red Keep with an Iron Throne covered in snow and just as she’s about to touch it, she hears a sound and is called away to her husband Khal Drogo and a beautiful baby boy. She wants to stay but chooses to walk away to deal with reality. We see that vision now come to fruition but we know now that it isn’t snow falling in the Red Keep. It’s ash from Dragonfire. She approaches the throne in the exact same manner as her vision but this time she clutches it. In that moment, I saw it as Dany choosing to walk away from her past and humanity to embrace a new vision of the world ruled under her. Pure poetry.
Jon meets Dany in the Red Keep and here we get The Last Temptation of Jon Snow. He does everything he can to dissuade Dany of her dream of a new world. But when he sees that Dany truly believes with all her heart that what she’s done is right and true, he has no choice. It’s so painful because Dany isn’t trying to be ruthless or malicious, she genuinely believes that she’s being merciful and just.
At that point, Jon knows what he must do. As he holds and kisses his love, he stabs a dagger through her heart, killing her then and there. Holy shit! Jon Snow truly is Azor Ahai! Azor Ahai is a legendary figure destined to end the Long Night and he would do it by stabbing his sword through the heart of his lover to do so. All this while we thought the Night King would have been the one to bring the Long Night. Rather it is Dany who would have brought a Long Night, blocking out the sun in a world full of ash, smog and ruin. Dany is his foe, his love and his destiny.
After the deed, Jon weeps for his lover as Drogon lands on the Red Keep to see the lifeless body of his mother. Like a puppy nustling against its dead mommy hoping for a sign of life, we see Drogon do the same with Dany. It is heartbreaking. Drogon is pissed and knows Jon was the one who did her in. Drogon snarls at Jon as we see flames build at the back of his throat. And just as we’re expecting to see Drogon unleash his fiery load on Jon, he instead attacks the Iron Throne, melting it away. Years from now, I can see people speculating on why Drogon did that.
I have a few theories of my own. In the books, dragons are said to be intelligent creatures (maybe as smart, if not smarter than man). So perhaps Drogon is aware of how Dany’s obsession with the throne had corrupted her and chose to destroy the throne in a fit of righteous rage. Maybe dragons have a sense of symbolism. Another theory is that Jon and Drogon have a telepathic connection and Jon subconsciously ordered Drogon to destroy the throne. In any case, Drogon took Dany’s body and flew away. Honestly, a good number of us saw this coming for a while, nonetheless, the beauty and poignancy of the execution eclipsed any cynicism we had from years of scouring the Game of Thrones subReddit. A worthy send off to the Mother of Dragons.
A New King, A New World
Weeks after Daenerys’ death, the heir to the Iron Throne is imprisoned and Tyrion is brought forth to a council consisting of all the major rulers of Westeros. From Robin Arryn of the Vale to the Prince of Dorne to the long-winded Lord of Riverrun Edmure Tully to even Yara Greyjoy of the Iron Islands. The council, however, is divided with leaders of the Vale, North and Neck loyal to Jon Snow while Dorne and Iron Islands are still loyal to Daenerys, even unto death. An army of Northmen are outside the walls of King’s Landing and the Unsullied and Dothraki are itching for a fight.
It seems another war is imminent. Tyrion, however, raises a valid point that while Grey Worm holds both Jon and himself hostages, he has no official right to decide their fates. That power lies within the jurisdiction of a king or queen. With Jon Snow (the rightful king) no longer an option due to his status as a traitor, the council must decide among themselves who shall be king.
In the past, we had predicted an ending in which some form of democracy would be established in Westeros and I cannot tell you much I was jumping for joy inside when I heard that. Samwell Tarly suggests a public vote by the people of Westeros to decide who should be king, only to have his suggestion laughed out of the room. It seemed like the showrunners and writers were having a little bit of fun, as if telling us “Do you really think, Westeros would be so progressive as to have a public election?!
Get the hell out of here!” Even Sansa couldn’t help but chuckle. When asked by Davos who should be king, Tyrion gives us what is hands down the most shocking moment of the season so far. He gives an impassioned speech for Bran Stark to be declared king. The man who holds the collective history and possible future of the whole of Westeros in his head. The man with the best story and the one who deserves to be king. The council unanimously vote for Bran to be king.
Game of Thrones has a bit of a habit of making underdogs the most important characters in the story. A bastard who turned out to be the true heir to the Iron Throne and a slave girl who became the Mother of Dragons. We spent all this time looking for the likeliest of underdogs to make it to the throne but never would we have thought Bran…and it’s so damn perfect! The boy who could not stand, now holds the most powerful seat in the land. Come on, tell me that isn’t genius!
When asked whether Bran would accept the position, he answers with a mindblowing “Why do you think I came all this way?” He knew from the very beginning that he would be the one that would bring peace to the kingdoms. Not by might nor by armies nor by bloodlines but by a story. His story. That moment felt curiously metatextual as if the character had reached out of Westeros and into the writers’ room, to conceive the best possible ending to this tale of war, love, loss and power.
A long time ago, Tywin asked a question of great importance and since then it has stuck with me. All the way back to the third episode of season 4 “Breaker of Chains”, he asked Tommen what it meant to be a good king. Tommen first response to Tywin was holiness. The old lion rebutted Tommen that holiness and piety can often lead to foolish decisions not unlike Baelor the Blessed, or Stannis Baratheon. Tommen guessed again, saying that a good king is a just king but Tywin begged to differ.
He tells Tommen of how Orys the First was just and noble king but his inability to perceive cunning or to be cunning led to his downfall and death. Ned Stark was a fair and just man, and he died for it. Jon is a fair and just man, and he died for it before coming back. Tommen took yet another guess, asking if strength was the answer. Tywin spoke of Robert’s strength to win the Iron Throne but he was unable to rule it well. Daenerys had won her war against Cersei on the basis of nothing strength and power. She ended up abusing it, using it to slaughter a whole city. Like Orys, Baelor and Robert there was a trait that Stannis, Jon and Dany all lacked: wisdom.
For all of Tywin’s cruelty, I do believe he was right. Wisdom is what makes a good king and Bran lacks for nothing in that department. When I saw that connection in the ending, my mind was thoroughly blown! Bran knew when to talk and when to keep silent, when to act and when to do nothing. At the end of the day, you can be the noblest or even the strongest but if you lack the wisdom to use it, it is all for not.
Barely after he receives his title, Bran sets about making meaningful reforms to his kingdom. He declares the North an independent state, “punishes” Tyrion by making him his Hand and allows the rulers of Westeros to decide among them who shall be king. Furthermore, Bran finds a way to save Jon’s life by having him join the Night’s Watch. Honestly, this is the best candidate among the lot. All hail Bran the Broken!
Fond Farewells And Character Closure
We’ve established in the past that while history doesn’t exactly repeat itself, it does have a pension for rhyming. Nothing best exemplifies this fact than that of the final moments of Game of Thrones. We get a touching scene with Brienne penning down Jaime’s story in the White Book, a tome that chronicles the life and times of every Kingsguard who has ever taken up the title. In it, she redeems Jaime before the eyes of history, writing that he died defending his queen.
The man who became infamous for killing a king meets his end defending a queen. Even though Jaime couldn’t quite escape the demons of his past, he still managed to die a noble death, comforting the woman he loves. For Brienne who is in many ways the exemplar of knightly virtue to acknowledge his sacrifice brings some measure of comfort to those still mourning the loss of our dear Jaime. He shall forever be our knight in shining armour.
In an episode chalked full of dramatic moments and melancholic victories, it was nice to have a moment of levity. Tyrion, now the Hand of the King, has come to realize that this new small council isn’t exactly the most experienced of politicians. In the places of cynical, seasoned politicians the likes of Varys, Littlefinger and Tywin are the unlikeliest of people. A smuggler, a sellsword a deserter and a woman.
Seeing their interactions with one another was utterly precious and hilarious. Especially Bronn, the new Master of Coin, who is less than eager to part with the wealth of Highgarden safe for the reconstruction of brothels in King’s Landing. It’s ironic how the man who spent this whole series chasing money now has to be one to give it away.
As for our boy Jon Snow, he makes it back to the Wall where it all began, but some things are different now. Instead of a ragtag militia of crows, he sees a crowd of Wildlings awaiting his return. There he also reunites with his old foe-turned-friend Tormund Giantsbane and his Direwolf Ghost. He now takes his place as leader of the Free Folk. I can’t help but feel Mance is somewhere up there (or down there) smiling at Jon Snow, proud of the man he’s become and relieved that his people are safe. The man who never truly felt like he belonged anywhere now leads a people with no place in civilized Westeros. An exile leading an exiled people. Interspersed with his triumphant return to Castle Black, we get shots of Arya and Sansa on preparing for their bright future.
Arya, the girl who wanted to see a world beyond Winterfell, takes up a ship to travel to the unexplored western edges of the Known World. She’s seen the east, now it’s time for her to see what’s beyond the horizon of a setting sun. Sansa, the girl who wanted nothing more than to be a princess with a handsome prince, now sits as Queen in the North. An independent woman ruling an independent nation.
Again I’d like to reiterate that I don’t think this season is pure TV perfection. That title belongs to Breaking Bad. I do believe however that this was the ending we all deserved. Endings do not merely serve as cut-off points to narratives. They are meant to frame the totality of the narrative in a perspective that enriches the former elements of the story. Did this ending do that? Hell.
Yes. In fact, I’m looking forward to rewatching the whole series all over again with the knowledge that Bran would be the one to claim the Throne. I can’t wait to revisit the past with full knowledge of the future, not unlike everyone’s favourite Three-Eyed Raven. It’s a bittersweet ending, with emphasis on the sweeter side, and a well earned one at that. Farewell Game of Thrones, you will be sorely missed!
Also check out the following articles:
Why Daenerys’ Heel Turn Makes Sense but Feels Weird
Game of Thrones Season 8 Episode 3: Analysing One of the Great Battle Sequences of Our Time
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