I already offered my take on the final season of Game of Thrones and a problem I haven’t seen acknowledged (in addition to plenty of problems with the final season and the show as a whole that have been acknowledged) in this post. But I figured I should at least offer my take on the final episode, especially since it did not play out as I had expected.
I gave up on the show midway through season 4 and have only been following the recaps ever since. And considering that most people claim that the rot set in with season 5, when showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss ran out of books to adapt, I guess I made the right choice. Talking of which, here is a great article from the Scientific American by Zeynep Tufekci about the real reason why so many fans dislike the final seasons of Game of Thrones (found via File 770). I’m not sure I agree, but it’s certainly an interesting thesis.
But now we’ll come to the big moment, the answer that everybody has been waiting for, namely who will win the Iron Throne. So let’s tear open the envelope.
And the Iron Throne goes to…
Warning: Spoilers behind the cut!
If you just exclaimed “What the fuck…?”, you’re not alone. After all, Bran – along with little brother Riccon, who was killed off a couple of seasons ago – was always the also-ran Stark, the one whose storyline was less interesting than Arya’s or Sansa’s or Robb’s or Jon Snow’s. Okay, so Tyrion apparently thinks that Bran’s storyline was great, but judging by the reactions I guess he is the only one.
Though in retrospect, maybe we shouldn’t have been that surprised at the outcome. After all, George R.R. Martin has repeatedly stated that what eventually became A Song of Ice and Fire started with a vivid dream about Bran really wanting a direwolf of his own. The seven kingdoms, dragons, white walkers and the War of the Roses parallels came later. As far as George R.R. Martin is concerned (and I’m pretty sure that Benioff and Weiss are following his basic outline, if drastically simplified), the story began with Bran. So it makes sense that it also ends with Bran.
And besides, Bran or Bran the Broken, First of his Name, as he is now known, isn’t the worst choice as king of Westeros, now somewhat diminished to six kingdoms, since Sansa has declared independence and is now the Queen of the North. For starters, Bran – unlike pretty much everybody else in the story – doesn’t kill people. At lest, he hasn’t killed anybody as far as I recall. And a king who doesn’t kill people is definitely an improvement by Westeros standards. What is more, Bran doesn’t even want power, which again is a massive improvement by Westeros standards. And his ability to see through time will probably come in useful in making longterm political decisions. Finally, Bran is floating on a cloud most of the time anyway, seeing hell knows what as the three-eyed raven. He may not actively rule, but he won’t actively make any trouble either, leaving the real job of running the six kingdoms to Tyrion, last Lannister standing, who is once again Hand of the King, as he was for Joffrey and Daenerys before. And Westeros could be in worse hands than in Tyrion’s, even though Tyrion does kill people on occasion (and I still haven’t forgiven him for killing Shae. Ditto pretty much everybody else in Germany). But Tyrion is also the smartest person in Westeros and genuinely seems to care about the good of the realm and the people. Which is more than you can say for many others. I’m also glad that he got to live (though I’m still pissed about Shae), because I had assumed he would be the big death in the finale.
The rest of the small council is made up of other competent characters. Samwell Tarly is now Grandmaester. Okay, so I had initially assumed that Sam would end up as Hand to King Jon and Queen Daenerys, but he’s actually a good choice as Grandmaester. Brienne of Tarth is Lord Commander (or is it Lady Commander?) of the Kingsguard and writes nice things about Jamie Lannister in the Guard’s chronicles, even though he dumped her to die holding hands with Cersei. Ser Davos Seaworthy, a character I had not assumed would last as long as he did, is Master of Ships, a position he’ll fill admirably. And finally, Bronn, son of no one in particular (sorry, but I loved that line), is Master of Coin. Okay, so he’ll probably embezzle funds and thinks brothels are a reconstruction priority (not that I have any issues with the oldest profession in the world, but housing, schools and hospitals are much more important), but unlike Littlefinger, Bronn isn’t a horrible person and Tyrion will keep him in line, if need be. So in short, Westeros is in pretty good hands for the time being.
As for the crack I made that my preferred ending would be Tyrion and Varys introducing democracy, but that there was no chance in hell of that happening – well, it turns out I wasn’t that far off, after all. Because Samwell Tarly briefly brings up “Why not let the people decide who shall rule them?” during the decisive “Who shall rule the realm?” meeting of all the characters still left standing and is promptly laughed down. But Tyrion, who is theoretically still a prisoner accused of treason for defying Daenerys, but to whom everybody listens anyway, because he is the smartest person in Westeros and knows how to play it for all it’s worth, pronounces that for now Bran shall be king, but the king who follows him shall be elected by the lords of the realm. Okay, so Westeros is now where the Holy Roman Empire of German Nation was in the 14th century, but it’s still progress. It’s also a smart move, because no one knows if Bran will be able to have children, given his injuries. And in fact, Sansa says as much.
Looking at the fates of the rest of the characters, Sansa is now Queen of the North and has declared independence. I suspect she’ll do well and Sansa telling off her annoying uncle Edmure Tully, only survivor of the Red Wedding, was a good sign. Though I don’t like the “rape and abuse have made her strong” aspects of her character, because that trope needs to die. But then, it’s easy to forget that A Song of Ice and Fire belongs to an earlier age of fantasy, when such toxic tropes were much more common. After all, the first book came out in 1996, that is 23 years ago. And it is nice that at least one of the many strong women of Westeros gets to govern without it turning into a complete and utter disaster, as with Daenerys and Cersei, because Game of Thrones has not been kind to its many impressive women. And yes, I suspect that this is also due to the fact that at their heart, both books and TV series are 1990s fantasy rather than 2010s fantasy.
Arya Stark decides to sail off to the west and explore what lies beyond Westeros. Of course, if Westeros is a sphere (though not all fantasy lands are – e.g. Fritz Leiber’s Nehwon is a bubble in a sea of world bubbles), she’ll only end up in Essos, unless there is a previously unknown continent between Westeros and Essos. But wherever she’ll end up, I’m sure she’ll have glorious adventures (and maybe a spin-off series). Though I’m a tad disappointed that she didn’t end up with Gendry, if only because Gendry is one of the few genuinely good guys of Westeros and Arya deserves someone good. And talking of which, it’s quite notable that except for Sam, who still has Gilly and a baby on the way, all surviving main characters end up single. This is very unusual, especially for a story that was so focussed on relationships and sexual entanglements. It’s also a bit sad, because at least some of these characters deserve love and a supportive partner.
Queenkiller Jon Snow, finally, winds up where he began, sent off to the Night Watch to guard the wall. Of course, the Night Watch is kind of obsolete now there is no wall to guard anymore, since it has a huge hole courtesy of the white walkers, and nothing to guard against, as the white walkers seem to be gone (at least for now) with the demise of the Night King. But, as Tyrion points out, the Night Watch is still needed as a receptacle for the unwanted young men of Westeros. Because, as Tyrion well knows, unwanted young men with nothing to do are dangerous. And besides, Jon doesn’t stay with the Night Watch or what’s left of it for very long anyway. Instead, he is reunited with Ghost, last direwolf standing (well, there also is Nymeria, now living in the wild) and rides off with Thormund, another character I hadn’t assumed would last this long, to live with the Wildlings beyond the wall, and good luck to him, too. It’s a good ending for Jon – as good an ending as he was likely to get. Because Jon Snow sitting on the Iron Throne after everything he has done – all the people he killed, that kid he hanged, not to forget stabbing his aunt, lover and queen Daenerys after kissing her – would be wrong. I assumed that Jon Snow would get to be king, but then I was thrown off by the War of the Roses parallels and Jon Snow is the closest analogue the story has to Henry Tudor, while Tyrion is a pretty obvious Richard III analogue. So I assumed the final conflict would be Jon versus Tyrion rather than Jon versus Daenerys, with Tyrion getting killed and winding up buried under the parking lot of a social services centre in Leicester or rather the Westeros equivalent thereof, until someone digs him up centuries later and reburies him with a big memorial service, complete with a poem read by Benedict Cumberbatch or rather the Westeros equivalent thereof.
I’m glad it did not play out that way, because Jon Snow really doesn’t deserve the Iron Throne. I suspected that the writers, both Weiss and Benioff and Martin himself, didn’t know that Jon was a pretty awful person and not fit to rule, but it turns out that they did. Or at least Martin did – I’m not sure about Benioff and Weiss. Not to mention that Jon is kind of dumb (Guardian liveblogger Stuart Heritage compares him to a concussed goldfish at one point). And given the Targaryen’s unfortunate disposition to heriditary mental illness, no one in Westeros wants to take the chance of anybody with those damaged genes sitting on the Iron Throne ever again. Not that there is an Iron Throne left to sit on, since Daenerys’ last surviving dragon melted the damned thing, before flying off with her corpse to wherever dragons go where there are no pesky humans around. And yes, the dragon melting the Iron Throne is a powerful piece of symbolism.
Grayworm and the remaining Unsullied set sail for the land of Naath, homeland of the late Missandei (and I still don’t think she had to die – killing two dragons should have been enough to push Daenerys over the edge) where there is peace and freedom and no slavery. Meanwhile, no one seems to know what will become of the remaining Dothraki, now stranded in a cold and foreign land and bereft of their Khaleesi. Perhaps they’ll go back to Essos to rejoin their people, though Daenerys did burn the rest of their leaders alive. Or maybe they’ll stay in Westeros. Meanwhile, Poderick, another almost forgotten character, gets knighted and gets to be King Bran’s official wheelchair pusher.
And talking of Daenerys, she’s dead, stabbed by Jon, and there was really no other way her story could have ended after what she did last episode. And yes, there were plenty of signs that Daenerys, though she did mean well and wanted to liberate people, was not the person who should rule. Because the point of Daenerys’ journey was apparently that power corrupts and that even good intentions, when pursued too zealously, can lead to war, bloodshed and genocide. It is an important point, but the problem was that Daenerys was an immensely likeable character at first and that we all cheered her on as she freed slaves, even if she did roast slaveholders in the process. What is more, the rushed feel of the last two seasons meant that Daenerys’ development from Breaker of Chains to Mad Queen was not given enough room and so happened more abruptly than it should have. And yes, the blame for that lies mainly with Benioff and Weiss, who simply aren’t the storytellers that George R.R. Martin is. And talking of Daenerys, I suspect that one day being able to say her full name “Queen Daenerys Stormborn of the House Targaryen, the First of Her Name, Queen of the Andals, the Rhoynar and the First Men, The rightful Queen of the Seven Kingdoms and Protector of the Realm, Queen of Dragonstone, Queen of Meereen, Khaleesi of the Great Grass Sea, the Unburnt, Breaker of Chains and Mother of Dragons” will be a test of geek cred much as being able to recite the full name of Hadschi Halef Omar Ben Hadschi Abul Abbas Ibn Hadschi Dawud al Gossarah used to be.
So in short, Game of Thrones had a better ending than at least I expected. It’s maybe not the ending most fans wanted or expected, but it is an ending and a surprisingly satisfying one. As for Bran ending up on the Iron Throne (metaphorically, at least, since the Iron Throne is gone), when I told my Mom the news this morning – after waiting until the nice male nurse who was supposed to measure my Dad’s blood sugar levels was gone, because I didn’t want to spoil the nurse, in case he was a fan – she said, “So the disabled kid gets to be king. Personally, I think that’s a lovely and empowering ending.” And she’s right. In many ways, A Song of Ice and Fire has always been a story told through the eyes of broken and marginalised characters: Bran, Tyrion, Jon, Arya, Sansa, Daenerys, they were all broken in their own way. And now one of these broken characters – a disabled boy in a world that doesn’t have much room for people like him – gets to be king. That’s actually a pretty satisfying ending.
As for those claiming that there never will be another TV show that captures the imagination of the world like Game of Thrones again, sorry, but that’s bullshit. There have been TV shows that captured the world’s imagination before, shows that seemingly everybody was watching, wherever you went: Dallas and Dynasty in the 1980s (Dynasty even had its own Red Wedding), Twin Peaks and The X-Files in the 1990s, maybe Lost for a brief moment in the mid 2000s and now Game of Thrones in the 2010s. And there will be another show everybody is watching in a couple of years’ time. I don’t know what form it will take, but what unites the examples above is that these shows all told bigger and more expansive stories than was common in television at the time and that they were all fantasy of some kind, even the supposedly realistic Dallas and Dynasty. None of them were the most critically acclaimed shows of their time and in fact critics often sneered at them. Nor were they the best and most enduring shows of their time and indeed, it’s interesting that most of those shows that once captured the imagination of the world are not particularly rewatchable. Dallas and Dynasty are good for a laugh at best these days, while Twin Peaks, The X-Files and Lost are boggged down by the fact that we all know that the solution to their central mysteries did not live up to the hype. All of these shows had underwhelming endings – in fact, Game of Thrones fared better than most. All of them had iconic characters, J.R. Ewing, Alexis Carrington Colby Dexter, Laura Palmer and Dale Cooper, Fox Mulder and Dana Scully, the Smoking Man. All of them had moments that will be remembered for a long time: J.R. getting shot by an unknown assailant who turns out to be Mary Crosby, daughter of Bing and aunt of Denise. Alexis on the balcony, throwing out Blake and Krystal’s things. The Moldavian wedding massacre. Laura Palmer’s corpse wrapped in plastic. Dale Cooper eating cherry pie and drinking damned good coffee and later looking in the mirror to see Bob starring back at him. Fox Mulder locked in the buried box car in the desert. Dana Scully kidnapped by aliens. The plane crash on the island and the unexplained polar bear. And so people will know who Tyrion Lannister is, they will know about Ned Stark getting his head chopped off and the Red Wedding and the burning of Kings’ Landing, even if they have never actually watched the show.
So yes, there will be another show like Game of Thrones one day. It probably won’t be something anybody expects, since these shows always seen to come out of nowhere. Game of Thrones actually had the most advance hype and even there, a lot of critics wondered whether people would want to watch a show about dragons and people with strange names living in a fantasy world. But once this show arrives, most of us will be watching and talking about it.