Here’s the thing, everyone: endings are really hard. Very few stories get them right. For every Breaking Bad, which has about as perfect an ending as television has ever seen, there are plenty more series that end on a sour note, like Lost, Dexter, or The Sopranos. Unfortunately for Game of Thrones, the rush to wrap everything up so that showrunners David Benoiff and D.B. Weiss could get that Disney/Star Wars money left longtime fans of the hit HBO fantasy drama feeling like an afterthought.
The episode begins with Tyrion (and to a lesser extent, Jon Snow) surveying the decimated King’s Landing, slaughtered by Daenerys Targaryen (and Drogon) the week before. There are plenty of dead children, charred skeletons, and suffering survivors. Greyworm executes Lannister soldiers in the streets, despite Jon’s insistence that they are now merely prisoners.
Tyrion explores the caves and tunnels beneath the Red Keep, looking for evidence that his brother Jaime may have survived the chaos. Instead, he finds both of his older siblings buried amongst the rubble, and both are very dead. Although he knew that Cersei was evil, Tyrion always had a special bond with his brother Jaime. The sudden confirmation that he is now the last Lannister alive was a sobering punch in the face, and one of that only spurred on Tyrion’s decision to confront the Queen over her actions and resign as Hand (oh, and he’s arrested for treason).
One of the best scenes of this finale was Dany standing on the steps of the Red Keep, bellowing out war propaganda to the Unsullied and Dothraki. She spoke openly about “liberating” the people of King’s Landing, which is a funny way to say “I murdered a bunch of innocent peasants.” Jon Snow looks on as she talks about “liberating” all of Westeros, from Dorne to Winterfell.
If you hoped her Mad Queen moment was a passing phase, just a rush of blood and fire, and Daenerys would come back to reality after finally winning the Iron Throne — well, you were wrong. Displaying traits previously seen in her brother and father, the new Targaryen ruler fully exposed herself as a ruthless conqueror, as opposed to a benevolent leader. Tyrion and Jon, two of her most loyal followers, have no choice but to see the reality of the situation. But Jon still struggles, and it takes a long talk with a now-captive Tyrion to convince him of the right choice, in what was truly the best scene of the entire episode.
“Love is the death of duty.”
A solid throwback to previous seasons, where Maester Aemon counsels Jon about abandoning the Night’s Watch to join his brother Robb Stark in war. However, Tyrion cleverly points out that the inverse statement is also true: “Duty is the death of love.”
In that moment, Jon finally realize what he must do. Despite not being Ned Stark’s trueborn son, Jon grew up learning everything from the former Lord of Winterfell. Ned was honorable to a fault, always doing the right thing no matter the cost — even when the cost was losing his own head. In many ways, Jon has followed in Ned’s footsteps his whole life. He accepted his role in the Night’s Watch (even though he didn’t want to) because it was the right thing. He saved the Wildlings from death (even though it was committing treason) because it was the right thing to do. He accepted the role of Lord Commander (even though he didn’t want it) because it was the right thing to do. He accepted the role of King in the North (even though he didn’t want it) because it was the right thing to do. And he stabbed Daenerys in the heart (even though he didn’t want to), because… well, you get it.
The episode was rolling along fine up until this point. Then it went off the rails in a big way.
First, we have Drogon slapping everyone in the face with some very blunt symbolism by melting the Iron Throne into a puddle. Not since the rat at the end of The Departed have viewers had their intelligence insulted so badly. We get it, power corrupts. It was the burning desire for that stupid chair that ultimately got Daenerys killed. While book readers are quick to point out the various passages that prove just how intelligent dragons are supposed to be, and how they form a true mental and emotional bond with their rider, the TV show has earned none of those things. The whole “Drogon uses fire to criticize the monarchy system” was pretty damn cheesy.
Unfortunately, the show didn’t stop there. The final scenes made even less sense.
Where to even start? There’s a jump in time, but it only seems like a few weeks. For some reasons, the Unsullied and Dothraki merely take Tyrion and Jon prisoner for their crimes. This is the same Unsullied who unapologetically executed enemies in the streets, right? The same Dothraki who have been portrayed all series as a pack of murdering, raping, angry savages, who only obeyed Daenerys because she burnt their old leaders alive? It makes zero sense that either group would merely take Jon prisoner. It’s more likely that the two groups would end up killing Jon instantly and then fighting among themselves for the power vacuum left by Dany’s death.
So everyone fast travels down to the Dragon Pit for yet another meeting of the Who’s Who of Westeros. Greyworm brings Tyrion as a prisoner, orders him not to talk, and then allows him to engage in an epic monologue about who should be king (or queen) next. Sure, that makes sense.
Truthfully, there aren’t that many good choices. Samwell Tarly wisely suggests something of a democracy, and is thoroughly laughed at. And then the Lords and Ladies of Westeros democratically pick a new leader anyway, because… reasons.
Tyrion explains that the people will always follow a good story, and makes the case for Bran’s journey from falling out of that tower to becoming the Three Eyed Raven. Sure, we can just ignore Jon’s story of “being born as the rightful heir to the throne, raised as a bastard, killed a white walker, made Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch, murdered and resurrected by the Lord of Light, uniting the North and the Free Folk, being named King in the North, fighting in the Battle of Winterfell, helping defeat the Night King, helping conquer King’s Landing, and tragically/heroically slaying his own Queen/lover.” Yeah, that’s definitely a crap story compared to Bran’s.
So Bran the Broken, who spent much of the last two or three seasons insisting that he’s “not Bran” anymore, suddenly decides “hell yeah, I’m Bran!” when he’s offered the throne. Sure, that makes sense too. And then Sansa insists that the North will never bow to another foreign, Southern ruler. Which doesn’t make a lot of sense, since the oldest trueborn son of Ned Stark was just made King of Westeros. But then we wouldn’t get the “Queen in the North” scene at the end of the episode, so whatever. Let’s just roll with it.
The group then decides that the old system of heirs and heiresses will be abolished, which is convenient since Bran apparently can’t have kids anyway. However, the show once again calls its audience stupid with this decision. Bran is one of the youngest people at the meeting, and there’s a good chance he will outlive almost everyone else. So when they pledge to meet again and decide on a new ruler when Bran eventually passes away, it’s not a very bright idea at all, since most of them will be dead. The show has spent eight seasons showing us how petty, angry, violent, and power-hungry human beings can be. Does anyone really expect another peaceful resolution the next time the throne is up for grabs? Everyone (but especially Tyrion) should know better. But suddenly, because the show is out of episodes, they don’t.
Assorted Other Things:
-Tyrion gets made Hand of the King, despite not wanting it, as a convenient way to keep Greyworm from killing him.
-Bronn laughably becomes Master of Coin, in what will surely prove to be a terrible decision for the Kingdom
-Samwell is suddenly an archmaester, despite only spending, like, a few months at the Citadel. Okay then.
-Davos ends up as the Master of Ships on Bran’s small council. That actually makes sense, and we have no quarrals with it.
-Brienne finished off Jaime’s section in the Book of Knights, presumably painting in a positive light despite his numerous mistakes. We were hoping she would start a section for herself, which would have been a landmark moment for the first ever female knight.
-Samwell presents a new book written about the concluded wars, mockingly titled A Song of Ice and Fire. Get it?!?!?!
-Arya sets sail for whatever is West of Westeros, but will probably just end up on the East side of Essos. Unless the flat earthers have invaded Westeros too.
-Jon is sentenced to the Night’s Watch. Like the viewer, he is surprised it even exists. With the Night King gone, the war with the Free Folk over, and a giant hole in The Wall, the ancient protective order hardly seems necessary. And then Jon arrives at Castle Black and realizes that the Night’s Watch doesn’t really exist at all. Tormund and the Wildlings are there (and Ghost!), and Jon decides to travel with them North of the Wall, into the Land of Always Winter.
-Edmure Tully returns to the show just long enough to be told to STFU by Sansa. That made us laugh, at least.