HBO’s Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones Series Finale Discussion/Review: “The Iron Throne”

How ready are we for the last episode of Game of Thrones ever?

I’m still processing my feelings about last week’s episode, so I’m a bit conflicted. Like, I’m wearing my Lady Olenna T-shirt and I made lemoncakes, but I’m also thinking about fear of female power, corrupt rulers, and men who fail upward. It was really hard not to dwell on these aspects of the show, over the course of this very long week.

On a scale of Dexter (the worst) to Six Feet Under (still the gold standard,) where will Game of Thrones rank on the series finale continuum?

I’m predicting this episode will fall somewhere above Lost but far below Breaking Bad. Maybe somewhere around Battlestar Galactica, where I can still stand rewatching the show, but stop before seeing the final season again.

I’m less about hating the Mad Queen development for Dany, but still don’t feel it was earned. Dany, like Stannis Baratheon before her, has always had her fanatical streak and has done a lot of ruthless things on her journey to “break the wheel” of unjust rule. But her story was always set up as an underdog’s. When we first meet her, she isn’t some simple farm boy living on Tattooine or the put-upon bastard of a noble house. She is a woman, with no choice in her own destiny, so she is sold to a stranger and raped. This codes her as a powerless person who becomes determined to fight for other powerless people in a terrible system. Of course we sympathize with her and it’s disappointing to see her turn bad, but if you sell me on it, I’ll follow.

But there are people arguing that you can tell that Dany was a “mad” person all along because she didn’t cry enough when her dangerously delusional brother—the one who sold her to that stranger, threatened to have her gang-raped by men and horse alike, beat her, and (in the books) groped her—disobeyed Dothraki law and got himself executed. Boo-fucking-hoo. Hope no one broke their arm with that reach.

And I say this also knowing the show, more than the books I think, has never been self-aware when it comes to discussions of colonialism, weapons of mass destruction, and Dany’s conquering habit, but seems to want to address these issues all at once now, in the last two hours of the series. To use Dany as a symbol of feminine rage and power—a foil to Cersei’s corrosive abuses—feels disingenuous when the writers have her flipping her shit after suffering some very big and forced setbacks, the last straw being getting dumped by her dull nephew-boyfriend.

They needed to corner this dragon.

And that’s the real issue for me—it’s so obvious that they wanted Jon to back into the Iron Throne, so they had to turn Dany evil to make it happen. But they had two shortened seasons to do it, and thus had no time for real character development, and not just for Dany. Why could we not see Sansa and Arya react to the news of Jon’s parentage? Just because we know what his sisters are likely to say, that scene doesn’t matter—we have battle scenes to show instead? Is anyone deflated after seven seasons of Jaime turning away from his unhealthy relationship with his sister and his dishonorable reputation, only to have him rush back to Cersei’s side? Cersei, who had nothing to do but stare out the window all year? (Also, wouldn’t it have been fun to see her react to the news that Jon is the son of her childhood crush and an heir to the throne?) Or Arya, who denounced revenge before she ever set foot back in Winterfell, heading all the way into the crumbling Red Keep to denounce revenge again, just so we’d have eyes on the ground as King’s Landing burned?

In the Game of Thrones, you win or you die as one pawn on a chessboard controlled by showrunners who can’t have their lemoncakes and eat them, too. Heading into this final episode, are you holding out hope, just hoping for a mercy killing of a formerly great show, or are you weeping defiantly into a tankard of Game of Thrones-themed beer wearing a “Not Today” T-shirt?

Courtesy of HBO

Updated post-watch:

GHOST GETTING PETS WAS ALL THE CLOSURE I NEEDED.

Ahem. Well, that was a few less ending than Return of the King, anyways. Samwell writes There and Back Again: A Dragon’s Tale, Arya sails to Valinor, and Sansa gets a less opulent coronation.

I didn’t totally hate it to the point of never wanting to watch this show again, but I didn’t love it either.

“Rushed” is my first thought. Some nice little jokes, which I’d missed in these last few episodes, and a decent central problem of deciding who is truly fit to rule. I’m real glad it wasn’t Jon, after all—way too predictable and not worth the cost. But then it kinda swung so far the opposite way that Jon’s whole story seemed not to matter much at all.

Courtesy of HBO

Did Bran really have a better story than Dany or Jon?

Bran is nothing if not impartial, and he knows all of history and can see the future. But did Bran see all of this? Why couldn’t he do anything about it? And while Bran may be wise, there’s not much in this development that packs an emotional wallop, is there? No one was out there cheerleading for Bran all these years. I mean, he wasn’t even in the show for a whole season! He had no great stakes in anything once the Night King was defeated. Ehhh.

It was better than Lost and Dexter, less insulting than BSG. I’ll give it that.

Jon killing Dany was needed, I guess, after being telegraphed from space as soon as she started talking about “liberating” the entire world. I mean, I loved the callback to Maester Aemon’s “Love is the death of duty.” And yet, Dany’s death felt like it was more about Jon’s tragedy than Dany’s. She deserved better in the last two seasons. Like Cersei, a cool character whose story ends with as little fanfare as possible.

Game of Thrones wants to have Dany set fire to everything in as epic and entertaining a way as possible and sympathize with her in her victimhood, on one hand, but also wants to castigate the audience for cheering for her. That’s kinda bullshit. No one sings songs for spiders. No one eulogizes dragons. Um, except dragons, I guess?

Courtesy of HBO

But… why? Why did Drogon melt the throne and not turn his wrath on Jon Snow? Do dragons understand politics and metaphors n’ shit? I feel we should’ve seen something to set this scene up earlier in the show. It was ridiculous. I really thought we’d get one more beat with Drogon flying around Valyria or something. But what do I know? I am no dragon.

Courtesy of HBO

Tyrion was really the MVP of the finale, and that’s fitting, even as he’s written out of the great story by its in-world author. That’s fitting, too. I enjoyed his moments on the evening after the battle, finding Jaime and Cersei’s bodies, quitting as Hand of the King and then later, straightening all those damn chairs in the Small Council room, and going out telling anecdotes about brothels. I think Tyrion grew enough as a character to be satisfying for me, overall. At least he recognizes when he fails upward.

It’s a better ending than Jon Snow’s. All of that death and rebirth and war to end up condemned to the Night’s Watch. I guess the lesson is that ultimately names don’t matter. It’s simplistic but true. However, when he left to go north of the wall with Tormund, I assumed that taking the black was just a cover story for the Unsullied, right? I like that better. He always liked the wildlings and he could be happy there. And free. But I was left unsure if he was just going on a mission to escort the wildings or if he was deserting his post. Because when he said goodbye to his sisters, it seemed like he intended to see them again…but his last look behind seemed rather meaningful.

Courtesy of HBO

As for the Stark sisters?

Sansa gets to go out as a queen and that’s completely just. No one works harder for the North. It’s a good thing no one else at that big pow-wow had an issue with Brexit one less kingdom in the realm. Also, I want to see more details on her dress. That weirwood embroidery was gorgeous.

Arya sailing west of Westeros fits if you basically just replace her with Frodo Baggins. She’s seen shit; she doesn’t fit into this new world anymore. She wants an adventure and peace (we assume). But what if she does find people west of Westeros? Will she colonize them for the North? Will she become a new Dany? Will HBO give her a spin-off if they become too desperate for subscribers?

What stories are we ready to tell post-Thrones? It’ll be interesting to analyze the story George R.R. Martin has told and the ones told for television. I will still always wish for the books to wrap up the saga, but the television show has given me a lot of think about, too. And when, if ever, will we ever be ready for a post-Thrones story set in this world?

Courtesy of HBO

Final thoughts:

  • Brienne’s a LOT nicer than I would be writing about my ex in The White Book: “P.S. Jaime Lannister had a small dick.” I’m glad this wasn’t the last scene she was in. She has a seat at the most important table in the land. I did wish she stayed in the North with Sansa, who seems awfully alone now. Good night, good knight.
  • Grown-up Robin Arryn proves that too much milk does not do a body good. It was nice to see Edmure Tully again, too, useless as he remains.
  • Bronn as Master of Coin? Really? Really?! This is how you battle corruption?
  • Love Maester Samwell. Love that Davos is still fighting for proper grammar.
  • GHOST PETS.
  • Grey Worm made it! I’m shocked, but glad.
  • That laugh at the suggestion of democracy made my heart hurt a bit. Baby steps, I guess.
  • That Westworld trailer had my viewing party screaming. That was so unexpected! I’m just glad I don’t have to think about that show until 2020.

Next week: I plan to open up a can of peaches and binge Deadwood ahead of the upcoming movie. But I will miss all of the conversation here, truly. These threads have blown up so fast, especially this season, that I don’t always join in the comments, but I read them all. I’m so thankful that I’ve been able to help Tor.com provide a place for people to dive deep into this exciting, gut-wrenching, frustrating, problematic, beautiful, triumphant, epic show. Eight years!

And now our watch has ended.

Theresa DeLucci is a regular contributor to Tor.com. Her fiction is forthcoming from Strange Horizons. She’s also gotten enthusiastic about television for Boing Boing, Wired.com’s Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy podcast and Den of Geek. Send her a raven via Twitter.

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