Game of Thrones ended its decade-long story last night, and fans are split on its controversial ending.
That’s a sentence I could’ve written years ago when the show’s plans for its conclusion were first revealed. It’s impossible to please everyone, and today’s viewers feel increasing ownership over the content they consume. Every day we’re mashing react buttons on every one-liner, video, webseries, podcast, etc., etc. But there’s a reason why everyone isn’t helming their own multi-million dollar television series.
As the remaining lords and ladies of Westeros laughed off last night: If we give everyone a vote, what’s next? The dogs?
So, sure, decisions were made that I personally would not have willed, and, in my humble opinion, some emotional moments lost some impact due to pacing. But, overall, looking back at what many (myself included) consider the last great watercooler television show, the series concluded the story it set it out to tell.
With the understanding that this is a piece of art created by a team of artists and not a committee of fan theorists or Reddit fiction writers, let’s discuss the epic series’ finale in our recap below.
We begin where we left off last week. Daenerys has thoroughly nuked all of King’s Landing. Tyrion and Jon Snow walk the streets full of scorched skeletons still in shock at their queen’s lack of mercy. Tyrion heads off to find what remains of the Lannisters, while Jon and Davos come upon Grey Worm and the Unsullied about the execute some Lannister soldiers.
Like their Queen, the Unsullied are not really feeling forgiving. Jon tries to step to them, but he’s outnumbered Davos de-escalates the situation, leaving the army to carry through their orders to punish those that fought against Dany.
Tyrion heads down to the secret tunnel, finding it blocked by rubble. He digs around a bit until he uncovers the corpses of Jaime and Cersei wrapped in a strange lovers’ embrace. (Or was it more like twins in the womb?) Either way, unlike a lot of folks, I think it’s a fitting end to their story, even if the final leg of the journey to get there was a bit spastic at times.
In one of the most incredible shots in the show’s history, Dany comes out to address her armies. As she does, Drogon takes flight behind her making it seem momentarily that she has some badass black dragon wings.
It’s a lewk:
She gives a speech to the delight of the (surprisingly still huge) Unsullied and Dothraki contingent. I was truly shocked seeing so many Screamers still kicking after the Battle of Winterfell. The address is all about “liberation” in that very uncomfortable dictator-y way where folks are “liberated” by being burned alive in the streets. The armies are loving it, but Tyrion is less dazzled.
He calls her out on slaughtering a city, and she snaps back that he committed treason by freeing his brother. He quits in a snit, throwing his fancy Hand pin down, and she has him arrested.
Jon visits him in his cell, where Tyrion is real, real distraught. Varys was right, and he had him killed. Now, Jon has to do something. He knows what’s right, and he’s always tried to do the right thing. Jon is obviously torn, but Tyrion reminds him that Dany will soon turn her attention to him, and then to his stubborn sisters.
He goes to meet Daenerys (after a really cool moment where he passes a snow-covered Drogon). She is walking up to the throne she’s been so focused on for the first time. Just like her earlier vision, there is snow falling, and just as she finally is able to touch it, Jon arrives. She asks him to rule with her, to be with her. He tries to reason with her about her actions, but she swears it’s all for the greater good. When he asks her what about the other people who think what they’re doing is also good? She waves him off, because they don’t get to choose.
It’s those final words that seals her fate. She is a dictator. She believes she knows what’s best. And, yes, often in the past she was right. But that’s not a blanket way to rule. They embrace once more, and he tells her she will always be his queen.
Then he stabs her right in heart, killing her.
Is it the most bombastic death in terms of violence? No. Look, not everyone can go out Roland Emmerich-style in the Sept of Baelor like Margaery Tyrell, or get out a few last quips like Lady Olenna. Not everyone gets a deeply poetic twisted end like Ellaria Sand or Septna Unella. (Coincidentally, it was Cersei that orchestrated all aforementioned. That’s just her style.) I liked the end of Dany’s story, personally. All this time, she has been focused on getting back the throne. Yes, she defeated a lot of evil, but it always felt like that was more in service of restoring the good Targaryen name. At its heart, it was all about righting the wrongs committed against her family. She did it. She got the throne, she defeated her enemies. Even conquering — I’m sorry, “liberating” — beyond King’s Landing feels like it was outside of her mandate.
As Daenerys dies in Jon’s arms (seems to be a popular spot for anyone he sticks his own longclaw in, if you know what I mean), Drogon senses something is amiss. In one of the most emotionally devastating moments, Drogon nudges Dany’s lifeless body and lets out a deep, guttural roar. He’s heartbroken. It looks as if the dragon is going to torch Jon, but instead he melts the Iron Throne down to nothing, which … sigh.
I guess my biggest beef of the episode was here. I get the symbolism, but just how aware is Drogon? How did he not eat Jon on the spot? Even if I suspend my disbelief and assume Jon’s Targaryen blood keeps the dragons from attacking, how did Drogon know to torch the throne of all things? Now I want to know all about Drogon’s apparently very rich internal life.
He grabs his mother’s lifeless body in his talons and flies off.
Then, my second biggest beef, we jump ahead in time. Tyrion is being brought out of lockup to stand before a panel of the remaining lords and ladies of the great families. All our faves are here: Bran, Sansa, Arya, Brienne, Yara, Gendry, Sam, Davos, Edmure, some dude from Dorne, a few other randos, that weird kid Robin Arryn who breastfed way too long. (Though, I gotta say, milk does a body good, because he’s sort of hunk now?) Anyway, the big disagreement is that Unsullied — who somehow are still kicking about the totally torched King’s Landing — want to kill Jon Snow.
But, like … hold on. How did we get here? Did Jon confess? And the murderous, blood-thirsty Unsullied and Dothraki didn’t just rip him apart on the spot? Remember when all those dudes that pledged their honor all took turns stabbing Jon because he was too nice to the Wildlings? And yet here, the most vicious armies in Westeros are totally cool with someone killing their queen? There’s suddenly due process? Very strange.
No one has any authority to decide Jon’s fate. They need a leader. Sam tries to make the case that maybe the best way to break the broken system once and for all is to let the people vote, and I start rolling my eyes so hard I actually think I warged into one of Taylor Swift’s cats.
Luckily, everyone laughs off this idea as ridiculous. It might be the right answer philosophically, but what an insane development it would’ve been if this whole series full of political maneuvering and dynasties actually boiled down to getting the people of Flea Bottom to Casterly Rock the Vote, or whatever.
After a very awkward silence, Edmure attempts to make a case that he should be king (lol). Sansa’s like, sit down, uncle, ya big dummy. Yikes.
Finally, Tyrion — still in handcuffs, mind you — is like “Did someone say they needed a classically trained actor to give a speech that would be perfect to play over the intro to the next Emmy Awards about the power of storytelling?” And so, he launches into a fairly overwrought monologue that ends with the recommendation that Bran takes the throne.
Her? Really? Is she funny?
While not my personal favorite choice to sit atop the throne, Tyrion’s logic is sound. For too long, Westeros has been all battles and bloodshed because people feel entitled to the throne and are driven mad by their ambitions. Bran is a good choice precisely because he doesn’t want it. Plus, he can’t sire a child, so the entire system of succession would have to be re-examined.
The fact he went from a little boy who miraculously survived a terrible fall to a survivor of the untamed North to the Three-Eyed Raven is also pretty incredible. (Incredible to hear about, at least. Watching it was often my least favorite part of an episode.)
All the lords and ladies support this idea. The only person not totally on board is Sansa. When it’s her turn, she tells him that the North will remain independent. Bran accepts, but only if Tyrion agrees to be his Hand. I mean, again, wouldn’t be my first choice. That’s like the next President deciding to give Betsy DeVos another go. However, it is an opportunity to right all the wrongs, so let’s assume Tyrion will make the most of it.
So, Bran rules the Six Kingdoms, Tyrion becomes Hand and Sansa becomes Queen of the North. It’s a pretty fitting end for all three. Sansa in particular seems better suited to rule an independent North than to serve in any capacity in King’s Landing, the site of so much of her suffering.
But what about Jon?
The compromise reached is to send him back to the Night’s Watch. What are they watching for, exactly, is unclear. The Night King has been destroyed; the Wildlings are friends now. Whatever. It beats being beheaded by Grey Worm. (Grey Worm, by the way, takes the Unsullied — and I guess the Dothraki too? — on ships to Missandei’s old stomping ground, Naath.)
On his way out of King’s Landing, Jon sees his Stark siblings on the dock. He says goodbye to Bran, the new King of the Six Kingdoms; Sansa, the new Queen of the North and Arya. Her plan is to set out on an adventure to find whatever’s west of Westeros. (Now there’s a spinoff I want to see!) At first, I didn’t really understand Arya the Explorer, since that never really felt like what she was about. She was a fighter, a protector, a righter of wrongs. She abandoned her quest for vengeance, but I didn’t think she abandoned all the VIOLENCE with it.
However, on further reflection, it feels like a good use of her skills and smarts. She was never going to live a traditional life, but something that honors her independent spirit and fearlessness without the darkness does fit as a rather nice ending to this chapter of her story. It also harkens back to Nymeria, her direwolf. She too left her family to set off on her own.
As the Hand, Tyrion has assembled a stellar council. Bronn, now the Lord of High Garden, is the new Master of Coin. Sam is the Grand Maester. Davos is the Master of Ships. Brienne is the head of the Kingsguard (and she made Podrick a knight!). What a team! Sam unveils — groan — a book detailing the story of life after Robert’s Rebellion called “A Song of Ice and Fire,” which is too cheesy for me, personally. Tyrion may not have been included in that in-story story, but at least we get a callback to Tyrion’s famous jackass and honeycomb in a brothel joke.
Earlier, Brienne updated the White Book, which chronicles all the accomplishments of the Kingsguard. (You may remember Joffrey once mocked Jaime for how short his entry was.) Brienne updates Jaime’s entry with lots of new info, and ends it with “Died protecting his queen,” which is a pretty generous epitaph.
We get a gorgeous montage of the Stark children preparing for the next chapter, including Sansa getting crowned, Arya getting aboard her badass S.S. Stark and Jon arriving at Castle Black.
He’s met by Tormund and — I’M NOT CRYING, YOU’RE CRYING — Ghost. He finally pets his trusted companion, and my heart grows about 10 sizes. In a finale sure to piss off lots of viewers, this will likely be the one universally beloved piece of fanservice.
Then, Jon rides off north of the Wall with the Wildlings to … I don’t know? Escort them? Join them? Unclear.
Jon rejoining the Night’s Watch (and/or the Wildlings) isn’t the easiest pill to swallow. He was brought back to life by the Lord of Light, but didn’t kill the Night King. He had the strongest claim to the throne, but didn’t get to rule. All of the greatness we always thought he was destined for (or at least the heroic death that seemed to be awaiting him) just never came. But, it’s no coincidence Aemon was referenced in this episode. Aemon too joined the Watch when it looked like he was going to be conscripted into seizing the throne.
Jon did his most good with the Night’s Watch. And the Wildlings are another sort of family for him. Just as his admiration of Ned honors his Starkness, and his relationship with Aemon turned out to be another connection to his Targaryen heritage, I can’t help but think how Mance Rayder is another father figure whose background and qualities impacted Jon as well. Like Rayder, Jon abandoned his duties to the Night’s Watch. He was also considered a King by the Wildlings. Jon’s life here ends up making the most sense to his character, even if it’s not the typical end of a Hero’s Journey we’re conditioned to expect.
Was this finale a perfect masterpiece? Of course not. I’ve noted lots of things I would change, or I would’ve personally preferred. However, I’m satisfied with these conclusions. I see the showrunners’ intent, and I think they were overall successful. I really think the series could have benefitted from four more episodes to make some of the more sudden turns feel a bit more earned, but that wouldn’t necessarily change where everything landed when the dust settled.
Now, I know you’ve got some opinions. Let ’em loose in the comments!