Greetings, and welcome! My name is Ben, and you have stumbled upon the ONLY Game of Thrones recap on the entire internet. Week to week I will be breaking down each episode of season 8, giving out highly prestigious awards, and wrapping everything up with a haiku.
Season 8, Episode 6: “The Iron Throne”
As I read the last few sentences of Stephen King’s epic seven-book Dark Tower series, I found myself feeling rather dejected. After thousands of pages, dozens of well crafted characters, and some of the most interesting lore I’d ever come across, I could only think… is that all there is? A series I’d been following for decades was over, leaving me with only a litany of complaints about everything from characterization to the pacing.
At the time, I think I lacked a bit of perspective on just how incredibly difficult it is to wrap up a story so sprawling. I don’t want to give Benioff and Weiss (and George R.R. Martin, if some of these same shortcomings aren’t corrected on the page) a pass for some of narrative choices made these last two seasons, but ending Game of Thrones was always going to be a problem. The show has always been at its best when it puts its characters into a room and lets them explore their experiences. When you are writing a story that involves dragons and battle, the endgame is naturally going to involve more fire and swords than dialogue. I always suspected that this show was destined to let a lot of us down in the end. The decision to condense these last two seasons from twenty episodes into thirteen certainly now strikes me as not only the wrong one, but a sign of a fundamental misunderstanding of the story being told.
Still, as the credits rolled for the final time last night, I felt incredibly grateful to have experienced this show from week to week and year to year. My problems with seasons 7 and 8 make the Red Wedding no less visceral, the battle of Blackwater Bay no less exhilarating, Ayra’s and Sansa’s journeys no less moving. The rushed ending doesn’t negate the incredible journey I’ve followed down the King’s Road these last eight seasons.
That buildup might give you the idea I’m going to eviscerate this episode, and I am. Well, half of it anyway.
The first 40 minutes slowed the pace enough to let the story breathe in the wake of episode 5’s apocalyptic firestorm at King’s Landing. Tyrion’s walk through the corpse-strewn rubble was quiet, reflective, and heartbreaking. His reaction to finding his brother beneath the Red Keep is likely the clip that will earn Peter Dinklage another Emmy.
After Tyrion is imprisoned, his conversation with Jon provides another particularly strong part of the episode, even if it did act as something of a narrative bandaid. It’s almost as if the writers were unsure if the audience bought Dany’s heel turn; making Tyrion walk us through the warning signs was a bit on-the-nose, but necessary to get Jon where he needed to be for the episode and series to reach its inevitable endpoint; there was no way Daenerys wasn’t dying after the last episode’s massacre, but Jon’s turn had to make something approaching sense, and I think it did. As I said earlier, scenes like these where two characters can just exist in a room are the backbone of this show.
And so Jon meets Dany at the foot of the Iron Throne with murder on his mind. If some of the dialogue doesn’t quite track—Jon begs for Tyrion to be spared; had Dany agreed, would he have still killed her? What would that prove?—the execution no pun intended) of Daenerys’ death was fairly satisfying. It’s hard for the moment to land with the weight that the writers undoubtedly wanted it to, considering how rushed was both Jon and Dany’s romance and her eventual heel turn, but as a scene, it worked. Especially Drogon then went full Simba with the Queen’s corpse and then flew away with her to mourn (but not before slagging the Iron Throne (guess dragons are into heavy symbolism).
The look on Dany’s face as she realizes Jon has betrayed her one last time is so painful because, despite her pivot to Mad Queen status, this is a character we’ve cheered on for a long time, and one who truly was acting out of a misguided desire to fix a broken world by any means necessary. It wasn’t the ending I wanted, but it was the one the show (and undoubtedly the novels, should they ever be published) demanded. If I have substantial problems with the journey, the destination seems right, somehow.
In the aftermath of Daenerys’ death we jump ahead in time a few weeks, conveniently skipping over a few impossible scenes—we’re supposed to believe that Grey Worm didn’t immediately kill Jon and Tyrion in the wake of Dany’s death, and was content to just wait around for all of the (dwindling) lords and ladies of Westeros to show up for planning session? Weirdly, Tyrion starts the meeting as a prisoner, but a few minutes into it, he has basically single-handedly chosen the new king of Westeros. You’d think people would eventually stop listening to the guy.
And how about that choice of king? I will give Thrones some credit there: I definitely did not see Bran coming. Twist aside, it struck me as an underwhelming (and baffling) choice—not the least because, despite what Tyrion says, his story wasn’t all that great, and the show gave us no reason to believe that anyone else in Westeros would trust that he is actually the magical repository of human history he claims to be. He didn’t even use any of his powers to prove the point! The rate at which the crisis of succession is resolved feels like a slap in the face to viewers who may recall that we’ve spent eight seasons on the fight for the throne. Suddenly a bunch of characters we haven’t seen in several seasons (or ever) hold a quick vote, and no one much disagrees—we’ll get to Sansa in a second—and that’s it? Cersei would not be amused.
King Bran talks Grey Worm into letting Tyrion not only live but serve as Hand of the King? OK, sure. At least it make senses that Jon’s fate would be a little more complicated; it was still hard to accept Grey Worm letting his queen’s killer live, but if Jaime Lannister got to survive killing a king, I suppose Jon can kill the same king’s heir.
With my major problems with the finale outlined above, I’ll also try to end on a high note; upon all of a day’s worth of reflection, I was left feeling satisfied about where things ended up for many of the characters.
The way Jon’s arc wrapped up makes sense. He can’t go back to being a Stark, and he’s no Targaryen; having him end up detached from the other main characters (and likely living out his days beyond the wall) was a wise choice. He became the Queenslayer, a label that will follow him until the end of his days. Best to go where he can try to forget the past.
Speaking of slayers, perhaps the best resolution of the episode was Brienne’s choice to finish Jaime’s entry in the book of the Kingsguard, updating it to reflect the gray areas that lived in his character. Much like Jon’s, Jaime’s choice to end the Mad King’s life was much more complicated than history will remember it to be and that the history books will reflect. That being said, he still doesn’t deserve your tears Brienne!
Sansa being named Queen in the North feels right—she has in many ways become the strongest and wisest of them all—as does Arya’s decision to sail off the edge of the map. The former has spent years growing into the leader her people need, while the latter came to realize that she needed to learn how to be a person again. I know a lot of people wanted Arya to kill Cersei or Daenerys, but in retrospect, it seems like that was never where her arc was headed. That she took The Hound’s advice to not let herself be consumed by rage provided an ultimately more satisfying end; I didn’t want for her to have to live with the weight of having ended yet more lives, as much as her potential victims may have deserved to meet with the God of Death.
Perhaps best of all is the fact that I can now imagine where this world goes from here; a good ending must also hold the future within it. I can foresee the arguments that will consume this strange new small council, which somehow includes Bronn of all people. I can imagine Sansa’s long and careful rule in the North. I can even see the coming of the next rebellion against the Throne. While in theory Bran should be able to avoid making some of the past (and future) mistakes, simply by the nature of his powers, we know that Westeros is not that simple, and pat as it is in some ways, the ending doesn’t really seem to suggest otherwise.
In closing, I would urge those of you who are upset about aspects of this final season to remember the good times, and why we cared so much about these characters in the first place. There’s probably nothing the writers could’ve done to satisfy everyone, but in the end, they did what not even George R.R. Martin seems able to do: they brought this dragon in for a landing.
And now, my watch has ended.
A few random thoughts:
—When Jon Snow said that “the war is over” I really wanted the ghost of Ygritte to appear and spout her catchphrase one last time.
—I like the idea that the new small council feels less need for a Master of Whisperers and a Master of War, even if Tyrion did say those positions will be filled some day; consider it a necessary reminder that peace never lasts.
—Tormund was one of the season MVPs, and I’m a little bummed he didn’t get a line of dialogue in that final, artful montage.
—The visuals that accompanied Dany’s speech to her troops felt a little too Star Wars to me, but I still enjoyed the spectacle of the moment.
—Edmure being told to sit down during the king’s moot in the dragon pit provided a welcome bit of levity in an otherwise unavoidably expository scene. As he started to speak I wondered if perhaps he did have some profound bit of wisdom to share. Nope. This man is, was, and always will be a doofus. Also, if I wasn’t already sold on her, this moment sealed it: Sansa is my queen.
—Bronn finally getting a castle from the Lannisters came off as more a joke than anything. I think his arc was one of several casualties of the shortened season, but then, the writers always liked him a bit more than was justified by the narrative.
—Samwell almost inventing democracy, only to be laughed down, was the worst joke the show has ever attempted.
“You master of grammar now, too?” —Sir Bronn of the Blackwater
“Now Varys’ ashes can tell my ashes…see, I told you” —Tyrion, pondering his potential execution
“Why do you think I came all this way?” —Bran with the mic drop on becoming King
—The first (and last) “Self Indulgent Camera Wink of the Year” award goes to Samwell for bringing out an actual copy of a book called “A Song of Ice and Fire.” Just because it worked for Bilbo…
—The highly coveted “Best Boy of the Episode” award goes to Ghost, who by all accounts is a VERY GOOD BOY YES HE IS. Jon finally petting his direwolf felt like a direct response to all of the criticism the show faced over the marked lack of Ghost over the past few seasons. (Runner-up: Drogon.)
—The last “We Miss You and Wish You Weren’t Murdered in Horrifying Fashion” award goes to Ned Stark. His execution was the catalyst for almost everything that happened on this show. It was hard not to think about Ned as we watched snow covering King’s Landing, as his constant warning finally came to pass. Winter indeed has come, but maybe it won’t be as bad as he made it sound.
And Now, a Haiku by Tyrion
Seriously how many times
Has this happened to me?
What did you think of the finale? Are you hoping for a different ending on the page?
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