Game of Thrones is over, and I’m sure no one’s happy about it. Those fans who still like the show are sad that it’s over, and the series finale was never likely to change the minds of those who’ve complained all season about how much they hated this last batch of episodes.
Let’s be frank, people in the latter category were never going to be satisfied by anything the finale could possibly deliver. Still, the very understated nature of the episode is bound to be a disappointment for anyone hoping for one last burst of action. The climax of the series happened last week. The last episode is all dénouement.
King’s Landing is a pile of rubble covered in a layer of ash that continues to drift down from the sky like snow. Charred corpses fill the streets. Tyrion, Jon, and Davos walk through the ruins silently until separating. Tyrion needs to confirm his brother’s fate. On the way to the Red Keep, he walks past the wreckage of the bell that was supposed to signal the city’s surrender.
Jon Snow comes across Grey Worm executing captured Lannister soldiers. He argues that the men should be taken prisoner, but Grey Worm insists that anyone who followed Cersei Lannister must die. Davos has to pull Jon away before he picks a fight. He tells him to go talk to the queen.
The ceiling to the map room in the Red Keep is open to the sky, making literal a vision depicted earlier in the series. Tyrion finds a torch and descends into the basement. He has to climb through some rubble and do a little digging, but soon spots Jaime’s metal hand poking out from between some bricks. Tyrion cries as he uncovers his dead brother and sister.
The Dothraki celebrate their victory while the Unsullied stand at attention, awaiting instructions from their queen. Jon Snow walks through the army and up a large staircase. Grey Worm is already there ahead of him, which makes me think that some scenes got cut from the episode. Daenerys emerges with the mighty Drogon at her back. She gives a victory speech praising her Dothraki and Unsullied, naming Grey Worm her new Master of War, and vowing that “The war is not over” until all the people in the world are liberated from their oppressors. She specifically name-checks Winterfell in the list of territories that need liberating, which makes both Jon and Arya (watching from nearby) particularly uneasy.
In what seems to be very ill-advised timing, Tyrion walks up to Daenerys on the stage. She accuses him of treason for freeing Jaime. He retorts that she slaughtered a city and removes the Hand pin from his jacket, tossing it to the ground. Daenerys orders him taken into custody. Jon cannot believe what he’s seeing. He catches Dany’s eye. She looks angry and walks away without speaking to him.
Jon is surprised to see Arya in the city. He wasn’t aware that she was there at all. She warns him that Daenerys will consider Sansa a threat and treat her accordingly, and likely Jon as well. “I know a killer when I see one,” she tells him.
Jon visits Tyrion in a dungeon cell. Tyrion says that he chose his own fate and doesn’t regret it. He admits that Varys was right: “Our queen’s nature is fire and blood.” Jon still tries to defend Daenerys, but he can’t argue with the truth of Tyrion’s words. Tyrion implores him to kill her for the benefit of all the kingdoms. Jon is of course reluctant. Echoing what Arya had said, Tyrion insists that Jon’s sisters will be next on Dany’s hit list, and insists, “You have to choose now.”
Jon next walks to the remnants of the Red Keep. What looks like a big snowbank outside stirs and reveals itself to be Drogon covered in ash. The dragon gives Jon a sniff and lets him pass.
The throne room has no walls or ceiling (another callback to Daenerys’ vision from a prior season), but the Iron Throne itself is still conveniently intact. Dany smiles as she touches it. She finally won what she has always most coveted. Could she possibly be happy for a moment?
Jon immediately deflates the mood, yelling about the soldiers being executed and dead children filling the streets. Crying, he begs Dany to forgive Tyrion and have mercy on her enemies, but she remains firm. As Tyrion had warned, Daenerys is more certain of herself and the righteousness of her actions than ever. She asks Jon to be with her, to reshape the world with her. “You are my queen, now and always,” Jon defers, embracing her and allowing the kiss he’d resisted the day before.
Jon silently stabs Daenerys in the heart with a dagger. She dies in his arms. The very brief reign of the Dragon Queen ends, not with a battle or a war or even so much as a struggle, but with a moment of quiet inevitability.
Sensing his mother’s death, Drogon roars and flies up to the open throne room as Jon cries over the body. The dragon nuzzles Daenery’s corpse, screams, and charges up its fire breath. Jon stands before the beast, awaiting his fate. The dragon lets loose its blast all around him, furiously torching the room and melting the Iron Throne his mother died for into a pool of molten metal, but lets Jon himself live. Jon staggers in disbelief. Drogon then gently picks up his dead mother and flies off into the distance.
Where the Chips Fall
Tyrion awakens in his cell. Grey Worm comes to fetch him and drags him out in chains, presumably to his execution. For a moment, it seems like this scene takes place immediately after the last one, but Tyrion’s longer beard and disheveled appearance signal a time jump.
The sun is shining. It’s a lovely day. Grey Worm brings Tyrion outside of King’s Landing, to the Dragon Pit arena that last served as the location for the armistice talks between Daenerys and Cersei in the Season 7 finale. Sitting on the stage are a council of kingdom leaders and important players, including Sansa, Bran, Arya, Yara Grejoy, Brienne, Davos, Sam, and a few others. It’s revealed that the Unsullied have held both Tyrion and Jon Snow prisoner since Daenerys’ death. Davos makes an offer to end the standoff by giving the Unsullied a kingdom, but Grey Worm wants justice for his queen. With no new king or queen to replace her, there’s no one to decide how to end the dispute.
Tyrion speaks up. He urges the council to simply choose a new regent right then and there. Sansa assumes that he’d want the position himself, but Tyrion has been humbled by his mistakes and defeats and says that he has no such aspirations.
Edmure Tully (Tobias Menzies), the aggrieved bridegroom from the Red Wedding, stands and begins a rambling speech as if to nominate himself. Sansa cuts him off and tells him to sit his ass down.
In what is almost the biggest eye-roll moment of the series, Sam says that the people of Westeros should have a say in who rules them, and nearly invents democracy by proposing an election. Fortunately, this is quickly undercut when the others on stage laugh him off. Someone scoffs, “Maybe we should give the dogs a vote too!”
Davos asks Tyrion whom he’d pick. Saying, “There’s nothing in the world more powerful than a good story,” Tyrion nominates Bran and lays out a case for why he’s the best choice. The fact that he doesn’t have any interest in being king would make him a fair and impartial leader, and his inability to have children (and thus leave an heir) would be an asset. Going forward, rulers should be chosen not by birth, but selected by the lords and ladies from among the most qualified candidates. It’s not quite democracy, but it’s a step in that direction, and it signals a breaking of the wheel of oppression that Daenerys fought so hard against.
Tyrion casts the first vote. One by one, the others agree, except Sansa, who declares that the North will remain an independent kingdom. Bran accepts. A cheer rises out: “All hail Bran the Broken!”
Bran names Tyrion as his Hand. Tyrion is reluctant to take that role again, but Bran insists that he will spend the rest of his days learning from his mistakes.
Grey Worm is not happy. He still doesn’t have justice for his queen’s murder. As a compromise, he agrees that Jon Snow should receive the traditional punishment for disobedience in Westeros, and will be sentenced to servitude in the Night’s Watch, where he will hold no title and have no family. It seems like a slap on the wrist, but apparently it’s enough.
When Tyrion informs Jon of his punishment, Jon expresses surprise that the Night’s Watch even still exists. Jon also questions whether they did the right thing killing Dany. He’s still torn up about his role in it.
Time for Goodbyes
Grey Worm and the Unsullied set sail for the Isle of Naath, as he had promised Missandei they would.
Jon bids farewell to Sansa, Arya, and Bran with hugs all around. Arya announces that she’s not going back home to the North. She intends to ride to where the maps stop and discover what’s west of Westeros.
Brienne pages through a book with the histories of knights of the kingdom, until she finds Jaime Lannister’s page only half-completed, leaving off at the death of Joffrey and coronation of Tommen. She writes in a few brief and flattering sentences, concluding that he died in service to his queen.
Tyrion readies for a meeting of the Small Council, nervously straightening chairs. He’s joined by Bronn, Sam, and Davos. Sam presents a thick tome called A Song of Ice and Fire which contains the official written history of Westeros by Archmaester Ebros. (If his bid for democracy wasn’t he eye-roll moment of the entire series, this one certainly is.) Tyrion flips through the pages to find out whether the archmaester has treated him flatteringly or not. Bronn lets out a laugh when Sam reveals that Tyrion isn’t mentioned in the book at all.
King Bran enters, accompanied by Brienne and Podrick, who is now a knight. The council briefly discusses the need to name new Masters of Whisperers, Laws, and War. It’s mentioned that Drogon was last spotted flying east and hasn’t been seen since. (Spinoff series potential!) After some other pleasantries, Podrick wheels Bran out. Discussion and some friendly banter then resume among the others on topics such as feeding the people, rebuilding the navy, and (of particular interest to Bronn) reopening the city’s brothels.
Jon Snow rides to Castle Black, which he finds populated by Tormund and the Wildlings. Yes, his direwolf Ghost is also there, and Jon gives him a petting.
After that, it’s montage time. Arya sets off on a boat with a wolf’s head sigil on its sail. Sansa is crowned Queen in the North. Jon and the Wildlings leave Castle Black through the Wall. Some plants are visible sprouting through the melting snow. Spring is coming.
The gate in the Wall closes behind them. Jon, Tormund, and the Wildlings ride off into the woods.
Cue credits. The end.
Why did Daenerys allow Jon to kill her? Given how betrayed she’d felt by him recently, and how paranoid with everyone she’d been, why would she trust him at the end and allow him so close to her, especially clearly armed? Was her love for Jon so strong that she couldn’t even conceive of him harming her, or (having survived fire on multiple occasions) did she simply believe herself invulnerable to any harm?
Why didn’t Drogon kill Jon? Was it Jon’s Targaryen blood, or the fact that the dragon considered him a friend previously? Or did the dragon, on some level, understand that his mother needed to die?
Did the council straight-up lie to Grey Worm about sending Jon to the Night’s Watch? Clearly, there is no more Night’s Watch, and I’m sure everyone on that stage understood that they were actually allowing him to run off and live with the Wildlings. Was Grey Worm a dupe for believing them, or did he understand as well and simply needed a story he could bring back to pacify the Unsullied?
I don’t necessarily need answers to these questions, nor do I consider any of them to be deal-breakers, but they nag at me a little and I can understand other viewers being more bothered by them.
Viewed only as an episode unto itself, the series finale is, I’ll be frank, kind of underwhelming. Not much happens in it, some of the key characters are underserved, and a lot of the resolutions feel pat and tied up too neatly.
However, taking a step back and looking at it as the concluding wrap-up chapter in an epic eight-year-long story, I think it serves its purpose as the falling action. Arya and Brienne, for example, already had their spotlight moments earlier in the season and didn’t really need any big, dramatic last hurrahs. We just had two gargantuan battles back-to-back. Another would be overkill. I consider the quiet nature of Daenerys’ death a strength of the series, not a failing.
I’m not entirely satisfied with everything that happens in the finale, but it sends most of the characters out on fitting grace notes. Perhaps too much so, but I’d rather that than the opposite.
Viewer outcry against this entire season has been practically deafening, and I’ve been dismissive of most of the complaints. It seems that fans expected and demanded an entire season devoted to war with the Night King, featuring one epic battle after another, followed by another season of war against Cersei handled the same way, and then yet another tying up the Daenerys arc. The shortened, expedited nature of storytelling this season has really pissed a lot of people off.
Personally, the prospect of ten episodes of watching soldiers swing swords at CGI skeletons and zombies in front of a green screen would have bored me senseless, and I’m relieved that whole storyline was resolved quickly. Likewise, we had seven-and-a-half seasons of Cersei’s scheming. The point was made. It’s time to finish off the story.
I wouldn’t call it flawless, but by and large I found this to be a very good season that managed to squeeze in some strong character moments amidst some really amazing spectacle. I’m not sure what more I could reasonably ask for.