[SPOILER WARNING: Please don’t read unless you’ve seen the episode. I mean, come on, you know how this works]
Saying goodbye is hard. It’s a trial both in real life and pop culture, and the difficulty level spikes even higher when it comes to saying goodbye to the most successful television show of all time, say. That’s the unenviable task that David Benioff and D. B. Weiss – showrunners of Game of Thrones and writer/directors of the final episode – have set themselves with “The Iron Throne”.
So, how’d they do? Well, naturally opinions will vary. Hell, after last week’s divisive episode “The Bells”, some one million (!) pissed off fans have signed an online petition for season eight to be remade “with competent writers”. And while that’s a bit funny in a slightly sad sort of way, it also demonstrates the range of passionate reactions floating around out there. That said, “The Iron Throne”, while flawed in the same ways seasons 6-8 have been, does a pretty solid job of putting a fork in this fantasy opus. But let’s recap, one final time.
The episode opens with Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage) wandering through the smoking ruins of King’s Landing. It’s a rough stroll, filled with weeping survivors, shell shocked wounded and many, many crispy skin corpses. He is joined by Davos Seaworth (Liam Cunningham) and Jon Snow (Kit Harington), but the wee man isn’t in the mood for chatter. Jon wanders on and finds Grey Worm (Jacob Anderson) about to slit the throats of some Lannister soldiers. Wormy reckons he’s doing it on the queen’s orders, but Jon disagrees that it is necessary. The pair almost come to blows, but Davos manages to calm them down, and Grey Worm starts killing the prisoners in bold defiance of whatever the Westeros equivalent of the Geneva Convention is.
Tyrion goes digging through the rubble and finds the corpses of Jaime Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) and Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey). Their underwhelming, silly deaths from last episode are rendered even more underwhelming and silly by the fact that the rest of the room appears relatively intact and they could have easily survived. Tyrion, nonetheless, is moved by the sight of his dead siblings and cries, showcasing yet again how wonderful Peter Dinklage has been in this role.
Outside Arya Stark (Maisie Williams) wanders about looking lost, when she spies Jon ascending the stairs, moving past the massed Dothraki Riders and Unsullied. Drogon arrives with Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) and she hops off and gives a rousing speech, in which she talks about “freeing” the people of Westeros, just like she “freed” the people (aka piles of ash) of King’s Landing. Grey Worm gets a promotion, Jon looks pensive and Tyrion tells Dany he quits, which leads to his immediate arrest. Tyrion is going home in the back of a divvy van!
Jon visits Tyrion in his cell and over a rather bittersweet sequence, Tyrion talks about how he has been so very wrong and how it would be pretty great if Jon killed Dany. Jon looks pensive.
Jon heads over to visit Dany, whereupon he meets a snow-covered Drogon who gives him a quick once over but deems him okay to enter. Jon visits Dany who is dreamily fondling the Iron Throne. Sure, she’s massacred thousands of people, but she genuinely believes she’s doing the right thing. She’s not a full Mad Queen, but rather something more insidious, Dany is a true believer who genuinely thinks she can do only good. We understand this from a cracking little interaction between Dany and Jon, and the pair are both acting their little hearts out.
“Be with me, build the new world with me. This is our reason,” Dany says, “we do it together, we break the wheel together.”
“You are my queen,” Jon whispers, “now and always.”
The pair pash on like their pingers are kicking in but Jon takes the moment to slide his dagger into Dany’s heart. She’s too surprised to be angry and dies, her mouth leaking blood and her eyes wide in disbelief. Jon cries at what he’s done, and then Drogon pops in for a visit. It looks for all the world as if Drogon is going to fire Jonno, but instead the scaly champion turns his burning attentions to the Iron Throne itself, melting it down to a puddle of boiling slag. The concept of the throne being a symbol rather than a literal source of power is apparently lost on Drogon. Stupid dragon. Drogon then grabs Dany’s corpse and pisses off into the sky, to places unknown.
Some weeks later, Grey Worm grabs Tyrion from his cell and takes him to a staff meeting of pretty much everyone who is still alive. The important players are Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner), Brandon Stark (Isaac Hempstead Wright), Arya, Davos, Ser Brienne of Tarth (Gwendoline Christie), Yara Greyjoy (Gemma Whelan) and Samwell Tarly (John Bradley). The question of what to do with Tyrion and Jon is raised, with Grey Worm falling very much on the side of Team Decapitate. The point is, a leader needs to be chosen and though Sam gamely tries to raise the idea of democracy (to much laughter and disdain) it is ultimately Bran who everyone wants. Wait, what?! Fucken BRAN?! Captain Uncomfortable Stare? Good lord. Everyone seems pretty down with the idea, except Sansa who wants the North to be an independent state. Bran accepts the role but insists that Tyrion be his hand, and will make up for his mistakes for the rest of his life. So begins the reign of “Bran the broken”. Which, guys, awkward name, hey?
Tyrion goes to tell Jon the good news. Said news being “you won’t be killed, but you’re back off to the Night’s Watch again”. Jon takes the news pensively.
Jon walks along in a fancy fur coat, with his fellow men of the Night’s Watch, and farewells his family. Sansa is going to be Queen in the North, Arya is going to explore the lands “west of Westeros” and Bran the Broken (ugh) will rule the Seven Kingdoms. Meanwhile, Brienne fills in Jaime Lannister’s Wikipedia entry, and manages to make him sound like not a complete fuckwit, which is pretty big of her, to be honest.
Next, we have the first meeting with the new king, with Tyrion, Davos, Samwell and Bronn (Jerome Flynn)! Yes, in a lovely moment for a character much ignored in this final season, Bronn gets a somewhat happy ending as the new “Master of Coin”. Tyrion is nonplussed to be left out of “A Song of Ice and Fire”, a rather meta tome that has the appealing feature of ACTUALLY BEING FINISHED, EH GEORGE? Bran enters, does very little, and buggers back off with Ser Podrick Payne (Daniel Portman) and the adults are left to talk about the best way to rebuild. It’s not a perfect system but it works.
A gorgeously directed final sequence shows where our Starks have ended up. Jon joins Tormund Giantsbane (Kristofer Hivju) and Ghost (WHO FINALLY GETS THAT PAT) and heads North of the Wall with the Wildlings. Sansa gets the crown and becomes Queen of the North. Arya commands a ship heading out to lands unknown and we can only wonder what happens next, because that’s all she wrote, ladies and gentleman, Game of Thrones – at least in this incarnation – has ended.
There are endings great and terrible in television. Of the former, Mad Men, Breaking Bad and The Shield are notable examples. Of the latter, Dexter, Lost and How I Met Your Mother wear the shame crown. So, where does Game of Thrones sit? Look, it’s subjective but in terms of these last three seasons, it’s pretty good. Dany’s execution isn’t particularly exciting, or tense, but the genuine emotion of the moment lands. And the episode actually improves in the second half, with a brief-but-tantalising look at what will happen next in Westeros.
Of course, “a brief look” is likely the biggest problem here, with these last two seasons being needlessly truncated. Two ten episode seasons would have served this narrative better, and yet what we got, while imperfect, still managed to feel emotionally resonant and satisfying on a level that admittedly has to ignore a lot of dangling plot threads, missing characters and various prophecies that were, apparently, just wrong.
Current internet punching bags, David Benioff and D. B. Weiss direct this series finale with a kind of somber style, bringing a solid conclusion to an increasingly inconsistent saga. And whether you loved, hated or were simply bemused by how it all wrapped up, let’s take a moment to appreciate the mammoth undertaking this entire series represents. This is an epic fantasy told over many hours, brimming with love and death, monsters and gore, characters and locations. There may be shows that equal, or even surpass, it in the future but this was the first one to sing the song of ice and fire.
The major missing piece was, of course, Ser Pounce’s paw bursting through the ashes and clawing its way to victory, but they probably just ran out of money before they could shoot that one. Thanks for reading, everyone, see you at the next wildly entertaining, if controversial, cultural landmark!