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

Before we get into the finale, I want to spend some time appreciating the phenomenon that is Game of Thrones.

I don’t think it’s hyperbole to say it changed my life. I’ve built friendships around it… And drinking games. I’ve spent countless hours discussing theories and what-ifs. And I’ve been lucky enough to share my thoughts (and bad jokes) each week with my readers. So thank you. Thank you for letting me drone on about the history of Old Valyria, the minutiae of King’s Landing politics, and the absurdity of the Sand Snakes. There are very few things that seem to connect people from all walks of life—especially these days—but Thrones was the rare unifier. Sundays are going to feel empty for a while, but I hope something comes along soon to fill our connected void.

Full disclosure: I’m not going to end things with a negative review. Thrones has been too important a part of my life for me to not celebrate its end. Could these past few seasons have been better? Undoubtedly. But the finale was great—a worthy period at the end of a very, very long sentence. It didn’t go exactly how I hoped, but it went in a direction I never even considered, and isn’t that what Thrones is all about?

Okay, let’s get into it. For the very last time, ladies and gentlemen, your risers and fallers.

 

How about instead of breaking the wheel, we make it two wheels instead…

Riser of the Week: Bran Stark

You’ll never walk again, but you will fly.

And look how high he’ll soar.

I won’t lie, I’ve never been a huge fan of Bran. I found his chapters repetitive and a bit boring, and as someone who hates (hates!) reading about a character’s dreams, Bran really can be my worst nightmare at times. But I can’t deny that he’s worthy. As Tyrion said, “people love a great story” and there’s no denying Bran makes for one. From surviving the initial fall from Winterfell’s tower, to venturing north of the wall, and then becoming the Three-Eyed Raven, Bran’s journey has been every bit as crazy as Arya’s, but we hardly give him the same respect. I will now. For he is Bran the Broken, first of his name, and you better put some damn respect on it.

I only wish Hodor was still around to see his best friend now.

Honorable Mention: Bronn. We’ll save the discussion of whether he’s qualified to be the Master of Coin for another day and instead simply applaud the man who rose further than any single other character in the show. This is your new Littlefinger.

 

The Dragon Queen.

Faller of the Week: Daenerys Targaryen

If you’ve been following my articles for the past few years, you’ll know I’ve never been a fan of Daenerys. Somewhere between Qaarth, Astapor, and Meereen I simply lost interest. My curiosities resided where Daenerys did not—Westeros. By the time she finally arrived at Dragonstone, I was over it all. As it became clearer and clearer that Daenerys was destined for madness, I sighed with great relief. I never wanted her as my queen, and now it was likely that someone—probably Jon—was going to make sure she paid for her war crimes.

And that’s exactly how the finale unfolded, and yet the strangest thing happened. I felt bad for Daenerys. Not only was I sad that she died, I found myself wishing that she didn’t. I’m not proud of how I felt at that moment—far from it, to be honest. Yet here I stand.

Dany should not have burned King’s Landing—we can all agree on that. But I can understand why she did it. For years now, she’s had to fight, claw, and kill her way through her enemies, and even one brief break from pure ruthlessness would have spelled certain defeat. So she made sure she was the most ruthless person in the room. In every room. Until the Throne Room. The things we do for love…

Cersei didn’t care if the smallfolk of King’s Landing died—Daenerys did. It doesn’t give her a pass, but it does show that she wasn’t “mad.” She was ruthless. War breeds death and Dany understood that. She also was betting on herself—betting that taking King’s Landing as she did would save more lives in the long run because she would prove a worthy and just ruler at the end of the day. We just never got to see if she was right.

 

Item of Power: The White Book of the Kingsguard

Perhaps the most powerful moment in the entire episode was Brienne’s touching tribute to Jaime Lannister in solidifying Jaime’s long, complicated legacy. Jaime Lannister is one of the greatest fictional characters ever created. His decision to kill the Mad King saved countless lives, and yet he was vilified for it, and as a result, he turned into a calloused person who closed himself off to the rest of the world. When people hate you, it’s hard to understand why you even bothered saving them. So even though he started out as a clear villain, he was also deserving of praise. Watching Brienne make sure that future generations of knights would know his valor was a clear highlight of this season. That was the ending Jaime Lannister deserved.

 

Maester’s Musings:

  • I see a lot of people reacting negatively to Bran winding up on the throne, saying he’s not even a Stark anymore, but I want to push back a bit here. One of the long-running themes of the Stark family is that many of the children all went through points in their journeys where they chose to distance themselves from their Stark names. Sansa wanted to marry Joffrey and become a Baratheon. Arya literally opted to become No One. And Bran seemed to prefer being the Three-Eyed Raven over a Stark. (And in that patented GRRM-esque irony, it was Jon Snow who yearned desperately to be a Stark, even though he never could be.) But identities change, especially in Thrones, and I saw Bran’s acceptance of the crown to be his way of signaling that he’d finally come to accept his purpose. He will always be the Three-Eyed Raven, just as he’ll always also be Bran Stark.
  • Time to talk about Jon Snow, and boy did this not go how I thought it would. For years now, I’ve just assumed Jon would be on the throne at the end. But at the end of the day, there was no promised prince, no Azor Ahai, and the Song of Ice and Fire wasn’t about any one person. That’s a tough pill for me to swallow, but it’s made slightly easier by the fact that when we get the next two books, they’re unlikely to ignore these prophecies the way the television series did. But still, I feel a bit let down with Jon. I had bigger expectations for him. But at the same time, this ending is as poetically appropriate as it is cruel. Jon never wanted to be king—he’s always just wanted to belong. He never belonged at Winterfell as a child, and that’s why he went north to the Wall—he went in search of a new family. And then the Night’s Watch gave him just that… at first. But everything changed when he met Ygritte, for love is the death of duty. Jon may technically be a Targaryen, but ever since he went north of the wall and was kissed by fire, he’s been a wildling. The ending is up for interpretation, but for me, that closing shot proves he went beyond the wall with no intention of returning. The gate closed, and for Jon, it won’t ever need to be opened again.
  • And Jon, thank you for guarding the realms of men.
  • Jon may not have been the prince, but Ghost got the pet that was promised.
  • Brienne is such a perfect choice for the head of the Kingsguard. She was meant to wear that gold cloak.
  • Pod, and his infectious smile, look good in gold too.
  • Davos as the Master of Ships is perfect as well. He’s one of the most quietly great characters in the entirety of the show, and I am so glad we didn’t lose him. He’s just the kind of guy whose opinion I would want for any matter. He belongs on the small council.
  • Sam as the Grand Maester seemed inevitable, and that’s quite the rise for the man whose own father said he’d never amount to anything.
  • Though that presentation of the Ice and Fire book was cringey as hell. I was half expecting them all to look at the camera with a cheesy grin and wink.
  • Having Arya go west of Westeros into uncharted territory is also a great ending for her character. I have a feeling that a peaceful Westeros would lead to a bored Arya—she thrives on chaos. (Though weirdly, hates ladders.) I can only hope that we get to learn more about her journey at some point down the line. A spinoff is probably unlikely, but a man can dream, right?
  • Sansa’s power play to free the North was executed perfectly, just like her execution of her dear uncle Edmure Tully. #RIP
  • She also looked like a total badass in that gown and crown. I like to think she told her dressmaker to “Give me the Cersei look, but leave out the psycho vibes.”
  • I’ve been racking my brain trying to think if there are any characters still alive that we didn’t see in the finale, and I must give the showrunners credit, I can’t think of many. Gilly was absent, but let’s be honest, that’s okay. We never saw Nymeria, but that was unlikely. Daario has been gone for a few seasons, but with Dany dead, there was no point in checking back in with him. But besides them, I think we got to everyone else.
  • Hell, we even got to see Robin Arryn who seems to have made a favorable deal with the God of Puberty. It must have been all that breast milk.
  • And that all brings us to the show’s most consistently great character: Tyrion. The scene with him finding Jaime and Cersei’s bodies was Thrones at its most powerful. His slow-building rage boiling over while the Rains of Castamere plays in the background still has me feeling goosebumps, and I loved how it all led to him publicly denouncing Daenerys by throwing his Hand of the Queen broach away in disgust knowing it likely meant his death. Here’s hoping Tyrion can find a nice woman to settle down with and pop out some little lions because, love ‘em or hate ‘em, Westeros wouldn’t be the same without the Lannisters.

* * *

I’ve been sitting here trying to figure out how to end this, scared that once I’m done writing, Thrones will officially be over. But it will never be gone. What we’ve just gone through—for nearly 10 years!—will always live on. We’ll always remember where we were when Eddard Stark lost his head, or when the Lannisters sent their regards, or when Arya saved the world. We no longer need to theorize who will sit on the throne, but we can certainly try to guess who will come next. Or who Sansa will marry. Or whether or not they’ll add some swords to be back of Bran’s wheelchair.

So I hope you all leave here today not sad that it’s over or mad that we didn’t get more episodes, but happy and excited—happy for the time we had in Westeros and excited for what’s still to come. This watch may have ended, but there will be more to come.

Comments

  1. June Lorraine Roberts

    Great round-up of the finale. I would add my feelings that Daenery’s ego, after years of adulation, could not stand to be ‘not loved’

  2. Julie Hyzy

    Excellent summary! Thanks for this, Joe. You perfectly expressed so much of what I’ve been feeling. You know what I love most? That GoT changed my brain forever.

  3. Sally Fowlkes

    Ditto on the summary! I was beginning to think I was alone in my feelings. Even if the prequel and spinoff are quality productions, GOT was first and set the bar so high I don’t think it will ever be cleared. I am looking forward to “The Last Watch” on HBO this Sunday which features the production team up-close and personal. In the trailer, one person comments about how the show changed his life…ditto.

  4. Jeffrey

    Thanks, Joe! I’m so disappointed it’s over, but your summary helps.

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