Spoilers follow for the series finale of Game of Thrones, ‘The Iron Throne’.
After 8 long seasons, featuring sometimes outstanding, breathtaking and sometimes mediocre television, the juggernaut known as Game of Thrones, the biggest show ever filmed in terms of scale and one of the best in terms of story, has drawn to a conclusion.
The titular game of thrones, the constant bickering to sit atop the Iron Throne by all the lords and ladies of Westeros, was symbolically drawn to a close by the destruction of the Iron Throne, but the actual game is never going to end so long as ultimate power, the end goal, resides in only one person.
A torturous final season which has drawn the show its biggest criticism since its inception and has produced some of the worst fan rated episodes of the entire series, drew to an end with a strong, satisfying finale Sunday night which mostly tied all the remaining loose ends into a tidy bow and left fans somehow sated.
The ‘Iron Throne’, as the episode was titled, had a huge job to do to set the show back on track after the huge twist in Episode 5, ‘The Bells’, which had been badly received by fans and critics alike. Daenerys, having won the battle for King’s Landing, then decides to burn everything to the ground, turning herself into the very ‘queen of ashes’ she had vowed never to become.
The finale makes it clear why the story needed Dany to turn into the ‘Mad Queen’. For Westeros’ wheel of realpolitik to be well and truly broken, the Iron Throne had to go down and the monarchy had to end. Dany herself, a conquering queen accountable to no one, was the very antithesis of the problem she wanted to solve. Her ending up on the Iron Throne would have been a continuation of the old system and nothing would really have changed.
Thus Dany needed to die, and the destruction she wrought was needed as a catalyst to look for a new way, a better way, of ruling the ashes left behind. Unfortunately, the show failed to make Dany’s ‘heel turn’ a believable one, and thus poisoned everything else that came after it as a result of that action of hers.
In law, they call it the ‘fruit of the poisoned tree’. By taking a story decision that was not completely fleshed out and rational, that the audience did not completely buy based on everything they know about the character, anything else emerging from it is tainted by the stench of that failure. But if we assume that Daenerys decided to turn her back on 7 seasons of character development, of always fighting for the little guy against the despots and tyrants, of never willingly taking a life of the poor and downtrodden, to become the ‘Mad Queen’ who razed down Queen’s Landing, everything else that flows from it is magnificent storytelling, and delivered an ending befitting a show like Thrones.
The debate around Daenerys’ shocking turn in the previous episode has been about whether she took a decision in the heat of the moment that she’ll later regret, or whether she’d gone stark raving Targaryen mad? We got our answer in this episode, as she talked about liberating the entire world from tyrants and justified her shocking killing of innocents in King’s Landing. At the end it was clear she had suffered a touch of her family’s infamous madness and thus even though her turn was derided, Jon deciding to take her life was no doubt the most logical course of action that the story could take and definitely a development fans could buy.
In the end, it was a tad ironic that Daenerys’ dream of ‘breaking the wheel’ could only come true if she died and forever went to sleep. The freedom of the world had to be bought with her blood and her great love Jon was the one who had to do it, fulfilling a prophecy (from the books) that the show never hinted at and bringing to an end their Song of Ice and Fire.
In the end, Dany broke the wheel in a way, but as my title suggests it would never be broken so long as power exists and only resides in the hands of a few. Many have theorized that Westeros would move towards democracy in the end, and indeed that option was suggested by Samwell Tarly during the final council to choose a new monarch, but it was widely dismissed by the Lords who have only known one form of power structure their whole lives. In the end, Bran was chosen to rule for the duration of his life, with a replacement to be chosen by the same council upon his death.
In a way it is a departure from the past, in that Bran’s heirs would not rule in his stead as usual. But considering choosing a new king is still in the hands of the few lords at the top, the Game of Thrones is not over per se. The Iron Throne as a physical symbol of the game is gone, but the game itself lives on forever.
That is an ending keeping with the realistic nature of Thrones, as willy nilly accepting democracy for lords who have only known feudalism all their lives would be the unrealistic option. That is the kind of writing fans clamoured for in the episodes leading up to the end, with the lack of it turning many against the showrunners.
The finale, at least, returns the show to form. Actions once again have consequences and character actions are fleshed and spelt out and make sense in the story as told since season 1. We all like Jon Snow, but killing the queen, as well-intentioned as it may be, has to come with consequences, and he ends up having to live the rest of his life as an outcast beyond the wall, even though his true identity entitled him to the throne. Arya, a damaged little girl, cannot just go back to normal and live like she hasn’t killed as many people as she has but has to constantly be on the move to remain true to herself.
The ‘Iron Throne’ also closed out all remaining loose ends, including the fate of Ghost, whom Jon had callously cast aside after the battle of Winterfell. Grey Worm set sail for the Isle of Naath, to keep his last promise to his great love Missandei. Sansa became Queen in the North, wresting a promise for them to remain an independent Kingdom from King Bran. Arya set off to travel the world looking for inner peace, whilst Tyrion remained what he has always been – the wise man who gives advice to those in power.
Closing out a show is no mean feat. It might not be the ending everyone hoped for, but it is an ending at least. That is more than one can say for the source materials, the real ‘Song of Ice and Fire’ upon which the show is based on.
Game of Thrones has now joined the pantheon of shows who were able to go out on their own terms. The most ambitious, expensive and sprawling show to ever hit television, it’s legacy would forever be poisoned by an executive decision to rush the final two seasons, even though there were three years and as many episodes as the creators wanted left to tell it. The Iron Throne is gone, the tv show Game of Thrones has ended, but the bile it has engendered would be discussed till the end of time.
And now our collective watches has ended.