Despite the show entering what should have been a victory lap for its final season, “Game of Thrones” has come under fire. While criticism of the show reached an all-time high in the episodes leading up to tonight, “The Iron Throne” remained a must-watch cultural event. Let’s break down the series finale of “Game of Thrones.” *SPOILERS TO FOLLOW*
Recap *SPOILERS TO FOLLOW*
- Tyrion leads a group of survivors into the carnage of King’s Landing. Jon and Davos walk with him, surveying the destruction all around them.
- Grey Worm holds public executions of Lannister soldiers in the streets. Jon and Davos try to stop them but fail. They go to meet with Daenerys
- Tyrion wanders through the Red Keep and travels into the dungeons. He searches and finds the bodies of Cersei and Jaime in the rubble
- Jon and Arya separately walk to the entrance of the Red Keep. Jon climbs the stairs and finds Daenerys riding Drogon
- Daenerys speaks to the crowd of Dothraki and Unsullied. After she thanks them for their service, she names Grey Worm Master of War. Their mission is not over, and they will continue to break the wheel
- Tyrion approaches Daenerys and she tells him that she knows about Tyrion’s aid in helping Jaime escape
- He quits as Hand of the Queen and she takes him as a prisoner
- Arya and Jon speak about Daenerys and Jon goes on to meet Tyrion
- Tyrion and Jon discuss Daenerys, and Tyrion begins to urge Jon to kill Daenerys. After everything that’s happened, he believes she cannot be Queen and will eventually kill Jon. After Jon refuses, Tyrion reminds Jon his sisters and family will not bend the knee
- Jon approaches Daenerys as she is about to finally take the throne. She asks him to lead this new world with her, and he tells her she will always be his Queen. He then assassinates her, plunging a knife into her chest
- Drogon rushes to the Red Keep and finds Jon standing over Daenerys’ body. Angered by Jon’s actions, Drogon melts the Iron Throne, collects Daenerys’ body, and flies away
- Tyrion is brought to the Dragon Pits, where a collection of the most powerful houses of Westeros are assembled. Among those in attendance are Sansa, Arya, Yara, and Ser Davos.
- In the weeks since Daenerys’ death, the Unsullied have maintained the occupation of King’s Landing. The group discusses what is to be done about Jon Snow, who remains a prisoner. There is a discussion about who should rule the Kingdoms
- Tyrion nominates Bran Stark as the King of Westeros. After some hesitation, the other lords agree. Sansa does not agree, and the North chooses to remain an independent Kingdom
- Bran accepts the position of King and makes Tyrion his Hand of the King. While Tyrion tries to refuse, Bran says it is punishment for everything that happened. This is his sentence
- Jon is sentenced to join the Night’s Watch and rebuild it in the North. He will take the black. He asks if it was worth it, and Tyrion tells him to ask in ten years
- Grey Worm and the Unsullied leave Westeros, heading for Naarth
- Jon meets with Sansa, Arya, and Bran. Sansa will rule the North, Arya will head to the West and explore a new world, and Bran will be King of the Six Kingdoms
- Brienne adds the story of Jaime Lannister to the Book of the Knights in Westeros, concluding his entry in the White Book, which documents the stories of Kingsguard. She concludes his entry with “Died protecting his Queen”
- Tyrion awaits the other members of the small Council who will serve with him. Ser Davos, Ser Brienne, Ser Bronn, and Samwell Tarley join. Sam presents the group with “A Song of Ice and Fire.” The council continues their meeting
- Jon reaches the gates at the Wall, where he is greeted by Tormund. As the scene cuts across Jon, Arya, and Sansa, Jon is finally reunited with Ghost. Sansa is crowned Queen in the North, and Arya heads west.
- Jon leads the Wildlings North of the Wall, with Tormund and Ghost at his side. They disappear into the woods
For years, the idea of Jon Snow facing off against Daenerys Targaryen seemed like a feasible option for the series. They were two charismatic leaders and each had a vision for the world they wanted to create. The two falling in love created some interesting results. The punch-line of their relationship will likely yield jokes for decades, a la Luke and Leia. But the moment where Jon kills Dany felt flat. Saddest of all, Daenerys’ arc will be known as one of the great failures of storytelling in television history.
Daenerys Targaryen went from a Queen celebrating her army’s accomplishments to an out-of-control warlord in an hour. To make matters worse, after she made a decision that destroyed thousands of lives, we were only given two scenes to observe her mood in the aftermath. Emilia Clarke brought the subtext of emotion and genuine pain out in her performance. Benioff and Weiss did not give her decent material to work within these scenes. Changing her role in the show from that of a primary storyteller, to one where we understand her actions through the perspectives of other characters, created a fundamental misunderstanding of why people loved to cheer for her.
Watching Drogon lift Dany and fly off into the fog was perhaps one of the most touching moments the show has ever created. Like Simba pawing at Mufasa, it was heartbreaking to watch. The visuals of the moment, heavy-handed throne-melting metaphor aside, were gorgeous. Combined with shots of Drogon emerging from the ash, the winged Daenerys shot, and images of him crawling on the castle, it was a highlight episode for the dragon. Juxtaposing this moment with Jon’s reunion with Ghost showed how the mythical beasts of this world mattered to the story. While audiences have always known this, it was nice to see that acknowledged on the screen.
The lack of discussion about Jon’s parentage adds to the frustration. The worst secret in all of Westeros would be big news. It would also make him be seen as a rival to Dany and not the “Queenslayer” he became. This would have caused real political upheaval and deeper divides in Westeros.
It is in the Dragon Pits where the episode falls apart. The Brann coronation makes little to no sense, at least thanks to how Benioff & Weiss have crafted the character in the show. He was deemed so inessential, they sidelined him for a year. His powers were never fully explained, but based on the logic of the show, he can see the future. That’s why he even came South. In doing so, the writers created a huge plot hole. Brann’s abilities meant he knowingly let King’s Landing become a bar-b-que without warning his family as they left Winterfell. Additionally, he could have saved thousands of lives by letting Jon know of Daenerys’ future. Instead, he sacrifices thousands and becomes King of Westeros. You can make the argument this action alone makes him the least deserving character to become so powerful. As protector of the realm, he let people die, making it clear that he learned few lessons from Ned Stark.
Even if you like the events that led to Bran’s new role, the rest of the council seems to forget their own past. Both the Iron Islands and Dorne have been free/independent more recently than the North. Why would the realm be okay with Sansa’s secession from the Seven Kingdoms? What does this mean for Jon as well? The North is technically manned by men of the Kingdoms. Does that mean the North is surrounded? It seems odd. Why would Grey Worm and the Unsullied let the man who killed their leader go? The show presented more questions than answers, not what you want out of your series finale. Unless of course, you want to reboot the franchise in 10-15 years (think “Will & Grace” or “Twin Peaks”). It’s not like the Arya, Sansa, Jon, Bran, Drogon, Tyrion and other storylines could all be mined for future content.
For the season, a few key performances feel like they’re still in play, while others have dropped considerably.
The tech teams should sweep the craft categories. Seriously, they should win every award and it should not be close. The costumes from Michele Clapton were amazing all year, the music and scores from Ramin Djawadi might be some of the best in the history of television, and the sound, makeup, and production design teams all deserve love. Same for the visual effects. Expect the series to just roll the below the line categories because the spectacle and visual brilliance of the season was never in doubt.
The performers all deserve one last bow. Expect Peter Dinklage to win one more Supporting Actor Emmy and break the record for the most wins in the category. He was brilliant over these last two episodes. Emilia Clarke also earned real consideration for a win in Lead Actress. She was outstanding in most of the episodes this season and was forced to seemingly create material out of thin air. She’s got tough competition thanks to “Killing Eve,” but she’s made her case. If “Thrones” gets a final season boost, she has to be taken seriously as a threat to win.
Kit Harrington will likely take advantage of a weak Drama Lead Actor category and could rocket up the rankings after his performance in the finale. Still, I don’t expect him to win over Bob Odenkirk or Sterling K. Brown. The nomination would be as good as a win. Maisie Williams appears to be in a prime position to take home the Supporting Actress prize as well. Lena Headey might be the most underserved actress in the final season, but a nomination feels like a guarantee. She could win for the body of work as well. It’s a shame they didn’t get to her earlier in the show’s run because both Williams and Headey should have a trophy for the show. Sophie Turner feels like a sure thing for a nomination as well.
The question facing voters will come in the form of Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, and if they’re willing to bypass the HBO machine and show love for Gwendoline Christie as well. Both deserve nominations, but their work was far more subdued this season. Still, “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms” could be one of two screenplay nominations (with “The Iron Throne” being the likely second nominee). If voters are paying attention, those performances are hard to ignore.
Expect three directing nominations as well. Miguel Sopachnik should get the nomination for one of his two episodes, and will likely be our winner as well. Which episode you choose is up to the voter, but both were fantastically shot and assembled. D.B Weiss and David Benioff have a legitimate shot to win for “The Iron Throne” as well, which was arguably one of the two best episodes of the season (despite the story qualms). Finally, David Nutter should get in for “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms,” the runaway favorite of the season.
Where Does This Leave “Game of Thrones?”
Finales rarely live up to the hype of the stories they tell. It can be difficult to juggle themes and character as you attempt to wrap up a story. Shows like “The Sopranos” and “Lost” delivered semi-successful conclusions (depending on who you talk to). “Parks and Recreation,” “The Office,” and “Breaking Bad” have been described as displays of fan service instead of legitimate endings to their shows.
The reaction to “The Iron Throne” has not been kind in the hours since it aired. Many fans are angry and frustrated. Many more are confused about why their visceral reactions to the show. It’s a sign of real love that so many have voiced their frustrations because, at some point in time, this show meant something important to these audiences.
Let’s be clear, no matter how we feel about the show this moment, it does not change what “Game of Thrones” meant to television over the past decade. The show first flickered to life during this writer’s college years, and as a result, it became a pop culture event. In many ways, saying goodbye to the show means more than many would care to admit. After hours of late nights with friends binging one more episode, or arguing with the family about which character would take the Throne, or even receiving wedding baskets full of “Thrones” merchandise, looking back over the show helps me understand the person I’ve become over its time on the air.
Despite all of this love for the show, it’s hard not to be annoyed at how this story shook out. At the same time, it doesn’t take away from the spectacle and amazing world that was created. While the later seasons of the show may have elevated visuals above the storytelling, they undeniably advanced television-based storytelling and content. Unlike anything that came before it, it was ambitious in ways TV had never dreamed.
It’s difficult to say where exactly it will place in the history of television, but using Alan Sepinwall & Matthew Zoller Seitz’s metrics in “TV the Book” it would rate near the top. On some metrics, such as Innovation, Influence, and Peak, it would earn perfect scores. Performance would also be nearly perfect. It would be on the metrics of consistency and storytelling that “Thrones” will falter. Not attempting to presume their rankings of the show, I would guess it finishes in the top fifteen shows of all time, topping out above “Deadwood” but placing above “Arrested Development.” While I ranked the show as the greatest achievement in television since AwardsCircuit began, I also need to flip its place with “Breaking Bad” after the weaker than anticipated final season.
This is by no means the last time we’re going to see Westeros on the small, or potentially big, screen. Fans already know spinoffs are in the works. Yet it is unlikely that they will see a phenomenon like this one again for some time. It’s sad that “Thrones” could not fully capitalize on that love, and the history of this iteration is far from written. In time, we will see the show for what it was: a genre-defining fantasy story that opened the door for blockbuster television. Whether that is good or bad for the medium is still to be determined.