The dragon queen with her dragon wings will go down as one of the most iconic shots in television history. I can’t help but imagine the impact that beautifully constructed image would have had had it been the last image that we saw of the series. Imagine if the show had crowned a less maleficent Daenerys and left us with that image of the dragon queen as a parting gift. Alas, it did not.
The first half of the episode gave us some of its more satisfying moments. Cersei, our favorite wine swilling supervillain, is, in fact, dead, crushed beneath the rubble in the arms of her brother lover. It’s worth noting that Cersei and Jaime’s relationship was the longest sustaining romantic relationship of the show. Despite being crushed under what appeared to be 9 million tons of rubble, Tyrion is somehow able to unearth his dearly departed siblings by moving a single stone—making that moment feel a little too convenient.
Cut to Dany giving an impassioned, multi-lingual speech about “freeing the world” through more war. She has become the personification of one of the show’s largest themes: Power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely.
Jon, of course, does the right thing by killing the woman he loves for the greater good. He is willing to do just about anything for the good of the realm—except rule it.
The act of Jon plunging a dagger into the heart of his love should have been earthshattering, but it wasn’t. This scene gives us little by way of catharsis in that it lacked the emotional structure to deliver. If anything, our lack of feeling in this moment illuminates the reality that Dany and Jon’s relationship had very little romantic weight save for a bare-bummed lovemaking scene last season. Their dynamic was lopsided to begin with and Dany’s free fall into madness was just not developed enough to hinge the finale on.
Upon seeing his dead mother, Drogon turns his white-hot flames on the object of her desire, the Iron Throne—which had been forged in dragon flames Aegons ago. For eight seasons, the driving question has always been: “Who will sit on the Iron Throne?” And this week we were given the answer. No one, not technically. There is a new king, but he already has a seat.
Drogon then flies away, lifeless Khaleesi in his clutches, after sparing Jon’s life presumably because of his Targaryan blood.
However, before we can digest the dark and emotional first half, we are teleported to Dragonpit (weeks later) where the most important houses of Westeros have gathered to decide the realm’s fate. This takes on a comedic feel when Edmund Tully launches into what is clearly his bid for the throne only to be leveled by a look from Sansa- a moment where this type of humor doesn’t quite feel right. It is compounded when Samwell Tarly floats the idea of democracy and is similarly dismissed. This felt more like a Bravo show “The Lords and Ladies of Westeros.”
(There’s also a barely visible water bottle just behind Samwell’s left leg, but let’s not nit-pick.)
Tyrion, who is a prisoner for the 10th time, makes an appeal to the council.
“What unites people?” he asks. “Stories.”
Blah. Blah. Blah. Bran’s the man.
“Who has a better story than that?”
Um, Arya Stark, that’s who.
For seven sakes.
Tyrion is not always right, but he is always convincing. And then BOOM, Bran the Broken is installed after an almost unanimous vote with the exception of Sansa who maintains that the North be reestablished as a separate kingdom. After all, who is going to tell her no; her brother is the king. Bran names Tyrion to be his Hand. “He’s spent his life making mistakes. He will spend the rest of his life making up for them.”
Lannisters always pay their debts, I guess.
And in a heartbeat, we see the realm transition from dynastic rule to something of an oligarchy. The “wheel” Dany so desperately wanted to smash was more redesigned than destroyed.
After the emotional whiplash, we have a moment to consider Bran, the three-eyed raven, a source of boundless knowledge and wisdom, in the seat of power. A physically limited, spiritually attuned ruler who is meant to use his knowledge of the past to guide the realm into the future. Imagine that. It’s hard to envision a world governed by someone who abstains from so much of it. Also, Bran has been on acid all season, so there’s that.
On the other hand, what could keep Drogon from returning and torching what’s left of the city? Who could defend the city against a dragon?
Still, the realm is put into the hands (wings?) of a character who is largely unknown to us, especially in his latest incarnation.
“I can never be lord of Winterfell. I can never be Lord of anything, I’m the three-eyed raven.” – The bird formally known as Bran
This scene is quickly followed by a meeting of the small council where some of our favorite characters, Brienne, Davos, Sam, and Bron, have gathered to get down to the nitty-gritty business of governance. This is another instance where the pacing brings us into a future before we’ve had a chance to process the past. It should have been more satisfying to see these characters in the roles for which they are best suited. Brienne is the Lord Commander of the kingsguard and, as such, she is allowed to record the history of the previous commander. This is a throwback to when King Joffrey chided his Duncle Jaime saying that no one would ever record his good deeds. Don’t threaten a lesbian with a journal, y’all.
But this quick shift in tone, positioned in the last half of the series finale, made it feel like a parody of the show.
“All hail Bran the Broken….This will get better in time,” assures Tyrion.
Will it? Do we care?
These half-hearted attempts at comedy fell flat for a viewership that has taken this series, and especially its final episode, so seriously.
It is Jon’s fate that felt the most wonky. He is rewarded for saving the realm (again) by being banished to the Night’s Watch (again). Also, who, pray tell, are the crows watching? The wildlings are allies and the wights are double dead. Jon has always had a kinship with the free folk (wildling, you make my heart sing) and had he left for the north of his own volition it would have been palatable but being cast out by his own family (who are the strongest house in the realm!) did not work. Jon drinking ale out of horn with Tormund telling war stories is just not enough. Also, the Unsullied have pissed off to Naath, so who was left to police this decision?
The final montage reinforces House Stark as central to the game, as it did in the very beginning. We see the family embracing their individual destinies: Sansa returns to the north, Jon heads north of the wall, Arya sets out west, and Bran travels where he travels best—within.
While the execution of this last chapter failed to meet the expectations that the show set for itself, at the end of the day, all that matters is what moved you. Was it a dragon losing its mom? The petting of a wolf? A queen crowned in the north?
For some, the finale delivered; for others, it felt like a giant waste of time. Either way, the fact that people feel so strongly about it speaks to its effect. There are consumers and there are creators, and there will always be far more of the former.
The creators of this show gave us eight seasons to watch, obsess, love, hate, and critique. It has started a million conversations. This television show took an obscure, niche fantasy drama with dragons and giants and turned it into a cultural phenomenon that connected people. Now that’s a good story.
And with multiple spin-offs in production, there is evidence to suggest that our watch has not ended.
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* The Dragon pit scene was shot in Seville, Spain. Secrecy was so important that several actors who were not even present in the scene were flown in to throw paparazzi and fans off of the scent. HBO bought out all the hotel rooms in the area that could possibly have a view of this scene.
*Arya will inevitably land in LA where she will open a mortal combat/pilates/boot camp gym called ” The Needle Method” that will be available on Classpass. You can find her sporting her branded “I am no one” athleisurewear at the Weho dog park with her pup, Hound.