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Game Of Thrones – Season Finale Review: ‘The Iron Throne’

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The End

After 8 seasons of politics, romance, death, and battles, Game of Thrones comes to a close. Following last week’s intensity-packed episode, the series finale, “The Iron Throne”, was unexpectedly subdued. Save for a few dramatic moments, there was an unfortunate flatness of emotion and energy for the most part. With so much to cover and very little time, the character and story payoffs tend to be a bit hit or miss. Considering the insurmountable standards set, the story at least got where it needed to go, in a reasonable, albeit, frustrating manner.

Following Daenerys’ obliteration of King’s Landing, the city is in ashes and most of its citizens are dead. Tyrion enters the Red Keep (which was conveniently accessible) and is heartbroken to find Jaime and Cersei dead under the rubble. Tyrion’s painful cry makes you really feel his loss. But the fact that so much of the Red Keep was still intact almost insinuates that Cersei and Jaime’s death could have been avoidable. It’s still unfortunate how underused Cersei’s character was this season.

Walking Through The Chaos

Meanwhile, Grey Worm and the Unsullied are executing Lannister soldiers on Dany’s orders, even though they’ve surrendered. Jon and Davos are understandably upset at the excessive violence, but can’t do much against the much larger Unsullied army. In the heated exchange, Davos advises Jon to speak with the Queen herself.

With a giant Targaryen banner plastered on a broken wall, Jon scales up to the long staircase towards Dany. In a mesmerizing shot, Dany emerges forward with Drogon’s wings behind her – The Mad Dragon Queen has finally arrived (whether or not we think it’s earned).

Daenerys’ Reign

Jon quietly stands by Dany’s side as she makes a powerful speech to the surprisingly large Unsullied and Dothraki army (so much for being wiped out in battle). She praises both their efforts in helping her achieve control and Queenship. She confidently speaks of defeating tyrants and creating a better world through oppression, completely unaware of her own hypocritical words and actions. To give credit where it’s due, Emilia Clarke – who’s always been great – gives a particularly impressive performance. It’s even more impressive given the various show-created languages she’s required to speak in.

Tyrion then tentatively approaches Dany, knowing all too well that he’ll be punished. Dany asserts he betrayed him, to which Tyrion retorts: “I freed my brother. And you slaughtered a city.” But Dany continues to justify herself and sends Tyrion to a prison cell after he discards his Hand of the Queen brooch. To be fair, Tyrion hasn’t been a great advisor to Dany. As Dany walks away, Jon is relieved to find Arya alive, and the two siblings warily watch Dany from a distance. Now that Cersei is dead, Arya’s main driving force this series (her hit list) is over.

Love Is The Death Of Duty

Later, Jon visits the imprisoned Tyrion to discuss Dany’s tyranny. Despite strongly supporting and justifying Dany’s pursuit of the throne, Tyrion sees his mistake. He claims that Dany’s descent towards madness was obvious and unavoidable because of her Targaryen heritage. Jon rebuttals Tyrion, saying that people aren’t branded by the words of their houses. Still, Tyrion insists that Jon kill her to spare the Realm because “sometimes duty is the death of love”. Their whole debate was spectacular, with both side’s making good points, though Tyrion comes on top.

In the throne room, Dany approaches the Iron Throne she has so long sought after. Jon enters the room (after being allowed into the building by Drogon on guard duty) and Dany tells him about how as a child she imagined the throne as a “mountain of swords, too high to climb”. Before she can continue talking about happier times, Jon questions her about the carnage. He begs her to show Tyrion mercy but she won’t budge. Dany claims her violence is for the greater good because she knows what is right, and everyone else doesn’t have a choice. Dany has always talked about breaking the wheel and not becoming like her tyrant father. But, in the end, she followed that same dangerous path without even realizing it. Even Jon was in denial about her ruthlessness until the very end.

Fire & Blood

Out of nowhere, Dany shows immense vulnerability towards Jon and insists they rule together. In Winterfell, she was upset that Jon didn’t love her as she wanted and envious of the people’s love of him. But now? She embraces Jon like everything is fine before he stabs her in the chest. And just like that, The Mother of Dragons (and many other titles) is dead.

Considering Jon was recently opposing the Unsullied’s violence and threatens her claim to the throne, shouldn’t Dany have been more skeptical of him? Shouldn’t he have been taken a prisoner or killed by now, like everyone else who challenged her? But Dany is made to ignore all those things just to let her guard down and be killed. Moreover, Jon quickly moves from stubborn devotion to Queen-Slayer within a single pep talk by Tyrion. Although Jon killing Dany was the necessary outcome for what was set up, the execution was more frustrating than dramatic.

That’s It?

Dany’s death should’ve been the major climactic moment of the episode, but it just feels underwhelming. That’s mainly due to the truncated narrative and shortened season, again. Had her madness developed over a longer stretch and Jon’s Queen-Slayer choice been more of a conflicted struggle, Dany’s death would have carried more weight. Instead, we’re given 1.5 episodes to watch Dany become a merciless tyrant before she meets her demise.

Meanwhile, Jon’s constant unwavering support of Dany – while barely challenging her previous harsh actions – makes his irreparable betrayal seem unearned. Jon killing Dany doesn’t feel like the emotional last resort it’s meant to be because he’s never really attempted or struggled to pacify her actions before this brief moment. The rise of Dany’s madness and death at her lover’s hands lack dramatic tension and satisfaction since we got the cliff notes version over the course of a mere two episodes.

The Iron Throne

After his mother’s death, Drogon immediately comes to her side. Watching him try to wake Dany, to no avail, is heartbreaking. The dragon then blazes the Iron Throne into a pool of liquid, as if knowing what it symbolized. Even though the throne’s demolition was not a surprise, it made sense for the story – outdated power structures need to be relinquished. However, it’s still questionable why Drogon doesn’t attack Jon for killing his mother. Instead, the dragon takes Dany and flies away. At least Dany’s dragons remained loyal to her.

Like Jon’s heritage reveal, we don’t get much of a reaction to Dany’s or Cersei’s deaths either (outside of Jon and Tyrion), further lessening the emotional impact. I expected Sansa to have at least made some comments about Dany. Unfortunately, everyone just moves on to discuss the ramifications, without much time spent dwelling on major character losses.

The Aftermath

Grey Worm immediately puts Tyrion on trial in front of all of the leaders of each of the main houses, including Sansa, Arya, and Bran. Though a prisoner, Tyrion ends up proposing a change in policy. When Sam suggests having all the people of the Realm vote for a King/Queen, he is met with laughter – democracy is apparently still too extreme. Instead, Tyrion suggests that the leaders of the main houses elect a ruler based on merit, instead of power being passed down through lineage. While not entirely breaking the wheel, they’ve made a tiny step forward. In a show where politics are constantly being discussed, it is odd that nobody mentioned the concept of an election until now.

When no one can decide who to pick, Tyrion nominates Bran on the basis of him having the best story (debatable). He also has the memory of the Realm’s entire history with no selfish motivations. Bran doesn’t want to be king, but accepts the title nonetheless. All the leaders pledge their allegiance, except for Sansa, who requests the North’s freedom, which she is granted. And there you have it. The new ruler of the six kingdoms is – as Tyrion proclaims – “Bran the Broken.” This seems like a safe choice more than anything; it’s hard to hate or love. Electing a reluctant king makes sense, but there also hasn’t been any indication that Bran would be a capable leader.

Bran The Broken

After allowing the North’s freedom, Bran also designates Tyrion as his new Hand. Instead of death, Tyrion must make up for his mistakes by serving the Realm as best he can. Notwithstanding some questionable decisions being made of late, Tyrion is one of the smartest characters, so this ending suits him. Additionally, Bran has Jon exiled to the Night’s Watch to appease all sides. Grey Worm reluctantly accepts the propositions, then sails with the Unsullied toward Naath, Missandei’s homeland. Hopefully, he will find some peace and not fall prey to the poisonous butterflies that occupy Naath.

Surprisingly, Jon’s Targaryen heritage – which made Robert’s Rebellion be built on a lie – does not actually play a big factor in the end. There’s no indication of whether this information was made public because no one in the council ever brings it up after Dany’s death. Varys’ letters’ made no apparent difference. Even if Jon abdicated his claim and the new ruler was to be elected based on merit, this huge reveal should’ve at least been acknowledged by others. The main implication of Jon’s heritage/claim to the throne was Dany being angered. But even she seemed to have forgotten that when she naively trusts him before her death.

Winter Came

The four Stark siblings then say their emotional goodbyes as each of them goes off in different directions. Bran remains in King’s Landing. Jon is heading north to the Wall. Sansa returns to Winterfell as The Queen in the North. And Arya decides to explore uncharted territory west of Westeros. Arya’s choice calls back her talk with Lady Crane, who mentioned that all the maps stop west of Westeros. Even so, Arya was never really given a chance to express what she wanted to do after her kill-list was complete. It’s sad seeing the siblings separated, but at least each of them is where they want to be.

Later, Brienne goes through the Kingsguard records and fills out Jaime’s section. Even after heartbreak, Brienne proves to be above pettiness by noting Jaime’s various accomplishments and that he “Died protecting his Queen.” Their relationship was always better as respected friends than romantic interests anyways. While I was partly hoping that Brienne would stay by Sansa’s side in Winterfell, she definitely earned the promotion of Lord Commander of the Kingsguard.

The New Small Council

In the Small Council chambers, Tyrion is joined by Sam (the new Maester), Davos (Master of Ships) and Bronn, who is now both Lord of Highgarden and Master of Coin. I’m not sure how Bronn is trusted with such a high position. But I guess Tyrion doesn’t have very many close connections left alive.

Sam then presents Tyrion with a book covering the wars after Robert’s Rebellion called “A Song of Ice and Fire”. After all his contributions, Tyrion’s name is sadly left out of all the events, much to his dismay. Brienne and Ser Podrick Payne (newly knighted) enter the room with King Bran, who asks his council to find a new Master of Whisperers, Law, and War, while he plans on looking for Drogon. King Bran leaves the rest of the council to bicker over rebuilding King’s Landing. Other than Dany, most of the main characters find themselves in favorable positions by the end. Perhaps the resolution is a bit too tidy, even if everyone (except Sam) does end up quite alone, romance-wise. Duty over love indeed.

Stay A Thousand Years

Meanwhile, the most emotionally satisfying part of the finale was easily the montage of Jon, Arya, and Sansa going their separate ways. At Castle Black, Jon is greeted by Tormund and Ghost (whom he thankfully embraces this time). Instead of actually serving his punishment at the Night’s Watch, Jon goes beyond the Wall with the other Wildings and his direwolf. It’s amusing how Jon ended up right where he started, but this is where he fits in best anyways.

Arya sails off in the distance seeking new adventures and Sansa deservedly gets her coronation in Winterfell, with the “Queen in the North” chants being the last lines of the series. The Stark siblings’ intercut storylines with Ramin Djawadi’s score “A Song of Ice and Fire” playing to the montage was effectively stirring and a brilliant way to close the show.

Overall

After much anticipation, the series finale of Game of Thrones – like the rest of the season – is…just fine. As expected, the compressed time-frame was the biggest detractor. You understand where the story was headed (for the most part), but uneven execution made it hard to digest fully. While most characters got a satisfactory ending, the main antagonists – the Night King, Cersei and now Dany – seemed to be the most short-changed, regrettably. Dany’s villainy was a bold move that was never actualized to its fullest potential. At least the Starks got their closure.

Given the nature of Game of Thrones (and series finales in general) “The Iron Throne” was surprisingly unambitious, without a lot of suspense or epic-ness. The ending is more bittersweet than satisfying. Maybe that’s just more realistic? As Tyrion said: “No one is very happy, which means it’s a good compromise.” The finale wasn’t a great send-off, but a good enough compromise. It’s just unfortunate that an otherwise impressive series had to go out on a divided note.

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