SPOILER ALERT: This review contains details of tonight’s Game of Thrones series finale.
After 73 episodes, two slain dragons, three Outstanding Drama Series Emmys, one Peabody, the demise of the Night King and most of King’s Landing, and the destruction of more monarchies than the real-life armistice of World War I, Game of Thrones ended tonight.
Queen Cersei (Lena Headey) is truly dead, the Iron Throne is truly (and literally) gone, and the 82-minute series grand-finale episode “The Iron Throne” saw House Stark ruling the scarred Seven Kingdoms. However, in an accession already leaked all over the Internet days before, that Stark turned out not to be Sansa (Sophie Tuner) nor Arya (Maisie Williams), nor Jon Snow (Kit Harington) the once supposed bastard of Ned Stark.
'Game Of Thrones' Series Finale: Patten & Boucher On Daenerys' Wrath, Best Of HBO Series, Sean Bean & The Test Of Time
In a frayed full circle of the ending penned and directed by series creators David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, the new chosen chieftain of Westeros and Essos is the crippled but all-seeing Bran Stark (Isaac Hempstead Wright), with Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage) as his Hand, and a council of the ensemble series survivors poised to now elect his successor and the ones to follow.
Originating in the shouldering aftermath of Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) and her remaining dragon’s fiery reign of terror from the sky last week that killed almost everyone in the capital, including Cersei and her incestuous brother Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), the series finale of the HBO crown jewel was a bracing coup de grâce. Or, as Arya says of this new destination for the series, in a throwback to a line from Season 6: “No one knows; it’s where all the maps stop.”
Sunday’s end will clearly leave fans pondering its proficiency for days, weeks and perhaps years to come. An end that, to quote the Isaiah 1:18 from the Good Book, could be summed up as: “Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.”
For better or worse, the conclusion of GoT was a barreling final six episodes that lifted all the surrounding HBO fiefdoms — and launched a new one, with the airing of the first Watchmen trailer. It was final season of highs and a continuation of an unfortunate recurring low. The former the record-breaking ratings and sheer scale of the series. The latter? The continued portrayal of several female characters with explicit to the point of fetishized sexual violence or even sexual awakening as shock value narrative.
Opening with the PTSD-struck Tyrion, Snow, and Davos Seaworth (Liam Cunningham) silently walking through the husk of what was King’s Landing, the often constrained finale grappled with vengeance and consequence, as much of GoT has throughout its run. An anguished Dinklage’s Tyrion — a decadent, deceptive and diplomatic character — finding the fake hand of his brother Jaime amidst the rubble of the Red Keep showed the emotional core of the series based on George R.R. Martin’s writing that elevated it above what guest star Ian McShane’s once described as “tits and dragons.”
As the surviving sibling of House Lannister lamented, House Stark toiled to reconcile the defeat of the clan that beheaded their father Ned Stark (Sean Bean) in Season 1 and their mother Catelyn Stark (Michelle Fairley), who was killed in the infamous Red Wedding “The Rains of Castamere” episode in Season 3, and the massacre that the Mother of Dragons unleashed.
Daernerys betrayed no such conflict or apparent regret for the cost of her victory to dethrone the Lannisters from the perch upon which her father once sat. “You kept all your promises, the master-of-all-she-surveys told the assembled in a shot reminiscent of the chilling Nuremberg rallies of Nazi Germany.
“You killed all of my enemies in their iron suits,” Daernerys proclaimed with her massive army before her, her once lover (and we know now nephew and royal rival Jon Snow) beside her, and her remaining dragon Drogan overhead. “You gave me the Seven Kingdoms!”
“But the war is not over,” she continued. “We will not lay down our spears until we have liberated all of the people of the world!” Daernerys boasted, in words that made it clear, ominous score and all, that a Brutus was waiting in the wings against this newly emboldened despot enraptured with her own destiny.
Preparing for such an outcome, as bloodied Arya looks on from the frenzied crowd, the Protector of the Realm relieves Tyrion from his position as Hand and throws him behind bars for treason. “Our Queen doesn’t keep prisoners for long,” Tyrion tells Snow, lingering over his old betrayals and how they led him to this final fate, while Harington’s resurrected character tries to defend Daernerys’ homicidal actions.
In the last third of the last episode of GoT, that primed and dire conversation between the long-entwined Tyrion and Snow flicks the final pieces in place. “Sometimes duty is the death of love, “ the still calculating Tyrion tells the often-guileless Snow, pushing him to kill Daernerys and claim the Iron Throne for himself — a move that by the end will leave both men back where they almost started.
This being GoT though, nothing is that straightforward a path, and with a mixture of Harold Pinter and Samuel Beckett in the swirling narrative dust. In that small-screen verse, a Queen is fatally stabbed, a cursed throne is scorched, a dragon departs, a council is formed, a vote is held, and, after a slightly belabored Stark clan dockside farewell, Arya leaves to discover the America of Martin’s world, as she heads west to where no one has been.
Similar to that sentence and the near-perfect 2005 finale of that other HBO series Six Feet Under, it is a future-forward montage that actually ends GoT as we see where the characters we’ve beheld all these years are headed.
Back in February, HBO programming overlord Casey Bloys told Deadline that Benioff and Weiss ended GoT “in a dramatically satisfying and emotionally satisfying way.” A few stumbles along the way and some terrible lighting in the prolonged battle for Winterfell aside, turns out the exec was actually understating the fullness and melancholy wit of “The Iron Throne.”
Just before that that final visual overview, the recently knighted Brienne (Gwendoline Christie) is seen writing a memoir of the recent years and a last word for her true love Jaime Lannister, Tyrion is handed at a council meeting a hefty book entitled “A Song Of Ice and Fire,” documenting the wars since the series-starting death of King Robert. A nice homage to the author of it all, that title is what Martin called his bestselling series from which this whole shebang is drawn.
Surfing the bottom line for the premium cabler, that last look at House Stark is ripe for at least three other series and more books by the deadline-weary Martin. Williams’ assassin character is on the high seas, a crowned Sansa rules the North, and a banished Jon Snow is back to the Night’s Watch and beyond the Great Wall, where he always felt most at home.
As the pilot of a Naomi Watts-led prequel of sorts is in production, tell me that the end of GoT tonight doesn’t look likes plates piled high with “more, sir, more”? — to toss some of Martin’s clear Charles Dickens influence in there.
Fan or critic or both, there is much to embrace and much to dispute about the sometimes-uneven end of GoT this season. Between the two great clashes of men, women, the dead, beasts and swords that made up the viewership record-busting “The Long Night” and “The Bells” episodes and the dialogue-rich remainder, tonight’s finale pulled the bow with precision.
“You know how it ends, we need to find a better way,” bellows Davos in an anti-war tirade before the council of Starks, Gendry Baratheon Lord of Storm’s End, Yara Greyjoy, Brienne, Samwell Tarly (whose suggestion of giving the people the vote gets laughed down) and others from the ensemble that have powered the show’s run.
When asked by chained but shrewd Tyrion if he will lead, Bran replies simply with “why do you think I came all this way?”
With almost that, the era-defining Game of Thrones is gone, but one of the greatest television series of all time will not be forgotten, neither at the 71st Primetime Emmys in September nor for long afterwards.
And yes, I was wrong: Sansa did not up ruling the Seven Kingdoms directly, but she did win the North the right to stand as an independent kingdom. So, forgive me for being on the wrong path in the right direction.
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