The following are a few notes from the Game of Thrones Finale. Warning: mild spoilers may be included, though I’ve tried to stay away from anything too glaring. Either way, consider yourself warned.
I’m finally ready to talk about that divisive Game of Thrones finale. It’s taken me a bit to get my thoughts in order since it definitely wasn’t what was expected. Game of Thrones Season 8 Episode 6 fulfilled its promise to decide the fate of the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros as the final chapter of the series was written. That being said, it accomplished this in ways most never saw coming.
Immediately following the broadcast, lots of people took to social media to express their disappointment. Personally, I knew almost immediately I needed to sit with the finale for a bit. Let it sink in. I knew quickly that I didn’t hate it, but that’s basically all I was sure of. Truthfully, it was one of those experiences that leaves you feeling sort of unsteady. In the end, the Game of Thrones finale included a lot of weighty themes that deserve discussion. As a result, I wanted to allow time to unpack it all in my mind before giving my opinions. So, here we go:
No one should have expected a happy ending
A lot of folks seem upset more of the characters didn’t get typical fantasy-type happy endings. The thing is that was never really on the table for the Game of Thrones finale. It was just never going to happen. First off, the show has always been about portraying a gritty, realistic story, simply utilizing the fantasy genre as a backdrop. In real life, everyone doesn’t get a happy ending with the heroes settling down to live together in the end. In real life, heroes aren’t even always true heroes. They are people. Imperfect. Not all good; not all bad. That’s Game of Thrones in a nutshell. And secondly, the show has always been about subverting expectations anyway, so it was always going to end like this.
George RR Martin, the author of the books upon which Game of Thrones was based, has previously stated that he likes endings that resemble the Lord of the Rings. He has previously stated many times that he foresaw a “bittersweet” ending, rather than a happy one. You’ll recall I talked a bit about that bittersweet aspect last week with Daenerys becoming an antagonist. I still stand behind that, but I also think that mindset found its way into the endings for other characters as well.
Don’t fall into the trap of saying the books won’t be this way, and the show got it all wrong either. That road is dark and full of terrors, my friends. Martin has stated recently that his ending will be similar to the show’s, yet different. Frankly, there are so many more characters and plotlines active in the books it can only be different. I imagine them as two distinct paths leading to the same destination. Only time will tell for sure.
By and large, the biggest complaint about the Game of Thrones finale seems to revolve around Jon’s fate.
Frankly, I can at least understand this mindset, even if I don’t fully agree with it. Jon had been dutifully set up as the hero of the saga for several seasons now. He also had arguably the bleakest ending, short of them simply killing him off. There was no ending for him as a hero. No crown. Arguably, the time spent setting up his true heritage was pointless, since it amounted to nothing. In fact, he even ended up right back where he began the series, arguably the most depressing place in Westeros.
Opinions of the final shot of the series will – no doubt – differ, but my takeaway was that he’s not actually doing the Nights Watch thing as sentenced. I took that last shot to mean he was abandoning Castle Black and going North with the Free Folk. I took that sequence to be similar to Frodo leaving Middle Earth behind. Frodo was broken by war, never again able to see his home as the peaceful paradise he enjoyed previously. Jon is likewise broken because he killed someone he loved and still isn’t sure if he did the right thing. This is fully consistent with Martins’s penchant for Lord of the Rings-type endings.
One thing I really did like about it was him finally getting a proper reunion with Ghost. You’ll recall, I was pretty upset over the way their supposed goodbye was handled in Episode 4. CGI concerns notwithstanding, it felt cold, and I was glad to see it amended. I also truly think Jon was happiest when he was with the Wildlings. In that same episode with the Ghost debacle, he told Tormund that he wished he was going north with him, instead of traveling south. Now we know he gets that chance, and whether he’s abandoning the Nights Watch or simply seeing the Free Folk back home before returning, we know now he has a place in the world where he will not be bothered by the petty wars of the kingdoms.
My twinge of sadness at how the story ended for some of the other characters
Needless to say – as with real life – some characters made out better than others. Arguably the biggest surprise was Bran Stark, the Three-Eyed Raven, being named King. I can join everyone else in saying I did not see this one coming, but I also don’t hate it. In the end, he was a compromise that the parties involved could make in a sequence that changed the way Westeros governs itself. It might still remain a monarchy, but few could argue it won’t be a better system of governance since you won’t see any more despotic Joffrey’s taking the throne. Ironically, Daenerys succeeded in breaking the wheel, even though it took her becoming something of a tyrant and being killed to do so. The aftermath of the whole thing will most likely result in a better world.
Meanwhile, Tyrion gets to be his Hand of the King. Whether it was Jon or Dany on the throne, I always envisioned this for Tyrion. Interestingly, though, it went from being a case of him being the smartest guy in the room to learning hard lessons that will now make him better.
Sansa got what she wanted, and she will arguably excel at it. She has the honor of a Stark, yet she was schooled in the game by both Cersei and Littlefinger. Long may she reign as probably the one in the story who got the happiest ending.
At the same time, Arya sets out on a great adventure of discovery. She is the Wandering Wolf now, destined never to simply be a Lady of the kingdoms, which is something she’s been telling everyone since she was a child. Frankly, if they made her adventures one of the spinoffs, I would definitely watch it, but sadly that’s not happening.
I guess the only sadness for me comes from the sense of finality to it all. I mean, Arya could return from her journeys and visit Bran or Sansa. Maybe even Jon, if he returns to the Wall. Then again, she could also never be heard from again, or those reunions could take decades to occur. We will never know. The story began and ended with the Stark children, and the pack survived. Only, in the end, the pack is now broken. That makes me a little sad, but then again it also mirrors real life in many ways.
Why didn’t Drogon gonna kill Jon?
That’s another question I’m hearing people ask a lot, and I have some ideas. Maybe feelings is a better word than ideas. I don’t know. In the end, however, I think it goes back to some vague mentions from earlier in the series that might’ve been easy to miss. It’s spoken of a bit more overtly in the books, but even in the show Tyrion – I believe – made mention previously of reading that some Maester or another theorized that dragons were intelligent. That they were thinking beasts, rather than simply animals.
First off, I should also say I thought it was heartbreaking the way Drogon tried to wake Daenerys up. I don’t care if it is a mythical creature, and frankly a vicious one. It was his mother, and it got me right in the feels. His rage was completely justified, and I fully expected him to roast Jon alive. I also think there’s more to the reason he didn’t.
Instead, he turned his rage on the Iron Throne. That ugly thing that fed his mother’s obsession. That thing that everyone around her always told her was her destiny. That thing that brought them there, when they could have been happy and prosperous elsewhere. The quest for the Iron Throne robbed him of both his siblings and his mother, so I can understand why an intelligent beast would vent his rage in that direction, rather than simply at the person who did the deed.
In the end, he took her away from all of it, the same way he tried to do when he rescued her from the arena in Meereen back in Season 5. Never forget that he could have simply lifted her from the arena and taken her back to her pyramid, where she would’ve been safe. Instead, he tried to take her away, not just from her enemies but from the people around her as well. Drogon understood she was on a disastrous path of obsession. Would that someone would have listened to him. Things could have been quite different.
Speaking of the Iron Throne
In the end, the Iron Throne became yet another allusion to the Lord of the Rings. Like the One Ring, the Iron Throne was a symbol of ultimate power that also represented ultimate corruption. It destroyed everyone who lusted after it. And, like the One Ring, it had to be destroyed for the story to end. We watched it melt just as assuredly as the Ring melted in Gollum’s hand, leaving behind it an undoubtedly better world.
My final thoughts on the Game of Thrones finale
I know there were a lot of people disappointed. I think that was going to happen no matter what, simply because it was such a loved series. It’s difficult to see something you love end, and it’s likewise really difficult to come up with an ending that is going to satisfy a lot of people. Personally, I’m grateful they didn’t allow the pressure to make people happy effect the story.
Frankly, I believe we saw the ending we were always meant to see, even if it did, unfortunately, feel rushed. Some of us aren’t happy with how it ended, and that’s OK. It was never going to be a happy ending; not for the characters and not necessarily for us either. I must say, though, I still adore the series, and I understand the choices made. Now, with a little distance since my initial viewing, I even agree with most of them.