REVIEW: Game of Thrones, S8 Ep6 – The Iron Throne

Game of Thrones finale

Game of Thrones concluded its epic saga with a bittersweet finale that set up the next generation of Westeros’ rulers.

Let’s face it, the Game of Thrones writers were faced with a nigh-impossible task – to wrap up eight years of complex history and multiple character journeys in a way that would bring closure, coherence, and satisfaction. But there was no way they would have been able to please everyone. And given the frenetic pacing of the last two seasons, a flaw that sacrificed much of the character interaction and development that had been one of the show’s main strengths, it was inevitable that the finale would fall short of everyone’s expectations. This season, as another reviewer notes, even follows the Game of Thrones tradition of having the penultimate episode as the shocking and explosive chapter while the last episode quietly ties loose ends and sets us up for the next journey.

Game of Thrones finaleAnd while there were disappointments in this final chapter, these were not really unexpected, especially given the carnage of The Bells. For the most part, though, I think the episode succeeded. After last week’s fiasco, I resigned myself to accept what would come and once I made peace with that, I was even able to enjoy this episode and appreciate how it brought some things full circle even if it sometimes felt like the writers were ticking off items in a checklist of plot points to be conveniently and neatly resolved.

Game of Thrones finaleI said as much last week in my review of that episode. Dany’s death was inevitable, tragic though it may be because of all she had endured to come this far. The showrunners truly did not do justice to both Daenerys’ character and to Emilia Clarke’s powerful performance and that is the real tragedy of Game of Thrones. Her descent into madness happened too abruptly and we did not even spend enough time with her this season to truly understand how she threw away all her years of struggling not to become a Mad Queen. In her victory speech before the Dothraki and the Unsullied (I was surprised to see so many had survived The Long Night), she spoke without irony about “liberating” the rest of the world from tyrants. It was sad to see such a strong and courageous character turn delusional. She deserved better.

Game of Thrones finaleHer death in the arms of Jon Snow was also pretty much a given. While Game of Thrones never really got into the prophecies of the books, for those who did read them, this was a fulfillment of all the years of Nissa Nissa theories. I still find it odd that the whole incest angle of their relationship never seemed to bother them as much as the struggle for the throne. Again, the last episodes were too filled with momentous things that their connection never really had time to breathe.

Game of Thrones finaleDrogon had his most significant moments in this episode, which is strange to say when he destroyed King’s Landing all by himself. But the dragon’s attempts to wake up his mother was poignant to watch and I found myself more moved by Drogon’s grief than by Jon’s. And then he went and melted The Iron Throne, probably the most symbolic gesture on Game of Thrones. That symbol of power that had corrupted all the men and women who had sought to sit on it was finally destroyed, paving the way for a hopeful future and possibly even that good world Dany dreamed of building. It might also have been Drogon’s way of saying “If my mother can’t have that throne, nobody else can.” Still, a definite turning point in Westeros history.

Drogon’s gentle carrying away of Dany’s body and his disappearing into the mist puts an end to the threat of dragons in the Seven Kingdoms. They only ever returned because of Dany and it makes sense that they will fade away once she is gone.

Game of Thrones finaleThere were other truly powerful moments in this episode, despite its flaws. The opening scenes were shot in silence as the characters took stock of the wreckage of King’s Landing and the destruction wrought by the dragon. Peter Dinklage gave another amazing performance as Tyrion and I was particularly moved by his finding the corpses of his siblings from beneath the rubble (though how Cersei and Jaime’s bodies managed to stay relatively intact after being crushed by debris is beyond me). There’s some suspension of disbelief required and it helps to appreciate how this scene was framed almost as a painting, the fall of the Lannisters.

Tyrion surprisingly survived everything and effectively shaped the future of Westeros. It’s slightly hilarious (and I think that even he appreciates this) that all the lords and ladies still follow his advice after all his mistakes. He was convinced that he would die and instead is cursed to live the rest of his days as the Hand of the King, doomed to use his cunning and skills at governing.

The remaining representatives of the great houses gathered at the Dragonpit to decide on the future. While it was interesting to see Yara Greyjoy, the grown up Lord Arryn, someone from Dorne who reminded me of Oscaar Isaac, and even Edmure Tully, it was clear that they were just there as callbacks and not really to have any deciding power. Edmure Tully tried, he really did, and it was hilarious. Sam did try to make the case for a democracy but Westeros wasn’t ready for that yet (I had some hopes after Drogon’s burning but it’s still too soon.)

Game of Thrones finaleIn  what will surely be a controversial choice, Tyrion suggests that Bran becomes the new king. And surprisingly, after very weak protests, everyone else agrees. This was a truly surprising development and the moment Bran said that he had come all this way for this, I could already hear the cries of outrage from the Game of Thrones fandom.

While I’m not completely sold on this decision, I can see why it makes sense. Whatever Bran lacks in governing experience or combative skills, he more than makes up for in sheer knowledge of pretty much everything. And at least, emotionless husk that he is, he won’t be prone to the passions that have often led previous monarchs astray. I can see this working out, though I’m not sure that everyone will be on board with essentially the Starks running everything, what with Sansa ruling in the North as well. But that’s Tyrion’s problem now.

Game of Thrones finaleThe last Lannister must forever preside over the Small Council, now composed of better people, though Varys is still very much missed. Sam is Grand Maester and Brienne is Lord Commander. Ser Davos is there and so is Ser Bronn, as wily and persistent as ever. At the very least, Tyrion will never be bored and the council will not have to contend with a temperamental ruler. They have a chance to truly rebuild the world from the ashes left by Cersei, Dany, and all who came before them.

Brienne had a moment as well, and though some argue that she still had to prop up Jaime’s story in the end, I was still proud that she was the one who wrote the rest of his story. And she’s Lord Commander of the Kingsguard! She’s come so far and she deserves all the honor and authority now bestowed upon her.

Game of Thrones finaleHouse Stark really came out on top. It seems fitting that we started this whole journey with the Stark children and now that they’ve all grown up and gone through so much on their own, they are finally able to pursue their destinies.

The Stark sisters provided the most satisfying moments in the finale. We have Arya the Explorer, choosing to do something very in-character and to explore the world beyond Westeros. Freed from the grips of revenge and rid at last the list that haunted her from years, she can now give in to her wild and carefree spirit, seeking the unknown and growing stronger as she learns more.

Game of Thrones finaleSansa finally took her rightful place as Queen of the North, having insisted on independence and finally achieving what generations of Starks had not. She has proven to be a capable queen, clever and cunning but also capable of great compassion and kindness, always putting the welfare of her people above all. Her people love and respect her and she has won the loyalty of all her liege lords. This was what she was always meant to be and her triumph is absolutely glorious.

So Jon returns to the Wall and the Night’s Watch, probably to pursue a simple, quiet, White-Walker-free life in a way just like his kinsman, Maester Aemon. The accident of his birth did not force him to assume a role he never desired and I’m glad the writers made this choice. As much as the Northmen supported him, Jon was never going to be an effective king and since his main mission was really to mobilize everyone against the White Walkers, his job was done. And he at least got to reunite with good boy, Ghost, who had been so shamefully sidelined in the last few episodes.

Game of Thrones finaleAs always, the cast of Game of Thrones gave compelling and unforgettable performances, elevating the show despite the flaws of the writing. Likewise, Ramin Djawadi’s score captivated until the end and all the work he has put in for the last eight years has given us gifts in the form of the haunting themes for each of the major houses. If only for the scale of everything put on screen this season, Game of Thrones has triumphed and I applaud the hard work of all the members of the cast and crew who devote years of their lives to be able to bring us this incomparable experience.

In terms of sheer spectacle and narrative ambition, there is nothing on television like Game of Thrones and it effectively paved the way for more fantasy dramas to be appreciated in our collective consciousness. The epic drama may not have lived up to the hype towards the end but that’s only because it aimed impossibly high. The fact remains that Game of Thrones became a cultural phenomenon and it has left an undeniable legacy in fantasy and television.