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Editors' note: Big-time spoilers below for the "Game of Thrones" series finale.
Gather round, my friends, and we shall tell an ancient story of … a story whose ending caused great commotion and disagreement among the people.
Those who wished for an ending that shocked or saddened, or introduced some new ominous threat or mythical idea — these people left the story angered and bereft, and voiced their displeasure to the tiny birds who tweet messages throughout the land.
But there were also folk who needed no further discomfort, who had been soured by the faux mysticism that ended other epic tales (cough: “Lost”), and who wished only for an ending that would give the story’s characters their due.
Your scribe, dear friends, is in the latter group.
But first, let’s go back to the beginning of the end, when we return to the dragon-ravaged city of King’s Landing. Tyrion walks through the ash-covered streets with a look that says, “Oops. Got that one wrong.” Jon Snow is still under the delusion that he can talk sense into people filled with vengeance and sociopathic rage. “We’ve killed enough people,” he suggests to Grey Worm, to which Grey Worm essentially responds, “Can’t talk, dude, I’m too busy slitting the throats of these quivering Lannister soldiers.”
Then Daenerys comes out to address her new subjects, in a scene painted so thick with Third Reich imagery that it’s a wonder she hasn’t grown a tiny black moustache. Speaking more tongues than Pete Buttigieg at a New Hampshire town hall, she repeats her campaign slogan, “Break the Wheel,” and declares to her crazed Dothraki and Unsullied followers that she will not stop being tyrannical until all of the people of the world have been liberated from tyranny.
Tyrion, whose pet peeves include circular logic and mass murderers, takes off his hand-of-the-queen pin and throws it down the steps. As he’s taken away to a dungeon and certain death, he shoots Jon a look that says, “Your move.”
But Jon is equivocating. He equivocates to Arya, who reminds him that Dany has a strong incentive to kill him, too. He equivocates to Tyrion, who tries explaining that Dany is now a little bit like the legendary Ser Justin of House Bieber, another youthful leader who let early fame and praise get to his head, so much that he started doing unreasonable things such as possibly spitting on his subjects.
Finally, Jon goes to see Queen Daenerys herself. She is standing, wild-eyed, in the wall-less, roof-less throne room of the Red Keep she recently destroyed, stroking her precious throne with a manicured hand, as apparently clinging to dragon scales does not chip one’s polish. Jon gives it one more go and asks her not to commit any more unnecessary murders. She tells him it would be especially romantic if he committed mass murder with her. At last, Jon realizes that “Break the Wheel” has a different meaning when you factor in that Dany is the wheel. So he delivers the longest kiss he has given her since discovering she is his aunt, while at the same time planting a dagger into her heart.
Give the tellers of this tale credit for dispensing with the inevitable so early in the episode.
Drogon the dragon senses that his mother is dead and descends on the scene. For a moment I was certain that Jon Snow would be literally toast, but instead Drogon unleashes his fiery fury on the Iron Throne, hewing to the fantasy rule that when things get too precious, they need to be melted in fire. Then Drogon flies away, carrying lifeless Dany in his talons.
And just like that, we flash forward long enough for Tyrion’s beard to have thickened. He faces gathering of the remaining major families of Westeros, including the three true Stark siblings, fan favorites Samwell Tarley and Ser Brienne of Tarth, Yara Greyjoy and the newly-minted Gendry Baratheon. Grey Worm, representing the remaining Daenerys loyalists, still wants to kill Tyrion, but everyone agrees that it’s up to a new king or queen of the Seven Kingdoms to decide.
And who should they be? Well, let’s just say there are roughly 24 people in the running, and they all want to make a case for themselves. Sam invents democracy on the spot, but the other lords and ladies just laugh uproariously.
Tyrion speaks up. The next leader of Westeros, he explains, should be one with the best story. And that, hands down, is Bran, who not only has a killer come-from-behind underdog tale, but also humility, an encyclopedic memory of past events and the ability to roll his eyes into the back of his head.
Sansa points out that Bran is physically unable to have either children or charisma, but Tyrion spins this as a positive. And thus, it is decided that the future leaders of Westeros will be chosen by a board of appointed rulers — a Supreme Court, if you will.
So “Bran the Broken” is declared king of the Six Kingdoms (yes, six, because Sansa announces that the North is seceding, to which Bran replies with an imperceptible nod). His first move is to make Tyrion his Hand, and while Grey Worm objects that Tyrion needs to be punished, Bran points out that the Lannister Imp — lover of sarcasm and earthly pleasures — will now have to be in a room with a humorless, expressionless man every day for a very, very long time.
And what of Jon Snow? Well, being a Targaryen doesn’t seem to matter to anyone anymore, so to keep the Unsullied from killing him, his former siblings negotiate an exile to the Night’s Watch, right back to where he started.
And thus cometh the ending that so divided the people: an extended goodbye sequence in which we see the remaining leaders of Westeros getting pretty much what they wanted. Sansa is a queen; Arya is free to explore the uncharted world; Grey Worm heads to Naath, though without his love. Brienne fills in Jaime Lannister’s entry in the WikiBook of Westeros Knights; Bronn gets the riches he always desired, and Sam the respect he deserves; Tyrion leads a WPA-style infrastructure program to rebuild King’s Landing.
We shall speak only briefly of the most cringeworthy moment of the episode, in which Sam delivers to Tyrion “A Song Of Ice And Fire” (the very book upon which the story is based) and Tyrion discovers that, despite getting top billing in the television show, he doesn’t make the cut in the printed version.
Instead, let’s dwell for a few moments on Jon Snow. He travels north to Castle Black, where he is reunited with his Wildling friends and Ghost, his direwolf. Before long, Jon “Aegon Targaryen” Snow exits the back side of the Wall and heads into the woods with the Free Folk, leaving Westeros behind for good, and breaking whatever remaining wheels might have needed to be broken.
So no, Westeros did not become a blissful republic, and Arya didn’t get to stab anyone else, and no one else died and there were no crazy surprises. And like many this season, your scribe mourned the fact that two of the most complex female characters on TV were reduced to deluded, raging, simple-minded murderesses.
But Jon didn’t win, or take the typical hero’s journey. Instead, he became the personification of a message he voiced in the episode — that your birth name doesn’t have to be your destiny, and the choice is yours. And after a long and tangled and thrilling and sometimes frustrating story, I’m willing to accept that as the final word.
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