So the series that’s defined a generation of television over the last ten years is over, and I have lots of thoughts and emotions, but even more questions. I’m not going to run through every single plot point beat for beat, just a few of the major points, some good, some not so much.
So let’s talk about Game of Thrones Season 8 Episode 6.
We pick up following the aftermath of Daenerys and her righteous anger, unleashed on the capital city. And throughout this entire sequence there are some brilliant choices with evoking shellshock and Fascistic overtones with Daenerys’ words and motivations that are quite chilling, and pretty well done. It’s a surprisingly slow scene, started off by some tension between Jon and Grey Worm as they nearly come to blows over whether to execute prisoners. That same tension doesn’t really go anywhere though, as we’ll see later.
The real capstone of the scene is Tyrion basically telling Dany to take her Hand and shove it, in not so many words. She reveals that she knows about his freeing Jaime, and has him arrested for treason. This is of course after giving a really dark speech to the Dothraki and Unsullied which means there’s more bloodshed on the way.
We then get a scene of Tyrion trying to convince Jon to “do the right thing” and it is very obvious to the viewer what that means. Daenerys has to die for what she has done, and Jon has to do it. This whole bit feels more like Benioff and Weiss arguing with their own justifications for why the story went out this way than actually telling a story though. But that’s not the thing about this whole build-up to the obvious conclusion that makes me feel cheated.
The death of Dany also further undermined her character of the last 7 seasons in a new way. During the exchange leading up to her death, there’s a crucial moment that I just cannot stand.
“What about all the other people,” Jon Snow asks his queen, “Who think they know what’s good?”
“They don’t get a choice,” Dany responds, essentially damning many more to die. Complete and utter destruction of the element of her character that was built around giving those who had no choice an opportunity at freedom.
And I’ll be damned, the show actually even made me feel pity and sadness at this scene. Not because Jon stabbed his love, but the episode made me care about Drogon. His mournful and pained scream is both an example of excellent sound design for the show and a clever use of emotional cues to evoke a response from the audience.
The next scene is where things roll downhill really fast. There’s Drogon melting the Iron Throne, which is some really obvious symbolism, but OK I’ll let it slide, gotta build a new world after all, why not start with a new throne. But what I cannot forgive is that the screen cuts and we see literally none of the aftermath of Jon actually doing the deed. Did he just confess and somehow not end up getting murdered by the Unsullied? Because we all know the honorable fool could never lie about what he just did.
We get a black cut to the Dragon Pit of King’s Landing, and there’s an ominous silence over the whole scene. Which given the tone set by Dany’s dramatic Season 7 entrance at the same location, it’s a nice touch to illustrate the lack of her presence over the city. The assembled lords and ladies of many of the major houses are here to decide what to do next. There’s lots of jokes and jibes back and forth, with Davos and Tyrion playing the refs. Which is kind of weird considering the whole thing is basically a hostage negotiation interlaced with a trial.
The real crux of the scene is of course who is crowned king, and it’s the moment where House Stark rips off the mask and punks everyone in the room. Bran the Broken, yes that’s his new title, is named king via a coalition of the assembled power-brokers. And not only does Gendry go along with it, but so does everyone else. They all just magically agree, and it gets even more irritating when Sansa puts her conditional support behind her brother, a condition that the North declares independence.
And this was the exact moment I just had to bang my head into my desk. All of the conflict and subterfuge that built up around the War of the Five Kings, and House Stark just YOLO’d their way to power, via a magic tree wizard. There’s currently tons of theories swimming around the internet over whether Bran actually wanted this or if he’s just a pawn of darker forces, but I’ll leave that examination for another time.
Point is this, the way in which this story turn was executed is one of the many things that completely ruin the intent of the ending for me. The entire idea of “breaking the wheel” is undermined if instead of jockeying for one chair, the Game is now about a literal seat at the table of who gets to vote. No problems with the underlying political drama have actually been solved.
And I get it, you wanted that bittersweet, “the Starks really were the heroes all along” ending. And we got that I guess, but it just didn’t feel like it was earned. I was having an emotional reaction to what was happening, but because the season hasn’t given the audience time to digest and process, and thus become attached, the only feeling I was left with was emptiness.
And we see first hand that House Stark played everyone and got what they wanted. Hell, it’s even hinted that Bran knew all of this was going to happen and it was all worth it, which is just insane. In fact the show probably just setup another series of secession wars when minor noble houses realize they can do the same thing House Stark just did. Or when anyone displays a modicum of intelligence and figures out that the psychic King Who Wheelied could have actually changed the course of events. And even though we know from our perspective that fate is set in stone, it’s hard to accept that the people in-universe go along with that. Are the average nobles of Westeros going to accept that as an explanation for why an entire city had to be burned? In the words of Bobby B, there’s a war coming.
There’s a bunch of minor gripes too, like did the Unsullied just show up in Naath, mention Missandei, and get a free place to live? Did the Dothraki just fuck off back to Essos? WHAT THE CRAP HAPPENED TO SLAVERS BAY!??! Where the
Seven Six Hells were the rest of these Great Houses during the Long Night? Did the Long Night even matter to the South? Why was everyone opposed to the idea of democracy, when multiple examples of it in practice exist in ASOIAF/GOT? And if that was some kind of commentary on privilege and power, it’s yet another example of something needing more polish when it came to the writing.
Just so many things that make this disappointing, especially amid all the excellent technical aspects aside from the writing. The acting, cinematography, effects work, so much about this show deserves praise, and so much of it loses steam due to the problems with pacing.
The really saddening part about all of this though is that there are definitely ways to make this idea work. The show and its absurd pacing completely destroyed investment in the characters and ruined the suspension of disbelief, which is why all these issues and are so obvious and irritating. But that can be fixed, sadly it won’t be.
The epilogue of the series shows each of the endings of major characters, focusing almost entirely on the remains of House Stark. Sansa is crowned Queen in the North, and Arya sails West while Jon goes beyond the Wall one final time. And yes, he actually gave Ghost some pats. It’s a decent enough ending that I can’t really be too mad about, aside from once again coming back to the pacing of the whole affair.
The element I liked most was watching Brienne of Tarth fill out Jaime Lannister’s portion of the White Book, the tome that chronicles the deeds of the Kingsguard. Which by the way, now includes Ser Pod apparently.
To echo the words of Barristan Selmy from the books, “The best of them overcame their flaws, did their duty, and died with their swords in their hands. The worst … The worst were those who played the game of thrones.” Brienne of Tarth filling out Jaime’s missing history in the White Book is a fitting end to his story, even if the journey was fraught with issues. He knighted her, giving her something she always wanted, and now she returned the favor.
Plenty of other characters make appearances in the closing minutes, and it’s all very measured and open to interpretation. We see the new Small Council, complete with Bronn of Highgarden. And we close on a much lighter note than fans could really expect. The realm seems peaceful, but I can guarantee that the internet isn’t right now.