GAME OF THRONES Review: “The Iron Throne”

It finally ends.

Game of Thrones is over, and I have realized that I had no expectations except that, well, the show was going to end. There were things I would and would not have wanted to see, but short of not resolving anything, I’m hard-pressed to think of a real surprise or deal-breaker that would have fundamentally transformed my understanding of the show, in terms of technique, characters, story or tone. All of which is to say I felt like “The Iron Throne,” the series finale, proved largely satisfying after eight seasons of incredible drama.

Opening with Tyrion’s suitably horrified reaction to Daenerys’ destruction of King’s Landing, the major players in her siege come to terms with its repercussions: Jon is stunned and, has become custom for him, confused; Arya sets her sights on Dani as the tyrant she may have to slay; and Grey Worm ruthlessly executes Cersei’s soldiers in the streets. But when Daenerys arrives to celebrate her victory, she speaks in Dothraki tongue - which crucially, Jon and Tyrion cannot understand - not about ruling benevolently, but waging war until “the wheel has broken,” without realizing that she’s now the one making it spin. Tyrion, however, understands enough to know that she can and will not show mercy, especially not to him, and submits to her guards after throwing his Queen’s Hand marker in disgust.

The subsequent conversation between Tyrion and Jon feels like a case study in Jon’s dopiness; notwithstanding his many virtues, critical thinking does not seem to be one of them. So Tyrion underlines it for him: “Love is not more powerful than reason,” Tyrion observes. But even if Jon’s sentimentality drives him, his choices are ultimately governed by reason, which is why he kills Dani, if only after desperately trying to search for a hint of evidence that Tyrion’s assessment of her is wrong. As always, the show remains about power’s ability to corrupt - not just individuals, but an entire worldview, as Tyrion suggests as he delineates her evolving sense of self-justification, her sense of right and wrong, in a world where she has the power to level cities over the course of a long morning.

Upon discovery of her death, Dani’s final “child” Drogon yields to his own grief, and destroys the Iron Throne - a more convincing metaphorical act than narrative one, but still an effective demonstration of how small its power truly is. Spared death from Drogon, Jon is apprehended by Grey Worm, whose own fury and grief demands a different sort of resolution - one in blood. But before he can satisfy his own thirst for vengeance, Grey Worm must bring Tyrion before a council of leaders from the seven kingdoms that includes Samwell Tarly, Davos Seaworth, Edmure Tully, Yara Greyjoy, Brienne of Tarth, and Arya, Bran and Sansa Stark among others. Rather than deciding Tyrion’s fate, they ask him to help choose a new King to rule the seven kingdoms. He suggests Bran, and all except for Sansa endorse him.

Truthfully, Bran is probably the right choice in terms of his perspective as the three-eyed raven, but he’s also the most boring choice as well, owing in no small part to Isaac Hempstead-Wright’s performance in the role. (It isn’t that he’s “bad” as Bran but that in faithfully bringing to life a character who has knowledge of virtually all of time and therefore needn’t be much concerned with petty concerns, he seems like a guy who goes to an overcrowded party and then stands quietly in a corner watching everyone else.) Nevertheless, it’s not a sexy choice nor is it one that will validate the empowerment narratives that have been constructed around the show’s female characters over the course of its eight seasons. I suppose I wouldn’t have minded seeing Sansa on the Iron Throne, but her choice to assume the throne as the Queen of the North feels much more right for her as a character.

And then came the endings - not just learning each character’s fate, but seeing them advance towards it, rewardingly, with a sense of, well if not in all cases optimism, then at the very least understanding and peace. Jon Snow is returned to the Night’s Watch, which is a pretext for his return to the lands north of the wall and a comforting reunion with what has become his real family, the Wildlings (including an absolutely wonderfully understated greeting from Tormund). To atone for his mistakes, Tyrion becomes the hand of King Bran, where he must contend with a motley crew as his council, including Davos, Brienne, Samwell and an unruly Bronn. And Arya decides to strike out on her own, beyond “where the maps end” to seek her fortune and have adventures on her own terms for once.

In her final scene alone, Brienne gets the opportunity to finish Jaime’s story, and it was this scene I think I found most affecting because it seemed to best encapsulate the characters and themes of Game of Thrones. Brienne did love Jaime. She was disappointed that he left and returned to reunite with a try to save Cersei. But she was in the moment heartbroken less because of personal disappointment than because he had not accepted the possibility that he was a good person or could live a good person’s life. She from her first scenes was an honorable person - a chivalrous warrior in the most idyllic of ways - and even if she harbored that pain, or was let down by what it meant for her, she understood his choices. It’s a lesson that many fans could certainly stand to learn.

“The Iron Throne” was, I think, as complete and comprehensive a finale as we could have expected from this series in the way its creators chose to wrap it up. I would agree that the final two seasons have felt rushed - be that because of budgetary limitations via effects, star salaries and more - or because they inherited a semi-rudderless ship in the absence of George R.R. Martin’s final book. But in spite of the elasticity of its storytelling, I also think that the season, and the series, brings together its most important stories in a satisfying, conclusive and most of all fully earned way. Of course, some won’t like it, and some will. I did. But the best we can all hope is to understand it, and for better or worse, David Benioff and D.B. Weiss provide all the tools anyone should need.