That’s all, folks. Game of Thrones cashed in its chips last night, with the HBO show airing its final episode amid a firestorm of controversy. Some fans hated the direction the show took during its final lap, while others were satisfied with all of the explode-y things and unearned character beats.
As you might have guessed, the end of Thrones had us feelin’ emotions. Let’s take a look back at this week, and the series overall, and try to make sense of what exactly transpired. There are “spoilers,” or, more accurately, “descriptions of things that happened.” Read on, for the very last time!
Very generally speaking, I am (HAPPY/UNHAPPY) with the way this whole thing ended because…
ERIK HENRIKSEN: Very generally speaking, I am UTTERLY AMBIVALENT. Game of Thrones has now technically ended, and it did so in the most underwhelming way imaginable, and that is… fine? Sure, it’s fine. Why not. Everything’s fine. Fuck it.
NED LANNAMANN: Pretty unhappy, but not exactly disappointed, because I think we all knew this was going to be a bumpy landing. I thought there were some good bits in this final episode, particularly the scene with Jon, Dany, and Drogon in the throne room, but there was just as much bullshit and a weird amount of sentimental schmaltz. I’m sure our Emmy-winning lead actor had it in his contract that sometime during the final episode, he’d get a big emotional scene where he gets to be all watery-eyed, but seeing Tyrion first able to locate and then dig up his siblings from a giant pile of rubble wasn’t just far-fetched—it was boring.
JASMYNE KEIMIG: I can’t say I’m happy, but, with the way they clumsily set up everything this season, I think it ended in the neatest way possible. The Bran twist was silly to me and so was sending Jon to the wall. I’m happy that Winterfell is now its own kingdom with Sansa at its head (though Westeros should be a representative democracy lol). The Dany twist was inevitable, but poorly written. There are still so many rich and interesting loose ends to the show that it’s a bit enraging to think about them all. But, hey, Ser Bronn is the master of coin, y’know?
SUZETTE SMITH: This episode hit the emotional notes it set out to hit, and contained at least two very good speeches by Tyrion. I am not unhappy, but this is also possibly because I see a lot of people venting frustration formlessly and I always try to do something different.
This episode tried to answer fans, like Erik, who complained about the show’s “instant teleportation of characters across a massive continent” by taking us on really long, brooding walks through King’s Landing. Although Tyrion’s magically divined trek to uncover his artfully dead siblings made a little more sense than that True Detective season 3 pink room discovery, it’s still a good example of how hitting preordained emotional blocking forced the characters forward at a pace that felt unnatural and unbelievable.
Also, the last shot in this show is like a reversal of the final scene in Lars Von Trier’s Antichrist. Is this an Antichrist prequel?
LEILANI POLK: I’d say the unhappiness is an overarching feeling I’ve had throughout the season. There were some brief adrenaline highlights and moments of pleasure, sure. And this episode on its own was just fine. In fact, the last 15 minutes almost felt appropriate, like, if they’d had a few more seasons to stretch out to those moments, those moments would have felt perfectly right. Sansa, queen on the throne in the North. Jon Snow even further north, brooding about life. Arya off to adventure some more.
As it was, everything just felt so trite, other than the whole Bran thing, which wasn’t what I expected at all, but, I guess, it was better than… what? Jon Snow, a discovered Targaryen, on the throne? While we’re on the subject, what the fuck was up with that whole bogus plotline? We find out he’s a Targaryen and then… that information is essentially useless. Impotent. DOA. I get they were trying to make it poetic; Master Aemon was once the last known surviving Targaryen in Westeros, until his death, and the irony that now Jon Snow, the actual last known surviving Targaryen in Westeros, will die at Castle Black, too (or really, kicking it with the wildlings). But even Jon Snow’s reunion with Ghost felt hollow. Almost as if it was spliced in after fan backlash.
In sum, it could’ve been a lot worse, I guess. But it could’ve been a whole lot better, too.
Speaking as someone who has never been in charge of a multi-million dollar, internationally produced, and intensely scrutinized TV show, the thing I would have done to make the show better is…
JASMYNE KEIMIG: Give it more time. Even just a couple more episodes. Everything felt super rushed and undeveloped. I think its viewers deserved a bit more simmering—it’s what drew everyone to the show in the first place. And GoT is one of those shows that (seemingly) has a mandate from both viewers and the network to do as they please. It’s probably exhausting as a showrunner, but goddamnit, I want more!
NED LANNAMANN: They should have stopped trying to surprise us and just told a good story. As soon as the final horizon came in sight—which came probably somewhere around episode two of this season—the show got stuck in an untenable position of having to check all the boxes before running out the clock while also trying to keep the audience in some amount of suspense. I think they were trying to turn the inevitable story beats into twists, which made them feel fraudulent. All the groundwork was laid for Dany to become destructive, but the story treated it like it was a twist, and it felt wrong. There are a few other examples of things like this, too.
LEILANI POLK: Give it some more room to breathe, for the love of all things good. My initial aversion to the show stemmed from the fact that I didn’t believe the show’s creators could possibly translate George R. R. Martin’s universe onto the small screen. But the show worked so well because the people making it were deliberate, and took the time to draw out plotlines, build intrigue, and create believable, compelling characters, even if some details had to be forsaken.
All that shit went out the window with this season, and I get it—the writers were only given bare-bones plot points to work with. But. Those bones could have been fleshed out so much better with even one more season and a bit more thoughtfulness. I realize I am stating the obvious here but it needs to be stated again.
SUZETTE SMITH: I’m not convinced that what Daenerys did to King’s Landing earns her an immediate death sentence. The United States did worse to Japan twice, and our boyfriend didn’t hug-stab us (is our boyfriend Canada?). Okay, I hear you. This is a fantasy land with fantasy ethics. The Sack of Kings Landing, which took place after Robert’s Rebellion, has always sounded pretty ruthless and yet Tywin Lannister and the Mountain weren’t stabbed by their boyfriends. Game of Thrones owed us a better story. Also, it’s unrepentantly sexist.
When Daenerys spoke to her two armies—each in their own language—whose trust she earned through separate, harrowing journeys, I was like, “Wait is Daenerys Bernie Sanders? Who is Bernie Sanders’ boyfriend because we need to keep those two apart.”
Also, I really miss Lady Lyanna Mormont and I’m sad she died.
EXT. GODSWOOD. NIGHT.
Shockingly, Arya CATCHES the cat’s paw’s knife—and then she STABS. The Valyrian steel blade SLICES into the Night King… who SHATTERS in a billion pieces of ice and glitter.
The biggest surprise of the final episode was…
NED LANNAMANN: Well, that council meeting at the dragon pits was totally unexpected! Because it didn’t make any sense! So let’s see—they listen to the prisoner who they’re ostensibly there to punish, and decide to do everything he says, and let half the kingdom splinter off while giving the most uncharismatic man in Westeros (who, it has to be pointed out, is also a member of the rebel northern family) a seat on the Iron Wheelchair. It just didn’t add up.
SUZETTE SMITH: Are dragons smart? How did the dragon know about the throne?
JASMYNE KEIMIG: Bran “the Broken” becoming King!!! What the hell!!! I could see how the show runners liked the idea that the person who doesn’t want to lead is the person most fit to, but—how is that not Jon? Jon is, like, the poster boy for that idea in the universe of this show. He literally came back from the dead. Why would the three-eyed raven want to rule over us petty humans? And with Tyrion advocating for him like some sort of dramatic PR agent! It was really an unbelievable moment for me and flew in the face of everything I’d expected of the show in the worst way.
LEILANI POLK: Do we need to talk for a moment about Drogon burning up the Iron Throne, because he knew what it meant symbolically—BUT HE DIDN’T TORCH THE PERSON WHO OBVIOUSLY KILLED HIS MOMMY? But seriously, the biggest surprise was definitely Bran on the Iron Throne. Then Sansa not bending the knee. THEN THE KING OF DORNE SAYING NOTHING? No one said nada about it? Also, who was the Stark dude who stood up and started making a speech about why he’d be an appropriate candidate, and everyone was like, who are you again? I had that same reaction.
ERIK HENRIKSEN: “Really, the most important thing in a leader is who has the best story,” Tyrion proclaims, because okay, whatever, Tyrion. “We need someone who’s learned so much, and knows all of us so well, and who knows not only how to get shit done but how to use their life experience to best represent all of us. And so, the new ruler of this utterly decimated continent is…”
* camera pans RIGHT UP TO SANSA STARK, the one person in this suddenly dumb show who would be REALLY GREAT at this lousy job *
“Bran! All hail Bran the Broken!! Truly, no king will ever inspire as much passion and trust as this weirdo sociopath wizard who one time turned into a crow for no reason and never tells anyone what he’s thinking or why, despite magically knowing literally everything in the entire universe! Sansa, don’t be sad—you can go do whatever you want up in your cute little ice kingdom. You know, throw tea parties, or whatever girls do? All hail Bran the Broken!”
And the most predictable part was…
JASMYNE KEIMIG: Jon killing Dany. It was pretty much in the stars once he found out they were relatives and only strengthened when she decided to raze King’s Landing. It was so cheesy and bad though! An unsatisfying end to a cultural shifting character. She died too quick and too beautiful—I really felt like both Jon and Dany got sold out to that ending and I wish it had been different.
NED LANNAMANN: Dany’s death. That was basically preordained.
ERIK HENRIKSEN: Jon skewering Dany, I guess? Though… I dunno. As author Chuck Wendig pointed out in his great post-mortem of GoT‘s narrative flailings/failings, “Men decide her fate in the margins of the show. She has no awareness, no reckoning. She’s there. And then she’s not. I do understand that this show sometimes gives us send-offs that are lacking in pomp and glory, but this felt like they were euthanizing her. It was her time, those gathered in hospice say as they casually up her morphine intake.” This moment felt very much like it was inevitable (maybe because in the scene right beforehand, Tyrion basically turned to the camera and said, “This is inevitable“) and devoid of any emotional or intellectual significance. And then a dragon melted a chair, because cool! Angry dragon! Huh. Now that I write this out, I’m realizing this scene might embody everything dumb about Game of Thrones‘ ending.
SUZETTE SMITH: When I was in college (and this show was just starting) I had a professor who knew someone working on the opening title credits for this show. That professor was all Bran, all the time, never giving up on Bran “our man” First of His Name. Now I wonder if people working on this show have always known it would be Bran. Hoping this comes off better in the books. Betting it will.
I wish the show had given us more of…
LEILANI POLK: King Bran warging. Like, when they were all sitting around at the table in their first meeting, and they’re like, any Drogon sightings? And Bran’s like, I’ll look for him? It would have been so much cooler had they made him warg right there at the table. Give his council a taste of that Bran weirdness. Sadly, no more warging from Bran. He almost seemed normal, which was oddly disappointing.
JASMYNE KEIMIG: DRAGONS! Secretly the whole show I wanted Dany to find like twelve more dragon eggs and have the litter fly around everywhere. They are so beautiful and scary.
SUZETTE SMITH: What happens on a show (in a film, in a book, etc.) is less important than how it happens. Game of Thrones has had some trouble with how things happen.
NED LANNAMANN: We abandoned Sansa and Bran for the end stretch, so I would’ve liked to have seen more of them. And Arya ended up being kind of useless after killing the Night King. I would’ve liked to see her do one more badass assassin thing instead of help some strangers avoid getting crushed by rocks.
ERIK HENRIKSEN: The 10 hours of deleted scenes that made Dany’s arc in any way believable and engaging, and that, as with all great Game of Thrones stories, said some smart, interesting stuff about the corrupting nature of power, the dangers of self-mythologizing, and if one is inherently destined to fail should they naïvely attempt to heal an irredeemably diseased world. But I bet those’ll be on the Blu-ray.
My MVP of the entire series was…
SUZETTE SMITH: Ser Brienne.
JASMYNE KEIMIG: It’s really hard to say. My first impulse is towards Sansa who, in the beginning of the series, was characterized as a haughty preteen who just wanted to be queen. And in a circuitous and often traumatic way, she got there. She survived some of the worst and most violent men in Westeros to become the most competent and strongest leader in the realm. In a perfect GOT universe, the ends shouldn’t justify the means, though, even though that’s what was suggested in episode four. I’d also nominate Samwell Tarly who went from nervous virgin to becoming a father, white walker killer, trusted advisor, protector of the realm, and non-virigin maester. Plus, he, like “invented” the idea of democracy in this episode. I’m throwing Arya and Drogon in there too because both have been a delight to watch grow.
NED LANNAMANN: I don’t know about the entire series—the Hound was my favorite, but he didn’t make it to the finish line—but the most interesting character this week was Drogon. He (or she, or it) displayed a surprising amount of intellectual and emotional complexity: He realized it was ambition that did Dany in, and instead of going tit-for-tat with the guy who physically plunged a knife into her, he took it out on the symbol of her hunger for power, turning it into hot goo. Yay symbolism!
ERIK HENRIKSEN: Hot Pie! He was the only one smart enough to stay the fuck out of this mess, and thus, unlike just about everyone else I can think of, has remained unscathed. If we don’t get an Arya the Pirate spinoff, maybe we can get a Great Westerosi Bake Off starring Hot Pie. Lady Olenna and Tormund could be Mary and Paul! Wait, Lady Olenna’s dead, you say? Oh, so NOW you care about narrative consistency?
LEILANI POLK: It’s a toss-up between Arya and Sansa. I lean to Arya—girl kicked some righteous ass most of the series. But Sansa went through some hardcore PTSD-causing trauma, and even though she didn’t kick any ass, she made some pretty important maneuvers and landed on her feet with a crown on her head.
Now that all is said and done, the prevailing emotion I feel as I look back on all eight seasons is…
ERIK HENRIKSEN: 😀 😀 😀 😀 😀 😀 😐 🙁
LEILANI POLK: I feel drained, empty, a husk of disappointment and exhaustion. Regret, that it could have been done better. Satisfaction that a series of fantasy novels were turned into a successful series that people actually watched, and that it mostly fell well-done. Annoyance at all the copycats that are sure to come and be terrible. Excitement at the few that turn out to be good. Bring on the epic fantasy dramas! Also, I guess I’m kind of looking forward to His Dark Materials. Hopefully they treat Philip Pullman’s material with as much reverence as they did with GoT‘s first 6.5 seasons (and more reverence than the film version).
SUZETTE SMITH: It’s a bummer that Jon Snow won’t get to have a family and children, since he’s sort of been been a dad his whole life. (I mean sure he could. He could even have kids with Sansa, you Jonsa freaks, since they’re pretty much next door neighbors.), but we all know that he won’t because he’s a vow slave. I guess he’ll be a good dad to the people of the Night’s Watch. Here’s hoping they let some women in.
JASMYNE KEIMIG: A bit sad honestly! I don’t want to say this season undid a lot of the strong, positive emotions I had about GoT, but it definitely cheapens everything a bit. I never read the books, but now that it’s all over, I’d like to. If only to see how GRRM ends it. The actors did a really superb job with the continually more vacuous characterizations and the special and practical effects teams are mindblowingly unbelievable and only got better. I’m eager to go back and watch it all the way through, if only to luxuriate in the slow, methodical plotting of the earlier seasons. It was fun being part of this cultural moment and I’m curious how our perspective on the series and on this particular time will change going forward.
NED LANNAMANN: Exhaustion. I’m glad it’s over—the show as much as the discourse. I know book readers have been in anticipation even longer, but waiting two years for this final season took a lot of enthusiasm-wind out of my sails. And then just as the momentum for this season is building, poof it’s over. I wish this story had been told more consistently, with smaller gaps and less reliance on set-pieces, particularly towards the end. But now that it’s finally over I’m just ready to stop thinking about it for a while. *checks notes, sees GoT spinoff is scheduled to premiere next year, starts sobbing*
Read our earlier discussions of Game of Thrones‘ eighth and final season!
• Episode 1: “Winterfell”
• Episode 2: “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms”
• Episode 3: “The Long Night”
• Episode 4: “The Last of the Starks”
• Episode 5: “The Bells”