This headline may haunt me in years, weeks, or simply even hours to come as Game of Thrones, the once untouchable, unparalleled cinematic series, concluded with an episode, which (in my opinion) satisfies but is sure to set the Seven Kingdoms of social media ablaze with takes hotter than dragon fire.
The critical backlash to this series has been almost as enjoyable to watch as the show itself. Game of Thrones has slowly crept down the critical acclaim ladder since George R.R. Martin’s books reached their abrupt end. Yet, fans seem to have been swept up in the spectacle and grandeur, with showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss undoubtedly among those favouring style over substance.
The decision to stage the long-teased epic conclusions, from the Night King’s attack, the battle for the throne, and Jon Snow and Daenerys Targaryen’s doomed romance, in six episodes (run time notwithstanding) remains disappointingly baffling. The writing wasn’t there to justify this choice, with some scripts reading like they never made it beyond bullet points and storyboards.
One more note for the preamble: TV finales are hard to pull off. Rachel should never have got off the plane and Ted should have wrapped up how he met the mother pre-Robin reversal. Sending beloved characters off into the long night will never please everyone.
MAJOR SPOILER WARNING FOR THE FINALE FOLLOWS
It’s safe to say Game of Thrones won’t be the exception. The episode, titled ‘The Iron Throne,’ immediately deals with the fallout from the decimation of Kings Landing. The newly crowned Queen Daenerys promises to free every man, woman and child in Westeros, before promptly imprisoning Tyrion for treason.
Jon Snow mopes in Tyrion’s cell as Peter Dinklage delivers one of two notable speeches, which are likely to bag him another Emmy, proclaiming Varys’ insight correct – Dany is mad.
In a mid-episode recap, Tyrion (and the script) bend over backwards to say the seeds of senselessness have been sown all along. Yes, Dany was partial to combusting the odd slaveowner and was rewarded by the embrace of a crowd surf, which the show dwelled on more than the executions by fire. This may all make sense on a complete re-watch, but the characterisation of Daenerys has been a whiplash-inducing, hand-break turn this season.
Jon agrees and drives a dagger through Dany’s heart in possibly Thrones’ most tranquil death, which is beautifully played by Emilia Clarke, who has been stellar in a stale season. Drogon, the uninspired named dragon, pinpoints his frustration on the Iron Throne, melting the uncomfortable eyesore into liquid metal. Symbolism.
Time jumps long enough for the last of Westeros’ lords and ladies to gather in the capital to debate Tyrion and the kingdom’s fate. This entire sequence was my favourite of the episode. Maybe because it reminded me of Thrones of old, where the political court was in session with the sharpest minds debating strategy; a component that I didn’t realise I missed.
Every major character still alive, including those who sat out the world-changing events of the season, were swayed by Tyrion to appoint Bran the Broken king, as he possesses all knowledge, or can’t father children (as Sansa bluntly states) – the logic isn’t sound but it gives Bran a purpose at long last, which feels in keeping with his arc.
Sansa however, in a move which has already ignited Scottish Nationalist Twitter, declares independence for the North and takes her place on the last throne in the seven six kingdoms as Queen in the North, delivering the most satisfying character end of the series.
As for the other Starks, Arya sets off to disprove flat earth theory by sailing “west of Westeros” in an oddly incomplete send off that’s slightly too happily ever after. Destroying the Night King was Arya’s destiny, but I expected a final face swap murder (an ability that has curiously vanished) but alas, there was no one left to kill.
Jon meanwhile goes back to black and re-joins the Night’s Watch as punishment, before petting his dog and heading to live beyond the wall, where the character was always most at home. I suspect fans will feel cheated by this, but I appreciate the symmetry of the hero’s journey; a schmaltzy send-off is perfect for Game of Thrones’ archetypal lead.
As for the rest, Tyrion, Bronn, Brienne, Davos and Sam comprise of the new King’s counsel. They’re all better than what came before and that’s a win in a post-tyrannical world, I guess.
Game of Thrones may not be the best TV show of all time. In fact, it’s not even the best HBO show of the past decade (see: The Leftovers, Veep and Barry). But, it’s certainly advanced the televisual art form to an extraordinary height, the likes of which, well, let’s wait and see.
The final season will forever be a tarnish on the legacy, but the finale, will for some, heal those mental wounds.