After four months of gasping, cheering, and yelling at the TV, my journey through Game of Thrones came to an end this past week. In some ways I’m glad I waited till the show was completely done to start watching it (I’ll delve into that thought more later), but I’m also a little sad I missed out on some of the episode-by-episode discussions that happened while the show was airing.
I was really curious to see what my thoughts on the final season would be, after I heard that it was controversial amongst fans. As I’ve mentioned before, I heard spoilers about how most of the major character arcs ended before I started watching this show, so I didn’t get caught up in guessing who would ultimately take the Iron Throne.
In the end, I’m pretty happy with where most of the character arcs ended up, though I will say that the conclusion felt a little rushed and needed more fleshing out.
The North remembers
As a fan of House Stark, I was going to be happy with any member of the Stark family ending up on the Iron Throne, and I think Bran is an interesting choice. It has some nice narrative symmetry, bringing the show full circle (since Jaime Lannister basically started this whole mess by pushing Bran out a window). I also like that the new leader of Westeros didn’t win the throne through violence and hadn’t been seeking power for its own sake.
I will say that if “King Bran” was always going to be endgame, the showrunners needed to do a little better job of foreshadowing that and giving Bran a more active role throughout the series. Maybe part of that disjointed feeling has to do with the fact that the show outpaced George R.R. Martin’s books, and so the showrunners had to come up with their own conclusion to the story. But still, they could have started making Bran more of a major player back in season 5, when the show really started diverging from the books.
I also love, love, love that Sansa is crowned Queen in the North. She’s had to suffer through so much, and I’m so happy that she survived all the dangerous political games going on around her and outlasted everyone who tried to use her as a pawn. Again, similar to Bran, I wish the show had done more to set up the North declaring its independence, but it makes sense that they’d want to do that after all the bad stuff that’s happened to them. It’s also great to see Arya heading off on her own adventures (spin-off series, anyone?).
The Dragon Queen
Now, one of the most controversial aspects of the series finale is Dany’s abrupt turn to the dark side. While I was okay with this plot twist, I totally understand those who were disappointed and wanted something different for her character.
The show should have started showing us Dany’s fall from the light much sooner, and with more nuance this could have been a truly fascinating and heartbreaking character arc. Instead, Dany simply snaps two episodes from the end of the series and starts burning literally everything in King’s Landing, even innocent children. It just didn’t make sense for her character at that time. The series needed to do more to show how (and why) she arrived at that point.
I do believe that it’s more difficult to show a hero’s fall from grace than a villain’s redemption, and off the top of my head, I can’t think of an example where the former has been done really well (although I’m sure there’s one that I’m simply forgetting). We did see hints of Dany’s darkness before the final season, as she sometimes responded too harshly to those who opposed her.
The show could have spent more time reflecting on Dany’s sense of justice and demonstrating how her desire for vengeance gradually drowns out her compassion. Dany believes it is her right to rule the Iron Throne; is that fair, just, and noble, or is there a darker sense of entitlement running underneath the surface? There are so many fascinating psychological and philosophical issues that the show just didn’t explore.
The fall of the Lannisters
Another character arc that seemed a little too abrupt was Jaime Lannister’s. He actually leaves Cersei to go fight in the battle against the Night King, and it seems like maybe he’s finally on a better path. Although Jaime has never really been one of my favorite characters, even I was kinda rooting for him to have a redemption arc.
Then, after he demonstrates his love for Brienne, he just decides, “Never mind — I’m going back to King’s Landing to be with Cersei!” He and Cersei die in each others’ arms while rubble collapses on top of them.
Cersei is probably my favorite villain on this show, and I believe she deserved a more epic death scene than that. I would have preferred to have Jaime actually reject Cersei in the end. Maybe he lies to Brienne so that she won’t follow him to King’s Landing and place herself in harm’s way, and then he kills Cersei himself. Maybe he still dies in the destruction of King’s Landing, but Brienne finds out the truth and knows that Jaime died a hero.
As it stands, I’m really mad that Jaime broke my girl Brienne’s heart, and she deserved better. I know that in the final episode you see that scene where Brienne is writing about all of Jaime’s deeds in that fancy book, but in my personal head-canon she scratches all that out and writes lots of dirt about him in there instead.
The King in the North
I’m still trying to decide how I feel about Jon Snow’s character arc. He goes from being King in the North, to one of Dany’s greatest allies, and then he ends up killing her once he sees what she’s become. He still loves her, even though they’re related and she’s turned to the dark side. (It’s really, really complicated.)
If I hadn’t known the ending already, I probably would have been rooting for Jon to take the Iron Throne, and after all his moments of triumph, it is a little disappointing that he’s basically exiled and sentenced to return to the Night’s Watch.
Yet it does have a sense of Shakespearean tragedy to it; Jon gives up his destiny and a woman he deeply cares about in order to do what he believes is right for the future of Westeros. I think that if the series had gotten one more season, to really flesh out Dany’s fall and the final battle for the throne, the writers also would have had enough time to give us a really deep arc for Jon. Maybe it still ends in his exile, but they could have made that whole arc more meaningful.
While I’ve spent a lot of time in this blog talking about some of the drawbacks of the final season, I don’t want to end on a negative note because I really, really loved this show.
From season 1 up until the battle against the Night King and his army of the dead (season 8, episode 3), Game of Thrones is some of the best television I have ever watched, or probably ever will watch. While the final few episodes of the series were a little disappointing/rushed, that doesn’t take away from how amazing and narratively rich this series is as a whole.
Peter Dinklage leads a master class in acting every single episode. I never expected it, but Theon Greyjoy had an amazingly beautiful redemption arc, and I felt genuine sadness when he died. I loved Jorah Mormont’s unrequited love story, and it was fitting that he died protecting Dany. Overall the battle scenes and special effects in this series were amazing, and I got excited every single time the dragons showed up.
I’m so glad I finally decided to watch Game of Thrones, and I can definitely see myself returning to certain arcs and rewatching my favorite scenes (although I never, ever want to watch the Red Wedding again). In the end, I am glad that I heard some spoilers about the final season, because it helped me adjust my expectations regarding the final episodes. Even though I personally would have changed some things, I’m happy I went on this journey.
Game of Thrones is one of my all-time favorite TV shows now, and I’m looking forward to talking more about it with other fans now that I know the complete story.