Subtitle: The End
It’s been weeks since the series finale aired, but this recap proved difficult to write. I have at once too much and too little to say. It’s not that nothing happens – a lot happens. But there is very little action in this finale, and while there is quite a lot of talking, it’s not difficult to sum up what’s said. Closure arrives, but I’m left wanting.
We start in the aftermath of the dragon’s destruction of King’s Landing. Everything is broken, blood, and ash. Tyrion steps through the rubble with one purpose and the slimmest hope that his family got out. A hope that is dashed when he glimpses a golden hand amongst the rocks under the Red Keep. As the Lannister theme plays he uncovers the crushed bodies of his brother and sister and finally sobs. Dinklage remains very, very good, and it’s incredibly affecting.
Conquering Queen Daenerys, dressed in black leather just to drive her transformation to Darthnerys home, gives a speech to the throngs of Unsullied and Dothraki while Jon and Tyrion stare into the void and wonder how it happened. Daenerys’s speech is nearly word for word the one she gave to her then new Dothraki recruits back in season six (“Blood of My Blood”) which I’m sure is meant to show us she’s been this person all along. But back in season six the only people she burned alive were the misogynistic aristocrat tribe leaders who had literally just said they planned to rape her until she died. So. No, she hasn’t.
Anyway, Jon meets up with Arya, who he didn’t even know was down South, and she sums up their problem as ‘who’s gonna kill her, you or me?’ Neither Arya’s blood thirst nor Jon’s wide eyed trauma are surprising or out of character, but I’m sad we get this instead of any scene of his reaction to her taking down the Night King.
And the conversation feels redundant to the one between Varys and Tyrion two episodes ago, and the one between Tyrion and Jon coming up in two minutes – and seems only to serve the suggestion that Arya and not Jon will kill Daenerys, but I never believed it. I’m not a big fan of misdirection for the sake of misdirection and if Arya’s words are meant to sway Jon to action – which I would love! I want their relationship to matter! – it would have been more effective to have them speak after his talk with Tyrion.
Tyrion publicly denounces Daenerys and throws his Hand of the Queen pin to the ground. She’d already written him off since she knows he set his brother free and has him arrested and imprisoned with barely a glance and the same lack of affect with which she burned Varys. Darthnerys lives up to her namesake.
So Jon visits Tyrion in the random palace room he’s been stuck to await his fiery fate and they proceed to discuss exactly how honorable it would be to kill the Queen. The tldr; of which is Totally Honorable. It is an incredibly frustrating scene for a whole host of reasons.
First of all, it’s visually boring. The best thing I can say is it’s lit prettily. The room could be literally anywhere, there is nothing of interest or value to it, and the only movement is one or the other pacing because they’re too moody to stand still. Second, it’s a really long scene to depend entirely on the two actors. And I’m not saying they’re not up to the challenge – the entire cast has honestly acted their heart out the whole season – but it’s a lot of talking by two men in shock, exhausted and beaten down and desperate. The lack of affect in all these characters is accurate to the trauma of the situation but that makes the auditory boring, too.
But the main problem is the subject matter: the problem of Daenerys who has proven to be every bit the murderous conquerer her ancestors were, and her dead husband, too. Tyrion, who, again, already had this conversation two episodes ago, though he was on the other side, has come to the conclusion that the only solution is her death, and since he’s in prison, Jon is the one to do it. Jon balks, and stammers that she’s the Queen, and also he loves her, and Tyrion basically says love blinded them both to her villainy. And he presents a list of her actions over the years that plays like one of the many recent youtube dissertations on how Daenerys burning down the capital was inevitable and all of us who believed in her are just stupid. And it is as offensive as those videos. Tyrion is gaslighting Jon and the audience.
It would be so easy to contextualize the actions of Darthnerys in a way that supports her story instead of cheapening it. The common people of King’s Landing applauded Ned’s beheading and Cersei’s walk of shame and the capture of Ellaria and Yara. They love to heckle and shout, so have them do so when Cersei publicly executes Missandei. Give Daenerys a reason to hate them. She would still be wrong, still be too dangerous, but more relatable. It would make Tyrion and Jon’s choice more difficult. Isn’t that the kind of story we want?
Daenerys finds the throne room, snow falling through the cracks in the ceiling, and approaches the Iron Throne exactly as she had during her vision quest in the second season finale. She reaches a tentative hand – in that vision she failed to touch the throne, but this time she is able to grasp it. A small smile flickers across her face, a brief return to the girl at the beginning of the journey. But before she can take her seat, the throne she’s crossed the world to claim, Jon appears. It’s poetic enough to move me, but due more to the wider story than their relationship, however it is defined.
Daenerys is more alive in this scene than she has been in forever. Certainly this season, and possibly since arriving at Westeros. The Darthnerys shell fades and she appears young, hopeful, even joyful. It has the same energy as the scene between Anakin and Padmé on Mustafar, just before his duel with Obi-Wan, a swell of love, fear, relief, and impending doom. And I would have preferred that ending – Jon confronts Daenerys, is horrified to realize how far into the darkness she’s fallen, pleads for her to turn back, and then they are interrupted by Tyrion, and he is the one to kill her.
Instead, Jon pulls Daenerys into a passionate embrace and stabs her in the heart. It’s meant to be tragic, even romantic, but it leaves me cold, and tired, and angry. Daenerys dies unredeemed, betrayed by her lover, her advisors, and frankly, the writers.
Drogon appears, his dragon senses tingling, and upon finding her lifeless body he attacks the Iron Throne, melting it to nothingness. Drogon’s grief and rage mirrors my own and this is all very cathartic. And the destruction of the throne is powerful, it’s what we’ve been working towards all this time. Drogon then picks up Daenerys and flies away, leaving a retraumatized Jon to answer for his crimes.
And then everyone else descends on King’s Landing to pick up the pieces and reset the board. And that’s what is ultimately most dissatisfying. The moral seems to be we can’t break the wheel and anyone bold enough to try will end up dead or evil or both.
So Tyrion is taken out of his gloomy room and brought to the dragon pit for what is ostensibly his trial (?). There he finds the heads of the seven kingdoms and/or great households arrayed in a line, the Stark kids front and center (foreshadowing). They ask where Jon is, he was expected to be taken out of whatever gloomy room he’s been dropped in for this too, and Grey Worm explains well, he’s a murderer. Frankly I’m amazed that Grey Worm hasn’t killed them both, it’s not like he has anything left to live for!
Anyways it’s time to choose a king. It’s unclear how much time has gone by since the death of the Queen (and the other Queen), or who has been in charge all that time. Long enough for all the nobility to get there, and for Jon and Tyrion to become scruffy, and I would love it if these aristocrats were so out of touch that they made all these decisions and then left their bubble to discover that the commoners had already propped up their own democratic government – and Drogon was there backing them. But no.
Edmure Tully stands and starts to make a case to be crowned but Sansa tells him to sit down and shut up. No room for people willing to compromise and avoid bloodshed in their “new” kingdom. Sam suggests elections and everyone laughs at him. No room for democracy either. At which point they decide to ask Tyrion for his opinion because…. I honestly have no idea. I guess Sansa respects him. And though only like five lines earlier he was told he didn’t get a voice or vote, he proceeds to choose the king. And it’s Bran Stark.
Now, book readers (me included) have been saying for years that the show was ignoring Bran to their peril because it was clear that he has an important role to play. I thought it was naming the king, and/or maneuvering things to make it so, not becoming the king, but I could tell he was important and the show was failing his story. But given that the show completely failed his story this ending is ridiculous. Bran never rose to the status of a protagonist, all his arcs were side stories in service of the plot. But it’s Tyrion’s assertion that Bran has “the best story” that is utterly absurd. If Bran had the best story, the showrunners would have been more interested in telling it!!
But nearly everyone with ambition is dead, and as stated they’ve been without a king for some undisclosed amount of time so they all shrug and say sure, whatevs, all hail King Bran. I say nearly everyone because Sansa declines, making Bran king of merely six kingdoms and her Queen of the North.
It’s definitely the best part of this whole epilogue, though I am angry on Yara Greyjoy’s behalf – first of all, Yara should have stood up for Sam’s voting suggestion since that’s how it is done in the Iron Islands and second, she should have pulled a Sansa herself since they have also always considered themselves independent. But I guess she was too grief stricken to be paying attention (I do love that Yara is loyal to Daenerys to the end).
Anyway everyone agrees and they launch into a Return of the King level parade of endings. Tyrion goes to let Jon out of jail and tell him he’s returning to the Wall, which is a meaningless punishment that everyone can agree on. This is more poetry, what with it mirroring Aemon Targaryen’s fate as a secret king in exile and I wish I cared. Grey Worm and the Unsullied are given land and boats and he heads off to Naath. I called that but it’s a hollow victory.
The Starks say goodbye before scattering to the four winds. King Bran will be remaining in the capital, Queen Sansa returning to Winterfell, Jon is heading far North and Arya has somewhat inexplicably decided to find out what’s west of Westeros. I guess her journeys back and forth have instilled a wanderlust in her – and I’m not opposed to it. But it broke my heart when Jon told Arya he could visit her anytime and she implied they would never see each other again. I’d been waiting for their reunion so long and this result is just depressing.
Brienne completes Jaime’s page in the big book of knights, making him out to be a hero, and ending with dying protecting his queen. I am – conflicted. I like it as an end to the version of Jaime’s story the show gave us. He gets to be remembered as active and just, and dying to protect his queen redeems the first entry that he killed him king. On that level it is a poignant tribute to a complicated man, and a selfless act on her part. But it is also a let down and decidedly unfair for Brienne’s arc to end entirely focused on Jaime. Why doesn’t she turn the page and start her own?
We get a meeting of the small council, minus a few positions, but Tyrion’s working on that. Sam presents him with a book titled A Song of Ice and Fire, the history of the last few years, and the news that Tyrion doesn’t appear in it.
If, as earlier stated, stories are so important, and if, as seen in literally the most previous scene, what’s written to be remembered shapes our understanding of those stories — well, then, WHY is the only remaining central figure of what we’ve been watching considered too minor to include? If BRAN is the one that we were meant to care about and pay attention to, then why was he absent for an entire season???
I think possibly the point is that the characters who don’t make it into the books are the ones that matter, the ones this story is about. Martin has suggested as much and this episode gives us some nods to it – Brienne doesn’t write about herself, Bran’s story is considered better than Arya’s because it can be summed up easily as “crippled child becomes king”, Drogon has disappeared back into legend. But it is not presented smoothly.
Bran shows up for ten seconds and then heads off to become a bird in an attempt to find Drogon, because that’s the kind of leadership they need amirite? (He better stay away from my dragon!!!) Then Brienne and Bronn squabble about brothels and for real nothing has changed. It’s so depressing? I guess the silver lining is that some common people and lesser nobles have been elevated in status, and the Throne will no longer be passed by bloodline, at least for this first round. But then the last Three Eyed Raven was hundreds of years old so maybe Bran will just be king forever and ever.
Finally Arya sets sail, Sansa is crowned Queen, and Jon is reunited with Ghost, Tormund, and life beyond the wall. Definitely a happy ending for all of them, and it makes sense that House Stark gets it given the series began with them.
I don’t hate the finale, there are parts I really like, but I can’t get past the treatment of Daenerys, or Jon, and I honestly think they made a mistake in following though with GRRM’s vision and King Bran.
I have very much enjoyed watching and writing about this series – if I’m frustrated it is because I am so invested in these characters and this world. I will miss it, I already do. I look forward to reading the final books, to watching the related series, to rewatching this one from the beginning. And I look forward to talking about it for however long people are willing to.
And for the record, I haven’t removed Blood of the Dragon from my twitter bio, and I remain dedicated to House Targaryen despite their shortcomings.