Some years back, a creative company I was at one time heavily involved with went through a brutal annual general meeting. A key board member had a suspiciously large number of member proxy votes; others were in open rebellion against them. Attempts at diplomacy soon turned to outright hostility - there were tears, recriminations, and the pungent smell of bitterness throughout the room.
The members all agreed on the company’s ideals, but felt very differently about how they could or should be achieved. The system as it was, at that point in time, could not survive the personality clashes of that one breaking point, an otherwise pleasant afternoon in a community hall.
I recall this memory not to hurt the feelings of anyone involved in said company, but to reflect that said meeting contained, in microcosm, all of the heavy concepts and world-shattering turns of events that wrapped up the final episode of Game of Thrones.
On that afternoon, amidst the instant coffee and Arnott's assorted creams, the company underwent an irrevocable change.
The wheel was broken, and the nascent replacement (what else spins like a wheel?) is still taking time to metamorphisise. We are left with hope it will be better.
No doubt many of you would have experienced such machinations; perhaps you have been responsible for some. Maybe it’s at work. Maybe it’s in your family. Maybe the head of the P&C is a psychopathic bake sale advocate with no care for your movie night fundraising ideas, but you can’t say “Just f*** off, Cheryl-Lynn,” because then you’ll end up taking on more tuckshop shifts out of guilt.
Whatever it is, we go through life putting out a series of bushfires - it’s just in this case they were not so much bushfires as “flaming dragon-fire blazing flames of firey dragon burny” fires.
For us, the stakes are always high. That’s the embarrassment, and sweet luxury, of living in relatively rich and prosperous times in relatively rich and prosperous countries. The fight for the vision of what the aforementioned creative company should be was as deadly serious as the fight for the best world vision of Westeros. We just had the single transferable vote proportional representation system instead of, you know, a dragon.
So in writing about the final episode of Game of Thrones, I recognise two conflicting yet equally valid “visions”, or at least trains of thought on the stakes:
“I LOVE this TV show, and the ending gave me a sense of narrative satisfaction.”
“I LOVE this TV show, and the ending failed to live up to the promise of its beginnings.”
(There’s also the “I never watched Game of Thrones so don’t care how it ends dragon shows are stupid” camp, and we all know they can eat our collective #junkmounds).
Those stakes are very real for people - many of whom, like me, probably cared more about the outcome of this power-chasing fantasy costume drama with tits than the realpolitik of the Australian election in the days beforehand.
Me? I fall mostly in the first vision. I leave the world of Ice and Fire mostly contented, if slightly miffed we didn’t see #abs one last time.
But I do see ways in which some fans (especially the deep-diving, prophecy-loving, YouTube-video-creating, film-school-graduating, hot-takes-in-established-media-having ones) would be disappointed, and that’s cool too.
Does this read like I’m been trying to be thoughtful and considered in my final ever Game of Thrones Raven On episode recap?
Because the real story is I’m terrified of writing this.
How do I make this mean something to you, precious readers, many of whom have followed me for years? How do I make this final effort count? I must reign in my infantile jokes and inappropriately bawdy fixations and attempt to provide, for once in my miserable recappespondent’s life, a proper, mature, discerning rationale behind my feelings for “The Iron Throne”. A way to bring all of our conflicting views together.
As Tyrion tells Jon of the Great Council’s ultimate position: “No one is particularly happy, which means it must be a good compromise.”
Gahhhhhhh, I can’t hold it in any longer.
I WISH I COULD GET JON SNOW IN THE ULTIMATE COMPROMISING POSITION.
Oh man, that feels better.
Have I mentioned I am 100 per cent HOT for Jon Snow, all over again? Sure, he put an end to his auntie-boning (albeit in a far more final way than I was expecting), but it was the symbolic release of his BOUNCING BEAUTIFUL CURLS that made me want to hire both a pantomime horse costume and a friend and set out north to find him.
All right then, let’s pretend this is just an ordinary regular episode, and not the finale of the most epic television show in history, and get cracking and recapping.
GoT S8E6: “The Iron Throne”
Tyrion walks through the destruction of King’s Landing, his expression darker than the smoking ruins of bricks and bodies.
A man walks past him in a blur, the skin on his torso half gone, his expression blank. Another grown man sits on a step and sobs, showing not even the toughest of toxic Westerosi masculinity can withstand an Apocalypse Frau.
Jon Snow and Ser Davos Seaworth follow along, equally as grim. Tyrion spies the mother and daughter from last week’s episode, entwined and blackened, frozen in time by fire.
Tyrion heads off towards the Red Keep, dismissing Jon’s concern that it’s unsafe and he should take guards with him. This is a mission Tyrion must complete alone.
Despite the pounding it took from Drogon, parts of the fortress seem relatively intact. Tyrion passes the cracked GIANT WAR ROOM FLOOR MAP, and seeing no movement, grabs a torch and makes for the basement.
If he’d watched ANY serial killer movies, Tyrion would know you never find anything good in the basement.
Somehow, the little lion spots his brother’s golden hand glinting in a shaft of sunlight amidst the rubble. One by one, Tyrion removes the bricks, uncovering the inevitable - the bodies of Cersei and Jaime, dead in each others’ arms.
Given the amount of masonry that collapsed on them, I was rather surprised to see their angelic faces intact and serene in death, as opposed to the bloody pulp I’d been expecting. Still, that’s their Lannister luck, isn’t it. Messed up on the inside, but shiny AF on the outside.
Tyrion’s distress at finding his dead siblings’ bodies is palpable. Sure, Cersei may have been an ambitious, self-serving, megalomaniac, and Jaime was a misguided fanboi, but they were still family. Tyrion later tells Jon “Love is more powerful than reason... look at my brother”, but that aphorism applies just as much to him.
It’s interesting too, that the pair was crushed near the skull of Balerion the Dread, King Aegon the Conqueror’s mighty dragon. Its great bones remain intact despite the rockfall; the Targaryens have once again laid waste to its enemies. A particularly mournful version of The Rains of Castamere underscores the scene; the song was composed to celebrate the destruction of a house, but this time it’s the Lannisters who are (almost all) gone.
Down in the streets, Jon and Davos find Grey Worm summarily executing Lannister soldiers, despite their wholesale surrender.
Jon tries to intervene on the prisoners’ behalf, prompting a brief stand-off between the Unsullied and the northern soldiers, like the spear fight at the Not OK Corral.
Ser Davos, ever the diplomat, suggests Jon talk to the Queen, and he reluctantly lets go of Grey Worm’s neck-slicing arm. This conveniently allows Grey Worm to get on with his neck-slicing.
For someone with no *ahem*, Grey Worm sure has one post-battle murder boner.
Remember this moment of Jon’s mercy; it becomes important again in just a little while.
Arya must have dropped her white horse off at the stable as she’s back on foot approaching the base of the stairs to the Red Keep. At least, I think that’s where they are - the whole city has been so Godzilla’d it’s hard to tell. Either way, there’s a large public square with space enough for the unified and disciplined Unsullied forces up front, and a throng of excited Dothraki horse lords up the back.
Now clearly a lot more Dothraki survived the vanguard charge into those wights than it appeared. There were far more of them than I expected here at King’s Landing; but as we will see, this signifies the extent to which the Dothraki side of Daenerys’ identity has triumphed.
Jon half-limps his way across the square, finding the base of the stairs just as Grey Worm makes it to the top. Jon clearly took the long way around trying to find Dany; Grey Worm’s obviously finished his wet work for the moment.
The woman of the hour arrives, flying in on regal Drogon-back. Thankfully the creatures appears to be out of Redheads Firestarters for the moment. Someone has managed to string up a Targaryen banner on a half-ruined wall, a visual symbol of her dominion over the capital.
Mind you, she didn’t need it. The first appearance of Daenerys Stormborn on screen is a champion cinematographic and CGI moment. Seen from Jon’s point-of-view near the top of the stairs, she emerges like an avenging angel, Drogon’s wingspan stretching out behind her.
Wings go up, wings go down.
The Targaryen/dragon symbolism here is pretty obvious, but it’s also subtly imbued in her choice of battle outfit - the black leather of her coat, melded tight to her form, is delicately patterned in dragon scale. You might think she’s become the dragon because of the wings, but it’s actually her skin - scaly, fire-resistant and probably in need of a bottle of Jergens.
Despite all this, her hair, almost fully braided now, harks back to her Khaleesi roots. Dothraki add braids to signify victory in battle, and Dany has about as much on her plait as anyone could handle.
It’s telling, then, that Daenarys chooses to address the yelping and jostling Dothraki screamers first. She thanks them for keeping their promises to her: killing the men in their iron suits; tearing down their stone houses; and giving her the Seven Kingdoms.
Drogon roars, and Jon notes the number “Seven”.
Dany switches to High Valyrian to thank Grey Worm for his efforts and declare him her Master of War. The Unsullied stomp their approval, and she turns to address them directly.
And this is where it all gets a bit Nuremberg 1935, except Dany must have better vocal projection than Hitler, as even the Fuhrer used amplified sound. I realise I just compared a fictional character I have loved for years to Hitler, and now I feel kinda dirty, but Godwin’s Law states that on the internet every discussion eventually references Hitler, so I guess I should count myself lucky it took this long.
“You are liberators!” she tells the Unsullied, to their rhythmic stomps of approval. “But the war is not over. We will not lay down our spears until we have liberated all the people of the world!”
Errrr, Dany? Perhaps a little intense? You’ve won the trophy you’ve always wanted, but now you’re shifting the goal posts?
The Unsullied and Dothraki are deliriously excited, of course - well, as visibly excited as emotionless, highly-disciplined mercenary soldiers with their faces obscured by helmets can get.
Jon, Tyrion and Arya, however, are… less so.
Dany includes both Winterfell and Lannisport in her speech about far-ranging liberation; they may not be fluent in Valyrian but it doesn’t sound like she’s promoting reconciliation and healing.
It’s Tyrion who approaches the victorious Queen, knowing he must renounce her actions, and accept the punishment for setting Jaime free to attempt to save Cersei and King’s Landing.
Dany tells him he committed treason; he concurs, but adds that his crime was freeing one man (who went on to die); Dany meanwhile slaughtered the city. He stares at Dany and tears the Hand of the Queen badge from his doublet, tossing it down the steps: another golden hand sacrificed on Daenerys’s altar.
Dany has the decency to look somewhat shocked, in a sort of primary schoolyard “Nah, Sharon, you can’t dump me because I already dumped you, ya mole” sort of way, and she has Grey Worm take him into custody.
Tyrion gives Jon a LoooooooooooK as he is marched off; Jon in turn exchanges a LoooooooooooooooooooK with Dany. How interesting that the score underneath them is the same mournful cello that accompanied the infamous boat sex scene, because the last time they Loooooooooooooooooked at each other like that, they proceeded to F**********************k. But there’s no stirring of the #junkmound on this occasion, because Jon is an honourable man who is appropriately flaccid in these sorts of situations.
He stares after Dany as she stalks away, only to be punked by Arya who turns up, cat-like, by his side. We *should* have seen Jon jump a metre in the air and scream “Holy SHIT, what are you DOING here, you scared the LIFE out of me!” but see above description re: current flaccidity.
“I came to kill Cersei, but your Queen got there first,” is Arya’s deadpan response.
“She’s everyone’s Queen now,” sighs Jon, still running the official party line because he LOVES her, damnit.
“Try telling Sansa,” retorts Arya, three words which ring out a clear truth to Jon: his sisters will clash with his auntie-lover-cum-queen (wow, that bit of Latin just never feels right, does it?)
She tells Jon that Dany knows his true origin story, and therefore will always see him as a threat. “And I know a killer when I see one,” she says. I know there has been some disappointment we haven’t seen Arya unleash her mad cool Faceless Men assassin skills this season, but perhaps the greatest talent she developed was her ability to understand a murderous mind. Jon should know, of course, but he does have that whole “But I love her, she’ll come around!” niggle clouding his judgement.
He’s clearly conflicted about it all - why else would he visit Tyrion in his prison cell? A blindly devoted Jon Snow would happily let Tyrion be marched off and summarily executed without the need for a final chinwag. Perhaps Tyrion can be the little putsch he needs.
The ensuing scene is pure, old school, dynamite Game of Thrones conversation porn. In the deepest of shit, Tyrion is in full prosaic flight, reflecting on his own fate and choices, before challenging Jon’s perception of Dany and whether he really thinks she will stop and be happy now.
My beloved tries to defend his Queen, saying if “fire and blood” was all a Targaryen could be, he would be that too.
But Tyrion has drawn his line in the sand. His counsel and advice stopped once Dany had massacred more people in a single day than his evil father and sister had managed their in their whole lives.
Jon gets defensive, saying Dany had seen her dragons and friends slaughtered, and besides, it’s hard in battle, things are heavy and confusing, and sometimes things just happen, and -
“Would YOU have done it?”
Watch and learn, inquisitive alien visitors, because THAT’S what you call a PROBE.
Tyrion tells Jon he’s lying to himself because he doesn’t want to betray Dany, but he knows the truth - that he’s a squidgy love puddle who should be tucked away in my kingsize wearing only his fur cloak, not clanking about King’s Landing protecting some flamin’ sheila.
Negotiating through the stages of grief, Jon then tries denial. “It doesn’t matter what I’d do,” he says. “It matters more than anything,” Tyrion urges.
For Dany, life has been a series of impressive victories over a series of villains: the slavers of Astapor; the nobles of Meereen; the revolting Dothraki khals. Dany triumphed over all of them, she was not only the hero in her own story, but Tyrion’s, Varys’, Jorah’s, Grey Worm’s, Missandei’s, countless Unsullied and Dothraki and eventually Jon’s.
Tyrion says her belief in her destiny to create a utopian world has only grown stronger with every bad guy she has crushed into the dirt - and why wouldn’t you kill anyone who stops you trying to achieve it?
Interestingly, Dany’s most impressive victory - at least on a supernatural front - is ending the march of the White Walkers at the Battle of Winterfell, but that is not mentioned in this scene between Jon and Tyrion.
Obviously Dany wasn’t solely responsible for that one, but even the Night King-killer herself Arya said that the Fighting Direwolves would not have won without Dany’s dragons. She should have seen it as a collective win for humanity; but it turns out Dany has gotten used to hogging the glory.
Her disappointment at not being more feted was there in episode four, but perhaps more of it could have been made in the subsequent episodes. It might have helped assuage some of the post-show disappointment in Dany’s “surprising” heel turn.
That aside, it’s all getting a bit much for Jon, and he collapses into a seat.
There’s a touching moment when Tyrion seems to acknowledge that he saw Dany as more than an inspiring leader, when he tells Jon “I loved her too, not as successfully as you, but I believed in her with my whole heart.” He reflects that love blinded him to reality, in the same way it overcame his brother Jaime’s aversion to Cersei’s nature.
“Love is the death of duty,” Jon muses, almost impressing Tyrion with his pithiness. But no, it’s not a brilliant piece of improvised wisdom from Jon, but a sad truth once imparted to him by Maester Aemon of the Night’s Watch (and indeed, some sort of great-great uncle to Jon).
Tyrion ruefully discovers an equally useful spoonerism - that sometimes duty is the death of love. He says he’s asking a terrible thing of Jon, but it’s the right thing, and Jon always tries to do the right thing, and be the shield that guards the realms of men.
Jon is really struggling now. Tyrion suggests that he won’t be the last person Dany executes, and as the true heir to the Iron Throne, Jon himself would be a ripe candidate for a charring.
But Jon seems to make up his mind, saying that’s Daenerys’ decision, as she is the Queen. It almost seems at this point like Jon might welcome execution - at least it would get him out of this mess.
Tyrion is like… dude, wot?
As Jon goes to leave, he tries one last gambit: the Sisters Stark. Tyrion asks if they will bend the knee, and Jon says they will obey the Queen HA HA HA bro have you even met my girl Sansa don’t even START with me. Tyrion says Sansa told him the truth about Jon’s heritage because she doesn’t want Daenerys on the throne.
“She doesn’t get to choose,” Jon says. “No, but you do, and you must choose now,” pleads Tyrion. It’s his parting shot, his last desperate bid for Jon to act, but he has no idea if his arrow has hit its mark.
This episode really has a peak amount of Jon Snow striding about, and he does it again here, heading to the throne room to find Dany, and getting past Drogon, who had been sleeping covered in debris and ash and snow and goodness knows what else.
Drogon sniffs Jon, recognising him as - well, maybe as a Targaryen, but at least as not posing a threat. That’s on you, Drogon.
Upstairs, Dany appears in the gloom of the now destroyed great hall, her eyes fixed on the spiky swordy chair that has been her alpha and omega since her brother was crowned with gold at Vaes Dothrak; when she realised that it was she, not Viserys, who was the true dragon.
A haunting vocalised version of the show’s theme plays as Dany, snow or ash or perhaps both falling softly all around her, slowly approaches the Iron Throne. Her vision in the House of the Undying at the end of season two is now playing out in real time (albeit with the throne room way more wrecked than in the hallucination).
Emilia Clarke does brilliant face acting here: Dany’s eyes express triumph, desire, righteousness and an appropriately slight hint of being overwhelmed in this moment of achievement.
Unlike the vision though, Dany actually reaches out and touches one arm of the throne, one sword pommel twisted and shaped into position 300 years before.
Then Jon Snow turns up.
Dany’s clearly been watching some Roger Moore 007 flicks because she knows this is the appropriate moment for the “bad guy who sees themselves as the good guy” to dive into a monologue about how their world view was shaped and how through their actions they will create a better one. It’s a very Stromberg in The Spy Who Loved Me or Drax in Moonraker thing to do.
She starts by opining on how much bigger the Throne seemed in her childhood imagination, an almost wistful reflection on how reality can never quite live up to expectations. But before she goes any further, Jon angrily cuts her off by confronting her with the reality of her actions: Lannister prisoners being murdered in the streets; the burned bodies of children; Tyrion locked up awaiting execution.
Jon begs her to forgive Tyrion, to forgive all of them, to show mercy after this brutal display of might. But Dany cannot. Her vision does not allow for mercy until her “good” world is complete; any deviating from the path must be dealt with. She has a single-minded focus and it does not allow for moderation along the way.
It’ll all be good eventually, she tries to assure Jon. It’ll be perfect, you’ll see. Once I’ve killed every bastard that opposes my very correct view, there will finally be peace.
Dany has lost any will to negotiate or compromise. She knows what’s best. And the thing is - she does. She has had advisers and counsellors and their advice and plans have often gone pear-shaped. When she has done what Olenna Tyrell told her to do in season seven - “Be the dragon” - things have gone her way. If that happens often enough, you’re going to start believing your own bullshit.
Dany promises Jon that she will build the better world, because she knows what is good, and Jon does too, despite his self-doubt.
But what about everyone else? Jon asks. What about what they consider “good”?
“They don’t get to choose,” Dany replies serenely, and her fate is sealed.
Dany makes her final pitch, that Jon should be with her, break the wheel with her, fulfil the destinies that they both came into the world
I’m intrigued as to how much of this Dany is saying to Jon Snow, the man she loves, versus Aegon Targaryen, a newly-revealed potential rival whom it would be best to have on side. My gut goes with the man she loves, because their relationship and particularly this moment is a tragic romance.
But still, in the back of Jon’s mind at least, her proposal must mean more than just undying devotion to a life together, but a political union in which he would most definitely be the junior partner. And that’s not saying Jon’s pride would be hurt by being 2IC to a woman; rather that it would never be the partnership Dany is promising.
“They don’t get to choose.” Those were the words Dany used, but equally as importantly, they were the words Jon just said to Tyrion, when asked whether his sisters would bend the knee.
I believe that in this moment Jon realised what he had said - that he had been willing to give up the autonomy of the North and his own sisters for Dany, and that perhaps that wasn’t his to decision to make.
Jon loves Dany, loves her desperately, but has realised while she is brave and loyal and clever and inspiring, she has been warped by her quest for power.
And so he tells her, truthfully, that she is his Queen, now and always. Daenerys is visibly lifted by this confirmation of success: she has the crown, and the man. They embrace to confirm their love.
Everything’s coming up Targary------
Yes, Jon takes the lesson he was dealt by traitorous crows at the Night’s Watch, and uses the moment when Dany’s defences are down to carefully draw his dagger...and stab her in the heart mid-snog.
He weeps as she realises what has happened; but she has no more words to say.
Dany collapses, and once again Jon is left cradling the love of his life as her life ebbs away. The reign of the Dragon Queen is over before it could begin.
It’s intense, and poetic, and sadly beautiful in all that snow. Jon places Dany on the floor, and blood seeps out from her back, echoing Jon’s own death scene at the end of season five.
Then Drogon shows up.
Dany and her dragons were deeply connected, and so of course her last remaining child shows up immediately upon sensing something terrible has happened.
I’m sure I wasn’t the only one to get teary when this immense, terrifying creature nudged Daenerys’ body, trying to rouse her.
Realising his mother isn’t coming back, Drogon unleashes a furious, screeching, heart-rending howl.
Jon’s reaction indicates he thinks he’s a goner; possibly for the best too, as this was not a decision he wanted to make, nor an action he’s proud of. But Drogon instead turns his fiery breath on the wrecked walls of the Keep.
He pauses to recharge up his throaty burn tunnel, then unleashes hell on the very object of Dany’s desire - the Iron Throne itself.
Was this a deliberate choice by the dragon, creatures considered intelligent? Did it understand that the pointy sticky shiny chair was the symbolic cause of his Mum’s demise, even if the man who actually did is standing right there? Or did Drogon’s lizard brain articulate the thought that “if my Mum can’t have the throne, no one will”?
These are both narratively satisfying options, but I’ve been rewatching the scene over and over, and I’m still not entirely certain. Drogon certainly kept the heat on long enough to melt the Iron Throne from the face of the world, but he may have just chosen to catastrophically blast it because his mother was lying dead at its feet, or because it was the last object she touched.
And why didn’t he burn Jon? Simply because he’s a Targaryen and he passes the sniff test? Jon still stuck his Mum with the pointy end - why does Drogon let that fly?
I am, of course, generally pleased that the Iron Throne was reduced to a special effect from Terminator 2. I had long been thinking that had Daenerys become the conquering queen of Westeros - in a good way - she might tear down this relic of her ancestors, representative of the old world, and rebuild it or replace it with something more reflective of her new one.
Given I failed that trip through the Choose Your Own Adventure book, I’m content with a thorough meltdown, and hope something a lot more comfortable and modest takes its place.
But of everything in this episode, Drogon’s burning choices remains the most puzzling element to me in a way I’ll probably never be able to fully articulate.
Drogon scoops up Daenerys body, as tenderly as his massive back claw will allow, and takes flight, soaring out over the Blackwater, onward to places unknown. I suspect he will take her body to what’s left of Old Valyria, the ancient home of the Targaryens. As for Drogon, who knows? We find out later he’s been spotted flying east
As for Daenerys herself, I think back on that vision she had in the House of the Undying. Once she left the Throne Room, she found herself crossing under The Wall - which could be a reference to going north to fight White Walkers in season seven - but then walks into her old Dothraki yurt, to find Khal Drogo and their baby son waiting for her. Perhaps now her spirit, or soul, or whatever you believe in, has returned to the Night Lands to ride with them forever - or at least it will if Drogon burns her body.
This once again leaves me thinking of how important Dany’s Dothraki connection was to her identity. Where she once tried to tame some of their wilder raping and pillaging ways, she wound up delivering a victory the great Khals could only imagine. Dany never seemed particularly religious, she never mentioned allegiance to the Faith of the Seven, and it was Tyrion and Varys who got followers of Rh’llor the Lord of Light to help convince Slavers’ Bay cities that Dany was the real deal. So perhaps in death, as in her triumphant final victory, she was more Dothraki than anything else.
Or, as Jon indicated to Tyrion earlier, there’s nothing after death, and she’s just gone. But where’s the romance in that?
Then some time passes.
A heavily bearded and dishevelled Tyrion is roused from slumber and taken in chains by Grey Worm to the dragon pits of King’s Landing.
It’s fine, sunny day, with blue skies belying the winter season, and it turns out, the gang’s all here: the Starks from the North; Edmure Tully from the Riverlands; Sam Tarly representing either the Reach, or the Citadel, or the Night’s Watch, who knows; Yara Greyjoy from the Iron Islands; the sexy new Prince of Dorne; Brienne of Tarth; Ser Davos Seaworth, Lord Gendry Baratheon of Storm’s End, woo-hoo; Yoan Royce from The Vale and HOLY SHIT IS THAT ROBIN ARRYN? OTT breastfeeding kid got HOT.
This is perhaps the most ridiculous GIF I've ever made.
But someone isn’t there - Jon. Sansa demands to know why he was not brought before the Great Council like Tyrion, and Grey Worm spits back that Jon is a prisoner of the Unsullied and they’ll decide what to do with him. Sansa replies that she has an army of Northmen outside the city ready to defend their one-time king.
Arya pulls a classic Arya move after Yara Greyjoy says the Ironborn pledged fealty to Daenerys, and would be happy for the Unsullied to give him what he deserves (oh BOY fill in your own Natalie-ism here).
“Say another word about killing my brother and I’ll cut your throat.” Good, clean threats from a good, clean assassin.
It’s Ser Davos - beautiful, lovely, cuddly Ser Davos - who prevents tensions boiling over by insisting they’ve been cuttin’ throats long enough and it’s time to find a better way. He tells Grey Worm that Westeros owes the Unsullied a debt for helping defeat the Night King, and suggests they take up residency in the Reach and start a dynasty. Somebody obviously failed to tell the Onion Knight that the Unsullied have no onions at all, not even a pair of shallots.
Besides, Grey Worm wants justice, not payment, for the brutal murder of their Queen.
Tyrion risks Grey Worm’s wrath by saying as Jon Snow committed his crime in King’s Landing, it’s up to the King or Queen of Westeros to decide his fate.
But there is no King or Queen, says the always helpful Yoan Royce, one of the noble lords who’s managed to skate through the series without any major incident (aside from losing a son in the first five minutes of the first ever episode, but whatevs).
Tyrion suggests the great lords and ladies assembled choose a monarch, and Grey Worm gruffly consents.
There’s a lot of blank stares and awkward silence as those gathered ponder their options. Eventually Edmure Tully breaks the tension with an inspired bit of comedy - putting his own name forward. The fact that it was Edmure was so, so perfect. We haven’t seen him in two seasons, he was a prisoner for most of the two seasons before that, and here he is, pitching himself as king.
He’s always been a buffoon, just a bit of a loser, really. Frankly he should be thankful he still has Riverrun. Remember when Homer Simpson stopped a nuclear meltdown by using “eeny, meeny, miny, mo” to press a button? In this world, to succeed despite idiocy is called “pulling an Edmure”.
When Sansa interrupts his flow to say “Uncle… please sit”, Edmure looks around the gathered nobles to find no one making eye contact.
He moves clunkily back to his seat, banging his sword on the chair in the process.
“We have to choose someone,” huffs Lord Royce.
“BUT DO WE?!?!”
Up steps Sam Tarly, to pitch a radical new idea - representative democracy.
“Since the decision we make will affect everyone, maybe it should be made by everyone?”
It’s a beautiful dream, Tarly, but you’re so far ahead of your time you’re practically H.G. Samwells.
There’s a pause of introspection as the lords and ladies consider Sam’s suggestion.
Then…. laughter. Laughter all around. Guffaws and giggles, and Sam looking a bit embarrassed through it all.
I loved this. It’s long been a joke that Westeros should ditch this Iron Throne palaver, and move towards one person, one vote. But it’s not that world, not yet. The concept of low-born people having a say in government remains is literally laughable to them, giving the whole moment a lovely touch of Monty Python about it.
When the chuckles die down, Edmure Tully challenges Tyrion about his desire for the Throne, but Tyrion is like no way, bro, ain’t nobody gonna pimp for this imp.
However everyone seems to be looking to Tyrion for an answer, so he starts talking about all the time he’s had to think since being locked up on the day of Dany’s death.
He says what unites people is not gold, nor armies, nor flags, but stories. No enemy can defeat a good story, and with his disability, his adventures beyond the Wall, and deep Three-Eyed Raven knowledge of history, who has a better one than Bran the Broken?
Sansa raises the objection that Bran cannot father children, but Tyrion sees that as nothing but a positive. Sansa knows what douchebags entitled sons can be as much as Tyrion; both were subjected to Joffrey’s violent delights.
He tells Grey Worm that was the wheel Daenerys wanted to break, the wheel of the unquestioned transfer of power. He tells the assembled lords and ladies that from now on, they shall choose the rulers of Westeros, making it at the very least, a meritocracy. Which is perhaps the best Westeros can expect.
He then entreats Bran to take the title, despite knowing he does not want it. There’s a pause before Bran declares “Why do you think I came all this way?”
It’s CHEESY and I LOVE IT and I DON’T CARE.
Bran is a great option for king. He’s entwined through all the major story events, but not so close to be irrevocably tainted by them. For instance, it could never be Jon Snow; he’s a Queenslayer now. Yes, he’s the rightful heir, but “rightful” only by blood, and we’ve just seen the lords and ladies accept a new system in which blood rights aren’t as important. And yes, Jon is rightful by nature too (and by sheer good looks alone, let’s be real), but this is all about going in a new direction.
Yes, there are a bunch of questions that crop up, such as, if Bran knew how this would all play out, did he act in ways to ensure it? Does that speak to a certain ambition? Why was it so important for Jon to learn his true heritage, if it wasn’t about putting him on the throne? Did Bran engineer the situation so Jon would have to kill Dany? Isn’t that a bit douchey? And what about letting Dany go nuts and kill tens of thousands of King’s Landing residents? Isn’t that a bit mega-douchey?
I honestly believe Bran doesn’t have wants or desires anymore, just a sense of how things should be, and a passive will for making that happen. Clearly a dragon massacre and Jon Snow’s eternal guilt was the price Westeros had to pay for peace.
At least now they’ll all have a king whom it won’t be worth trying to fight. You won’t be able to convince him your neighbour stole your cows when he can clearly eyeroll back to when they fell into quicksand and you thought you’d try to make a quick buck by blaming Creepy Joe McBeefeater instead.
Tyrion says he votes “aye” to Bran the Broken (really not mincing words with that epithet), and the rest of the gang echo him. “I’m not sure I get a vote, but aye”, says Ser Davos, once again being simply adorable.
It’s Sansa who stops proceedings, telling her brother she loves him and he’ll be a good king, but she has to put the North first. Tens of thousands of Northmen died protecting the rest of the country; the rest won’t ever want to bend the knee again. “The North will remain an independent kingdom,” she declares, and Bran nods his assent.
“All hail Bran the Broken, [all other titles and honours], Ruler of the SIX Kingdoms,” Tyrion intones, and the rest stand to affirm it.
Thinking his work is done, Tyrion makes to head back to his cell, to await the judgement of the new king. But Bran already knows just how perfectly to punish Tyrion - to make him his Hand.
Oh Gods, no, please, no, Tyrion begs, I don’t deserve it, I don’t want it, make it anybody but me.
Grey Worm is also perturbed. He believes Tyrion needs punishment, but Bran knows just how much of a punishment he’s getting.
“He’s made many terrible mistakes. He’s going to spend his life fixing them.”
Sucked in, Tyrion, but also, hooray. It really is the best possible use of him, the master politician, who by convincing the lords and ladies to elect Bran king enacted his old friend Varys’ favourite aphorism: that power resides where men believe it resides. Now, Bran has returned the favour, making him serve the Realm as Varys once did. And Tyrion must wear his position like a hair shirt; he must never assume he’s right again.
But Grey Worm still isn’t happy; the Unsullied require more justice.
Cut to a small, dank prison cell, in which Jon Snow has been locked for long enough to finally shed the restrictive man bun that had been preventing his luscious curls from flowing freely.
Tyrion tells him since the Unsullied wanted him dead, and the Starks wanted him free, they have compromised and agreed to send him to the Night’s Watch. Jon’s somewhat taken aback that there still is a Night’s Watch, given the few remaining members seemed to get wiped out at the Battle of Winterfell.
“The world will always need a place for bastards and broken men,” Tyrion says. Charming, little lion, charming. Can’t you see Jon is both right now? He needs soothing, perhaps a sensual massage, to get over his self-hatred. “Was it right, what I did?” he asks. “What WE did,” Tyrion corrects him. “It doesn’t feel right,” Jon says, all furrowed brow and unkempt sexyface.
Don't mind me creeping.
“Ask me in ten years,” says Tyrion. It’s to Tyrion’s credit that while he believes what he did was right, he doesn’t yet have proof that it was actually was. Together, he and Jon Snow took down a tyrant. But has the wheel really been broken? Only time can tell on that one.
So as Tyrion leaves, he places a reassuring hand on Jon’s shoulder, the same way Jon had grabbed his shoulder in the prison cell after Tyrion quit as Hand of the King. It’s a gesture of brotherhood, of having Been Through Some Shit and Somehow Come Out The Other Side.
Jon says flatly they probably won’t see each other again; but in true Tyrion style, he quips that a few years as Hand would many anyone want to piss off the edge of the world.
Later, Jon is released from custody, and thankfully his hair retains its freedom too.
Now I’m not suggesting that Jon Snow is merely a mop of delicious black curls atop some ravishing #abs and seductive #junkmound.
But that did not stop me from creating this ridiculously silly video tribute to Jon Snow’s alpha-keratin protein filaments:
On his way to say his goodbyes, Jon passes Grey Worm, who’s still giving him the stink-eye over killing Daenerys, and look, fair enough. That scar is going to take longer to heal than the one I got from a jellyfish sting while swimming in Ha Long Bay ten years ago. Tell you what, that was some fiery pain. I thought for a moment I might die, but when the young Australian doctor who was also on our tour shrugged, said “She’ll be fine” and f***ed off below deck to read a book without even looking at the ugly stain on my forearm, I figured I’d be OK.
Despite Grey Worm telling the Great Council that King’s Landing was “our city now”, the Unsullied appear to be packing ship and getting the hell out. Grey Worm tells his second-in-command their destination is Naath, and we all go “Nawwwww, he’s keeping his promise to Missandei” and going to see her home island.
That’s a sweet and neat wrap-up for Grey Worm - perhaps his Unsullied will return; perhaps they’ll stay on Naath; perhaps they’ll hire themselves out as mercenaries acros Essos - who knows. Either way they’ll cease to exist as a concept eventually; given Dany stopped the slave trade that created them, and they won’t be creating any more people the traditional way.
Jon takes the long way around to the jetty, allowing us plenty of time to really absorb the majesty of his midnight-coloured mane.
Sansa asks for his forgiveness for not finding a way to free him; Jon replies she secured the North’s freedom, and that’s more important. Sansa says they lost their king; he says Ned Stark’s daughter is more than up to the task. Jon is essentially apologising to Sansa for the lack of trust he had with her at times; not to mention the hostility he showed her when it came to Daenerys. Sansa knows it too; at the end of the day he is truly her brother.
Arya started getting in touch with her emotions at the very end of “The Bells”, when she realised she was the only survivor of a dragon blast, and let a single tear slip from her eyes in shock and grief.
She does the same here as she tells Jon she won’t be visiting him at Castle Black, because she’s not going North, because she has to find out what’s west of Westeros. Years ago, he gave her a wry smile as he gave her Needle; he does the same again when asking if she still has it.
They embrace tightly, and Jon seems reluctant to let go of his crazy, independent, definitely non-ladylike little sis. But he knows she knows her own mind; she always was the most like her adventurous aunt Lyanna Stark, Jon’s own mother. If anyone can survive a trip into the unknown it’s Arya - gods know she’s done it before.
Jon kneels before Bran, and offers his apologies to the new king for not being there when he needed him. Who knows what occasions this could refer to: when Theon attacked Winterfell; when Bran headed north; when Bran lost Hodor to the wights; when Bran was alone in the Godswood with the Night King; when Bran was finding out about Jon being Dany’s nephew right at the moment of boatsex.
“You were exactly where you needed to be,” Bran smiles back at Jon. Really? He needed to be butt-nekkid on a boat with his auntie? I suppose I should stop banging on about this now, given that the banging on in question has stopped forever.
Jon gives another rueful smile, and turns to take the tender out to his vessel, which will whisk him away forever.
Sigh. I wish Jon Snow would whisk at my tender vessel.
This scene has a touch of The Return of the King about it, you know the one where Frodo has about 18 goodbyes? Confession - I’ve never read the books myself, but I feel like Peter Jackson could’ve snipped a few farewells out of that sucker. Although at least this episode’s goodbyes didn’t seem to be in super slow motion, even though I’ve experimented with a number of filters and Jon Snow looks good at any speed.
Please understand the madness that was involved in this recap process.
We cut to perhaps the most touching moment of this whole episode - Ser Brienne completing Jaime’s entry in the Who’s Who of the Kingsguard. Sure, there’s fun to be had with the idea of Brienne scrawling THIS GUY PASHED & DASHED, but Brienne is a woman of honour. She has always loved Jaime selflessly, and despite her despair at his leaving her, she would have understood his twisted reasons why. She may never forget the sting of it, but she clearly can forgive. That’s what love lets you do.
Also, the fact that she’s even writing in the book shows she’s head of the Kingsguard now, something that didn’t even occur to me on my first watch of the episode. I just thought she did it because she’s awesome. But yes, the reason she’s in armour, decorated with raven motifs, is because she has now fulfilled her dream of becoming a Kingsguard (albeit to a different king).
We see her in elegant commander mode when she brings Bran in to a Small Council meeting, a scene that played with a delightful amount of humour and whimsy for me.
Tyrion begins alone, at the old table they always used to sit at, in a Red Keep which is already suspiciously rebuilt. Clearly the King’s Landing masons need to unionise because that clearly indicates rushed construction deadlines. Maybe it’s two, three months after the burning of King’s Landing, how could repairs be done so quickly without cranes?
In a callback to that wonderful moment in season three when Tyrion deliberately messes with Tywin’s seating arrangements, he now tries to restore order around the table, shifting the messy seats into alignment with each other. Is he just doing something with his hands to combat nerves, or getting an insight into why his father appreciated order? And this is his chance not just to impress, but to actually do some good. The reformed messy drunken whoremonger has Marie Kondo’d himself.
Of course, the new Small Council charge and immediately wreck Tyrion’s work, dragging the chairs out and plonking their buttocks roughly down at all angles. Sam Tarly, now the Grandmaester (big promotion!) presents Tyrion with Archmaester Ebrose’s completed work detailing the wars following the death of King Robert Baratheon - newly retitled “A Song of Ice and Fire”.
This wink to the audience was somewhat cringeworthy, but it was Sam doing it, and he’s got the charming chops to make it not totally awful. The fact that Tyrion is not even mentioned in the chronicle is absolutely perfect. Just like he got no credit for saving King’s Landing from Stannis Baratheon at the Battle of Blackwater Bay, there’s no reference to his even greater role as adviser to the Dragon Queen Daenerys, and not even an acknowledgement of his status as a Lannister. It reflects the fact that sometimes history skips over important contributions for… what else...but the sake of the story. Tyrion can’t be too unhappy with that.
Ser Brienne and Ser Podrick Payne - also now in the Kingsguard! - bring in Bran, who seems to be taking being king in his stride… er, wrong metaphor. Let’s say he’s rolling with it, asking about the positions of Master of War and Master of Whisperers, and offering to go have a scout about to see if he can locate Drogon.
I love the touch of disorganisation as Bran leaves, the messy and out of sync hail of “Long may he reign!” and Tyrion’s apologetic “That will improve!” as Pod wheels Bran out.
The team then get on to issues of the day, including the need for an overhaul of the sewers, the rebuilding of ships under new Master of Ships Ser Davos Seaworth (nominative determinism strikes again!), and the small matter of the Crown’s debt.
This is where Bronn comes in, the new Lord of Highgarden, Warden of the East, and Master of Coin. His elevation to lordship over the richest part of the Six Kingdoms means he’s quite happy to clear the Crown’s debts and allow them to run up a new one. However he wants to ensure the money is spent wisely, on such important social services like brothels, as opposed to the country’s navy.
I know it’s fairly unlikely that a character like Bronn would truly triumph in these sorts of situations; but then, these aren’t the regular sorts of situations. And I love that Bronn’s scoundrel nature has stayed on point the whole series. He hasn’t had a change in morals or ideals - he’s still only interested in his own game. Bless you, Bronn. You will keep life interesting in the capital while no doubt making a lot of interest.
The little arguments and spats the group has as the camera pans back filled me with glee. The scene only cut away when Tyrion once again began his famous joke: “I once took a jackass and a honeycomb into a brothel…” People have tried to create the punchline, but I’m OK never knowing. It’s like the suitcase in Pulp Fiction - it doesn’t matter what’s actually in it, only that it’s worth it.
Up north, Jon makes it to Castle Black to find the one, the only, TORMUND GIANTSBANE waiting for him like a loyal orang utan. The sight of his old friend makes Jon think maybe this life isn’t going to be so bad after all. How COULD it be, with Tormund around?
The show ends with a stunning montage of shots of the Stark/Snow siblings setting off on the next chapters of their lives. Jon is reunited with Ghost, who FINALLY gets the pats he deserves (although really should get that torn ear seen to), as well as the remaining Free Folk.
Arya rolls up her maps and telescopes and begins tracking west onboard a sturdy ships flying the Stark banners. She never speaks, but I’d bet money she was thinking “Bring me that horizon.”
Sansa is formally dressed in steel grey, with a motif of the blood red leaves of the weirwood tree stitched into her sleeves. She is crowned Queen in the North with her hair down, no hairstyles left to famously copy. I’ve long drawn parallels between Sansa and one of my favourite women of history, Elizabeth I, and here it is most obvious. At her coronation, Elizabeth wore her hair loose and long, the symbol of virginity. Sansa had her virginity brutally taken from her, but what she is showing here is still her purity. She is the right woman for the job, the right STARK for the job, and her flowing hair shows she has no airs and graces about it.
But also -
The sides of her throne are carved direwolf sigils of House Stark! It’s a tiny detail, but a lovely one. The Northern throne is not flashy or threatening; just strong, solid and no-nonsense, like the people who live there.
To see Sansa crowned Queen filled my with mixed emotions. I am so proud of the woman she is, for navigating her way through messed-up teenage years in which her agency and dignity was often stripped from her. She has held firm to her identity and created duty and purpose where she once had dreams and fantasies. She always wanted to be a Queen, and now she is a proper one, not a decorative ornament on some king’s arm.
And yet, she has become harder, more brittle. It is a consequence of the lessons she’s learned, and how she’s had to act to survive. As much as we all hated snobby little Sansa, she was still an innocent girl. She lost that innocence and it left a mark. I think she has a wise head on her shoulders; I pray to the Old Gods she always uses it.
Finally, my beloved Jon Snow.
Perceptive readers may have picked up on subtle hints over the past eight years or so that I have always rather fancied Jon. Go back, re-read, you might spot them. Sure, he’s made some rash decisions, and sure, his choice of lady friends leaves a lot to be desired, but he is still my scrumptious coal-haired love duvet.
So while he did not end up on the Iron Throne - and indeed, his true identity as Aegon Targaryen seemed to barely matter - I was deeply contented with Jon’s cyclical story conclusion.
He had wanted to become a Ranger in the Night’s Watch, to be the shield that guards the realms of men. Events conspired to keep him away from Ranger status, but bumped up to Lord Commander, and to do something no other Lord Commander managed - make peace with the Free Folk. And now, to the Night’s Watch he returns, to help get the Free Folk established back in their home lands, having helped them leave when the White Walkers threatened.
Jon’s look back at the closing gate of the tunnel under The Wall was vague enough to suggest that he himself might be turning away from life in the south, as Tormund always reminds him, and heading out into the real North. Perhaps the Night’s Watch still exists, perhaps it’s being rebuilt, perhaps it doesn’t need Jon.
Either way, he’s a free man. Not a reluctant king, nor a tortured bastard, nor a devotee to a misguided homicidal queen. The corners of his mouth lift ever slightly upwards as he turns back to face the Haunted Forest, the place where so many years ago the White Walkers made their first big attack for thousands of years.
Now he returns there with Free Folk, including many children, Ghost alongside him once more. There’s even a green shoot of a plant in the ground, indicating that perhaps spring is on its way. But even if winter comes again, Jon will be there to guard the realms of men.
Yay! Best Moments
Epic moments such as Dany’s death and Drogon’s rage sat beautifully alongside the quiet and contemplative, such as Brienne finishing Jaime’s story.
Zing! Best Lines
“Did you bring any wine?” Tyrion has his priorities in place when facing death.
The only thing I can think of is that the *real* ending for all of the characters who were at King’s Landing the day Daenerys burned it is that they all wind up in hospital with mesothelioma because by the gods they all would have inhaled a lot of ash and debris. That can’t be good for the lungs.
IT’S *deep breath* OVER.
I have loved this show, loved the characters, and loved the story, whatever was thrown at me, even when it was a bit undercooked (like the Dornish storyline in season five), or slightly rushed (arguably like portions of both seasons seven and eight).
But I don’t know if I’m right anymore. I have tried to avoid commentary while finishing this utter bastard of a recap, but you’d have to hermit yourself in a cave (please, Jon, let’s do this) to avoid all discourse on the final season.
Many have issues, and it’s not my place to dismiss the hurt feelings of others. We all have ideas in our heads about things that don’t wind up happening. Look at the cognitive dissonance many Australian voters felt after the May 18 election, which was won by the party widely tipped to lose badly.
The fact that George R.R. Martin’s books weren’t complete meant that the showrunners and writers had to create their own final journey, one that would work for television. That meant certain changes narratively, no doubt. But it also meant we ALL got to experience something for the first time, the book readers and the TV watchers. We weren’t just watching a story you knew unfold beautifully onscreen, like The Lord of the Rings. We were all invested in the unknown ending. We all had passion.
When I think back to that meeting in that community hall, what I remember is everybody being invested in a pathway, but with radically different ideas on how to walk that path - or where it should end up. What we picture in our heads can sometimes be the only version of truth as we expect it, the only way things would be “good”. But to paraphrase Jon’s final question to Dany, what about everyone else? What about what they think is good?
I was asked after Game of Thrones concluded what lesson I had taken from the series, and my answer was instant:: life is shades of grey. Not the 50 dodgy fake-porno BDSM ones, but real, maddening, complicated shades of light and dark. Bad people can do good things. Good people can do bad things. We are shaped by events we cannot control, and yet we all have immense potential to both create and destroy.
No ending to Game of Thrones was ever going to be perfect. But what we got were some perfectly painted shades of grey.
And look, I’m biased, I always have been a rabid one-eyed fan who has loved and hated these characters and stories since the beginning. So you shouldn’t make up your mind based on what I say. Because I simply can’t hate a show that makes me feel this much emotion at its end.
Thank you, beloved Throners, for your patience and your support.
Our watch has ended... but we will never be over, you and I.