Reviews

Game of Thrones, S8, Ep 6 “The Iron Throne” Review

A good story is a powerful thing. It is amazing to consider how much impact a book, movie or TV show can have upon on our lives, to the extent that when they end we feel like we’ve lost something. I’ve gone through this a number of times, perhaps most recently when Terry Pratchett passed away and I was hit with the realization that there would never been a Discworld book again. No more Tiffany Aching, no more Rincewind, no more Vimes. Years before that when I closed the final Harry Potter book I was momentarily lost. The same feeling would hit again when the movie adaptions came to an end. Stargate SG-1 was another, a long-running series whose ending left me feeling like a part of my life had just vanished.

The point is, I’m still trying to come to terms with the idea that there will be no more Game of Thrones, at least not in its current form. For all the division amongst fans that season 8 has caused, I think we should all take a moment to remember how long Game of Thrones has been part of our lives and the many hours of fantastic entertainment that it has provided. And for all the accusations of slopping writing, justified or not, that have been aimed at Benioff and Weiss it’s good to remember that they were also partially responsible for the show’s strongest seasons as well. Attempting to go from adapting the stellar writing of George R.R. Martin to continuing his work and staying true to it would be a daunting task for anyone.

Anyway, on to the episode itself. Titled “The Iron Throne” the finale was consistent in making me like where the characters end up, but disliking how they got there.

And as per my last review, the night is long and full of SPOILERS!

Right, let’s start off with the most important character:

GHOST

Finally got his pets. Confirmed to be a good boi.

Jon Snow

Jon had a rough season due to him being side-lined for most of it. His dialogue consisted of saying, “You’re muh Queen,” a lot. But in this last episode he finally got something to do, and while I never really bought into his and Daenarys’ relationship I did buy into the devastation Jon felt at having to murder the woman he loved. He’s consistently put everyone else ahead of himself, and he did it one last time.

However, his Targaryen revelation ultimately didn’t change the story very much except for introducing some tension between him and Daenarys. Considering how important Jon’s lineage as been throughout Game of Thrones, both the books and the show, it didn’t feel like it held any weight during the final season. Season 7’s confirmation of Jon’s parentage, which has been one of the longest running theories, was a fantastic moment so for it feel so unimportant was disappointing.

Ultimately it was Jon’s sense of honor that he inherited from Ned Stark that won the day. He put his duty to the realm above all else, and like Ned he was the one that passed judgement and swung (thrust) the blade. I’d also say there was a little mirroring of Jon and Jaime here in the way that for both characters love was blinding and overriding. For everything Jaime went through and did it was ultimately his love for Cersei that overrode everything else, including his own life and redemption. In Jon’s case his love of Dany seemed to blinding him to reality as it took several characters pointing out that she might have gone a tad too far for him to finally wake up and smell the dead bodies.

After Dany’s death, though, things become a tad wonky. With the body carried off and no witnesses except Drogon there is no evidence that Jon murdered Daenarys. Then we get a small time jump, only to find that Jon has been imprisoned by the Unsullied who have apparently taken control of the city. So why exactly was Jon arrested? Presumably he turned himself in since he would have seen that as the honorable thing to do. We should have seen that happen, though.

It’s also rather strange that Greyworm and the Unsullied allowed Jon to live rather than executing him straight away for Regicide. Instead they keep him prisoner for several weeks before dragging Tyrion, who was guilty of treason, before the Lords and Ladies of Westeros. Why do the Unsullied require these people to cast judgement? Greyworm is adamant that the city is under the control of the Unsullied and that both Tyrion and Jon need punishment, then dutifully shuts up when Tyrion launches into his speech.

Jon’s final scenes are a bit confusing. He’s sent back to the Night’s Watch which is still technically guarding the wall, but like before is also a sort of penal colony where bastards, criminals and troublemakers can be sent in the hope of finding redemption. It’s unclear whether Jon has been named Lord Commander again, which would technically make him the 1000th Lord Commander. Regardless, the final scene shows Jon and Tormund leading the Wildlings out from behind the wall and into the North. Is he simply leading the Wildlings home before returning to the wall, or is Jon Snow going North as well, returning to the Wildling ways where he seemed quite happy many seasons ago?

I also noted a bunch of theories surrounding how Jon Snow could become like his uncle, some sort of half-walker half-human hybrid. After all, can he even die after his resurrection? It’s a cool idea, but I don’t think there’s anything supporting it.

Regardless of what Jon is up to the final scene in Game of Thrones is a mirror opposite to the opening sequence in the very first episode of season 1. In that episode we saw the army of the dead emerging from the forest, whereas this time we saw Jon leading the living back into the forest. The way the scene is shot is almost identical to the first episode, too.

Daenarys

After going full psycho last episode and then vanishing from view as she torched the city Daenary’s popped back up to give two speeches and then die. Jesus Christ, what the hell was all that about?

When it came to her one-on-one scene with Jon I was excited at Daenarys having a chance to justify her choices in The Bells, to provide some reason as to why she would choose to incinerate innocent people. Her answer? Cersei was using the people to deter Daenarys. That was Daenarys’ big argument. So instead of just targeting the Red Keep and killing Cersei, thus keeping the casualties to a minimum, she killed a bunch of people who were not in her way. Right.

Y’know, this could have worked if we have an episode or two of Daenarys actually sitting on the throne and actually being a good ruler. A juxtaposition between her capacity for sheer brutality and her ability to rule wisely could have at least made her sympathetic. As they say the road to Hell is paved with good intentions. But we didn’t get that and so when it came to her death I felt absolutely nothing. Why would I? She was a monster. The Dany I knew died the moment she chose to burn children alive, and so the only emotion I felt was a sadness for Jon Snow. And for Drogon, the dragon who had lost two brothers and now his mother.

Speaking of which, the Internet has already happily made Drogon into a meme, citing how he spotted the pointy object stuck in his mother and therefore opted to obliterate the pointy seat because it was clearly the perpetrator. In all seriousness, Drogon burning the Iron Throne did look amazing, but it was also rather silly. My assumption is that Jon’s Targaryen heritage is what kept Drogon from at least attempting to annihilate Jon. If that was the case, though, it wasn’t conveyed very well and so what we got was the intelligent dragon opting to destroy a chair instead of eviscerating the man responsible for his mother’s death. Maybe Drogon was aware that it was Dany’s lust for throne that caused her downfall?

But let’s find some positives for Dany, shall we? I liked the way they brought in the idea of her believing she is good and just and knows what is right because that’s what everyone had been telling her she is. She believed to the end that what she was doing was right and for the betterment of the world, so wrapped up in her vision of the future that she couldn’t see what she had become.

I also loved the glimpse of happy, bubbly Dany. Emilia Clarke absolutely nailed it, and did the very best with the limited material she was given to work with. It was a reminder that her intentions were indeed good, and that she truly believed she was going to make the world a better place. Again, had things leading up to Dany going down a darker path been better handled this could have been a truly superb scene that made her death all the more impactful. But at least at the end we got a glimpse of the girl she used to be.

On a side note, many seasons back Dany was shown a vision of the throne room in King’s Landing, of the Red Keep decimated. Then the vision suddenly changed to Khal Drogo and Rhaego, Dany and Drogo’s stillborn child. As it turned out the vision was true, and what Dany saw was her own death and transition to the afterlife. Here’s hoping you found happiness with your Khal and your son, Khaleesi.

Tyrion

The episode opened with Tyrion walking through the ruins of King’s Landing. Here we see not only ash raining down from the sky but also snow. Winter has arrived in King’s Landing. I noted in my last review that the prophecy mentioned the Long Night may not specifically refer to the Night King, but also to the threat of Daenarys. As the episode closed we caught a glimpse of greenery growing North of the Wall, a hint that with Dany’s death the Long Night is over and summer can come again.

I think Tyrion is truly the new King of the Six Kingdoms. I know that he was officially named Hand of the King, but the way I interpreted the end of the episode suggests that Bran is mostly a figurehead and that Tyrion will actually be doing most of the true ruling. Bran’s comment out seeing if he could find Drogon and his rather quick exit from the council indicated to me that he’s happy to leave Tyrion and the others in charge of things. Plus, we never even got to see Bran coroneted.

If this episode was anything then it was a tour of Peter Dinklage’s ability to act the absolute shit out of everything. His discovery of Cersei and Jaime was a powerful moment that was carried solely by the talents of Dinklage.

Then he delivers an impassioned speech later in the episode about picking a new King or Queen. Greyworm specifically told Tyrion to shut up, and then is presumably so enamoured with the Tyrion’s linguistic talents that he lets Tyrion talk everyone into electing a new ruler, letting Jon Snow live and ensuring that he doesn’t get executed. Let this be a lesson to you Greyworm: just execute the people responsible for killing your Queen straight away rather than keeping them prisoner for ages.

I enjoyed the Small Council scene to a degree. It was fun and light-hearted, a nice way to balance out the usual depressing nature of Game of Thrones. I’m not exactly sure why anyone would ever make Bronn the Master of Coin, though. At what point has he demonstrated any aptitude for juggling funds? But anyway, while I do enjoy the sequence and the banter between the council I also feel that given how rushed everything feels the time would have been better spent elsewhere. It would have been good, for example, to see how the people have reacted to the destruction of King’s Landing, the death of Cersei and then of Daenarys and then finally the crowning of a broken King.

Ultimately Tyrion’s ending felt right for his character. Although his intelligence may have been somewhat eroded over the past couple of seasons Tyrion remained one of my favourite characters, and his becoming Hand of the King feels like a fitting end for a man who tried his hardest to do what was right for the people. With Bran off doing strange Bran stuff he’ll be the one largely responsible for rebuilding King’s Landing and dealing with the six kingdoms of Westeros.

Sansa

Sansa’s ending in particular pleased me. She began the show essentially trying to abandon the Stark name and escape the cold North. Over the course of eight seasons we’ve seen her learn from some of the most intelligent players in the Game of Thrones and rediscover her Stark name. I think it fitting for Sansa to take the crown as Queen of the North. As Jon says, “Ned Stark’s daughter will speak for them.”

I think of all the characters on the show Sansa’s journey to the final episode has been the most consistent. It’s been built toward over the last few seasons and so when the Northmen were yelling, “the Queen in the North!” I was right there with them.

Sansa’s declaration that the North would remain independent gave me a chuckle, simply because Yara Greyjoy’s reaction was like, “wait, that was a choice?” Speaking of Yara, the Iron Isles had pledged themselves to Daenarys and Yara reminded everyone of that at the meeting, declaring that the Ironborn are not so quick to forgive, yet mere minutes later Yara seems happy enough to agree to name the new King as Bran, a member of the Stark family she fought against previously. Yara does at least support the idea of killing Jon Snow which fits with her character, but then meekly shuts up because Arya threatens her. When did Yara become Arya’s bitch?

But back on track! In the early season’s Sansa was consistently one of my least liked characters, but as the show went on and the character grew she became one of my favorites. I just wish we had gotten to see Dany sit on the Iron Throne for a few episodes so that her and Sansa’s clash could be fully explored. Once again the fact that the writers didn’t take HBO up on their offer of ten episodes for season 8 means having to skip so much potentially fantastic material.

Arya

The first time we see Arya in this episode she’s stalking Dany, quietly watching as Jon heading up the steps to stand beside his Queen. Given Arya’s character it would make perfect sense for her to target Daenarys. Yes, Arya gave up vengeance in her last scene with the Hound, but this is about much more than that. Killing Dany could save millions of people, and Arya has the skills to slip in, eliminate Dany and disappear before anyone would even know what happened.

But instead Arya uses her magic ninja powers (gained when she was bitten by a radioactive Batman) to silently appear beside Jon. It was a cool shot, sure, but then Arya proceeds to tell Jon that she knows a killer when she see’s one, looking pointedly at Dany. An astute observation there, Arya. The thousands of people that Dany just burned alive was in no way a clue that she might be capable of killing.

Really since episode 3 I don’t think the writers have known what to do with Arya. They have an incredibly powerful character on their hands, and while they managed to find reasons for Arya being unable to get to Cersei and potentially end the war before it even began they didn’t manage to explain why Arya didn’t just kill Dany in this episode, or at least attempt to. Instead, Arya just has to be yet another person trying to point out to Jon Snow that Dany is a bit of an issue and should be dealt with. And then once Jon is chucked in jail, Arya doesn’t go bust him out.

Indeed, Arya’s entire journey to King’s Landing was a bit pointless. Her main reason for being there seemed to be because the writers wanted her as a POV character for the destruction of King’s Landing. She single-handedly took out the Night King, yet when Tyrion talks of the power of a story he bypasses Arya’s own amazing tale. Of course, Arya wouldn’t want the crown, but if you’re looking for a figurehead who better than the woman who took out the Night King?

Still, I did ultimately like Arya’s ending. While once again the build to it was poorly handled – especially since in season 6 her saying, “I’m going home” and retaking her name was such a big deal – the idea of her wanting to become Dora the Explorer feels kind of right. Again, had more time been given to Arya’s story I would have liked to have seen her at Winterfell and coming to the slow realization that she doesn’t have a place there any more either, thus giving her the reason to head out and explore what is west of Westeros. Ah well. Seeing her sailing away with the Stark emblem on the ship’s sails and at its prow was a nice moment.

Bran

I have absolutely no doubt in my mind that George R.R. Martin does fully intend on Bran claiming the throne at the end of the books. But I hope that the author does a better job of building toward that moment than the show, because Bran being crowned King was something I didn’t see coming, and not in a good way.

The issue is that once the show overtook the books nobody seemed sure what to do with Bran. As a result huge chunks of his story were utterly forgettable.

As I mentioned when talking about Tyrion I believe Bran will be more of a figurehead than anything else. But there are interesting questions surrounding Bran and whether he perhaps altered events in order to claim the throne. “Why do you think I came all this way?” Bran says to Tyrion, the obvious implication being Bran already knew he would become King, though exactly when he knew is debatable. This paints Bran in a sinister light; did he allow the deaths of thousands of people in King’s Landing? He certainly seemed to be aware of upcoming events last season when he handed Arya the Valayrian Steel dagger in the very same spot that she would use the dagger to kill the Night King in.

The first problem is that Bran’s abilities have remained extremely vague throughout the show. It seems he is able to see part of the future, but not all of it. That leaves us wondering exactly what he saw. He remained adamant that he didn’t want the crown, too. After naming Tyrion the Hand of the King Tyrion says that he doesn’t want the position, to which Bran says he didn’t want the crown, either.

So, is the future determined or changeable? Bran’s foreknowledge of his crowning might portray him as sinister, but it could also imply that he saw a future where his not accepting the crown could lead to worse things. After all, what other options were there? Jon didn’t want the crown either and really is personality probably wouldn’t make him a great monarch. Plus, it’s stated that if he took the throne the Unsullied and possibly even the Dothraki would be a tad unhappy, although the Unsullied piss off on boats later anyway. Sansa is more interested in an independent North, and if she did take the crown everybody would be sure she would favor the North. None of the other Lords or Ladies would likely support someone like Yara or Edmure or Robin, and Tyrion listed off a bunch of reasons he couldn’t take it. As for Gendry his legitimacy was only just made official, and the person who made it official was the Dragon Queen who just torched a city then got murdered. Bran is basically a neutral choice in the eyes of the show writers, although to my thinking the other Lords and Ladies would wonder if Bran would favour his sister when interacting with North. Essentially Bran wasn’t chosen because he’d be a good king, but because everybody else would cause problems.

There are some worrying questions that still remain. The Three-Eyed Raven is more like a separate entity that has taken up residence inside Bran’s body and it’s a bit unclear as to how much of Bran is left. Based on the previous episodes I’d say not very much. There’s also the fact that the previous Three-Eyed Raven was some 1000-years-old, so was anyone aware of this when they voted Bran in? They might be in for a surprise.

Everything Else

Once again the way the episode was shot and scored was simply superb. For all the problems that I might have with the final episode there is simply no denying how visually amazing it was. The way Drogon spread his wings behind Dany, making her seem like a dragon for just a moment, was beautiful. I also loved Drogon sleeping under a pile of snow, shrugging it off as Jon approached.

But man, this episode is a prime example of the many issues that have plagued season 8 and season 7. Let’s take simple details: what the hell happened to the Dothraki? They were seemingly wiped out in episode 3 before somehow showing up in The Bells in full force. In the final episode they almost entirely vanish after Dany’s speech, only a few of them reappearing later at the Harbor. Where the hell did they go? There’s a brief line suggesting that the Unsullied had convinced them to leave but…that’s a very un-Dothraki thing to do. What, they just raped and pillaged an entire city then quietly leave? Nah.

The Unsullied also seemed to respawned since episode 3. There’s a whole fecking army of them in this episode. It ultimately makes the battle with the Night King feel utterly pointless because even after the Walker hordes ripped the allied forces of Daenarys and the North to shreds the armies were still more than a match for Cersei’s forces. Wouldn’t have the taking of King’s Landing have been so much more tense and interesting if Daenarys’ and Jon’s troops were decimated? If Daenary’s actions were borne of desperation rather than sheer madness?

Once again we also get things being skipped over entirely, characters and entire armies teleporting around like distance is no longer a factor even though it was once an integral part of the show. Back in episode 4 Sansa spoke of the soldiers being tired and needing rest, but we skipped them having to make their way to King’s Landing where they seemed to be perfectly fine anyway. In the Game of Thrones of old we would have seen the travel time and seen how it affected the armies.

Smaller moments that I enjoyed included seeing Brienne as the new head of the Kingsguard and her finishing Jaime’s chapter in the book. Presumably she has been released from her vow to protect the Stark girls at this point, and equally presumably Brienne was the one who knighted Podrick, whose job now seems to be the Master of Pushing the Bloody Chair Around.

Random Thoughts & Moments

  • Tyrion resigning in front of the entire Unsullied and Dothraki army was badass. But also very, very stupid.
  • What happened to Varys’ notes? He seemed to be telling as many people that he could that Jon was a Targeyran. Did those notes get out? Are loads of people now aware that Jon is the rightful King?
  • Daenarys actually did succeed in breaking the wheel. Her destruction of King’s Landing and her subsequent death resulted in Westeros changing how new Kings and Queens come around.
  • Daenarys also succeeded in putting the throne on wheels. Long live King Bran.
  • That burned guy at the start of the episode just got lost looking for the Chernobyl casting call.
  • Where in the blazes did Arya’s white horse go? Did she ride it like 20ft then get off and head back into King’s Landing anyway?
  • Are they going to fix the huge hole in the wall? Somebody call Trump. He needs to know about this. He’s going to be pissed.

After eight seasons I think it’s fair to say that Game of Thrones didn’t end in the way we wanted. And I don’t mean in terms of whether it was upbeat and happy or incredibly depressing. We all assumed things wouldn’t end happily for the characters, but in fact many of them have gotten quite happy endings. No, we just didn’t get the ending we wanted in terms of quality. This season has felt rushed, plots have been condensed and character decisions haven’t always been consistent.

Ultimately my problems with the final episode are the same as the ones I’ve had with the season as a whole, which is to say that I have no problem with where the characters ended up but do think the way in which they got there was poorly handled. A show once known for its fantastic attention to detail, its nuanced characters and the way in which nobody was safe lost its way, becoming a more generic fantasy show where characters could make poor choices yet still survive. It’s a shadow of its former self.

But, it’s worth saying that even at its worst Game of Thrones is still a hell of a show that has given me eight seasons of actions, tension, drama and spectacular moments. Given how season 8 went it ended about as well as I could have hoped for, and though I wish it could have gone better nothing can take away 8 seasons of entertainment. I’m going to miss this show, and these fantastic, amazing actors.

The Queen is dead, long live the King.

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