'Game of Thrones' Book Reader Review: Let's All Settle in for the Tyrion Lannister Hour
I’ll be honest with all of you; I had mostly given up on this season midway through. I knew that whatever ending we were careening towards was not going to be one that felt satisfying or earned in any significant way. It just couldn’t, given what had come before. I had a few predictions going into the finale, some that had started early in this season and some that developed later on. They were:
1. Jon will kill Daenerys.
2. We’re heading towards a Westeros Magna Carta
3. Arya will kill a dragon.
4. Arya will never wear another face.
5. Tyrion won’t survive.
So I was at a solid 60% there. I feel strongly that I should be at 80% (Tyrion ABSOLUTELY should have been summarily executed before… everything else) but whatever. I guess it wasn’t as dumb as I feared (Arya killing a dragon, didn’t want to see it, but was like “someone’s got to take the dragon out, right?”). Anyway, now our watch is ended. Let’s discuss.
The title of this episode was “The Iron Throne” but it probably should have been “Tyrion Fucking Lannister And All of His Thoughts” because that’s what this episode is all about. My biggest frustration is how much time Tyrion Lannister gets to justify and explain himself when Cersei and Daenerys got practically nothing. Tyrion’s been seen as a way for the showrunners (and even George himself) to speak directly to the audience for a while now but it’s never felt quite this lazy or forced. Most of us knew that Jon was being set up to kill Daenerys after her turn in the last episode. Why did we need Tyrion to plead with him to do so? Why did we need Tyrion to convince a counsel of independent rulers who had been through a series of massive civil wars within 20 years that maybe primogeniture wasn’t the best ruling system? Why does he need to suggest Bran as a leader (ugh) when Bran, who apparently sees all of everything is sitting right there? Because literally telling us is the only way these two knew to tell us the story and so that’s what happened. We sat in front of our TVs while we were told the story of the end of Game of Thrones.
Tyrion, Jon, and Davos walk through the streets of King’s Landing observing the destruction we saw happen in the last episode. Tyrion heads for the Red Keep, while Jon tries to stop Gray Worm from executing a group of Lannister soldiers, showing that he’s willing to contravene Daenerys’s orders even now. In the Red Keep Tyrion finds Jaime and Cersei buried together beneath the rubble. Daenerys flies back into the burned out city, leading to a beautiful shot where she walks forward towards her assembled armies while Drogon takes off behind her. It’s not a particularly innovative shot but it is very effective. She congratulates them in Dothraki and Valyrian, thanking them for their efforts and promising further victories to come as they liberate the rest of the known world from tyrants. Gray Worm is made her Master of Wars. I was worried every second of this episode that Dany was centered in a shot, waiting for someone approaching from behind her. Tyrion does walk up behind her, only to throw his Hand pin down after she tells him that she knows he committed treason. Tyrion is led off to confinement as Arya makes her way up to Jon, and warns him that Jon will always be a threat to Dany.
From there we go into the first scene of Tyrion literally telling us what’s going to happen. Jon visits Tyrion in his cell and Tyrion launches into a long justification of why Jon should kill Dany. But first he recounts his own many crimes. I’m not a huge fan of Tyrion comparing her liberation of Slaver’s Bay to King’s Landing, and he doesn’t acknowledge that a siege would also have killed thousands. Cersei would not have surrendered the city until she was forced to. There was no happy ending here and if Tyrion thought there was he wasn’t paying attention. The comparison that springs most immediately to mind during his speech about the lengths Daenerys will go to to build a better world is Exodus; Moses led the Jewish people through the desert for 40 years not because it took them 40 years to get to Jerusalem, but because the Promised Land could not be settled by those who still thought of themselves as slaves. Jon still remains loyal to Daenerys until Tyrion invokes his sisters. The safety of Sansa is what shook Ned out of his blind loyalty to honor as well. Honor is a wonderful concept. It is nothing compared to living people.
Jon approaches the throne room of the Red Keep and we get a very showy shot of Drogon shaking off the snow as he approaches. Jon is permitted to pass, presumably because of his Targaryen blood although Drogon has previously shown deference to those favored by Daenerys even if they aren’t related to her. Inside Dany approaches the Iron Throne for the first time in her life. It’s very similar to her vision from the House of the Undying, but real this time. She has no dialogue in this scene, she is alone as she walks towards the thing that has consumed her life. We have only her face to tell us the relief and wonder she feels at this moment, and Emilia Clarke makes the most of it. She finally touches one hilt, and stands before the throne with an expression of awe as Jon approaches from behind her. Before she can sit, she turns to tell him a story about how she learned of the Iron Throne as a child. It’s a sly reference to the difference between the show’s version of the Throne and the book’s version. Jon asks her if she’s seen the burned children. Jon has no idea what Daenerys has seen, the path she has taken to this moment. Why she can’t be merciful now, as she has tolerated betrayal after betrayal and been paid back even in more betrayals. What if she’s right? Dany has been right about so much this season, and that’s the single point of tension left in this scene; she could still be right now. “They don’t get to choose” is meant to be the line of a villain, but given other hints at the concept of predetermination and fate that we later get, maybe it’s just an acknowledgment of reality. Jon embraces her and then stabs her in the heart. She dies in her arms, in sight of the throne she never sat on.
My biggest question with the issue of Dany’s death (because I was sure it was coming) was what was going to happen with her dragon. How do you kill a dragon’s mother and not end up immediately killed by a dragon? The answer appears to be that the dragon has far more awareness than we’d be led to believe. I’ve spoken to Paula Fairfield who does the sound design for the dragons and part of Drogon’s voice was her own dog. That’s what I thought about in this scene as Drogon sniffed and nudged Daenerys, trying to wake her before accepting her death. The grief Drogon expresses here is the work of the digital effects team, Paula Fairfield, and the musical cues of Ramin Djawadi. It’s one of the most powerful scenes in the episode and it’s wholly without dialogue. Kit Harington does some good reaction work as well. Drogon melts the Iron Throne, that thing which had captivated his mother for so long, before ever so gently scooping up her body and flying off to parts unknown.
After a black screen we rejoin Tyrion an unspecified amount of time later. Gray Worm and two Unsullied guards come to take him out and walk him to the dragon pit where the surviving great lords of Westeros are gathered. Including maybe Howland Reed? They never bother to make it clear so I’m not convinced. We learn that Jon has been kept in captivity as well, and that the Unsullied control the city. The question at hand is what justice looks like for Jon, who has murdered a queen that roughly half the people here were loyal to. Tyrion tries to interject and Gray Worm snaps that, “Everyone has heard enough words for you,” which is ironic given that he’s about to take over this whole scene. But not before Edmure, who has spent the last 5-7 years in a dungeon?, tries to put himself forward for the position. Sansa tells him to sit down. Edmure, finally reading the room, obliges. Sam briefly attempts to begin direct democracy which is laughed down by the associated high-borns. And then Tyrion is asked his opinion despite his recent run of nothing but the WORST decisions possible. Right about here is when I remembered a passage in A Storm of Swords when Tyrion reflects to himself what a good queen Sansa would have made after Joffrey put her aside to marry Margaery. But we’re well beyond any kind of call-back that deep. We get a very long speech about how important stories are (gag) and are told that Bran has the best story there. As someone who has been watching all these stories, I SINCERELY beg to differ. I also take offense at his dubbing Bran “Bran the Broken” as though Bran remains at some kind of disadvantage compared to anyone else in Westeros. I think not enough consideration is given here to the fact that at this point Bran is more a semi-omnipotent nature-based demigod rather than a person who happens to know a lot of stuff. Tyrion here is falling victim to a common problem among smart people; when they meet someone smarter at one particular area they seem to think they must be smarter at EVERYTHING. (See also: Elon Musk fans.) Anyway, whatever is driving Bran at this point is more than happy to be handed the throne, although I have no idea what kind of throne there is anymore. He gets the vote of all the gathered lords, named and not named, except for Sansa. You might think that it would give them all pause that the person who’s been closest to Bran is the one who doesn’t want to be ruled by him. But Bran agrees with Sansa’s request that the North remain independent and miraculously no other kingdoms request the same. This is pretty dumb, especially when everyone stands up and says “All hail Bran the Broken!” on Tyrion’s cue. It’s even dumber when Bran appoints Tyrion his hand.
Jon, on the other hand, is getting sent back to the Night’s Watch. Which apparently still exists despite the giant hole in The Wall? And the lack of White Walkers and wights? OK then. Jon is going back North. I guess that’s better than him ending up on the throne, even if I’m not feeling King Bran or whatever either. The only thing worse than a tree-person demigod on the throne is the guy who’s been telling everyone he doesn’t want to be on the throne on the throne. Jon makes his way through a shockingly busy King’s Landing port, I thought everyone burned up there? Anyway, the Unsullied are off to the Island of Naath which seems like not the worst idea. The Stark siblings and whatever Bran is come to say goodbye to Jon. He gives Sansa his blessing, and Arya tells him that she’s not going back North. For a terrible moment, I was worried she was going to say she was staying in Storm’s End, but she’s off to find out what’s west of Westeros. I suppose when you kill a supernatural being who is an avatar of death as a teenager there’s not a lot left at home to get you excited in the morning.
Brienne is apparently Lord Commander of the Kingsguard now and has sat down to fill in Jaime’s page in the White Book. We then cut to Tyrion getting ready to begin his first meeting of the Small Council as Bran’s Hand. For some reason his council includes Bronn as master of coin and a few things here: 1. can Bronn read? 2. are we sure the best guy to handle the money is the one who has repeatedly and openly stated his loyalty is for sale to the highest bidder? There’s a gag in here about “A Song of Ice and Fire” that I don’t even feel like dignifying with further discussion. Bran drops in briefly, seems generally uninterested in participating in the significant work of running a kingdom, and fucks off to mind-surf around the world to find Drogon. Or so he says. Who knows what he’s really up to? Also, Sam’s a Grand Maester now? Didn’t the Citadel have some things to say about those stolen books or him just abandoning his training after he deliberately disobeyed his elders? I’m not saying he was wrong to try and cure Jorah, just that they’d probably hold a grudge about it. Anyway, for all the talk of “breaking the wheel” and new starts, this council meeting feels like something out of Robert’s reign. Also, I really wish Meera Reed was there. You drag a guy half way up a damn continent and back seems the least you should get out of it is a high-profile sinecure.
What also feels like something out of Robert’s reign is Jon approaching Castle Black from the South. But this time it’s full of Wildlings. Tormund is there to greet him. And now we get the closing montage of the surviving Stark siblings. (RIP Rickon, forgotten Stark child.) Jon arms himself at Castle Black, Arya arms herself on her ship, and Sansa is adorned in Winterfell. The Stark theme sounds extra mournful as we get a last look at these characters. Jon walks out to the assembled Wildlings, Sansa crosses Winterfell’s Great Hall with her hair finally all the way down, and Arya strides to the front of her ship. We see the wolf with all three of them, Jon is finally reunited with Ghost, Arya’s ship has a Stark wolf on the prow, and Sansa is coronated with a crown featuring two wolf heads centered above her face and two carved into her throne. The tune turns triumphant as we watch them make their way into the future; Sansa as Queen, Arya into the unknown, and Jon going Beyond the Wall. Perhaps for good.
While we’ve talked a lot about the groundwork it felt like these last few episodes were missing, there was also the groundwork that was just ignored. I mentioned above that I thought Arya would never wear another face, mostly for technical reasons (let’s just admit that if she did wear Jaime’s face the next argument would be “How did 5’1” Maisie Williams pass herself off as 6’2” Nikolaj Coster-Waldau?”) but it’s frustrating that so much of her training was just brushed off. We got a big moment from Ellaria Sand about how “Dorne will never be ruled by weak men again” just to watch the famously independent Dornish acquiesce to be ruled by King’s Landing again in the form of an unnamed and mostly silent Prince. The whole first half of this season was about how Jon and Daenerys had to join forces to prevent the death of every person in Westeros and we just… never talked about that again? Dany’s war on tyrants made a lot of sense, up to and until she saw literal death walking. Having her so fixated on Cersei after that felt regressive. The ending seemed like it worked better the more of the previous seven seasons you were able to forget. I can’t be mad at what appears to be mostly happy endings for the surviving Starks (my one wish going into this was that Sansa would make it out alive) and I’m glad that Jon didn’t end up on the Throne after spending the whole season moaning “I dun wan it!” I will miss the show I started watching back in 2011 with a rich mythology, history, and character development.
I will probably miss this show regardless once it really sinks in that there is no more. I’ll have more thoughts that didn’t fit into this recap, but I think this is the most appropriate place to say that now our watch has ended. Meet me here again when/if The Winds of Winter come.
Header Image Source: HBO
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