'Game of Thrones' Series Finale Recap: No Happy Endings
“There’s nothing in the world more powerful than a good story.” I keep coming back to this line, as Tyrion tried to justify his grand solution for the future of Westeros. Because, without a doubt, we’ve all been wrapped up in one hell of a powerful story. The question is: Was it a good one?
This is a recap, but I also guess that everyone who is reading already knows exactly what happened last night, so I don’t want to spend too much time stating the obvious. So, in a nutshell, here’s how it all wrapped up:
Dany, having successfully sacked King’s Landing, toppled Cersei, and dressed in her finest Sith black, is enjoying her victory — but she also announced that the war isn’t really over. She will continue overthrowing tyrants until she’s liberated the world. The catch? Everyone, in her eyes, is a tyrant — because she is the only one who knows what a good world should look like. No one else should get to have a choice. “Will you break the wheel with me?” she asked her assembled soldiers, her Dothraki and Unsullied. The wheel, in her eyes, isn’t just the injustices of the past, but anything that isn’t ruled by her alone (which, you know, makes HER a tyrant).
Tyrion, having uncovered the bodies of Jaime and Cersei in the rubble of the crypt, approaches Dany in front of her soldiers and throws away his Hand pin, resigning his position — and then she takes him into custody for being a traitor (since she knows he released Jaime). Jon watches all of this go down with that same
constipated concerned look on his face, and then he has two very important conversations. And what’s interesting is that Arya and Tyrion both tell him the same thing: Dany is a killer who views Jon as a threat, and Sansa will never accept Dany as her Queen. Jon, predictably, just wants to believe in his Queen and that the war is over (despite having heard her literally tell her army that the war is NOT over), but Tyrion pushes him further by appealing to Jon’s Night Watch training. He’s used to being a shield protecting the realm of mankind — but what’s the greatest threat facing them now?
Jon finds Dany in the throne room, where the Iron Throne is miraculously still standing. And because love and duty are apparently the death of each other, Jon kisses his Aunt Queen… and then stabs her. Drogon flies up, and instead of eating Jon he just melts the throne with his fire-breath and then flies off with Dany’s body to mourn (give that dragon an Emmy). The only surprise, really, is that Jon isn’t immediately crowned as the new King — either by right of birth OR by right of Queenslaying. Instead, the remaining lords gather in the dragon pit to decide what to do about Jon (including some long-forgotten faces, like Edmure Tully and “Sweetrobin” Arryn, and new lords like Gendry and Davos). Grey Worm wants Jon dead, but Tyrion (who is still a prisoner), says that isn’t for him to decide — Jon’s fate should be left to the next King or Queen. So… who should it be?
No, not you Edmure, sit the hell back down. And no Sam, the common people can’t be allowed to decide for themselves (democracy? how laughable!). No, the only natural choice, as determined by Tyrion — the man who has been VERY WRONG about basically everything for several seasons now — is… BRAN STARK? Yup, Bran the Broken gets the throne because it makes a good story. He fell, he lived, he learned to fly. He went north of the wall, became the Three-Eyed Raven, and now possesses the memory of Westeros. He knows their past, and should lead them into the future. And better yet, he can’t have children so the right to rule by blood will end. After Bran, the next monarch will be selected by the leading lords as well.
Bran, who doesn’t want to be King but knew he would be (because he knows EVERYTHING and yet did nothing to stop any of it), decides to make Tyrion his Hand because it’s a job Tyrion doesn’t want either. They can suffer together. Sansa’s only reservation is that she wants the North to be an independent kingdom again, which Bran accepts — so Bran becomes the King of the Six Kingdoms, and Sansa becomes the Queen in the North, and all of Westeros is ruled by the Starks, which hardly seems like much of a broken wheel. Arya decides to become an explorer. Tyrion forms his advisory council, which includes Sam as the new Grand Maester, Brienne as the head of the Kingsguard, Bronn as the Master of Coin, and Davos as the Master of Ships. And the compromise regarding Jon’s fate is to send him back to Castle Black to serve in the Night’s Watch once again — not because there is a threat to protect the realm from anymore, but just because they’ll always need a Siberia to ban people to.
But at least Jon is able to live out the rest of his days with his buddy Tormund — and reunite with Ghost, finally giving his very good boy the pat on the head he so richly deserved.
This is the story we have been given. And it was never a story about good or evil. Good people died, and so did bad ones, and true evil was defeated in a single episode. No, this was a story about politics — about how hard true change is when nobody can agree on what that change should be, and how compromise is mostly about settling for the path forward that satisfies no one. It was a story about human nature, and the stories we tell ourselves to justify our actions. Just like the copy of “A Song of Ice And Fire” that Sam gives Tyrion — the historical record of the events that have transpired, but which never even mentions Tyrion — our stories often have little to do with reality. Dany created a story for herself where she was Good, and incapable of being wrong. And the thing is, Dany’s vision of the future probably was the best — it’s just that the end didn’t justify her means.
But did anyone’s? Was it worth Jon betraying the love of his life, and his Queen, just to install BRAN STARK on the throne? Was Bran right to keep his mouth shut and let the chips fall where they did, letting so many innocent people die, just to be another unqualified ruler letting his advisors do all the heavy lifting? In the end, Davos and Bronn both rose through simple beginnings to become lords and advisors to the King — but it didn’t matter that Davos did it through loyalty while Bronn did it through pure self-interest. They ended up in the exact same place. Even Tyrion killed his father only to wind up taking his place, sitting in the exact same chair.
Ultimately, nothing mattered. Westeros doesn’t look that different than it did when we started watching the show, and the only person who arguably got a real happy ending was Arya — the person who left Westeros behind entirely. No wheels were broken, because humanity was the wheel all along. And we can’t change ourselves — we can only change the stories we tell about ourselves. We can convince ourselves that we’re better off, that our baby steps are progress, when really we’re just shuffling the set dressing around.
Or at least, that’s what I think this nihilistic finale settled on. And in some ways, I even grudgingly respect it. Because just as there was no political resolution that would satisfy all the characters, there was no plot resolution that would satisfy all of the viewers. But as powerful as this story was — as much as we argued about it, and obsessed over it — does that in and of itself make it a “good” story? If nothing matters, then what the hell did we just spend eight seasons watching?
I’m still mulling over everything that transpired. And I’m sure I’ll read more reactions, and talk to more people, and my impression will continue shifting. The story of Game of Thrones will change in my mind. But for now, one thing is certain:
That Westworld Season 3 trailer was the best thing I saw all night.
Header Image Source: HBO