(UN)POPULAR CULTURE

The home of writer & author A. J. BLACK

It would be remiss of me, as an enormous Game of Thrones fan, to let the final season go by without sharing some thoughts week on week.

I’m conscious, however, that full and in-depth critical analysis won’t truly be possible until the finale has aired, at which point I’ll be going back and starting to tackle Season 2 and working back toward the end. I have already deep dived Season 1, as you may remember, and they will probably get a polish once the entire show is completed.

My plan then, in the spirit of George R. R. Martin’s books, is to write up thoughts on each character journey and use them as a prism to explore each episode. With a show like this, built heavily on theory, escalation and payoff, this feels like one of the best ‘in the moment’ methods of reviewing the show – indeed I did just that for Season 6 in my days writing for Flickering Myth.

Okay, take your seats and let’s end this… though BEWARE SPOILERS!

JON & DAENERYS

It was always going to end like this, wasn’t it?

Though it’s largely unsaid on the show, bar a little reminder of his un-death, Jon fulfils his destiny for the Lord of Light and kills his Nissa Nissa with a dagger to the heart, thereby saving the world. It came as no surprise after last week but at this stage, it made sense. Jon at least struggled with the weight of killing the woman he loved, a woman he wanted to believe in as Queen, and I fully believe he went into the Throne Room determined to save her from an inevitable fate. Some may imagine this anticlimactic but I think there was a tragic romance to how their story ended which fit an entanglement doomed from the start.

Dany, after all, fully transitioned into a zealot in this episode. All the emotional rage from The Bells has now cooled into a fixed, absolute belief that she can only ‘free’ the entire world through fire and blood, and she is utterly incapable of seeing her own tyranny in her actions. Does this make her ‘mad’? I’m not sure. I think that’s too easy. I just think by the end Dany believed she was the hero of her own story and had nobody there to check her darkest Targaryen impulses. It remains all too sudden a transition for her character, and needed more episodes to truly bed in, but I believe in such a tragic destiny for her. Drogon mournfully carrying her away was beautiful too. In my head he takes her to ancient Valyria but I guess we’ll never know…

As for Jon, well, I was surprised he didn’t get to turn down being King, but it makes sense he would be held accountable for, essentially, murder. There’s a circular irony in him being sent to take the black, return to the North where his story began, and I fully imagined he’d end up going beyond the Wall again with Tormund, Ghost and the free folk. Jon doesn’t get the fate maybe he deserves but it is a noble heroes’ end for the character, a bittersweet denouement for a protagonist who was often overshadowed by brighter lights around him. His watch may have ended but maybe Jon will have a simple, happy life among the ice. Let’s hope so.

TYRION

The so-called ‘Imp’ completely cements his role as the heart, soul and moral compass of Westeros in this final episode.

From his unearthing of his dead brother and sister (meaning Jaime/Cersei *did* make it to the series finale after all!), through to his brave rejection of Daenerys, acting as Jon’s conscience and later nominating the man who would be King, Tyrion probably gets more screen time than anyone else in The Iron Throne and it is great that he is so central. Tyrion has always been the MVP of Game of Thrones – among the most consistently richly developed, well-performed, and emotionally complex characters. The quiet, flawed, compassionate hero. Tyrion has made lots of mistakes in the last couple of seasons but him getting the chance to rectify them is a far better ending for him than burned by a dragon or his head being lopped off by Grey Worm.

In many respects, Tyrion is ruler of Westeros by the end in all but name, certainly from a logistical and administrative sense, and you really feel he will do a good job. He’s learned a lot of lessons from bad and ineffective rulers so it feels earned that he would suggest a system that *truly* breaks the wheel – a United Nations of Westeros, basically, and the closest thing to democracy the world can get without being laughed down (don’t worry Sam, they’ll get there eventually). Tyrion also can provide Bran with some levelled humanity as Hand. If one character is truly given justice in this finale, it’s Tyrion. I’m delighted to be able to say that.

(KING) BRAN (THE BROKEN)

Well and indeed blimey… who saw this coming?

A few people, actually. Bran being King I have seen mooted by online commentators and it ends up working in a far more seamless manner than I ever imagined. The key is Tyrion’s degree of removing primogeniture from the equation, which is what my guess about Gendry’s claim hung on. The moment the King doesn’t have to be part of a lineage, the field is open, and Tyrion’s rationale—that Bran, as the memory and past of Westeros, is fit to lead them into a different future—is pretty damn solid. It gives Bran the function many have felt across Season 8 he never had, and retrospectively it makes the Night King’s own rationale for invading stronger. If he had killed Bran, he would have killed not just the past but the future of Westeros. The Long Night will be helped by this development.

What kind of King would Bran be, I guess? A fairly remote one, I should imagine. He is already talking about warging off to try and find Drogon and, by extension, Daenerys’ body, so the day to day he’d leave to, essentially, a council of wise (if extremely male) nobles. Bran can see enough to make wise decisions and be fair, cool and calm in a way no previous King has ever been, however. You have little doubt he’d create a better Westeros than the one before. Beats living in a freezing tree, I suppose…

SANSA & ARYA

I did wonder when Sansa *told* Bran that the North would become independent why half a dozen of the others didn’t pipe up and ask for the same!

It certainly fits, however. Sansa as Queen of the North had been coming for a while and the North going its own way very much feels earned after how much they have suffered these past few years. Sansa has a few fun moments here – the casual put down of her foppish uncle Edmure Tully, being honest enough to voice doubts about Tyrion’s suggestion, and doing her best to help Jon. She is a *little* smug at times, and I do wonder if she could ever be entirely trusted – there is a flicker of Cersei lurking in there still. Plus it’s a shame we didn’t get at least a moment between she and Tyrion given what they had earlier in the season.

Arya doesn’t do as much in The Iron Throne as I might have expected. What happened to her white horse? What was that all about in the end? She kind of just *exists* really, even if her ultimate fate is excellent and makes a world of sense. Chances are she would never come back to Westeros and I am *completely* down for a Maisie Williams-fronted sequel of Arya charting distant, unknown lands! A fitting way for Arya’s story to end, with it just beginning, in its own way…

EVERYONE ELSE

Sam gets to be Grand Maester *and* writes ‘A Song of Ice and Fire’. Playing a beat of comedy with it is nice too, given it could have ended up being quite a loaded final scene of him writing the histories, etc… shame we don’t get to see Gilly with him here though, or a goodbye between he and Jon. Sam maybe gets a *little* short changed in the final shakedown, given how important a character he always was.

Brienne’s final moments are quietly moving. She becomes the new Lady Commander of the Kingsguard and gets to write Jaime’s history, his tribute. She allows history to be kind to him because she knows he *was* a good man who deserves it. A lovely way of honouring him and giving her some closure.

Davos and Bronn are going to make brilliant piss-taking sparring partners on the King’s Council. Can we have a sitcom spin off with these two? The King’s Likely Lads? Nobles Behaving Badly? I’d watch it!

Does Grey Worm know that Naath has fauna that kills outsiders? He really does have a death wish!

And I assume Yara knows Theon is dead and Robyn Arryn (who has experienced the Walt from Lost growth effect and looks about 5000 years older than when we last saw him) is no longer a psychopath, right? Oh good.

Honestly, overall, The Iron Throne is among the best kind of endings to a story which was always going to be hellishly difficult to conclude.

There are predictable aspects. It may be lacking a few beats of tension after the first half. It is by necessity largely epilogue and certainly has more than a touch about The Return of the King about it. Thematically though it has a circularity which fits and makes sense. Almost all of it is incredibly earned. Was it as emotional as I expected? Perhaps not. Nothing truly made me gasp (bar maybe Drogon burning the Iron Throne – that was amazing) but a great deal made me nod, made me laugh, made me smile and as a fan for at least half of the show’s life on air, I felt a satisfaction by the end.

It will be wonderful to rewatch as a complete entity, to reflect on and analyse over the years to come and, regardless of quality, it will go down as one of the greatest television series in history. I will miss you, Game of Thrones.

Now all our watches are ended…

3 thoughts on “Game of Thrones – ‘The Iron Throne’ (8×06)

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