Beware! The night is dark and full of terrors, and this review will have spoilers. Which could be a scarier prospect.
This week: And so our watch is ended.
That’s all, folks! Game Of Thrones, one of the most popular, talked-about and critiqued series in recent history has wrapped up its final episode. The debates are already raging as to whether the show’s developers – that would be writer/directors David Benioff and DB Weiss, who originally worked from George RR Martin’s books and then, when they outpaced their source material, had to chart their own course from an outline Martin provided – managed to wrap up the show in an effective, pleasing manner. Let’s be brutally honest here: they were never going to please everyone, and to have tried would have been folly. Still, on the basis of The Iron Throne, the series finale, it was… mostly satisfying. We still have concerns over the turning of Dany into the Mad Queen, all wide-staring eyes as she caressed the Throne still standing in a ruined throne room. And the fact that the show’s final comment on her appeared to be, “bitches be cray cray, but thank goodness for Mumford & Sons looking mopey-heads who are here to stab them with a dagger.” Still, the end of the Mother Of Dragons did provide for a touching, wonderfully realised moment of mourning for Drogon, who got to snatch his dead queen/mum up and fly away with her body to we know not where exactly – east, we’re later told, but for all we know, like a loyal hound, he’s off to bury her in someone’s back garden. All applause to Emilia Clarke for pulling off Dany’s turn, no matter how narratively twisted it was, reminding us less of our favourite Targaryen and more of these two.
After last week’s destruct-o-thon, the finale at least allowed the characters, and us as audience members, to process what had happened in the ravaged streets of King’s Landing. Peter Dinklage got to shine once again, reacting to the damage and his choices like this guy, weeping over the crushed bodies of Cersei and Jaime (for everyone who had the theory that they’d somehow survived, we’d suggest looking up the laws of gravity and the weight of a building). There were moments of reflection, times of trouble – even in its finale, Thrones can’t quite stop shedding blood – and a valiant attempt to wrap up the story for everyone. Coming out mostly well from it? Team Stark (and associated bastards), who got to finish up ruling (Bran), ruling (Sansa, the North at least), taking a long-earned gap year to go travelling (Arya) and freezing his stones off beyond the Wall (Jon, but let’s be honest… it’s probably where he’s happiest, if Jon Snow can ever truly be said to understand the concept of actual happiness.)
The final montage of Stark succession was a welcome return for our favourite family, and they weren’t the only ones coming back. The episode was a veritable Who’s Who of lords and ladies. Even Robin Arryn (Lino Facioli) was back! Despite occasionally feeling like a fan service-y roundup of It’s That Guy Or Gal from the series (freshly minted Lord Gendry got to say exactly one word), there was no denying it was fun to watch the world of Westeros and beyond evolving into its next stage of politics and existence in general. Tyrion made it out alive, and gets to stay as the Hand of King Bran. We freely admit to concerns that His Grace will, when confronted with some invading army, be too busy warging as a seagull to rule effectively, but at least he has a solid Small Council. After all, who wouldn’t want Bronn watching your back even as he balances the books? Bronn, Davos, Brienne, Sam, Ser Podrick Payne, all good choices for Bran the Broken, first of his name, faller from windows, distributor of cryptic wisdom and keeper of parental secrets until it was dramatically necessary for him not to be.
The faltering birth of democracy in the show was decently portrayed – we’re even okay with poor Sam once more being a figure of fun, because he gets his reward later – even if we’re a little concerned that the lords and ladies of this screwed up land don’t seem like the best people to be making decisions, and will probably end up squabbling with each other like they always used to. It feels, at least, like there will be a little more order, with the likes of Sansa and Gendry in charge of powerful places. We also got a plethora of callbacks to previous episodes again, including Tyrion referencing “pissing off the edge of the world” (the Wall) and Davos once again correcting grammar, just as his old boss Stannis used to. One element that irked? The clever-clever, look-what-we-did reveal that Sam has been helping Arch Maester Ebrose with the history of the realm since Robert’s Rebellion. And it’s called… A Song Of Ice And Fire. Uh huh. Riiight.
The throne itself, helpfully melted to slag by Drogon, who clearly understands the need for dramatic metaphor, was always going to represent the shift in the story itself, and you’d have been a fool to bet against it staying intact. Quibbles about Jon somehow avoiding being roasted at the same time – Drogon can be very accurate when he wants to be – aside, it was a satisfying way to figure out who would sit on it. Which is to say, no-one, though Bran is king. And yes, we do mean the kid who wasn’t even sure he was human any more. He’ll have to make do without the Unsullied, a clearly disenchanted Grey Worm loading up his men and heading for Naath. And… looking for a new Breaker Of Chains? Actually, maybe taking after this lot would work for them.
What didn’t work as well? Brienne got slightly short shrift, even if she ended up commanding the Kingsguard, but spent most of the episode tearfully updating Jaime’s entry in the White Book of their accomplishments. Jon remained the least compelling character, even as Kit Harington sold the emotional beats of his journey to Queenslayer and beyond.
As the showrunners took over both writing and directing duties for the finale, the blame and credit falls squarely on Benioff and Weiss’ shoulders for how well they’ve brought this adaptation (and, because of how much they’ve altered the narrative to fit the demands of a different medium, evolution) of the story. In truth, the final episode did work, with the few caveats about the end of Dany’s story. The wheel may not be as broken as she hoped it might be (you do have to wonder about a ruler who promised to free people after destroying so many innocents), but it’s being hammered into some new shape. And the pair, along with their fellow writers and the entire Thrones team managed to hammer the show into something that was worth the journey. This final season was far from perfect, and even before that, the series had its ups and downs, but it delivered when it mattered and earned its place in the pop culture pantheon. The finale wrapped a few elements up a tad too cleanly, perhaps going against the show’s original “good people don’t triumph” edicts, but were you truly going to be happy with a defiant Dany standing over the charred bodies of everyone else, ruling a ruined realm? It’s not the end everyone would have wanted. It was never going to be.
We’ll miss visiting Westeros each week. At least until the prequel…
Highlight: The small council comedy.
Lowlight: The reveal of the book’s title. A little too meta, even if lots of people predicted it.
Kill of the week: Dany. Stabbed by some pillock.
Quote of the week: “You know how it ends, we need to find a better way!” – Davos, perhaps commenting on the finale, but mostly foreshadowing Westeros’ stumbling first steps towards Democracy of a kind.
Random thought: Bronn as Master of the Coin is an, ahem, master stroke.
Was there justice for poor old Ghost?
There was! He got to nuzzle his master and stride out with the group of Night’s Watch and Wildlings heading for the further north. Good boy, Ghost. No idea if Tormund got a cuddle.
Do we think there are any White Walkers still out there waiting to greet Jon?
Our guess is they’ve all gone, dispatched with the destruction of Jeremy The Night King. But that would’ve made for a fun, post-credits sting. Which does make us wonder just what the Night’s Watch’s job is now that the big threat is essentially thwarted…
What the heck do I watch now?
Season 8 Reviews
Season 7 Episode Review Guide
[Episode 6 – Beyond The Wall
Game Of Thrones aired Sunday evenings on HBO in the States, with a simulcast on Sky Atlantic and Now TV in the early hours of Monday and a repeat Monday evenings at 9pm.