It’s bizarre that a fantasy show, complete with dragons and magic, became the biggest TV show in the world. People who wouldn’t be caught dead reading Lord Of The Rings found themselves caught up by the intrigue, violence, sex and sheer sweep of Game Of Thrones. After a controversial last season that saw over a million fans sign a petition asking for a do-over, the final episode finished things on a more-or-less satisfying note. Perhaps nothing could have lived up to the sky-high expectations of this final series, but some scenes of spectacle and character detail this week matched anything the show had at its best, reminding us just why we have all been so mad for George RR Martin's epic.
The key is that this final episode felt like an ending that came from its characters, without so many of the abrupt, out-of-the-blue turns as the last week or two. Last week Cersei seemed to abandon all human emotion, Jaime regressed totally and Arya gave up on vengeance (after six solid seasons of being fixated on it!) for no reason whatsoever beyond the Hound telling her she could. It was frustrating, and felt to many fans like a sort of betrayal.
At least Dany’s turn to mania in pursuit of her enemies was better signalled, and the aftermath of her destruction opens this episode. These almost silent scenes give further weight to the devastating holocaust that Dany and her last dragon, Drogon, caused, as Jon and Tyrion reckon with the prospect that the Queen they thought would save Westeros might be just another tyrant. There are beautiful, powerful moments here, some of the best of the show: Dany walking to address her savage troops as Drogon flexes his wings to take off behind her, making her look like a dark angel. Then there’s classic Thrones intrigue, as an imprisoned Tyrion begs Jon to act and, then, Jon tries to reason with Daenerys for the last time. It showed how quickly a great white hope can turn to a great despair, a contradiction that Game Of Thrones has always revelled in.
So Jon murders his lover to save his country and Drogon melts the Iron Throne to smelt, flying away from Westeros for the last time with Dany’s body in his talons. A council of Lords puts the unlikely contender Bran Stark on the Throne, and the wheel of violence that led men to kill for that throne of swords is, we think, stopped in its turning – at least for now. Sansa becomes Queen in the North and Arya, sensing that there’s going to be less need for assassins in the near future, heads off to explore new lands to the West. Perhaps that’s another abrupt character turn for her that could have been better signalled, but it feels like a hopeful note for a character who has been through a lot (is this a set-up for one of the proposed spin-off shows?).
It’s a more-or-less satisfying finish, without the stink of overly-craven fan service that would have hung around any ending that left Jon on the throne that he never wanted. Heroes in Game Of Thrones are not supposed to end up universally beloved and lauded for their actions; the world of Westeros (and indeed our own) is more complicated than that. Instead Jon is exiled to the Wall, from which we see him go north again. That is immensely cheering: Jon gets to spend his days with the straight-talking Wildlings, led by Tormund, where he was happiest. He can finally hang out with his dog, as the direwolf Ghost finally gets his owner back and that appalling lack of a hug goodbye in episode four is forgotten. That shot of Jon, Ghost, Tormund and the rest disappearing among the trees brings us full-circle from the prologue to the very first episode, but now the Wilds are free of White Walkers and the dead, and merely very, very cold. It’s a victory worth having.
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Emilia Clarke, 2013
In the end, it’s the little moments that stand out. Tyrion straightening chairs before the first meeting of the Little Council was a tiny sense of how the show could be at its best, showing us that even the powerful have small, human concerns like the rest of us. Bronn and Brienne bicker over the funding of brothels or ships, which feels true to them both. Brienne taking the time to write a generous tribute to Jaime in the annals of the King’s Guard was perhaps the episode’s biggest tear-jerker, a scene done entirely without words that has an impact because we know her, and him, and we care about both.
The final season of Game of Thrones was far too rushed, and far too lacking in the sort of languorous, tangential character development that made the show so nuanced and rich. It should have been twice as long to satisfy us - although then we might have complained that they were drawing it all out too much and taking too long. But this last episode gave us some of the little grace notes and character beats that made Thrones what it was: a gripping, thoroughly human drama. Just, y’know, with dragons