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Daenerys symbolic transformation into a dragon marked her final madness.

5 reasons why Game of Thrones went out in a blaze of dragon fire glory.

The series finale gave us just enough suspense, just enough pathos and just enough fan service to reclaim the show’s legacy.

[WARNING: SPOILERS]

Prepare to be shocked. I’m about to defend the guys I’ve been dumping on for the last three years.

Believe it or not, GOT’s final episode somehow escaped the kind of ending that leaves fans with such a bad taste in their mouths they remove shows like Lost and Dexter from their list of all-time favorites.

Given the way show runners Benioff and Weiss — a.k.a. D&D, a.k.a. “The Double-D Patrol” — plotted out the last two seasons, tonight’s ending was the TV equivalent of Kawhi Leonard’s buzzer beater in Game 7 of the Raptors-76ers playoff series.

Yes, it was that close, and yes it had some lucky bounces, but the ending of this all-time great TV show was good enough to give me something I haven’t been able to do very often the last two seasons.

The series finale provided enough of those wonderful character-driven moments and impossible moral decisions that I was again able to suspend my disbelief.

This happened because Benioff and Weiss rediscovered their literary souls and did everything they didn’t do for the last two seasons, like paying off foreshadowing, fulfilling prophesies, firing Chekov’s guns, and rational character arcs.

I’ve been writing about the series since Season 7 Episode 2, furious with the shoddy quality of writing and disappointed that six years of dramatic gold had been melted down and dumped into some random landfill out in the desert. But things changed in the Series Finale.

I come here not to bury Benioff and Weiss, but to praise them. The evil that showrunners do lives after them; just ask Damon Lindelof’s fans.

Watching the previous 12 episodes was like going through a bad breakup in a marriage, only to find out in the series finale that the flawed person who hurt you deeply is still capable of bringing you more joy than anyone you ever dated.

The problem is, the wounds are still there and you’re left with a huge existential question: even if my life will be better going forward if I can learn to forgive and love freely again, am I strong enough to accept and overcome the pain of betrayal and lost innocence?

I know this episode has been widely regarded as a disappointment, but I think that is more a question of all those knowledgeable and passionate fans being unable to separate their past heartbreak from being able to view the actual episode on its own merits. I have to ask if this is one of those rare cases where the fans failed to show up more than the showrunners.

I stand before all viewers, a lone voice in the wilderness beyond the Wall and declare before the weirwood trees, “I am the shield that guards the realms of TV, and I will not let the last two shitty seasons spoil my appreciation for the ending of an all-time great TV show!” Who dares come with me?

Imagine a world where big-ass cross bows have to obey the laws of physics. Imagine a world where sailing ships are not equipped with teleportation devices. Imagine a world where each character’s journey is an arc, not a hairpin turn. If you can imagine these things you might be able to view a Game of Thrones final episode that actually does justice to the series.

That’s how you would feel if you watch the first six seasons of Game of Thrones, plus the Season 7 opener, and then simply skip forward to the series finale.

Yes, you’d still have all kinds of questions about the Night King and all the prophesies. And you would probably ask what the hell turned Grey Worm into an SS death squad captain. In all the reactions I saw to last night’s episode, the best comment I found came from this tweet-length review by Danny Heifetz, of the Ringer.com:

“Episode 73 would have made for the perfect Episode 80.”

What a perfect encapsulation of all the missteps and mistakes, the unshown interactions we needed to see, and the inciting incidents that could have justified the bizarre choices made by our favorite characters.

All of this could have been avoided if Benioff and Weiss had simply agreed to do two full 10-episode seasons. I’ll never understand their decision to throw away two seasons just to make an extra buck on the next Star Wars trilogy. But they came to their senses at the very end, and I want to celebrate that, and examine why “The Iron Throne” was such a great episode.

How well did the series finale deliver on all the things that were originally promised?

There were five major parts to the episode, centering on the completion of the journey for the three most important characters in the show (Jon, Daenerys and Tyrion)¹, the new world order, and the show’s final farewell. I use a 100 point scale, with up to 25 possible points for each major character’s ending, 15 points for the new world order, and 10 points for the final farewell.

Remember: imagine how you would feel if you saw this episode just after watching Season 7 Episode 1. I welcome you can come up with reasons for me to change my final grades.

Journey #1: Daenerys becomes a tyrant who will “liberate” the world in much the same way as Thanos.

THE SETUP. The opening of Episode 6 follows Tyrion as he surveys the carnage in King’s Landing. This is a long, painful scene, as Tyrion and the audience is forced to witness the damage caused by Danerys. From a dead child, to a half dead burn victim stumbling through the ruins of King’s Landing, to dark silhouettes of skeletons inside buildings, to the charred wooden horse held by a little girl burned to death (a call back to the horror of Melisandre burning Stanni’s daughter Shireen at the stake), fires still burn, ashes fall and the ground is white.

Visually, winter has engulfed King’s Landing, and the death filling the streets is no less horrible than if the Night King had won the battle of Winterfell.

THE GUT PUNCH. But it’s not enough that Daenerys slaughtered thousands of innocents. Jon meets Grey Worm as he is about to execute a number of kneeling Lannister prisoners. Jon says the war is over, but Grey Worm says his orders are to kill all Lannisters by the Queen’s order. Grey Worm has given in completely to the dark side, following Daenerys’ example. There is a confrontation. Jon pulls back to avoid a battle with the Unsullied and goes to find his queen as Grey Worm slits the throat of the first prisoner as the scene dissolves.

The thrill and joy we felt when Grey Worm executed the two slave masters at the end of Season 6 has been replaced by revulsion at the war crimes now being committed in Daenerys’ name.

FINAL CONFIRMATION. Was there a more beautiful and symbolic scene than when Dany walks toward the platform to address her army and Drogon spread his wings behind her? She has become not the Mother of Dragons, but a dragon in human form, with the destructive power of a medieval nuclear weapon and none of the morality and emotion that prevents humans from becoming genocidal maniacs.

Dany’s speech confirms that she has gone beyond mad, because she won’t stop at winning the iron throne — she plans to “liberate” the entire world through blood and fire.

Regardless of how fans might have wanted to see Daenerys’ story end, there were enough clues since Season 1 that there was the seed of the Mad King in her: the coldness of watching her brother die a gruesome death and saying “he was no dragon;” the massacre at Astapor; the crucifixions at Meereen; the executions of Mossador, the Tarlys, and Varys, and the employee “barbeque” at Vaes Dothrak. Even a hardass like Stannis didn’t execute Davos.

Yes, she did things that were heroic and laudable, but Daenerys’ rhetoric from Season 2, Episode 4 speaks of someone who was ready to go nuclear from the very beginning.

“Thirteen, when my dragons are grown, we will take back that which was stolen from me, and destroy those who have wronged me. We will lay waste to armies and burn cities to the ground. Turn us away, and we will burn you first.

According to the GOT Wiki, “House Targaryen carries the trait for insanity in its bloodline, and it has been foreshadowed from the beginning.”

Here’s what we have learned about the Mad King’s children: Rhaegar was the gentle soul who loved music and fathered Jon Snow; Viserys was an evil little shit who abused his young sister and would do anything to take (not earn) the iron throne; and Daenerys was both heroic yet completely rigid in her thinking about her destiny and her sense of justice..

Just to remind us of the family’s insanity and cruelty, in episode 5, Varys urges Jon to take the crown for himself, and says

“Every time a Targaryen is born the gods toss a coin in the air and the world holds its breath to see how it will land. I still don’t know how her coin has landed, but I’m quite certain about yours.”

This show made us wait eight seasons, but Daenerys’ actions finally revealed on which side the coin landed. No matter how poorly her turn to the dark side was handled, D&D simply went back to good literary form, paying off all the foreshadowing and visions of the future. Remember the vision Daenerys had in the House of the Undead, showing the destroyed throne room in the Red Keep with the floor covered in white? In Season 2, we thought it was snow (the Night King), but it turned out to be ashes (the Mad Queen).

The idea that one of the brightest heroes of the books could go to the dark side is exactly the kind of trope-smashing moral ambivalence that made GOT become a world wide phenomenon. This was the perfect ending for Daenerys’ story arc.

And it was the vehicle which allowed us to witness the destruction of King’s Landing in episode 5, one of the most incredible visuals sequences in the history of the show, and the symbolic breaking of the wheel as Drogon reduced the iron throne to a mass of molten metal. Grade: 25/25

Journey #2: Jon is placed in the same moral trap as his “father” Ned, but finally proves that he is the Prince Who Was Promised.

In a gripping scene with Tyrion, Jon reminds us of an impossible moral dilemma when he repeats the words of his great-grand uncle, Maester Aemon Targaryen: “Love is the death of duty.”

In season 1, Jon responded that his father would do the right thing, and Maester Aemon replied that if that were true, Lord Stark was one man in ten thousand. Aemon was proved to be correct, as Ned actually failed to uphold his honor and duty twice, in order to protect Jon, and then his daughters.

Think about the foreshadowed situations and how they applied to other characters in the story, when Maester Aemon says “What is honor compared to a woman’s love? What is duty against the feel of a newborn son in your arms… or a brother’s smile?”

Not one GOT character put duty before love.² Hell, most of the characters simply put self interest before duty. Here’s a quick list:

Betrayed personal honor, a family member or lied to his mother: Ned, Catelyn, Sansa, Bran, the Baratheons, the Lannisters, Theon, Euron, Ellaria and the Sand Snakes, The Mountain, Viseryon

Betrayed honor, or their obligations as bannermen: the Freys, Boltons, Karstarks, Umbers, Tarlys

Betrayed honor and the code for treating guests: Xaro Xhoan Daxos, the Freys

Betrayed honor and the rules for treating prisoners or innocents: Daenerys, Grey Worm, the Red Woman,

Betrayed honor and the code of the Night’s Watch: Jon, Samwell, the mutineers at Craster’s keep

Betrayed honor and the sacred oath to serve a king or queen: Jorah, The Hound, Olenna Tyrell

Betrayed honor for a price (or had no honor in the first place): Bronn, Janos Slynt, Daario Naharys, Salladhor Saan, the Faceless Men

Put revenge before duty: Oberyn

Am I missing anyone? Only Brienne never betrayed her honor, but she was never forced to choose between love and duty.

One could make the argument that Stannis and Selyse put duty before love when they allowed their daughter to be burned at the stake by Melisandre, but they were blinded by power and religion, so I don’t know if we can even count that as a legitimate example. After all, their immediate reaction was to lose the will to live.

Jon became the last hero, stopping the “Long Night” which was the darkness of the Mad Queen that fell over King’s Landing and was destined to spread across the entire world.

Only Jon was able to overcame his love for Daenerys to do his duty and protect the realm. Unlike some critics who say Jon was stupid or weak because he needed Tyrion to convince him to stop the Mad Queen, and continued to wonder if he did he right thing, I say that the horror of being forced to choose duty over love is so soul crushing it is impossible to ever be sure of anything again. Jon made a far tougher choice than simply sacrificing his own life for a higher purpose.

He had already done that by saving the Wildlings at the end of Season 5. And it sure seemed like he had a death wish, based on his rash actions since then.

For the true hero of heroes in this story, the bittersweet end of sending Jon back to the Night’s Watch was both a punishment and a mercy.

Jon made the choice everyone else failed to make, and was strong enough to live with that pain (unlike Stannis and Selyse, if you give their messed up religious fervor any credence).

As a young member of the Night’s Watch, Jon failed to put duty before love a number of times: he left the Night’s Watch to go fight with Robb after finding out about Ned’s death; he couldn’t silence Ygritte to protect the location of Qhorin Halfhand’s scouting expedition; and, he allowed the Wildlings to come through the wall. At the end of his character arc, he made the ultimate sacrifice and killed the woman that he loved to stop her from setting the entire world on fire.

But it must be said how fortunate we were that Jon never ended up on the throne, as he has been one of the most consistently clueless players in the known world. His mistakes have cost thousands of unnecessary lives in battle, while his plot armor shielded him from every sure death imaginable. His inability to lie cost him the possible aid of Cersei, and set up Sansa’s betrayal of his secret to Tyrion, which precipitated Daenerys’ descent into rage and madness. His only real strength has been in his ability to delegate (Grenn, hold the gate) and listen to good counsel (Tyrion, Maester Aemon, Samwell and Davos) Grade: 25/25

Journey #3: Tyrion, in chains and fighting for his life, has a tour de force performance, combining humility, wisdom, and political foresight that transforms Westeros, and breaks the wheel.

Laugh if you will at the idea of a condemned man talking his way out of an impossible situation and changing the world around him. But if you think it couldn’t happen, then you haven’t been paying attention.

To every fan and critic who thought the great counsel scene at the Dragon Pit was impossible, I have to ask, what were you thinking each time Jon or Arya were in situations where they had absolutely no chance to survive? It’s called plot armor, and you accept it, or you don’t have a witness to experience what is happening and give us their perspective. Kill them and you kill the story. How is that any different for Tyrion, except that he uses words instead of swords?

Tyrion is clearly GRRM’s favorite character, and he is a catalyst who plays a role in almost every major character’s journey.

  • In a small way, he helped Bran regain some hope after his accident by sharing the design of a saddle that would let him ride again. Tyrion’s tender spot for “cripples, bastards and broken things” foreshadowed the bond that will be formed by King Bran the Broken and his hand, the dwarf.
  • Tyrion saved Jon’s life at the wall, just by using his words. Then he taught Jon lessons about leadership, giving him a new attitude that completely changed Jon’s journey.
  • Tyrion proved his valor to Bronn by saving Catelyn’s life during a bandit attack, and bonds with him enough to convince the sellsword to defend his life in a trial by combat. Bronn rises in class, then becomes Jamie’s closest “friend,” training him to fight lefthanded, helping him recover Myrcella and saving his life during the Loot Train Attack.
  • Tyrion saved himself from the Stone Crows with his sense of humor and his ability to learn people’s weaknesses and how to appeal to their desires.
  • Tyrion ferreted out snitches, murderers and traitors as the hand at King’s Landing, using his wits and his words.
  • Tyrion gave a speech during the battle of Blackwater Bay that restored the men’s morale, saving the city until Lannister and Tyrell forces showed up to rout Stannis’ army.
  • Tyrion defended Sansa a number of times when Joffrey was ready to kill or torture her. He never touched Sansa, aware of the pain it had to cause her to be married to a Lannister.
  • Tyrion talked himself out of being killed by slavers who only saw the value of selling dwarf’s penises for their value as an aphrodisiac.
  • Tyrion destroyed any illusions Jon continued to hold about Daenerys. Their dialogue in Tyrion’s cell was brilliant, voicing the author’s views on how power corrupts, the nature of violence and our instinct to justify the death of evil men, and the moral dilemma of love and duty (Jon: “love is the death of duty.” Tyrion: “duty is the death of love”). He forced Jon to see that Daenerys not only as a threat to Jon’s friends (which didn’t seem an issue), and Jon (also, not an issue), but his sisters (the line is drawn). From there Jon does the dance with Daenerys until she finally tells him that other people (like his sister’s desire for the North to be free) don’t have a choice to determine what is good.

Tyrion’s only failure to use his wits in the first five season was when Shae laid his soul bare in the trial after Joffrey’s death. (Love is the death of duty.)

For the first six seasons of Game of Thrones, Tyrion was the cleverest man in the entire GRRM universe, but he started out as a self-centered whoring drunk.

Tyrion proved himself to be one of only three characters (joining only Jon and Arya) who chose to save others. That had to earn him even more plot armor for the ending.

At the end of his character arc, he risks death three times in the last two episodes to serve the realm: 1. discussing Jon’s true identity with Varys; 2) releasing Jamie in the hopes he could convince Cersei to leave King’s Landing before Daenerys arrived with her dragon; and, 3) throwing away his position as Hand of the Queen in protest after witnessing the horrific slaughter of thousands of innocent men, women and children.

If we ignore his time as the Hand of Daenerys, where he became a complete idiot, the idea of Tyrion cheating death with his words once again seems like a certainty.

Based on what we have learned about what makes a good king in GRRM’s universe, and how it would effectively break the wheel, Tyrion’s choice of Bran was brilliant:

  1. A good ruler must NOT want power, because almost every character that coveted power in Game of Thrones has met a horrible end.
  2. As Tywin taught Tommen that “a wise king knows what he knows and what he doesn’t” and heeds the advise of his counselors. Guess who knows everything about everything in the Seven Kingdoms?
  3. A good king must be scarred in some way, as their wound helps them know how it feels to suffer. Without suffering, there is no compassion. Without compassion, there is no real justice, and a king can easily become a tyrant.
  4. Without the ability to have children, there can be unworthy heirs, no civil wars started by jealous siblings, and the beginning of a new system where the Council of Westeros’ great lords and ladies will always reconvene to pick the next king.
  5. No matter how corny it sounds, the idea that “stories can not be defeated by armies” is completely consistent with GOT’s central notion that “power resides where men believe it resides.” Stories bind the people of a kingdom to a leader just as much as they bind an audience to create the cultural phenomenon that was Game of Thrones.

Finally, Tyrion’s selection as Hand in Westeros calls back all the good he did while acting as Joffrey’s Hand — giving wise counsel, running the country, and having the courage to slap some sense into his nephew when Joffrey got out of control. Who can resist this delicious scene?

Seeing Tyrion restored to his former brilliance (while making me hate most of Seasons 7 and 8 all the more) was still magical and totally consistent with those first six amazing seasons. However, I have to deduct 5 points for the massive amount of political capital and plot armor required to get to this point. Grade: 20/25

#4: The new world order centers on the Council at the Dragon Pit, the rebuilding of King’s Landing, and some final tributes to fan service that play on the range of our emotions.

The Council at the Dragon Pit accomplished a number of goals, and fell short on a couple of others:

  1. We know that months had passed, as it gave time for all seven Kingdoms (minus the Reach which destroyed, but represented by Horn Hill’s heir, Samwell Tarly). It gave us a last look at Yara (who stupidly focused on her desire for vengeance against Jon, instead of pressing her claim of independence in the allaince she made with Daenerys), Gendry (who did nothing), and the Prince of Dorne (who also didn’t press for independence).
  2. It gave us one last chance to laugh at the ridiculous and incompetent Edmure Tully.
  3. It gave Davos the chance to make the case for peace, opening the way for Tyrion’s master performance.
  4. It introduced the concept of democracy, as raised by Samwell, only to be laughed down by the other foolish noblemen.
  5. It allowed Sansa to make her claim for the North’s independence. This was a huge piece of fan service³, and a good way to calm down all the people who were justifiably upset that of the two most powerful women in the show, Cersei turned into monster and Daenerys broke like a china doll to become a murderous madwoman. Sansa became who she is because she learned how to lie in Joffrey’s court, and then learned political strategy as Littlefinger’s intern at Chaos is a Ladder, inc. If D&D want to attribute her survivor skills and political acumen to surviving the rape and abuse she suffered at the hands of Ramsey, they are idiots. The only thing the abuse did was make her aware that no one else could protect her. It should also be noted that she was manipulated by Cersei, Margaery and Olenna, then used those same skills trying to turn Jon against Daenerys. So there is equal opportunity political maneuvering. Sansa’s final victory over Littlefinger happened because she learned the techniques he taught her, then leveraged Littlefinger’s own weakness (his professed love for her) to eventually trap him and execute him.

The Council at the Dragon Pit allows the combination of Davos, Samwell and Tyrion to fulfill Daenerys’ promise to “break the wheel,” a huge payoff. A more “standard” ending, with one of the characters establishing a new royal line would have betrayed one of the biggest themes foreshadowed in the show. While I wish we could have had a little more from Gendry, or an appearance by Tormund, the scene does its job. Deduct one point for Sansa punking Bran.

Brienne and the Kingsguard book. A nice way to pay respects to perhaps the greatest character redemption arc in the history of fiction. Jamie went from trying to murder a child to becoming a full fledged hero in the eyes of many fans. Sadly, D&D ignored his entire journey, only to have him holding Cersei while the Red Keep fell on top of them. From an accuracy standpoint, it was disappointing that Brienne chose not to share the information she had learned from Jamie that he killed the Mad King in order to prevent him from blowing up King’s Landing with wildfire. For someone whose entire life has been to maintain her honor, deduct one point for the glaring oversight to not recover Jamie’s honor in death.

The New Small Council Meeting. While this was total fan service, it still resonates as one of my favorite parts of the episode. I don’t care that no one is left in Highgarden and that the Lannisters stole every once of gold and grain from the once rich kingdom. For all we know, the castle is completely empty, and it will take years to rebuild its agricultural riches. All I care about is Bronn finally getting his castle and becoming master of coin to top it off. His ability to save or manage money is highly dubious, given his life as a sellsword whose precarious existence forces him to look for instant gratification before or after every battle. It’s ridiculous, but the exchanges that take place over the relative importance of a navy versus a brothel are comedic gold. The tip of the cap to GRRM with the ASOIAF book was excellent, as was the joke that Maester Ebrose never mentioned Tyrion in the record of the war of the five kings. Deduct one point for the disappointment was that Tyrion never finished the story about the jackass, the honeycomb and the brothel.

Total Grade: 12/15

#5: The final farewell to the Starks brings us full circle and a fitting end to Game of Thrones.

Jon’s reunion with Ghost and Tormund was an awesome final fan service reward. For all dog owners and I think the majority of GOT fans, direwolves have been valued above all life other forms outside of maybe the five principle GOT characters. “Save Ghost!” was the battle cry of Mallory Rubin, the co-host of Binge Mode, perhaps the greatest GOT podcast in all the land.

Sansa is crowned as Queen of the North. The weirwood fabric in her dress was awesome, but her crown looked more like a serpent wrapping itself around her head than a pack of direwolves. Was this a little symbolic dig at her being the new Littefinger?

Here how the original crown of the King of the North, was described in a Wiki of Ice and Fire:

The crown of the Kings of Winter was an open circlet of hammered bronze incised with runes of the First Men, surmounted by nine black iron spikes in the shape of longswords.[5]

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Sansa looks very self-satisfied to finally attain her position as the Queen of the North, and the vast majority of fans feel the same way about it, but does very little to show heroism compared to Arya and Daenerys.⁴ Her greatest moments are manipulating Littlefinger’s love for her to bring the mounted knights of the Vale to help the North retake Winterfell, and then attend his own trial and execution.

As much as fans relished seeing Sansa exact her personal revenge upon Ramsey by using his own dogs to rip him to pieces, and then condemn Littlefinger to death for his crimes against the Starks, how are these violent scenes any different from Arya’s deadly trail of vengeance as she crossed off the names from her list? At least Daenerys’ trail of death and destruction had the side benefit of freeing the slaves.

Was it too much to ask for Sansa to have a “Save the Cat” moment in Season 8 to show her path toward redemption and establish her hero/leader credibility? I wracked my brain trying to figure out what exactly Sansa ever did that spoke of courage, compassion or self sacrifice. While I have chronicled her deficiencies, I couldn’t think of one action that would merit her becoming the Lord of Winterfell.

I finally found a scene at the beginning of Season 2, where she risked her own safety to save Ser Dontos. First, she lied to Joffrey about it being a bad omen to kill someone on his name day, and the Hound backed up her story. Then she saved Dontos through false praise, convincing Joffrey that it was his own idea to name Dontos a court jester. The problem was that for the next five seasons, Sansa continued to be manipulated by others, which is why I forgot the scene.

The audience really needed a more recent act of courage and D&D missed a perfect opportunity when Sansa drew her dragon glass dagger while in the crypts of Winterfell. Perhaps, we’ll see her stab a skeleton to save a little girl’s life in the deleted scenes on the DVD. That lack of foreshadowing made Sansa’s final journey feel more like a move to placate fans than something laid out from the beginning by GRRM.

Arya exploring the world west of Westeros. This is a fitting reward for one of the best loved characters in the GOT universe, but not something foreshadowed by the books. Only a single line in her Season 6, Episode 8 conversation with Lady Crane indicates that becoming a seafaring explorer was even a thing for Arya. The only thing she ever wanted was to be a soldier. Instead she became a skilled ninja assassin with magical powers to assume others’ identities. Still, it was wonderful to see her continue her journey and survive the carnage of eight seasons of GOT.

This was a fitting climax to the larger story of the Stark family. Many wolves had died during the hardship of winter, but the pack survived. Grade: 7/10

Final tally and thoughts on the series finale.

As I stated in my premise, GOT’s final episode “The Iron Throne” needs to be seen as the logical leap that would have taken place after Season 7, Episode 1, before D&D completely lost their way. Did they ignore every literary device for two seasons simply to “subvert” fan expectations when they followed the logic and character arcs to the letter in the series finale? Or were they able to write a great finish because GRRM told them how the story ended, so it was just a question of stumbling and bumbling for 12 episodes to find any reason, no matter how lame, to get there? We’ll never know, but as one astute reviewer observed, “the first six seasons were like Jordan’s Bulls, winning 6 straight titles, while the last two seasons were like Jordan’s final run with the Wizards.”

It will probably take a couple of years and another rewatching of the series to view this episode more objectively. D&D absolutely killed the story in episodes 3–5, and fans are furious. Just look at the reaction to the series finale compared to all the other series finales in TV history.

Even Dexter’s series finale (it was supposed to end after season 7, but they added an eighth one that was terrible) had a higher fan rating than Game of Thrones. Seriously?

Other than Breaking Bad and the Wire (universally praised for their endings) get together with a group of friends and see if you can agree on another series that had a great ending.

There were obvious flaws in some characters, and areas that could have been better explained. But overall, it was a great final episode because of the crushing pressure to not ruin the series. The series finale may have left me wanting more, but it didn’t disappoint, and that in itself is a magnificent achievement, compared to how often great series have ended in disaster.

Final score 89/100.

Thanks to everyone who played a part in bringing the magic of GRRM’s epic story to life on the small screen, and the wondrous effects it has had on fans around the world.

Now, on to the prequels!

Footnotes:

¹It should be noted, in GRRM’s original outline, that the five main characters of the books were Jon, Bran, Arya, Tyrion and Daenerys. Unlike A Song of Ice and Fire, Game of Thrones is a show about politics. By definition, the final episode had to center on the key players from the three most important houses (Targaryen, Stark, and Lannister) contending for the iron throne.

For Bran, becoming the Three Eyed Raven meant that scenes (or chapters) could no longer be written from his perspective because he would know everything and reveal every secret and mystery still to be discovered in the story. GRRM commented about the books that he couldn’t write POV chapters for Varys, Littlefinger, and Howland Reed because they knew the answers to the most important events that drive the story.

For this reason, D&D cut Bran mostly out of the show and only show him warging into crows to do some recon, and give a few ambiguous lines to speak. If he said anything of importance, people would try to either change the future Bran sees, or insure that it happens. In either case, these actions would create disastrous results, as evidenced by everything Cersei did throughout her life.

With regard to Arya, she is one of the greatest female heroes of all times, and certainly the GOAT in GOT.

Arya’s character arc was ended when D&D decided to kill the Night King and end the threat of the undead. Yes, she could have used her Faceless Man magic to try and kill Cersei and/or Daenerys afterwards, but that hand was played out in the shocking Season 7 opener. Her revenge against House Frey was amazing, but chilling, as she had become as cold blooded a murderer as Daenerys.

Arya’s only path forward had to be to regain her humanity, as she did when she rejoined her family in Winterfell, and tasted love with Gendry. Her mad dash around King’s Landing was just a tool to let the audience see the slaughter of innocents and the unleashed destructive power of dragons (remember the story of Harrenhall?). There was simply nothing left for Arya to do in the GOT saga, except regain her child-like desire to explore the unknown places west of Westeros.

²The question of how Jon finally got to the point of putting duty before honor does muddle up Maester Aemon’s speech. In the final scenes with Tyrion and Daenerys, Jon was willing to abandon his duty to protect the people of Westeros, the life of Tyrion and even his own life in the name of love for Daenerys. It is only the threat to his sisters (especially Sansa who won’t bend the knee) that finally forces Jon to kill Daenerys. One could argue that his love (and duty) to family stands above his romantic love, and love is the death of love. But the effect of his decision is to sacrifice his personal desires (romantic love) for the greater good (duty).

³Sansa was never part of GRRM’s original fabulous five. In the world of ASOIAF, people who betray their family usually end up dead. I know this will be wildly unpopular, but Sansa betrayed her family four times — more than any other character — and became the female version of Littlefinger. She really never showed leadership besides advising against the proposed actions (“don’t do what Ramsey wants you to do,” “Don’t go South, Jon,” “Don’t trust Cersei,” “Don’t march the army South, until they can rest,” etc.). Her only other achievements were administrative (put leather under the armor, bring wheat to Winterfell, how will we feed Dothraki and Dragons?) and hurling zingers at Littlefinger and Tyrion. But she had to play a strong character at the end, securing the North’s independence, or there wouldn’t be any female heroes besides Arya, who is not the governing type.

⁴Sansa’s one act of heroism occurred in Season 2, where she saved the drunken knight Dontos. She lied to Joffrey about it being a bad omen to kill someone on his name day, and the Hound backed up her story. Then she saved Dontos through false praise, convincing Joffrey that it was his own idea to name Dontos a court jester.

Daenerys performed acts of mercy that earned our affection, “rescuing” Miri Maz Dur from the clutches of the Dothraki who destroyed her village and freeing the slaves throughout Slaver’s Bay.

Arya, risked herself on numerous occasions to save her others, including Micah the butcher boy, Jaqen Hagar and the other criminals in the burning wagon, Gendry, the Hound, Lady Crane and then the entire world by killing the Night King.

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Ad agency creative director, writer & designer at https://guttmanshapiro.com. Former pro tennis player and peak performance coach for professional athletes.

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