<em>Game of Thrones </em>Finally Decides Who Sits on the Iron Throne
Every week for the eighth and final season of Game of Thrones, three Atlantic staffers have been discussing new episodes of the HBO drama. Because no screeners were made available to critics in advance this year, we’ll be posting our thoughts on the series finale in installments.
David Sims: Let me start this review by listing a few of Brandon Stark’s qualifications to hold the Iron Throne (or whatever throne takes its place) of Westeros. One, as the eldest male Stark, he’s got the lordly bloodline to appease the country’s more tradition-obsessed members. Two, he’s got the temperament—ever since he assumed the mantle of the three-eyed raven, I haven’t seen him get remotely upset about anything, so no Mad King potential there. Three, he can see across the sea of time and has the power to mentally experience every memory anyone in Westeros has ever had, which is definitely a helpful skill set going forward. Honestly, someone should have thought to crown Bran earlier.
The sudden decision by Tyrion and company to name Bran as the new Lord of the Seven—sorry, Six—Kingdoms might have prompted a fair bit of whiplash for viewers. In all the warring between Daenerys, Jon, and Cersei, Bran was mostly overlooked as a contender, having become a living Wikipedia database and losing his personality in the process. The move to crown him was arrived at with the same kind of alarming speed that accompanied just about every big plot twist this season. The difference for me was that, by the time of the finale (titled “The Iron Throne”), I was less worried about plausibility and more just wondering how everything would end up. After a largely disappointing lead-up, I was at least satisfied by where the pieces fell.
To summarize: Daenerys the conqueror quickly indicates that she’s not done with warfare and promises to “liberate” people from tyranny all over the world. After a long chat with a depressed and imprisoned Tyrion, Jon realizes he’s not into that plan and stabs his Queen (and aunt and former lover) in front of the Iron Throne, which Drogon then impressively melts before taking his mother’s body to parts unknown. In the wake of that carnage, Westeros’s surviving leaders gather to sift through the mess and appoint Bran as king. “Bran the Broken” then names Tyrion as his hand, sends Jon to the Wall as punishment for killing Dany, and allows Sansa to run the North as an independent kingdom. Arya, eager to do something new, hops on a boat and sails west into uncharted waters.
After the misery of “The Bells,” it was a finale undeniably steeped in fan service, giving audience favorites like Brienne, Davos, Sam, and Bronn seats on the new small council and doing away with literally every bloodthirsty or unstable member of the cast. Seriously—anyone important in Westeros who ever spent a minute scheming about anything is dead, except for Tyrion, who professed himself thoroughly cowed by the whole war and promised to atone for his sins going forward. Jon even got to pet his direwolf Ghost, finally, before he journeyed with Tormund and the other Free Folk beyond the Wall to make a new life.
As a book reader who hopes that George R. R. Martin will one day finally deliver the ending he’s been working toward all these years, I was reassured. Daenerys’s flip to madness was utterly unearned by David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, but in the end, her dream was achieved, and the wheel was ostensibly broken, partly by the bloodshed she wrought in King’s Landing. Sick of the wars of succession that consumed the nation for years, the lords of Westeros will now pick rulers by committee, a system that sounds lovely in theory and that is incredibly fraught in reality. So much of Bran’s rule will probably be plagued with its own issues, but that would be a story for another series, not the Song of Ice and Fire (a title that was helpfully embossed on a large volume for Tyrion to read).
As a fan of the TV show, I felt battered into submission. This season has been the same story over and over again: a lot of tin-eared writing trying to justify some of the most drastic story developments imaginable, as quickly as possible. As usual, the actors did their best with what was on the page; Emilia Clarke and Peter Dinklage, long the two standouts of the show’s ensemble, wrestled mighty performances from unwieldy monologues, with Clarke trying to justify Daenerys’s belief in the burning of the city, and Tyrion finally investing his support in Bran, a living archive of Westeros’s history. Pause and think about the logic of it all for a second, and it’ll collapse under scrutiny. But time and time again in recent years, Benioff and Weiss have opted for grand cinematic gesture over granular worldbuilding, and Drogon burning the Throne to sludge was their last big mic drop. Lenika, Spencer, was that enough to win your fealty?
We will update this post with entries from Spencer Kornhaber and Lenika Cruz.