Written by Kimberlee Rossi-Fuchs & Bill Bodkin
The Game of Thrones series finale has come and gone. As the editor-in-chief of the site it is a great honor to not only write about the finish to a landmark series, but to co-write the review with the woman who brought this series to the site.
So let’s jump into this because we’ve got a lot to talk about.
Before we get into the heart of the plot, let’s talk about the cinematography of this episode. Was this one of the best shot episodes of the series?
KRF: That shot of Dany with Drogon’s wings unfurling behind her was easily one of the most iconic shots of the series. A perfect introduction for the new queen of ashes. The whole opening sequence, in fact, was very well done, particularly the expert use of silence, which lent Tyrion’s surveil of the massacre on the streets of Kings Landing the gravity the situation called for.
BB: This series has done wondrous things with cinematography. From the claustrophobic battle sequences in ‘Battle of the Bastards’ to the intimate, and dramatic shots we saw through the series. However, I thought the cinematography here really set so many moods. It emphasized Tyrion’s despair, Dany’s rise to power, and the stark brutality of Jon’s assassination of Dany.
Let’s jump right into the heart of things. Dany’s speech in front of the Dothraki and Unsullied. Were you taken back by it? Or was this totally on brand?
KRF: After last week, it certainly wasn’t shocking but yes, this was Dany in full on Mussolini mode. It was almost reminiscent of Dwight Schrute’s speech to his fellow paper salesmen, but without the heart.
BB: Honestly, I was a bit shocked! I did not expect her to start talking world domination. I figured it’d be a “now it’s time to take out those close to me that I don’t trust” moment, not let’s take over the world.
KRF: From the moment she names Grey Worm her new Master of War, you knew Dany wasn’t softening her approach in the face of victory. Her shouts to continue “liberating” the people of Westeros, from Winterfell to Dorne, were particularly chilling. Clearly liberation has lost all meaning to Dany. It’s simply a means to defeating her enemies and gaining new loyal subjects.
BB: Once again, though, Emilia Clarke totally destroyed with this speech. I know we get caught up in the direction of her character, but holy smokes her performance this year, in this episode especially, was flat out spectacular.
KRF: Yes, I’d agree that Clarke has turned in some of her best work this season. I’ve always felt she was one of the show’s weaker actors (often best at icily declaring her birth rights and listing titles but barely registering any emotion at key moments, like Viserion’s death) but she really sunk her teeth into Dany’s heel turn this season and sold it for me, which is especially impressive given how little time the writers gave her to develop that turn.
Let’s move onto the big scene between Jon and Tyrion. How frustrating was it when Jon kept saying “she’s my queen.”
KRF: I felt like I was watching a very bad “inspirational teacher” type movie where the student in question was just incomprehensibly stupid. Both Arya and Tyrion had to have scenes in which they sloooowly explained to Jon why Dany would be a very bad ruler and my man was somehow still not getting it. Peter Dinklage was basically Annie Sullivan in the Miracle Worker in that scene and it was frustrating that Jon was still somehow so damn stupid after witnessing Dany’s massacre and tyrannical oration skills firsthand.
BB: First off, 10 points for a Miracle Worker reference. However, could we say this is a parallel between the conversation Varys and Tyrion had. Tyrion had seen and heard her plans, and of her massacres, but would not stray from her side. Could this be a variation on that?
KRF: Tyrion still had hope that she would do the right thing. One illuminating thing about Tyrion’s conversation with Jon is that he mentioned that he himself was the son of an evil man. Perhaps that’s why he had faith in Dany – Tyrion was NOT his father’s son in terms of being a decent, honorable person. Because of that, he believed Dany would also prove unlike her father, especially after all her seemingly sincere talk of wanting to break the wheel. Interesting too that the idea of “break the wheel” came back into Dany’s speeches tonight, although we now know that “breaking the wheel” in her eyes just means destroying all the other noble houses in favor of permanent, unchallenged Targaryean rule.
BB: The more I think about it, the more I keep thinking that Jon knew the reality of his situation but just wanted to deny what he really had to do. The “Love is the death of duty/Duty is the Death of Love” back and forth I believe proves that. However, I wish we had gotten to Jon’s conclusion just a wee bit quicker.
Did we think Tyrion was going to be executed by episode’s end?
KRF: I was afraid he would be going in but when Dany didn’t execute him immediately in front of her raving audience of Dothraki and Unsullied, I knew he was going to make it. Give Tyrion a minute or two to talk and he’ll find a way to survive
BB: Your point did make me wonder if he would be spared, but when she said made the remark about not hiding behind “small mercies” I didn’t think he’d make it out…somehow or someway.
Let’s get to the BIG scene. Where Jon assassinates Dany. A lot of people wanted Arya to take out Dany. A lot of people wanted Dany to live and rule. How do you feel about the show’s decision to end one of its longest running characters? And what’d you think of how she met her end?
KRF: So, Jon ultimately killing Dany has been circulating as a fan theory for some time (albeit, for book readers, in a different manner than played out on the show) so when and if George RR Martin finishes the books, I would expect the same outcome, even if we arrive at it a bit differently. Even anticipating that this was the way the end game could go, however, I was disappointed by the way it played out. Something felt flat to me about it.
Maybe it was Dany’s apparent complete trust towards Jon (even though it had been established that she viewed him as a threat to her right to the throne), maybe it was the lackluster dialogue that almost felt like draft notes of what these characters actually would say to each other, but Jon’s choice felt almost anticlimactic. It could also be that Kit Harrington didn’t sell the emotion of the scene and just defaulted to his standard brooding, wounded dream boy face. Overall, I’m disappointed in the way the series sent off both its most inspiring hero and later, its heartrending villain.
BB: There were a number of surprising elements in this scene. Dany’s trust of Jon, for sure. She threw him side eye when she sentenced Tyrion, and now she’s all giddy to see him — to the point where she wants him by her side to rule. Maybe they were trying to sell the fact she’s so drunk with power, or she’s so relieved that she’s finally reached her goal of sitting atop the Iron Throne. That still doesn’t work because of her speech about world domination. The Iron Throne isn’t enough for her. I did think her line about people not deciding who is good or not, was quite interesting. I got a small shock when Jon killed her there. I thought it would come at a later moment in the episode, and it probably should’ve.
KRF: Maybe it took actually talking to Dany for Jon to finally understand what Tyrion was talking about. Jon knew her actions were beyond justification but here she was not only justifying them, but truly believing that she was right and just. As Tyrion said, “Everywhere she goes, evil men die and we cheer her for it. And she grows more powerful and more right.” Dany, like all proper tyrants, is now infallible in her own mind. Maybe Jon needed to hear her delusions from her own lips before he could pull the trigger?
BB: Not unlike Ned Stark in Season One. He needed to hear the madness before he decided to take action.
KRF: Yes, I thought there were a few times tonight where parallels were drawn between Ned and Jon. One, in his frustrating conversation with Tyrion in which Peter Dinklage wonderfully captures the dawning, troubled realization that he’s talking to someone who’s half stubborn / crazy Targaryean and half loyal-to-the-point-of-stupidity Stark. But in his final scene with Dany, I think we’re meant to see how Jon has learned from his surrogate father’s mistakes and isn’t afraid to break a vow to make the right and necessary choice. Ultimately though, I’m not sure the moment felt earned.
Let’s talk about the actions of Drogon in this scene. It melts the throne, and takes Dany away all while sparing Jon. Good send off for Drogon, or no?
KRF: I have to say, the high dragon budget for the past three episodes has been evident. Rhagael’s death in episode four was stunning, Drogon looked amazing last week (particularly when he came out of the shadows to melt Varys), and this week was probably the most terrifying he ever looked. Again, that shot of him opening his wings behind Dany was well done visual symbolism, a bit heavy-handed but still very cool. Snow-covered Drogon waking up to stare down Jon was also wondering intimidating.
That said, I didn’t love his apparent sudden political awakening, choosing to burn the throne that cost his mother her life. I mean, the dragons were always scary, but mostly pretty dumb, nearly insentient killing machines. Now suddenly, Drogon is making quasi-political statements and tenderly scooping Dany up in his talon, more loyal pup than WMD, and flying away to who the fuck knows where?
BB: I’m torn on the throne melting — it was heavy-handed to say the least, but also fitting. I didn’t mind how that played out. I might change my mind on this however. It is definitely over-the-top fan service for sure.
I did, however, feel that Jon needed to be killed by the dragon, however, would that have happened since he’s a Targaryean. Or maybe I just felt Jon needed to die in this episode in general.
I do, however, think that we needed a bit of an epilogue for Dany. I wanted to see her get the Gladiator ending where she was reunited with Drogo and her baby in the afterlife. Sure, it’s a bit cheesy, but the ending missed a little bit of that sentimentality. I know we don’t get happy endings in this series, but it would’ve been a moment I think people would’ve enjoy, and would’ve been a better end for such a vital character to the series.
KRF: I for one, would never complain about seeing Jason Momoa in Khal Drogo mode on my screen again.
Let’s talk about the choosing of a new king of Westeros. It’s Bran. Bran the Broken. Thoughts on his kingship, and that whole scene in general?
KRF: Bran being chosen as King in a forerunner to actual democracy (Sam: let’s let the people of Westeros decide! Everyone else: rotflmao, gtfo) raises some interesting questions. Namely, is that why Bran’s been hiding and ignoring all his future visions that could have saved thousands of people? So that he could ultimately be crowned king? I don’t think that’s what Benioff and Weiss were going for though so I guess Bran is as good a choice as any? Let’s hope as King he’ll actually be of more use than he was in the series to date. I’m dubious though since he promised to find Drogon with all the sincerity of OJ promising to find the real killer.
BB: Fucking Bran. The pacing and immediacy of this scene just was off. Tyrion’s speech was fantastic, but the election process was “Sure, fine, whatever.” Not exactly what you want to determine the fate of the world. Bran makes the most “sense” due to Tyrion’s logic. I didn’t hate the pick, but if we had tension here that would’ve been great. Thankfully Peter Dinklage carried that entire scene.
There’s so much to wrap up in the end. Which character’s “fate” did you enjoy the most, and the least? Also, did that ending just go on forever?
KRF: For-e-v-er. Tonight felt like 40 % episode, 60% epilogue. I enjoyed the glimpse into the new Small Counsel, presumably presiding over a more peaceful world but still with the same petty ass squabbles (although I will say, Bronn’s position as Master of Coin felt a bit undeserved. Although I guess Tyrion finally made good on his never-ending promises of more and more gold – now Bronn essentially controls all of the gold in the land).
Sansa being named Queen of the North and Arya sailing off to the great unknown felt mostly deserved and on brand. I had the same reaction as Jon upon hearing he’d take the black again – The Nights Watch is still a thing? Apparently it is! And so Jon gets to reconnect with Tormund, FINALLY pet Ghost, and then leave Castle Black and ride off into the wild north for some reason or another.
I want to also mention a smaller epilogue moment that I enjoyed – Brienne’s finishing of Jaime’s story, giving him a heroic, befitting sendoff and essentially putting the final period on his character arc. However, I groaned out loud at Sam’s book. “I call it a Song of Ice and Fire,” just in case none of us were aware that Sam was a surrogate for George RR Martin himself. My god, the corniness! It astounds!
BB: While I earlier said Jon should’ve died — I thought he had a good ending. It’s something I predicted, and frankly he was back where he was most happy. And yes fan, he gave Ghost some scratches. Also, Arya got a nice send off as she never belonged in Westeros. Sansa got her wish of being queen.
As the resident Bronn stan — I got a kick out of Bronn as master of coin. He’s obsessed with money! And yes, I totally groaned at Sam’s book too.
However, holy shit we did not need to see everything set-up again. It could’ve been a lot quicker, and snappier. I still think we needed that Dany epilogue that I mentioned before. I get that this was not unlike a normal GOT finale — where they table set. But FOR WHAT? There’s nothing more.
The one thing I did like was the last shot where The Wildings head north back in the woods, paralleling the first shot of the series.
At the end of the day — overall thoughts on the episode as a series finale?
BB: I love this series. It’s one of my favorites of all time (and yes, I will readily criticize it for its very poor choices in regards to people of color, and its appalling use of sexual violence).
However, this finale was not the strongest, or even most satisfying way to end what is one of the most epic, cultural obsessions of this century. Weiss and Benioff wrote themselves into a lot of corners once they ran out of Martin-penned source material.
This finale was too long, it was over-indulgent and underwritten, there was a lack of urgency, and the tension that needed to be ramped up in certain scenes was glaringly lacking.
However, I didn’t hate it. I didn’t think it was the “worst finale in television history,” or a “waste of eight seasons of watching.” There are two truly great performances from Peter Dinklage and Emilia Clarke that cannot be denied. The cinematography was gorgeous, and some of characters final fates were tied up were done in a satisfying way.
When Game of Thrones is good it’s great. When it’s not — it’s this episode.
KRF: I don’t want to sound too snarky or Comic Book Guy tsk-tsky. It’s HARD to stick the landing of any series finale, let alone a cultural phenomenon like Game of Thrones (lest we forget how much everyone HATED the Seinfeld finale). Benioff and Weiss did a fantastic job in the first four or five seasons wrangling Martin’s often sprawling-to-a-fault source material into a riveting, serialized TV drama. At its best, Game of Thrones delivered political intrigue, rich dialogue, wit, and fantastic performances (I mean, just think of all the wonderful actors whom we haven’t even seen in years, like Jack Gleeson, Charles Dance, and Diana Rigg).
At its worst, the show commodified the sexual abuse of its women characters, meandered on plot threads that would never ultimately pay out, and then crammed the downfall of arguably its most beloved hero into an episode and a half, rather than taking the time to properly develop that turn and thus failing to deliver any kind of meaningful statement about it.
Ultimately, that’s my biggest complaint – Dany breaking bad could have provided Benioff and Weiss with so much juicy, thought-provoking material. How do we as an audience, for example, reconcile our empathy with this character we’ve followed and identified with for years with the horrors we’ve seen her commit? Where is the limit to our sympathy for the devil and also, how does that apply to real world politics? There’s just so much more they could have done with Dany’s trajectory and the lack of development feels wasteful. And ultimately, I think that’s what most people are going to remember about the show.