Spoilers for the entirety of HBO’s Game of Thrones will follow.
We’ve arrived at the end of an era. Game of Thrones‘ run as the prevailing show on television for nearly this entire decade has ended. What an ending it was. Millions of people strapped in and came along for the ride over the years, adding greater anticipation for every episode over the last. In its final season, show-runners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss sought to bring this unparalleled story to a close in a truncated six episode run. This was a tall order and given the result of the previous season’s already questionably rushed seven episode order, there was a lot of reason to be concerned.
The end result was about what we should have expected. Game of Thrones ended more or less as the show it has always been. It was an incredibly mixed bag of successes and failures. The show was an amalgamation of many different genres of television and would vary in its execution as it navigated between them. We got our prestige TV political drama, we got our nuanced character study, and we got our epic battles and fantasy moments. This was once again brought to fruition in the finale as the show strove to capture the essence of the series in its final episode. For the most part, it was able to achieve this by resolving its plot early on in the episode and then turning its attention towards the characters we have loved for so many years.
Going off that, this finale felt sternly divided into two parts. The first part resembled an extension of the previous episode, living in the direct aftermath of Daenerys’ attack on King’s Landing. In this way, it was a continuation of the failures in the writing to believably convert Daenerys into the villain of the series and “The Mad Queen” seemingly in an instant. The queen now ruled above the fallen city amidst the ashes following its being burned to the ground. The direction of the episode paints her as a tyrant war leader standing before her army in a Hitler-like display. We must again point out the stunning visual presentation of this episode continued from last week. The production value is on full display and Weiss & Benioff, taking the honor of directing this finale, made a number of inspired directing choices that stood out and once again elevated what was another disappointingly written episode. This idea is accentuated when Jon Snow is positioned to assassinate Daenerys just as she achieves the Iron Throne in what is meant to be a scene of great tragedy and presumably an iconic moment for not only the finale but for the series. The visual presentation of the scene is indeed memorable and effective, but it still falls flat due to the continued unbelievable dynamic between the two of them and uninspired dialogue to boot. Daenerys is now meant to be a tragic hero whose hubris has consumed her and clouded her judgment, while Jon is positioned as the man who is forced to kill the woman he loves for the good of Westeros. The show’s failed attempt at making their relationship a believable one in such a short run of episodes comes to a head here and as the two of them embrace, professing their love for each other just before Jon drives a knife through her chest, the moment falls flat and our relationship with Daenerys likewise ends disappointingly.
After this point, there is a time jump several weeks and the show returns to being much more the Game of Thrones that we knew before the unfathomably high stakes of the last few episodes. The remainder of the episode seeks to provide closure for our remaining characters and set them off on their lives ahead. This is mostly well executed simply in the fact that it lets us spend some more time with our friends in not-so-dire circumstances and see where their story ends. While this was a finale oddly missing deeply affecting emotion, it succeeded by being very satisfying and leaving us in a place where we can feel good about where things are left both in Westeros and with the characters we have a connection with. Bran is voted the new King of Westeros, Sansa resides over the North, and Arya sets off on a journey all her own. It is a fitting end for the Stark children and one that sits well as we exit this world. Jon is exiled back to Castle Black in what felt like an inevitable end for his character, and Bran chooses Tyrion to be his Hand of the King. This yielded my favorite scene of the episode, in which Tyrion resides over a new small council including Brienne, Bronn, Davos, and Sam. The final image we see is Jon riding off into the wilderness North of the wall before cutting to black. It is both a fitting end to the series and a logical end to the arc of his character.
Arriving at the end of a story unparalleled in its scope and ambitions was never going to be easy. The way this show has been talked about has been unlike anything that ever came before it. It is unclear how the impact of this series will affect the television medium going forward. Will we see television companies make desperate attempts at scoring the “next Game of Thrones?” There will not be another Game of Thrones. Sure, there is a prequel series on the way and you can bet there will be further expansions made upon the story of Westeros in the years to come. However, capturing the focus of countless millions was a snowball effect achieved over years before the now sporadic streaming landscape that dictates viewing habits. Imagining a scenario in which a single show not yet conceived could overtake the culture in such an overwhelming way seems impossible. Game of Thrones has grown to mean something to so many people. It was imperfect, and that was part of its charm. It lent itself to online scrutiny, to never-ending memes, to water cooler debates at the office, and to a collective viewing experience that is likely to be all but forgotten. Only time will tell how the show is remembered and talked about years from now. No matter what the afterlife may hold for this groundbreaking series, one thing will always remain true: everyone was watching.