‘Game of Thrones’ Series Finale Torches All Expectations

Be advised. This review contains major spoilers. 

Oh, man… I feel like I’ve been on a rollercoaster that has these great highs and lows, makes me emotional and invested, yet the ride on the last drop abruptly stops halfway down the slope. Metaphors aside, I have dearly loved watching Game of Thrones since its premiere year in 2011, since the night I was curious about what my dad was watching on the TV at home, sat down and couldn’t look away. 

It has been a family affair for me. Every year, my family and I watched Game of Thrones eagerly, discussed its narrative strategies, directions, twists and characterizations, then patiently waited for the next season to roll around. As we waited the near two years between Season 7 and Season 8, my dad lamented repeatedly, “What am I going to do when the show is over?” It had been his favorite show, his favorite story, his favorite world for the past 8 years.

Who knew the world would mourn the show’s ending, but in a very different way. My dad is probably still walking around the house sad that it’s over, but also despairing over its disappointing ending. Almost all of the fans’ expectations were not met, and there is an air of dismay hanging over us. I understand the showrunners, David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, must have felt burdened in writing a satisfactory ending to the most popular TV show in the world. You can’t please everyone. There is also a certain dullness to doing the expected (think formula rom coms), so I understand their desire to surprise. However, there is a difference between circumventing expectation and setting fire to them altogether. 

I focus mainly on the Season 8 finale because if we talk about everything wrong with the whole season, we’d be here all day. The earliest moments of Episode 6 follow Tyrion as he somberly walks through the city, staring at the burnt bodies and destroyed buildings. This entire scene is devoid of music, which can sometimes cleverly convey tension, grief and despair, but it went on for so long that it just felt boring and too drawn out. 

In the scene in which Daenerys addresses her troops standing on the ruins of King’s Landing, there is an irrationally large number of Unsullied and Dothraki. The Dorthraki have slowly dwindled down through the years, and were all but decimated in “The Long Night.” The number of Unsullied also went down after fighting the Army of the Dead, and even more so after an ambush by Euron Greyjoy’s Iron Fleet. I don’t know how Daenerys’ army magically came back to life, and it’s wildly unrealistic that so many survived to listen to her plan of “liberating” the world. 

The scene with the Great Council deciding the next ruler of Westeros was equally odd. For a prisoner, Tyrion certainly talks a lot, especially since Grey Worm had been so contemptuous towards the Lannister in the early parts of the scene. Tyrion even launches into a little monologue about how stories unite people—come on Tyrion, that is just too trite—and he concluded that Bran was the most fit to rule because of his awesome life story. What? Bran? What about Sansa, sitting right next to him? 

The parameters of what the Three-Eyed Raven can and cannot do have been so vague and undefined that his nomination as king is perplexing. Bran had previously mentioned that he wasn’t supposed to concern himself with affecting human history. He’s a library of human history; libraries aren’t supposed to be active, yet somehow he is okay with becoming king? He even answers Tyrion’s nomination with, “Why do you think I came all this way?” as if it’s obvious that he would be king. Well if he knew that he would become king, then why he care so much about Jon being the child of Rhaegar Targaryen and Lyanna Stark?

However, it wasn’t all terrible. I was confused about why Tyrion wandered so deep into the Red Keep until I realized that he was searching for his brother and sister, desperately hoping he wouldn’t find their bodies. The moment he glimpses a golden hand (Peter Dinklage is fantastic here) and he breaks down into tears—the best scene of the episode. Tyrion’s greatest weakness, like so many other GOT characters, is his family. For all their disdain for him, his tendency to be kind to his sister and brother proves that the bond forged by blood is impossible to shake, impossible to hate. He encapsulates a major theme of the series: family is impossible to erase. 

Despite other fans’ outrage, Daenerys’ storyline wrapped up rather nicely. Of course, her tip over to madness was widely unanticipated and irrational, but by “The Iron Throne,” her madness is no longer in question. As she walks towards her troops, there’s an awesome shot of Drogon extending out his wings behind his mother, making it look like his wings are hers. These visually stunning moments of GOT continue to awe me, even in the last episode. 

After two major battles, another battle between Jon and Dany would have been overkill, so Jon quietly killing Daenerys as they stare into each other eyes was poignant and relieving. Drogon’s reaction was wonderfully shot, his screeches of grief were spot-on. I didn’t expect him to melt the Iron Throne, but it was poetic. The dragon that helped conquer the Seven Kingdoms forged the Iron Throne; now the last dragon in the world melts it down. No one has ever fully deserved to sit on the Iron Throne and ruled fairly; it is only right that it should be destroyed altogether. 

Bran’s appointment of Tyrion as the new Hand of the King was also appropriate. GOT has grappled with the question of who makes a good ruler, and the overall answer is someone who doesn’t want to rule but rules justly. Cersei and Daenerys were doomed because they both desired the Iron Throne so much, clawed for it, climbed to it and clung at it too desperately that they choked themselves on power. In that sense, The role of Three-Eyed Raven aside, Bran as king makes sense because he too doesn’t want the throne. The Hand of the King is equally as important. In fact, the Hand sometimes runs the kingdom for the ruler (case in point: when Tyrion was Joffrey Lannister’s Hand). As indicated by that Small Council meeting, Bran won’t be doing much ruling either, so Tyrion will in effect rule in Bran’s place, the rightful role of a man, who despite his mistakes has compassion for the people, a sense of right and wrong and a keen awareness of the cruelties of life. 

Arya, true to her character, embarks on an adventure to explore the world west of Westeros, a fitting end for the woman who knew she was no lady since she was a child. 

Sansa is named Queen in the North after declaring that the North would be an independent kingdom. In terms of succession Westeros, Sansa seemed like the clearest, most logical choice. She doesn’t want power, yet life taught her to take power and how to keep it, mostly to protect herself. Duty and self-preservation have motivated her for the past few seasons, and she has bloomed into a well-respected, wise ruler. She never vies for the Iron Throne, which is why narratively it makes the most sense for it to pass to her. Her as Queen in the North seems more like a consolation prize than anything. 

That leads us to the question of Jon Snow. On the one hand, making Jon the king would be too predictable and even boring, yet it begs the question, why build up his fate as the Stark and Targaryen, the rightful ruler both in a just heart and in blood, if he wasn’t going to be king? Samwell Tarly, Varys, Tyrion and Bran all made quite a fuss about Jon being the rightful one to sit on the throne, so with Jon alive and well, Bran’s appointment as king comes off as random and disorienting.

In the end, Jon rejoins The Night’s Watch, and meets Tormund Giantsbane and the rest of the Free Folk at Castle Black. The last scene of the entire series is of Jon riding off into the North, the Free Folk around him. His last, long look at the Wall, then his head turning away indicate that Jon won’t ever be turning back. Only then did I remember that Tormund had told Jon that Jon was a true Northerner, and how happy Jon had seemed in those months he spent beyond the Wall with Ygritte. When all is said and done, Jon Snow has always been the outsider, not only because he was a bastard but also because he was a natural loner. A simple life North of the Wall is enough to content him. 

Jon choosing of a life beyond the Wall is certainly within his character; however, I had forgotten it because the recent seasons of GOT had drilled it into our minds that Jon was to become king. In fact, the Jon Snow problem is at the heart of most of the last season’s main issues. It wasn’t that so many of the events were so terrible, it was the awful execution of it.

I wonder if the showrunners had stuck to the original 10 episodes per season if things would have turned out differently. The many characters and intertwined storylines need room to breathe, but the fast pace crippled them. After eight years with the show, the series finale set fire to many of my narrative expectations and closing of character arcs, and there is a sense of dashed hopes in the air. I finished the series to say goodbye to some of the most beloved characters, and it left me with discontent. As a whole, it was a fantastic show, and I argue that it is still some of the best television ever made. However, I will always be left with a kind of “if only” feeling when thinking about Game of Thrones. I will certainly not be signing any petitions for a remake though—that’s just ridiculous.