It was everything nobody wanted, but it was still quite a thing: adequately just, narratively symmetrical and sufficiently poignant. It went long on swelling imagery and somewhat short on dialogue. And, save for the death of Daenerys, the Dragon Queen (stabbed in the heart by her lover/nephew, Jon Snow), and the bloodless ascension of Bran the Broken to rule over Westeros, the finale delivered a lower body count of main characters than some viewers may have desired. It was a final showdown that was instead a big sigh.
Like most of this eighth and final season, it played as though creators David Benioff and D.B. Weiss had finally surrendered to the size of the story they set out to tell in 2011. Sailing bravely but blindly past the material laid out for them in George R.R. Martin’s fantasy novels, the last six episodes mostly acknowledged that “Game of Thrones” might never be entirely, perfectly wrapped up — unless by the books’ author himself. In one bit from Sunday’s episode that was so corny it ought to have been buttered, some of the characters marveled at how a contemporaneous account of their travails, written in calligraphy and bound in leather, still couldn’t quite sum up all they had endured.
It’s likely you’re already aware of the dissatisfaction with the conclusion tweeted hither and yon — six weeks of nitpicking complaints, first-class nerd whining and an ungodly amount of postgame analyses. Consider all those hastily posted diatribes or that pointless online petition with a million deluded signatures on it, demanding (demanding!) to have Season 8 scrubbed and remade. In some ways, “Game of Thrones” had grown so popular that it made its viewers look embarrassingly out of touch with life itself.
This can only happen when we love our popular culture a little too hard, crossing some line of personal investment, forgetting when a TV show is only just that. It was our fault for coming to regard the show as the apogee of the medium itself. It’s also why I’m glad some unnamed, unwitting hero left a coffee cup in the camera shot in the episode that aired May 5. That one coffee cup humanized the whole endeavor. It reminded us that a TV show, no matter how absorbing, is a folly, a fake, a job that someone is hired to do, so that an HBO subscription can be sold to you. The coffee cup will be scrubbed away with a quick flick of magic technology; but before it’s entirely gone, I hope they give it an Emmy.
Anyway, how did it all end?
Expectedly: Daenerys, once so beloved and rooted-for that TV fans in the real world started naming baby girls after her, turned out to be a tyrant — a trait she had shown all along.
After her last fire-spewing dragon fricasseed the population of King’s Landing in last week’s hideous genocide (too much for some viewers, even in a show known for its violence), she started spouting her ideologically murky plans for Westeros and beyond, where she and only she would be the judge of what is good. Jon had to kill her, and he did. Her bereaved dragon flew off with her body in its claws.
The remaining lords and ladies who rule the seven kingdoms of Westeros then met to decide what’s next: A new king? A new queen? Something else? Perhaps the people could elect their own leader, suggested Samwell Tarly, the continent’s true intellectual, Ben Franklin with no kite, centuries ahead of an age of enlightenment. (His suggestion was laughed down.)
Spared from execution for betraying Daenerys, it was up to Tyrion Lannister — the soul and conscience of the show — to suggest that the paraplegic teenager Bran Stark, who sees and knows all things, thanks to his being the Three-Eyed Raven, become the new king.
For assassinating the Dragon Queen and doing everyone a huge favor, Jon was “punished” by being sent far north, to once more serve with the Night’s Watch. Sansa Stark announced that she would rule Winterfell as its own nation, thankyouverymuch, making Westeros a land of six kingdoms rather than seven. And Arya Stark, who killed the Night King in this season’s third (and best) episode, decided to become an explorer and sail west, into uncharted territory. (Arrivederci, Columbus.) That all led to a needlessly long montage of ship’s sails billowing, crowns being placed on heads, a caravan of horses clomping off into the snow. Over and over again.
That was the technical end of “Game of Thrones,” but the true end came earlier in Sunday’s episode, as Tyrion advised the council on choosing their new leader, as well choosing their future. In fact, if you listened closely, it was a speech about how “Game of Thrones” wasn’t as lackluster this season as you thought it was.
“What unites people?” Tyrion asked. “Armies? Gold? Flags?”
“Stories,” he continued. “There’s nothing in the world more powerful than a good story. Nothing can stop it. No enemy can defeat it.”
There you have it, handily winnowed down to its essence. Stories mean more than anything else. Which is why we get addicted to them and pull out our hair when they don’t go the way we’d hoped, or when someone spoils them, or watches ahead when we agreed to watch together. That’s how “Game of Thrones” got out of hand, but that’s also how it drifted back down to earth.