io9's weekly roundtable Battle of Thrones is back for its final installment! We’re here to discuss the Game of Thrones series finale, “The Iron Throne,” which gave us some happy endings, at least one tragic death, and the mother of all surprise job promotions. Since two people can’t do this alone, I’m joined by both Cheryl Eddy and Germain Lussier.
Beth Elderkin: So, in a surprise to almost everybody who hadn’t read the leaks on Reddit, Brandon Stark ascended to the throne. It took Tyrion Lannister about 10 minutes of exposition to justify why Bran should be king...when there were several other qualified people in that very same circle. The battle has raged on, mostly online, about this final reveal. Tell me: Do you think Bran was the right choice?
Cheryl Eddy: I think it made sense for the story. The whole saga begins with him—and then it ends with him too.
Germain Lussier: I was furious that they chose Bran, truly. And I’m not a person who gets mad online about these kinds of things. But it felt, to me, wholly unearned and delivered poorly. I understand all the reasoning behind it. He’s a very important character and, ultimately, a worthy king. But it just did not sit right with me. Maybe it was how he’s a person who just sits there and all this great stuff happens. I just felt like, while his story is certainly amazing, it’s no less amazing than several other people there. Or maybe it’s because, with Dany dead, Sansa and Jon felt the most worthy and the show kind of skipped over a crucial moment, which is how Jon told everyone what happened. Missing that bit, then jumping to Bran, felt very disjointed.
Cheryl: But then they wouldn’t have had time to show Tyrion adjusting all the chairs! No, I agree not showing Jon ‘fessing up was a big and strange omission...
Beth: I was also disappointed by the decision. It’s weird to think somebody who doesn’t consider themselves human anymore would be good at making decisions for people. It’s like saying a computer should be president. Is he truly going to care about his subjects, or is he going to be cold and calculating? If Bran was presented with the Trolley Problem, would he care about the choice he made?
Germain: That’s another great point, Beth. One thing the show had made very clear in the last few years is that he is NOT BRANDON STARK ANYMORE. Like he says that a lot. So then, why is he okay being Brandon Stark now?
Cheryl: I think the Small Council (i.e. Tyrion) is going to do most of the actual ruling. As long as they get their “long may he reigns” in order.
Beth: I feel the lords and ladies don’t really know what they got themselves into. The Three-Eyed Raven is basically a one-man surveillance state, who can control anyone or anything at any time, run by someone with little-to-no connection to humanity. I wouldn’t trust that kind of person to care about my needs or my family.
Germain: And did it not feel oddly forced for Sansa to say “The North is going to stay independent?” It was like the writers wanted to have their cake and eat it too. Two rulers!
Beth: Dorne and the Iron Islands gave some serious side-eye after that. Get ready for another civil war, folks.
Germain: If everyone was cool with having multiple rulers, that would have solved about eight years of problems.
Beth: Of course, just because Bran was the one who ended up on the Iron Throne in the show doesn’t mean it’s the only option. That’s was fanfiction is for! If you were writing your own Game of Thrones fanfiction, who would have ended up on the Iron Throne?
Cheryl: I probably would have made Dany more diplomatic and less “burn it down,” and let her finally take the throne. I think that’s what a lot of fans were hoping for when the season started.
Beth: I would have preferred that the Seven Kingdoms be divided again, with a representational council that meets once a year to try and ensure peace and mutual interests. The kingdoms all have different needs and different interests, and the “one ring to rule them all” strategy was built on the back of a dragon-riding conqueror. It wouldn’t have been quite as fun as Samwell’s failed democracy, but at least it would’ve been something more than the status quo.
Germain: In my fan-fiction, Dany kills Jon, not the other way around, and takes the Iron Throne. (Also, she never even got to SIT on the throne? We weren’t even given that one shot? Come on.) That act pisses everyone off, of course, and the show ends incredibly unhappily with the Game of Thrones raging on, but now the most recent winner, Dany, is there, proof that that kind of power is not attained without blood and sacrifice.
Beth: I was also wondering if that’s how it was going to end, Germain. The show made several references to the fact that history is written in blood, and rewritten to clean it up.
Cheryl: They could have gone there...remember season one ended with one of the most famous beheadings in TV history!
Germain: Spoilers! I’m just catching up! But seriously, I understand the desire for a somewhat happy ending. Like, most of the main characters are living in relative peace. And that’s satisfying to an extent. But also, not, because I don’t think it really fits in with the whole message of the show. Someone, at some point, is going to challenge these rulers because they chose to go this way and good is not always accepted.
Beth: Speaking of the first season, how has your choice for who would end up on the Iron Throne changed over the years? I remember a lot of people were in the Stannis Baratheon camp. For a loooooong time. Now it feels like a distant memory.
Germain: I think I always just assumed this ruthless dragon chick whose story was never intersecting with anyone else’s was destined for it. She had three dragons and multiple armies. How could she lose? And ultimately, she didn’t. Some of the best moments on the show were of Dany finally meeting other characters, but that took seasons to happen.
I also think that’s why, ultimately, I was okay with this season. Game of Thrones has been such a pleasure-delayer, so filled with anticipation, that now that Dany is in Westeros, with her dragons and her army, and her cousin, why wait? Take what is yours, and that’s what happened.
Beth: I do feel like Jon Snow would have been a good king. I thought that for a long time. But he kept making mistakes, and eventually, they caught up with him and he was sent to the Wall. It feels kind of poetic that he started by volunteering to join the Night’s Watch, only to realize most of its inhabitants had been forcibly sent there. Then, by the end, he truly joined them.
Germain: I did think if Jon wasn’t going to be the King, being a kind-of-king where it all began was a suitable ending for him.
Cheryl: What didn’t surprise me one bit was how controversial the entire season was, in terms of the fan reaction. Imagine if Twitter had been so huge when (to name another HBO show with a divisive finale) The Sopranos ended.
Beth: Good point, Cheryl. The fan reaction has been huge. Germain, you noted you thought the season was “okay” overall. One of the biggest battles has been going on in the fandom, about whether this final season did Game of Thrones justice. Now that it’s over, what’s your honest take?
Germain: “My cable went out! Did your cable go out! Screw you, cable provider!”—Twitter during The Sopranos.
I feel like this season delivered on every big promise the show had ever set up. Humans were going to defend the world from the White Walkers. Dany and her dragons were going to attack Cersei and King’s Landing. Someone was going to win the Game of Thrones. Was it all a little rushed? Maybe. But better that it happened at all than took three seasons for one battle. Plus, you have to think logistically. It took two months just to film episode three this season. The filmmakers and crew put their blood sweat and tears into this show and they wanted to deliver a massive climax, which I think they did. I see these last six episodes as six of 73, not one season. It’s a button on a larger story and it gave us a lot of big payoffs. Not all of them were great, but we got them, and to me, that matters most of all.
Beth: I do feel it’s unfair to say the final season “ruined” Game of Thrones, as we still got some pretty amazing things. And it’s a feat that this show exists at all and became as big as it did. That said, I feel the biggest mistake was treating the final season like it was a series of movies. Which is exactly what the showrunners did. If you watched them by themselves, as movies, I think they would have been fine. But they didn’t gel with the rest of the show. I would rather have had a Battle of Winterfell that was a little less epic, if it gave us a couple more episodes exploring the characters we fell in love with. We were here for them, not for giant dragon explosions.
Cheryl: I like dragon explosions, haha. But I agree the final season leaned pretty hard into spectacle (which it kind of had to), and it made us miss out on some of those smaller moments. At least we got one entire episode, “The Long Night,” that was basically just the characters waiting it out together before the Night King arrived. It’ll be interesting, some time in the future when I’ve had a bit of a break from all things Game of Thrones, to go back and watch season eight alongside the other seasons and see if I feel any differently about it.
Beth: It could become a Star Wars prequels situation, where one generation hates it and another thinks it’s the best part of the series.
Germain: Yeah maybe last season should have ended with the battle of Winterfell, Arya killing the Night King, and then the King’s Landing stuff was all one short season. That probably would have worked. But, that’s not what happened. We got what we got and I think, in the years to come, people who watch the show later aren’t going to have the issues we had with the series watching it live.
Beth: Problems or concerns aside, I think we can all agree that it’s been quite an experience having something like Game of Thrones in our lives. The show debuted in 2011, back when the idea of doing an expensive, high-concept fantasy series on television was borderline laughable. And look where we are now. Speculative fiction is a huge part of the media landscape, on both the big and small screens. It’s inspired countless fan theories, online chat groups, water cooler conversations with people you’d never think would be into something like this—and perhaps never had been before.
As we close out the eight-season run, I want to know what you’ll most-fondly remember about your time watching Game of Thrones. Mine was my weekly post-episode chat sessions with my older sister, Christine. Before Game of Thrones, we’d never really had a nerdy thing in common that we could both geek about. It was a great way to celebrate something new with someone close to me.
Cheryl: I remember being in great anticipation of what would happen when the show ran out of books to adapt. As we saw, they actually did a pretty good job even if some people felt they didn’t quite stick the landing. But it was incredibly cool to see how Game of Thrones the show became its own story beyond George R.R. Martin’s writing, for better and worse.
Germain: I don’t have that personal a connection to it, unfortunately. I loved it immensely but never got quite as wrapped up as other people. For me though, the memory that comes to mind is the anticipation of the penultimate episode of those middle seasons. Thrones created this anticipation that, each year, the second to last episode was going to be the money episode. So I remember almost kind of doing a mental countdown each week and trying to figure out what, exactly, each season had in store for us. And rarely did it disappoint. Even in this last season, love or hate what happened, but the penultimate episode was, again, almost certainly the most shocking.
Beth: It’s definitely been a wild dragon ride. We’ll have to wait and see what happens with these prequel or sequel shows, though they could never capture the magic that Game of Thrones did. For now, it looks like our watch has ended.
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