Like all of you, I’ve spent over 70 hours of time watching Game of Thrones. I’ve also written about over 25 episodes, covering the back half of the series. It’s always intense as the end of a show approaches, but with Game of Thrones, a global phenomenon, the stakes feel higher. I’ve watched lots of shows to the end, and even written about final seasons, but I’ve never felt like I was in it with everyone else, but this time I do. And for the most part, it’s been a dazzling, immersive, intoxicating show, or else why would all of us be here?
But as many shows do, Game of Thrones faced a decline in its final seasons. We all had high hopes, but we’ve been dealt a different kind of hand. The final episode of Game of Thrones cannot fix the mistakes that have knocked this series off track. If they could go back in time and rewrite “The Last of the Starks” and replace ten minutes of action in both “The Long Night” and “The Bells” with well-written dialogue, and manage a flawless finale, maybe showrunners Benioff and Weiss could pull it off.
But even as is, this deeply divisive season has been stronger than the utter disappointment that was season 7. In retrospect, season 7 did nothing to develop characters, barely moved the plot forward, and featured the introduction of the most maligned character ever, Euron Greyjoy. That’s all to say, we’ve had this coming.
Our mistake was ever thinking two shortened seasons would be enough. I’ll admit, in the long gap between seasons 7 and 8, I barely thought about Game of Thrones. And somehow, when the release date for season 8 was released, I was absolutely convinced there was one more season coming. I thought they would pull a Breaking Bad and release two seasons, but just call them part one of season 8 and part two of season 8. Color me surprised when I realized that’s basically what season 7 and 8 already were. We were doomed from the start.
Consequently, all I’m hoping for is that the set up from “The Bells” doesn’t go to waste. Since Varys likely managed to send out some letters revealing Jon as the true heir to the throne, and since I can’t imagine it’ll be long until everyone has heard about what’s happened in King’s Landing, we have a natural set up a rebellion against Daenerys. Battle for the throne aside, the aftermath of Daenerys’ siege on King’s Landing is also an obvious opportunity to focus on character development– for those who ignored the signs and for those who knew all along that Daenerys couldn’t be trusted. What we need is for the repercussions from everything that’s happened this season to make sense. Let’s face it: The Queen of Ashes is here, the Night King is dead along with the threat of the White Walkers (allegedly). This is what we have to work with. So let’s run with it. How is Game of Thrones going to end?
The obvious thought is that Jon Snow, always harping on responsibility, will realize that he needs to usurp Daenerys, because it’s the right thing to do. But how he’ll do it is the important question. Daenerys has a dragon, the Dothraki, and all the Unsullied support her. How exactly is someone supposed to stroll in and take that back? As I mentioned before, there was a very strong suggestion that Varys had managed to send out some of his letters about Jon Snow’s claim to the throne, and that those letters might be the thing that Jon Snow needs be able to take on Daenerys.
I imagine that once the other houses know what’s Daenerys has done and know that she doesn’t actually have rightful claim to the throne, plenty of people who would be willing to come out and support Jon in his effort. It’d also be a chance to bring back characters we haven’t seen in a while, like Yara Greyjoy, maybe Robin Arryn, Edmure Tully (apparently the Lannisters have had Riverrun this whole time and Edmure has been held captive by the Freys, but hey, anything can happen). We might also see this supposed new Prince of Dorne. The Iron Fleet, the Knights of the Vale, a crew of Dornish soldiers, plus Stark bannermen and some Wildlings, might make Jon Snow’s job a little less impossible. The one disappointing part of this possible ending is that Jon Snow has been written so boring and devoid of personality recently that it’s hard to get excited about him, and I’m desperate for this finale to at least attempt to rectify his characterization.
Jon Snow has always been pretty likable and sweet in a docile runt of the litter kind of way (shout out to Ghost). He’s been easy to root for and if you would have asked me two season ago if I’d be happy if Jon would take the throne, I would have said yes. But somehow the character who was slated to be the hero of our show (I mean, he literally rose from the dead. This show is not subtle with the savior references.), has been demoted to second string this season.
Jon’s never been known for his brains (“You know nothing, Jon Snow.” For real). But in a season where his entire storyline should be as central as Daenerys’, he’s been written as a grumpy, taciturn, idiot. His only role this season is to say “You are my queen” and “I don’t want it” repeatedly. When Tyrion or Davos or whoever talk about how great of a leader Jon is and how charismatic he is, I can’t help but think, “Him?” He used to be though. It’s clear his deference to Daenerys has weakened his character, in story and out.
We’ve never even seen him actually come to terms with his true parentage. Vulture had a great piece about how the characters in Game of Thrones no longer have “interiority,” and that’s definitely what’s happened with Jon Snow. So my big ask regarding him in the finale is just any discussion about what he feels, and why. The only hint we’ve gotten about what Jon Snow really wants in life is the offhand remark that he’d love to be up north with Tormund. Otherwise, we all know that everything he’s doing is all about duty and responsibility (very Ned Stark of him.)
In “The Bells” he’s obviously uncomfortable with the decisions Daenerys makes, but it’s not until the destruction of the King’s Landing that he realizes his mistake. So now, how will he deal with his guilt? He doesn’t want the throne, but isn’t the responsible thing to do to reveal his Targaryen heritage and attempt to oust Dany? And of course, removing the possibility of Varys’ success and other houses showing up to help Jon, what’s to stop Daenerys from executing him (and Tyrion, Sansa, Arya, and Bran–everyone who knows about Jon’s claim)?
And in reference to Sansa and Bran, I wanted to touch on the the trailer for the series finale, which, as expected, didn’t reveal too much. We know at least some of the episode will take place directly after King’s Landing was destroyed, since there were shots of Tyrion, Jon, Davos, and Arya walking through the destruction. There was a shot of Arya looking enraged while watching the Unsullied in formation. And the trailer ended with a powerful scene of Daenerys walking out to stand before her army, as queen. But what we didn’t see is any shots of Winterfell, but I’d be very surprised if we didn’t see Sansa or Bran again, so safe to say either we’ll head north or our other Starks might travel south.
There’s another major endgame possibility: Daenerys Targaryen wins.
I’ve written at length about how compelling Daenerys’s development in to the Mad Queen could have been, and how rushed pacing and taking plot shortcuts are to blame for the half-baked feel of Daenerys’s evolution. But just like this episode could be an opportunity to bolster Jon Snow’s characterization, this is also a chance for us to understand Daenerys better.
We know she’s a mercurial person with a messiah complex, who had an incredibly difficult life, and decided to conquer a foreign land. But just think about if we got one scene where Daenerys explains herself. She has always had a team of advisors to help her make the best decisions. Except now. Daenerys is doing things on her own terms, and in that case, we need to hear her justifications. Why did she burn down King’s Landing even after the surrender bells had rung? Even if it was just revenge, or just a way to assert her power in a land full of people who would never trust her or love her, giving her decisions purpose would go a long way in pulling out of the base good versus evil structure she’s (and Jon Snow) been shoved into. There could be some poetic justice to Daenerys killing Jon (and the rest of her enemies) and ruling without Westerosi men controlling her.
Speaking of Westerosi men, Tyrion Lannister must be feeling as guilty and hopeless as anyone else. He’s been incredibly stupid the last few seasons, and his blind support Daenerys (even getting Varys killed!) seems like the stupidest thing he’s done. Just like Jon dealing with guilt, I’m sure we’ll see Tyrion dealing with the guilt and grappling with his failures (including his attempts to save his siblings). The one thing we can say about Tyrion is that he legitimately tried to stop what he thought was coming, and that’s more than we can say for Jon. I doubt Daenerys has any interest in keeping him around as an advisor, but Tyrion has been so central to so many plots on this show, it’s likely he’ll be a major player in trying to fix the mess he made. He’s always had a strong alliance with Sansa, so it’s possible Tyrion could be central to getting Sansa involved, especially since they’re the only ones left who can actually scheme with the best of them.
I’m definitely looking forward to seeing how Sansa will react, since she’s has been the biggest critic of Daenerys and she’ll be rightfully vindicated in her feelings of distrust. As far as the other Stark children, it’s unclear what Arya’s role will be, since her being the one to kill Daenerys (“I’m going to kill the queen!”) would run counter to her revelation in “The Bells.” That makes me think that she won’t be involved, however there was a lot of emphasis of on her in the trailer, so maybe she’ll act as an instigator instead. Of course, there’s a certainly a possibility we’ll just ignore her development from “The Bells” and she’ll decide killing Daenerys is worth it.
The last question I have for this finale is will Bran ever have anything else to do? It’s been pointed out to me multiple times that Bran warged into a series of crows during the Battle of Winterfell. He flew somewhere, but we don’t really know why or what he saw. Some have suggested that this is a major plot point and that it might reveal that the White Walkers aren’t done yet. I’ll be honest– I’m doubtful that it’ll come up. Just like how Jon’s resurrection was essentially inconsequential, I’m of the opinion that it’s just not important to the writers. Though, with the long, difficult journey Bran went through, it would be a huge bummer if it was all just to be Night King bait.
But hey, we can speculate all day. Frankly, I have no idea how things will play out. A quick summary:
-Do I think that it’s possible Jon Snow will kill Daenerys and fulfill the Azor Ahai prophecy? Yes, absolutely, I think that is completely possible.
-Do I also think Jon Snow might end up dead? For sure. Though I think he’s actually just going to go North of the Wall and hang out with the free folk and let someone else take over.
-Do I still want Sansa to be Queen? The most competent woman in Westeros? Hell yeah.
-Will Daenerys kill Jon and just win and come full circle ruling just as her father did? Maybe!
-Will Arya go marry Gendry and then they can somehow rule Westeros, just like their dads joked about in season one? Probably not, but who knows!
-Will the White Walkers come back and kill everyone? Like, no way, but maybe there will be one of those annoying sequel-set-up scenes at the end where we see a baby open its eyes and they’re ice blue and then we’ll cut to black.
The series finale of Game of Thrones airs tonight at 9/8c on HBO.
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