Print Edition - 2019-05-21  |  Culture & Arts

No real winners in this game

  • After eight seasons and countless unexpected deaths, Game of Thrones comes to an end. But the finale leaves one question unanswered—what was it all for?
- Thomas Heaton, Westeros

May 21, 2019-

Game of Thrones has finally come to an end, and the good guys won—kind of—even though the Westeros of today still resembles the Westeros of eight years ago. So much for ‘breaking the wheel’.

None of the characters’ ‘successes’ came without great sacrifice, which seems to be the resounding theme of the series’ entirety—do the right thing, even if it hurts.

Ever since this George RR Martin adaptation first graced TV screens, showrunners David Benioff and DB Weiss always knew they’d have the gargantuan task of ending the series on their own. While they may have hoped that Martin would finish the books as the show progressed, that expectation quickly went out the window. Martin gave the showrunners a sketch for how the series would end, and the rest was up to them.

But this season has divided people —more than a million people have signed a petition to have it rewritten —to an extent unseen in television since The Sopranos ended with a cut to black. The dissatisfied cite rushed episodes, a compression of timelines, and leaps in logic, but more on that later.  

The series finale forced home the idea that there are no real winners in this game of thrones, just survivors and the dead.

With Sansa queen of the North, Bran king of the six kingdoms, and Jon Snow rejoining The Night’s Watch as punishment for killing Daenerys, all storylines have come to an conclusion—albeit with great sacrifices.

Bran sits on the Iron Throne, but has lost his ability to walk, most of his family, and even his personality. Jon Snow lost both the women he loved, and even died himself before being brought back for seemingly little purpose. And Sansa suffered through a horrific storyline at the hand of toxic males. The list goes on, and there are no real winners, just survivors.

The final episode, however, was once again a cinematic dream. The lighting and visuals were beautiful from the very beginning, following Tyrion through a devastated King’s Landing to the discovery of his favourite sibling’s rubble grave in the Red Keep’s catacombs.

We share Tyrion’s heartbreak, for his and Jaime’s relationship was one of the few remaining threads of genuine connection left in the show. So when we see the destruction of the city, the millions burned and murdered, and Tyrion’s sadness, we anticipate Daenerys’ fate. While her death, at the hands of nephew-lover Jon Snow/Aegon Targaryen, was expected, the way in which her character quickly descended into madness was something people took issue with.

In the finale, her character was more melancholy and deranged than mad. Declaring to her army that the war to break the wheel was not over, she did not quite seem to understand the gravity of what she had done to the people of King’s Landing. Grey Worm was her last supporter, and her only true friend in the end, because her attempts to convince Jon that “small mercies” will not help their cause was all the more reason for Emilia Clarke’s character to be killed off. Her “I know what is good” arrogance ultimately led to her demise, because her brand of good did not seem to suit Jon’s ideals.

It’s worth considering, however, that perhaps Daenerys’ behaviour was not mad. Her pre-murder interaction with Jon showed how she felt justified in her actions, and was still determined to break the wheel. She had slaughtered many a man before in a similar manner on the other side of the sea, but as an outsider in Westeros, her actions were unthinkable. In her eyes, and those of the Unsullied and Dothraki, she once again liberated a city ruled by a tyrant. But, in the Westerosi protagonists’ view, she was a genocidal maniac, unbending in her will to enforce her new world upon everyone. Her being killed by Jon was, in some ways, a way to keep the wheel rolling at the same tempo it was in the very beginning. Drogon’s melting of the throne was somewhat symbolic, but his newfound place on Bran’s wanted-list did little to explain his fate.

The preceding existential conversation between Jon and Tyrion, where Tyrion awaits his execution for treason—for attempting to get Cersei and Jaime out of King’s Landing—is a rather cathartic moment for two of the fan-favourites. The conversation over duty and love becomes the crux of the episode and, in turn, the entire series.

While Tyrion is sure to add wine-based humour, as always, the love that both characters had for their white-haired queen reflects the conflict felt by Jaime Lannister, who ran back to Cersei, his own mad queen. Perhaps Tyrion should have paid heed to what he said to his brother earlier in the series—“you always knew exactly what she was, and you loved her anyway”.

Like Jaime, Jon saw the signs, as did Tyrion, but they both loved her anyway, overpowering their self-prescribed duty to Westeros. Eventually, in Ned Stark fashion, Jon paid fealty to his duty to his family over his love for Daenerys, because Tyrion suggests the breaker of chains will want to burn his sisters.

The following scenes, revolving around the throne and fates of the rest of the characters, lead to a virtual return to the same wheel. Samwell Tarly’s suggestion of putting a vote to the people is laughed off so fervently that it seems the writers wanted the fans to notice. Despite Tyrion saying that the right choice was Bran, and should be elected by the kingdoms following Bran’s death, there’s nothing really democratic about it.

Bran’s acceptance of the throne, against his will, is a slight sacrifice for the perceived greater good, as is Tyrion’s placement as Hand of the King. But, Bran seemed to know that all this was coming—and even showed some semblance of emotion when dubbed King Bran the Broken.

The others on the King’s council table, however, seem to be great winners—especially the new Master of Coin and former sell sword, Bronn of the Blackwater—and the fact that Podrick is now a knight was a nice touch.

Sansa was obviously a bit miffed at the decision to make Bran king, but the decision to keep the North independent is another throwback to the status quo. Knowing that the North is held by Sansa is also great, given her character’s immense development. Sansa’s story comes to a satisfying end, with her strong Littlefinger- and Cersei-influenced character crowned queen in the North. The only comfort one can take is that Bran knows every preceding kings’ mistakes and is able, if willing, to not repeat them.

Following the decision to make Bran king, and keep the North independent, the scene between the Stark kids is akin to the final farewell between Samwise and Frodo in The Lord of the Rings. Emotions run high, apologies are made, and Arya’s decision to go full Christopher Columbus seems somewhat out of the blue. We knew she wasn’t going to return to the North, but her decision to jump on a boat like Frodo was a little odd—a spin-off perhaps?

While there is a spin-off in the works, based 10,000 years before the age of Jon and Daenerys, Game of Thrones was so groundbreaking, in so many ways, it will be hard to emulate its success. And while it seems Game of Thrones has won the hearts of millions; all good things must come to an end, as all men must die. It’s time to say valar morghulis to the great game.

[Editor’s note: This review contains spoilers. Read on at your own risk.]

Published: 21-05-2019 10:37

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