Book-Reader’s Recap—Game of Thrones Episode 806


This post is intended for those who have read the books in the Song of Ice and Fire series, not because we’re going to be discussing spoilers from the books — that’s not a thing anymore — but because we may make comparison’s between what we get onscreen and George R.R. Martin’s original vision. If you’d like the perspective of someone who has never read the books, check out our Unsullied recap. Thanks!

Here we are. The Game of Thrones series finale. Shall we begin?

We start in a scene that’s very reminiscent of Tyrion surveying the aftermath of the Loot Train Attack in season 7, only now he’s walking through the ash-strew streets of King’s Landing. The production team pulls out the war imagery here; the bit where the guy with skin peeling off him saunters by reminds me of images of civilians wandering around after napalm attacks in the Vietnam war. And last week, Daenerys’ reign of fire reminded people of the bombing of Dresden. They pulled out the war references this season.

Anyway, this is a long sequence played in almost total silence but for the footsteps muffled by ash and the quiet crackling of fires. It relies on the faces of the actors, particularly Peter Dinklage. Game of Thrones has taken a knock over the past couple of years for the quality of the dialogue decreasing, but I do always appreciate these cinematic moments.

Elsewhere in the city, Grey Worm sentences a few surviving Lannister soldiers to die. Jon and Davos try to talk him down, pointing out that the war is won, but he will not be moved. “Kill all who follow Cersei Lannister,” was Dany’s command. There’s a tense standoff between Jon and Grey Worm, but in the end, Jon doesn’t have the power in this situation, and relents. Grey Worm cuts a man’s throat.

Tyrion, meanwhile, is wandering the Red Keep, looking for Daenerys. Again, these scenes are played mostly in silence. He grabs a torch and descends the staircase to the room with the dragon skulls, looking for Jaime and Cersei. He sees that the room collapsed, and makes his way around the rubble as best he can. Eventually, he stumbles on Jaime’s golden hand sticking out of a pile of fallen stones. He uncovers the stones to reveal his brother and sister lying dead, their arms wrapped around one another.

I think the show may have erred a bit by showing Jaime and Cersei’s faces — I’m thinking that they wouldn’t have looked that well-preserved after being crushed under a falling building — but damn if Dinklage doesn’t sell the heartache, from denial to anger to despair. The mournful strum of “The Rains of Castamere” helps, too. It’s a haunting final scene for the Lannister siblings.

Outside, the Dothraki — who still number a lot despite what happened at the Battle of Winterfell — are thrilled at the outcome of the battle. They did some quality pillaging there. Jon walks among them and the Unsullied, as the soundtrack bubbles menacingly and Drogon roars overhead. An enormous Targaryen flag hangs off a broken tower. The show is bringing all the heavy symbolic imagery, most notably the shot of Daenerys emerging to address her public as Drogon spreads his wings behind her:

That’s some dorm room poster quality stuff, right there.

Speaking of war imagery, Daenerys is giving off serious dictator vibes, and not just because she’s talking about tearing down stone houses, killing men in iron suits, and “liberating” oppressed peoples around the world, “from Winterfell to Dorne, from Lannistport to Qarth, from the Summer Isles to the Jade Sea.” She wants to conquer the damn world! With the Unsullied drumming their approval with their spears, it’s pretty stirring stuff, or it would be if everyone wasn’t standing in the falling ash rain created by Daenerys burning down a city of a million people.

Tyrion, Jon and Arya are all properly disturbed. Tyrion, showing no small amount of bravery, goes to stand by his queen’s side. He doesn’t hide the fact that he freed Jaime, points out that she “slaughtered a city,” takes off his Hand of the Queen pin and throws it down the steps. The Unsullied stop their celebratory spear-thumping, and Daenerys orders Tyrion taken away. Jon watches this looking like he might protest, but then he sees this…

…and thinks better of it.

Still, he’s conflicted, clearly. Arya, who suddenly appears beside him in that way she has, counsels Jon that he “will always be a threat to her” so long as she knows his true identity. “And I know a killer when I see one.” Well, yeah, we all saw it, Arya.

Anyway, Jon visits Tyrion in prison to work out his conflicted feelings. “Did you bring any wine?” Tyrion asks by way of opening, because of course he does.

This is a good scene that puts some meat on the bones of Dany’s heel turn last week, although I’m not sure it’s enough. Tyrion points out some of the things Dany has done — torching Astapor, crucifying the slavers of Meereen, burning the Dothraki khals — and arguing that they’re precursors to what happened in King’s Landing, that every time she exacted righteous vengeance, she grew “more sure that she was good and right.”

"She believes her destiny is to believe a better world for everyone…Wouldn’t you kill whoever stood between you and paradise?"

I like that the show is giving shape to Daenerys’ decision, and Dinklage and Kit Harington sell the scene, although I don’t think it solves the season’s central Daenerys problem: while this stuff is weighty and makes sense, we still didn’t feel Daenerys undergoing this change, or believe that she was so far gone down this path that she would do what she did. We needed to have this stuff outlined before, not after, although I guess it’s better late than never.

But now that it’s done, there’s really only one course of action. “Love is the death of duty,” Jon says, recalling Maester Aemon’s words to him back in season 1. Tyrion flips it on him. “Sometimes, duty is the death of love.” In other words: Please kill her before she takes this global. Jon has his mission, but doesn’t accept it until Tyrion brings up Sansa and Arya. And granted, after the relationship they’ve had, I can see Daenerys turning her attention on Sansa in Winterfell before long.

Jon stalks through the falling ash to the Red Keep. On his way, there’s an interesting, evocative moment where Drogon, hiding under a huge ash pile, shuffles out and gives Jon a long hard look. Like Dany, Drogon apparently trusts him enough to let him pass.

And then we come to the centerpiece of the episode: Daenerys, her eyes wide, sets her sights on the Iron Throne, still standing in the ruins of the Red Keep. The scene is clearly supposed to remind us of Dany’s vision at the end of season 2, where she walks through an Iron Throne room covered in snow. She almost got it. This time, she gets to touch the Iron Throne. It is haunting.

Jon enters the room. They are alone. We get another slow, steady exchange of dialogue. Even though I wanted more of her point of view, I’m glad they’re giving Dany a chance to speak here, at the end. She’s especially creepy at the beginning of the conversation, as she tells Jon about how Viserys described the Iron Throne to her as a girl. It’s like she’s the girl we knew, only now she’s destroyed a city and thousands of people in it. It’s frightening how casually she’s talking.

But Jon’s in no mood. He immediately brings the conversation to Dany executing the Lannister prisoners earlier, and to the dead children in the streets. “I tried to make peace with Cersei,” Dany says. “She used their innocence as a weapon against me. She thought it would cripple me.” They’re trying to sell us on the idea that Daenerys thinks of herself as a kind of savior, and that she’s allowed herself to be taken in by her own mythology. And honestly, it’s kind of working. They give her good lines, and Clarke’s earnestness is hard not to empathize with. “The world we need can’t be built by men loyal to the world we have,” she says. “It’s not easy to see something that’s never been before. A good world.”

But still, Jon has his mission, however little he wants it. Daenerys seals her fate when he asks about the opinions of all the other people out there who think they know what’s good. “They don’t get to choose,” she says, placid and hopeful.

They kiss, and Jon stabs her in the heart with a dagger. Seeing her die is painful. I feel like there was a break with her character last week, but Clarke is good enough, and I’ve been with the character long enough, that I can’t not be moved by this. Oh, Daenerys!

Drogon, Daenerys’ shadow self, her child, her familiar, flies into the throne room. Nothing will ever get me more upset than pets being sad, so I am openly gasping for air when Drogon prods his mother with his snout, finds she is dead, roars, and releases a gout of angry flame. It’s horrible, and wonderful work on the part of the CGI artists. This is easily Drogon’s strongest scene as a character.

Curiously, Drogon does not burn Jon, but rather the Iron Throne. Like I said, Drogon comes into his own as a character here. He knows that lust for that thing was what doomed his mother, and he wants it gone. It’s cathartic as we watch that uncomfortable metal chair melt to nothing and ooze onto the floor.

Burn it down, Drogon. It’s behind all of this. I like to think that Dany is acting through Drogon somehow, that deep down, she knew how bad this was for her, for everybody, and that she’s setting herself free.

And then, Drogon picks up his mother and flies off to parts unknown. It’s a wonderful sequence all around.

And if you ask me, I think the episode should have ended here, maybe with a couple more scenes to beef up the length. The first part of “The Iron Throne” is all grand operatic tragedy. The second part is much more grounded. It has a different tone, and isn’t as good. I think they should have taken a few more runs at the draft for the second part and made it an episode onto itself.

Anyway, on to what actually happens. We pick up at least a few weeks later; we can tell because of how much Tyrion’s beard has grown. Apparently, if the aftermath of Daenerys’ death, Grey Worm has been keeping watch over the city, and keeping Tyrion and Jon prisoner. Sansa has come south to take control of the forces of the North, who are now in a tense standoff with the Unsullied. Lords from the other kingdoms — Dorne (that new prince we heard about, whoever he is), the Iron Islands (hey, Yara), the Vale (Robin Arryn, all growed up), the Stormlands (Gendry) and the Riverlands (Edmure Tully, now with a cane) — have all taken one side or another and have gathered to hammer out a peace…or a war; it depends how the counsel goes.

Or at least, that’s how I’m interpreting things. Also present are players like Brienne, Davos, Arya Sam, Bran and Yohn Royce, who should thank his lucky stars that he survived this long. I could have done with a bit more detail about who’s on whose side and why. Like I said, this should have been a full episode.

They’re meeting in the Dragonpit. Harsh words are exchanged between Yara and the Stark sisters, but as always, Davos is on hand to dole out pearls of wisdom. “We’ve had enough war,” he says. “Thousands of you, thousands of them. We need to find a better way.” He suggests that Grey Worm and the Unsullied settle in the Reach, but Grey Worm has other ideas: he’s focused on a punishment for Jon Snow, who he has magnanimously kept alive all this time so Daenerys’ successor can decide what to do with him. But who is her successor?

It ends up that this is what this council is really here to decide. After all this bloodshed, who should rule Westeros?

Hilariously, Edmure rises and stumps for himself to be king, but Sansa shushes him. “Uncle,” she says, politely, “please sit.” I laughed at that. You’re not the guy, Edmure.

Next, Sam takes a swing, suggesting…democracy. I suppose someone had to say it. He’s immediately laughed down, though. You tried, Sam. Baby steps for Westeros.

And baby steps is what we get. Tyrion, talkative as ever, suggests for the Ruler of the Seven Kingdoms…Bran Stark. That’s a surprising one, to be sure. His argument, made vaguely, is that Bran would make a good king because of his deep knowledge of history, and because of the uniting power of stories and ehhhhh I’m not sure I buy it. Bran could have the right temperament for a ruler, given that he’d treat situations dispassionately, plus the omniscience couldn’t hurt, but a lot of the people here don’t really know him, or the unique things he brings to the table. Sure, Sam would vote for Bran, and maybe the folks from the Vale, but Yara? The Dorne guy? I say again, this should have been its own episode so those details could be ironed out.

Maybe the lot of them are exhausted from war, or perhaps they’re mollified by Tyrion’s other, frankly more radical proposition: that kings and queens no longer be determined by heredity, but chosen by a counsel of lords and ladies whenever there is a need. See? Baby steps.

Sansa has a condition, one she tacks on after Bran is approved: she wants independence for the North, seeing as how they took the most damage fighting the dead. Bran agrees. Didn’t Yara already get independence for the Iron Islands in season 6? Are the Islands included when Tyrion announces that “Bran the Broken” is now ruler of “the Six Kingdoms”? The Vale, the Westerlands, the Riverlands, the Reach, Dorne and the Stormlands…maybe not?

Anyway, now that Tyrion has talked Bran into the kingship, Bran, who seems like he’s planned this for a while (“Why do you think I came all this way?”), makes Tyrion his Hand, little as he wants the job. Grey Worm is not happy about that, but Bran has a plan to handle him, too: he’ll do justice to the man Grey Worm really wants to see punished, Jon Snow.

In a compromise, Jon will neither be executed, as Grey Worm wants, or allowed to walk free, as the Stark sisters want. He will go the Wall and rejoin the Night’s Watch, give up his titles and claim to the throne, and essentially die in exile. As Tyrion points out later, no one is very happy about this outcome, which probably means it’s a good compromise.

Now, why is there still a Night’s Watch, you ask? I think titles and claims have something to do with it. Westeros is inching towards democracy, but it still runs on passing power from parent to child, and having somewhere to send people where those claims can be erased is very useful. And who knows? Maybe it’s a good idea to keep a watch on the far reaches beyond the Wall. You never know what other evil could be lurking there.

Kudos to Grey Worm for surviving the series! The odds were against you, buddy. It looks like he and the other Unsullied are sailing back to Essos to forge their own destiny. I wish them the best. The first stop: the isle of Naath.

Before Jon jets off to his new old life, he bids goodbye to Bran, Arya and Sansa on a dock. It’s strange to see all of them here in King’s Landing.

It’s bittersweet goodbyes all around. Jon soft-forgives Sansa for spilling his secret, saying that the North will be in good hands with Ned Stark’s daughter. As for Arya, she’s decided to go exploring, sailing to the west of Westeros, to discover lands yet unseen. It’s a callback to what she suggested to Lady Crane in season 6.

Arya never gave me much of an explorer vibe, but she’s nothing if not adventurous, and Williams sells the decision. It leaves her fate nicely open-ended, which I like. The show is ending but these characters’ lives are not.

Jon says goodbye to Bran, too, but Bran just gives him one of his stock responses. “You were exactly where you were supposed to be.” He can say that in any situation and make someone feel better, can’t he? He’ll make a great king.

Next up, a lovely (almost) final scene for Brienne, where she — now the Lord Commander of the Kingsguard, a perfect position for her — fills in a couple pages for Jaime in the White Book, focusing on his good deeds but remaining honest. “Died protecting his queen,” is the last thing she writes.

I’m very glad we got another moment with Brienne after Jaime left her in “The Last of the Starks.” It’s still about her relationship with him, but she’s by no means broken by it. And she has a plush new gig and bitching set of armor with a Three-Eyed Raven insignia on it:

The Night King is dead, the Mother of Dragons gone, and the wars of the Seven Kingdoms over for now. It’s time to get down to the business of governing. We get a fun little scene of Tyrion alone in the Small Council chambers, adjusting the chairs around the table, trying to convince himself he’s ready for this job. Everyone files in: Samwell Tarly is representing the maesters (this scene must happen later, because Sam has forged his chain), Davos Seaworth is the Master of Ships, Brienne sits on the council as the leader of the Kingsguard and Bronn, of all people, is Master of Coin, which is a fun way to pay off his incessant hounding for remuneration for his deeds. It’s anyone’s guess whether he can balance a checkbook, though.

King Bran comes in briefly to consult with his advisors. No one’s seen Drogon in a while. He was last seen flying east. Oh, and Podrick is in the Kingsguard!

After Bran leaves, the lot of them get down to discussing the business of the realm, which includes rebuilding an armada, feeding the population, and ensuring a clean water supply. There isn’t a lot of detail in this discussion, but I think the point of it is to show things settling back into a routine. I’ve heard some suggest that the finale seems to be setting up a sequel, but I don’t think so: I think it’s saying that life goes on, that the end of one story is the start of another, that even if you break one wheel, another one starts turning.

I think that’s the way it should be. These characters are too interesting for any one scene to give us the final say on them. They all have a lot of challenges ahead of them.

We end with a three-way montage featuring Jon Snow, Arya Stark, and Sansa Stark. Jon arrives back at Castle Black, where Tormund and Ghost are waiting for him. It looks like Tormund waited a while to take the wildlings through the Wall, as he said he would in “The Last of the Starks.”

Also, Jon pets Ghost. ARE YOU HAPPY NOW, PEOPLE?

At Winterfell, Sansa is garbed in a splendid new dress, her raiment as the Queen in the North. On a ship, Arya prepares to venture where no one has ventured before. At Castle Black, Jon prepares to go beyond the Wall. We get parallel shots of the three of them, framed from the back, each walking through a crowd, Jon through his Night’s Watch brothers, Arya among sailors, and Sansa, most movingly, through a throng of Northerners who bow as she passes. It’s good stuff.

All of them have achieved a level of contentment without getting perfect happiness. Arya’s journey west recalls her leaving Westeros for Essos at the end of season 4. She smiles. Maybe she IS an explorer. Sansa getting crowned and called “Queen in the North” is the most powerful part of this montage. Lord knows she deserves it. Meanwhile, Jon’s trip north is the most mysterious. He and a pack of wildlings — men, women and children — enter the Haunted Forest. Is he going to resettle the wildlings, or is he going to join them? The episode leaves it ambiguous. We exit on a shot of Jon and the wildlings disappearing into the forest, into their next adventure.

Most of my problems with this episode have to do with the previous two episodes, mainly involving how they treated Daenerys, but I enjoyed this finale very much. I may not have loved the setup with Dany, but I thought they did a lot with the follow-through. Even without the perfect setup, her death scene was splendid. And although I could have used more time with the politicking afterward, I enjoyed the way the show closed loops without tying them vice-tight.

I feel fulfilled. I feel light. I feel released. I feel grateful. I’m going to enjoy picking apart this episode, and this season, and this series, in the weeks to come. But right now, I’m happy to soak in my satisfaction. This was quite a show.


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Game of Bullet Points

  • The finale checked a lot of boxes in the “What will happen to them now?” department, although I’m wondering where the remaining Dothraki went after this. I suppose that after Dany died they could have gone back to Essos with the Unsullied, but I also have a hard time imagining who could carrel them.
  • Is the new Prince of Dorne Quentyn Martell? No idea; he doesn’t have a line. I don’t think we’re supposed to consider it too carefully.
  • I loved Grey Worm angrily yelling at Tyrion during the trial scene. They’ve never gotten on famously, and their relationship can only have gotten since Dany’s death.
  • Did Jon and Tyrion do the right by killing Daenerys? “Ask me again in 10 years,” Tyrion says. Are they setting up for a sequel or just leaving things open-ended?
  • In a meta moment, Sam presents the Small Council with a copy of A Song of Ice and Fire, the new, more poetic title for the book Archmaester Ebrose was writing in season 7. Sam helped him pick it.
  • Does Bran really need a Master of Whisperers when he can see anything everyone is doing?
  • The real loose end: we’ll never see how Tyrion ended that joke.

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