REVIEW: Game of Thrones – Season 8, Episode 6: “The Iron Throne”
It’s here. The end of the road. The final ever episode of Game of Thrones. All men must die, and all shows must come to an end. Some reach their conclusion in emphatic fashion, some simply fizzle out into nothingness. Game of Thrones is the centre of these two extremities; a tender, heartfelt conclusion to a final season that has been burdened by an unrelenting pace, questionable character decisions, and let’s face it, shoddy writing.
Directed and written by David Benioff and Dan Weiss, the final episode ends as it began, in the hands of those responsible for bringing George R.R. Martin’s vision to the small screen. But Game of Thrones has been anything but “small”, its gargantuan scale and scope is perhaps something that will never be experienced again. It’s only fitting that the show goes out with a bang.
“The Iron Throne” begins right where “The Bells” left off. Tyrion strolls through the streets of King’s Landing, ash floating from the grey sky. The charcoaled streets are a shadow of what used to be, life has been substituted for death, sunlight for darkness. Dany’s controversial decision to burn the capital to the ground is accompanied with grave consequences. Her once trusted allies seek justice, no more so than Tyrion, who witnessed his city perish along with all those who inhabited the capital, including Cersei and Jaime; sparking a gut-wrenching reaction from Peter Dinklage that puts him at the fore of yet another Emmy triumph.
The following 75 minutes of television plays out in Shakespearean fashion; tragedy, conspiracy, the quest for justice: all brought to life by long-serving performers in Emilia Clarke, Kit Harrington, and the rest of the tremendous cast. As we’ve come to expect, the performances in this episode are nothing short of perfection. This is the end of a ten-year journey for these actors, and you can truly feel it through the way they present themselves on screen. Yet these physical and emotional feats are married to Ramin Djawadi’s melancholically epic score; an oxymoron achieved through heart-aching violin strings and emphatic percussions. When we look back in future years on the show we will remember the faces of these performers and the sound of Djawadi’s genius.
Much of the previous episode’s flaws, as outraged by many devoted viewers, lied with the show’s perception of Daenerys being the ultimate villain; whose spiralling descent into ‘madness’ and anarchy, while thematically plausible, was unforgivably mishandled in terms of execution. I suspect many of these complaints will rekindle from this final episode, with the death of Daenerys, an OG character who has been on this remarkable journey battling oppression and tyranny, to die as the villain she so spent her entire lifespan fighting against. By dying at the hands of her lover and relative, Dany’s eternal legacy will be tarnished with bitterness and contempt. She will be remembered as the Mad Queen, not the liberator. The screams of the innocents will drown the chants of “Mhysa”, and this is something I will never be able to forgive (yet not to the extent that I would sign that fucking petition). With her death, the wheel is broken. In a fit of rage and mourning, Drogon incinerates the Iron Throne, the fallen swords of Aegon’s Conquest meandering and melting.
With the Dragon Queen dead, the major lords of Westeros must appoint a new king or queen. It’s like a PTA meeting to decide which annoying parent gets to boss all the other parents about. There are plenty of familiar faces among the candidates: Edmure Tully (“sit down uncle”), Sansa Stark, Robin Arryn, Yara Greyjoy. But the honour, after a lengthy monologue by a shackled Tyrion, is bestowed upon Bran Stark, known in the streets as ‘Bran the Broken’. This is a wise decision by the showrunners, albeit half-assedly constructed. Justified as the eternal memory of Westeros, wisdom is finally chosen above war competency. Democracy is somewhat re-instated into a realm where anyone can be king/queen if you have an army, or if you’re born into royalty. While people will undoubtedly be upset that Bran is the chosen one, the whole point is that it doesn’t really matter. The six kingdoms (the North being an independent state after a badass moment from Sansa) will be ruled by a collective that runs through the eternal wisdom and guidance of Bran. He is merely a voice for the people, a voice of compassion, a voice of peace.
“The Iron Throne” blitzes in its quest to neatly tie together the loose narrative strands, and in its defence, it’s executed well. Brienne, clad in Kingsguard armour, fills in the blank pages of Jaime Lannister’s legacy, from ‘kingslayer’ to protector of the Queen (if you didn’t cry at this point you’re a monster). Bronn finally gets his castle as Lord of Highgarden, Sam becomes Grand Maester, and Grey Worm sails to Naath to honour his promise to his fallen lover. But it’s the Starks who finally get their comeuppance, presented in a heart-aching montage that made me weep. Arya, reminiscent of Lyanna Stark’s adventurous nature, seeks to sail west of Westeros, to unravel hidden mysteries. Sansa becomes Queen of the North, a rightful conclusion to her remarkable character arc. And Jon, not Aegon, is once again sent to the Wall, a lifelong punishment for his crime. Yet the final scene shows Jon venturing North of the Wall with his wildling companions, accompanied side-by-side with Tormund and Ghost – and yes, he did pet him this time. He has the “North in him”, the real North. This is where he belongs.
When the episode fades to black, the reality starts to sink in. Game of Thrones is over.
From the grand political schemings of seasons 1-5 to the epic, high-budget battles of seasons 6-8, we say goodbye to the most ambitious show of television history. We say goodbye to the characters we have grown to love and despise, we say goodbye to a decade of humanist fantasy.
It’s been a wonderful journey. To HBO, George R.R Martin, and Dave and Dan I say: thank you. Valar morghulis.