Warning: If you haven’t found the time yet to watch the final episode of Game of Thrones, do not read this post.
As with all good stories, Game of Thrones had a theme and a story arc and writers David Benioff and Dan Weiss remained faithful to both in devising the final episode. The theme, of course, was: Power corrupts; and the story arc, therefore, was a transition from corrupt rulers of the Seven Kingdoms to an incorruptible ruler. Simple, but after eight seasons of action, the writers had painted themselves into a corner with little room to improvise to satisfy fans.
In painting the last corner of the metaphorical room, the writers got some things right and a few things wrong. We’ll start with what they got right.
When Daenerys learned that Jon Snow was the rightful heir to the Iron Throne, she told her lover to bend a knee or pound sand. That was the signal that she had been corrupted by power and her fate was sealed. Fans who missed or ignored the signal were surprised by her demise, but they shouldn’t have been. She was ineligible to ascend to the throne in a story faithful to its theme. To be certain fans got the message, Daenerys wantonly and unnecessarily demolished King’s Landing and annihilated its citizens. Daenerys had to die. Had to.
Every antagonist deserves an equally imposing protagonist and the only equal to her character was Jon Snow, the incorruptible leader who didn’t want the throne. He had to kill Daenerys. Had to. No one else was worthy of the role. Then the writers gave us a bit of Shakespearian tragedy, one lover killing the other for the good of the world, and the story unfolded as preordained.
Jon Snow’s disposition after the murder was neither grand nor terrible in the writing sense. No, he couldn’t sit on the Iron Throne because he refused to be corrupted. He had to break the wheel of corruption by refusing the throne.
Thus, the writers had few options. Spending the rest of his life with his buddy, Tormund, beyond the walls of the kingdom, in a sort of idyllic, uncorrupted commune, was an okay solution. Would have been better had he chosen his disposition rather than being exiled by a kangaroo court.
Unfortunately, the writers got everything else wrong, even though they had alternatives to do better.
Start with Cersei. Clearly a corrupted ruler who deserved an agonizing, defiling fate, the evil queen dies under a pile of bricks in the arms of her brother/lover. Come on, guys, you could have done better than that. How about: Arya does track down the queen and her brother and accosts them. Jaime defends his sister/queen/lover, but Arya gets the best of him, wounds him, so she can kill Cersei in some abominable way. Arya escapes—tries to get Jaime to escape with her—but Jaime won’t leave his sister and dies under the pile of bricks holding his sister in his arms. Another Shakespearian tragedy scene far better than Arya wandering around the rubble.
The most important thing the writers got wrong was the dragon. The dragon was obviously a symbol of nuclear power and the destruction of King’s Landing was a metaphor for Nagasaki and Hiroshima. One would guess that George R. R. Martin would have had something important to say about that. But the writers have the dragon fly off to some unknown destination and unknown destiny carrying the limp, dead body of its mother. Lame is the best word for that. The dragon had to be dealt with and the writers abdicated their responsibility. It was the last character that should have had an arc but then didn’t have an arc. Dying in the furnace of its own fie would have been good.
So, who’s to be ruler of the Seven Kingdoms? The writers had painted themselves not into a corner but into the very seam between two walls. There was literally no one left as a serious candidate. Sansa was well on her way to power induced corruption and was unworthy. Did you miss her corruption? Hark all the way back to marrying Cersei’s despicable son.
The fact that she was allowed to free and then rule the North, an outcome decided in two or three hurried sentences—let’s get this over with—was less than scintillating. (Another sign that the final season was a rush job was Grey Worm’s agreement, in a few sentences, to load the Unsullied onto boats and sail away.)
So, Bran was the last incorruptible man standing. Ha ha, pun intended. The writers had no other options. They signal his disinterest in affairs of state and for all intents and purposes, his Hand, the Imp, will rule, making his usual well-intended mistakes. Blah.
So, the final episode had no suspenseful anticipation—Jon Snow had to kill Daenerys—and the rest was the dog’s breakfast as my British friends say. One got the sense that the actors and writers just wanted to put the whole mess behind them. Now it’s behind all of us.