Surprising, inevitable and a little silly: how Game of Thrones ended

In the end, Game of Thrones was the story of the Starks.

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Contains spoilers for the series finale of Game of Thrones.

In the end, winter came. After the slaughter of King’s Landing, snow fell in the capital of Westeros, mingling with ash: an indistinguishable mix of ice and fire. Game of Thrones often uses the penultimate episode of each season to mete out shocking violence; paired with a finale that seeks to find justice in the fall-out.  The final ever episode, “The Iron Throne”, continued that tradition.

Daenerys’s genocidal tendencies didn’t seem to subside. As she flew over the charred bodies of children to take over as Queen of the Seven Kingdoms, she seemed happy, proud, and righteous – gathering her remaining men for an address that seemed more like a war rally than a gracious victory speech. A bold move to make as the corpses of the innocent gently smoke. Sure, a holocaust might seem like a bad look for a new ruler – because society hates an unapologetic, strong woman! Lean in, ladies!!!

Tyrion resigned his position as hand, but Dany barely seemed to notice. Instead she ventured off into the rubble of her new castle (completely alone, with no protection: a bizarrely confident decision from Westeros’s new Most Likely To Be Revenge Assassinated). Unchaperoned, she gazed at the Iron Throne like a lover. If only she’d gazed at her lover like he was made of the same steel.

After a long chat with an incarcerated Tyrion, Jon Snow faced a choice: to fight with Daenerys or against her. Jon has become progressively stupider on Game of Thrones, refusing to see Dany’s flaws, underestimating his sisters, and insisting on making the most theoretically moral choices based on principles like loyalty, believing the best of people, and humility (principles that feel deeply misguided in the Seven Kingdoms).

So when he seemed to side with Dany even after her act of domestic terrorism, embracing her and kissing her as he promised to love her forever, I was briefly taken with the idea of a final battle of Jon and Dany against the world. They’re really doing it, I thought in gleeful disbelief. They’re finally showing their beloved, stupid hero up as an idiot. Then, he stabbed her.

For Dany to go out less than half an hour into the 90-minute finale, and at the hands of Jon Snow, no less, was the show’s final shock tactic. Fans have long insisted that a handsome war hero would eventually kill his murderous-queen-cum-incestuous-lover, they just thought it would be Jaime killing Cersei, not Jon killing Dany. Sad and silly; surprising yet inevitable; and somehow anti-climactic, it felt in keeping with most of the major character deaths in this season. (Right up until her final moments, Emelia Clarke somehow crafted a complex, believable performance from a blunt, implausibe script.) As a heavy-handed footnote, Drogon found a sense of poetry in his raw grief at his mother’s death, melting the Iron Throne down to a lump of glutinous hot metal. I assume that reptillian scream was dragon for “IF SHE CAN’T HAVE IT, NO ONE CAN.”

In an unusual (and unprecedented?) move, the action then skipped forward by several weeks: winter was over and Jon had grown the grim, scraggly beard of guilt to prove it. But by leaping into the unfolding political crisis of the empty throne, Game of Thrones found at least some time to do what it does best: character-driven scenes of power-wrangling and light, back-stabbing banter. Edmure Tulley’s perfectly hammy delusions of grandure made for a snappy Sansa comeback; Sam’s corny, hopeful suggestion of a democratic Westeros was brilliantly ridiculed; the inexplicably powerful Ser Davos laughed at the absurdity of his own position: “I’m not sure I get a vote,” he shrugged. A sincere highlight of the episode for me was Tyrion nervously rearranging chairs for the new monarch, the kind of detail this rushed final season has so far neglected.

Oh yes, the new monarch. I thought it was inevitable that a woman would rule in the end, to rescue the show from a decade of sexism accusations, but it was the bookies’ favourite, Bran, who was agreed upon as the new King, with a caveat: he would rule the SIX Kingdoms, with The North as an independent kingdom, and Sansa as their Queen. As someone who has long rooted for Sansa as a ruler, I was delighted to see her in her crown. But overall it feels cheesy, expected and a bit of a cop-out (Sansa says the North won’t bend the knee, but for Bran Stark, who was Lord of Winterfell and a kind of ruler in the North for a long time, I think they’d make an exception) not least because the showrunners have repeatedly promised that all the years of violence against women would be justified when the show’s women came out on top.

As Lena Headey told Vogue this year, “it was always the producers’ plan to upend the patriarchy of Westeros. ‘That’s why they could shoulder all of the criticism – they knew what was coming and what they had in store for these women’”. Two “evil” “mad” queens dead, the men who supported and encouraged them morally excused, and our one female Knight, Brienne, left silently writing MRS JAIME LANNISTER over and over again in her diary hardly feel like great feminist victories. Sansa and Arya get happy endings, but as the two Stark daughters, they were always the exceptional female characters on the show.

And in the end, Game of Thrones was the story of the Starks – a point enthusiastically underlined by two incredibly unsubtle meta-narratives: Tyrion suggesting that, in the end, it’s GREAT STORIES that unite us, and who has a better story than Bran? (answer: almost everyone else), and Sam dusting off a great thick tome and announcing he had written a book called A Song of Ice and Fire, a history of the events leading to Bran Stark leading the Six Kingdoms and Sansa Stark ruling in the North. As for the other two Stark siblings, Arya has become an explorer, off to find “what’s west of Westeros”; Jon Snow, sentenced for life to the Night’s Watch, has seemingly gone to live beyond the Wall with the Wildlings. A united pack for so long, the series ended by cutting between the siblings parting ways, seemingly forever. The pack survived. Now they are four lone wolves, gazing out at new horizons.

Bad bitch points are awarded as followed:

  • Tyrion, throwing his little hand pin to the ground in a flamboyant strop midway through Dany’s glorious moment of victory. +31
  • Drogon, commanding a complex grasp of the Iron Throne as both the literal and metonymous seat of power in his final moments on screen. +68. I thought he was more from the “you point, I burn” school of learning, but clearly Drogon is far more sophisticated in his understanding of the mechanisms of leadership than I gave him credit for.
  • Jon and Tyrion growing The Long Beards of the Serious, Morally Ambiguous Hero, like Jaime Lannister before them. +8
  • Sansa, telling stupid men to sit down until the very end. +87
  • Sansa being the only person to refuse to bend the knee to her own weird brother, +91. True Big Sister energy.
  • Bran, playing the bizarre long game of foreseeing a mass genocide, but allowing it to happen so he could finally take the throne, all the while insisting to every single person who would listen that he REALLY doesn’t WANT to rule ANYWAY. +38. A grade reverse psychology.
  • Jon finally learning a lesson from Arya – the art of the surprise kill. +52
  • Arya, insisting that “no one knows” what’s west of Westeros until she discovers it. Spoken like a true coloniser. -32
  • Brienne sadly writing Jaime’s entry in the Big Toilet Book of Brave Knights and not even updating her own, like an MP editing their Wikipedia page in the House of Commons. -82
  • Bronn’s new swagger as Master of Coin. The rise of Bronn has been swift and bullish. He gets sent on ONE (1) assassination mission by an evil queen and a crazy crossbow enthusiast and comes back one of the most powerful men in the country. +59
  • Sam, sassing everyone with his big dusty book. +32
  • Sam, wearing a burlap sack to a meeting with the literal King. +43
  • Ghost, patiently waiting for Jon to return. +12 A Good Boy.
  • Ser Davos Seaworth, a literal onion smuggler who somehow managed to come out of all this alive AND as the Master of Ships. +53

The final EVER baddest bitch of Game of Thrones is, of course Sansa Stark, who went out like a legend: working an elegant tiara and disrespecting the crown of her very own brother. God bless.

Anna Leszkiewicz is culture editor of the New Statesman.