'Game of Thrones': The Fans Were the Biggest Losers

[Original Post] That’s it. It’s over. Eight years and eight seasons of television wrapped up with one explosive finale. Game of Thrones is over. In some ways, this is great; now we can all move on to caring about other things, like, I dunno, This Is Us or which Marvel character is going to come […]

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[Original Post]

That’s it. It’s over. Eight years and eight seasons of television wrapped up with one explosive finale. Game of Thrones is over. In some ways, this is great; now we can all move on to caring about other things, like, I dunno, This Is Us or which Marvel character is going to come out as queer or something. Yet, in other ways, it’s overwhelmingly sad, not just because it’s the end of an era, but because that ending was so damn disappointing.

But let’s be real: There was no way it wasn’t going to be disappointing. No show with stakes as high as Game of Thrones‘ was going to be able to deliver a fully satisfying payoff. That said, it tried. To help put the show to rest, WIRED gathered our biggest Thrones fans—writers Emily Dreyfuss, Emma Grey Ellis, and Peter Rubin, and editors Brian Barrett and Angela Watercutter—one last time to talk about everything that happened in the series finale, and what it all means now that it’s over. RIP, Game of Thrones.

Game of Thrones‘ Ultimate Denouement

Angela Watercutter: Alright, I’m just going to get this out of the way first: Bran??? The new ruler of the Seven, excuse me, Six Kingdoms is the guy named after the thing you eat to increase fecal weight? And, not only that, everyone—who presumably would’ve seen the death of the queen as a pretty sweet opportunity for a power grab—just goes along with it because Tyrion, who has truly proved himself to be the village idiot this season, suggested it? I am unmoved.

Whew, glad I got that out. But seriously, there were some legitimately great moments in this series finale (sad Drogon had me in tears, y’all), and it was better than I thought it would be, but man some of this shit did not make sense. Like, we all thought Daenerys would die. Did everyone think it would be by Jon’s hand? Some, but not all. Was that necessary? Also, I’m stoked Sansa is Queen in the North, but, uh, maybe she could’ve ruled over all? She definitely has more on-the-job experience than her brother. (Props to her for reminding all the lords and ladies of Westeros that Bran’s penis doesn’t work, though. That was a power move.)

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s go through this beat by beat. What did everyone think of the finale? Did it feel final? Did it deliver even a modicum of what you wanted the swan song of this show to be?

Emily Dreyfuss: I just can’t. There aren’t words to describe my disappointment. Except, what? Really? That? I knew it would be bad, but it was so much worse! Picking Bran—creepy do-nothing Bran!—over Sansa? And Tyrion getting to pick at all? The dragon suddenly has a PhD in political science? Grey Worm letting Tyrion and Jon live? The Night’s Watch still existing? Nothing made any sense at all.

Watercutter: Someone asked me this morning why the Night’s Watch let Jon go, and I was basically like, “They don’t have anything to watch anymore, their biggest concern is ‘Can we have sex now?’ They don’t care about Jon.”

Ellis: I thought Jon and Arya’s stories ended well enough, but seriously, Bran is the ultimate power mooch. So much for broken wheels. Also, even after all the hubbub about mislaid Starbucks cups, fans spotted not one, but two plastic water bottles on set during the finale—a bizarre last testament to how rushed this season was.

Dreyfuss: Yes, the water bottles prove how slap dash and inconsiderate the season and episode was. Frankly, it felt hostile to the fans who’ve put so much time into watching this show, and buying merchandise from the show and paying for HBO to see this show and making all these actors and directors and produce rich. At least do us the honor of clearing your trash from the makeshift stage you assembled at the last minute to wrap things up in a completely absurd and unsatisfying way!

Watercutter: Seriously. Also, can we get Tyrion a lifetime achievement award for failing up? Our recapper, Laura Hudson, had a great bit about that in today’s Citadel Dropouts podcast, where she noted that there may be no better metaphor for politics than giving the straight white guy who keeps screwing up even more power. I believe she is right about that.

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Dany’s Final Speech

Watercutter: I will say, as a plot point, I rather enjoyed Dany’s Evita moment at the start of the episode. One is the biggest gripes with the penultimate episode was that her turn to madness was unexplained—she just started scorching King’s Landing even when she didn’t have to. Her speech to the troops at least demonstrated that she genuinely believed the only way to liberate the Seven Kingdoms was to raze them. The sequence was also just well-shot (the perpetually falling ash was a rather unsettling metaphor for the aftermath of war) and after so many seasons of relative stone-facedness, I was glad to see Emilia Clarke do some real acting. It’s a shame, but I think this final episode was the first time I felt any really emotion for Dany beyond “yes, bitch!” or “well, damn!” in eight seasons—and she’s one of my favorite characters. The speech scene, and the following scene with Jon, actually turned her into a fully realized individual. And then she died, which seems about right.

Brian Barrett: This unfortunately gave way to one of the most profoundly absurd moments in recent television history, with Drogon deciding to melt the Iron Throne. This is madness! The flying monster’s mother gets stabbed and it takes out its frustration … on the symbol of power that led her to that fate? Has Drogon been spending his off hours reading Joseph Campbell?

I would get it more if the throne was ancillary damage to a general rampage, but they shot it like an intentional dragon-choice. To me that speaks to what feels so off about this whole season, which has careened from set piece to set piece without much apparent thought to how or why those things might happen within the established logic of the show.

Watercutter: I hear you, Brian. But, just in Drogon’s defense, didn’t Tyrion say a few seasons back that dragons are pretty intelligent? I think it is possible that Drogon saw the Iron Throne as the thing that lead to his mother’s downfall—he’s clearly had a, forgive me, bird’s-eye view of this happening for years—and in his grief he sought to destroy it.

Dreyfuss: That’s another example, though, of them expecting a single line to justify a huge character and plot departure. If the dragons were smart and had personalities all their own all these years, the show needed to show us that, build it up, not just tell us once!

But I agree that Dany’s speech was powerful. In fact, the whole episode was fine right up until the Drogon melted the throne. (Except for Tyrion so easily finding his siblings under the oddly fine layer of rubble that didn’t really crush their beautiful faces, just left them doused in a white chalk of death?) Dany’s speech was scary! Jon murdering her was unexpected, since he seemed like a dunce five minutes before. Fine, that was all fine! Then Drogon suddenly had a personality and intelligence he’d never had before, and then the show skipped forward in time a few weeks (a thing it didn’t do in prior seasons!) and everything went off the rails.

People Still Listen to Tyrion

Ellis: But seriously, why does anyone listen to Tyrion? Look, I like Tyrion—enough that I was sad for him when he found his (objectively sucky) siblings in the rubble. But now, this character who is supposed to be wise and smart and inventive gives us … Bran. The useless wizard nobody likes.

Dreyfuss: And why is Tyrion even alive? I mean, I love the guy—if I were in charge he’d be alive! But he was in Grey Worm’s care, and Grey Worm had just been made the leader of Dany’s armies, then she ordered him to kill Tyrion, and then she was murdered, and suddenly this soldier who has been loyal to her from the beginning just … doesn’t follow through on her orders? And more than that, he also doesn’t kill her murderer, and then allows the man she condemned to die to come up with a plan that releases her murderer into the wild and makes himself Hand of the King? Why?! And then the whole Bran pick, oof. I am so mad.

Ellis: Really, I’m just mad that Tyrion suggested Bran has a better story than anyone else in the room. If he had, maybe Bran would have been, I don’t know, featured at all in Season 5? Tyrion, you shipped yourself to Essos in a wine crate. Bran was sitting between Sansa—who survived years of abuse to become a literal and figurative queen—and Arya, who can change faces. The best thing about Bran’s story was his friends, and he’s the reason they’re all dead.

Barrett: The only thing I have to say about Bran taking over is that someone close to the show made bank in the betting markets.

Can we also talk about Samwell Tarly suggesting democracy and getting laughed out of the tent? This felt hack-y! It was, like so many others this season, a moment important from a mirror universe where Game of Thrones was built on tropes instead of dedicated to countervailing them.

Ellis: I also disliked the chuckling at democracy. I’m glad Sam was the one to suggest it, though, because that at least felt true to his character. The sniggering almost felt like showrunners poking fun at fan theories, or at anyone who would put 2019 expectations on a show set in a fantasy world. Which I suppose is fair, but yes, trope-y.

Dreyfuss: I also think Drogon was trying to suggest democracy when he melted the throne, but since he can’t speak, and him understanding political systems makes no sense, it fell to Sam to translate.

Watercutter: Yes, laughing at democracy was wack. Also, in terms of using the show as a real-world allegory, I think that particular moment—and the entire notion of putting Bran and Tyrion in charge—speaks to this weird undercurrent in the finale that seemed to say “It’s really not possible to change things that much.” When you think of Dany as a revolutionary, as someone who wanted to upend the system, and then you see her portrayed as someone who want mad and/or became a tyrant, then the show is saying, “Actual upheaval is unlikely, perhaps impossible.” After all of the death and destruction and freeing of enslaved people and liberation of the North, we’re still left with a monarchy—a system with a king, a Hand, a Master of Coin, etc. etc. Aside from the fact that the rulers seem like slightly better people, not much has changed. The Wheel barely broke a spoke.

The Queen in the North

Ellis: Sansa is way more qualified to rule all of Westeros than Bran, but I was OK with her alternate ending. She’s become wise enough to know that the Seven Kingdoms are likely to succumb to drama, and has chosen to use that wisdom to protect her own. The people of Winterfell are fortunate.

Dreyfuss: Giving her the North was a consolation prize. If the point of that roundtable was to show us that Sansa was clearly the boss (when she tells that Edmure Tully to “sit down,” you know she’s already the Queen) and yet the men don’t respect her, and thereby make a comment on what it’s like to be a woman seeking election in modern day America, then great, fine, it succeeded in making its point. Sansa got treated the way women around the world get treated every day: overlooked and passed over and then placated by being “given” an inferior role.

The Endings That Could’ve Been

Peter Rubin: I’m just gonna say it: Beyond some of the jaw-dropping moment-to-moment choices, I didn’t hate the episode. That’s probably mostly a combination of just wanting it to be over and being truly exhausted by the fan outcry. By the time the credits rolled I didn’t really care anymore. Did I want Arya to put on a face and take out Dany? I did. Did I want Brienne to start her own page in the Wikipedia of Knights rather than redeeming Jaime’s? I did. Was I holding out hope for a Hot Pie cameo? You know this. But to those complaining about Bran being king, I say: WHO CARES? A time-transcending non-philanderer with few emotions is arguably one of the best choices you could have. Besides, my favorite characters are off on life paths that seem to suit them, and hopefully Bronn and Ser Davos will get a zippy theme song for their new Veep-style bureaucracy buddy comedy. That being said, the parade of epilogues went by pretty quickly, and I’m sure some of you have some ideas of what you would have preferred—so let’s hear ’em.

Dreyfuss: I think it’s a fool’s errand to map out how this one episode could have ended differently and been satisfying. As I said last week, the whole final season was so rushed and phoned in that I don’t think there was a way for this one episode to redeem all that. That said, this was worse than I expected it to be and at fault was not just the choice of Bran the Pointless to lead or the sexism of overlooking Sansa or the idiocy of Drogon suddenly having nuanced political opinions and Grey Worm being disloyal, but also the style of storytelling. The episode was mostly exposition rather than scene. It broke with the norms of the show by jumping forward in time after the opening gambit. It was rushed and yet Tyrion got at least three monologues and was suddenly smart after being insanely stupid for two seasons. There was enough time for him to rearrange the chairs of the Small Council table for five minutes, as though we were suddenly at an Off-Broadway production of Neil Simon’s The Dinner Party. The list of dumb things goes on.

But if we are talking about completely different endings? Where the season was paced appropriately? I would have loved for everyone to die, leaving only Sam to actually, seriously invent democracy.

I could even accept an ending wherein Bran sits on the throne, I guess, if Bran had ever done anything of use in the show and if we had spent any real time with him aside from watching him creepily watch other people out of the corner of his unfocused eyes.

Watercutter: Generally, I think things ended as well as they could have considering all the corners this show painted itself into. That said, two unfulfilled wishes: I wish Dany had been as complicated and nuanced this whole season as she was in her final two scenes, and I wish Arya would’ve killed her protecting/defending Jon somehow. I know she already got her Hero Moment with the Night King, but I just wanted her to do something else interesting before the show was over. (I also would’ve been happy if she ran off with Yara to go sailing and run the Iron Islands.) I would have liked Sansa to be the queen of the Seven Kingdoms, but I like to think she’ll get what she wants with Bran in charge.

The Shipping Blues

Watercutter: This is a small gripe, I know, but can we talk about all the great couples that never were? I really wanted Daenerys and Yara Greyjoy to build an empire together—and just imagine what could have been avoided if Dany had fallen for the queen of the Iron Islands instead of Jon! But alas, it never happened. Also, I desperately wanted Tyrion to find love. With … well, anyone.

But even more than that, I was surprised (and bummed) this season about the couplings that Arya and Brienne found themselves in. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for them getting theirs, but I was a little bummed about who they hooked up with. Both of those characters had, in my mind, been coded as queer from the beginning and it felt like the showrunners felt a need, in the final act, to say, “Nope! They’re totally straight! In fact, Brienne has been pining for Jamie all along!” In a way, I like the subversion of having a butch-y character like Brienne hook up with Jamie because it messes with people’s perceptions and preconceptions, but at the same time that storyline basically turned an amazing, strong character into a plot device for Jamie to prove he was as awful as we’d always thought he was. If Brienne wasn’t going to end up with Tormund, it would have been nice if she’d ended up with a woman. Same with Arya. Gendry is a decent person, and I’m glad Arya stuck to her “I’m not a lady” guns, but I just wish she’d picked a different partner for her Apocalypse Eve booty call. Both she and Ser Brienne, I felt, were dangled as queerbait for almost the entire run of the show and to flip their stories at the very end was disheartening. That’s all.

Ellis: I’ve always been a fan of your “Dany and Yara take over the world” theory, Angela, and I was very, very disappointed with Brienne’s arc this season. (Less so Arya’s. At least she’s her own woman.) I don’t want to see Brienne editing Jaime Lannister’s Kingsguard Wikipedia page. She should have written her own entry! But then, the show never really let Brienne live on her own terms. Sigh.

Dreyfuss: I totally agree. The show treated queer sex as a kink, rather than a sexual orientation. The Sand Snakes and Yara? The message seemed to be that they enjoyed women because they were just so hyper sexual. To make Arya and Brienne seem gay but then to turn them hyper hetero at the end felt like the show saying: How could they be gay when they are main characters? Which … is enraging.

Watercutter: Thanks for supporting me, y’all. I feel seen. But I guess we’ll have to just add these to the long list of Game of Thrones ships that never sailed.


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