So, I know it’s downright impossible to end a long, epic, many-tendriled series satisfyingly, since nothing could ever be sufficient after years and years of complicated buildup, and since the writers have been so focused on extending the storyline that the idea of denouement — the need for a full stop after the automatic reflex of continuation — is foreign to them.
And I know that this final season of “Game of Thrones” has been deeply flawed, not just because of a number of bad plot choices, such as the last-minute reversal by the seemingly wised-up Jaime Lannister, and the oddly premature attack that left one dragon dead, and the long and too dark night that ended in a popped ice balloon, but because the writers have seemed to be hurriedly checking off boxes instead of dramatizing the details and emotions of each last plot twist.
But yeah, I basically enjoyed the last episode of “Game of Thrones.” Some of the choices were off — Bran-bot, he of the bad eye contact and warging soul, as ruler? — but the tone and pace were just right.
Unlike too much of the season, the episode progressed slowly and surely, giving us the human story that had previously been getting short shrift. In the wake of Daenerys’s brutal attack on Westeros in the penultimate episode, the action nearly came to a standstill, making time for small but important moments such as Tyrion’s grief at the sight of his brother’s and sister’s corpses, their heads visible in a pile of stone bricks. Or Tyrion confessing to Jon about Daenerys, “It was vanity to think I could guide her.”
The whole episode, from the confrontation between Daenerys and Tyrion to the ending scenes of each character on his or her next journey (including Arya’s “Don’t Rain on My Parade” boat ride to, as she put it, “where all the maps stop”), had the appealingly bittersweet tone of epilogue.
Amid the postwar ruins, the remaining players were left to figure out the final moves.
And move they did, most notably Jon Snow, who, after consulting with the jailed Tyrion, stabbed Daenerys to death, a much-needed end to her murderous, messianic fervor. There were lips on lips in a troubled embrace, and then there was the unmissable slicing sound of the knife and thin streams of blood leaking from the Khaleesi’s nose and mouth. In an ideal world, the death of Dany would have had its own episode, but, as I’ve written already this season, six episodes were not enough to honor each of the major plot turns.
No one seemed concerned that Jon was, in fact, the rightful heir to the throne. But, to use a word that many “Game of Thrones” fans have taken as their mantra these last few weeks: whatever. Also, in one of the finale’s best lines, Tyrion did note the failures of royal families and automatic monarchs: “From now on, leaders will not be born; they will be chosen.”
In a way, as Bran, Sansa, Tyrion, Brienne, Samwell, Davos, and the others all gathered to discuss the future and vote for a new leader, they were us, the audience, deciding on the best end. It felt a little meta, watching them debate. I’m not sure a gathering of fans would have chosen “Bran the Broken” as the new boss, but he is definitely not the same as the old bosses. With his knowledge of history, he may be fit to rule, though. I like it that he’s anything but ambitious and covetous; I like it that he isn’t emotionally reactive; I like it that he’s sensible enough to quickly make Tyrion his hand.
I don’t like it that he’s only semi-quasi-human, though. He’s a boring choice, it must be said, for the throne — the figurative throne, since Drogon melted the literal one down to liquid in his grief for Dany. After Bran’s crippling fall in the first episode of the series, he has been one of the show’s least compelling and least explored characters.
He’s also a man. I’d been hoping that, since the show was so consistently about the hardships of the female characters, all of whom were finely layered, a woman would take the throne and signal a shift of some kind in this HBO microcosm of our own political world. That was not to be, alas. At least Sansa is the Queen of the North, which is independent, diminishing Bran’s kingdoms down to six. She deserved to rule everything; ultimately, she was a woman of the people, and a surprisingly shrewd player.
Perhaps in a democracy — that notion that, when Samwell suggested it, got chuckles — Sansa might have stood a chance. Do they have an Electoral College in Westeros?
I was content with the fates of the surviving characters, as they were laid out in the last minutes. It wasn’t exactly a happy ending; an important part of the identity of “Game of Thrones” has been its resistance to happy endings. But the show left the characters where they seemed to belong. The most poignant fate was Jon’s, as he traveled back to the wall, and beyond it, into that place where the entire series began.