“There’s nothing more powerful than a good story. Nothing can stop it. No enemy can defeat it.” -Tyrion Lannister, “The Iron Throne” (8.06).
The Game of Thrones series finale has come and gone – and though there were some pacing issues and contradictions displayed throughout the final season, the message that the overall series presented its viewers was, in fact, powerful. Even though I had predicted much of what happened ahead of time and thus wasn’t particularly surprised by the ending, the finale of Thrones offers an underlying lesson that I hadn’t ever considered before – and one that is very important to our own lives.
(A word of caution: SPOILERS ahead!)
The last episode of Thrones, entitled “The Iron Throne,” saw the fulfillment of the Azor Ahai prophecy, as Jon is forced to kill Daenerys in order to save humanity from the darkness of her rule (while I originally thought that this would have to do with the Long Night, Jon’s killing of Daenerys is something that I’ve suspected might happen for years now, so I wasn’t shocked in the slightest). We also see Bran crowned as the King of Westeros, a sensical choice considering the fact that his wisdom as the Three-Eyed Raven allows for him to make informed decisions for the future based on how things have happened in the past; as Tywin Lannister teaches Tommen in “Breaker of Chains” (3.03), “wisdom is what makes a good king” – and that idea certainly applies here. And, as Bran also tells Tyrion in “The Last of the Starks” (8.04), “I don’t really want anymore.” This implies that as the Three-Eyed Raven, his ambition will never grow out of control, which means that he will never run the risk of becoming a tyrant. Furthermore, in addition to Bran’s appointment as King, it is decided that kings and queens of Westeros will no longer be born into the position; instead, the lords and ladies of the great houses will elect a new king or queen upon the death of the old one.
The remaining characters receive very fitting endings to their respective storylines. Sansa officially declares the North’s independence from the Seven Kingdoms and becomes the Queen in the North. Arya opts to leave Westeros to travel west (where all of the maps stop), solidifying her future as an adventurer. Tyrion is named as Hand of the King to Bran as atonement to right all of his past mistakes; the other members of the small council include Davos as the Master of Ships, Brienne as the Lord (Lady?) Commander of the Kingsguard, Bronn as the Master of Coin (and the newly appointed Lord of Highgarden), and Sam as the Grand Maester, having also helped Archmaester Ebrose rename his history as “A Song of Ice and Fire” (I knew he’d have something to do with this!!!). Podrick becomes a knight, now serving in the Kingsguard. Grey Worm and the Unsullied sail for Naath, the island where Missandei was born. Jon is exiled to the Night’s Watch for the crime of killing Daenerys, where he reunites with Tormund and the other wildlings…and where he finally pets Ghost! In the end, he travels North of the Wall with the wildlings, seemingly planning to live out his days in the real North.
Basically, the underdogs of the series are the ones who really come out on top in the end, with all the characters getting what they wanted. But of course, remembering the cost of what it took for each of them to get there makes the ending truly “bittersweet” and reminiscent of “The Lord of the Rings,” as George R.R. Martin suggested it would be.
However, the main point I want to focus on in this article is the lesson about humanity that I took from the finale, something that I think is one of the main takeaways from the series as a whole. The lesson is this: society’s treatment of us has a huge part in the shaping of our overall behavior…and the end result of this is often toxic and dangerous. This is because the vast majority of people aren’t “good” or “bad,” but fall into a morally gray category, meaning that we should try not to judge people based on one or two actions, but on their character as a whole.
One example of this brought to light in the finale is Daenerys, with a lot of insight coming to the forefront during Tyrion’s conversation with Jon prior to her murder. Tyrion voices how Daenerys’ liberation of Slaver’s Bay made her too powerful, with everyone’s praise of her bringing her to a place where she was unable to see any of her actions as being anything other than “good.” In the end, this made her extremely dangerous, as she saw her burning of King’s Landing as justified. Thus, Jon ends up having to kill her in order to protect Westeros from her plans to continue liberating the country. This is not only an extremely tragic and Shakespearean ending for Daenerys, but it is also reflective of society’s treatment of her. In the pilot, she is clearly presented as a good-natured, naïve young woman; however, she grew up learning about her family’s history from Viserys, who implanted the idea in her head very early on that the throne belonged to their family. As she rose in her power, the praise she received from those around her solidified this idea in her mind, making her more and more inflexible over the years (as I mentioned in my episode four review). As a result, the treatment of others slowly changed Daenerys, someone who was inherently good, into a person who closely resembled a tyrant. In the end, even Drogon is aware of this, as one of the most moving moments of “The Iron Throne” is when he discovers her dead body…and he spares Jon, electing to burn the Iron Throne instead. It’s like he knows exactly what really caused his mother’s demise: not the knife that Jon used to kill her with, but her pursuit of the Iron Throne, enforced by those around her. It shows an incredible amount of sympathy, understanding, and grief, and it helps to solidify the idea that the way in which society views us can make us or break us.
There are many other examples of this over the course of Game of Thrones as a whole. For instance, Sansa, who begins the series as a naïve and selfish girl, is shaped by society’s treatment of her into becoming a very guarded, protective, and intelligent young woman, choosing to declare Northern independence in the end not for her own personal gain, but for the good of her people. Jon, who is raised as Ned Stark’s bastard son, is treated by society as a bastard, despite the fact that he is really the Targaryen heir to the Iron Throne; as a result, he never desired power, but he only wanted to become a Ranger for the Night’s Watch and venture North of the Wall (and technically, he gets his wish in the end). Cersei is treated like a bargaining tool for marriage because of her family name, making her increasingly bitter and angry over the years. Tyrion is treated like an outcast because he is a dwarf, forcing him to turn to whoring and drinking. Brienne is treated like an outcast because she is a tall female warrior, which is not what society deems a typical “lady” to be, causing her to disguise her femininity and hide behind a suit of armor (literally) at all times. The list goes on and on.
However, the most blatant example of the more toxic side of society’s judgment of others is Jaime, whose unfair treatment following his killing of the Mad King caused his life to spiral downwards. This caused him to put up a front that made him seem like the monster that everyone believed him to be…and caused him to actually believe it about himself. This made it easier for him to act like a monster, continuing his relationship with Cersei even though he likely hadn’t originally intended to after her marriage to Robert Baratheon (and his celibacy vow as a knight of the Kingsguard), pushing Bran out of the window at Winterfell…you know the story. As a result, this led to a severe level of self-loathing that Jaime could not come back from because ultimately, he was a good person at his core…but the terrible things he’d done over the years weighed heavily on his soul, despite the fact that he had already redeemed himself in the eyes of others by the end of the series. His leaving of Brienne in “The Last of the Starks” (8.04) solidifies this idea because whereas Brienne sees through to the good inside him, Jaime is clearly convinced that he would never deserve her – no matter what he did – but that he did deserve Cersei. Some scars run too deep to ever be cured, and Jaime’s death is ultimately the perfect example of this (for more on my feelings about Jaime’s death following “The Bells,” click here).
The solution to all of this is highlighted in what is arguably the most touching moment of the finale: when Brienne, now at the head of Bran’s Kingsguard, completes Jaime’s pages in the White Book. This is a callback to season four, where Jaime agonizes over the fact that his listing in the book boils him down to nothing more than the “Kingslayer.” By recording all of the honorable acts he performed from his time on the road with her to the end of his life, Brienne is able to rewrite Jaime’s history in the eyes of others, giving him the gift that he desperately wanted but never thought he deserved, and repaying him for all of the things he did for her over the years (losing his hand to save her from would-be rapists, jumping into a bear pit one-handed to save her, gifting her with Oathkeeper, making her the first female knight in Westeros, and even helping her to finally embrace her femininity when they finally sleep together). This is a beautiful, tear-jerking moment, because while the worst part of Jaime died with Cersei, the best part of him lives on through Brienne, the only person to ever truly see through to his soul. And even despite the fact that Jaime left her behind to protect Cersei in the end, Brienne is still able to view him from a place of love, compassion, and understanding, seeing the honorable side of his return to Cersei because in a way, he selflessly chose to protect his sister rather than allowing himself to have happiness. As she holds back tears and softly caresses the page before closing the book, it’s extremely clear that she holds no resentment, bitterness, or regrets. Even though her life will go on, a part of her will always love Jaime – and I think that in the end, Brienne knew him well enough to understand that he loved her, too, but that his inner torment was too much for him to overcome.
Brienne’s ability to view Jaime from a place of love and compassion teaches us that by striving to judge people based on their best actions rather than on their worst, we can help to make the world a better place. In this day and age, people seem to forget this all too frequently; we’re currently living in a culture where people are “canceled” or “blacklisted” by society for doing one “bad” thing, often without any proof or without hearing the other side of the story. This is an extremely dangerous way to live, as it can ruin the lives of undeserving people, forcing them out of their careers or causing their mental health to deteriorate. Of course, there are absolutely cases where “canceling” someone is justified; for instance, there is never an excuse for rape or murder. However, in other instances, wouldn’t we be better off holding our judgment of others until we have all of the facts? As a collective whole, we’ve become cold and unforgiving, and that’s no way to live. In this way, Thrones teaches us that some kindness and understanding towards others might actually change a life or two, and I think that it’s something we should all strive to live by.
Thank you for joining the FoCC Blog throughout our season eight reviews! Please enjoy some final highlights and questions from “The Iron Throne” below.
“The Iron Throne” Highlights and Notable Moments
- The little girl who burned to death while holding the horse figurine mirrors Shireen’s death in season five, when she carried the carved stag that Davos had made her to her own burning at the stake by Stannis and Melisandre.
- As always, the acting in this episode is spectacular! Shout outs to both Peter Dinklage in the scene where Tyrion discovers Jaime’s and Cersei’s bodies, and to Maisie Williams in the scene where Arya and Jon say goodbye.
- As with “The Bells” (8.05), the cinematography in this episode is gorgeous. I particularly loved the shot where Drogon flies away behind Daenerys, making her appear as if she has dragon wings, as well as the shot where Jon watches Drogon arise from his sleep in the snow.
- If you thought that Daenerys’ victory speech was reminiscent of a dictatorship, there’s a good reason why: Emilia Clarke actually studied speeches given by Hitler and other dictators to prepare for the scene.
- Jon’s shock at Arya sneaking up next to him is a good callback to how she was able to sneak up unannounced on the Night King in “The Long Night” (8.03).
- Daenerys’ vision from the House of the Undying in “Valar Morghulis” (2.10) proves true: she touches the Iron Throne after her victory, but she ends up dying before ever sitting on it.
- Robin Arryn’s “glow up” is hysterical, considering the fact that he was still breastfeeding from his mother just a few seasons ago.
- The return of Edmure Tully is one of the funniest moments in this episode; I was hoping he’d make an appearance in this last season, so I was thrilled to see him. The best part was the underhanded sass Sansa gave him when he tried to make his bid for king; she reminded me so much of Catelyn in that moment!
- Another really funny moment involving Sansa (though perhaps unintentionally) was when she voiced her concern that Bran couldn’t have children in front of the entire council. The bluntness of that statement just kind of tickled me.
- I felt like Tyrion’s statement to Jon was kind of reflective of the reaction of the Thrones fandom to season eight: “No one is very happy…which means it’s a good compromise, I suppose.”
- George R.R. Martin originally intended to name the seventh book of the series “A Time for Wolves,” and in the end, that still rings true: the remaining Stark family members all end up surviving.
- Bran’s intention to find Drogon seems to be a nod to the theory that he would warg into a dragon by the end of the series (though this never actually occurs on the show).
- Somewhat unsurprisingly, Bronn seems to be the true winner at the end of the series; he’s the only person who has lost absolutely nothing and still gained everything he wanted.
- Davos’ correction of Bronn’s grammar is both reminiscent of Stannis’ staunch devotion to proper speech, as well as to his growth to becoming a literate man over the course of the series.
- The fact that the episode ends North of the Wall is a callback to the cold open in the pilot episode.
- As Jon, Tormund, and the wildlings march North, we see vegetation beginning to peek out from the snow. This seems to be a nod to the title of Martin’s seventh book, “A Dream of Spring.”
- Considering the fact that Lady Stoneheart never made an appearance on the series – and that Jaime’s storyline was pretty severely altered as a result – a part of me wonders if Jaime’s and Jon’s journeys are intended to mirror each other a bit more closely in the books. For example, if Stoneheart was cut from the show in order to save the shock of resurrection for Jon, it is entirely possible that the valonqar storyline was cut from the show in order to make Jon’s killing of Daenerys more surprising for the viewer. This makes me feel like it’s very possible that Jaime does actually kill Cersei in the books, sacrificing himself in the process; in other words, it would be a different means to the same end (with both of them dying together).
Questions Following “The Iron Throne”
- If Tyrion could find a way to climb over the rocks that had fallen over the entrance to the cavern with the dragon skulls, why couldn’t Jaime and Cersei do the same to exit? They had about as much room as Tyrion did…
- Exactly how much time has passed between Tyrion’s and Jon’s imprisonment and the council meeting at the dragon pit?
- Has Bran been playing with our heads this whole time? He seems to have always known the outcome, so why didn’t he make any moves to change the course of action and save everyone from so much destruction and pain? I find it hard to believe that letting things play out the way they did was the only way to achieve lasting peace in Westeros.
- Why don’t any of the other kingdoms request their own independence when Sansa declares that the North will be an independent kingdom? I’m fairly certain that both the Iron Islands and Dorne have wanted independence in the past, so it seems strange to me that neither Yara nor the prince of Dorne made their requests, too.
- Did Jon turn himself in for killing Daenerys? There were no witnesses to her killing, and Drogon flew away with her body before anyone could see what had happened.
- To add to the above question, couldn’t Jon have just…you know…stayed in Westeros after the Unsullied sailed for Naath? They were the ones who wanted justice for Daenerys’ murder, so how would they know what was happening once they departed?
- What happened to Widow’s Wail? Did Jaime leave it behind with Brienne in order to keep the sister swords together?
- Why does the episode make a big point of Tyrion moving all of those chairs?
- Is Drogon bringing Daenerys’ body to Valyria, the ancestral home of the Targaryens before they conquered Westeros? Sam begins to mention that he was spotted near Volantis before Bronn cuts him off, and Volantis is on the way to Valyria.
- Now that Arya is heading west, will Gendry hop in a boat and spend another few years rowing in order to find her? I’m sorry…I just had to ask!
What did you think of the final season of Game of Thrones? Join the conversation on FoCC!