An Open Thread on the end of Game of Thrones

Burning the Iron Throne: An unusually subtle move, coming from a dragon.

Burning the Iron Throne: An unusually subtle move, for an angry, bereaved dragon.

Over the last couple of weeks, as we waited for the finale, I read a bunch of stuff written by people with serious perspective issues. So it is that my favorite thing written so far about the last episode is this:

It’s likely you’re already aware of the dissatisfaction with the conclusion tweeted hither and yon — six weeks of nitpicking complaints, first-class nerd whining and an ungodly amount of postgame analyses. Consider all those hastily posted diatribes or that pointless online petition with a million deluded signatures on it, demanding (demanding!) to have Season 8 scrubbed and remade. In some ways, “Game of Thrones” had grown so popular that it made its viewers look embarrassingly out of touch with life itself.

This can only happen when we love our popular culture a little too hard, crossing some line of personal investment, forgetting when a TV show is only just that. It was our fault for coming to regard the show as the apogee of the medium itself. It’s also why I’m glad some unnamed, unwitting hero left a coffee cup in the camera shot in the episode that aired May 5. That one coffee cup humanized the whole endeavor. It reminded us that a TV show, no matter how absorbing, is a folly, a fake, a job that someone is hired to do, so that an HBO subscription can be sold to you. The coffee cup will be scrubbed away with a quick flick of magic technology; but before it’s entirely gone, I hope they give it an Emmy….

Absolutely. And the plastic water bottle should at least get a nomination.

I hereby go on record as being one of the few who are satisfied with the ending, and happy to move on. About the only criticism I agree with was the rushed nature of the last two seasons. I guess it was just really hard making episodes that went beyond the original books, and this was all the show runners had in them. But it did make the tying up of loose plot threads seem a bit too hurried. Maybe if it had taken more time — say, the usual 10 episodes per season — there’d be less dissatisfaction out there.

Of course, while I am satisfied, I do have a few questions, objections and observations remaining. Here are some of them, in no particular order (SPOILER ALERT):

  1. So how many troops did Dany have? Raise your hand if, like me, you thought the Dothraki were wiped out in that ill-advised charge (the Red Woman lit up their sickles, and they just went bananas — they were excitable boys — and charged off to their deaths) at the start of the Battle of Winterfell. And yet, at the end, she seems to have more of them than ever. Not to mention all of the Unsullied, apparently. Enough for a Nuremburg-style rally that put the icing on Dany’s Mad Queen cake. As of that moment, it seems that the troops she brought over in a few small ships outnumbers anything in Westeros. Which sort of defies expectations.
  2. Dragons got higher-order thinking skills! So, in the final, climactic moment, when Jon is sure the dragon (no, I don’t know its name; I’m not going to waste gray cells learning something like that) is going to light him up, that being the one thing dragons know how to do, the dragon apparently goes, Wait! His death would be meaningless. I should instead burn a symbol, because they mean so much to me. Ah! The Iron Throne — the cause of all the trouble! If I melt that, it will truly achieve my mistress’ (I’m not going to say “my mother’s;” that was always kind of ridiculous) goal of Breaking the Wheel! That’s what I’ll do, even though most humans in Westeros are probably too dim to come up with such an idea… Did you know big lizards were way philosophical? Neither did I.
  3. I thought Arya, not Jon, was going to kill Dany. The penultimate episode had set that up nicely. She was the one survivor who had seen the horror of the incineration of King’s Landing up close and personally. She was horrified, traumatized and ticked off. The Hound had talked her out of the vengeance that had been her Purpose since the first season. All that training had to be for something. (Taking out the Night King doesn’t seem enough.) And only Arya would be able to get to her no matter how many murderous mindslaves surrounded her.
  4. Why did the Unsullied go so easy on Jon? In one scene, they’re slitting the throats of captives just because they served in Cersei’s army. The next, they deal with Jon’s murder of the woman they view as more or less divine by — locking him up. Oh, and how did they know he did it? There wasn’t even a body. We are left to assume he told them. (“Guys, you notice how the Khaleesi isn’t around? That’s because I killed her. I actually feel kind of conflicted about it, if that helps…”) Which brings us to…
  5. Right to the end, Jon Snow knew nothing. When he told Dany she was his queen, now and forever — even as he stabbed her to death — I think he really meant it. It just never sank in for this boy. Ygritte was right about him all along, and it’s easier than ever to understand why she shot him. Up to this point, everything had been pointing toward Jon being the one to sit on the Iron Throne: He was pure of heart, the people loved him, and it turned out the bastard actually had exactly the right pedigree for it. But what kind of king would he have been with so little between his ears? I’m trying (and failing) to find a link to something I read this morning about Jon standing there with a confused “This doesn’t seem right” look on his face during the Nuremberg scene. It pretty well summed him up.
  6. How does someone get to be a Sansa fan? She just never made that great an impression on me. I guess I never got over judging her for the stupid stuff she did early on, which led to, among other things, the death of her father (I think. It’s been awhile, and I don’t commit all this stuff to memory). I mean, she had the good sense to get rid of Littlefinger, but I’ll never get to like her the way, say, Alyssa Rosenberg of The Washington Post does: “After all this time, seeing Sansa crowned should have been an absolute triumph… Jon’s admission, at long last, that Sansa… is capable, strong and brilliant…” Where does that come from? I suspect that it’s an Identity Politics thing — there were a lot of folks out there who thought it was really important that a woman end up on top. (Alyssa was also really bugged that the last we saw of Brienne, she was writing a mash note about Jaime. Me, I thought it was kind of touching.) But Sansa? Brienne and Arya were women who excelled on the macho terms of their swashbuckling culture. Sansa just sort of stood or sat like a statue most of the time.
  7. Finally… winter actually came, right? I mean, we’d been hearing about it for all these years, and when it came, it was… unimpressive. Seriously, in what way was anyone’s life changed by it. Things went on fairly normally — the usual slaughter and associated mayhem. And near as I can tell, the southern reaches of Westeros were untouched by even a flake of snow. Reminds me of when we get this big buildup in Columbia about the possibility of snow, and… all that happens is that a couple of inches fall in Greenville.

OK, that’s enough. Back to real life…

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31 thoughts on “An Open Thread on the end of Game of Thrones

  1. Brad Warthen Post author

    Oh, one more thought…

    There’s a lot of discussion about the womenfolk of Westeros and whether they got their due. I’ve had another thought: Are we to believe the men of Westeros are going to be happy with peace and quiet? I’ve always thought that country was kind of a bastion of “toxic masculinity.” Those guys LIKE swinging those swords around. (For that matter, some of the women do, too.)

    As they ride off into the North, Jon and Tormund look kind of somber. Is it because they know they’re not going to find any enemies up there?

    Reply
  2. Brad Warthen Post author

    Good thing this hasn’t drawn any readers. I had initially called Ygritte “Igraine.” I’ve fixed that now.

    I was thinking about Arthurian legend, I guess.

    Of course, were this Arthurian legend, Jon would be king now…

    Reply
  3. Norm Ivey

    Never seen the show. Doubt that I will.

    I do like Ms. Maisel, My Name is Earl, Frankie and Grace, and the Kominsky Method.

    Reply
  4. Bill

    What’s Game of Thrones? I prefer Game of Baseball..
    I was at this one with my late partner(UGA alum)and will never forget(we almost got thrown out,he was so unhappy)…

    Reply
  5. David Carlton

    Ok, I’ll rise in defense of Sansa. I had my problems with her, especially her withholding of vital information from Jon before the Battle of the Bastards. But once Jon turned the North over to her when he went to Dragonstone she won me over. Alone among these leaders, she showed real concern for her people, stocking food supplies for the winter, organizing arms production, opening the gates of Winterfell to the peasants. She identified with her people; the night before the battle we see her and Theon sharing soup with the small folk.

    She also saw through Daenerys’s pretensions from the very start; Dany was never a good ruler (she was a better conqueror), and had no case for her claim to the Iron Throne beyond her own sense of entitlement (her anti slavery schtick was irrelevant to Westeros). She treated her presence in the North as a favor to Jon rather than part of a common effort to save humanity. The real identity politics kvetchers complained that the conflict between Sansa and Dany was a “cat fight,” which was insulting to the genuine differences between them. Dany’s rush to KL at the expense of her worn-down troops showed Sansa’s priorities.

    Above all, her leadership was embedded in home and community, and was deeply imbued with an ethic of responsibility. She was the best qualified major character to rule the Seven Kingdoms, but she didn’t want it; she wanted to lead her people, and her people wanted her. The closing sequence of GoT brought tears to my eyes at the respect she’d earned (not to mention the gratitude of the Free Folk for Jon—Jon-bashers need to remember how many thousands of lives he saved, briefly at the expense of his own).

    Again,my defense has nothing to do with identity politics. Daenerys was the big beneficiary of the female role model obsession, and that was a major reason why people kept making excuses for her violence and cruelty. When I first got engaged with GoT, I always wondered which Dany would show up: the Great Emancipator, or a medieval version of Lenin. In the end, she was Lenin, capable of inflicting enormous suffering convinced that history and justice were on her side. And those fans who couldn’t see this coming have only themselves to blame.

    Reply
    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Thanks so much for commenting. I was wondering why I was hearing so many crickets in the dead of winter in Westeros.

      I think I just found it hard to connect with Sansa. She was always standing or sitting very still. Did we ever see her move her arms? And her face tended to be just as immobile. Maybe this was a result of all the trauma she endured. There may be a tendency not to want to look at someone who you know has suffered so much. I’ve heard a lot of people say something like that about Theon. It doesn’t make sense, but it may be a thing.

      Of course, being a traditional sort of guy and no feminist (unless I’m a “difference feminist” as someone once said, but I’m not at all sure of that), Sansa ought to be a character who appeals to me. She’s certainly a lady, through and through. But I tend to prefer the tomboy (remember that word, y’all?) Arya, and Lady Brienne. Even though Arya’s become a stone-cold killer, she’s capable of showing emotion. Lady Brienne, too.

      I’m happy she gets to be queen of the North, although personally I had problems with the development politically. Here we have an almost unanimous decision for Bran at a very, very delicate moment in the history of Westeros, and she chooses to undermine her brother by saying she’s seceding? I don’t think it was THAT important that she became queen of the North.

      I felt like that was a moment for seeing the bigger picture. And everyone says she’s such an astute operator….

      In fact, by this time I had grown sick of ambition — whether it’s hers or Dany’s. These people with their sense of entitlement to thrones… It’s what was appealing about both Jon and Tyrion — they didn’t want to be King or Hand. That made them qualified.

      Reply
      1. David Carlton

        Just to point out that there’s no indication that Sansa was motivated by *any* sense of personal entitlement, as opposed to doing what was best for her people. The North wanted independence from early in the story; that’s why they named Robb, and later Jon, King in the North. Sansa identified with her people, and she was speaking for them as much as for herself when she demanded Northern independence (I’m sure Bran knew this as well, and that was why he was agreeable to it; Starks be Starks). The Northern Lords chose *her* as their Queen, after all; she didn’t try a Cersei or Dany and try to crown herself. Give her the credit she deserves.

        Reply
  6. Bryan Caskey

    I watched the show. I enjoyed it from the beginning, especially because the show started out by running contrary to many major themes such as:

    The hero doesn’t die. (When Ned Stark was beheaded I think I literally jumped up out of my chair.)
    The son avenges his father. (Rob Stark fails)
    Good conquers evil. (Generally the first seven seasons.)

    It seemed that the first seven seasons theme was that t war is a horrible thing to endure, and that anyone who participates in it wishes it to end – that it’s misery for all.

    So I knew that going into season eight, the show’s producers were on their own, as they were way off the book material. As the season unfolded I didn’t really have a problem with most of the plot points (except for what people are calling “Deus Ex Arya”).

    Mostly, I didn’t like the fact that all the plot points were hastily cobbled together. Accordingly, when they hit “X plot point” it didn’t have as much impact because it was clear that it was just being done to be done with, to check the box, and not character development.

    For instance, Dany’s dark turn was a super-hasty contrivance. For seven seasons she had been played up as the Big Damn Hero. Accordingly, if you’re going to turn your Big Damn Hero into a straight-up Evil Villain, you need to show that descent into madness/darkness over time. It can’t just be a minute here and a minute there over a few episodes. Now, don’t get me wrong — I don’t hate that plotline on the merits; it definitely has merit. Seeing heroes turn into villains has always been a great story.

    Turning Dany into a Big Villain would have been a great ENTIRE SEASON. We could have had Jamie (I think he was the only character left who had seen the Mad King before he was the Mad King) talk about how the Mad King slowly devolved into the Mad King. We could have had a great character shift over time.

    But is that what the producers of the show gave us? No. Instead, they turned Dany into Westerosi Hitler, and it somehow happened overnight. Because she in one moment said she would rather be feared than loved. Because she saw the people loved Jon Snow more after the big battle over the White Walkers? Because Cersei killed her friend? Eh, it’s just contrived. People don’t turn into Hitler overnight.

    Turning Dany into Dragon Hitler overnight goes against the gritty, realistic ethos that the show had going for it the whole first seven seasons. The end just became a simple good/evil competition that ends up with Hitler being killed and the winners establishing the Electoral College.

    Arya sails off to be Magellan or something, which I thought worked. She was never a fit in Westeros after her character changed so much with the God of Death, and her redemption of giving up the revenge. Arya sailing off was her putting down the burden and the old ways of Westeros, which fit her. Sansa, by contrast, couldn’t have done that.

    In a similar vein, I liked Jon Snow’s ride off into the north beyond the wall. He had been through everything and he never really seemed to find any real place in Westeros. He never had a place that was his true home.

    Overall, I liked the show, but the show’s producers really just hurried up to skip to the end where they could end the show and move on to the next project. It was okay, but there were shows I liked better. This isn’t one I’ll go back and watch again.

    Reply
    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      No, we should save that for “The West Wing.”

      First, thanks for commenting.

      Second, I agree that they rushed it. Both of the last two seasons should have extended to 10 episodes each. Of course, it wasn’t ALL rushed. The episode before the Battle of Winterfell was all quiet anticipation. It was Old Home Week, as characters who hadn’t seen each other in years got together and reminisced. And Brienne got knighted by that ol’ softie Jaime! It was corny, even maudlin, but I loved it.

      But I think Dany’s story arc was predictable, and there’s no excuse for people to be surprised by it. I just don’t even know what to say about those people who named their baby daughters “Khaleesi.” I mean, come on. Of course, Donald Trump is proof positive that our world is filled with people with unbelievably bad character judgment. If you’re the Unsullied, I get why you love her. Anyone else, I just don’t know.

      She was always a bit of a megalomaniac. And her sense of ENTITLEMENT was quite off-putting.

      There was all that silly controversy among the politically correct about Sansa having been strengthened by her suffering. Well, Dany was shaped by her suffering as well, just not in a positive direction.

      You’re not going to watch it again, but I sort of DID, Sunday night after the final episode. I just wanted to touch base with the beginning and contrast it to the end. So I spent a few minutes fast-forwarding through the very first episode. There’s a lot there, and it’s quite consistent with the ending.

      And one thing you see is the suffering of Dany. You see this little bitty demure girl weeping as Khal Drogo strips her and takes her. Of course later, if I recall correctly, she decides she LOVES Drogo (Stockholm Syndrome, anyone), and her legend builds from there — but it’s built on a cracked, painful foundation.

      What with all that, I wasn’t surprised at how she turned out. But I did think they laid it on a little thick with the Nuremberg-rally scene. Of course, maybe that was important to get across to the people who still admired her for whatever reason.

      Then again, do such people even recognize the Nuremberg imagery? After our recent discussions about people’s ignorance of the recent past, I wonder…

      Reply
      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        Of course, that first episode ended with the crippling of Bran. The things we do for “love.”

        You can watch it and get the feeling that, even with the departure from the books in the last couple of seasons, the show runners knew where they were going. I doubt they did, but at least at the end they had the good sense to hark back to all that — including the brothel scene…

        Reply
  7. David Carlton

    First–“deus ex machina” means “god outside the machine.” Arya was fully inside the machine (and was played up in the telling of the battle), and it was perfectly plausible (and foreshadowed) for her to do the deed. It was simply what a lot of people didn’t want to see (beaten by a GIRL!).

    Second–As I said earlier, if people had simply been paying attention, Dany’s dark side was there from early on. The show wasn’t “building her up as the hero,” except in the sense of narrative misdirection (See Stark, Ned). People didn’t want to see Dany as a dark figure, because they want to believe that whatever idealists do is for the Greater Good (and, again, she wasn’t Hitler; she was more like Lenin, another idealist whose megalomania caused untold suffering but whose promises of liberation attracted a similar cult of apologists). There was also the feminist role model argument, which caused many to say that any acknowledgement of her dark side was misogynist. Thus we get increasingly strained arguments in her behalf. Burning the Tarlys? Randyl was a jerk, and this is what happens in war (er, killing unarmed prisoners of war is a war crime). I’ve even read apologists claiming that the King’s Landing populace deserved what they got, because they preferred their broken system to her offer of liberation! Tyrion’s speech in Episode 6 about how seductive Dany could be sounded to me almost like a commentary on GoT fans.

    Finally, the closing scene brings tears to my eyes. It’s bittersweet because part of me wishes the Stark pack could stay together. But Arya deserves her adventure, and Jon deserves his “punishment,” which is to be back with the people he came to love (if only Tormund would set him up with Ygritte’s twin sister; they could bring back Rose Leslie!). And Sansa deserves her crown, because she’s taken care of her people and fulfilled their desires for independence; some “old ways” work just fine. A good analysis in *Slate* contends that one of the main themes in GoT is the legacy of Ned Stark. Early on it looked like Ned’s devotion to honor was destroying not only himself but his house; but, lo and behold, the dominant house in Westeros proves to be the Starks, and the values he and Catelyn instilled in their children helped them survive their varied Heroes’ Journeys and not only endure, but prevail. In other words, Ned’s buildup as the main protagonist wasn’t the real misdirection; his *death* was. All honor to the wolfpack!

    Reply
    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      I thought it meant “God OUT OF the machine” or “FROM the machine.” As in, the omnipotent thing that changes everything arises from the plot device, like Jack popping out of the box.

      But my Latin is rusty…

      And I don’t think people didn’t want to see the Night King “beaten by a girl.” I think people just thought that it was sort of cheap and easy — after all has failed, after the Walkers have proved unbeatable, and all is lost, just press one button and presto, all your problems are gone. Which is what happens with a deus ex machina device. Like, “… and then he woke up from the nightmare.”

      I also heard folks say they felt cheated that Arya didn’t use her superpower to kill him — coming up on him in disguise. Maybe she did. There has to be SOME reason why she was able to come out of nowhere when he was surrounded by Walkers. They just didn’t show it.

      Me, I’m disappointed that that was it for Arya. She doesn’t take any action that moves the plot from that moment on…

      Reply
      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        Again, this brings up the issue of Bran’s ability to see all. If killing the Night King was the key, why couldn’t Bran have told Jon and Dany exactly where the Night King was?

        Of course, maybe he didn’t care because he knew Arya would kill him at the last second. Maybe. I’m not totally clear on the extent of what Bran sees….

        Reply
      2. David Carlton

        Well–It was known all along that the only way to defeat the NK was to do him in with valerian steel. Because he brought life to (or animated) all the wights and White Walkers, they would all die or have their puppet strings cut. Otherwise, it was established that, absent a blow against the NK, the Dead were overwhelming. It’s actually a fantasy convention. Remember how a mere hobbit slipping past Sauron and throwing the One Ring into Mt. Doom destroyed his power, and with it that of all his forces? How a simple expelliarmus spell cast by a scrawny Brit teenager could vanquish both Voldemort and his followers? Arya had the skills; she was saved by Beric’s sacrifice for a greater purpose. It was a surprise, but that’s not the same as out of the blue. The resolution of the plot was internal to the plot, not an imposition from the outside.

        But I’m frankly glad that was Arya’s last kill. The Hound was right; she needs a better purpose in life. I just rewatched the last scene, in which all the Starks get their due. Arya goes off on her great adventure to What’s West of Westeros; Sansa gets crowned Queen in the North to the cheers of the assembled Northern Lords; and Jon the exile gets embraced by the Free Folk whose salvation was his great achievement (also Ghost!). Along with Ramin Djawadi’s breathtaking score, it was cathartic, and made up for all the messes people have been kvetching about. It was the ending they deserved.

        Reply
        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          But — and help me out here because I tend not to remember all this stuff, since a lot of it was years ago — the idea that “they would all die or have their puppet strings cut” if the Night King were killed was a hopeful THEORY, right? Sort of a desperation throw?

          Because it doesn’t necessarily follow for me. I mean, unless I knew that for sure, I’d have to fight under the assumption that the walkers could just continue as uncontrolled, purposeless monsters, rather like the ones on The Walking Dead.

          And that sort of seemed like what was happening in that battle. They weren’t betting the future of the human race entirely on killing the one guy. Or maybe they were, and the rest of the preparations for battle were purely about buying time until they could get the NK.

          In any case, couldn’t Bran have been more helpful? Or was that what he was doing, acting as bait for the NK — a tethered goat? I think so; I’m just not sure in retrospect what was said about that…

          Reply
        2. Brad Warthen Post author

          And yeah, I liked the ending. I’m particularly happy that Jon isn’t saddled with being king of the seven kingdoms because he wouldn’t have liked it. (And of course, the Identity Politics fans would have had a cow that it wasn’t a woman. They were more accepting of Bran since he’s not a fully-functioning man, not the kind to exchange high-fives with Tormund, for instance…)

          And I’m also happy that NO ONE will have that position as it’s been constituted up to now. No more dynastic struggle, which breaks the wheel FAR better than anything Dany ever thought about doing.

          Of course, having everything end well for every surviving Stark IS inconsistent with a story that features Ned’s beheading and the Red Wedding. But I’m more than happy with that, because I felt like I was being jerked around by those earlier events. I mean, you know, tell me who the story is ABOUT, and don’t try to trick me…

          Reply
          1. Brad Warthen Post author

            I thought Jon coming back to life was kind of cheesy, but it also endeared me to the series. It told me that that “killing off the hero” stuff was behind us. It kept me watching.

            Reply
          2. Brad Warthen Post author

            Not to say that the “killing-the-apparent-hero-early” device can’t be useful.

            It was the whole key to “The Hurt Locker.” Blowing up Guy Pearce in the opening scene was brilliant. He’s the first recognizable actor you see, so you sort of assume he’s the central character. He’s certainly the focus of the action in that scene. Then, when he’s blown up, you realize that ANYBODY can get blown up ANY TIME in this movie. And that keeps the tension going through every second of the rest of film, because your brain goes, “If they’ll blow up Guy Pearce without so much as a by-your-leave, then they won’t think twice about blowing up this guy I’ve never seen before!” At least it worked that way for me, because I’d never seen Jeremy Renner before…

            Reply
  8. Bart

    Guess I am out of the loop on so many things these days. Never watched one episode of GoT but my son has watched every one. But I did watch every episode of “Justified” because it appealed to some basic instinct of justice or as Burl once noted, my “reptilian brain”. But then again, any form of entertainment that appeals to violence, intrigue, or Machiavellian behavior could be described as reptilian in nature. Add in the sexual aspect and you have the full menu of entertainment for our time.

    Reply
  9. Scout

    I am late to the party. I was disappointed but I don’t know if it was in the facts of what happened as much as that it felt like how they got there was completely skipped. It was like they got tired and said, Lets just have Tyrion come out and announce that this is how it will be, and everyone will agree. That didn’t really seem believable to me, given how these people generally never agree.

    I spent alot of time wondering when they would realize that Tyrion is clearly the oldest Targyrean. I thought maybe Dany would order the Dragon to burn him and the dragon would refuse, because you know, he’s a Targyrean. I think that’s why the Dragon didn’t burn Jon. So when they show Brienne with that book, I thought, oh this is how it will happen. Brienne is going to find it in that book.

    But, no.

    I never loved Sansa. I think that mostly is a bias from early on in the books when Sansa was pretty mean to Arya, who I always liked. But I did develop more empathy/respect for her after she went through all she did and rose above it. She did get better in the show, I must admit.

    So is George R. R. Martin still going to finish writing the books. Is he going to write a different ending? I would read it.

    Reply
  10. Brad Warthen Post author

    By the way, y’all, since I had signed back up (temporarily) to HBO NOW to watch this, I went ahead and watched “Barry,” and I’m caught up on it now — through the second season.

    Any interest in that? Should I start a thread about it?

    Reply

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