The Iron Throne, “Game of Thrones’” ultimate prize that countless characters killed and were killed for over eight seasons of stellar storytelling, melted into a puddle during the series finale Sunday, dripping slowly down a set of stairs that once led to the realm’s coveted seat of power.
In a farewell episode that ended the series with more of an exhale than a bang, the HBO drama that built a television empire fetishizing war, violence and the brutal politics of empire building in the most cinematic, exciting and horrifying ways imaginable ended on a tame note about the futility of war, the corrupting influence of power and a rather disappointing appointment to the all-important crown.
Far from the flaming spectacle of this season’s two critical battles — the defeat of the Night King and the demise of the deadly yet admittedly fabulous queen Cersei (Lena Headey) — rulership of the kingdom was awarded to Bran Stark (Isaac Hempstead Wright), arguably the blandest contender among those left standing, in a modest ceremony where reason finally presided.
Was it the right move? I suppose so, in the interest of justice and good government and all that. But really, is that what we wanted? Fans would have likely suffered a few more losses of their favorite characters for a more thrilling outcome.
And already they are waging a revolt of their own across social media. As in this snarky comment: “I’m no longer Bran, I’m the Three Eyed Raven. Unless you want me to be King and then I can be Bran again. #GameOfThrones,” tweeted @logilchrist.”
The series co-creators David Benioff and Dan Weiss had to know they, like most the show’s characters, were facing a no-win situation. Sunday equaled television’s most anticipated finale since that other HBO family drama, “The Sopranos,” and viewers are still upset about the latter, 12 years after that sudden diner blackout.
The twists that made “Game of Thrones” such a thrill ride over the Essos and Kings Landing, the Iron Islands and The North, couldn’t of course last forever. But a few more during that last lap could have helped bump up the tension that’s hooked fans since Tyrion’s (Peter Dinklage) early days of brothel hopping and deadly sibling rivalry.
Key players who still had a pulse when the episode opened Sunday were Daenerys, Tyrion, Arya (Maisie Williams), Jon Snow (Kit Harington) and Sansa (Sophie Turner).
But perhaps the night’s biggest surprise was that all but one of the main characters were there at the end.
It’s in marked contrast with last week’s episode where several beloved and hate-watched figures were killed off. The scheming, vindictive Cersei died with her twin bother/lover/father of her late children, Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), under the falling rubble of their Kings Landing castle.
Cersei’s ghoulish bodyguard, The Mountain, was killed by his brother The Hound (Rory McCann), though both perished in the process. Annoying sociopath Euron Greyjoy (Johan Philip “Pilou” Asbæk) was left gutted on the shores of Blackwater Bay by Jaime.
Dany checked her benevolence at the gates of the city and summoned her ruthless side when, after decimating the Iron Fleet, the Lannisters’ troops, and all of Cersei’s dragon-killing crossbows, she flamed everyone — the guilty and the innocent.
Snow, Tyrion and Arya watched in horror, while the commander of Dany’s troops, Grey Worm (Jacob Anderson), responded with equal fury on the ground, slaughtering troops who had already surrendered. Sure Dany ripped out Cersei root and stem, but she destroyed half the forest floor with her.
Sunday night’s episode, “The Iron Throne,” opened surveying the damage to Kings Landing — charred bodies, scorched marketplaces that looked like something out of current day war zones like Mosul or Homs.
The new greatest threat to humankind, Dany, uses the language of all tyrants when she addresses her troops as liberators. “We will not lay down our swords until we have liberated all the people of the world.
“Women, men, children have suffered too long beneath the wheel. Will you break the wheel with me?!”
They cheer, but not everyone is on board.
After she throws Tyrion in prison for treason for attempting to help his brother escape, he persuades Snow to turn against her. “Everywhere she goes, evil men die, and we cheer her for it. And she grows more powerful and sure that she is good and right. She believes her destiny is to build a better world.… If you truly believed that wouldn’t you kill everyone who stood between you and paradise?”
Snow eventually does what everyone has been predicting he would, and Dany’s gone, just like that. Bran’s our consolation prize.
The journeys of all the characters are addressed in parting mini-sagas — Sansa becomes Queen of the North, Arya sets out to explore the unmapped wilds of the far West, and poor Jon Snow is banished back to the Night’s Watch. He’s last seen headed north of the wall with a group of wildings.
In a self-aware and humorous moment that points to the very source of the drama, Samwell Tarly (John Bradley) slaps down a book in front of Tyrion, who is named the new Hand of the King for Bran, during their first meeting of advisors. What is it, asks Tyrion? “It’s a song of Ice and Fire, Archmaester Ebrose’s history of wars following the death of King Robert. I helped him with the title.”
Tyrion’s closing argument that Bran was the best candidate to rule the kingdoms was also a statement on what made “Game of Thrones” a once-in-a-lifetime drama. “What unites people?,” he asked the remaining power brokers of the realm. “Armies? Gold? Flags? Stories. There’s nothing more powerful than a good story.”
Great stories make for great series and this surely was one. But whether it makes for a great finale is another question.