Winter has come to King’s Landing, as snow falls on crumbled buildings and charred bodies. After eight seasons of political maneuvering, Game of Thrones ends the series with a finale that tidies up the remains of Westeros. Post-war life is a series of concessions and conciliatory efforts, though “The Iron Throne” skips some of the messier bits to create a sense of closure. As Tyrion Lannister tells Jon Snow, “No one is very happy, which means it’s a good compromise I suppose.” In “The Iron Throne,” Game of Thrones resounds with compromise, creating a slightly better political system and saving beloved characters, but leaving us feeling as worn and dejected as Jon Snow.
Queen of the Ashes
The destruction of King’s Landing revealed that Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) wasn’t the liberating queen that her advisors had imagined. Her version of liberation involves unshackling men, women, and children from the chains of existence. Victory strengthens Daenerys’ sense of righteousness, and suddenly King’s Landing is only the first stage of her plan for world domination. After the battle, Daenerys addresses her army:
“You have freed the people of King’s Landing from the grip of a tyrant! But the war is not over. We will not lay down our spears until we have liberated all the people of the world. From Winterfell to Dorne, from Lannisport to Qarth, from the Summer Isles to the Jade Sea! Women, children, and men have suffered too long beneath the wheel. Will you break the wheel with me?”
Jon Snow (Kit Harington) and Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage) may not understand High Valyian, but they know the speech of a conqueror when they hear one. Daenerys glares at Tyrion as he comes alongside her.
Daenerys: “You freed your brother. You committed treason.”
Tyrion: “I freed my brother. And you slaughtered a city.”
Tyrion makes his feelings about the Queen known, throwing his Hand pin to the ground, and Daenerys has him arrested.
Despite having witnessed the excessive violence Daenerys visited upon King’s Landing and hearing her world domination speech, Jon Snow still needs some convincing regarding the threat she poses. Jon is surprised when his sister Arya Stark (Maisie Williams) makes an appearance. She reminds him that even if he wants to remain loyal to Daenerys, their sister Sansa won’t be so easy to persuade. Arya warns her brother, “Jon she knows who you are. Who you really are. You’ll always be a threat to her. And I know a killer when I see one.”
When Tyrion asks Jon to come and see him, he echoes Arya’s warning, “Who is more dangerous than the rightful heir to the Iron throne?” Jon still isn’t willing to betray his Queen, the woman that he loves. Tyrion reminds Jon that Sansa isn’t going to bend the knee to Daenerys. When Jon protests that Sansa doesn’t get to choose, Tyrion responds, “No. But you do, and you’ll have to choose now.”
Daenerys checks out her new digs. With the destruction of the Red Keep, the Iron Throne now sits in the open air, with snow falling on the demolished room. She smiles with satisfaction; looking at the throne she has sought her whole life. When Jon arrives she tells him of her brother’s stories about the Iron Throne. But Jon didn’t come to celebrate her victory or to talk about childhood tales.
Through her performance, Emilia Clarke shows us the excited little girl who has heard tales of her Seven Kingdoms birthright since she was a child. Her victories leading to this moment have already become legend, further reinforcing her ascendency. Are Tyrion tells Jon, “Everywhere she goes evil men die and we cheer her for it. And she grows more powerful and more sure that she is good and right. She believes her destiny is to build a better world for everyone.”
When Jon questions Daenerys about executing prisoners, killing children, and arresting Tyrion, she justifies her actions. He asks about the other people who also believe they know what’s good and Daenerys tells Jon, “They don’t get to choose.” She asks Jon to be with her, to break the wheel together. Jon tells her, “You are my queen now and always.” As they embrace, Jon puts a knife through her heart.
As Jon cries over Daenerys, Drogon’s screams pierce the night. Jon seems irretrievably broken. The dragon eventually lands, crying with great sadness and anger for Daenerys. Drogon refrains from attacking Jon, instead melting the Iron Throne with dragon fire. In an act of love and mourning, Drogon picks up her body and flies off with Daenerys. The CGI animation is stunning, making Drogon’s pain palpable and extraordinarily moving.
Months later, Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner) and her allies have come to King’s Landing with an army of Northmen. We never see their planning or arrival, only the eventual meeting between the last great houses in Westeros. Those parts of the story are lost to the passage of time and brevity of the season.
Along with Sansa, Arya, and Bran Stark (Isaac Hempstead Wright), the meeting at the Dragonpit includes Samwell Tarly (John Bradley), Davos Seaworth (Liam Cunningham), Gendry Baratheon (Joe Dempsie), Yara Greyjoy (Gemma Whelan), Robin Arryn (Lino Facioli), Yohn Royce (Rupert Vansittart), Edmure Tully (Tobias Menzies), Brienne of Tarth (Gwendoline Christie), the Prince of Dorne (Toby Osmond), and several other Westerosi Lords (Niall Bishop, Michael Benbaruk, Frank Jakeman, and Andrew Bicknell). Despite conquering King’s Landing, Greyworm (Jacob Anderson) isn’t treated with the same authority as the other lords and ladies who have come to decide the fate of Westeros. It would’ve been fitting had Greyworm declared himself King after Daenerys was murdered, though hard to maintain that power without a Targaryen dragon to help subdue the population.
Davos suggests that Greyworm and the Unsullied settle in Highgarden, though technically it’s not his to offer. Greyworm isn’t interested in homesteading, instead he wants justice for the death of his queen. He probably should have taken care of that earlier, before Sansa showed up with her Northern army. When Tyrion suggests that the new King of Westeros must be the one to decide what should happen to Jon, Greyworm acquiesces. We already must suspend our disbelief to accept that Greyworm would have let Jon or Tyrion live after the death of Daenerys, but that Greyworm would let the Lords of Westeros decide the fate of his prisoners seems quite implausible.
Despite Tyrion’s many mistakes, he’s the only one with ideas about how to move forward. He suggests that this House of Lords styled group be the ones to decide on the King or Queen to rule them all. When Sam suggests a one man, one vote sort of approach, such as they have at the Night’s Watch, the others laugh at the idea. They may be willing to reduce the monarch’s power by creating a council to choose the King or Queen, but they’re certainly not willing to weaken their own feudal authority.
When Edmure Tully stands to make a boorish speech offering himself as King, Sansa sternly advises, “Sit down, uncle,” providing a moment of levity. When no on else offers a suggestion, Tyrion again fills the void, pointing out the power of stories. And who has a better story than Bran the broken (really?).
“The boy who fell from a tower and lived. He knew he’d never walk again, so he learned to fly. He crossed beyond the wall, a crippled boy, and became the three-eyed raven. He is our memory, the keeper of all our stories–the wars, weddings, births, massacres, famines, our triumphs, our defeats, our past. Who better to lead us into the future?”
Eventually they all agree to Bran Stark as the new King, except Sansa who still refuses to bend the knee. She turns to Bran and says, “I love you little brother, I always will, and you’ll make a good king. But tens of thousands of Northmen fell in the great war defending all of Westeros and those who survived have seen too much and fought too hard to ever kneel again. The North will remain an independent kingdom, as it was for thousands of years.” Bran nods. They all hail Bran.
It seems strange that Yara Greyjoy would agree to any of this, but the Iron Islands (House Greyjoy) and Dorne (House Martell) maintain a form of greater independence with their own royal rulers. The Six Kingdoms also includes the Eyrie in the Vale (House Arryn), Highgarden in the Reach (Bronn of the Blackwater), Riverrun in the Riverlands (House Tully), Casterly Rock in the Westerlands (House Lannister), Storm’s End in the Stormlands (House Baratheon), and King’s Landing in the Crownlands.
Bran’s first order of business is to make Tyrion his Hand. Tyrion protests that he doesn’t want it. He tells Bran, “I don’t deserve it. I thought I was wise but I wasn’t. I thought I knew what was right, but I didn’t.” Tyrion implores him to choose anyone else. Greyworm finally speaks up, saying that Tyrion is a criminal. When Bran points out that Tyrion will spend the rest of his life fixing his mistakes, Greyworm protests that it’s not enough.
Tyrion informs Jon that Bran has decided to send him back to the Night’s Watch to appease the Unsullied and avoid another war. It seems like a fitting end for this damaged hero. Jon is surprised that the Night Watch still exists, but Tyrion points out, “The world will always need a home for bastards and broken men.” Jon certainly seems broken after killing Daenerys. He asks Tyrion, “Was it right, what I did?” Tyrion tries to take some responsibility, pointedly responding, “What we did.” Jon adds sadly, “It doesn’t feel right.” Tyrion tells him to ask again in ten years. He tells Jon they will meet again, “A few years as Hand of the King would make anyone want to piss off the edge of the world.”
Saying good-bye and starting anew
The Unsullied are traveling the Isle of Naath, as Greyworm once promised Missandei. The Dothraki walk around the harbor. They don’t seem to be heading out with the Unsullied and it’s not clear if they will remain in Westeros or head back to Essos. From his ship, Greyworm glares down at Jon Stark. How none of the Unsullied or Dothraki have assassinated Jon Snow remains another mystery.
As Jon heads to the ship that will take him back North, he finds his siblings waiting on the dock. Sansa asks Jon if he can ever forgive her and he points out that the North is free thanks to her.
Sansa: “But they lost their King.”
Jon: “Ned Stark’s daughter will speak for them. She’s the best they could ask for.”
Their hug cements his forgiveness. When he leans in to speak to Arya, he tells her that she can always come visit him at Castle Black, as no one would dare tell her otherwise. She reveals that instead of going back North, she will sailing West.
Jon: “You have yoru needle.”
Arya: “Right here.”
Jon and Arya share a warm embrace. Finally, Jon kneels to Bran and apologizes for not being there when Bran needed him. Bran tells his brother, “You were exactly where you were supposed to be.”
Within the Red Keep, Brienne is looking through the Kingsguard White Book. She finds the entry for Jaime Lannister and adds to it. She finishes the entry with, “Died protecting his queen.”
Tyrion oversees the Small Council meeting, which is filled with a cast of favorite characters. Brienne is Commander of the Kingsguard, Samwell Tarley is Grand Maester, Davos Seaworth is Master of Ships, while Bronn (Jerome Flynn), now Lord of Highgarden, is Master of Coin. Sam presents A Song of Ice and Fire by Archmaester Ebrose, a history of wars following the death of King Robert. When Tyrion asks what Ebrose says about him, Sam sheepishly responds, “I don’t believe you’re mentioned.” When King Bran Stark arrives, he asks about the Small Council seats that still need to filled, then offers to figure out where Drogon has gone. Looks like his special powers are helpful after all. To ensure we know where all the characters stand, Ser Podrick Payne arrives to take Bran out of the room. The others continue on with the council meeting. When Davos corrects Bronn’s syntax, reminiscent of Stannis Baratheon, Bronn asks, “You’re the master of grammar now too?” The meeting continues as they discuss the merits of building ships versus brothels.
While Bran rules in King’s Landing we get glimpses of the journeys his siblings are taking. Sansa Stark is crowned Queen of the North. Arya begins her journey sailing into the West. Jon arrives at Castle Black, where he is reunited with Tormund Giantsbane (Kristofer Hivju) and Ghost (who gives Jon a friendly nuzzle). Game of Thrones ends the way it began, with a journey beyond the Wall, as Jon and Ghost escort the Free Folk back home. We see a green plant poking up through the snow, signaling that after a hard winter, spring is finally coming to Westeros.
The Iron Throne review
In “The Iron Throne,” showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss get a little meta. Daenerys reflects upon her brother’s tales about the Iron Throne, Tyrion describes the power that stories hold over people, Bran the keeper of stories becomes King, and the presentation of A Song of Ice in Fire as the fictional book upon which the real George R.R. Martin Song of Ice and Fire series is based on. Normally we love meta, but this felt a little more forced than fun.
Some of the strongest moments in “The Iron Throne” were those between siblings. There’s nothing quite so affecting in Game of Thrones as these heartfelt family moments. We felt Tyrion’s pain as he mourned Cersei and Jaimee in the Red Keep. We didn’t expect he’d go looking for their bodies, but it represented the staggering loss of “The Bells” on a smaller, more personal scale. The outstanding acting on the part of Peter Dinklage further intensified the scene. Jon saying good-bye to his siblings was another emotionally charged scene. After being through so much, it’s hard to watch the Starks say good-by to each other, but it’s also heartwarming to see their continued connection. After so much loss, the Starks still have each other.
The death of Daenerys Targaryen certainly wasn’t unexpected, yet it was incredibly moving. Her excitement at finally seeing the Iron Throne is later followed by relief when she believes Jon will finally be with her. It is in this moment that Jon must betray the woman he loves. The reactions from both Jon and Drogon turned a moment of sadness and regret into one of heartbreak and agony. Drogon’s screams and expressions tore at our hearts, something we never would have expected from a visual effect.
Much of Season 8 was filled with joyful reunions and big action sequences, “The Iron Throne” feels quieter, but impactful nonetheless. We felt steeped in Jon’s pain and remorse throughout much of the episode, only feeling some relief when he’s reunited with Ghost and as he began his journey beyond the wall. Game of Thrones does not intend to give us a fairytale ending, but creates a fittingly grim finale to an often bleak series. There were moments of warmth and lightness interspersed throughout the second half of “The Iron Throne.” Season 8 took leaps and bounds, skipping parts of the story to get to this finale on time. Despite the rushed storytelling, “The Iron Throne” gave us the outstanding performances, beautiful imagery, and impressive effects we’ve come to expect in Game of Thrones. Though our watch has ended, it’s been a worthwhile journey.