There have been a number of complaints posted on the internet over the past few days about the final episode of Game of Thrones. If you haven’t watched it, don’t read this. If you’ve watched it and were disappointed, read on, because I’m going to try to make you feel better.
The most frequent complaint that I’ve run across has to do with Daenerys’ transformation from Breaker of Chains to Mass Murderer. It seemed, according to many, that it happened in the blink of an eye. Viewers weren’t prepared for it. My response: viewers weren’t paying close enough attention. She’s been doing this for some time.
In episode after episode, Dany assumes the role of sole judge against those she sees as enemies, and the line drawn between justice and vengeance is incredibly thin. By the time she arrives in Westeros she is expecting to be welcomed as Deliverer, just like she was in Mereen. Even when she realizes that she is perceived as an outside conqueror, mistrusted because of her lineage and her history, her conviction that she is the rightful queen of Westeros and that all must submit to her never changes. She roasts the Tarlys. Why? Because they refused to break the oaths they had made to another queen. That’s only two men, you may object. But she would have killed anyone else who stood with the Tarlys, she made that clear. There were no half-measures for Daenerys by this time. Again and again she rejected mercy, choosing fear and fire instead. Drogon was a smoking gun and she was determined to use him.
Viewers were lulled into trusting her decisions, just as Tyrion and Jon were lulled into trusting her. “Love is more powerful than reason,” Tyrion tells Jon. And I think we were meant to be lulled into loving her, into trusting her—into submission. But by Episode 5 the line between justice and vengeance has grown yet thinner. She did not have to kill Varys, but she never considered any other options. (Exile? Imprisonment?) She did not have to destroy King’s Landing. The city was already hers. It had rung the bells of surrender. She gained nothing from its destruction except personal satisfaction. Daenerys was listening to no one, and the line between justice and vengeance had disappeared completely. There is no regret, no compassion, no self-doubt reflected in her expression; there is only determination and satisfaction.
It was Dany’s destruction of King’s Landing that sparked the emotional, moral and political conflict that had to take place in the final episode. Her transformation from Mother of Dragons into The Dragon Queen was made perfectly clear with a visual symbol early in Episode 6. (And that, really, was one of the most striking images in this entire series.)
At this point Dany gets the adulation she craves while Jon, Tyrion and Arya look on in horror. The scene that follows between Jon and Tyrion was masterfully written. Tyrion lists the steps that Daenerys has taken into tyranny and Jon listens in anguish, still trying to convince himself that Dany will see reason, still trying to defend her. “She saw her friend die. Her dragons die.”
Tyrion responds, “You are the shield that guards the realms of men. You’ve tried to protect people. Who is the greatest threat to the people now?”
Tyrion has the last word in that argument, and we see Jon walking past the Unsullied through the falling snow. A bit of symbolism right there: Winter has come to this devastated city, and this is Jon Snow, making his way to Daenerys. He approaches the sleeping dragon that wakens, inspects him, and lets him pass because he is not only Jon Snow, he is also a Targaryen.
In the throne room Dany is gazing hungrily at the Iron Throne, eyes wide, like a lover.
In speaking to Jon about her girlhood and what her brother told her of the Iron Throne, grinning as she talks of fallen enemies, Dany convinces Jon that she has to be stopped somehow. And of course, the only one who can get close enough to her to do this is Jon himself.
And that is another complaint that I have read over the past few days. Why must Jon be the one to kill Dany, the woman he loves? The answer is simple: Because they love each other. This is A Song of Ice and Fire; he is Ice and she is Fire. Martin, Benioff and Weiss long ago rejected any melding of those two elements. Jon and Dany were meant, from the beginning, to be pitted against each other. Therein lies the tragedy that raises this finale above any easy resolution.
When Jon kills Dany in utter despair he expects retribution. He is ready for Drogon’s fire. Instead, Drogon destroys the Iron Throne. Jon has to live with his grief and with endless questioning about whether he has done the right thing. He carries that with him when he goes beyond the wall, into the winterlands where he belongs, where he has always belonged; outside of the world that is Westeros. An exile.
Do I think this final episode was perfect? Of course not! (I’m only human.) I think that the rise of King’s Landing’s from the ashes was far too swift, even though the show tried to indicate the passage of time. When Jon departs, the port looks absolutely fine. Tyrion and his council meet in comfort in the same old place. All has returned to normal. Somehow, this trivializes the destruction of the city and Daenerys’s death. I wanted to see more indications of the city struggling to revive. The discussions about repairing ports and lack of food and safe water didn’t convey it well enough. this is a visual medium. We need to see it.
I would have liked to hear Bran say something other than “You were where you needed to be,” and “I’ll go see if I can find Drogon.” I know that he has been portrayed as silent, passive, and above-it-all, but he has agreed to lead the six kingdoms. A few sentences from him showing that he is more than just a figurehead would have been appreciated. Bran, though, is a character who cannot be adequately conveyed visually or even through dialogue. It will be up to Martin to reveal what he truly is in the final novel.
Now, about those novels. Anyone who has read them must have noted that each chapter is titled with the name of the character that will be the focal point of that chapter. In Book 1 they are: Bran. Catelyn. Daenerys. Eddard. Jon. Arya. Tyrion. Sansa. In Book 2 Eddard, of course, has disappeared, and Davos and Theon have been added, but no others. The point I am making here is that no one character stands out as THE CENTRAL FIGURE in this epic fantasy. No one character is THE HERO in these books. There are only characters whose stories we follow, who we come to either love or despise.
However, watchers of the series Game of Thrones have had an expectation that there must be a hero. Someone must win the game of thrones. That’s just not the case here. There is no hero. Every character is human, sometimes making grave mistakes that lead to tragedy. Indeed, this is a fantasy world where the characters are all too human, and even the good guys have feet of clay.
That being said, look closely at the names above, and you will note that all but 2 of them are Starks. Whatever else Martin may be doing in his books, he is investing his readers in the welfare of the Starks. So the series ends, fittingly, with a montage that reveals the outcome of this story for the remaining members of the Stark family; the ending refers back to the beginning.
And that is exactly how every good story should end. I’m going to miss this one.
All Photos: HBO