The Final Season Of ‘Game Of Thrones’ Wasn’t Subtle, But It Was Satisfying
It was a fitting end to the story.
Of all outcomes for Game of Thrones season 8, I didn’t expect to wake up this morning to a breakfast radio presenter comparing its ending to Downton Abbey’s.
“You see, people are saying it’s impossible to have a perfect ending, but Downton Abbey neatly wrapped things up, and it was happy!” Like dragon fire raining down on me from above, it feels like there will be no end to the takes.
Please, make it stop.
As an aficionado of all things dragon related, I can tell you that there will never be a consensus on the quality and efficacy of this show.
For every thorough analysis of Brienne’s ascent into knighthood, there will be some dickhead pointing to ‘knighthood’ as an archaic institution which only serves to reinforce patriarchal models of chivalry and feudal rule, and “actually” Brienne is now a complicit party.
For every comment on the astonishing cinematography, there will be a wobbly circle drawn around the edge of a water bottle caught in shot.
With a record number of eyes on its final episode, Game of Thrones Season 8 might go down as the most widely critiqued television event in history, so it is impossible to reflect upon it without first acknowledging that I could not give less of a fuck what some breakfast radio presenter thinks about the show.
Game of Thrones Alternative Ending: pic.twitter.com/QMJIDNO879
— Tom Sommers (@TomSommers5) May 21, 2019
What Was Game Of Thrones Trying To Say In Season 8?
This season might be fraught, but it has met with its fate.
As the moral compass of the story, Jon Snow was the wet blanket destined to smother Daenerys Targaryen’s fire. As the centrist politician who believed in his heart that the right faction of his party will one day do something to prevent Climate Change, Tyrion Lannister was always going to be forced to confront his own fallibility.
George R.R. Martin likes to say over and over that this is a story about the heart in conflict with itself. The most interesting choices in this show are those which bear sacrifice on either side.
In this spirit, I can say that I loved watching this season, but could equally chop it to pieces, bake it into a pie and suck the marrow from its cooked bones. But the point of critique, to me, is not to determine whether something is good or bad, but to find what it is trying to tell us, even if that message is ‘Robin Arryn is hot now’.
In episode 4, The Last of the Starks, Sansa reaches over a table to hold Sandor Clegane’s hand and reassure him of a theme present throughout the season, that she wouldn’t be who she is, or where she is, without all of the things that have come before; ‘Without Littlefinger and Ramsay, and the rest, I would have stayed a little bird all my life,’ she tells him.
It’s a repeated idea, especially by Bran, who tells Theon the same thing in the previous episode, that he is now a good man because of all the things he had been through and done.
Vanity Fair admonished Sansa’s line as a clumsy and galling oversimplification of the character’s arc, and it straight up is.
It at once hands her character growth over to the men who used and abused her, and then states the obvious; that we are shaped by our journeys, that the pain we suffer can catapult us into new perspectives on life, and that the decisions we make can change who we are.
It’s an explicit acknowledgement of something implicit to the show, that identity is formed in action.
Pitch: Give 10 angry nerds that signed that petition the chance to remake season 8 of Game of Thrones. Film them struggling to come up with ideas they all agree on. Laugh as a line producer says they’re way over budget. Gasp as they murder each other. Then air the footage on HBO
— Mike Lawrence (@TheMikeLawrence) May 21, 2019
Identity Is Formed In Action
We see this again when Arya races to kill Queen Cersei in episode 5.
Sandor stops her and tells her that if she follows this path of vengeance, that if she decides to lead a life motivated by it, she will become it. Such self-determination stands in direct defiance of the show’s pull toward prophecy.
But we’ve see this conflict deftly conveyed when Cersei herself takes vengeance on the High Sparrow in season 6, blowing up the sept and all the innocents within it, including her son’s love. Her children have all been fated to die by a witch, and Cersei’s decision to kill her son’s queen is a precaution to prevent this outcome.
Yet, as she drinks to her own success, her only surviving son throws himself from a high tower to his death.
— SooronStorm (@SooronStorm) May 21, 2019
Season 8 Is Not Subtle
The lack of subtlety this season might be indicative of a writers room secretly stocked with Passions interns, but the clarification of theme is key to Daenerys’ glow up from hot Queen to big bad.
She isn’t a villain for every decision she makes up to the sack of King’s Landing, but for how those decisions inform her sense of self. For every enemy she burns alive, it confirms the story she has had in her head since childhood — that she is a dragon, that her actions are her destiny.
— Dharmateja (@dharmatejaj) May 20, 2019
In the end, her heart is no longer in conflict with itself. She is singular in destiny and determination, choosing to become the dragon queen she tells herself she is over and over, committed to setting the world ablaze.
In the second episode, on the eve of the Battle of Winterfell, we see a group of our faves sitting around a fire, listening to Podrick sing ‘Jenny of Oldstones’. This is a song about refusing to let go.
Some speculate it is about not wanting to die, but really it is a rejection of the finality of death — Jenny dances with her ghosts to hold onto their memories, as much as she wants to be remembered herself.
— SaudOfficial (@SaudAliOfficial) May 20, 2019
Stories Are Powerful
This sentiment is echoed in the epilogue of the finale, when Bran — the only living memory of all human history — is pronounced King.
The Night King sought to destroy humanity by erasing their collective memory, Daenerys wanted to scorch the earth and start anew. But now Westeros is governed by the knowledge of what has come before, and we watch as each living character is met not with an end to their stories, but a continuation of them.
If season 8 is to tell us anything, it is that our stories are powerful and precious, which is ironic considering the show creators handled this story with about as much care as a toddler handles a fork when poking it into a socket.
one of the most powerful and accurate scenes in game of thrones, and definitely the best of season 8 pic.twitter.com/x8tInlD7bt
— Zlatan (@DahabElkady) May 20, 2019
We learn and grow through the stories we’re told, and the ones we tell ourselves.
Jon Snow’s final decision to kill Daenerys was one determined not by her actions, but by where they might lead — to mass genocide, to the end of the world. He may have been a ham sandwich of a character, but he saw the value of knowledge gained from other people, and from a collective understanding greater than his own.
It was a fitting end to the story. Even still, maybe Downton Abbey did have a better ending than Game of Thrones? I need to rewatch it.
Kara Eva Schlegl is a writer, comedian and producer out of Sydney. She writes for SBS Comedy, co-founded Sydney comedy room Wolf Comedy and hosts Little Tiny History Podcast.