Spoiler warning: This post contains spoilers for Game of Thrones and the series finale
“I imagined a mountain of swords too high to climb, so many fallen enemies who could only see the soles of Aegon’s feet.”
And so our watch has ended. There’s a striking moment that passes ever so quickly, as so much did, in the Game of Thrones series final. Daenerys, as close as she ever was, and ever will be to what her and the show have been building towards for nine years, remarks that she thought the Iron Throne would be bigger.
The biggest show of our generation has risen and fallen on the deliverance of that as grand as we have ever seen on television. Fulfilling the promise through so many battles and letting throngs of fans down under an unprecedented weight of expectation has been par for the course, these last two seasons no less.
Dany finding what she wanted, realising it’s not as grand or quite like she hoped it would be yet still so relishing the moment is a pretty apt analogy for the show’s farewell. We didn’t need another clanger of CGI spectacle, we wanted those epic moments not centred on the scale of the world but on its characters and for the most part this is what we got.
Series finales are generally intended to do two things, provide us with a memorable conclusion, usually through an epic moment or more, and give us some closure on our characters’ arcs or where they might go from here. Game of Thrones had to do something else and like How I Met Your Mother answer the question it’s title has teased for the better part of a decade.
That epic was foisted upon us in the first half, with the latter left for rounding up those storylines awaiting their conclusion. A surprisingly happy ending teased even for Jon, left to suffer an unenviable fate; the finale is of the kind Aaron Sorkin would have had in mind from the get-go had he pitched the show.
Famous (or infamous) for delivering straightforward, happy if unchallenging endings to series, everything concludes in it’s most widely predicted manner that the bookies too saw coming. The ending(s), drawing a few very similar parallels with Return of the King, are like so many moments in that concluding chapter never so memorable as earnestly trying to reassure you that not everything was in vain. If you are not shocked, you will be content. You won’t be jolted, but you will be satisfied.
Those hoping for democracy in Westeros will be disappointed, even if the realm has come just that bit closer.
Reneging on the no prisoners approach to Westerosi that has best served the series from the start, the ending is by no means bad; just a decent opportunity to spend some time with our favourites more characteristic of early-series character building than conclusory crescendos. The best thing this finale has going for it is that no one is likely to talk about it before long, perhaps encouraging a future fandom through generations who might not watch the show should the ending be a central spoiler-ridden talking point.
Letting it down in some respects is the expository focus on ‘stories’ and Tyrion’s blatant summary to that effect. Sam delivering ‘A Song of Ice and Fire’ is perhaps the most needlessly reflexive “ah, I see what you did there” moment since one of the show’s most despised creative decisions; the gratuitous addition of Ed Sheeran. Brienne’s pencilling of Jaime’s achievements into the Kingsguard’s volume handles the theme with comparatively more elegance while coyly alluding back to a blink and you’ll miss it scene in season four so long ago.
It was too the final piece, satisfying in itself, of the distant narratives with which the show began now slotting into place. Daenerys coming so close nigh gracing the throne with her presence is a bitter moment which will even register with the majority of fans now bereft of sympathy for her; one in it’s exasperation to rival Oberyn’s death and the series’ many pivotal highs.
What this episode was about above and beyond all else however was Jon. Some may take issue with his actions or say killing Dany was out of character, yet it’s the most character-driven thing he’s done since admitting to Cersei that he’d pledged his allegiance to another Queen. Jon’s arc has always been about the conflict between ‘love and duty,’ seen masterfully on the two occasions when he forsook the former for the Watch.
Jon’s refusal to ride south to join Robb’s army nor follow Ygritte so he could go home resonated much stronger however, given we’d spent much more time on both Jon’s fealty to his family and the relationship with Ygritte. His professed love and relationship with Dany, buoyed little by two actors who have limited chemistry, like so much of these past seasons was rushed to fit in with a direction the plot ‘needed’ to go rather than any decisions these characters would likely make. When it comes down to that key moment, so many of the performers’ lines don’t strike nearly so loudly as they crucially should.
There is some marvellous synergy regardless in Jon recalling Maester Aemon’s words (as it happens his great-great uncle) in one of the many excellent hark backs to the first season, the first episode and indeed the very first frames. They are marks of quality of a show which here reminds us just how far we have come.
Change happened inevitably to this series as the characters, actors and fans aged in tandem; no one is the same person when this show started and importantly the breadth of the story-strand spanning finale reckons with the time that has elapsed to tell this story. It too, thankfully, unlike these seasons past situates the episode in a relatively finite timeframe.
Game of Thrones is also perhaps the last show for a while that such a breadth of viewers will all watch together. There’s something profoundly bittersweet in saying goodbye to that and for all the finale’s highs and lows permitting us just a few more lighter minutes with the characters we’ve so come to know can’t and won’t ever be a bad thing.