I came into this season of Game of Thrones with whole lot of excitement and, frankly, I haven’t been let down. By most means, I’ve really enjoyed watching this season and I think the show runners have done a terrific job of wrapping everything up in a way that is both challenging and satisfying. At the same time, however, I have never enjoyed a season of Game of Thrones less than this one, and I want to be clear that these feelings have rather little to do with the show itself. Had I just sat down and watched the show, not talked to anyone about it, not read news clips, Twitter experts, or watched YouTube commentary, it may well have been one of the most enjoyable seasons I’ve participated in live (I joined around season 3 because I love Maisie Williams and thought I’d give her most famous show a shot). But people have ruined it for me. The incessant complaining about how ‘the writing is terrible’ or how a night battle is dark, because, ya know, it’s night time, has all really worn me out. I thought about writing something after “The Long Night” but I keep deciding that I would be better served by trying to remove myself from the conversation. But it’s impossible to remove myself from the conversation, and as we approach the final episode of this great journey, I feel like I’ve got to say some things.
For this discussion I think I’m going to go character by character to try and address some things, but first I have a general comment to make. For the last two seasons all anyone would talk about was how Game of Thrones has gone down hill, and that it has become too predictable. This season, all of the complaints seem to be the exact opposite. Now the show has bottomed out because characters aren’t following their correct ‘story arcs’ a phrase that inherently implies some sort of tradition or proper and predictable line of writing. I came into this season wanting a few things:
- I didn’t want the show to devolve into something where The Night King comes and marches through and everyone dies, or almost everyone dies. Moreover, I didn’t really want things to be about The Night King. Sure, he’s a bad dude, dangerous, etc. just like climate change (what he’s supposed to represent), but he wouldn’t even exist if not for humankind. The show has always been about humans. George RR Martin has made that clear in interviews. It’s about humans with a little bit of magical elements sprinkled in to spice things up. But magic was never supposed to take the main stage and I really hoped that The Night King wouldn’t take the main stage in the final season. That would be boring, meaningless, and just altogether stupid.
- I didn’t want Dany to just march into King’s Landing, take out Cersei, and then sit comfortably on the Iron Throne without any sort of controversy whatsoever. She’s not a hero. She never has been. There are no heroes in the Thrones world or in our own, a fact that Martin has, again, repeatedly stated in interviews. If Dany had done this, things would have been boring. They would have been too clean, too easy, and too traditional for a show/book series that has really tried to stay away from the traditional. She’s as human as anyone else.
- I didn’t want to see Jon and Dany rule the 7 Kingdoms as equals, King/Queen, or what have you. While this wouldn’t have been the end of the world for me, I still think it would have been lazy and gone against everything Martin seems to have set out to do. This would have been to clean for my tastes, but I suppose it would have at least been somewhat satisfying. But maybe that’s the biggest reason why I didn’t want to see it happen. People are so caught up in their escapism that they want this show to have a satisfying ending. I want something that challenges me, that makes me think and forces me to consider the human predicament. The show has done that throughout its entire existence and it would have felt cheap for them to turn back on that now.
I have been quite pleased that none of these scenarios have taken place. It shows me that the showrunners aren’t concerned with playing to modern tropes, or fan sympathies. But I digress. Let’s move on to the characters.
Let’s start with the big one, since everyone seems to be up in arms about everything she did in “The Bells.”
I’m disappointed with Dany. Of course I wanted her to be good. For all the problematic things she’s done throughout the series, I wanted to believe in her. Here we have a girl that was banished from her home, raised on stories of who she is supposed to be and what is hers by birthright. She hasn’t known her parents, her brother’s a joke of a human being, she’s been sold into marriage. . . the only thing she really knows about her history has come from stories that were relayed to her, for a large part of her life, by a hopelessly unreliable story-teller, Viserys. This unreliability is made evident to her by Ser Barristan when he informs her that her brother, Rheagar, really wasn’t much of a fighter.
Every person who has ever meant anything to her in her life has died or betrayed her. Leading up to last night’s episode were the last few deaths and betrayals she could take. Ser Jorah died defending her, and Missandei, her only real friend, was beheaded right in front of her when she tried to do the right thing and show mercy. In the mean time, her most trusted advisors, and confidants, the last people she really believes in, Tyrion, Varys, and Jon, were all starting an uprising that would nullify the noble story she had made for herself. It didn’t seem to matter how much good she had done, she wasn’t enough for them. And she never would be. Mercy has only ever lead to her losing her children, her family, her friends, her mentors, and her advisors. So, she concludes, ‘let it be fear’ recognizing that if she’s to ever come remotely close to accomplishing her goal to break the wheel, she’s going to have to do it on her own.
I questioned whether all of this loss, heartbreak, and betrayal was enough to push her over the edge. I wanted to believe that she’s see the error of her ways. I hoped that she might understand that her unrelenting desire to rule has always been the biggest issue. I wish they would have shown some shots of her after she had decided to set fire to the whole city. I wanted to see how this decision was affecting her; whether she was remorseful at all, finding pleasure, or whatever else. That’s one are where the director messed up a bit. We needed to see these emotions playing out in her. When she and Drogon took off after the bells rang I thought, for a moment, that maybe she was just going to go to the keep and burn Cersei and the Iron Throne altogether. But she made the wrong the choice. She made the disappointing choice.
Still, I understand her decision. Even if she had accepted the surrender (an ending I’m positive fans would have complained about as well… ‘You built up this battle just to have it end before it even began?!’) those around her would have still found a way to deem her unfit to rule. Their recent betrayals made this evident to her. There’s an argument to be had over whether her desire to rule is different than all the other power hungry characters in the series. For her, she feels now that she cannot have what she has set out to achieve from the onset.
The Night King
For some reason, even after Bran laid out what the Night King’s desire was, people still ran around shouting that the Night King’s intentions were never made clear. Why does he want to kill everyone? they asked. Because that’s what he was created to do: Stop the humans from making the Children go extinct. But it is important to remember that the Night King still has something human in him. That thirst for destruction and, importantly, his overweening pride are all too human traits. He, like so many other characters in this show, allowed that pride to be his downfall.
It’s important that we recognize these human traits because they are the reason why he was killed in the third episode and why the showrunners, likely Martin included, made certain that the show didn’t end up in some cliche fantasy trope where man fights the big-bad-boogie man and a hero steps up to save mankind. The Night King was never the real evil. The Night King was never the real danger. Those titles have always belonged to man. They’ve belonged to the Cersei’s, the Joffrey’s, the Boltons, the Freys, and the Mad Kings and Queens. Seeing as Martin doesn’t like heros, I’m quite glad Jon didn’t end up coming out and besting the Night King like we all expected he would. That would have been the same boring tale we’ve heard a thousand times before. And, as we’ll discuss next, Jon has never been much of a hero anyway.
I find it quite humbling that the Night King died as a result of his human arrogance. He believed he couldn’t be touched. He believed that no man could kill him and that he was too powerful to be stopped. He smugly turned and caught Arya so as to say ‘Really? You thought you could kill me like this?’ But that arrogance was his downfall. He didn’t respect Arya for the warrior she is, because of course he didn’t. Who would consider the youngest children to be the most capable of defeating problems? The giant sure didn’t think Lyanna was capable of stopping him.
There’s another important message here, especially when we consider that connection between the Night King and climate change. Everyone is capable of making a difference: Jaimie, Jorah, Brienne, Sandor, Thoros, Lyanna, Dany, freaking Sam, and the list goes on. They all are capable of making a change that helps contribute to stopping or at least slowing the problem. But it is the youth, the next generation, who are going to be the ones who have to really put a stop to it all. They are the ones whose life truly depends on putting an end to the consumer, capitalist, industrial nature of their predecessors. Considered in this way, it seems even more fitting that Arya was the one to kill him. She is the youth and she is the representation of what the youth can do when they step forward, use their voice, and really commit themselves to making a change.
On a final note, again, and as you will see is a theme throughout this, I just know that people would have been complaining if the series ended with the Night King being stabbed, or with the Night King killing everyone. And, in either of those cases, their complaints would have been warranted! Because that would have been bad writing!
Let’s just get something clear, alright? Jon is not a hero. He never has been. He has routinely filled the role of being a soldier in a war rather than stepping forward and being the leader we all need him to be. The closest he came to being a leader was when he was an actual member of the Night’s Watch. But even then he was an unwilling one. Varys is right. Jon would be a good ruler, if he ever possessed the courage to step forward and use his voice. He’s one of the good people, but, as is the case far too often in life, the good people are silenced, either by themselves or by those who see them as dangerous. Dany tried to silence him, it didn’t really work, but at the same time like.. He was sure to let Bran tell Arya and Sansa and it makes complete sense why he would want to tell them. He wasn’t going to go shout it from the hills though. Instead he ran around telling everyone that Dany is his queen. He silences himself time and again as well though. He never fully comes forward on anything. All too often he allows himself to fade into the background when he simply cannot allow his voice to be drowned out. He should be challenging Dany on things. He should be suggesting that they rule the 7 kingdoms together, because they would be much stronger together than they will be keeping Jon’s lineage secret.
Look, I like Jon. But he’s just not very smart, and he’s not assertive enough to be a king. Nothing would get done that needs to be done with him at the helm, unless he can get a woman to come show him how to do things.. Be it Arya, Sansa, Ygritte, Melisandre, Dany, and on and on in perpetuity. He sits on his dragon, on top of the walls of Winterfell, watching everyone go crazy trying to light a trench because Dany won’t come light it with her dragon… Freaking, step up, Jon! Go light the stupid trench! He decides he’s going to tell Dany about his lineage right before the biggest battle of their lives, one in which he has to believe they are likely going to die. Like, why Jon? Why not just wait until afterward and see if either of you end up dead? Why make her think about this right now? And finally, he’s the only one who hears her say the words ‘Let it be fear.’ He’s seen the crazed state she’s in. And yet he still sits back and follows her every cue leading up the the final war. For as much as he is king material, he is also clearly not king material.
And then we’re brought back to Martin’s insistence that he doesn’t like heros. Jon works because he reminds us a lot of what many of us are. Good people who lack the skills or the courage to lead the charge we probably need to. How boring would it be for Jon to be some invincible hero… slayer of the Night King. Savior of the Free Folk, conqueror of Winterfell, king of the seven kingdoms, a saint in every way imaginable. Those people only exist in fantasy worlds and Martin wanted to be sure that they didn’t exist in his. I’m grateful for that. If we’ve learned anything from this series it’s that worshipping or exalting another human being among the rest is not good for anyone. We’ve learned that human being are dreadfully corruptive entities. It just wouldn’t make sense to have some god figure.
Jaime & Cersei Lannister
These two have seen a lot of criticism too. I’m conflicted on them. Cersei did a great job of putting aside arrogance for much of the series. She was always talking about how others needed to be smarter and not underestimate those around them, advice which served her well for a long time and kept her somewhat humble about her place in the wheel. But she reached a breaking point when her last child betrayed her, joined the Sparrows, and she proceeded to release the wildfire. From that point on, she started to allow arrogance to build, and she went back on her own advice when it came to Dany. She underestimated Dany and her army, becoming too confident in her own intelligence and believing that she had outwitted them all with her scorpions and her staying in King’s Landing while Dany’s forces were decimated. Right up until the end she tried to tell Qyburn that she was fine and that her plan was superior to that of anyone else. In a way, her own downfall is similar to Dany’s. They both suffered tremendous loss and their visceral and real, human responses to that loss are what have led to their losing track of who they are.
On the other hand, Jaimie doesn’t lose sight of who he really is. The complaints I’ve heard about him are that they have built his ‘character arc’ such that he was supposed to be redeemable, maybe end up killing Cersei, but certainly not running back to her. But this is just another argument for cliche. Yeah, Jaimie was really starting to turn around. His journey is one of the most interesting of any of the characters on Thrones. He started the first episode as perhaps the most hated character, worked his way into becoming someone you were really rooting for, and then, when he heard that Cersei was in real danger, love consumed him.
Sure, I wish Jaimie would have stayed with Brienne and remained the new Jaimie we had all come to love. But I also don’t think his actions were unreasonable. He and Cersei have made it clear throughout the entire series that they really only care for one another. Even when Cersei started going bonkers in season 7, she couldn’t order the Mountain to kill Jaimie, because she felt too much love for him. In a way, I think these two actually understood things better than most at their end. As Jaimie said, nothing else mattered but them. They were always the only ones that mattered. He takes it a bit to the extreme, but our human relationships are about the only good we have in us. Our capacity to love, to forgive, and survive together.
I understand some of the complaints against these too, I do. But I don’t think the writing for them was that bad. It wasn’t the most satisfying ending, but this show has always teased us with potential satisfying endings and then ripped them away from us. Yes. I would have loved to see Arya take Cersei out, but I’m actually happier this way. For one thing, Cersei didn’t deserve a noble or powerful death. She’d lost herself entirely. It made complete sense for her to die in some simple, mundane fashion like having the roof of collapse upon her after trying to hold it up for so many years.
Sandor ‘The Hound’ Clegane
I know, this one surprised me too. There are people who actually have a problem with how Sandor’s story ended. I’m not even going to try and explain this one really, because I just think it’s completely preposterous and I feel that even though I’ve seen some complaints, surely the majority of people are pleased with The Hound. Sandor, after all, completely followed the ‘character arc’ script that people seem to now want. Started out as a pretty meh character, didn’t seem all that great, developed a real bond with Arya that you couldn’t help but appreciate him for, joined and was an integral part in the fight against the dead, conquered his fears in order to save Arya at Winterfell, then saved Arya again right before going to what was always going to be his ultimate death. Sandor became one of my favourite characters in this show and it was in large part because of his relationship to Arya. When he saw what happened at The Red Wedding, everything changed for him. He grabbed Arya, got her out of the town, and pretty much acted as a father figure for her. When he conquered his fears solely because he saw that Arya was in trouble and he felt a responsibility to save her. That was a beautiful moment. When Arya met up with him again to head down to King’s Landing and he looks at her and can’t say anything else but ‘for fuck’s sake’. That was a beautiful moment. And then when he looked at her in the Red Keep and begged for her to understand that revenge is silly and that she needed to continue to say no to death and gtfo of King’s Landing… That scene had me in tears. It was the perfect culmination of their relationship. He meant so much to Arya, and Arya meant so much to him.
People had been clamoring for Clegane Bowl for years and then you have some who are upset when they finally get it. I thought it was fantastically well executed. The two battling it out on a collapsing stairwell while the whole city is going up in flames. It was this crazy, dystopian, scene filled with beautiful cinematography. The Hound was the better fighter too. He just kept beating his brother, who had become some undead, frankenstein creature that seemed more undead than the white walkers. (Also, quick side-note to talk about how great it was that Qyburn’s creature is the one who killed him, basically by brushing his hand.) And what a classic way for Sandor to go out: repeatedly stabbing his brother and begging for him to ‘fucking die’. His death always needed to come from fire, and so it did as he shoved his brother out of the tower in another bout of cinemagraphic excellence, and fell into the flames below.
Sandor was perfect. I’m honestly just baffled as to how people can have any complaints about it. It just seems like evidence to me that they would not be satisfied with anything that happens in the end-game of this show.
So at last we end with my girl, Arya. We’ve already touched on how great it was that she was the character to kill the Night King in the Night King’s section. So let’s just focus on the complaints that followed last night’s episode. ‘An Arya that’s not obsessed with vengeance doesn’t even make sense’ I keep hearing people say. They’ve become so engrossed in the killing machine that Arya’s become that they can’t snap out of it like she has. Arya has been moving towards this path of turning away from vengeance for a while now. The day she chose to travel to Winterfell rather than King’s Landing was the beginning. Facing the Night King and seeing that face of death was another. For a while now we have seen Arya becoming more and more human, reacclimating herself into the real world and realizing the true face of death, its consequences, and the fact that it’s really not something to take pride in being the purveyor of. You remember when the wights come crashing through the door and she’s screaming trying to get them off of her? That was a moment of realization for her. Or how about when she banged her head? There was a prolonged moment where she looked at the dead for the first time, really looked at them, and her face revealed the discomfort that they caused her to feel.
But even if we want to believe that Arya must be focussed on revenge, there was really nothing in this latest episode to suggest that revenge isn’t an integral part of her being anymore. Cersei was going to die anyway. Part of what she realised from Sandor was the same thing that she realised when she was speaking with Melisandre. She must value life more, especially her own life. She must say no to death and continue to play her role in the pivotal story that is still unfolding. So she turns away.
She reaches the streets and sees the destruction that Dany has caused. She sees the innocent people, terrorized, crying, running for any shelter they can find, and ultimately being burnt alive. She tries to save some, the same people who saved her. Death, she knows, should not come like this. At least when she kills it’s with reason and purpose. Dany has none. She’s murdering innocent people.
We don’t really know what she’s going to do next. There has been a lot of speculation that she is now going to set out to kill Dany. After all, Dany has the green eyes that she may still need to shut to fulfill her prophecy. But I think we’ve seen real growth from her. I hope she has the opportunity to kill Dany, but understands that more death isn’t going to help anyone. Arya’s not been perfect. Her bloodthirst is something that we really shouldn’t cheer on, even if it is for the most vile people in the Thrones world. She seems to have started to realize this too. By killing Dany, she’ll only cause more controversy, and if she’s to be the symbol of the youth, I’d love to see her recognize that she can’t be responsible for repeating actions of the past.
What happens next?
The way I see it, the obvious answer is that Dany dies somehow. But that feels too easy and too obvious. I’d much rather see her realize that to break the wheel, she too cannot sit on the iron throne. I’d like to see she and Drogon burn the throne and walk away from it all. I’m not even sure she wants the throne any more. She understands how destructive it can be to imbue something or someone with false power. Why should the throne hold power? Frankly, it would also be cool if she got rid of Drogon. Not kill him, necessarily, but set him free because ‘that’s not him’, flying around killing people and fighting wars and acting like a nuclear weapon. The most satisfying thing would be for her to find a way to de-escalate things by getting rid of the throne, getting rid of her OP weapon of mass destruction, and renouncing the claim that she’s been fighting to see realised her entire life. This would have some pretty strong real world parallels. Perhaps her decision was that Cersei, King’s Landing, and the Iron Throne hold too much power in the hearts and minds of humankind, so she’s coming in to see an end to all of them. To truly break the wheel. And then allow people to reset, repair, and come together in a newer, stronger way than before. Or maybe she’s too far gone to do any of this now. Whatever the case, I’m sick of hearing about how the writing has been bad, because it simply hasn’t been.