Game of Thrones: 8.06 The Iron Throne
A warning of spoilers as we delve into the last ever episode of Game of Thrones...
The finale of Game of Thrones is very much a an episode of two halves; arguably it could have been split in two and worked just as well. A fault with the final season (much like season seven before it) has been the pacing and there is a very strong argument that season eight could have been well served by having a couple of extra episodes for levity of storytelling - particularly between the battles of Winterfell and King' s Landing. At the same time, the final episode, The Iron Throne probably worked best as an epic wrap up to the series as indeed the heavy drama is weighted towards its first half.
But if you think this review is going to be full of me bashing the writers and demanding a petition to remake the final season, think again. Not only is the idea of this 'remake season eight' insulting to the incredible work done by the writers, actors, directors and everyone else involved in the making of the show, the story beats this season have largely been spot on, despite the break neck speed at times. Daenerys's terrible act last episode was inevitable despite the fact that we were still floored by her actions. And the final episode was one of the most satisfying finales I have seen in a long time.
Yet again, Game of Thrones didn't play to expectations (something that's certainly been the case since Ned lost his head in season one). Arya didn't heroically slay the queen - she had already fulfilled her role killing the Night King earlier this season. There wasn't an epic battle between Daernerys's Unsullied and Dothraki against the forces of north - Daenerys would have won anyway. We have already had two delicious main courses of war this season; The Iron Throne was all about what happened after the battles were 'won'.
Pacing certainly wasn't an issue in the final episode, despite having so much to cover before the credits rolled. Give how momentous Daenery's action were, the opening act took the time to deal with what happened. Peter Dinklage ended the show the star of Game of Thrones once more; wandering the ruined streets, encountering the dead girl and the man stumbling through the ruins, his flesh burned, made the horror all the more palatable. But it was the scenes in the ruins of the Red Keep that cut the most; the small council chairs sat amid the rubble and the discovery of Jamie and Cersei beneath the rubble. Tyrion loved his brother dearly and when he mourned, you really felt it. Even the love for his sister, no matter how evil her actions might have been. And when he confronted Daenerys, threw down his pin, renouncing his role as her Hand, you were with him every step of the way, even if it led to his imprisonment and likely fiery death.
One of the most intriguing aspects of the finale was seeing Daenerys after she had burned the city to ash and indeed, the woman that greeted her victorious armies was a monster indeed. On the steps of the ruined red keep, her proclamations of breaking the world and liberating its people - from Winterfell to Dorne, Lannisport to Qarth - was a very real threat. She claimed to have saved the people of King's Landing but in this moment, cold and aloof, she was a tyrant. A monster. That superb shot of Drogon's wings rising behind her was a very real metaphor for the monster she had become.
The Iron Throne was an episode rich with characterisation and in both halves of the episode, we were given some of Game of Thrones's best interplays. The scene in Tyrion's jail cell as he was visited by Jon was the moment on which the whole story pivoted. Their beloved queen's true nature had won, despite their attempts to guide and support her. For Tyrion, there was grief and sadness in the fact that his dear, dead friend Varys was right ("Varys' ashes can tell my ashes, see"). Despite his attempts to try and justify Dany's actions (I'm not sure I quite liked the characters referring her to her in the same way as the show's fans), Jon could not convince Tyrion or himself.
It was the moment everyone held their breaths, torn between duty and love and the very realisation that the war was far from over. Kit Harrington and Peter Dinklage were at their finest, delivering another of the show's wonderful two-handers. "Everywhere she goes, evil men die and we cheer her for it," Tyrion surmised, acting not just as a mouthpiece for the cause, but for the audience too. We cheered when she turned on the slavers of Astapor in season three, when she rained fire on the Lannister forces at the battle of the Reach in season seven and when she decimated the Iron Fleet and Golden Company last week. Should we have been surprised at the fiery vengeance she exacted on King's Landing?
Like much of this season, what followed was a cinematic masterpiece. The show's writers David Benioff and D.B. Weiss directed the episode too and gave us a sequence as rich and powerful as the dialogue between Jon and Tyrion. Like the shot of Danerys arriving to greet her forces, the sight of Jon walking through the snowy ruins of the red keep and encountering Drogon was jaw dropping. Daenerys standing before the Iron Throne, still standing strong against the open chasm of the throne room, was a majestic call back to her visions from the House of the Undying in season two.
What was really surprising was the humility Emila Clarke brought to her final scene as she stared wide-eyed at the throne and greeted Jon. In the outcome of her fiery devastation of the city, this episode presented a vengeful tyrant, ready to bend the world to her knee. But her moment with Jon was a genuine surprise, talking softly of her childhood memories to the man she loved. And even when she made it very clear to Jon that she knows what was good over all others, you could feel that she still felt that love for him as he did for her. It made what followed all the more heart breaking. That final kiss, Jon stabbing in the heart might have been inevitable, but it was no less powerful for it. Drogon's arrival too was a real hold your breath moment; I genuinely expected him to die a fiery death, or perhaps - like Danerys - walk through the flames unscathed. Instead, Drogon melting the Iron throne into molten metal was as powerful metaphor as anyone could have wished for. And all with Ramin Djawadi's breath-taking score to mark the end of this long and tragic journey.
The time jump that followed was somewhat unexpected; would this have worked as an epilogue episode? Almost certainly, but there was no denying that the most powerful moment of the episode was the sequence that preceded it. Instead, we got something akin to a happy ending - or at least what Game of Thrones classed as a happy ending. The meeting at the dragon pit was a lovely way of brining together so many characters together for one last encore as the fate of the Westeros was decided. There had been the suggestion that the destruction of the Iron Throne might lead to some form of republic, though it never went that far. Sam's suggestion of a democracy was a great moment, sadly laughed away by everyone else who it seemed still failed to put the people first even after all that had happened. Lord Edmure Tully's attempts to speak were wonderfully shot down by Sansa, who emerged as the most powerful member of the council.
The decision to elect a king was a huge step though, breaking that cycle of 'evil sons' that had caused Westeros so much heartache. Was the decision to elect Bran the Broken as king the right one? I'm not so convinced, though I loved the idea that his stories made him more appropriate than any other. Bran's storyline, becoming the Three Eyed Raven, has always felt somewhat muddled, never really going anywhere - we expected so much from the battle of Winterfell and his war with the Night King - and probably exists as one of the biggest casualties of the final season's breakneck pace. Cersei too, though her end seemed rather fitting.
The final sequences were incredibly bittersweet and largely satisfying. Sansa breaking away and becoming 'Queen in the North' was a wonderful climax to her journey; indecently those words were the last spoken on the show. Tyrion 'forced' to become Hand of the King once more was a lovely full circle moment; sure he deserved to spend his days consuming copious amounts of wine at Casterly Rock, but this seemed more fitting. That final scene with the small council - Master of Coin Bronn, Master of Ships Davos, Grand Maester Sam and commander of the King's Guard Brienne was a funny, bittersweet final look at these characters.
As for Arya and Jon, their paths were the most open. Arya's journey really ended with her defeat of the Night King and I loved the idea of her sailing 'west of Westeros'. If that isn't worthy of a spin-off, I don't know what is. Jon's exile to the Night's Watch was another big full circle moment, but ended far more satisfactorily. Not only did he finally get that reunion with Ghost audiences were outraged at being denied a couple of weeks ago, riding beyond the Wall with Tormund and the wildlings was as fitting an end as could ever have been conceived. He was truly 'born' beyond the Wall and it was fitting that he should live his life there.
Even in this very lengthy review, there are many more moments that could be discussed but then that speaks to the richness of Game of Thrones to the very end. Season eight gave the show some of its greatest moments; it was also undeniably rushed. The argument over not doing ten-episode seasons seven and eight don't really stand. But ultimately the story that unfolded was as majestic as anything we might see on screen and it will be missed. Most importantly, it ended satisfactorily. Certainly it was going to disappoint some - audience expectations are almost insurmountably high. You could debate plot holes and unanswered questions for years, but The Iron Throne gave Game of Thrones a fitting send-off, and that's all you can really ask from a finale. The game is ended and I'm thankful for every moment of it.