Sunday’s Game of Thrones finale, arguably the biggest moment in episodic TV this century, is over. After eight years, eight seasons and several dozens of hours, the epic-fantasy drama is behind us.
Season 8 has been controversial, and is perhaps encapsulated best by last week’s episode, The Bells. It ended many of Game of Thrones’ longest running and most important plots, including the deaths of Cersei and Jaime Lannister as well as Daenerys Targaryen’s descent into Mad Queendom.
But it also sparked a backlash, which led to more than a million fans signing a petition to have the season remade. So not only does the finale have to end one of TV’s most historic shows, it also has to jiu-jitsu bitter fans into feeling satisfied.
OK, let’s do this. For the final time, you are now watching the throne. (For the final time until the prequel, that is.)
Here’s your official warning: The full recap below features spoilers.
The Dragon and the Lion
The roughly 90-minute episode was split into two parts. The climax of part one was the death of Daenerys Targaryen at the hands of Jon Snow.
Episode 6, titled The Iron Throne, started with Tyrion and Jon walking through a destroyed King’s Landing, the streets of which were decorated by burned and bloodied bodies. They’re not stoked by what they see. They split up, with Tyrion venturing into the Red Keep dungeons, where he finds Cersei and Jaime. He crumbles with grief over the bodies of his siblings, who were killed by a different type of crumbling.
Jaime and Cersei died with surprisingly little ceremony last week, but Tyrion’s weeping gave their endings a little extra gravitas.
Jon chances upon Grey Worm and his squad of Unsullied executing Lannister soldiers. The war is won, Jon says, and there’s no reason to kill these men. Grey Worm, who now wears a permanent scowl and is extremely hateable, says he’s acting on the orders of the Queen. The two get into a testosterone-fueled confrontation before Jon decides he needs to speak to Daenerys.
Before either Tyrion or Jon can make their way to Daenerys, who’s fresh off her descent into villainy, she gives a victory speech to her forces by the steps of the Keep. Jon and Tyrion stand behind her. Somebody please cue the ominous music.
“War is not over until we liberate the world,” she announces in eastern tongue, “from Winterfell to Dorne.” That last line is Jon’s first clue that there’s something not quite right about this new Dany. She proceeds to make Grey Worm her Master of War. I cannot stress how punchable Grey Worm has become.
The crowd of Unsullied and Dothraki cheer. Tyrion approaches Daenerys, and she accuses him of freeing Jaime.
“I freed my brother and you slaughtered a city,” he replies. He takes off his Hand of the King badge and throws it to the ground. You may recall the first “take off my badge and throw it away” move was pulled by Ned Stark in season 1, protesting King Robert’s demand that an innocent Daenerys, then in Essos with no army nor dragons, be killed. Daenerys, who used her army and dragon to pillage the city, demands he be taken away. Circles man, it’s all about the circles.
Jon goes to see him. (This is an insular, linear episode, with one scene following the story of the previous one, which is strange for Game of Thrones.) Jon, who is now absolutely incapable of reading a person, is still on Team Daenerys. Her best friend and her dragon both got killed, he says. How could she not be a little fiery?
“You love her,” Tyrion says. “I love her too… not as successfully as you.” I guess that explains that scene in season 7 when Tyrion looks on with tremendous thirst as Jon enters Daenerys’ cabin. (That’s not a gross euphemism, they were on a ship!)
Game of Thrones season 8 finale: Our watch has ended
“Love is the death of duty,” Jon says, a callback to his great-great uncle, Maester Aemon, who said that to him in season 1 after Jon’s not father, Ned Stark, was executed. “Sometimes duty is the death of love,” Tyrion retorts. “You are the shield who guards the realms of man.”
Tyrion is asking Jon to kill Daenerys, but Jon won’t have it. Tyrion asks what Daenerys will do to Jon, the rightful heir to the throne, and his sisters, who know he’s the rightful heir. Sansa will never bend the knee, he warns. “She doesn’t get to choose,” Jon says.
“No, but you do,” Tyrion exclaims, “and you have to choose now.”
People love talking smack about Game of Thrones, but this was an A+ scene. HBO, if you end up remaking the season, please leave this scene in.
Jon walks over to the Red Keep to see Daenerys. Drogon is standing guard. Drogon eyes down Jon, but decides he’s cool. Daenerys, in a scene almost identical to her Qarth vision in season 2, surveys the Red Keep. She grabs hold of one of the Iron Throne’s swords. Jon approaches.
Jon pleads with her to pardon Tyrion. She says she can’t. “We can’t hide behind small mercies,” she says. This is a different Dany from last episode; she’s assured of her actions, but not in a crazy way. Jon says they’re trying to build a world of mercy. Trust me, Daenerys reckons, she knows what is good. They embrace. She tells him they’ll break the wheel together.
“You are my queen, now and forever,” he whispers solemnly. They kiss — and Jon stabs her. With a dagger. To her heart. Which she needed to live.
This was actually a deeply affecting scene. Though she refused to free Tyrion, Daenerys showed off her warmer side as she tried to bask in victory alongside Jon. This made her petrified rictus of betrayal all the more poignant. Jon, crying, lays her down. Our last vision of Daenerys is the grieving look she gives her most trusted ally.
Daenerys’ death roused more than my feeble emotions, as it also awoke Drogon. He flies into the Keep, surveys the scene and gets his dragonbreath ready. Jon prepares for his second death, but Drogon doesn’t burn him. Instead he melts the Iron Throne. Drogon picks Daenerys up with his claws and flees.
Brandon the Broken
The second part of the episode was essentially epilogue, and takes place weeks after Daenerys’ death.
It begins with Grey Worm leading Tyrion to King’s Landing’s Dragonpit, where Jon and Co. brought the White Walker to Cersei in season 7. There we see a gathering of Westeros’ great lords: Bran, Arya and Sansa Stark are all there. Samwell Tarly is there. Robin Arryn and Yohn Royce of the Vale are there. Ser Davos Seaworth and Ser Brienne too.
We even reunite with Ser Edmure Tully, (Catelyn Stark’s brother) who was taken hostage and used as a Lannister pawn after his infamously crimson wedding ceremony back season 3. All the faces you know and love.
Sansa asks where Jon is. Grey Worm says Jon must pay for his crimes, and he’s pretty keen to execute Tyrion as well. What happens to Jon and Tyrion is up to the King or Queen, they decide, but there is no King or Queen.
Welp, all of Westeros’ lords are here, so Tyrion asks why they don’t just talk among themselves and pick a ruler? The supremely mediocre Edmure stands and starts listing his credentials, but his niece Sansa tells him to sit down. Sansa is great, and in a just world would be the one to hop, hop, hop onto the throne. Samwell suggests the people of Westeros vote, but he’s quickly laughed out of the discussion.
What unites people? Tyrion poses that question to the bunch. Yeah, armies, gold and flags are cool, but have you tried stories? As he soliloquizes about tales and common folk or whatever, the camera pans around the group. You can bet whoever it stops on will be the new Lord of the Seven Kingdoms. (I had my fingers crossed for Sansa who, as mentioned, is great.)
Who has a better story, Tyrion asks, than Bran Stark?
Bran was pushed out of the top story of a tower and lived. He was paralyzed, but learned to fly. He went beyond the wall and became the Three Eyed Raven. Now, he knows all the stories of man. He’s perfect.
Tyrion asks Bran to consider it. “Why do you think I came all this way?” Bran says with all the warmth and excitement we’ve come to love him for. The Lords and Ladies all vote for Bran Stark — except for Sansa. She loves him, but the North will remain an independent Kingdom, she proclaims. No Stark knees will be bent today. Bran agrees, making his first act as ruler one of naked nepotism.
It’s agreed. Bran Stark is now Brandon the Broken, Lord of the Six Kingdoms and Protector of the Realm.
I watched this episode with five people and it was around this time that I heard all of their hearts breaking in quick succession. It was a symphony of cardiovascular failure. I don’t imagine this will go over well with the “remake this season” crowd, but hey, we’ve had worse Kings.
Bran can have no children, and so his Rule cannot be passed down. Tyrion tells Grey Worm that this is the wheel-breaker that their Queen would have wanted.
Bran’s second order of business is to make Tyrion his Hand. Tyrion says he doesn’t deserve it, that he’s not as wise as he thought he was. (Nice to hear him admit this, because he sure has been a chump this whole season.) Bran says Tyrion doesn’t want to be Hand, but he doesn’t want to be King, so it’s a perfect combination. Grey Worm is furious and demands justice.
“He just got it,” Bran decrees. “He’s made many terrible mistakes. He’s going to spend the rest of his life fixing them.”
A Dream of Spring
After the scene in which Bran the Broken is anointed, Tyrion, now the Hand, goes to see Jon, now the prisoner. I couldn’t help but think their dialogue was directed at the audience as much as it was to progress the story.
Jon learns that he’s being sent to The Wall to take the black. In the absence of Wildlings and White Walkers, the Night’s Watch is now a home for “bastards and broken men.” The Unsullied wanted him dead, while Arya and Sansa wanted him to walk free.
“No one is very happy, which means it’s a good compromise I suppose,” Tyrion says. This line reminded me of Inglorious Basterds, which ends with Quentin Tarantino, through Brad Pitt’s character, telling the audience: “This might be my masterpiece.” The next exchange between Tyrion and Jon struck me as showrunners D.B Weiss and David Benioff talking directly to their audience, elements of which have become hostile to them..
Jon: “Was it right? What I did?”
Tyrion: “What we did.”
Jon: “It didn’t feel right.”
Tyrion: “Ask me in 10 years.”
From here the remainder of the episode was like an extended credits scene where we got to see the characters’ happily-ever-after moments.
Jon says his farewells to the Starks. He tells Sansa that the people of Winterfell could have no better ruler than Ned Stark’s daughter. He tells Arya to visit him at the Wall. She says she won’t — because she’s sailing “west of Westeros,” where the Known World ends. Jon apologizes to Bran for not being there for him in his time of need. “You were exactly where you were supposed to be,” Bran says. Classic Bran.
We then see Ser Brienne reading The Book of Brothers, in which the deeds of the great Kingsguard knights are recorded. Jaime was thoroughly owned by Joffrey back in season 4 for his sparse entry in the book, but Ser Brienne sees to it that Jaime’s deeds were known. She records his exploits over the years, and ends it with: “Died protecting his Queen.”
Next up is a small council meeting, headed by Tyrion. It starts with Grand Maester Samwell presenting Tyrion with a tome, a written history of The Great War and The Last War. The name of this tome? A Song of Fire and Ice. Bronn, who just two episodes ago had threatened Tyrion with death, is now Master of Coin. Ser Davos is Master of Ships. They, along with Ser Brienne and Ser Podrick, talk about rebuilding the city and quarrel over whether they should prioritize ships or brothels. Maybe we don’t deserve peace after all.
The show closes as we follow the Stark kids to their new adventures.
Sansa adorns her mother’s colors and wears the crown of Winterfell as a crowd dubs her the Queen of the North. Arya sets sail to the west of Westeros in a Direwolf-branded ship.
Jon is greeted by Tormund Giantsbane at the wall and, putting to rest one of the darkest storylines in TV history, is reunited with Ghost. This is not a drill: Jon is here to murder his Queen and pat his wolf — and he’s all out of Queens to murder.
The first scene of Game of Thrones saw brothers of the Night’s Watch venturing north of the wall, where they were murdered by White Walkers. The last ever shot of Game of Thrones was Jon, along with a squad of wildlings, riding north of Castle Black into those same woods.
Were you satisfied by the conclusion? If not, don’t fret. George RR Martin should have the final books completed in the next two or three… decades.
Originally published May 19.