As stories head towards their conclusion, amid the heightened pace and plot twists, it’s important to consider the overall messages the authors are conveying to their audience. The central themes that are relayed through different moments and dialogues throughout the story are how the writers communicate to their audience the lessons that should be gleaned from the narrative. True Detective gave us “time is a flat circle” saying that we’re all doomed to repeat our mistakes if we don’t learn from them. Harry Potter spoke of the importance of love and the power of choice. Before last night’s series finale, it was unclear what that message would be, considering the major plot lines that still needed to be closed. What would happen with Daenerys the Tyrant? Who would eventually sit on the Iron Throne and become ruler of the Seven Realms? Or would there even be a throne left when it was all said and done; would the Wheel finally be broken?
The series finale, The Iron Throne, answered those questions as effectively as they could given the wonky foundation that it was built on in the form of previous episodes. In the past, I have touched on how this is a story that focuses on “cripples, bastards and broken things”, a quote given by Tyrion Lannister in episode 4 of the same season, which has the same title. There are several times in stories when the author projects their message through a character/avatar. And when looking at the “Bran the Broken” (what a horrible name lol) and the odd collection that is his High Council, it mostly fits. Tyrion Lannister, Hand of the King, the dwarf that was hated and unwanted by his father. Samwell Tarly, Grand Maester, denied his inheritance by his father because he wasn’t “manly enough” to carry the House name. Ser Brienne of Tarth, Lord Commander of the King’s Watch, seen as unfit to be a warrior because she was a woman, yet she was never perceived as a lady. Ser Davos Seaworth, Master of Ships, a low-born smuggler with half his fingers. And finally, Ser Bronn of the Blackwater, Master of Coin (AND LORD OF HIGH GARDEN??? WHAT?!), a sellsword who Tyrion once referred to as “lowborn scum”. All characters who made their way in a world that wasn’t kind to them because of their heritage, appearances or disabilities, yet here they are making decisions that will (hopefully), benefit the realms.
And the story doesn’t stop there. As the episode continued, we looked at the rest of the Stark children. In the earlier seasons, a lot was discussed about the history of the world and how the sins of the fathers were inherited by their children. None of them chose to fight the war, but were forced to, either through duty or because they had no other choice left. It’s fitting to see them in their respective roles as their journey continues past the show’s ending. Arya, the lone assassin, who lost herself in her journey, travels west into uncharted territory as the warrior-princess she dreamed of being. Sansa, after years of being abused physically and psychologically by those who would use her to gain power, established herself as Queen of her region and her people as independents in the North. Jon, betrayer/murderer of his Queen/Aunt, gets exiled back to the Night’s Watch (as its sole member?) but gets to head beyond the Wall with Tormund and the rest of the Wildlings. Free from the rules and duty of the realm that forced him into the life that he lived over the series. Now he can finally take better care of his Direwolf.
However, the idea that I believe is of utmost importance, is that of power, responsibility and who deserves to wield it and take on it.
“It’s a curious thing but perhaps those who are best suited to power are those who have never sought it.” – Albus Dumbledore (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows).
This was an idea that permeated all seven books of the Harry Potter story and all seasons of Game of Thrones as well. Time and time again, Jon served as the avatar of this theme, not believing himself to be worthy of leadership, yet he got promoted at every turn. In contrast to this, we watched Daenerys Targaryen achieve new titles in her quest to take back what she believed was stolen from her and her family. And with each conquest, her feeling that it was her “destiny” to rule the known world grew stronger. Over the course of the last two episodes, the idea that she was coming as a “liberator” grew hazy, especially after the actions she took in her capture of King’s Landing. Those who seek power would never be able to claim it in this world, as seen in the fact that she never even got to literally sit on the Iron Throne. And it’s a symbol that’s reinforced when Drogon burns and melts the chair down to nothing.
Which brings us back to Bran the Broken (lol). Bran who was the audience’s avatar to the fantasy elements of the show. Bran, whose plot (past Martin’s books) is the biggest indictment against Benioff and Weiss over the course of the series. Bran who didn’t want to be Lord of Winterfell. Bran, who only spoke of being the Three-Eyed Raven. Bran, who doesn’t even want to be Bran anymore but is the ideal character out of all those remaining to rule from a position of power. It works, despite the obvious problems D&D had with trying to sort out his character’s arc.
All that being said, we would be remiss if we didn’t appreciate the journey that this show took us on. I’m curious to see how the show will be remembered in 10 years. As of now, I’m deciding to look at it as two different shows that were very different. There was the adaptation of A Song of Ice and Fire that took place from Seasons 1-6, and there’s the glorified fan-fiction that was Seasons 7 and 8. The show was dealing with impossible odds, considering that we’ve never seen an adaptation of this scale be produced when the source material wasn’t even finished yet. While the show runners still deserve criticism for some of their artistic choices, their team should still receive applause for the grueling task of producing this show, with so many moving parts across three different countries. That this could be executed is unprecedented and its impact on the culture should not be lessened even though the ending left its fans wanting for more.
And I understand the criticisms. With the way the last two seasons relied on shock and awe, it’s safe to say that maybe the story we followed might not have been as intricate as we believed when it was in high gear in the past. So I understand the sense of betrayal, coming into a final season that had been built up to have an intense, complicated finish but was ultimately your run-of-the-mill ending. That should not take away from what we experienced though. Even in this last season alone, what they were able to accomplish on a technical, production scale in The Long Night and The Bells will resonate throughout culture for years to come. When we consider the plot, it might not be in the pantheon of greats like The Sopranos, Breaking Bad or The Wire, it will forever have its status as a unique television experience. Probably the last show we ever get that was able to draw people in for appointment-viewing television with the numbers it did. And the finale reasserts that accomplishment.