Game of Thrones Finale Review: “The Iron Throne” Sends Out the Series On, Well, a Note

Game of Thrones Finale The final episode of "Game of Thrones." (HBO)

Divisive though it (and the final season) may have been, Game of Thrones’ final episode course-corrects in some satisfying ways.

Well, here it is – eight years and 74 episodes later, the Game of Thrones finale. It’s been a wild ride, one that captured the imagination of the entire world, and dominated a huge chunk of pop culture even as its quality started to crumble in its final stretches. Certainly, much has been said (some by me) about the rushed, slapdash and downright problematic elements of the show’s final stretch. But here we are at the end: no more theories, no more fan speculation. We know how the show ends.

The result? Maddeningly frustrating, yet oddly fitting for the strangeness of the show’s recent direction. “The Iron Throne” may not be the ending Game of Thrones asked for, but it’s at least a good ending for season eight of Game of Thrones, a chapter that feels divorced from the seven seasons prior to it. For my money, the season’s finale at least gives us an interesting – if not entirely satisfying – end to that stretch of the show. As a capper to the show as a whole? Eh, it’s okay.

Most surprising, and possibly refreshing, is that the resolution of the Dany (Emilia Clarke) story went out with a whimper. It’s still not great that Dany ended up taking this rushed turn – again, I’m not mad that she ended up going Mad Queen, I just think there were more elegant ways to get us there – but at least it didn’t occupy a significant portion of the episode’s runtime. Quickly enough, Jon Snow (Kit Harington) realizes what he has to do, and gently knifes Dany in the gut after realizing just how far down the fascistic rabbit-hole she’s willing to go “because [she] know[s] what is good.” In mourning, Drogon melts down the Iron Throne – truly and comprehensively breaking the wheel in ways Dany didn’t think to do.

That was the first real surprise of the episode; for almost a decade, fans and audiences have gathered around watercoolers and Twitter accounts to debate “who’s gonna sit on the Iron Throne.” Turns out, it’s nobody. That chair, one made of the swords of the king’s enemies, was a symbol of war and conquest. The only sensible thing to do was to get rid of the damn thing. But what replaces it?

“There’s nothing in the world more powerful than a good story,” Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) says midway through the episode. It’s a statement that’s both thematically fitting for a show about lineages and legacies, and an eye-rolling bit of masturbation on the part of writer/directors David Benioff and D.B. Weiss. It’s tempting to make a jerkoff motion at the prospect of ego-inflated screenwriters writing the cosmic importance of their profession into their work, to be sure. But it at least ties in with the series’ obsession with the way we write our destinies, and the importance we place on the stories of those who came before us. (Even if it gets capped off with that stinker of a reference to A Song of Ice and Fire.)

But “Dream” is Tyrion’s story through and through – it begins with his search for his now-dead siblings in the rubble of the Red Keep, and it ends with him laying out the foundation for a new, parliamentary democracy (that just so happens to put two Starks at the heads of the two major kingdoms of the land). Tyrion’s estimation of his own intelligence (and that of others) has been more than a little skewed, especially lately – for a character prized for his cunning, he’s made one bad decision after another since he hooked up with Dany. But here, he’s humbled and laid low by it.


For almost a decade, fans and audiences have gathered around watercoolers and Twitter accounts to debate “who’s gonna sit on the Iron Throne.” Turns out, it’s nobody.

“Oblivion is the best I could hope for,” he says to Jon; after everything he’s done, all the mistakes he made, he truly deserves death. And yet, in but another intriguing twist of fate, he’s not only spared but made the Hand of the King again. In a perverse way, it’s all very Tyrion, and “Iron Throne” offers Dinklage a hell of a last hurrah, with all the arched eyebrows and big speeches an actor could possibly hope for. Regardless of the questionable turns his character has taken, Dinklage was never the problem, and at least he gets the bow he deserves.

So where does the show leave Westeros? Well, in the wake of Dany’s death, and Jon’s subsequent imprisonment, a bargain is struck through the power of Dinklage’s oratory: Bran (Isaac Hempstead-Wright), he of the thousand-yard stare and the generational memory, will become the new King by virtue of doing nothing at all (“he’s got the greatest story,” my ass – Arya’s (Maisie Williams) right there! She became a child assassin and killed the Night King!). Jon’s punted back up to the Night’s Watch as the New Lord Commander, while Sansa (Sophie Turner) officially makes the North an independent state. (For those of you keeping count, we’re down to six kingdoms now.)

It’s a series of narrative decisions that certainly come as a surprise – who had Bran on their bingo card as anything other than a joke? – and it frustratingly lets a lot of terrible people off the hook because the writers decided they were good people. Grey Worm (Jacob Anderson) wants “justice” for everything that happened to his people, and it’s tempting to relate – why does Tyrion get away with all he’s done just because he’s played by one of the show’s best actors?

Perhaps it’s being overly generous to say that “Iron Throne” serves as a perfectly okay ending for Game of Thrones. Not the great close we hoped for, not the disaster the rest of the season teed up. Given the season we’ve had, it’s a miracle that it didn’t completely crap the bed in the final inning. For a series filled with violence and dragons and rape and bloodletting, ascending a pacifistic intellectual to the throne to hopefully usher in an era of peace is at least an interesting way to cap it all off. It’s all a bit saccharine and pat, and that may change how many view the show’s long-standing depiction of statecraft as being dark and full of terrors.

As the curtain falls on this crazy, incredible, maddening show that we all paid attention to for nearly a decade, it feels like the end of an era on both sides of the TV screen. There likely won’t be a show that captures the collective pop culture consciousness like this again, one we follow week-to-week and obsess over every detail instead of binge-watching in a weekend and then forgetting.

Game of Thrones, for good or ill, meant something to a lot of people: it started careers, had babies named after its characters, snaked its way into our modern lexicon. Even if it went out with more of a whimper than a bang, it’s hard to deny its hold on our time, energy and imaginations. The show may be dead, but its impact may never die.

Random Thoughts:

  • Who did Dany’s humongous, multilayered braid? Missandei’s dead! Is Grey Worm the kind of boyfriend who’s willing to braid his queen’s hair? If so, good for him.
  • Of course Samwell Tarly (John Bradley) invents democracy, and it gets laughed out of the room. Sure, the days of Mad Kings and Queens are gone, but let’s not get too hasty.
  • As dirty as Brienne (Gwendoline Christie) was done by Jaime, at least we got that interesting scene of her rewriting his Wikipedia entry in the Who’s Who of Kingsguardians. Even in death, after loving and leaving her, she still decides to honor his story by filling it out with the deeds he’s done.
  • What is west of Westeros? I guess we’ll find out. It’ll be funny if Arya just ends up sailing to Essos and carries on her Needling adventures in the land of Dothraki and freed slaves. Maybe she’ll run into Daario!
  • No lie, I’d watch a Small Council sitcom with Tyrion, Sam, Master of Grammar Ser Davos (Liam Cunningham) and Master of Coin Bronn (Jerome Flynn).
  • Ghost got his good boy pets, all is forgiven GOT.

Game of Thrones Finale Trailer:

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