it wasn’t bad

It wasn’t bad, the final episode of Game of Thrones. It was, as always, beautifully filmed; there were some wonderful, genuinely touching emotional moments and it provided a sort of emotional closure for most of the major characters. I can’t say enough about the acting of Peter Dinklage, particularly in the second most critical scene in the episode, and especially because that entire scene made no sense whatsoever.

It wasn’t bad. But let’s remember what Cersei told Eddard Stark in Season One:

“When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die. There is no middle ground.”

It wasn’t bad, the final episode. But it tried for the middle ground. It didn’t try to win; it tried not to lose. It tried to be safe. And the result was — not bad. The result was insipid.

It wasn’t bad, but the behavior of the characters lacked internal consistency. They behaved in ways that contradicted seven earlier seasons. Let’s start with the scene I mentioned a moment ago, in which Tyrion, shackled and unkempt, addresses ‘the most powerful people in Westeros’. Remember, he was imprisoned for betraying his queen and was only spared immediate execution because she was assassinated.

Why was Tyrion addressing anybody at all? The context of the scene suggests they ordered Grey Worm to bring both Tyrion and Jon Snow to appear before those powerful people, but why was Grey Worm following their orders at all? Why did Grey Worm even allow those powerful people into what was left of the city, when they were, for all intents and purposes, beseiging the city? It makes no sense. It was clear Daenerys wanted Tyrion executed — why didn’t Grey Worm just execute him? And why, when Tyrion tells those people they should choose a king or queen, did Grey Worm support that decision? The entire scene makes no sense whatsoever.

Condemned Prisoner Decides Future of Westeros.

Tyrion tells the assembly, “There’s nothing in the world more powerful than a good story.” He then says, “Who has a better story than Bran the Broken?” It’s a good line, and Dinklage delivers it beautifully. But it makes no sense. It’s not just that Bran’s story isn’t as powerful as Arya’s story, or Sansa’s, or even Sam Tarly’s story. It’s that Bran’s story isn’t even Bran’s story. He was just there for it. Bran’s story is the story of Hodor, and Osha the wildling, and Jojen Reed and his sister Meera. Bran’s story is the story of all the people who helped him escape and kept him alive. It wasn’t his fault, but Bran was just a passive passenger in his story. To say his is the best story makes no sense.

And let’s not forget that when Bran became the Three-Eyed Raven, he apparently became at least semi-omniscient. He knows what has happened and, it seems, what will happen. He doesn’t try to influence events. Or maybe he can’t influence them; we don’t know. But it means he knew thousands would be slaughtered at Winterfell, and tens of thousands would be slaughtered in King’s Landing. He knew all those folks would suffer and die in order to create a situation in which he would be named King of the Seven Kingdoms. He knew all that and said nothing to minimize the slaughter. And despite that, none of those powerful people had a problem with him as king. It makes no sense whatsoever.

In his speech, Tyrion states, “From now on rulers will not be born, they will be chosen on this spot by the lords and ladies of Westeros to serve the realm.” Why is Tyrion, a condemned man, deciding by himself how the future rulers of Westeros will be chosen? He asks Bran, “If we choose you, will you wear the crown?” If WE choose you? Why does Tyrion have a voice in the decision? Yes, he’s presumably the head of what’s left of House Lannister, but he’s also a condemned prisoner. He not only murdered his father (and his lover, but women characters have been pretty expendable in this show), he’s betrayed two queens–his sister and Dany. These are not commendable qualities. It makes no sense whatsoever for ‘the most powerful people in Westeros’ to let him make such important decisions. The entire scene makes no sense.

Survived Joffrey, Survived Cersei, Survived Littlefinger, Survived Ramsey, Got Her Crown.

It’s not just that scene, though. Throughout the episode, several primary characters behave in ways that simply aren’t internally consistent with their character development to that point. Consider Ser Brienne (whose story is more powerful than Bran’s, by the way). The one defining characteristic of Brienne is her rigid adherence to a code of knightly honor and duty. She swore fealty to Sansa (“I will shield your back and keep your counsel, and give my life for yours if need be. I swear it by the old gods and the new.”) and Sansa accepted it. But Brienne abandons her duty to Sansa and becomes King’s Guard to Bran. It makes no sense.

Sam Tarly (whose story is also more powerful than Bran’s) only wanted to read books and learn stuff. As a member of the Night Watch he was sent to Oldtown to become a maester, but absconded from the Citadel with some stolen books. Why? To travel (with Gilly and a baby) all the way back north to Castle Black in order to inform Jon Snow that he was actually the true heir to the Iron Throne. Sam also insisted Jon tell Dany who he really was. But despite his friendship with Jon Snow, despite the fact that his insistence that Jon reveal his rightful place on the throne, despite all that, in the last episode Samwell suddenly decides NOT to stand up for Jon as the rightful King of the Seven Kingdoms? And, in fact, is the very first to cast his support for Bran as King? It makes no sense.

Bronn (another story more powerful than Bran’s) is a low-born, whore-mongering, duplicitous sell-sword who openly supports whoever will pay him the most. He’s given Highgarden (for betraying Cersei by not assassinating Tyrion and Jaime), the castle once belonging to House Tyrell. Okay, that makes some sense in the context of the show. But in the last episode he’s also made Master of Coin and given a seat on the Small Council? No, that makes no sense whatsoever.

Daenerys. Throughout the show, she’s been a wonderfully complex, multi-faceted character. At times utterly pragmatic, at times compassionate, always driven, always concerned about the less powerful. Until the final episode, when she inexplicably turned into a Harlequin romance character. She’d just spent a few hours riding her dragon, immolating tens of thousands of people — which I suspect is hot, dirty work. But somehow she appears relaxed, clean, her hair perfect (who dresses her and does her hair post-massacre?). The fierce woman who’d always tried to protect ordinary folks is suddenly channeling Cersei Lannister: the ordinary people don’t get to choose what’s good for them. You can make an argument that Dany deliberately chose to slaughter an entire city in order to convince the rest of the realm to stand down. That would be horrible, but internally consistent to the character. We saw her do something like that when she crucified the Masters of Meereen. But in this final episode, she decides the little people of the world shouldn’t have a choice in their lives? It makes no sense whatsoever.

A Girl Has a Ship and Heads West.

Jon Snow, born to brood. Loved two women and a dire wolf; betrayed both women for the sake of his personal notions of duty and honor. He was the most consistently inconsistent character. I was okay with that, because he seemed completely unaware he was being hypocritical. He encouraged Mance Rayder to bend the knee to Stannis, saying the survival of the wildlings was more important than his pride. But he himself refused to bend the knee to Stannis because of his duty to the Night Watch. He also refused to bend the knee to Dany — until Cersei said she’d only support the war against the Dead if Jon Snow, as King of the North, agreed not to choose sides. Then he bent the knee to Daenerys, at the worst possible time, because of his own notions of duty and honor. His inconsistency is annoying, but completely in character.

The same is true of the other remaining Starks — Sansa and Arya. Sansa stands up for the North and demands it be an independent kingdom, and Bran agrees (an immediate display of royal nepotism that doesn’t seem to bother any of the others). Arya sets off to go someplace nobody has gone before. Those were wonderful story arcs, and they remained wonderfully consistent and in character.

Betrays Two Women, Gets Re-united with His Direwolf.

Most folks, I suspect, aren’t going to care if the final episode made sense or not. They’ll mostly either hate the ending because it wasn’t what they wanted, or they’ll love it because it was predictably bittersweet. Sure, Dany gets murdered by the man she loves and trusts, but it’s presented in a way that’s supposed to make us feel sad for poor Jon Snow.

But the Iron Throne got melted, and that was nice. Tyrion is Hand of the King for the third time, which is nice. Sam gets the maester gig at King’s Landing, also nice. Brienne gets to write Jaime’s name in a logbook and fudge his record so it doesn’t reflect how reliably awful he was, and that’s nice. Bronn can afford the best brothels, nice for him. Jon is reunited with his direwolf, very nice. And, of course, Sansa and Arya get to fulfill their dreams, which is exceedingly nice. So it’s not an unhappy ending. And did you notice, as Jon is leading the wildlings back north of the wall — a blade of grass growing through the snow. Winter, it seems, is over.

It wasn’t bad, the final episode. But it could have been much much better. And as insipid as it was, the final episode can’t diminish what was a powerful and compelling television series.

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1 thought on “it wasn’t bad

  1. You are a much kinder man than I, Greg. For all the reasons you mentioned this episode was bad, very bad. The little charms (laughing away democracy) and powerful moments (the killing scene) did nothing to mask the clumsy wrap-up that, as you describe, just makes no sense. No, I disagree. This was bad. I agree that it does not erase the great seasons that led to this ending, but neither do those brilliant entries erase the failure of the final shot.

    “It didn’t try to win; it tried not to lose.”

    Very true. They should have gone for the win. As happens so often in these cases, playing it safe often results in a loss nonetheless. In this case, it most certainly did.

    Like

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