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Review: “Game of Thrones” Series Finale Shocks, Impresses With Profoundly Sad, Immensely Satisfying Ending

Major spoilers follow. Seriously. You’ve been warned.

The final episode of “Game of Thrones” begins how it should: in silence. It’s a thoughtful silence, one that both reflects—and objects—on behalf of the surviving characters. Last episode focused on the destruction of King’s Landing and the arc-wrapping demises of several major players. This episode explores the aftermath and subsequent fallout, ending the series in a way that solidifies it as a tragedy of the highest, most heartbreaking caliber. This season has been largely lackluster, but this episode is special. It had so much working against it, and yet it triumphs. It satisfies because it takes a quieter, more heartfelt approach and honors what the show has always been: an inspection of humanity. Things don’t end the way we want them to end. And that’s absolutely fine. When has the show ever been about pleasing everybody?

Image courtesy of HBO

Daenerys has conquered King’s Landing, which is a problem for everyone except her. She has become what she hated most. Tyrion and Jon discuss the consequences privately. It’s quiet chaos, the kind that isn’t calmed without consequences. But damn is it spectacular to behold.

Showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss laid groundwork, but not where they should have. Daenerys became what she is now with hints dropped here and there, but never with a true justification for her snapping. It was frustrating to see her actions and realize how few reasons she had to go from zero to massacre within the course of an episode. So that’s problematic.

“Game of Thrones” has always been about doling out both tragedy and triumph in equal measure, about the complexity of the human condition and how people could act in extreme circumstances. And that’s what the entire series has been. Like most dramas, it’s a series of extreme circumstances and consequences. It was never about the Iron Throne. It was about the characters, how they reached (or didn’t reach) their personal goals, and how much of their humanity they lost or gained along the way. For the most part, this series capper accomplishes its goal with aplomb.

The bittersweet nature of the ending is perhaps the greatest tragedy of all, but it works because it falls in line with the weighty realism George R. R. Martin imbued into his stories. It’s also what he’s been promising for years. In so many ways, the finale is perfect because it sticks to its themes (such as the one saying that doing the “right” thing can have huge consequences) and doesn’t busy itself with pleasing people. Many of the resolutions make sense because the more static characters—such as Jon Snow—make decisions they would’ve made in the first episode of the series. As a result, he is, once again, condemned to a life in the Night’s Watch. Tyrion is once again the Hand because damn can he talk his way into and out of anything. Sure, these are extreme examples presented with little subtlety, but Martin’s methods of conveying themes have become a bit more heavy-handed as the series has progressed. 

But then there’s some great writing here, too. Drogon melting the Iron Throne symbolized its relative smallness in a beautiful way. And yes, the final half-hour of the episode is spent deliberating about who should rule, but that’s just cheap closure. The real resolution lies in the fates of the characters. And each character ending makes sense. More or less.

As a whole, the season failed because it rushed to its conclusion without much regard for that reason and attention to detail that helped characterize earlier seasons. But this episode almost makes up for it by slowing down, implementing better writing (with Peter Dinklage’s monologue serving as a perfect example of this), showcasing better, more impactful cinematography, and including symbolism that admittedly feels superfluous at times.

Ultimately, though, “Game of Thrones” ends an eight-year run in fine style. This season has been rough, but it’s comforting to see that Benioff and Weiss pulled out all the stops for the send-off.

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