There was quite some controversy about the final series 8 of Game of Thrones. Some fans of Danaerys Targaryen were upset that their hero turned villain her story arc ended in a startlingly unexpected way. Even a petition was launched by thousands of wanabee GRR Martins who thought they could write a better script. However I’m a supporter of series 8 as is – it was a good and fitting finale. In an odd way, the fact that folks protested the Dany nemesis ending – proves that it was right. How so? The clues were always there that demons lurked within the dragon queen. Her hypnotic appeal brought many characters under its spell, and many viewers. We forgave her the violent excesses because her ideology seemed so pure and righteous. And that’s exactly the point. The Dany manifesto was so compelling that millions of us were drawn in. The road to hell was paved with good intentions. Many saw a social justice warrior and were willing to allow or forgive her anything.
But not Varys, or Tyrion, or Jon Snow. And neither, in fact, Jaime Lannister. The entire series began and ended with the Jaime Lannister conundrum. He was the king-slayer, right? He suffered under that stigma, which became a bitter root that produced a corrosive cynicism in Jaime (“the things we do for love”). And yet we discover that he killed the Targaryen king only to avert destruction of Kings Landing by fire. Ironically Jaime dies when the holocaust he had prevented by his regicide is fulfilled by Dany Targaryen, and unlike Jaime, Jon Snow is too late in betraying loyalty to a monarch to avert disaster.
Series 8 episodes such as the battle with the dead at Winterfell are outstanding epics rivalling anything in Lord of the Rings. The effective use of darkness, cloud and confusion add to a bone-chilling atmosphere. The series feints at certain end scenes which never unfold (we all know that Arya is going to kill Cersei, right?), and thus escapes predictability and serves up rewarding surprises right to the end. The deaths of Cersei and Jaime, alone, consummated their mutual retreat from a world that had damaged them beyond repair. GOT is a brilliantly moving and illuminating drama poignantly illucidating the human condition: series 8 was the right ending as well as spectacular filmcraft.
The symbology of Dany was just too compelling as everything progressive politics and social justice warrior millennialism thirsts for – female empowerment, breaking of oppressive power structures. So much so that even the carbon footprint of her dragons can be forgiven. (Although my personal suspicion is that the dragons were a species that had evolved a way to harness nuclear power but that’s an aside). Outrage at the death with dishonour of such an icon is very understandable.
If Game of Thrones was anything it was realistic about messy and chaotic human lives and power politics. It soared beyond the simplistic formulae of Lord of the Rings and often broke rules, as real life also does. Things happened because they could, not because they should. The Rosetta Stone that is key to understanding everything in GOT was a simple quotation from Cersei: “In the game of thrones you win you die”.
In such a game a momentary mistake is enough to cause one to fall and lose everything. Think of Oberyn at the end of his duel with the mountain. Daenerys had won – so it seemed, with Kings Landing in ashes. But the game was not over and it’s primordial rules were still in operation. She made the mistake of making herself an obstacle in the way of what her peers wanted – an end to war and conquest and the setting up of a peaceful new order. In like manner Winston Churchill fell from power at the end of WW2 because those that followed, supported and even loved him, while they appreciated the military victory that he served up, did not share his insatiable desire for warfare seemingly for its own sake, but wanted peace. To cry for endless war when the people want peace is not a formula for political success, which requires sensing what both the people and power-brokers want, moment by moment, and not to go on fighting yesterday’s wars.
Victory and realisation of ones dreams can itself be a severe test of wisdom and character. Dany failed this test and the result was tragic – but not irrational in the context of the very dangerous game of thrones.
Yes about Arya, a number of people have commented that the Hound saved her from her nihilistic kill Bill / kill Cersei quest and set her on a more positive path. So she indeed provides a counter-example to Daenerys. The Frey’s denouement was one of GOT’s superb scenes, including the initial confusion at seeing Lord Frey talking to the assembly after he had been killed. Except it wasn’t him.
Bran the broken was a triumph of the show also. His identity and role was original and powerful in its non-violence. A refreshing departure from so many fictional heroes. Watching the Long Night episode where they battled and seemed to be losing to the Night King and white walkers, my daughter and I were both frustrated by Bran’s inactivity, just “sitting there like a potato” – we all half expected his eyes to turn white and some devastating ruin to descend on the dead legions. Yet what Bran represented was not a deus ex machina through physical force; but rather, the power of just seeing, knowing and not forgetting.
Game of Thrones is fantasy fiction, not history. So there are some rules of engagement with the reader / viewer – or at least, guidelines. And it needs to make sense, in terms of contingency, logic and – in some way – morality. In the Long Night episode I was not alone in thinking “who would be lost”. Several have commented that very few major characters were lost despite the carnage and hopeless odds they faced. The ones that did fall seemed to do so to attain final moral redemption: Theon and Jorah, for instance, both made final atonement for earlier betrayals. So they were “allowed” to die. Apart from them, it seemed to the cynical that all the other majors were still “needed” for their respective denouements – Jaime, Brianne, Jon, Daenerys, Arya, The Hound, Bran etc.
Jon Snow spent the whole Long Night battle flying round pointlessly on his dragon. It seems he couldn’t find the fire button to get it to breathe fire on white walkers. At least his dragon distracted the zombie-dragon for a while.
Returning to historical analogies, the destruction of Kings Landing is reminiscent of the sacking of Kiev in 1240 by the Mongol army of Batu. In similar fashion, envoys were first sent from the Mongol side to sue for peace. Their severed heads were thrown back over the city walls. Following this the city was besieged, bombarded by siege weapons and then attached through breached walls. Again it was after the city had surrendered that most of the population were massacred by the Mongol horsemen who would have somewhat resembled the Dothraki. Of a population of 50,000 in Kiev, only 2000 survived. This act destroyed Kievan Rus, the first Russian state which had been centered on Kiev. Over the next century Moscow would take over the role of capital of Russia whose center if gravity thus moved north.
One wonders if Westeros would follow the analogy of the sack of Kiev after the destruction of KL. The center of power would no doubt also move north, as the re-emergent Russian state coalesced around Moscow after Kiev’s demise. If not Winterfell, then a new capital would at least be in that direction – maybe centered on the house of (the deceased) Lord Frey at the bridge.
In the final cconference of kings I liked Samwell Tarly’s suggestion of universal suffrage – a first prophetic inkling of democracy perhaps. However I found in the last Iron Throne episode that scene with Dany and Jon alone to be a little bizarre. It made no sense for Dany to be alone. She is recognisable as rider the dragon that just killed most of the city population. Anyone coming across her by chance would not be friendly. Instead you would expect her only to enter the city with a large personal armed guard. It’s rather as if the USAF pilot who had just dropped the atom bomb on Hiroshima then parks his Enola Gay in a field on the city outskirts and wanders into the city unarmed to survey his handiwork.
Love, especially when unrequited, can induce irrational behaviour and thus in spite of all that has happened Dany still hopes for love from Jon. So that’s not such a big stretch. But I’m still struck by how odd it was that the two of them were alone in the throne-room. It’s almost as if Dany has a death wish and wants Jon to kill her. In any case it becomes obvious that is going to happen several moments before it does.
That Drogon does not burn Jon shows the dragon’s understanding of the situation. The dragon was nearby but did not intervene to save Dany either. He must also have known the significance of destroying the iron throne. The logical completion of his dead mother’s work.
I rewatched the final iron throne episode and noticed a curious scene with Drogon. Jon is on his way to what’s left of the hall with the iron throne where he will confront Dany for the final time. What looks like a pile of dust and rubble stirs to life as Drogon is lying under it. Drogon emerges from his dusty concealment and briefly comes face to face with Jon. The moment passes and Drogon lets Jon go on his way. Was Drogon guilty and/or depressed after what he had done at Dany’s behest? Is it possible that he felt bad about it? This is speculative of course but we know dragons are highly intelligent and far from being witless brutes. Why had Drogon covered himself with dust and rubble? I don’t think he was playing hide and seek. In the Bible (old testament) covering oneself with dust and ashes was a sign of either extreme grief, or shame and guilt, or both.
And what passed between Jon and Drogon at that brief meeting? Did Drogon even know or suspect what was about to come to pass?
I only recently realised the significance of the Iron Throne itself – it was magically charged and talismanic, analogous somewhat to the ring of power in Middle Earth. That indeed adds immensely to the finality of the end scene. There is no doubt that the IT was cursed and exerted a malign influence on those who sat on it and who craved after it. (Did you ever see the movie “Oculus”? In no other film I have seen has an inanimate object exerted such pure malevolence.) One recalls the malign effect of the slain Smaug’s treasure on Thorin Oakenshield in Tolkein’s “The Hobbit”. Drogon’s status thus climbs to that of major protagonist-hero, even though he had done evil at Dany’s behest. That’s another remarkable aspect of the whole GOT story – there were very few pure good and bad characters. Many who did evil found redemption. Others who set out to do good went on to commit appalling crimes. This is a much needed challenge to the shallow moral tract-waving self-righteousness and binary simplicity of so much contemporary film.
If dragons are capable of forging thrones as Balerion did, then that adds to evidence of high intelligence – after the type of the Tolkenian Smaug. That makes me still suspect that Drogon’s final acts were based on knowledge and reason, rather than just instinctive loyalty – although that was there too. It seemed like he wanted to kill Jon but restrained himself from so doing. Maybe Drogon possessed the depth of insight to realise that the true killer of Daenerys was not Jon, but the Iron Throne itself?
I’m intrigued by the idea of Drogon’s destruction and melting of the Iron Throne a direct “deus ex machina” from the author; however if we follow the above reasoning about Drogon and the IT, perhaps this final stroke of destroying the IT and thus the wheel, does not have to be external to the plot and the character and capability of players such as Drogon? A blast from the real Drogon rather than a bolt from the Gods or GRRM.
The author indeed sketches many final events quite lightly, leaving a lot to the viewer’s interpretation and imagination. Which is excellent film-making. It was Roman Polanski among I’m sure others who said that all films should end with unanswered questions. To much finality and one soon forgets it. Not so with GOT.