Sunday, May 19, 2019

REVIEW: 'Game of Thrones' - The Rulers of Westeros Decide Who Will Wield the Ultimate Power in 'The Iron Throne'

HBO's Game of Thrones - Episode 8.06 "The Iron Throne"

The fate of the Seven Kingdoms is at stake as the final chapter of Game of Thrones is written.

In 2018, there were 495 scripted shows airing amongst the linear channels and streaming services. The way people are consuming content now is so different than it used to be. It happens according to one's own schedule. As such, there is less necessity to provide ample coverage of each specific episode in any given season from a show. Moreover, it is simply impossible to watch everything. As such, this site is making the move to shorter episodic reviews in order to cover as many shows as possible. With all of that being said, here are my thoughts on the series finale of HBO's Game of Thrones.

"The Iron Throne" was written by David Benioff & D.B. Weiss and directed by David Benioff & D.B. Weiss

It was acutely pointed out that the action never cut back to Daenerys after she made the brutal decision to burn King's Landing down to the ground. In doing so, she allowed her troops on the ground to act at their most immoral. As such, the series finale had the pressure of better explaining Daenerys' mindset when it came to making that decision. At the time, it felt like the show making a choice in order to stun and shock the audience. And yes, the series has always highlighted Daenerys' murderous and immoral tendencies. She has burned plenty of people alive. She has been callous towards death just like she isn't phased about loving Jon despite him also being her nephew. She has never had the diplomacy skills to actually lead. All of the work was there to make that moment land. It didn't in the previous hour. That meant this series finale had its work cut out for itself in defining who Daenerys has become and what consequences she will face because of deciding to kill a million innocent people to take the Iron Throne. Plus, the pressure was certainly on Jon and Tyrion to reckon with their continuous support of her despite warnings from their friends and loved ones. And now, the show ends with a somewhat whimper because it goes all in on this just being who Daenerys has always been while Tyrion and Jon remain incredibly conflicted. It's completely lame that Jon and Tyrion are wrestling with the aftermath of this destruction and trying to justify it long before Daenerys is actually seen. In fact, it's crazy just how much this finale allows other people to tell her story. Sure, she has absolutely become a tyrant who doesn't see the pain her actions have caused. She views herself as the ruler who freed the people of King's Landing just like she has done in so many places around the world. She sees herself as the arbiter of what's good. She understands that her actions are universally good. And yet, she never is actually on the ground to see the carnage and despair in the city. Her soldiers are killing the prisoners who dropped their weapons because they understood that Cersei couldn't stop a dragon anymore. Tyrion is the one who gets confirmation that Jaime and Cersei really did die. They didn't escape from the collapsing city. Of course, this finale is also incredibly scattered when it comes to how much of King's Landing was destroyed. It takes several blasts from a dragon in order to actually destroy the Iron Throne. That may be what all of this has been building towards as well. The story was fundamentally about the people uprising because the current system of rulers was no longer working to the benefit of everyone. However, the action itself is mostly one of reaction. This is how a dragon copes with the death of its mother. In that moment, it could have chosen to kill the man who murdered her as well. That would have absolutely been a fitting ending for Jon. He is conflicted throughout this entire journey. That's just so infuriating and outrageous. He has morals one moment in understanding how heinous all of this was but he remains loyal to Daenerys until that fateful moment he plunges his dagger into her. That is the big moment of this finale. Daenerys wants to continue conquering the world. She has Tyrion imprisoned for his treason. Jon tries to get some sense of what she has done. He then decides to kill her when she's at her most vulnerable. He loves her but understands the threat she poses to the realm. Conceptually, it's a perfectly fine moment. One that understands the complexity of these relationships. And yet, so much of it ultimately depends on how much the audience is still emotionally connected to these characters and their final outcomes.

If one way of ruling had to be demolished by the end of the series, then the finale also had the duty to explain what the new system of rulers would be like. It's basically very similar to the way that things have always been done. So many great houses have fallen over the course of this series. Following Daenerys' death though, it presents as the realm having had the time to rebuild enough in order to function as a civilized society once more. It's disorienting because it plays as everyone still just blindly following the rules they have long accepted for Westeros. Sam is laughed at for even suggesting that having a vote amongst all of the people should be how the next ruler is decided. The lords and ladies making these decisions care for their people but don't see them as having the strength and wisdom to make an informed choice like that. As such, it's ultimately up to the people assembled to decide. Of course, all of this is framed as Tyrion basically just explaining to them how the world should work. The line of succession will be destroyed. Instead, the lords and ladies will gather to decide on the next ruler after the previous one has died. But more importantly, the show has to give an answer as to who rules over Westeros at the conclusion of the series. Tyrion says that it should be the person with the best story to tell. That way the people can actually grapple with the realities of this ever-changing world. But the debate should certainly be had about who actually has the most compelling story. Tyrion suggests that it is Bran simply because he is the Three-Eyed Raven and can see literally everything. That just proves that he has more knowledge than anyone else and has collected the most stories throughout the world. It's just a little lame for the show to have always said that Bran never wanted to be a ruler only for him to change his mind the moment that Tyrion suggests it. Tyrion bonded with him simply because he wanted to hear Bran's story before the Battle of Winterfell. That was apparently enough. It means Westeros has a functional government once more. It's just odd to see who then becomes a power player in that world. Tyrion once again finds himself as the Hand of the King. He maintains that power despite backing Daenerys until she slaughtered a million people. His imprisonment appears to be enough to satisfy any concerns that he doesn't pay for his past actions. He loses everyone he cares about as well. But he still informs the world on exactly what's going to happen next. But it's also just silly that Sam reveals a book titled "A Song of Ice and Fire" while Bronn is Master of Coin. Moreover, Bran is much more interested in trying to find where the dragon flew off to than actually dealing with the realities of earning the people's trust and rebuilding the city. As such, he too may be seen as an ineffective ruler. But it at least brings a sense of normalcy back to the kingdom after so many years of death and despair.

And then, there is the actual fate of Jon Snow. He seems to be condemned to a life with the Night's Watch no matter what. That was his purpose in life when he was a bastard with no claim to anything. And it appeared to be his purpose in life when he was the rightful heir to the throne and everything in this world. That is ironic and tragic. It proves that Jon was always where he was suppose to be despite the secrecy of his true lineage. He never sought out power. He didn't want to be a ruler. He was forced into making a crucial decision about the fate of the world. And then, he is judged for it. This is the compromise the new rulers of the world make. Sure, it's odd that the Night's Watch still exists. There is no real reason for it to. It basically just explains that the seven kingdoms still treat the wildlings and those beyond the wall as mysterious outsiders who don't really belong in their society. That's certainly an odd position to take considering the show has really built up that society as a culture that should be valued just as much as all the other places on the continent. But again, this is a show that doesn't understand the horror of the optics that come from Daenerys and her army of Unsullied and Dothraki speaking in a foreign language and seemingly killing people who don't look like they do. The racial politics of this show have always been appalling. That continues to be the case in this finale. Instead of actually dealing with those concerns though, Grey Worm just leads the Unsullied to the Island of Naath so that he can see the future he could have had with Missandei. That may be where these soldiers belong because it's one of the places where they could have been taken as babies. However, the citizens of Naath will probably be terrified as well because these men act as soldiers and literally have no identity beyond that. Grey Worm understands that Jon must suffer for killing their queen. But his follow through isn't all that exciting or engaging either. It mostly just proves how the various characters return to their disparate corners of this world. Jon is condemned to a life beyond the wall but reunites with Tormund and Ghost. Brienne writes in the final entries of Jaime's story as a knight. That moment is a little frustrating because it appears her entire story this season was about him and his needs. It would have been just as powerful to see her start her own entry in that book instead of knowing once again that Jaime proudly stood by his queen. And finally, Sansa stands strong in the North's independence and is crowned Queen herself. That is a powerful image because she already commends so much respect. That's what always made her a contender for the throne and potential ruler of the realm. Instead, her brother takes that title while she continues to lord over the place she has called home for awhile now. Meanwhile, Arya is off to explore parts unknown. Despite the existence of dragons and so many cultures, this world is still small. She wants to see what else is out there after learning so much from her travels. But that also appears to be the grand lesson the show took from her character arc across the series. She went from place to place never quite finding a place to land despite having major and loving relationships while picking up new skills along the way. It's nice to see some of these happy endings. And yet, the overall feeling of this finale is mostly just meh.