Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) standS looking over her army and a kingdom IN ruin. PHOTO COURTESY OF WARNER MEDIA KIT
Colin Vanden Berg
Note: The following contains spoilers for “Game of Thrones” Season Eight
HBO Max recently premiered their new “Game of Thrones” spinoff series “House of the Dragon,” and it’s unknown how excited fans of the popular fantasy series are for this new incarnation. “House of the Dragon” is about the Targaryen Civil War hundreds of years before the start of “Game of Thrones;” an event that seemed more interesting before Daenarys Targaryen went power-mad in the “Game of Thrones” series finale and failed to redeem her noble family’s legacy.
Daenerys’s fall from grace wasn’t the only aspect of the much-maligned series finale that upset casual and hardcore fans, and I understand most of their criticisms. However, I liked the ending overall, and I feel that a proper sense of closure is just what many “Game of Thrones” fans many need to get excited for “House of the Dragon.”
The most common complaint for the show’s final season is that the events were rushed. I absolutely agree that Daenarys’s turn and Bran’s ascent to the throne needed more time to develop to seem completely earned. Reports swirled that HBO was willing to grant more episodes to the final season, but the creators thought they only needed six. They were wrong. Every other season had either seven or ten episodes, which gave enough time to establish the character motivations and made the payoffs more satisfying. The shortened season lacked the necessary plot and character setup to deliver start to finish.
Also, Circe’s and Jaime’s deaths were rightfully pointed out as anticlimactic. Their deaths came off as just checking boxes; Circe’s killer had to be either Jaime, Arya, Sansa, and Daenarys, and Jaime was prophesied to die in the arms of either Circe or Brianne (i.e. “the woman he loves”). Both scenarios were technically fulfilled, as Jaime and Dany both had a hand in Circe’s death and Jaime died in Circe’s arms. Unfortunately, the scene just lacked the personal stakes and catharsis that most fans were hoping for from the demise of one the greatest villains in television history.
My analysis of the Jaime/Circe scene alludes to one of the biggest roadblocks to any popular long-running series sticking the landing: expectations. The more time fans have to analyze, theorize, and speculate, the less likely it is that any ending can satisfy a decent percent of the fan base.
Also, neither the show’s previous seasons nor its source material “A Song of Ice and Fire” left much wiggle room for possible outcomes, by virtue of its heavy reliance on prophecy and very definitive end goal: the Iron Throne. Someone besides Circe had to rule Westeros at the end; the “Prince/Princess who was Promised” had to be revealed, and Daenarys’s Season 2 vision of King’s Landing covered in either snow or ash had to be fulfilled.
Additionally, a series famous for massive twists had to have some sort of unexpected result. John Snow aka Aegon Targaryen taking his rightful place on the throne would have been criticized as “too predictable,” so author George R.R. Martin’s imagined ending that the showrunners stuck to was even more boxed in than previously described.
Besides, John was a great military commander but a pretty lousy statesman. He got himself killed for making a necessary, but wildly unpopular, alliance as Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch, and as King of the North he was reviled for bending the knee to Daenerys. John, like his older brother Robb, thought with his heart but not his head: something proven time and time again to be disastrous in Martin’s cutthroat world of win-the-throne-or-die. John would not have the mind for the kind of king Westeros needed or deserved.
To be clear, I’m not defending how rushed Daenarys’s descent into madness was, but rather that the idea that her single-minded quest for the throne was doomed to failure makes just as much sense in hindsight as the infamous Red Wedding ultimately did.
Daenarys had two defining characteristics: an insatiable thirst for the Iron Throne and compassion for the downtrodden. As much as she and the fans wanted to believe those goals were compatible, they couldn’t be if her solution to all of her problems remained to burn them out of existence with her dragons. Even in the “good seasons,” she never really demonstrated the capacity to actually live by her ideals.
Also, Jorah Mormont was high on most fans’ death predictions lists. How Daenarys would react to Johah’s likely death was an open question heading into the season, and I don’t know if fans were ready to believe the obvious answer. It would have affected her confidence and sense of morality whether the season had six episodes or ten.
As for King Bran the Broken, I understand the perception that Bran and his storylines are boring/confusing, even if I don’t agree. It’s easy to read his monotone as a lack of emotion or charisma rather than a genuine attempt to connect with people he no longer understands. He’s possessed by an omniscient immortal bird-spirit, so if he comes across as a little hard to relate to, I sympathize.
Bran was set up from the first two episodes as someone with tremendous significance, so his complete absence from the fifth season never struck me as evidence that he was some out-of-nowhere candidate for the throne. He’s the only living son of Eddard Stark, and unlike his older brothers, he actually studied politics. While Eddard was teaching Robb, John, and Theon about commanding armies, Catlyn Stark was teaching Bran about the kingdom.
Also, as a disabled person, it brought tears to eyes when wheelchair-bound Bran was given the title “Bran the Broken,” taking his rightful place among all the great Brandon Starks that came before him.
The title may seem ableist at first, but in Bran’s case, I think it’s self-affirming. I saw an article on Vulture about how Tyrion–born a little person and constantly demeaned as “dwarf”–should have known better than to give Bran that nickname. But the article then goes on to praise Tyrion for using people’s perceptions of him to his advantage. To me, names like “Bran the Brave” or “Bran the Wise” invite a challenge, and the monikers don’t suit Bran because he isn’t boastful and prefers to operate with anonymity rather than concern for peoples’ perceptions of him. Better he be remembered for the things he can’t do and shield the things he can.
Another common complaint is how neat and uneventful the wrap-up is with showing the new state of the kingdom. While I admit the Lords of Westeros got on board with the new status quo a little too quickly, none of them was really ready for another war at that point so speeding through the political machinations didn’t bother me.
First, let’s talk about the new state of the Kingdom. The Iron Throne is no more. Sansa leads an independent North. Arya goes off to find the Westeros equivalent of America. Tyrion is Hand of the King, Bronn is Master of Coin, Brianne is Captain of the King’s Guard, Samwell is Grand Maester, and Davos is Master of Ships. All these developments are awesome, and fit the characters’ journeys throughout the show. John being sent to the Wall, only to live with the Wildlings, isn’t as self-evidently cool, but John was happiest with the Wildlings anyway and I think he deserves his happiness after everything he’s been through.
The reason I think most of these elements of the ending go unappreciated is they all happened right after another in a mostly wordless montage. Another episode to flesh out the new state of the kingdom probably would have improved the pacing, but again that’s a complaint with how the ending took place and not with what the ending actually was. Overall, I think it was satisfying.
In conclusion, it’s worth pointing out that this is the ending that Martin had in his head for his book series years ago. I admit that it works better as a book ending than a TV ending, but considering how tremendously violent and tragic the show was throughout the years, a happy ending for our favorite characters feels perfectly justified. Overall, I understand if you’re still uninterested in “House of the Dragon,” but hopefully my analysis gave a fresh perspective on the ending and the final product of the original series.