Game of Thrones season 8 episode 6 review: An imperfect finale that still feels remarkably poignant
Game of Thrones season 8 episode 6: the farewells of this finale feel remarkably poignant.
For a recap of Game of Thrones season 8 episode 5, click here; and here for the review.
For a full recap of episode 6, click here.
There have been goodbyes aplenty at various points in this eighth season of Game of Thrones. Old friends parting with the knowledge that they may never see each other again. The deaths of so many whose stories we followed devotedly for eight years now. Journeys that will lead people — who once fought, loved, lived, worked together — in very different directions. Divisions are wrought by geography. Divisions are wrought by fate. And still, the farewells of this finale feel remarkably poignant.
We begin in the aftermath of Daenerys' attack on King's Landing: walking through a surreal landscape of ash, rubble and charred bones. Tyrion and Jon confront what their support for Daenerys has meant — this very devastation that they see before them. And their Queen has no intention of stopping; she tells her armies that she will liberate people all over the world from tyrants. That they will strive to build a good world, a better world. The setting is very Third Reich-like.
Tyrion, imprisoned for his betrayal of Daenerys, is visited by Jon. They are bound in their love of Daenerys, and in their horror of what she has unleashed. Tyrion understands that there is only one way to end the possibility of future wars; he reminds Jon of his vow to be the shield that guards the realm of men.
Jon then recalls Maester Aemon's words at Castle Black — made all the more significant now for they were delivered by his great-great-grand uncle, even though Jon didn't know it then — "Love is the death of duty."
"Sometimes, duty is the death of love," Tyrion replies.
Jon knows in that moment what he must do. We know in that moment what he must do. When he takes Daenerys — flush from her victory, in touching distance of the Iron Throne — into his arms, for a brief second you wonder if Jon will have the strength to do what must be done. But he does.
The rest is just picking up the pieces.
Recent criticisms of Game of Thrones have dwelt on how the series has forgotten the dictum of "show, don't tell". It was a sad development for a production that previously had such rich symbology: witness Tywin Lannister skinning and gutting a dead stag while talking to Jaime about safeguarding the family legacy, back in season 1. But over episodes 5 and 6 of season 8, there has been a compelling visual statement made about Daenerys' complete acceptance of her Dragon Queen persona. When Varys is to be executed, Drogon rises up from behind her, previously concealed by the darkness. When she alights amid the ruins of the Red Keep, Drogon once again is directly placed behind her, the span of his wings projecting from her sides, so it is as though she and he are one.
When with Jon in the Throne Room, however — a Throne Room that looks exactly as it did in her visions in the House of the Undying — Daenerys is transformed back into the young woman we first knew. She tells Jon about the story Viserys would narrate to her in their childhood, of the Iron Throne being forged from the thousand swords of Aegon's enemies. A little girl who could count only up to 20 trying to imagine what a throne made of a thousand swords looks like, and failing. She exhorts Jon to be by her side; he promises her that she will always be his Queen — and in the very next moment, takes her life.
As Daenerys bleeds to death in Jon's arms, Drogon melts down the Iron Throne with his wrath — the object that pulled his mother to her doom. And so ends Daenerys Stormborn of House Targaryen, the Unburnt, Breaker of Chains, Khaleesi of the Great Grass Sea, Queen of the Andals, Rhoynar and the First Men, Protector of the Seven Kingdoms. Drogon carries her away — presumably to Valyria, where her ancestors reigned before their ambitions ended their great civilisation.
The survivors must find a way to move forward, and they do.
Tyrion speaks out at his trial for treason and a new King is chosen for Westeros. He makes a case for stories being what hold people together, and he might be echoing the words of modern day intellectuals like Yuval Noah Harari in doing so.
Bran Stark — the Three-Eyed Raven who knows the Seven Kingdoms' history better than any other individual living — is chosen to lead. The new world won't have a hereditary monarchy, however. This, Tyrion believes was the wheel of tyranny Daenerys wished to break.
Bran anoints Tyrion his new Hand, and they begin the painful task of rebuilding a war-ravaged Westeros. Things change but they also stay the same. Life comes full circle.
The last of the characters still standing at the end of this journey get their own conclusions, big and small.
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Podrick — the most loyal squire that ever lived — is now a knight. Gendry seems to have made peace with his new station in life. Bronn too has been granted the castle he was long owed by the Lannisters. Davos and Sam serve on the small council with Tyrion. Brienne takes a moment to fill in the pages of the Kingsguard's book, with the details of Jaime's deeds. She ends it with: "Died protecting his Queen." It's a small gesture, but one that honours Jaime in the best possible way (and calls back to the moment Joffrey taunted him about his remarkably blank pages in the book).
And the surviving Starks, they all must go their separate ways. Bran stays in the South, Sansa becomes the Queen in the North, Arya takes off for the west of Westeros to find out what lies beyond where the maps end, and Jon -- Jon returns to the Wall. Tormund and Ghost wait for him there.
A montage stitches together the separate destinies of the Starks. No "happily ever after" for any of them, and possibly the last generation of Starks to carry the family name, but leading lives that would do Ned and Catelyn proud.
Little is said as Jon rides with the Wildlings beyond the Wall and the gates of Castle Black close behind him. The story ends where it began — at the furthest Northern reaches of Westeros. But this is not now a place of terror; death no longer holds dominion over these lands.
A lone blade of grass pushes up through the snow.
Winter has finally passed.
Rating: ★★★★ and a 1/2
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