TV Review: ‘Game of Thrones’ Season 8 Episode 6 ‘The Iron Throne’
***WARNING!!! BELOW THERE BE****
Episode Plot: The end has come.
Review: As Tony Stark says, “Part of the journey is the end.” Here we are eight seasons in and we’ve finally reached the culmination of one of the greatest television shows ever to grace the small screen. Regardless of how you feel about the last few seasons of Game of Thrones or its show-runners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, the fact that this television show became a cultural phenomenon is uniquely impressive.
So let’s take one last dragon flight shall we?
Last week when Drogon attacked the city, the focus was kept squarely on those who were devastated by his attack. In a similar vein the episode begins immediately afterwards. In this instance we see the carnage from Tyrion’s perspective–the destroyed buildings, the families burnt to ash, the wounded walking around in a daze. There’s minimal dialogue and music here as I believe the show-runners desire the audience to sit with the consequences of Dany’s actions. Tyrion gets the full measure of how wrong he was, quietly drifting through the wreckage of King’s Landing.
Jon also travels through King’s Landing and happens upon Grey Worm sentencing Lannister men to die. It’s here you see how far Dany’s influence has extended. The slaughter of Lannister men who have surrendered seems pointless at this juncture. They’ve won! Indeed even Ser Davos points this out saying, “Look around! How much more defeated to you want them to be?” For a second I thought Grey Worm and Jon were going to come to blows but that was not be. It’s important to note how much Grey Worm has lost as well. He’s taking out his rage and frustration on the enemy just as Dany did with the city. When someone has nothing left they are capable of anything. It’s something Game of Thrones has hammered home again and again.
We cut back to Tyrion wandering through the Red Keep as he seeks to find if Jamie and Cersei got out. There was some speculation on the Internet as to whether or not Jamie actually died but that theory gets laid to rest when Tyrion finds the bodies of his sister and brother. What a gut punch to watch Tyrion completely come undone here. He is the last of the Lannisters and he sees firsthand how Dany’s fury has affected him on a personal level. Dany failed Tyrion but at a more fundamental level he also failed Jamie and Cersei as well as the people of King’s Landing. This isn’t just personal grief, it’s grief at a larger level as well.
Her victory assured, the Targaryen flags raised high, we then see Dany addressing the Dothraki and the Unsullied, praising them for taking down a tyrant, completely oblivious to the fact that she has become a tyrant herself. (Speaking of I take issue with the fact that there are so many Unsullied and Dothraki left. I was under the impression that most have them were destroyed and yet it seems as if there are many thousands left over. Doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense.) Like most tyrants, Dany’s victory is never enough. Indeed she states that she plans to spread her “liberation” throughout the known world. Spoken exactly like every tyrant in history. You’re never the villain in your own story.
Tyrion approaches Dany and for the briefest of moments I thought that Tyrion was going to kill Dany. At that point he would have been well within his rights. Instead she accuses him of freeing his brother to which he responds, “You slaughtered a city.” Fed up and seeing the error of his ways he throws away his badge of office. I loved this part. Peter Dinklage has been the lifeblood of this show for eight seasons. He’s an astounding actor and the way he threw away the Hand of the Queen ornament with such disdain and disgust was brilliant. Not surprisingly, Dany then has Tyrion arrested.
Arya then has a brief encounter with Jon. It’s incredibly frustrating to me how Jon literally knows nothing sometimes, claiming that Dany is everyone’s Queen now. Arya rightly points out that Sansa will never accept Dany as her Queen and if Jon doesn’t think for one second that Dany will try to take Jon out he’s a fool. As Arya says, “I know a killer when I see one.” Arya is indeed a killer but her actions are child’s play compared to what Dany has done.
Jon then goes to see Tyrion. This scene was incredibly well done. It is here that Tyrion tries to impart to Jon that Dany isn’t done with the slaughter. Tyrion was blinded by his love for Dany just as Jon is blinded. Tyrion goes on to counsel that with each slaughter (ones that we cheered her on for) Dany will continue to believe she’s in the right. Love is the death of duty, something Maester Aemon pointed out years ago. Jon knows his duty. He knows what is the right thing to do in this instance. If he is truly the “shield that guards the realms of men” then it is imperative for Jon to be that shield. This scene only reemphasizes what Arya just said to Jon. It is in this moment that I realized Jon didn’t come to Tyrion just to comfort him. Jon came for counsel as to what to do next. Sansa and Arya will never bend the knee to Dany. Never. And Tyrion plays that family card to the fullest with Jon. You can see the war on Jon’s face. This is not an easy choice to make, not an easy burden to bear. Yet Jon is the only one that has the power to do the right thing. Some have made criticism of this scene that it’s essentially two men determining the fate of a woman. I will not argue that there isn’t some validity there. There is. Additionally, I believe that Tyrion and Jon would be having the same conversation if it were a man. Tyrants aren’t limited to gender.
Jon storms out and seeks Dany in the Red Keep. Just before he enters we are presented with one of the most beautiful shots of the entire episode, Drogon emerging from a mound of ash (snow?) and staring down Jon. Say what you want about the writing in this season but the show has definitely presented us with some of the most beautiful, iconic images ever brought to television. These are images that personally will linger with me for a long long time. Also I have to say the fact that it’s unclear as to whether the characters are surrounded by ash or snow I believe to be by design. This is truly the song of ice and fire. The two mingle constantly and it comes off incredibly symbolic.
Dany approaches the Iron Throne for the first time. It’s something she’s desired for so long. The shot of a destroyed throne room with ash/snow raining in, fulfills Dany’s vision in season two. She touches the throne but doesn’t get to sit on it, a fact that’s tragic in light of what’s about to come. This is truly the culmination of Dany’s journey with again more stunning imagery punctuated by Ramin Djawadi’s amazing score. But before Dany can sit on the throne she’s interrupted by Jon. I have to admit from a storytelling standpoint though it doesn’t make a lot of sense for her to be alone. How could Grey Worm allow this to happen? I guess the assumption is that Dany ordered him to leave her alone but it feels a little off. Dany doesn’t have any fighting skills to speak of and being alone leaves her extremely vulnerable.
Their ensuing conversation was so fraught with tension, I just tip my hat to Emilia Clarke and Kit Harrington here. This conversation quite literally determined the fate of the Seven Kingdoms. Jon gives Dany every out to convince him that she’s not the tyrant she clearly is. Jon insists that Dany can forgive Tyrion that he can make the people understand. He pleads with her that the world she builds must be one of mercy. “You can’t hide behind small mercies. The world we need won’t be built by men loyal to the world we have,” Dany states. It’s a cold moment. When Jon asks her about the other people who think they know what is good, what do their ideas mean, I couldn’t help but think about all those others who have fallen by the wayside: Ned Stark, Robb Stark, Robert Baratheon, Tywin Lannister, Jorah Mormont, and countless others. They all had different ideas as to what was good and what was not and each in their own way probably had valid points. Yet Dany responds with the one statement that seals her fate. “They don’t get to choose.” Dany believes her way is the only way, her path is the only path. And Jon knows that those who don’t agree with her idea of what constitutes “good” will be swept away. It was a test and Dany failed. Duty in this case was the death of love. Jon does what he believes to be his duty and stabs Dany through the heart. Credit to the show for a great moment here because initially you’re not sure who stabbed who.
Before long Drogon ascends to the throne room. How incredibly sad to watch him nudge Dany, almost trying to will her back to life even though he knows she’s dead. In a fit of rage Drogon unleashes his fire not on Jon but on the Iron Throne itself, melting it to slag. I’d predicted this would happen a long time ago although admittedly not in this manner. I’m torn about this moment. On the one hand it feels manufactured. On the other hand though there is a distinct irony in that an “unthinking beast” destroys the symbolic thing that has driven supposed civilized men and women to madness. Dragons know nothing of avarice or a lust for power. Perhaps in the end it took a beast to help break the wheel. Drogon in a tender moment that really got to me, ever so gently takes Dany in his claw and flies away with her to parts unknown. If I had to guess I wouldn’t be surprised if he took her back to old Valyria, the origin of dragons.
Many weeks or months later, Tyrion is brought out to the Dragon Pit by Grey Worm where a council of various Lords and Ladies of the Seven Kingdoms have been assembled. Many of our favorite characters are in attendance: Sam, Sansa, Arya, Davos, Gendry, Yara, Bran, and others. Yet it is not up to them to decide Tyrion and Jon’s fate, but a new ruler to decide. They must select a king or queen. I have to say that this scene felt decidedly clunky at times and it’s here where I can see some of the criticisms of the writing come into play. One wonders how this scene would have played out had Weiss and Benioff had actual text to go off of, rather than a Cliff’s Notes version from George R.R. Martin. For example Sam’s audacious suggestion of a democracy gets laughed off as a joke as does Edmure’s claim that he would be a good king. When weighed against some of the scenes of earlier seasons it’s more than a little messy.
Ultimately, they ask Tyrion who he thinks should rule and in a surprising move he suggests Bran. Who better than Bran the Broken to rule, a man who encompasses all of the history of the seven kingdoms in his mind. A man who doesn’t desire to rule. A man who can be impartial and doesn’t desire as other people desire. It’s a very meta moment here where Tyrion states that the thing that unites us the most are our stories and that Bran has the best story. While it does make the most sense logically and I can even accept it at some level, it’s the execution that falls flat. Here is where the criticism that the season feels rushed comes into play. Bran clearly didn’t have the best story despite what Tyrion claims. The showrrunners did a terrible job of establishing from a character development standpoint that Bran was the best choice. You can attribute that to shortened seasons, a lack of source material, or the fact that these actors and showrrunners wanted to move on with their careers. Any way you slice it this choice, while logical, comes off half-hearted and not fully earned either. Again I can’t help but think that if Martin had completed his books we would have had more episodes and more scenes with Bran that would have made this choice resonate a lot more than it did. Again, that’s not to say that Bran as a ruler is necessarily a bad choice but how we got to this point is somewhat lacking.
This essentially is the wheel that Dany wanted to break. Rather than having a succession passed down from father to son, the Lords and Ladies of Westeros will choose their own leader. It makes sense and honestly the old ways were clearly not working very well. Everyone agrees to have Bran as their leader including Bran who says, “Why do you think I came all this way?” Did he know this was the way it was going to go the whole time? Did he let the tragedy play out as it did because he knew from the ashes of destruction a new, better way would arise? Maybe. That’s a question that will undoubtedly be dissected for years.
Sansa however insists that the North remain an independent kingdom. It’s not like Bran as her brother is going to say no to that request and he acquiesces. This seems somewhat contrived but again the North has scarified so much and Sansa is right in saying they will never bend the knee again. I can’t see Bran risking more bloodshed after all that’s come before. It’s an easy first decision as king. His second act however is surprising as he names Tyrion Hand of the King. This is perfect to me and true justice. Tyrion gets to spend the rest of his life making up for the mistakes he’s made. He doesn’t get an easy out but must deal with the headaches of ruling a kingdom for the rest of his life. I can think of no more fitting end for the Imp.
As the new Hand of the King, Tyrion informs Jon that rather than be killed he will be sent to the Night’s Watch. Jon’s surprised there still is one. So am I for that matter. How is there still a need for one? The White Walkers are gone and there is peace with the Wildlings. Also after all Jon’s given to the Seven Kingdoms, what a shit way to reward him. And yet maybe Tormund was right. Maybe Jon belongs in the true North as he always has. Meanwhile Grey Worm sails for Narth, Missandei’s homeland seeking to protect a pacifistic society. Perhaps he has finally put his rage behind. As for the Dothraki? Well they really don’t tie up that thread.
Just before Jon departs from King’s Landing he has a tearful goodbye with his family. Sansa is set to return to Winterfell and rule the North while Arya will sail into the West seeking a new adventure. This is a very heartfelt moment between the remaining Starks and it’s hard to believe that they will see each other again. Perhaps it’s for the best.
Brienne, in a fit of poetic justice is named Lord Commander of Bran’s Kingsguard. Seeing that Jamie’s story in the White Book is decidedly short she expands it. I loved this moment because it fleshes out Jamie as more than just the Kingslayer. He was a complicated man that did some terrible terrible things but also some heroic things. In fact this is a perfect commentary on the characters that inhabit Game of Thrones as a whole. Just like in real life no one is absolutely good or absolutely evil. (Except Ramsay fuck that guy.) We all exist in a gray area and just hope that more often than not that the better angels of our nature win the day.
We are also treated to a final scene with the new Small Council. Upon further review I think this was not only the worst scene of the season but maybe the worst scene of the entire series. It was played almost entirely for jokes (brothels are apparently more important than ships) and it just felt so out of place, almost like something you’d see on an episode of Friends. How the Hell is Sam now Grandmaester when he hasn’t even done anything to forge a chain? What about House Tarly and his kid from Gilly? And while I appreciate the fact that Bronn is now the Master of Coin, what qualifies him for that job other than the fact that he loves gold? And apparently Bran is now going to be an absentee ruler as he’s there for like five seconds and then goes off to…find Drogon I guess? I like the fact that Pod is now a knight however. All in all I thought this scene could have been cut and the episode would have been better off for it.
To conclude the episode we are subject to some highlights from the remainder of the Starks. Arya sails off into the sunset which is slightly cliche. However, I believe she’s earned it. Rather than being an assassin perhaps it’s time for her be a bit of an explorer. Sansa likewise has also earned the title of Queen of the North. Her arc throughout the show has been perhaps the best, something I wouldn’t have believed if you’d told me that in season four. I have no doubt she will make a great Queen.
As for Jon, well perhaps he gets the ending that he deserves after all. He’s united with the Wildlings and Ghost and finally gives him the petting session we’d all been hoping for. Jon heads out into the wild to live out his life among the people that he always felt most at home with. Although I’m not sure if he’s still with Night’s Watch or not. It’s a little unclear. The final scene ends where the show began beyond the Wall towards an uncertain future.
So some final thoughts here first on the season as a whole and then the series. As for this season I for the most part enjoyed it. It was by no means a perfect season and much of it felt decidedly rushed. However, rushed doesn’t mean bad writing no matter what people say. Overall I was satisfied in the way the show concluded. I didn’t love everything but there was no way everyone was going to be pleased. This was never going to be a happy ending but I felt it was an appropriate ending. I’m still wrestling with it. I have very complex emotions regarding the series finale and perhaps that’s the best thing that can be said about it. It’s something I’m going to have to sit with for awhile and maybe once I have some distance and revisit the show (which I will) my perspective will change.
When it comes to the series as a whole, Game of Thrones has been and remains my favorite show of all-time. Personally, nothing that was done in this final season tarnishes what this show has accomplished in any way whatsoever. I delight in the fact that I was able to live in this world with these dynamic characters I grew to love, or hate, or both, over the course of eight seasons. It’s bittersweet but at least we still have the books and spin-off shows to look forward to. To paraphrase the Night’s Watch, “We will never see it’s like again.”
Side Note: If you think this review was the final word on Game of Thrones think again! Join me next week when I will review the HBO documentary “The Last Watch” set to air this Saturday. Thanks again to all who’ve read and appreciated my weekly reviews of this show over the last several years. It’s been a true delight!
Season 8 Episode 6 “The Iron Throne” rates: 7/10 Severed Ned Heads
Season 8 of Game of Thrones rates: 8/10 Severed Ned Heads
Game of Thrones as a series Rates: 9/10 Severed Ned Heads