There are, once again, no books to work from on Game of Thrones this season (the final season!) and things could get confusing. To help you out, after every new episode, two resident Thrones experts/dragon enthusiasts, Josh Kurp and Ryan Harkness, will answer your eight most pressing questions.
1. Was Daenerys really a tyrant the whole time like Tyrion claimed?
Yes, but keep in mind all the lords and rulers in Westeros and beyond are effectively tyrants. The casual brutality inflicted upon the general population by those in power is one of the most prevalent themes in George R.R. Martin’s books. Ned Stark cut the head off that Night’s Watch guy who came with the first news of White Walkers, and he would have decapitated Jorah Mormont, too, if given half the chance. Where was Jon Snow’s mercy when dealing with the men (and boys) of the Night’s Watch who stabbed him to death?
Dany stepped into an existing power structure in Meereen that was already inherently tyrannical, and she would have become complicit in that evil had she not decided to overhaul the whole system by eliminating slavery. She was forced to wield a tyrant’s power to accomplish that goal, and she definitely ended up shedding more blood trying to remake society than she would have just leaving things be.
There’s probably about a half dozen important revelations about power the show could have slowly rolled out if they’d spent a couple of extra seasons on Dany’s descent into ruthless pragmatism. Instead, it focused on this argument from Machiavelli: it’s better to be feared than loved, if you cannot be both. Dany tried her best to navigate the political landscape of Westeros in a civilized manner and suffered a series of devastating setbacks because of it that almost ruined her completely. She then swung way too far the other way in desperation, becoming the kind of tyrant she initially sought to depose.
But if she’d always been a tyrant, she wouldn’t have locked her dragons up in the great pyramid when they started eating her subjects. She wouldn’t have stuck around in Meereen in an attempt to ensure the slavers didn’t return to power. She wouldn’t have risked her entire army to fight the Walkers. The true tyranny came late, and it came as a result of the lessons she learned from the nobles of Westeros when she held her hand out in peace. — Ryan Harkness
2. Was Jon working in the best interest of the future of Westeros when he killed Daenerys?
I’ve built my own kind of mythos around Jon Snow that has served me well over the past couple of seasons. Not of him as Azor Ahai, the Prince That Was Promised, or the king that will save us all. But of Jon as this moral but kinda dumb dude who is generally clueless most of the time. Ygritte pegged him pretty quick as a sexy know-nothing, and it’s much less frustrating watching him bumble through the show once you’ve lowered your expectations accordingly.
So, I don’t think Jon did what he thought was best for Westeros because I don’t consider him smart enough to know what the hell that would be. It was actually Tyrion’s view of what was best for the realm that was used. He gave Jon the real aggressive “you gotta stab your girlfriend” talk and just kept hammering away until Jon went through with it. He didn’t want to do it, but Tyrion coerced him using his superior intellect and manipulation skills.
The Imp even implied Daenerys pulled the same kind of psycho behavior we saw in King’s Landing while “liberating” Meereen, and threw in that whole “crucifying the masters” thing without any context (not that crucifying is acceptable in any context, but we stuck with her through it, didn’t we). Tyrion wasn’t engaging in a balanced discussion on the pros and cons of letting Daenerys rule. He was cramming Jon’s dumb head full of bad thoughts and negative possibilities so he’d do what Tyrion wanted. And it worked.
Later on Jon asks Tyrion whether he’d done the right thing, and you really feel like he’s tortured by the question. All the arguments that felt so ironclad at the time probably seem pretty speculative in retrospect, because who knows what would have happened if he’d given Daenerys some proper (incestual) lovin’ and maybe a much needed vacation? Of course, there’s no way he could have made things work. But the idealistic side of him isn’t about to accept that, and I’m sure he’ll torture himself with “what ifs” for the rest of his days. — RH
3. Why didn’t Drogon melt Jon Snow?
Imagine you’re Drogon. First off, congratulations on being a dragon. Please enjoy this goat. No, no, I insist. Anyway, after awaking from your sleepy slumber, you fly to the Great Hall where you find your mother — THE Mother of Dragon(s) — dead. She was stabbed in the chest by her lover/nephew Jon Snow, now the only person alive who’s ridden a dragon (the late, great Rhaegal). What would you do? Well, if you’re Drogon in the series finale, you melt the Iron Throne, because symbolism, and you let Jon live. But why?
It’s a two-part answer:
1. Drogon might have a special connection with Jon Snow, a secret Targaryen (who are special for their ability to ride and rule dragons), and wouldn’t want to kill “one of his kind,” so to speak. He also may have instinctively understood that Jon was acting in the best interest of the realm, which is better off without a murder-happy tyrant as a ruler and an Iron Throne, and he was sick of killing. (Also, if you’re wondering whether Jon could have survived a fiery attack, I’ll quote George R.R. Martin: “TARGARYENS ARE NOT IMMUNE TO FIRE.”)
2. It looked cooler for Drogon to melt the Throne. Which, fair. (Say what you will about the writing and the plastic bottle, but the finale was visually striking.)
Plus, Jon Snow’s story wasn’t done yet. Drogon understands dramatic tension (and the need for Jon to see Ghost again). — Josh Kurp
4. Who was everyone on the council?
The Starks, Brienne, Davos, Samwell, and a who’s who of characters you probably forgot about or never knew existed in the first place came together in the Dragonpit to decide the future of Westeros. (Spoiler: they chose… poorly.)
From left to right, there was Samwell Tarly; someone who looks a lot like/might be Howland Reed, Ned Stark’s buddy who accompanied him to the Tower of Joy; Edmure Tully, Catelyn’s brother who we haven’t seen since season six; Arya Stark; Bran the Broken, First of His Name, King of the Andals and the First Men, Lord of the Six Kingdoms and Protector of the Realm; Sansa Stark; Ser Brienne of Tarth; Davos Seaworth; Gendry Baratheon (who really should have gotten more to do in the finale, or at least one line of dialogue); an unnamed lord; a second unnamed lord; Yara Greyjoy; the anonymous prince of Dorne (a fitting end to the Dorne plotline); Robin “Hot Now” Arryn (you might remember him as the whiny brat who drank from his mom’s breast when he was too old to be doing so); Yohn Royce, the Lord of Runestone; and another unnamed lord, although it might be Wyman Manderly or someone from Lannisport. Hard to tell.
While I’m glad there wasn’t a scene where everyone in the circle went around and said their names, I also wish they played a more prominent role on the show (like what’s-his-face from Dorne), considering they’re “the most powerful people of Westeros,” according to Tyrion. Oh well, at least it gave this moment.
I’m going to miss you the second most, Arya (after Davos). Speaking of. — JK
5. What is “west of Westeros”?
Arya’s desire to travel “west of Westeros” didn’t come out of nowhere — it’s where she told Lady Crane she wanted to go back in season six (I’m shocked the Waif didn’t suddenly appear in the council scene). But, uh, what’s out there?
The short answer is, no one knows! How fitting for a former “No One.” To the east of Westeros is Essos where the nine free cities of Braavos, Lorath, Lys, Myr, Norvos, Pentos, Qohor, Tyrosh, and Volantis are located; but the other side, beyond Old Town and Casterly Rock and the Iron Island, is largely undiscovered country. The Sunset Sea is a place no man fears to tread, so why not a woman instead? One way to think about Arya’s destination is that, if Westeros is Europe and Essos is Eurasia, she’s traveling to America.
On the boats and not on the planes, Arya is coming to America.
As for Greyworm (Torgo Nudho), he and the Unsullied are off to Naath, where Missandei is from. It’s the destination they discussed earlier in the season before Cersei had the Mountain cut her head off. “When Daenerys takes her throne, there will be no place for us here,” Grey Worm tells Missandei. “I am loyal to my queen. I will fight for her until her enemies are defeated, but when the war is over and she has won, do you want to grow old in this place? Is there nothing else you want to do, nothing else you want to see?” She replies Naath because “I’d like to see the beaches again.” Maybe think twice about planning your sun-soaked beach vacation in the middle of a war next time, hm? One more piece of location scouting: Samwell tells Bran’s small council that Drogon, carrying the corpse of Daenerys, was “last spotted flying east,” probably to Valyria, the ancestral home of House Targaryen. Time to warg, Bran. — JK
6. If Bran knew he was going to become king, why didn’t he say anything?
I know, right? I doubt people would be as upset about Bran’s general uselessness if he didn’t keep selectively revealing he’s known everything that will happen the whole time. Sharing is caring, Bran. Even if it won’t change the outcome, imagine all the stress relief that would come just from knowing humanity survives the invasion of the Others? But the frustratingly circular answer as to why he didn’t say anything is because… he didn’t say anything. As the previous Three-Eyed Raven said, the ink is dry. Forwards or backwards doesn’t matter. It’s done, locked in, free will doesn’t really exist, and everything happening has already happened and will happen regardless. No wonder Bran seemed so chill throughout the madness of season eight.
I wouldn’t bother spending too much time trying to figure out how Bran’s omnipotent time travel abilities work in the context of any given scene. Sometimes he seems concerned about the impending arrival of the Night King’s army, even though he should know Arya wipes them out with the Valyrian steel dagger he gave her. When he shows up as king at his first small council meeting, he asks Tyrion who the new Master of Whispers will be, which seems like an obsolete position considering Bran’s abilities. Even if he still wanted one, wouldn’t he know who it’d end up being? Sure seems like the kind of thing someone who exists across all of time would know, is all. — RH
7. Is there any precedent for the North getting to be its own thing?
Well, the Seven Kingdoms did indeed start off as seven individual kingdoms before the Targaryens showed up 300 years ago, but since then the closest thing to autonomy any region has gotten is Dorne’s right to continue calling their lords princes and princesses. They earned that by managing to fight off Targaryen dragons and armies for 187 years, and it was only through marriage rather than war that Dorne was finally brought into the fold.
Balon Greyjoy also tried to pull a Sansa, declaring himself king of the Iron Islands shortly after Robert Baratheon overthrew the Targaryens. But a couple of reaving raids later and the regional houses banded together to smash the Iron Fleet. Robert Baratheon personally laid siege to Pyke, violently putting down the rebellion and ending Balon’s brief reign as king.
Minor rebellions and wannabe kings have sprung up regularly throughout Westeros history, even back when the Targaryens had dragons to put them down with fire. The key takeaway: anyone attempting to secede from the Seven Kingdoms was made an example of because the moment a ruler seemed weak enough for one kingdom to split off, the rest were bound to try and go too. That’s what made Sansa’s demand for Northern independence so bold – she made it in front of the Dornish and Ironborn, two of the most rabidly rebellious regions in Westeros.
Why kick off a potential domino effect like that when it’s your little brother sitting on the Iron Throne, or whatever fancy furniture is destined to replace it moving forward? The Starks were on the verge of controlling all Seven Kingdoms before Sansa insisted on splitting the North off. So that leaves me wondering: what advantage do you gain by declaring independence from yourself? — RH
8. Now that it’s over, what’s your overall impression of Game of Thrones?
Ryan: It was a better adaptation of a complicated series of books than we had any right to hope for. I’d go so far as to say the first four seasons of Game of Thrones represent some of the best fantasy ever produced. But the quality slipped noticeably after that as the show began to run out of source material to work from. Seasons seven and eight were extremely flawed but still managed to deliver in terms of raw spectacle. Massive battles, unstoppable White Walkers, and full grown dragons kept me entertained even as the show lost a lot of its cohesion and common sense in a mad dash to the finish.
Showrunners D.B. Weiss and David Benioff got stuck in a rather odd situation having to basically craft their own conclusion to George R.R. Martin’s massive Song of Ice and Fire saga. The decision to wrap things up in eight seasons rather than milk the show’s success for as long as possible probably came from a noble place, but it resulted in an ending so rushed that many of the biggest moments failed to register emotionally. It was still cool getting to see everything wrap up, even if nothing went down the way I was expecting.
Fortunately, we still have the actual final books to look forward to (eventually), and because of that, I can dismiss a lot of the later season silliness as nothing more than extremely well produced fan-fiction. We have our perfect adaptations of Game of Thrones, Clash of Kings, and Storm of Swords. Maybe in 15 to 20 years someone new will try to properly adapt A Feast For Crows, A Dance With Dragons, The Winds of Winter, and A Dream of Spring.
Josh: When people find out what I do for a living, the number-one question I get asked is: why? The number-two question: what should I watch? My answers of late (I Think You Should Leave, Fleabag, Tuca and Bertie) are usually met with blank stares, so I add a quick, “But I’m also watching Game of Thrones.”
It’s the rare show that everyone watches or at least has an opinion on, the last slice of the TV monoculture (the closest thing to Thrones’ dominance is… Stranger Things?). That’s what I’m going to miss the most about Game of Thrones. Despite the shaky storytelling in the post-George R.R. Martin seasons, despite the plots that went nowhere, despite the underwhelming finale, it was still nice to have the proverbial water cooler show, something that inspired millions of words of discussion (and that’s just on Uproxx alone), fan theories, and watch parties. Don’t overlook the watch parties! Austin, Texas, where I live, had at least six of them. I can’t imagine a half-dozen bars hosting a get-together for people to watch, I dunno, Ray Donovan. That’s gone now.
And like Ryan said, when Game of Thrones was good, it was great. Seasons two and three, in particular, with “Blackwater” and “The Rains of Castamere” and “Kissed by Fire,” are all-timers, as are the event episodes like “Hardhome” and “Battle of the Bastards” (no TV show has ever done spectacle as well as this one). It might take time for people, especially the so-called fans who signed the petition to “fix” season eight, to remember this, but it will happen. Look at Lost. Lost had an ill-received ending, to put it mildly, and for a while, it felt like it would become defined by that subpar finale. Which isn’t fair, because Lost is great! Everyone should watch Lost! It’s only in recent years, maybe even months, where the anger has subsided; now it seems like every day I see someone on Twitter who’s either re-watching or on their initial viewing. I hope the same thing happens with Game of Thrones (unlike the rest of the post, I waited until this morning to answer this question because I wanted to process the finale and not type something I’d later regret; that’s what social media is for).
Maybe the ending wasn’t great (“If you think this has a happy ending, you haven’t been paying attention”), but that doesn’t undo all the good, if not great that came before. Plus, Davos didn’t die. We should all be thankful for that.