It all came full circle. The beauty of Game of Thrones is at its core the characters. When the show was at its best it gave us windows into the fabulous personas that made the show special by letting us follow their stories: Jon Snow, Arya Stark, Tyrion Lannister, Jorah Mormont, Samwell Tarly, and many more.
The worst parts of Season 8, especially Episode 5, were a series of at times rushed (if cinematically spectacular) events and action sequences, missing much of the character flow that made previous seasons spectacular. Season 8, Episode 6 did the opposite. A superlative closing of plot circles. For a series with all the splendor of a movie in each episode, the last one did the little things with the characters to be great…even if there is no happy ending and many disgruntled fans.
Drogon – Wait, he’s a character? Yes, much of the show he was a thing. An interesting, powerful, event-altering thing. But a beast. In this episode he becomes a character. He looked upon Aegon Targaryen, slayer of the Mother of Dragons, and he made a choice.
He burned the Iron Throne, ensuring no one would sit upon it now that Daenerys was dead. He carried his mother away from Westeros, after touchingly nudging her to verify her demise and then wailing aloud. In doing so Drogon looked upon the last Targaryen and spared him. I like to think Drogon took Daenerys back to Old Valyria to rest in the Doom among her ancestors.
Tyrion – amidst the hell of the death and destruction of King’s Landing, he insists on seeking his brother. Alone. He finds him, in the arms of the woman he loved. As Jaime prophesied. And Tyrion wept.
Then understanding the possible consequences, Tyrion publicly and forcefully tosses aside the emblem of Hand in front of Daenerys, silencing the Unsullied, because he would not endorse the death of innocents.
He declared to Jon Snow/Aegon Targaryen, “you are the shield that guards the realms of men.” But he’s not talking about the Wall. He’s talking about the wrath of Daenerys. The people of the world need a shield from her madness.
Tyrion is the best of himself at the Dragons Pit. A wonderful physical return to the powerful scene in Season 7 where Tyrion and company brought a wight to show Cersei and Jaime. Tyrion’s plea to abandon rule by birthright produces perhaps the one outcome to halt further bloodshed.
And when Bran the Broken makes Tyrion Hand again as both punishment and reward it is all fitting.
Jon Snow/Aegon Targaryen – oh, dear.
If any character stayed true to his story arc it was him. He slays his (Mad) Queen only as a last resort, grudgingly convinced by Arya and Tyrion. He then takes the Black and goes North, but this time not by his choice.
Jon’s trajectory throughout the show’s seasons was at times glorious, at times maddening. He has regrets, but as Bran consoles him: “You were exactly where you were supposed to be.”
There’s a lesson there.
The horn signalling “Ranger returning” at his arrival at Castle Black was an especially poignant moment.
Ser Brienne of Tarth – her honoring of Jaime Lannister in the Book of the Kingsguard is one of those subtle scenes where even in brevity a lot is accomplished. She saw the good in Jaime. And she memorialized it.
She herself becomes a Kingsguard again. Nodding to her past, her oath to House Stark, and the new Westeros to come.
Ser Podrick Payne – Ser. Enough said.
Ser Bronn of the Blackwater – he didn’t receive much attention in the last season, but he was richly rewarded at the end for his service to both Tyrion & Jaime. Is he perfect? Far, far from it. His last scene is arguing for the rebuilding of brothels in King’s Landing before the rebuilding of ships.
But he served Tyrion and Jaime (and the Realm) all across Westeros with great skill, commitment, and valor. He earned his place.
Lady Sansa – through hellish events and travails, she slowly grew into her path and arrived at her destiny. A defender of the North, even during the Kingsmoot. She was firm in her defense of and advocacy for her people. Hail, Sansa, Queen at last.
Arya Stark – no Lady is she, by her own request. She is a killer. The Hero of Winterfell. Yet, she does not seek a future in the land she helped save.
Once she has played her part in the resolution of affairs for her family, she commits herself to a exploration beyond Westeros, into the unknown western seas.
The trained fighter. The seasoned traveler. Someone who knows how to make tough goals and pursue them. On a ship to explore new frontiers.
Arya of House Stark, hero of the Game of Thrones.
The End – the very first episode of the series began in the North, amidst the woods beyond the Wall, with House Stark in focus. More than appropriate to end the last episode in the same setting, with the same family.
The closing scene is accompanied at first by a mournful instrumental track. A testament to the fact many, many endings in the show were not happy.
Arya embarks on her journey West with the sigil of her House on the sail. Sansa is crowned Queen in the North in Winterfell. And Jon heads north of the Wall with Ghost, aside Tormund Giantsbane and the Free Folk he saved. Creatures of the North reunited.
And as the last scene fades to black, it is in those same woods as it all began, with the music having gradually morphed from sadness into a rendition of the fabulous opening song of the show that is seared in the memory of every fan.
Not a happy ending, or a perfect conclusion. George R.R. Martin neither wanted nor provided for that. But the circle closing in a fitting way to one of the great shows in modern TV history.