I hate when things end.
I always have. I hate finishing the epic, multi-book, -season, -movie stories. I’m a huge fantasy/sci-fi/weirdo person. I fall so fucking deep into these things. I sit on message boards and subreddits and YouTube videos learning about the lore and background and history of these worlds that people like George RR Martin build. I empathize with characters, I crave to learn more about them and the world they’re in. And I know you’re not here to read about me gushing over how well written and intensely creative someone has to be to build a fucking universe—so I won’t. But I will tell you that I’m so impressed and entranced by that ability that I get mega-invested in the story and the characters. That’s what happened with this show and the books. And now it’s over.
It hurts me, man. I’ve loved this story for a long time. I still do. If I’m really grateful for anything this show has given me, it’s that it’s re-spurred my desire to dive even deeper into the World of Ice and Fire. I can’t wait to re-read the main series, listen to chapter breakdowns, re-read the world histories GRRM has co-written, and get further into the other tales from Westeros.
It’s crazy to think that Game of Thrones is done. That’s it. No episode next Sunday. No season-in-waiting. All the hours spent watching, thinking, theorizing, and enjoying are over. This is the furthest in Westeros’ history that we go. Whether you’ve been a Thrones fan for 10 years or 20 (for the OG ASOIAF people) or just this last one, I think it still hits a little bit. This thing was a cultural phenomenon. What a wild ride.
This recap is going to be a little different than the previous ones. I’m not going to criticize a ton. That’s been done enough by me and everyone else, and honestly, I just want to appreciate this thing this time around. Even if people have been mostly on the fence about the finale, I want to stay positive.
And since there are no looming questions for the nonexistent next episode, I’m going to instead share my favorite scenes from each of the 8 seasons (and I welcome you to share yours with me: @matt_hoff_). If you have any questions you still want to be answered, or just want to talk about the show or the books, feel free to DM me. I still have a ton of questions, too.
Before I start, I just want to say that—despite what my previous critiquing and criticism may imply—I’m incredibly grateful for George RR Martin for this story, for Dan Weiss and David Benioff taking it on, and for the cast and crew bringing it to life. I don’t know any of these people, but they brought me a ton of awesome moments and killer conversations with my friends when watching and consuming this behemoth of a television show. I’m not sure there will ever be anything like it again. Here’s hoping the spin-offs can keep the bar high.
Love versus duty. The was the thing that I found most powerful about the episode, for all its flaws. George RR Martin has always said that A Song of Ice and Fire is a story about the human heart in conflict with itself. It’s what makes the characters not just good and bad, but gray. It’s what makes them relatable. And the finale, smartly, leaned heavily on this. This inner battle is presented by way of Tyrion and Bran, and, obviously, Jon in this episode.
Starting with Jon/Aegon, the entire first half of the episode was essentially a callback to one of the most important scenes in the show for Jon: Maester Aemon revealing his identity as a Targaryen. This is the scene where he utters the famous “Love is the death of duty” line. Jon directly references it in the conversation with Tyrion, when Tyrion is trying to convince Jon that he must kill Danaerys. Tyrion flips the line on its head to ultimately help sway Jon away from love and toward duty. If you remember, when Jon’s brother (cousin) Robb is named King in the North and is marching South, Jon debates leaving the Night’s Watch to do the same. Aemon tells him of when his family was destroyed and ripped from their seat of power as kings of Westeros by Robert’s Rebellion (which itself was caused by the love between Jon’s real parents—deep). Aemon stayed with the Night’s Watch. He was faithful to his duty. And he tells Jon that one day he will be faced with his choice between love or duty, and he’ll have to live with whatever he decides to do. At the time, Jon thinks that this is that moment. He will ultimately face this choice a number of times.
I mean look how well this ties together:
This love vs. duty conflict is pretty much a simplified version of Jon’s entire character. Obviously, he also has a number of other inner conflicts—his identity, his place in the world, his resurrection—but this one is sort of the overarching, guiding facet of those conflicts. Over the course of the story, Jon is forced to choose between his duties as a bastard of Winterfell, as a sworn brother (and Lord Commander) of the Night’s Watch, and as King in the North/heir to Westeros, among others, versus the desire to help and be with the women he loves, his family, and his kingdom. And almost every single time, he chooses his not his duty or his love, but what he considers the right thing to do. At one point, he dies for it. Using this as his final conflict was incredibly satisfying for me.
As for Tyrion and Bran, they sort of represent the same conflict in opposing ways. Tyrion’s “right thing to do” here is brought on by his love (for the innocent and such) over his duty, while Bran’s “right thing to do” is brought on by his duty (as the walking history of mankind) over his love. Tyrion chooses what he believes is right over his duty as Hand of the Queen, and Bran (bear with me) chooses to accept the crown because of his standing as the Three-Eyed Raven over his (although nonexistent) chance to be just Bran Stark (who he’s not anymore kinda sorta). They both choose to do what is right over what they—at least in Tyrion’s case—may have wanted.
3 Biggest Moments
1. Tyrion finds Jaime and Cersei. Well shit. Whether or not you like Jaime or Cersei (I prefer the former to the latter), or are particularly interested in the inner-workings of the Lannisters (who most people view as the “baddies”), this is an awesome scene. Tyrion is a great microcosm for House Lannister. Once proud and powerful, and feared by at least some if not many, reduced to a broken and shattered thing. At the start of Game of Thrones, House Lannister has already seen Tywin ruling as Hand of the King, has come out on the right side of Robert’s Rebellion, and is in the midst of its most powerful moment in history. By the finale, the great house is reduced to only one member who, it seems, is doomed to be executed by the Dragon Queen. Tyrion was once a proud and hubris-filled man, reduced to nothing over the years, and built back up by a second chance as Danaerys’ Hand. Now, he’s at least in part responsible for the death of his father, his siblings, and what was left of his house.
Peter Dinklage nailed this scene from start to finish. From the moment the show opens with him walking amidst the ash and soot of King’s Landing to the moment he rips the pin from his chest and snaps back at Dany that he freed his brother, but she “slaughtered a city.” Just a masterclass in acting from my guy. The pain and the sorrow he feels is incredibly palpable. And to see the contrast between the moment he is named Hand of the Queen to the moment he throws it away is just incredible. The difference between who he is in those moments and who Dany is in them in stark (pun intended).
2. Jon kills Danaerys. Well, here we are. We’ve been building to this moment for 8 whole seasons now. All that Jon has been through‚ from his humble beginnings as a bastard who doesn’t feel at home in his own house to a King in the North to the heir to the Iron Throne alongside the Dragon Queen. This was Jon’s big moment, where he’s forced to choose between the woman he loves and her vision for them and the world, or his duty to the realm. It calls back to all the values he’s held dear his entire life. He had people like Ned and Benjen, the brotherhood of the Night’s Watch, and the culture of the North all teach him the value of honor and duty to the people who cannot defend themselves. As Tyrion very aptly puts it, Jon is the shield that guards the realms of men. He has always tried to do the right thing, to protect people, no matter who they were or who he was protecting him from. He saved wildlings and Westerosi alike from the Night King, only to be murdered and resurrected in the process. He rallied humanity’s fight against the dead. He’s fought to his final breath to defend his home and those he loved from those who would take it from him.
Now, he’s faced with the broken, dehumanized, and damaged shell of the first woman he’s loved since his first, Ygritte. He’s seen firsthand what she’s capable of and what she’s become having lost so much in her quest for power, and now he has to make the decision and live with it for the rest of his days. Everything leading up to this scene was so well-done and well-portrayed. Kit Harrington and Emilia Clarke made it work despite some interesting dialogue decisions and hurried chemistry. I felt Jon’s pain and his struggle here. I loved that when Danaerys tells him that he’s always known what was good, he asks, “What about everyone else? What about all the other people who think they know what’s good?” You have to think that he’s speaking to his sisters (cousins) in House Stark. And Dany’s response, “They don’t get a choice,” seals her fate.
3. Bran I Stark, the Broken, First of His Name. King of the Seve—Six Kingdoms. What a wild place for Bran to end up. The only episode (other than when he’s warging with the OG Three-Eyed Raven) we see Bran able to walk in is the first one. He’s been the crippled prince of Winterfell ever since. And now he’s the King of (most of) Westeros, with his sister Sansa ruling in the North. What a character journey. And while I don’t necessarily agree with how he ended up here or what we ultimately learn about his powers (so many questions here), I do agree that as long as he doesn’t have some sinister motives, that he’s suited for the role. He has the ability to know anything that has happened and everything that will happen. In the books, the Three-Eyed Crow can live hundreds of years (the show Raven is ~125 at the time we meet him). As long as his desire is in line with Varys’ “for the realm” schtick, Bran is ultimately the guy for the job. He does not want for himself. He doesn’t even identify with the human being that Tyrion and the lords and ladies named king. He’s the holder of human memory. So as long as he wants that memory to continue, there’s no reason to think he would be corruptible or negative in any way.
The only thing that really kills me here is that I wish they’d spent more time developing Bran once he became the Three-Eyed Raven. He literally does not appear in the show in Season 5. And since the ending sort of requires you to buy into Bran as the proper choice for the king while still believing that the wheel is broken, I think we needed to see more of what he can do, and what his motivations are. It would’ve been nice to see that conversation between him and Tyrion in the Godswood.
Favorite Scene of Each Season
Like I said, instead of listing all my questions and concerns for the next episode, I’m going to share my favorite moments from each season of Game of Thrones.
These moments/scenes may not be the “best” or “most important” of each season, per se. I can totally make that list one day. But these are the ones that meant the most to me, whether it be because of the characters involved, the impact on the story, the masterclass in acting or shooting or writing, or otherwise. These are the moments that I think of when I hear someone mention the story. I hope they make you happy, too. Cheers.
Season 1: Danaerys Targaryen, Khaleesi of the Great Grass Sea, the Unburnt (S1E10: Fire and Blood)
What an awesome moment. This comes just an episode after we see Eddard “Ned” Stark beheaded and the same episode that Robb Stark is named King in the North. This scene is the scene that breathes magic back into the world of Ice and Fire. It brings dragons into the world. It sets the major story arc in motion.
Season 2: The Battle of Blackwater (S2E9: Blackwater)
This is the scene, for me, that really showcased what this show was capable of doing on a large scale. We’d already seen its ruthlessness to this point, but this is the moment that we realize the impact that the penultimate episodes will have on the series as a whole. So many of the defining moments will take place in the second-to-last episodes of each season, and this scene cemented that. It’s also an awesome scene for so many characters.
Season 3: Jaime Lannister, the Kingslayer (S3E5: Kissed by Fire)
Regardless of how you thought of his ending (and I liked it more than most), Jaime Lannister is an incredibly well-done character. Nikolaj Coster-Waldau killed his role as the Golden Lion, and he brought my personal favorite character to life in a way I couldn’t have imagined. This scene is one of his best. This is the root of Jaime as a person—his battle within to be a good person despite all his impulses and his desires to give in to the woman he loves and his darker side. His sword hand gone, reduced to his weakest: this is where we learn who Jaime really is.
Season 4: Tyrion’s trial (S4E9: The Laws of Gods and Men)
For many people, this is a defining scene in the show for a number of reasons. 1: A lot of people love Tyrion, and this is one of his best scenes; 2: Tyrion’s entire arc for the remainder of the show will be driven by this moment and his actions following it (murdering Tywin and Shae, fleeing to Essos with Varys, deciding to join Danaerys); and 3: This is where Tyrion in the show becomes a different person than Tyrion in the books. In the books, he is headed toward becoming the villain. In the show, he joins Dany and finds a new purpose to help the realm.
Season 5: Hardhome (S5E8: Hardhome)
I say that this entire battle is the best example of what the fight against the White Walkers and the Night King was going to be. Obviously, they flex their muscles the most at Winterfell, but Hardhome is the first time we really see what humanity is up against. We feel the dread. We feel the helplessness. This is the moment that many of us begin to think that the Night King would win this whole thing.
Season 6: The Sept of Baelor (S6E10: The Winds of Winter)
This is the best scene in the best episode of the entire series. There are so many scenes from this episode that you can choose, but this one really does it for me. The acting is flawless, the music is perfect, and the buildup to the biggest moment in the show’s history to this point is so well done. Cersei becomes who she was always meant to be in this moment. If someone asked me to pick a scene to represent the best of what television can be, I’d show them this scene.
Season 7: R + L = A (S7E7: The Dragon and the Wolf)
At this point, we, the audience, already know that Jon is the son of Rhaegar Targaryen and Lyanna Stark. But Jon does not. The rest of the characters, other than Samwell and Bran in this very moment, do not. And here, in this scene, we get a flashback to the Tower of Joy in Dorne, where Jon is born and we learn his real name is Aegon Targaryen; and to Rhaegar and Lyanna’s wedding, where we see that Jon not only not a bastard, he’s the heir to the Iron Throne. This is the moment that will snowball into the biggest threat to Danaerys’ sanity. This is what will drive Dany to the brink.
Season 8: Slaying the Dragon (S8E6: The Iron Throne)
I don’t know what else to say about this moment. This is the scene that the entire series is hurtling toward from the start. It’s the moment that Jon becomes (some on reddit would argue) Azhor Ahai, the Prince that was Promised. I still can’t believe it finally happened.
It’s over now.
Did Thrones live up to the expectations? In its final season, maybe not. But as a whole? Of course. As a complete series, this is still one of the greatest fantasy shows of all time. I can’t wait to re-watch it in its entirety now that it’s over. I think it’ll age much more gracefully than people currently believe. I’m still coming to grips with it being over.
If you’re like me, and you want to dig back in (or for the first time) further into this whole saga now that the show is over, here are a couple of things I recommend checking out to get started:
— Not A Blog (GRRM’s blog)
— Wars and Politics of Ice and Fire blog
— Binge Mode podcast
— NotACast podcast
— Alt Shift X YouTube channel
— r/asoiaf subreddit (go for the books, not the show)
— r/pureasoiaf subreddit (definitely do not mention the show)
— There are so, so, so many more
Photo: Page Six.