When Celthric asked me to write an analysis of the Game of Thrones finale, I wasn’t sure that I wanted to. It wasn’t that I thought it would be overwhelming, which I did. It wasn’t that I didn’t love the finale, which I didn’t. And it wasn’t that I hated it, either. It was that all I felt at the conclusion was a vague sense of disappointment.
So I watched the finale again and I had a slightly different reaction. I found it adequate.
Then had an epiphany.
So I told Celthric, “Sure, I’ll write it.” And I did.
First off, accolades where accolades are due. Game of Thrones is the best live-action fantasy television series ever. Period. It rivals The Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter movie series for the best live action fantasy anything. The GOT actors are all awesome. The directing, sets, costumes, special effects, grips, best boys, and everything else are all of top-notch movie-worthy quality. The only aspect of the series I’ve ever questioned is the writing which oftentimes drives me insane.
With regards to the preceding, the finale is no exception.
The opening sequence of Tyrion walking through the razed ruins of King’s Landing, past a dead child and a half-naked wraith, with Jon Snow and Ser Davos stalking behind like revenants, was both sobering and breathtaking. My favorite sequence is Jon Snow approaching the Red Keep for red deeds when Drogon rears up, hidden beneath a pile of snow/ash and for a moment you wonder if that’s the end of Jon Snow. It always looks awesome, and that’s half the battle with a visual medium.
The other half is the writing. So how well did the writers write? Did the ending work? Was it satisfying? To me, those are the big questions.
So, did the ending work? Part of me says yes and part says no.
The ‘yes’ part of me realizes that war is a messy, chaotic business, and no one knows who’ll live and who’ll die. A wheel-chair bound man and a dwarf might have the same odds of surviving as a great knight or rampaging horse-lord. It depends on a whole forest of factors.
The part of me that says ‘no’ feels that it all ended too neatly.
Now, I know a whole city was burned. Thousands died horribly. But consider the fact that there’s a couple thousand blood-thirsty Dothraki that just seemed to evaporate rather than do what is typically in their nature. And an enraged dragon heartbroken over the death of its mother-figure makes a poignant political statement before neatly flying off into infinity rather than going on a further rampage and reducing Westeros to ash piecemeal.
Maybe I can buy Drogon just leaving. It’s never clear just how intelligent the dragons are, but the Dothraki? These guys are the Hell’s Angels of the fantasy world. Leave them alone without a powerful leader and target to trample and they’ll be hacking each other to death inside of five minutes. But for expedience sake, the Dothraki pretty much disappear.
Now we have King’s Landing, a powder keg teetering on the brink. For weeks there’s been some sort of stalemate between Daenerys’ erstwhile forces and the forces of Westeros. One misstep, one wrong move, and war erupts again. And what happens next? A council is held where everyone unanimously agrees to elect Bran king. And not one member present even bats an eyelash at allowing their new king’s sister to break away and rule the northern third of the continent, thus uniting it as a whole under the power of one family.
Maybe my view of humanity is too dim, too jaded, but for a show where dragons and giants and undead roam free, I found this hard to swallow. Rather than realistic, it seemed idealistic, which is something I’ve never accused GOT of before.
However, the ‘yes it makes sense’ part of me says perhaps all the members of the council have just seen too much war. They’ve certainly all had their share (except Dorne, cause where were they?). So I guess I could buy that. Most of the characters present are if not good guys, then not bad guys, either. Maybe cooler heads could prevail and mankind can go against its nature.
You can justify almost any human behavior given the right set of circumstances.
For example, I know some have taken issue with Daenerys’ razing of King’s Landing in a fit of rage. But take a look at this list:
Missandei – Executed before the siege of King’s Landing
Jorah Mormont – Killed defending Daenerys at the siege of Winterfell
Tyrion Lannister – Betrayed Daenerys for Jaime Lannister
Varys – Betrayed Daenerys for the good of the realm
Viserion – Killed by the Night King
Rhaegal – Killed because he and Daenerys somehow missed seeing an entire fleet of ships
Jon Snow – Betrayed Daenerys by divulging his true lineage to Sansa and Arya; also, that whole incest thing
These are only her most recent losses and betrayals. Add her husband Khal Drogo to the loss tally. Double stamp Ser Jorah for the betrayal category. How about her losing the ability to bear children? Daenerys’s story has been one of battling through pain and sorrow and betrayal. One can understand how Daenerys might lose her shit under these circumstances, especially when you remember that she’s the result of generations of inbreeding and as a result her family is legendary for going violently insane.
Daenerys’ hideous actions, to me, are justifiable from a writer standpoint.
By the finale, Daenerys’ support system of counselors, friends, and generals has winnowed away to Grey Worm and Drogon, and they are attack dogs. Plain and simple. Powerful, expert attack dogs, but attack dogs nonetheless. Neither exerts any moral influence over her. Neither will challenge her by telling her she’s wrong. Neither will counsel her. Neither will comfort her through her grief or rage. She points, they kill, and they are more than eager to do so.
Which brings me to the foundation stone for the series finale. Grey Worm. What?! Grey Worm? Are you serious? Yes, I am serious.
I like Grey Worm. He’s a second-tier character with a compelling backstory who is elevated in the finale to the first tier. But I have a problem with the way the newly minted Master of War is portrayed in the finale.
Through the assassination of his queen and the application of martial law, Grey Worm becomes the de facto ruler of King’s Landing. He is the man. He has the power. And most importantly, he doesn’t want it. Which makes sense for him and was a good choice writer-wise.
But consider this: Grey Worm is a slave-soldier when we first meet him, an automaton conditioned nearly from birth to follow orders, to kill, and to eventually die in the service of his master, the highest bidder. He’s a man who at the start of the series has had everything important in life stripped away from him. His will. His freedom. His manhood.
Yet through bravery, loyalty, leadership, and skill with the spear, he earns his way to the lofty position of Master of War under a queen he loves, admires, and respects. Through it all, and despite being a eunuch, he even manages to find romantic love.
By the GOT finale, he’s led men into battle. Survived suicide missions. Walked side-by-side with one of the greatest rulers his world has ever known. Grey Worm is now canny. Seasoned. Dangerous.
Consider that. Then consider what would happen should such a man lose everything again. What’s going through his mind? A snapshot of a mushroom cloud detonating might be apt. In fact, we do snatch a glimpse when he’s consumed by the assembly-line slaughter of Lannister prisoners at the behest of his queen. At this point, with the death of Missandei, killing is all he has left.
Here’s my problem: Grey Worm is a man on the brink of snapping, and I have trouble understanding why he doesn’t execute Jon Snow in the wake of Daenerys’ assassination. Sure, Grey Worm has fought alongside Jon Snow and come to know him and maybe even respect him, but Grey Worm is Daenerys’ man through and through. He owes her everything. He knows that. And we know he knows that.
So what happened? I believe the only reason Grey Worm doesn’t execute Jon Snow is the writers wanted a quasi-happy for him. They didn’t want to kill him. Permanently, anyways.
However, even though I believe Grey Worm should have executed Jon Snow (and Tyrion for that matter) I don’t know that it would have changed anything major at the ending had he done so. At the point of the kingmaker council, Jon Snow is a nonfactor except with regards Grey Worm (who stalled on executing him), and Tyrion simply points out the obvious. I’m paraphrasing, but Tyrion says to the council, “You guys are the most powerful people in the realm, elect someone king.”
I’m fairly sure that Sansa, Ser Davos, or Samwell could have come up with that, too.
And as for electing Bran king? Does it work story-wise? Does it make sense?
An all-seeing, dispassionate, introvert, who wants nothing to do with power? Taken over by an ancient, mystical intelligence? A king you know isn’t going to become a slovenly, philandering, deadbeat drunk or homicidal maniac like two of the former kings?
Sign me up.
In retrospect, he’s the obvious choice.
Bran’s perfect for the role. And with some of my favorite characters, Tyrion, Ser Davos, and Bronn on his small council, not to mention Maester Samwell Tarly and Ser Brienne of Tarth, the kingdom seems to be poised for a strong comeback. As an added bonus for the realm, Bran is sterile which means when he dies childless, it’ll ensure there’s no Joffrey-esque spawn to try and buck the newfound election process. And if for some reason there is, Bran might have the wisdom to see it coming and address it. He is the Three-Eyed Raven, after all.
Which brings me to the crux of my main problem with the finale as a whole.
What exactly was the importance of the Three-Eyed Raven? Sure, earlier on, we learn through him that Jon Snow is a Targaryen and rightful heir to the Iron Throne (if there is such a thing). But by the finale, and indeed, even by the siege at Winterfell, the Three-Eyed Raven has become nothing more than a MacGuffin Device. All we need to know about him is that the Night King for some reason wants to kill him really, really, really badly. And he’ll do anything he can to achieve that end. After that, Bran just sort of stares off yonder and tries to sound all-knowing and deep.
For me, this was the most disappointing part of the finale.
I believe George R.R. Martin was setting something up with Bran and the Three-Eyed Raven. Something awesome. Martin is a master storyteller, and he always shows something is possible in a relatively less consequential manner, plot-wise, before dropping the hammer of his true intent.
Daenerys is shown she’s immune to fire long before she takes down the Khals in the massive conflagration. Beric Dondarrion is brought back to life by Thoros of Myr seasons before the red priestess Melisandre resurrects the cliff-hanged Jon Snow.
When Martin drops the hammer with a major plot point, it’s already canon and makes total sense that it happened. It seems inevitable after the fact (I know I’m mixing book and television at this point but I also believe that the truly surprising plot twists are always derived from Martin’s original material).
Which gets to my point: I believe that Martin was setting something up with the Bran and Hodor incident. You remember. The one where Bran obliterated Hodor’s mind and life, melding his past and present selves into one fractured whole while trying to escape the Night King’s undead horde. The one that ensured that Hodor would never find love, or raise children, or talk, or do whatever it was he dreamed of doing before Bran scrambled his mind and soul. Oh, remember too that Hodor was ripped to pieces by wights in the process. What Bran did to Hodor, intentional or not, is arguably the worst thing that any character has done to another in the whole series.
I believe that Bran is a pivotal character in ways I’ve yet to understand, ways that should have turned the television series on its head, causing a paradigm shift of perspective much like when Ned Stark was executed. Wait?! He can’t be dead! I was waiting for it. Hoping. Pleading. Desperately. And the show failed to deliver.
Bran didn’t act uncharacteristically like Grey Worm, but he had all meaning of what the Three-Eyed Raven was stripped from him. Maybe it was too hard to write. Or maybe they changed a pivotal plot point at some point and just had to do what they had to do. Or I maybe I’m wrong because I’m not particularly smart. Only time and Martin will tell.
Which gets me to the end. Why I wrote this. If you’re still there.
I wrote this because of the epiphany I had after the second viewing of the finale. Adequate I called it. It works in the uninspiring, unmoving way a manager does when checking off boxes to tie up loose ends.
Understand, I’m one of those people who hates seeing the movie or watching the television show before I’ve read the book. The book always comes first. Always. It’s simply that I dislike having someone else’s view supersede my own take, my own version, my own imagination. And my biggest fear in watching the GOT series, particularly when the show overran the books, was that it would ruin the rest of the forthcoming books.
I was afraid I wouldn’t want to read them.
That fear passed when I watched the show a second time.
I won’t be shocked if the book series ends broadly in a way similar to the show. I always figured Martin had given the outline version to the show’s creators and they just did their best. Oh, I had my moments when I swore off the show, like when they killed Barristan Selmy, but (deep breath) I always came back to it. And even when I wasn’t looking forward to it, when I was enraged by it, I still watched it.
And the show’s best was very good, but it’s just not on par with the books’ best. Martin’s best equates to arguably the best fantasy book series ever. And while I’ve already said the show is the best fantasy television series, books, in my humble opinion, are far superior to television.
So thankfully, amazingly, because there was no epiphany, no perspective-bending paradigm shift, no incredible moment of, “Holy Shit!” my zeal for Martin’s forthcoming novels The Winds of Winter and A Dream of Spring lies yet intact. I look forward to having my view of what everything means turned on its head, good becoming evil, evil turning good, being wowed once more, seeing characters live and triumph and die, and finding out exactly what that whole Three-Eyed Raven business is all about.
Thanks to all, and rock on.
Kevin Wright is an author of fantasy, steampunk, and horror.
He’s not nearly as good a writer as George R.R. Martin, but then Martin has a sweet beard and looks like a ship captain from Moby Dick. So it’s not a fair comparison.
Kevin Wright’s medieval fantasy detective novel Lords of Asylum is available on Amazon for Kindle, Kindle Unlimited, and Audible.com.
To see more of Kevin Wright please see the online interview for his book “Lords of Asylum” here on Celthric.
He’s currently working on a sequel to Lords of Asylum entitled Husk.