7. Sam: We all cackled at Sam triumphantly presenting “A Song of Ice and Fire” like Frodo flipping Baggins, despite everyone having guessed for years that he would fill that role. Count that as an example of the show being so theorized to death that it lost its power to truly surprise. But Sam ends up as the Grand Maester of Bran’s new administration, though he likely still has years of work to do on his chains. (This comes after he gets basically laughed out of the tent for inventing democracy.) I expect he is content, and that’s more than many can say.
6. Arya: A girl is over Westeros, and exits the series on a ship bearing Stark sails, having convinced an entire crew to join up on an exploratory mission past the western edge of the map. It sounds cool, but doesn’t make a ton of sense for Arya (who never seemed especially drawn to the maritime life), though if you killed the Night King, you can basically do whatever you want. She also had a key moment early in the episode, materializing at Jon’s side to whisper in his ear about Dany. Later, she threatens Yara with murder, in her only line of consequence in the council scene. Basically, her arc ended when she turned aside last week at the Hound’s behest; she’s even already discarded her spooky horse before we see her in “The Iron Throne.” I really did enjoy, however, the final montage of all the Stark kids looking toward their future, the closeups of weapons and finery, maps and telescopes. Their pack survived, and now they can form new ones. I thought that was cool.
5. Tyrion: Peter Dinklage, the only actor on Game of Thrones to win an acting Emmy, should probably clear space for a fourth trophy this fall. He completely owned this episode, as Benioff and Weiss gifted him scene after showcase scene. We first see him wandering King’s Landing in a daze, like a drunken man looking for his car in an ash-covered parking lot. He breaks down completely when, clued in by the telltale golden hand, he finally finds the bodies of Jaime and Cersei in the Red Keep dungeons. He tells off Daenerys, and dramatically throws his pin down the stairs before being lead off to die, again.
“Now Varys’s ashes can tell my ashes ‘See, I told you,'” he says ruefully to Jon. He makes the best case he can for assassination by framing it in a surprisingly personal way: “I loved her… not as successfully as you,” (I knew it!) “but I believed in her.” He expects to die full of regret, with the knowledge that he just wasn’t good or clever enough to help bring about the “better world” he and Dany dreamed of. But that’s not the end of the Imp, to everyone’s surprise, because the great lords and ladies of Westeros make the same mistake as countless others: They let him talk. Actually, they not only let him talk, they straight-up ask him what to do — the dude in chains that half of them want dead and the other half only used to want dead, the failure, the Imp, the last Lannister, the guy who once said that “a mind needs books like a sword needs a whetstone” but hasn’t been seen with a book in years. Tyrion Lannister gets to “spend the rest of his life fixing his mistakes,” and in the process set the course of Westeros for the next hundred years, if they’re lucky.
And he’s had a long time to think about what that should look like, suggesting something of a parliamentary system, where there is still a king (or queen), but one who is appointed and held accountable by the great houses. No more divine right. No more primogeniture. Just a great council every generation, in this spot. It doesn’t entirely break Dany’s wheel, but it cracks it, at least until someone comes along who will once again take it by force, which always happens eventually. And the only name on Tyrion’s list is…Bran, who he keeps calling “Bran the Broken” like he’s trying to make “fetch” happen.
The biggest L Tyrion took was discovering that he wasn’t mentioned at all in “A Song of Ice and Fire,” which is played as a joke, but should actually be a devastating character beat for the one who obsessively read histories all through his childhood. Wait for the second edition?
4. Bran the Broken: Dude, we’ve got to at least workshop that name. “Bran the Baked” is more accurate. “Bran the Rebuilder” is more poetic, coming centuries after the last famous Bran who built the wall. But King Bran is here, and he’s real, and that feels inevitable too, as all of the Martin-based story outcomes do. It all happens bafflingly quickly, there in the dragonpit: Two minutes after Tyrion floats his name, everyone’s on board, including the unnamed new fancy Prince of Dorne(!), a shockingly healthy-looking Robyn Arryn(!!), a few other randos, and even Bran himself. “Why do you think I came all this way?” he asks, in a tone one could describe as smug. Has he earned that? HIGHLY DEBATABLE! “He is our memory,” says Tyrion. “The keeper of all our stories.” He can’t have children, he doesn’t want the throne; he is incorruptible, and therefore perfect for the job, if you don’t count the domestic spying program that would put the NSA to shame.
Is this kind of ridiculous on its face? Definitely, but because it’s actually in service of the characters in a way that makes sense, I’m okay with it. And who else was it going to be, if you have to have someone? He’ll be just and fair, and Sansa gets the North; it’s a Stark world, and everyone else is just living in it. I think Bran’s meme-ability at the beginning of the season makes it hard for many viewers to take the move seriously, but isn’t that kind of on us?
It’s fine, is what I’m saying. It’s fine. And it only takes a day for Bran to take advantage of a king’s favorite privilege: Ducking out of meetings early.
Another limitation of the medium, and of the little time Benioff and Weiss allowed themselves to wrap it all up, was a true sense of how the realm was faring in the aftermath of the war. How many survived Dany’s blitz? Is the city even inhabitable right now? Are they all getting asbestos poisoning? How do the smallfolk across the continent feel about Bran? About having a Stark on the throne, and a deeply weird one at that? Doesn’t Davos still have a wife? These are things I don’t need to know, but would very much like to; the writers may have ultimately shown fealty to Martin’s plot, but not to his granularity, or curiosity about the practical ramifications of every choice (the bizarre casualness of the final council scene does not help). The author who famously asked about Aragorn’s tax policies will hopefully have more to share when (if) he finishes the books.
3. Brienne & Pod: Brienne is the commander of the Kingsguard, and a newly-knighted Pod is on wheelchair duty (you’d assume the rebuilt capital will be ADA-compliant), and you can’t ask for a more fitting coda than that, though you do worry about Pod having to take a vow of celibacy. But there wasn’t a more emotional — i.e. earned — moment in the finale than of Brienne quietly completing Jaime’s biography, writing of his honor and courage (“Pledged himself to the forces of men and rode north to join them at Winterfell, alone”), closing with “He died defending his Queen.” She forgives him, at least, though it’s still hard for me to. But just think: from the “Maid of Tarth,” mocked and derided, to Lord Commander of the Kingsguard. It’s pretty awesome. I’m here for it.
2. Sansa: I’m also here for everything Sansa, who gets everything she wanted: An autonomous North, with her at its head. (The “Queen in da Norf!” jokes are back, baby!) She did it. She made it happen. She rode with the Vale to save Winterfell from the Boltons; she kept it all going when Jon rode South; she made independence a condition for her supporting her own brother as King, and Bran grants it — seven, six kingdoms, it doesn’t matter to Bran. (From Yara’s expression, she had to be thinking “Wait, that was an option?”) “The North is free, thanks to you,” Jon tells her before setting sail for the Undying Lands. If Dany’s death was the episode’s great tragedy, and Brienne’s epilogue the most heartwarming moment, Sansa’s coronation was the most triumphant. The show has taken (and deserved) a lot of criticism for how it has treated its women, but it got there in the end.
Oh, and Sansa also got the hour’s biggest laugh by shutting down Edmure Tully’s doofy bid for the throne. “Uncle…please sit.” Incredible. I died. All hail Sansa.
1. Bronn: I don’t believe it either, but I can’t argue with the facts. The sardonic sellsword is now ruling the Reach and serving in the entirely unqualified position of Master of Coin. Maybe that’s the series’s real lesson: For all of everyone’s high-minded rhetoric, there will always be Bronns to benefit from cronyism and start the clock on the next crisis. Realism!
No television series since LOST has inspired this level of anticipation and debate, and I don’t know if one will again. We are now at an inflection point for the pop culture landscape: The end of the communal experience. As much as I’ll miss the show, the spectacle, and the characters, I’ll probably miss that most all. Thank you for coming along the journey with me. You could spend the rest of your life reading everyone’s commentary on Game of Thrones, and it means a lot that you chose to spend some of your time reading mine. If our watch has ended, at least we ended it together.