TV Review: Game of Thrones - "The Iron Throne"
Season 8, Episode 6 “The Iron Throne”
Welcome to the Strange Harbors review of the final season of Game of Thrones. Typically, I tend to avoid posting recaps/reviews of single, individual episodes, but Game of Thrones is a cultural behemoth that deserves a more in-depth look at each installment, especially in its last six episodes. Each recap/review of the final season will be written from my perspective as A Song of Ice and Fire book-reader and a fan of the show. Today, we will be covering the series finale, titled “The Iron Throne.” Spoilers ahead…
Daenerys Targaryen is dead. Bran Stark is king. Jon Snow is exiled to the Night’s Watch once again. Sansa secedes from the Seven Kingdoms and is declared Queen in the North. Arya sails west into uncharted seas. If you had told me two years ago that this is the way Game of Thrones would end, I would actually be surprised and strangely sated; but more than anything, I would be immensely curious as to how our characters would reach each of their respective ends. At a macro level, “The Iron Throne” gives us satisfying conclusions to many character arcs that range from unpredictable, to tragic, to bittersweet - but unfortunately, the journey to reach these conclusions was anything but satisfying. After a disastrous penultimate episode of “The Bells,” in which Game of Thrones compounded its worst tendencies, “The Iron Throne” triples down on the final season’s baffling pacing and lazy storytelling with a series finale that lands with a dull whimper instead of redeemed deliverance.
Like many things in the world of Game of Thrones, especially in its final stretch of episodes, “The Iron Throne” begins with glimmers of promise. There are many things that work in the opening salvo of the show’s final 80 minutes, chief among them a heartbroken Tyrion digging through the rubble of King’s Landing’s Red Keep to find the ruined corpses of his family. And while you can say what you want about the strengths of David Benioff and D.B. Weiss as writers and showrunners, the duo’s eye for spectacle remain unmatched - from sweeping vistas of an ash-laden city that was once the capital to Daenerys’ chillingly totalitarian speech in old Valyrian, there is still cinematic blood pumping through the veins of “The Iron Throne,” even if its body is effectively brain-dead.
“…‘The Iron Throne’ triples down on the final season’s baffling pacing and lazy storytelling with a series finale that lands with a dull whimper instead of redeemed deliverance.”
What started as palatable hiccups in logic in the show’s later seasons - from teleporting characters and fast travel to narratives of convenience - ended up devolving into a wanton disregard for the carefully constructed groundwork and mythology that came before. And since this is probably the last we’ll ever see of Daenerys, the Starks, and the Lannisters, this insulting nonchalance is felt most deeply in “The Iron Throne.” The severity and number of narrative dead-ends is nothing short of staggering. Remember how monumental the confirmation of “R+L=J” felt? A secret that felt so core to the mythos of Game of Thrones that George R. R. Martin used it as a test for Benioff and Weiss, the question of Jon Snow’s identity was once the only thing the fandom could talk about. Unfortunately, other than briefly being weaponized against Daenerys’ claim to the throne, Jon Snow’s true parentage ends up factoring very little in the overall story of Game of Thrones. And what about Arya’s prolonged training as a Faceless Man and Melisandre’s prophecy (mentioned and reiterated just three episodes ago in “The Long Night”) of her closing blue eyes, brown eyes, and green eyes? Meaningless and unfulfilled, with her fantastic abilities used only once against Walder Frey in Season 6. And the Night King and his army? You could arguably delete their entire existence from all eight seasons and it would have little to no effect on these final two episodes. “The Bells” and “The Iron Throne” paint a depressing diptych of narrative decoherence: an anticlimactic, rushed, and unearned simplification of a once rich tapestry.
I’ve spoken at length of my admiration for the concept of Daenerys’ heel-turn in this final season of Game of Thrones, but at the same time, I’ve bristled at its hurried and hobbled execution. “The Iron Throne” has plenty of opportunity to at least bail water out of a sinking ship by giving Jon and Daenerys the final confrontation these two central characters deserve, but the episode doesn’t even pretend to convey a proper sendoff. Daenerys Targaryen, a character that comprised of almost half of the narrative of Game of Thrones and is the final point of conflict and tension in the entire series, is unceremoniously dispatched within the first 20 minutes of the episode. Jon Snow, a fierce loyalist, turns queenslayer within minutes of a pep talk from Tyrion, burying his dagger in Daenerys’ heart after a brief kiss. It’s a death that should land in the pantheon of big Game of Thrones moments, but instead elicits only shrugs. From a romance I never particularly bought, to a heel-turn that was completely unearned, to an ignominious death swept under a rug, the final developments for Daenerys Stormborn, Breaker of Chains and Mother of Dragons, cast a disappointing shadow on one of the show’s most interesting characters.
And if you thought “The Iron Throne” would at least avoid the baffling fridge logic of “The Bells” and “The Last of the Starks,” you would be sorely mistaken. After the death of Daenerys, Tyrion - who has been imprisoned for treason as an accessory to the queen’s murder - is essentially allowed to lead a quorum electing the new king of the Seven Kingdoms instead of being summarily executed. As Grey Worm, who holds all the power after the assassination of his beloved queen, looks on with a stern but useless look of disapproval, Tyrion gives a thoroughly unconvincing speech nominating Bran as the new king. A mish-mash of familiar faces agree, and thus begins the reign of Bran the Broken. And like plenty of story beats on this final stretch of Game of Thrones, it’s a compelling twist in theory: Bran, as the Three-Eyed Raven, with the power of foresight and a pronounced disinterest in wealth and power, would be the perfect king. But once again, it’s a development that is wholly unearned by a single half-measures speech and some nodding “ayes.” The episode is also unable to give Sansa and Arya, arguably the characters with the most buttoned-up endings, more than a few throwaway lines - the Stark sisters’ big moments are relegated to the end-of-series montage, as Sansa is crowned Queen of the North and Arya sails west.
“The Iron Throne” is the perfect distillation of what went awry in this final season of Game of Thrones. A checking of boxes rather than proper storytelling, the series finale - like the episodes before it - demonstrated good ideas but supremely sloppy execution. Endings may be notoriously difficult, but it’s also difficult to empathize with the plight of HBO’s prized fantasy series in the face of its truncated denouement, a decision that kneecapped the show as well as its once pristine legacy. Game of Thrones will always be remembered as a decade-spanning cultural touchstone, a watershed of popular culture and obsessive fandom, and as Tyrion Lannister waxed poetic in this final episode: “There's nothing more powerful in the world than a good story. Nothing can stop it. No enemy can defeat it.” It’s just a shame that this story couldn’t end the way it deserved.