Updated: Apr 15, 2020
By Luke Boots Curley
If you’re like me, you’re starting to feel the cabin fever of this quarantine. And, if you’re like me, you kill a lot of this suddenly vast amounts of free time by binge-watching various television shows. A personal mission of mine once I had the time to do it (I always have the time, I just watch a lot of shows), was to re-watch the eighth and final season of the (once) beloved HBO epic, Game of Thrones. Let me preface any further discussion by admitting here and now that I did not HATE the final six episodes of that series. I enjoyed them, though I had to agree that while not the trash many other fans were making it out to be, it was far from a perfect final stretch.
I’ve been a fan of the show since day one. The show led me to the books, which are equally fantastic, and it is a damn shame we probably will never see the ending in book form. I devoured them, and watched every episode with awe and dedication. Few other shows, it's up to debate if ANY, have matched this series in terms of a following, in terms of fan theories, and in terms of merchandising. It’s a mammoth, and because it was so mammoth, it was always doomed to fail to meet the expectations of all of it's very many fans. Not to say that all the criticisms were incorrect. I first felt it in the season seven episode “Beyond the Wall”, and then again in “The Long Night”, the latter of which I felt obliged to watch twice in a row because I felt I didn’t appreciate it enough the first time. It helped some, but still, it felt as if it could’ve been better executed. A third viewing has elevated it further as a solid episode, although not flawless. The show’s pacing definitely would have benefited from both seasons seven and eight being the standard full length ten, but reportedly although HBO was willing to offer that, the creators were not willing to extend it further. A disappointing decision. Some of the logic suffered because of this, and thus also did the quality of a once flawless show. But I refused then, and after revisiting, refuse now to dismiss it entirely like many of my GoT peers have done. It wounds me. And in an effort to keep the legacy of the show as a whole intact, I’m here to explore the final season by means of examining the resolution of all the remaining prominent character’s storylines, and if they were satisfactory and true to character, or not. I could spend countless hours going over fan expectations vs reality, and plot points that would have improved the road to the finale, but to avoid this being a novel, I’m hoping to answer those questions through the character arc answers as best I can.
Was Dolorous Edd’s death and resurrection as a puppet of the Night King a satisfactory end?
Yes. I don’t want to take too much time on this one (no disrespect Edd), but he died doing his duty, defending the realms of men, and the sad irony of being used as an undead soldier to add to his ranks is just a classic Thrones move, which definitely holds true to the show’s form.
Did Beric Dondarrion’s death make sense?
Yes. He was continually resurrected to serve a purpose, and by all accounts it looks like this was it. And you know what? He did a pretty good job protecting Arya and I guess the Hound simultaneously by making a human cross barrier of himself, and since we know they both had their respective fish to fry, it was a worthwhile sacrifice for a pretty damn cool character.
Was Lyanna Mormont’s death super sad?
Oh yeah. But also profound, and it worked. A tough little girl defending the North with a bunch of grown men? Dope, she's a badass. Taking down a fucking undead giant while it crushed the life from her tiny body? Sad. But what a way to go. And her becoming an undead soldier like ol’ Edd? Well, that’s just another classic devastating Thrones move.
Did Theon Greyjoy have a satisfactory character arc?
First, I have to admit that Theon, if not my favorite character, is definitely in the top 5. So maybe I’m just biased. But I don’t think so. Yes, Theon 100% had a satisfactory ending to his character’s arc. He redeemed himself, in full. He was a piece of shit, went through hell, and came out a better man. Theon Greyjoy was a good man. And, well, he did his best protecting Bran, and when he died, I shed a tear because it was so perfect and beautiful seeing him charge forward to certain death to keep a Stark safe, in particular a Stark he had pretended to murder, for as long as he could.
So Jorah Mormont went out just like everyone kind of assumed he would, right?
Duh. Once we knew he was going to survive that greyscale, it was all but assured, IF he were to die, which I for one always figured he would, it would be protecting his Queen Daenerys. Endless love and loyalty to the end. All in all, it was done as well as any other scenario where he may have died fighting to protect her.
Did the Night King and the threat he and his army presented get resolved satisfactorily?
Hmmm. Yes. And no. Yes and no. This is an episode where I admittedly felt let down, but as I mentioned earlier, upon later viewings, it stands a little better. Yes, they came, they fucked shit up, many beloved characters died, but it was the characters shown in outrageously impossible situations that made this feel a little less severe. One episode was enough to depict the battle, especially being an extended one, but the threat of the White Walkers always seemed like it would end as big as it proposed it would. And it did, but it didn’t. Maybe Winterfell should’ve fallen, and the Night King could have extended his presence to the actual end, and maybe that would’ve gone better. But that’s too big a road to go down here. We got this, and all in all it wasn’t bad. As for dying at the hand of Arya? At first, I didn’t like it. But who else? Jon? More fitting a confrontation sure, but a little too on the nose. The prophecy seemed to get a little muddled by the end, but Arya earned it. It was cool, right? It wasn’t too easy, it worked, it didn’t drag out. Perfect? No. But satisfactory? Sure.
Did Melisandre have a fitting end?
Yeah. Would it maybe have been more poetic justice for her to have burned alive? You bet. Perhaps by Davos Seaworth? Maybe. But he was never that cruel a man. And in a way she completed her own redemption arc. She did all she could for the realm after failing to read the prophecy right with the Stannis Baratheon debacle, and dedicated herself to what she now believed to be the correct cause. Out of all the “gods” in GoT lore, the Lord of Light definitely appears to have the most power, or maybe it’s just magic under a pretense, who knows. But she uses this Lord’s power in a manner for good, and thus redeems herself. Not as completely as say Theon, but a redemption nonetheless. She does as she says and returns one last time, and allows herself to perish. Not a happy ending, but a fitting one.
Did Tormund Giantsbane have a happy ending?
Yes. Undoubtedly yes. He didn’t get to bang Brienne of Tarth, but other than that his people didn’t get entirely eliminated, squashed the beef with the “South”, earned the respect of those that saw the Wildlings as enemies, and returned home to where he and his people were happy. Plus, he even got to hang out with Ghost before Jon eventually arrived (more on that later).
Did Rhaegal deserve to be taken out like that?
Fuck no. Sure, the scene was shocking, sad, and maybe necessary, but the explanation that Rhaegal was lost because Daenerys “kind of forgot” about Euron and his fleet, as stated by showrunner David Benioff on the “Inside the Episode” segment following the episode, is such a lazy excuse for a show that has shown it is capable of much more, and this poor dragon deserved more than that. Getting taken out by the Night King riding undead Viserion would’ve been much more substantial. Surviving to be Jon’s dragon in another scenario, honoring his actual father in the process, as Rhaegal is named after his father and Dany’s brother Rhaegar, could have been another outcome. The main issue with this scene is that it shows, according to the show’s plotting, the Scorpion weapons either work 100% of the time or not at all. It leaves a lot to think about as possible outcomes. Look, it’s a striking scene. I was taken aback. It’s not total trash. But it's just another example where the show felt rushed from getting point to point. The bigger issue is actually that Drogon didn’t get hit once, not ONCE, in the attack on King’s Landing. So upon viewing that, one or the other can be deemed unreasonable. I think Rhaegal could’ve gone out in a smoother fashion.
What about poor Missandei?
Yes and no. The actress herself, Nathalie Emmanuel, commented in a Vanity Fair interview that “...the fact that she died in chains when she was a slave her whole life, that for me was a pungent cut for that character, that felt so painful.” I feel that, truly. But it’s that tragic irony that makes it a believable scene for the show, that works in a way to hurt all the more deeply. It also paved the way, along with all of Daenarys’ other losses, for the change from protagonist to Mad Queen and the destruction of King’s Landing. The tragedy of her romantic relationship with Grey Worm being cut short is just more depressing icing on the cake. The “no” portion of this answer is directed towards the fact that Daenarys’ change was under scrutiny for being fast tracked, and that makes Missandei’s death just a little less substantial when it’s end result is being questioned. All in all, this character’s death, while sad, mostly worked in favor of the show’s direction. Whether or not the character deserved that violent of a death is another matter.
Varys didn’t deserve that, did he???
No. The actor who portrayed Varys, Conleth Hill, told sources like Entertainment Weekly that he wasn’t entirely pleased with the way that his character met his demise, and went on to say that “[he] was ‘bummed not to have any reaction to [Littlefinger] dying, if he was [Varys'] nemesis.’” I agree that Varys seemed to lose some of the traits that made him such an all knowing, insightful figure earlier in the series. He wasn’t necessarily dumbed down, but he felt, in a way, lacking. He DID always maintain that what he did was for the good of the realm, and he never lost his way with that, and his death wasn’t completely dismissive of him. There was emotion there when he was roasted alive by Drogon, but it’s the Littlefinger part that gets me. Both Varys’ and LIttefinger’s death would’ve felt so much more epic if one had died by the other’s hand. They were mysterious figures dueling from behind the scenes, and Varys doesn’t say shit about Littlefinger being dead. Nothing. Littlefinger’s death in front of Sansa had meaning, but to lose track of each other’s whereabouts and conditions was a disappointing turn.
How cool was the Hound and the Mountain’s final confrontation?
Very cool. It delivered on all accounts. A showdown built up since they were young boys, something we KNEW was going to go down since season one, that was visually astounding (don’t you dare tell me Drogon flying about the castle’s exposed flaming staircase was cheesy), and didn’t end well for either of them. But it was never going to. The Mountain was unstoppable, especially in that zombified state. The Hound was relentless. He had his redemption earned, he had his sweet scenes with both Stark girls, and he had nothing left for him but to see his brother fall. Shakespearean in construct, and I couldn’t have been more pleased.
Was the simultaneous death of Jamie and Cersei Lannister the most fitting end for them?
Yes and no. Look, it made sense for them to go out together. Born into the world together, siblings in love, they always were together, even to the very end. Some say Jamie turned back into his old self from earlier seasons, I disagree. He wasn’t arrogant or evil, he was just a fool in love, despite his feelings for Brienne, it was always Cersei. He served his purpose in the North and now he wanted his sister to live. The mother of his children past and present to LIVE. He was disappointed in her but didn’t HATE her. Cersei always loved Jamie back, and while she also fucked around with Euron when Jamie rode North, that was a ploy, a tactic. She needed his assistance to win so she gave him what he wanted. The final embrace is so devastating between Jamie and Cersei, and it does feel right. That being said, Cersei deserved at the very least some more dialogue in the final few episodes. I personally saw her meeting her demise by the hands of Arya, another name off the list, but it was not to be. Maybe something a little more violent to see, as we’ve loved to hate and hated to love this character from the very beginning. Maybe Jamie should’ve had a happy ending. But we didn’t get that, and in Thrones fashion, we got a sad turn of events for him. I loved Jamie ever since he showed he wasn’t a total piece of shit, but him living was never something I saw.
Did you hate Euron Greyjoy?
A lot of people did, at least the show’s depiction of him, but I didn’t. I thought his character was well cast, for the most part accurate to the description of him in the books except for the eyepatch, and added further dynamic to the Lannister side of the war, while also being a nice foil to Jamie. He was what Jamie used to be, cocky and self indulgent. I think he was way too close to death when Drogon blasted his ship, but that and the odds of him finding Jamie once getting to shore alone aside, I thought their final showdown was well done and perfectly violent. “I’m the man who killed Jamie Lannister,” he says. If he had any purpose, it was there. Not to mention he gave the Greyjoy storyline much needed momentum, and I do love the dark intensity of House Greyjoy and the Iron Islands.
What does Grey Worm have left to look forward to?
NOT MUCH. His Queen dead, his love dead, his punishment for Jon only kind of being granted, his purpose gone. But, there it is. His purpose is finished. No more fighting. At least not for a ruler. He’s free, so his ending was satisfactory. I always liked Grey Worm, and am glad he had experienced some happiness, at least for a little while. Let’s hope he and the rest of the Unsullied (and the Dothraki right? What’s left of them? All five or six that should have been left?) live out the rest of their lives in peace on the island of Naath.
Samwell Tarly ended up in a nice spot, right? What about Gilly?
Sam came the fuck up. Night’s Watch vows be damned! He's a Grand Maester now. AND he’s getting laid on the regular, with a baby on the way. Look, I don’t really give a fuck if he’s bound by his vows at this point, and I don’t think anyone in the show would really give a fuck now either, considering all that had transpired. The Night’s Watch barely has anyone left. He earned his way away from there. Sam should by all accounts be dead considering how he was shown to be swarmed in the episode “The Long Night”, but since he’s not, and neither is Gilly, which would’ve been a sweet Thrones-like twist for her to have been killed in the crypts, I’m glad they’re doing well. A little too sweet of an ending, but amidst all the losses, we needed at least one couple to make it.
Brienne had a happy ending, right?
Yes. Not only the first anointed woman knight in Westeros history, but the commander of Bran’s Kingsguard, she got a pretty sweet deal in the end. After her sad backstory and hard work, she earned it. The Jamie romance was sweet and I’m glad she got some affection from someone she loved, but in the end it was not meant to be. The scene of her adding to Jamie’s entry in the White Book was super touching, both to commemorate Jamie but also to show Brienne once again proving her devotion and loyalty to an individual. She got some form of closure, and allowed Jamie’s legacy to appreciate some more respect.
Podrick lived to the very end??
Yes. And he ended up in a nice spot. From a squire to Tyrion in the early seasons to becoming a member of Bran’s Kingsguard. And along the way he got laid, a lot. Pod did well for himself. He deserved it. He was always a likable, albeit somewhat simple at first, fellow who stuck with his friends and got rewarded for always being loyal and dedicated. We like Pod.
Did Bronn sell out?
Bronn may have ended up doing well, but I always thought Bronn would perish. I’m glad he didn’t I suppose, but I swear, when he was shooting at Drogon with that scorpion when Daenerys and her army rushed the Lannister army while they were leaving Highgarden in season six, I thought that was it for him. When he’s tasked to assassinate the Lannister brothers, I thought that might be it for him. An ironic twist being that he was close to both of them, but he was a greedy fellow who wanted to get as much as he could out of any situation. I thought one would have to kill him. But that didn’t turn out to be much other than him playing his way into a bigger reward. Bronn was a likable character and him succeeding wasn’t a bad thing, I don’t consider it a betrayal of his wayward ways, but rather a well earned retirement. He got his castle he always lusted after, and earned the quite prominent, albeit lengthy, title of Lord of Highgarden, Lord Paramount of the Reach, and Master of Coin. Not a bad state of affairs for a random sellsword to fall into.
How about Davos Seaworth? Did he deserve to stick around?
Davos Seaworth was always a trustworthy and loyal advisor, to Jon Snow and to Stannis Baratheon before him. He wasn’t wrong to support Stannis’ rightful claim to the Iron Throne, but as things progressed with Stannis becoming blinded by Melisandre’s false promises and visions through the Lord of Light, he showed that his moral code was strong. When becoming close to Jon, he continued to exhibit these strengths and supported him and the North passionately. Davos earned his promotion to Master of Ships under the new rule of King Bran, he did not betray Jon by any means, as Jon was sentenced to his punishment for his own doings, and as an old man who had survived quite a bit, endured such hardships as losing his son in front of his eyes and losing his loving relationship with Stannis’ daughter Shireen, he deserves some rest and respect as someone in a higher position.
Did Daenerys’ change make sense, and did she need to die?
This is a big one. Yes and no. Yes, because she had exhibited cruel and reckless behavior since the early days of the show. Her actions were never to harm innocent people, but they were cruel all the same. We start to see patterns of her wanting to ignore advice and use her dragons to conquer and rule, even though this is often suggested as a bad move. Jon Snow talks her out of it at Dragonstone. She talks about wanting to attack the Red Keep and fuck shit up before settling for attacking Jamie and his men. She almost seemed darkly thrilled when commanding “dracarys” to her dragons, each time she would say it upon re-watch, I noticed how she seemed to relish saying it and the destruction that would no doubt ensue. She begrudgingly would always listen to advice, but it’s when all those she would take advice from had perished, or at the very least became advisors that she did not trust to be advisors anymore, that she acted. Yes, it made sense that after all her personal losses, that without most of her trusted allies, she would snap. She always had the potential as a Targaryen, but after experiencing such tragic losses, after accomplishing so much and being so close to the Iron Throne, she went the fire and blood route. This puts a realistic spin on human emotion to me, and I still think it made sense as a direction to go in. Dany and Jon living happily ever after never seemed like a realistic option for an ending. But, alas, there is also the “no” portion. It was way too fast tracked. Not enough to make it unbelievable, but enough to make it harder to swallow. Again, if the show just had more time, it could’ve transitioned easier. I defend it but also concede that this was the biggest fallout of the Thrones final season’s lack of episodes, no matter how epic and full of carnage I believe the episode “The Bells” was, I cannot just shrug off the fact that it would have benefited immensely as a transition if it just had more time to do so. As for dying? Since we’re going the route of her becoming a cruel leader, Jon killing her to avoid more bloodshed made sense for both characters. Hell, I saw her maybe dying anyway, even if she DIDN'T go nuts. So, her unfortunate death is something I believe passes here as less of an issue than her turn as Mad Queen.
Tyrion as Hand? Again?
Yes. It made sense. Tyrion had endured quite the journey on his road to where he ended up as King Bran’s Hand; a treacherous lover, a hateful father and sister, an ungrateful attitude from the citizens of King’s Landing, and having to evade death numerous times. Tyrion was always a character to root for. His dialogue even up until the last episode was on point. The scene where he discovers his dead siblings in the rubble? A truly heartbreaking moment, and a testament to the powerhouse actor Peter Dinklage is. His Bran speech? Mmmm, we’ll get into that next. But Tyrion himself always seemed like a character that was destined to live, being that he had always endured such a hard life despite being part of the great House Lannister. I’m glad he ended up where he did.
I know. I didn’t like it either. Upon re-watch, I accepted it easier without the surprise of witnessing it unfold, and I have to say the unfeeling Bran who had no real desires any longer makes sense as a just and fair ruler. The most interesting or fun option? No. What ANYONE expected? No. But I really never knew who to expect, other than maybe Cersei winning in the end, or the too on the nose options of King Jon or Queen Dany. Tyrion had my vote. Even Gendry Baratheon would’ve made sense, as he was the now legitimized son of the former King Robert Baratheon. We got Bran. I don’t hate it anymore, and I like that the council would actually be adhered to under his rule, with the benefit of them all being relatively close. A happy ending. Maybe too easy of an ending. Tyrion’s speech about Bran having the best story was bullshit. Tyrion had just as crazy a story. Sansa, Arya, fucking Sam. Jon, I suppose, is disqualified here because of Grey Worm demanding justice. “Why do you think I’m here?” asked Bran. Fuck you. It didn’t really play into what he had previously been trying to say, but when watching again I realized maybe Bran was so unwilling beforehand to rule Winterfell because he knew he had to rule the whole goddamn kingdom. I’ll go with that and give this resolution a 50/50.
What about Sansa?
Yes. Sansa lost half her family and went through some shit. Her becoming Queen of the now independent North made a lot of sense. Her turn from silly young girl to hardened, politics savvy Queen was an organic, well written transformation. Sansa’s arc was handled perfectly, and ended perfectly. A little sad, as her entire family is either dead or away from home. I really took that in as bittersweet in a way, when the last shot of her is being shown. But, she has her home, her pride, and her people. The Stark's rule in Winterfell lives on.
Did Arya leaving make sense?
Yes. Arya asks “What’s West of Westeros?” back in the eighth episode of season six when talking with the actress Lady Crane. Arya never really fit into conventional roles, ever since the start of season one. The symbolism of her direwolf Nymeria going her own way with her pack is perfect. “That’s not you,” she says to her wolf. And staying in Westeros, after all is said and done, is not Arya. Marry Gendry and raise children at Storm’s End? Live with her Queen sister in Winterfell? No, I think not. Arya was always prepared to go to great lengths to further her study as warrior/assassin, and with Westeros changing, she knows it is now her time to pursue life in the beyond, to explore further. We’ll never know if Arya settles down West of Westeros or remains a traveler to the end of her days. If I had to guess I’d say she’d never be the type to settle down anywhere.
Did Jon’s reveal to be a Targaryen mean anything?
Yes, I believe it created conflict for what would’ve been too easy a storyline of conquering side by side with Daenerys. It helped evolve her to what she became, and Jon not outright pursuing his rightful claim to the Throne was in his character. The first time I viewed season eight I thought Jon didn’t really say shit the whole season other than “I don’t want it”, and while he still says this, a lot, Kit Harrington does an excellent job of exhibiting Jon’s inner turmoil and heartbreak of knowing he’ll never be able to be with this woman he loves. His killing of Daenerys was in his character as someone who “always did the right thing”, so to speak. Jon Snow as ruler of the Seven, or Six, Kingdoms always seemed to be to be too obvious, he was the central hero of the story overall, but Jon never once sought out to rule in any situation, be it as Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch, or as the King in the North. So, while his exile to the Night’s Watch was tragic in a sense as a punishment for this hero, it was also as nice an ending as we could’ve hoped for Jon. Reunited with Ghost (YEAH!), with his friend Tormund, and now finally being allowed to rest in a place he was comfortable calling home seems as nice an ending for Jon’s story as any.
Drogon bounced the fuck out.
Yeah he did. He melted the Iron Throne and got the fuck out of dodge. I’m glad he didn’t die. The last dragon! We can only assume he took his mother’s corpse to some Holy Ground in the East to be buried, or cremated. Drogon was always the coolest dragon, and him showing his species’ intelligence by not fucking crushing Jon and instead melting the Throne and leaving Westeros was a decision I thought to be a nice touch. Now Bran is out to snatch up his ass somehow. Spin off? Drogon and the Crippled King? Featuring Pod?
Aren’t you glad we got to see Ghost again????
Listen, if we didn’t get that scene of Jon reuniting with Ghost at the very end, I would’ve dismissed the series as a whole. Ghost, the last of the direwolves, except for his sister, the wandering wolf pack leader Nymeria. Ghost went through some shit. The runt of the litter survived. Ghost is fucking awesome, and if we didn’t get to see him because of some CGI budget bullshit I would’ve been livid. If we didn’t get more Ghost after Jon’s lame goodbye which featured not even a pat on the head, I would’ve been livid. I love Ghost.
Real quickly, Yara Greyjoy? Robin Arryn? Edmyn Tully?
Yes, Yara became ruler of the Iron Islands and seemed to obey her promise to Daenerys. Yes, he wasn’t a titty baby anymore and carried himself with much more dignity and poise. Yes, he lived, and I certainly didn’t want all of House Tully gone, especially after their hard fought loss to Jamie and the Freys in season six.
So, there you go. Agree or disagree, agree to disagree, whatever. If you’re stuck in your ways of hating this show, that’s on you. My main point here was never to convince anyone that season eight is a perfect season, because it’s not. But it’s not a bad season, certainly one that did not deserve the hatred it received from such a formerly devoted fanbase. More importantly, it doesn’t ruin the legacy of a show that gave us countless episodes of witty dialogue, shocking deaths, epic battles, and outstanding characters doing outstanding things. I love this show, and I always will love this show. It did not stick the landing like Breaking Bad, or The Wire. I love both those shows as well and recognize the more solid conclusions. But, I also love The Leftovers, a show that didn’t answer a lot of the mysteries it portrayed conclusively. I have yet to binge through The Sopranos, but I have viewed the last scene after hearing how stupid it was, and found it to be both artsy and unique. I liked the second season of True Detective, overly complicated as it was. I cried during the final episode of Mad Men. I appreciate all these and more because television itself is an escape for me, as I believe it is for most people. Particularly in confusing, frightening times like these. So, I absorb them. And they absorb me. And perhaps no other show has done that so thoroughly and completely as Game of Thrones. A fandom unlike any other. How one episode on an HBO sample disc I came across became a full fledged obsession with the show, books, and theories alike. I take my love for it seriously, and I understand why that works both ways, and why people felt let down by something they held so dear. That being said, I urge those who haven’t to watch again, see if time has healed those wounds and you can appreciate it more. Hell, start from the beginning of season one. Treat yourself. I know I will again.
Luke is a member of the writing staff at Faded Morgana, as well as the Creative Director for the Film and Television projects releasing later this year. Luke comes from a pop-culture fueled background including healthy obsessions with Quentin Tarantino, Alkaline Trio, and Wes Anderson films, as well as unhealthy obsessions with old school punk and the Smiths. Luke rates stories by Ewoks rather than Gold Stars.