Game of Thrones series 8, episode 6 review: Well, what did you expect, a neat ending?
If you thought it would be a universally satisfying final episode you haven’t been paying attention
Daenerys congratulates her unruly Dothraki cavalry and her forever ruly Unsullied infantry
This episode 6 review contains spoilers for season 8, episodes 1-6. Stop now if you haven’t watched the final instalment yet.
If you tuned into the last ever episode of Game of Thrones expecting an unforgettable and universally satisfying series finale, you had come to the wrong place.
It’s better to consider the final instalment of the series, its slowest and most sombre, as an epilogue rather than a climax, a coda to all the crescendos, and in many ways a pensive reflection on itself.
Walking through the rubble and ash – and now the falling snow – of King’s Landing, a stunned Tyrion eventually finds his siblings, Cersei and Jaime, crushed to death but still beautifully intact.
Presiding over the detritus, Daenerys congratulates her unruly Dothraki cavalry and her forever ruly Unsullied infantry for having “freed the people of King’s Landing from a tyrant’s grip”. Oh, the irony.
The look on Jon snow’s face and soon Tyrion’s is as if to say: “what people?”
But why stop there? Anointing Grey Worm her Master of War, Dany suggests to her forces that they go liberate the rest of the world from their enslaved lives, from Winterfell to Dorne. Given that they have no qualms about executing prisoners of war, her ululating and spear thudding heavies all seem to agree.
Not Tyrion, though, who far too late throws down his Targaryen pendant together with his allegiance.
“You committed treason,” Dany hisses.
“And you slaughtered a city,” he seethes back.
Is Jon, the frowning, useless conscience of the show, still willing to get behind the reign of the Mad Queen? “I know a killer when I see one,” counsels his assassin sister Arya, a trick made less impressive by having seen Dany kill everyone.
In his cell, during a needlessly drawn-out reckoning, Tyrion says much the same: you’re a marked man, Jon. Wrestling with his conscience, Jon insists on loyalty.
You know nothing, Jon Snow.
The dialogue, for a scene that proves so pivotal, is less than scintillating. “Love is the death of duty,” Jon frowns.
“Sometimes duty is the death of love,” counters Tyrion.
Indeed. What about those rare occasions when love is the duty of death? Such rhetorical inversions seem trite, but on the screen they can pass for meaningful symmetry.
Take Dany’s approach to her long coveted Iron Throne, in an eerily disintegrated hall, a sequence that refers back to a vision she had in Season 2.
“Be with me, build the new world with me,” Dany implores Jon after some brief disagreement over the ethics of genocide. “You are my queen, now and forever,” he says, before swooning into a kiss as the music swells.
Perhaps it’s his dutiful love, or his loving duty, but Jon’s frown hides his decision-making processes well.
Because we only realise, as Dany does, that he has stabbed her in the heart. Farewell Queen. Forever ended quickly.
Free to make his thoughts known at last, Drogon melts the Iron Throne in a grieving blast of dragon fire – was it for this? – and bears his mother away to be buried, perhaps in the air.
Weeks or months pass – enough time for Tyrion and Jon’s beards to grow bushy, winter to have passed, and a surprising amount of King’s Landing to have been reconstructed – and there is a summit among the lords of Westeros.
What is to become of prisoners Tyrion and Jon, and who will rule the seven kingdoms? Democracy advocate Sam Tarly suggests that “the decision about what’s best for everyone should be given to everyone,” an idea that is merrily derided.
Good luck with that online petition, unhappy fans!
Instead, Game of Thrones chooses to be its own judge. “What unites people?” floats Tyrion. “Armies? Gold? Flags?” He shakes his head. “Stories.” (He has clearly not been watching Game of Thrones.)
“There’s nothing in the world more powerful than a good story,” he continues, as the show continues to reflect on itself, deciding that it is Bran “the Broken”, who has the greatest claim to one.
This is the defenestrated young boy who became a cripple, then transformed into the all-seeing, forever watchful, endlessly quote-recycling, Three-Eyed Raven: in short, a Game of Thrones super fan.
Would he take the gig, Tyrion asks?
“Why did you think I came all this way?” says the King Elect, having sat carefully on the last of his spoilers.
Sansa, clearly recent Irish Times reader suggestions on board, opts instead to secede from the realm and claim the North as an independent kingdom that she shall rule. Norexit means Norexit. We are spared the details of the withdrawal agreement.
Back in his cell, Tyrion breaks the news to a scraggly Jon Snow, who, it is diplomatically decided, will be banished to the Night’s Watch.
“No one is very happy,” Tyrion says, like a man who has seen the internet reaction, “which means it’s a good compromise, I suppose.”
You can see his point. Like Ser Brienne of Tarth (whom we briefly see inscribing a circumspect addendum to Jaime Lannister’s entry in the big book of knights), or, for that matter, Sam’s proudly introduced history of Westeros A Song of Ice and Fire (which excludes Tyrion completely), no story is big enough to contain everything, resolve itself perfectly or satisfy everyone.
But at least the surviving characters persist, doing what they did best: Tyrion holding court; Bronn championing the working conditions of sex workers; Sansa being righteous and adored; Arya adventuring beyond everything that is known; and Jon, still no happier, back to the wall and perhaps beyond it.
His watch, it turns out, is not ended.