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Reactions to Game of Thrones' shocking series finale: Hot takes, curated

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May 20, 2019

Game of Thrones may be over, but the discourse surrounding the HBO series' controversial final season and the just-aired series finale is only beginning.

There's so much to say at the end of such a massive series, and it's likely we'll be talking about Game of Thrones for long enough to carry us through spring, when winter comes again. For now, though, here are some of the hottest takes about some of the biggest topics of discussion in the wake of the 73rd and final episode of Game of Thrones, fittingly titled "The Iron Throne."

This article will obviously contain spoilers.

Game of Thrones Daenerys 2

Credit: HBO

THE END OF DAENERYS TARGARYEN'S REIGN

The first season of Game of Thrones ended with the rebirth of dragons, and in the series finale, the Mother of Dragons died. It was a tragic end to Daenerys Targaryen's story. Her rise to power ended with her abusing it, forcing her lover/nephew Jon Snow to kill her, lest the Dragon Queen do any more "liberating."

After what Daenerys did in the penultimate episode, "The Bells,” most viewers seemed to understand that Jon did the necessary thing in killing her. Daenerys' crimes were of such a magnitude that she deserved death. But, this means that a lot of the post-finale conversation about Daenerys was still talking about the previous episode. That she died because of what she did is one thing, why she did what she did is another, and many thought the show still hasn't explained that thoroughly.

"The creators of the show decided to evolve Daenerys' increasing paranoia over the course of just a few episodes, let her snap in a second and punish her for that misstep by having Jon murder her a mere episode later," Eliana Dockterman writes for Time.

The finale's attempts to explain Dany's decision in "The Bells" didn't hold up, according to some critics. Both Tyrion's long conversation with Jon where he tried to convince him to kill Daenerys, as well as Tyrion's speech at the impromptu Kingsmoot, weren't satisfactory.

Although io9's Rob Bricken gave the episode a largely positive review, he summed up the issues around Daenerys' fall and death quite well, while still enjoying their ultimate fates as satisfying and necessary conclusions.

"If you think Daenerys' heel turn last week was unsupported by the narrative, I imagine you'll agree it's because the show didn't spend enough time (or didn't have enough time, or didn't give itself enough time) properly building to it," Bricken writes. "By the same token, I imagine a lot of people will find Jon's tearful, agonized murder of Daenerys to be equally unsupported, for the same reason. Between last week's episode and this week, I think there are only about 60 minutes of screen time between Jon standing alongside his queen, ready to attack King's Landing, completely on her side, to him killing her. That's a pretty quick turnaround."

A nice benefit of the show being over is that the cast can now talk more freely. In interviews with both Entertainment Weekly and The New Yorker, Daenerys actress Emilia Clarke admitted she "didn't see this coming," and that it was a struggle to make sense of the character turn that showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss had given her. "I really just had to sit there and wrestle with how I could make good on what they had written," Clarke told The New Yorker.

With some distance, viewers will probably have different thoughts about Daenerys' death. For now, we're all still wondering how she got to that space. At least everyone can agree that Clarke did everything she could to sell Dany's final moments, as Polygon's Ben Kuchera writes.

"Daenerys may have been given the rawest deal in this truncated final season, but Emilia Clarke acted the hell out of some truly wretched scripts," he writes. "The writers took the character to a believable place using unbelievable means, but Clarke remained one of the most watchable aspects of the show."

Game of Thrones Bran

Credit: HBO

BRAN? SERIOUSLY? BRAN?

So much of the conversation (not to mention the marketing) around Game of Thrones has been speculating who will sit on the Iron Throne when it's all over. The finale ended without an Iron Throne, the symbolism of which Drogon pointed out with his own hot take.

Despite the lack of an Iron Throne, Westeros still has a leader. It's Bran, who may not have been the Night King, but he was the king at the end of the day, so same difference, really. Despite what stories about betting markets might tell you, this was not the obvious outcome (the reason the odds were so good in Bran's favor was because the ending of the show had already leaked by the time all those stories were written).

Bran seemed an odd, in some ways unsatisfying choice, and it led to several memes and jokes about Bran the Broken, (as well as a discussion about ableism).

Writing for The AV Club, Myles McNutt addressed how Bran's election as Westeros' king based on the strength of his story seemed weak from a plot perspective, but had a certain thematic strength to it.

"Bran's story is eventful, sure, but it was also fundamentally inscrutable, driven by vague destiny and by a character turn that stripped him of his entire character. His role during the Battle of Winterfell was literally close his eyes and go somewhere else with no explanation, and he's your choice to lead?" McNutt writes, before getting to the good.

"Bran's whole story arc is about how his transformation into the Three-Eyed Raven ended his story but created the possibility of others to continue: he ceased to walk so that others could run," he continues. "And so rather than have someone else faced with the burden of sitting on the throne, the Three-Eyed Raven reimagines the throne as a source of knowledge, to support the journeys of the men and women who serve and honor the realm in various ways."

Some of the most prominent essayists about the Song of Ice and Fire books the show is based on seemed to support Bran's finale role as Westeros' king being the fate George R. R. Martin had for him too, but elsewhere on the 'net, writers had some questions about what would happen next.

"It's hard not to think about what made Bran such a triumphant choice, though, and wonder how this could possibly work for future generations. If the only acceptable king is one who isn't really a person, what happens when someone else gets the job?" Kathryn VanArendonk writes for Vulture. "What will Westeros become when it's ruled by a human being again, someone with desires and a family and pesky, troublesome emotional ties to the physical world? Bran may be an unexpectedly good king for this moment, but his rule almost necessarily implies that one day, bloodshed and tumult will return?"

Brent S. Sirota, an Associate Professor of History at North Carolina State University, echoed this concern in a Twitter thread that drew on real history to explain Westerosi politics.

"The political resolution of the narrative was so unsatisfying because the writers did not have a clear sense of what was politically defective in Westeros to begin with," he writes. "If we accept the late medieval setting of the story and the source material, however remote, of the Wars of the Roses (Lannister/Lancaster vs. Stark/York) then the political problem of Westeros should have been the independence of the aristocracy."

In this interpretation, it was a weak king like Bran or Robert surrounded by powerful aristocrats all jockeying for power that leads to chaos, whereas a strong centralized ruler would have brought stability, even if the idea is anathema to modern understandings of leadership.

Game of Thrones Season 8 Episode 6

Credit: HBO

WHAT ARE THE CONSEQUENCES?

If it seems like Game of Thrones didn't think through what the consequences of Bran's kingship would be, that's fitting with the rest of the season. There were questions that the show didn't answer, and these questions were only a problem because earlier seasons had taught viewers to ask these sorts of questions.

"It's no fun being a stickler. I'm certainly not immune to the joys of a fan-pleasing ending, and I certainly never expected Game of Thrones to answer every question on its way out the door," Scott Meslow writes for GQ. "But I'm interested in some of these very pragmatic questions because Game of Thrones used to be so interested in them. In the end, there's something frustrating about seeing a show that was once so obsessed with consequences decide to sweep most of them under the rug."

It's a dogged criticism that the final two seasons have been subject to, but the finale maybe managed to tie things into too neat a bow, too quickly.

"The most definitive takeaway from 'The Iron Throne,' written and directed by showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, is that Thrones was the Starks' saga all along," The Ringer's Alison Herman writes, explaining that for all of the lofty questions and consequences of earlier seasons, the finale felt incongruously simple. "The series ends with a montage of the siblings embarking on their respective journeys, their unimaginable pain mercifully transmuted into well-deserved new beginnings. Game of Thrones built a following on its epic scope, yet it exited the most intimate and pathos-friendly of family dramas, like This Is Us with genocide and CGI."

Game of Thrones dragon

Credit: HBO

SO… WAS IT GOOD?

Rotten Tomatoes remains, as always, an imperfect way of measuring critical response, but "The Iron Throne" is currently enjoying a 57 percent approval rating on the Tomatometer, which isn't great, especially by Game of Thrones standards. But, the real responses are more nuanced. One respected ASOIAF and GOT essayist tweeted "loved it," while another writer said their "expectations were not so much subverted as subducted. Ground down and dragged beneath the earth's crust."

Sean T. Collins, who was a notable defender of the controversial "The Bells" episode, which he named the best episode of the whole show in his ranking for Vulture, put "The Iron Throne" in the 11th spot of that same list. BuzzFeed's Adam B. Vary ranked it 37th, placing the finale solidly in the middle of the pack.

Game of Thrones Season 8 Episode 6

Credit: HBO

Perhaps the most damning review of the episode, though, came from Vox's Todd VanDerWerff — and what made his take so damning was that it wasn't a negative review, exactly. It was just, well, blah.

"I can always respect an attempt to take a big swing — as the show did in its penultimate episode, 'The Bells' — even if I don't like the result," he writes. "But just dutifully trying to conclude the story as perfunctorily as possible is somehow even worse than a big swing that misses. 'The Iron Throne' is just kinda there, and for all its issues, Game of Thrones was never just kinda there."

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