Game of Thrones: the final episode reviewed

    21 May 2019

    “Happiness writes white.” Henry de Montherlant

    My least favourite part of Peter Jackson’s magisterial Lord of the Rings trilogy is the half hour of toecurling mawkishness at the end where you have to endure all the surviving characters getting married and living happily ever after. Game of Thrones was inevitably going to have a similar problem. After 70 episodes of intrigue, rape, incest, massacres, betrayal, quests, duels, epic battles, existential struggles with the forces of the undead, the healing – and sometimes clunky and twee –  resolutions in the 71st were always going to be a bit of an anticlimax.

    But how could it be otherwise?

    That’s why I’m going to disagree quite strongly with all those critics who are dissing the series finale as the most embarrassingly lame thing ever. Sure it wasn’t as great as that genius oblique ending of The Sopranos (but then no ending ever will be); yes, I would have much preferred it if the final episode had been an Armageddon style confrontation at King’s Landing between the combined forces of the Seven Kingdoms and the White Wallkers. But still, as wrap-ups go, I thought it wasn’t bad at all; it gave us closure, it was generally satisfying and there were moments when it achieved greatness.

    Well, in one moment it did. I’m talking about the scene where – inevitably – Jon Snow has to kill the thing he loves to save the world. I say inevitably because I have been predicting this for months if not years – and I have recorded evidence of this on my Thronescast with Toby Young – that Jon Snow would have to kill off the Mother of Dragons. What I didn’t expect, though, was quite how movingly and exquisitely Dany’s demise would be handled.

    Sure, there were problems leading up to it. The incredibly lengthy scene beforehand where Tyrion in his condemned cell has to plead and plead with the almost subhumanly dense Jon Snow that no, Daenerys is not “our Queen” right or wrong but a fascist tyrant, for example. This didn’t work because we could all see throughout that it was only there to fake up a non-existent dilemma. Yes Jon Snow has always been a bit stolidly well-meaning, a bit slow on the uptake, a bit overrespectful of rank. But remember, like everyone else, he has just seen an entire city – women and children too – fried to a crisp by the vengeful, petulant Daenerys and watched the head of her army, Grey Worm, casually slitting the throats of prisoners, ISIS-style. Did we really need what felt like about half an hour of Tyrion using all his pained-frowning and wheedling skills to persuade him where his duty lay?

    Sometimes, though, you need a rubbish, psychologically implausible, turgid scene to serve a higher cause. That tiresome debate with Tyrion was there, first to allow a pause in the proceedings to bore us all into a false sense of security, and second to introduce into our heads a glimmer of doubt. Maybe, just maybe, Jon Snow really was so shallow and gullible that rather than kill Daenerys he would agree to be her consort. She was, after all, looking pretty fit in her new, evil dominatrix leather outfit, so you can see why he might have been tempted.

    Then, of course, he stabbed her. She died, as she was always meant to, in his arms – a disbelieving expression in her eyes. And it was so sad and moving you temporarily forgot all those innocents she’d murdered, what a tiresome Momentum-leaning, Remain-voting SJW she was and almost wished she could come back to life. So did Drogon, the final surviving dragon, who nudged her body piteously with his snout, before crossly torching the Iron Throne and reducing it to a molten puddle as if to say: “If my Mummy can’t have it, then NO ONE shall.” I loved this beautiful scene, with its magical, otherworldly, Deathly-Hallows lighting, the ash falling on the ruined throne hall like snow (or was it actual snow?), so much that for me it almost redeemed the cackhanded awfulness of this final season. It has to be among the greatest Game of Thrones moments.

    I also very much liked the wordless set pieces at the end, where you glimpse the various Starks or honorary Starks striding purposefully towards their future: Sansa, as Queen of the North; Jon Snow – finally reunited with his much-underused dire wolf, yay! – back in his rugged, classic-Thrones Night’s Watch outfit, leading an exodus North of the Wall with his mate Tormund, perhaps, with luck, to find happiness with another Ygritte (who’ll rightly tell him that he still knows nothing); Arya on the deck of a ship, sailingly boldly beyond the further reaches of Westeros to the regions known as “Game of Thrones Spin Off Series”.

    As for the rest, well, I found its unevenness endearing – and indeed, quite characteristic – rather than irksome. The appointment, by committee, of King Bran brought some unlikely and perhaps sorely needed humour to what might otherwise been a depressingly downbeat and grim finale. I liked the bit where Sam invents democracy – only to be laughed out of court by his fellow bigwigs. And I liked its portrait of the new king’s small council, bickering over the kind of spending decisions which afflict all governments – should we blow the budget on the navy or brothels?

    With luck, it will penetrate into the uni-brainwashed heads of Thrones’ impressionable younger viewers that if you support Jeremy Corbyn and Bernie Sanders you don’t actually end up with a new Jerusalem but with blackened corpses littering the ruined avenues of King’s Landing. Boring King Bran is what we all need if we’re to have a quiet life.

    Last week I talked about the triumph of the “plotters” over the “pantsers” in scripting this final series. That is, no longer have the storylines sprung from character; instead, the characters now have little autonomy but are expected to behave according to the exigencies of the plot. This was certainly the case with that ludicrous scene where Grey Worm – implacable, ruthless, and thick – suddenly finds it in his heart to allow Tyrion (betrayer of his beloved mistress, friend of her murderer Jon Snow) the chance to deliver the speech which enables the transformation of the Seven Kingdoms from tyranny to oligarchy.

    We could quibble on these lines for hours, though, couldn’t we? Thrones was always a bit eccentric and inconsistent. If you’re really picky and want near-perfection, I’d recommend you start watching a series called Gomorrah. But it hasn’t got nearly as many swords, dragons or naked breasts in it – the lack of which we shall all be feeling for many months to come. Roll on the first Thrones spin off!