With arguably the biggest show in recent television history finally wrapped up, there has been a lot of buzz and controversy about how it all ended. I would like to take a moment now to reflect on the last episode and to share my thoughts on how the show that I loved so much left us feeling. Regardless of what you wanted to happen in the finale, all of the shows fans are left to deal with grieving the loss of something that we loved as we try to cope with the end of a show that we were so passionate about.
Winners and Losers
Let me start by saying that, for me, I found the ending to be appropriately bittersweet. No character felt like they “won” The Game, really. True, Sansa and Bran came the closest, I suppose, with Bran objectively winning the throne. However, I would argue that Bran no more won than anyone else. He never wanted to be King, but accepted it because he knew (or foresaw) that it was his fate.
Sansa, I believe, truly wanted to be Queen of the Seven Kingdoms. In the end, however, she settled for becoming Queen of the North. It appears to me that this was a result of her wisely discerning that it would be much easier to win and hold the throne there. That said, she still lost out at least once, and I would argue twice, at being Queen of the Seven Kingdoms. Then there’s Arya, who lost out on her chance at clearing all the names off her of ‘list’ herself. However, she (along with Sansa) likely achieved more than any of the other characters on the show. This was done through personal growth and achievements, as they both went from meek, underrated little girls to some of the most powerful and important people in the world.
As for Tyrion, he didn’t want to be the Hand (again), but he also didn’t want to die, or have Dany remain Queen, so it seems that he also got the next best thing. In fact, the members of the small council are really the only people close to anything like real “winners” of the show. All of them gained so much more than they had when it all started. Yet, each of them, in turn, still had to pay some price, or lost something important, to win a seat at that table.
And then there is Jon. He would have wanted to love Dany forever at one point in the show, but in the end her choices killed that part of him. In reality, though, I think his heart was always north of The Wall (with Ygritte), anyway. I’d argue that as a result, Jon, too, got the next best thing. Really, he ended up back where he started, but only after having gained years of love and friendship he wouldn’t have had staying in Castle Black. This was also after helping to save the world (and his family), after he got to know love twice, after he gained a ‘name’, and after he helped to bring true peace to Westeros.
By murdering the woman he loved.
I could go on, but the point is that no one really seems to have truly won. At least, not in the way anyone would have likely envisioned winning (including the audience). Instead, everyone kind of got “the next best thing” to winning, or at least “finished better off than they started.” Or, as Tyrion aptly points out in an almost fourth-wall-breaking observation, “No one is very happy, which means it’s a good compromise, I suppose.” I would argue that is true for us, the fans, as well. All of this feels very bittersweet and leaves everyone in the show, and those watching it, with a sense of both winning and losing.
I think, when it comes to our expectations as fans, we often fall victim to our own hearts. We feel like just because we love something, we have the right to expect or deserve the outcome(s) we want. I believe that I enjoyed the show’s conclusion because I told myself going into the finale that I would let the story tellers tell the story they wanted. I wasn’t going to expect them to tell the story that I wanted them to tell. Honestly, I challenge anyone who didn’t like the ending to describe “their ideal ending”. One that’s more appropriate than what the show gave us, while also pleasing everyone else, not just them.
And therein lies the rub. We all know that you can’t do it. That’s the double-edged sword with all great shows/books/movies/etc. Everyone gets so invested in the things WE want from it, and for it, that we often forget it was never our story to tell. We take ownership in it because we love it. A similar backlash happened with Episode 8 of Star Wars, the ending of the Sopranos, many famous books, and a myriad of other shows, movies, and media. Fans convince themselves that they know better than the creators on how the story should unfold, which is kind of disrespectful if you think about it.
Furthermore, had the show ended exactly how fans wanted it to, and let’s ignore entirely the fact that fans wishes vary widely on this subject, GoT would have likely been accused of pandering to fans, being cliché or predictable, or of outright selling-out to fans demands.
The Death of Love
To explore my point about fan investment a little more, imagine if all 8 seasons, all 71 episodes, of GoT were released in one huge Netflix-style mass-release. In this reality we could have binged the entire show in a few massive sittings. There would be no months and years in between to digest, obsess, discuss, and theory craft. In which case, I would argue, most of us would have taken the show and it’s ending for what it was, and at face value. As a result, we’d be walking away from it more satisfied.
Instead, we have had so much time over the years to actually mind-f@#$ ourselves out of appreciating the show that we loved so much for what it is, not for what we wanted it to be, that we ironically ended up to doing exactly that—mind-f’ing it.
In other words, in the end we are all like Jon Snow—we knew nothing. Not until it was too late, at least. By the time we see the truth all we will be able to do is look back, much as he did at the end of the show, and realize that we were actually the ones who killed what we loved. That we alone drove the dagger through its heart. And afterward, as with Jon and so many others on the show, we are left with a consolation prize. The next best thing. Forced to wander off into the wilderness, bittersweet and heartbroken, because of it.
Which, I would argue, is a very Thrones ending, if you asked me.
Azrael (AzraelAsItGets) is primarily a Twitch.tv content creator who focuses on games like Hearthstone, various FPS shooters, and a range of RPGs. In addition to streaming, he enjoys writing, movies, board and tabletop games, and has a myriad of other pop culture interest. Azrael also hosts The Orbit podcast along with his EO teammates ExilesRhythm and Rudeclouds. You can catch his streams and live recordings of the Orbit on his Twitch stream, follow him on Twitter, or find him on Patreon.