Writer George R. R. Martin changed the landscape of modern epic medieval fantasy when “A Game of Thrones,” the first book of his series “A Song of Ice and Fire,” was published in 1996. As more books came out, the vivid setting of war-torn Westeros would inspire David Benioff and D. B. Weiss to pitch the idea to Martin about making “ASOIAF” into an HBO series. Said show premiered in April 2011, seeing eight seasons total across just as many years. The concluding 6-episode season 8 premiered last month, and aired its finale this Sunday, ending the saga long before the actual books finish publication.
In a way, naming the swan-song episode of “Game of Thrones” as “The Iron Throne” was rather appropriate for longtime followers of the series (more than the books). The titular royal seat of the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros has been the prize of many a noble house looking to put their bloodline upon it, by either marrying into the ruling house or conquest. Ultimately the Iron Throne was restored in this episode to the last survivor of the family that created it to begin with. But the throne also seemingly carries a curse of madness affecting all who claim it.
Nowhere was this most prominent than in Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) who destroyed with dragon-fire the power of her immediate predecessor, the late Cersei Lannister. Unfortunately she succeeded only by burning – the buildings of King’s Landing literally and the support of significant followers and allies figuratively – and cementing her image as a victor by conquest. Even that is not enough now, with Dany spurring her armies to “liberate” the whole known world realm by realm until all are united under her rule. Jon Snow (Kit Harington), Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage) and Davos Seaworth (Liam Cunningham) go beyond concerned, to terrified.
It takes a reminder from his sister/cousin Arya Stark (Maisie Williams) to steel Jon for what action he must take now. He knows that, being a legitimate Targaryen himself with a closer claim to the Iron Throne, Daenerys can choose to wed him and unite their house (via traditional Targaryen incest), or destroy him and the North to remove a contender to her throne that has a power base. What happens next is somewhat anticlimactic, barring the fate of the Iron Throne itself. But it does hew to the “Thrones” formula of subverting audience expectations.
Following that, “The Iron Throne” stumbles a bit during the aftermath of the true final conflict of the whole show. The (surviving) Lords of Westeros (with past-season cameos) gather in the ruins of King’s Landing to choose a new ruler. Who gets chosen was apparently leaked weeks earlier, but seeing it happen was just off-putting, especially regarding the character’s state of mind. That said, Isaac Hempstead-Wright does seem to ease up on his role’s now-default emotionlessness. It also leads into the final outcomes for the last survivors of House Stark, the “winners” of the Game of Thrones even while they each go their separate ways.
While everything feels rushed despite the near-movie-length 82-minute episode time, the intercutting scenes of the protagonists as they settle into their final places does manage to elicit some warmth for the show akin to its heyday in earlier seasons. The preceding episode may have dipped in ratings, but with the conclusion in mind, the “D&D” team managed to bring their TV narrative, missing source material from the yet-unpublished books 5 and 6 of “ASOIAF,” to a closing that had problems, but still delivered. And now our 8-year watch has ended.
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