Spoilers for the Game of Thrones series finale
Agree to disagree, but I thought that ending was pitch perfect. Ruling should be a duty, a humdrum service, not a fancy glitz and glam glory. Not a game, but a responsibility taken with reverence for who can make the best decisions. Bran moves us into a better world not by being classically heroic but by being even, measured, non-partial, wise and not out for glory – by being inherently without ego and able to see the big picture.
We see the meaninglessness of the throne and the inherent corrupting nature of absolute power. Ruling shouldn’t be coveted and lusted after, but treated as a reverent duty for the good of others. Which is why it feels so right that none of these people are thrilled to be a leader. Ultimately you destroy the wheel by destroying the vision of bloodied, glorified power in favor of peaceful, reasoned service.
Jon is a true hero in his selflessness. To the very end he did the right thing, because it was right and not for glory or ego. And then he remains humble and does what’s best for the realm again by leaving to avoid more war. This is the only way a truly peaceful ending can be achieved. And the idea that peace requires complex cooperation from a group of players, that it isn’t about one ruler but a committed interplay between all, is so vital — especially now.
The truth that a King is and should be largely a figurehead is powerful. Ultimately Tyrion ends up the actual, acting King, making the decisions yet remaining humble in his acknowledgements of his mistakes and learning from them.
Jon being Aegon Targaryen is not “useless.” I presumed that it was the reason why he (and only he) was able to carry out this Queen-Killer act. At first, approaching her castle, Drogon wakes up as a supposed gatekeeper and seemingly lets him through because he is who he is. Because Drogon has an innate recognition and reverence for him as a Targaryen. This ties together Drogon’s innate connection to Jon that was established since they first met. Then, after he kills Dany, Drogon once again does not burn him. I gathered once again that it was because he is who he is. Presumably, even if Drogon had lit him on fire, he would not have burned.
They still allowed for some mystical, mythical hero moments aligned to his identity as Aegon Targaryen while also not allowing for the trite and “too neat” ending of him on the throne to come to fruition. His identity also made him able to ride Rhaegal and help in the Battle for Winterfell (and don’t tell me it didn’t help — everything mattered in that battle and led to the defining moment, as Bran said). It also shows (once again) that it doesn’t matter who you’re born as. Names and titles don’t matter. And there’s something tragically beautiful, poetic and heart-wrenching about Aegon Targaryen silently and humbly returning to the end of the earth without glory and acknowledgement. It also harkens to Aemon Targaryen, who was previously at the wall, silently and humbly. And finally, as we all know, Jon didn’t want the throne. And it’s wonderful that he ultimately gets freedom and peaceful release. And to be honest, he will likely remain a mythic hero in his realm, and they will sing songs and tell stories of him.
It’s a bittersweet ending that enacts real, mature peacemaking and new world growing. Slowly, humbly, and with care and one foot in front of the other. It makes the first steps towards democracy and roots it — Bran not being able to have children means they will have to continue to vote. These things salve the bitterness of humanity’s (historically relevant) past and illustrate what it truly takes to move forward towards a better world. And no, perhaps it isn’t sexy, but perhaps the lesson there is meaningful. And perhaps watching this together as a world is profoundly important. But somehow fans just want to throw tomatoes and get worked up about the Iron Throne still. Which it seems the thesis of the show is trying to prove is not the point.
It shows that vengeance is hollow, that power can corrupt even the most good-hearted and that war kills innocents. George was a conscientious objector in the Vietnam War. It seems this was the story he was always telling. And it is well-crafted and circular. It both breaks the wheel and shows how the wheel is always turning. It begins again, and yet will never be the same again. And that is how great, historical shifts happen. Humans are still humans, but together, not singularly, we can work towards being better humans for one another.
And ultimately, it ends by harkening to and simultaneously conquering the fear we always felt regarding the great darkness in the threat of the White Walkers – as we see the surviving free people reversing the image of terrifying zombie dead people walking out of the forest. Instead, we walk back into the forest, back to the freedom we come from, yet still, notably, into the darkness. Life conquers fear and still bravely walks into the darkness.
There’s also a profound element to Bran’s transformation and outlook. There’s an almost spiritual emanation that everything is happening just as it should. There’s a reverence for time and space and the loss of desire or action that would come from seeing everything as it is. There is the profound recognition that human life (and storytelling) only has intrigue when we don’t know what’s going to happen. Bran’s change is on point with the true weight and implications of all that knowledge. And now he knows truly and fully that he can’t be selfish enough to attempt to push too far and change too much — he sees the result of this in the Hodor moment and when he tries to follow the Night King and he touches him. Seemingly, the ripples of this lesson are one of the many reasons Bran doesn’t seem to “do” anything in a classical sense in this season. He can’t interfere in a cliche way, and I think it’s truly a strong and meaningful choice that he doesn’t. Everything is happening just as it should. He listens instead of simply reacts. He knows, and serves the knowledge of the larger picture, rather than projecting his own selfish agenda. That is the responsibility he must now carry, and that perhaps all good leaders should.
Besides, let’s not completely forget that Bran did have a long, perilous journey to this point and did have to face many struggles and give up his entire identity and ego in order to be the right leader. And Dany and Jon still have mythic importance in the creation of this new world – that cannot be taken away. Everything is part of a larger picture. It is happening just as it should.
You’ve got a Queen in the North! The North remains autonomous! Tyrion is the actual, effective ruler of the 6 kingdoms, and yet neither a Lannister nor a Targaryen name besmirches the throne. Bronn gets what he’s always wanted because a Lannister always pays his debts. Arya gets pure freedom. Your Stark girls are self-actualized. Side note, I don’t believe the pale horse was meaningless. It was a profound and symbolic moment pushing her towards reclaiming life, and it did ultimately save her by getting her out of the situation.
Everything was happening just as it should, as Bran would indicate. And did you see that culture mixing? Dothraki walking the streets of King’s Landing as new citizens? Jon gets freedom; Sam uses his intellect and training. Davos’ steady judgment is rewarded. The people making decisions are coming from the lower classes or the under-represented groups of this world; people with real vision and understanding of the people they are ruling, not solely elites. Ser Podrick and Ser Brienne have someone meaningful to protect, and being a knight has weight again. And the truth of ruling being consistent, slightly mundane work filled with differing voices is powerful.
Spreading the power around, sharing it, listening to one another, cooperating and compromising – this is what true peace looks like, not simply the right face on a throne. And narratively, giving the audience this responsible yet resonantly righteous ending is powerful for the watching world at large. It’s a true lesson in peacemaking and humanity, illustrating the thesis I believe Game of Thrones has always been expounding. That ego, violence and lust for power are some of the weakest aspects of human nature. And that the making of a new world will take many patient, brave and selfless hands, not one savior. At the same time that it isn’t a fan-service happy ending, it’s still a happy ending, albeit in an unsexy way. This is such a valuable lesson and truly responsible storytelling.
I also personally love the lovely poetry and wordplay of breaking the wheel by replacing it with Bran’s wheels. And replacing the Iron Throne with a wheelchair and someone who’s already always sitting. Bran the “Broken” is the one to “break” the wheel. And the man who truly understands history and its lessons is the one who is likely not to repeat them.
The King carries the stories and histories of the world, and the truth that the weight of the stories we tell creates our reality (that Littlefinger expounds in season 3) comes full circle. Full circle, yet not still spinning on the axis of “The Wheel.” And the character who we presume to follow on Episode one of the entire series, whose devastating fall enacts the events of the show (the turning of this narrative wheel, if you will), brings it home as well. Incredible. An empowering, epic story of victims rising from the ashes: “You will never walk again, but you will fly.”