‘Game of Thrones' Finale: HBO's Epic Comes to Shockingly Somber End

Spoilers ahead for what happened in Westeros

Eight years after it first debuted, “Game of Thrones,” HBO’s juggernaut saga of dragons, queens, kings and a battle over who sits on an Iron Throne came to a not-so-fiery conclusion Sunday. The series finale arrived laden with allusions to character’s pasts, more than its fair share of clichés and a new ruler out of left field.


All hail Brandon the Broken, First of His Name, King of the Andals and the First Men, and Ruler of the Six Kingdoms. Running what appeared to be an outside track in the race that culminated in his ruling what’s left of Westeros, first reactions on social media were of disbelief that Bran Stark (Isaac Hempstead Wright), the Three-Eyed Raven, had become King, albeit in the final minutes of an episode that tied as neat a bow as possible on all the major story lines.

Originating in the mind of author George R.R. Martin, the television drama was based on his series of fantasy novels, “A Song of Ice and Fire,” of which the latest, “Winds of Winter,” is still eagerly awaited by fans. Those same fans would have noted Martin first started his epic tale from Bran’s point of view, so should we really be so surprised it ended with him also?

Martin also reportedly discussed his ultimate vision of where his characters' journeys end–the series story line surpassed the books’ years ago–with showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, who wrote the final season and also directed the somber finale episode. Perhaps the final books will lead us to the same outcome eventually, but thankfully Martin can take his time on the page in comparison to what felt like a rushed televised wrapping up. 

Where “The Bells,” the penultimate series installment, delivered the torching of King’s Landing at the order of the now mad Queen Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) and her remaining dragon, Sunday’s “The Iron Throne” played out on a far more intimate level that favored quiet discussions over computer-generated seiges and fire-breathing serpents. Call it an anti-climatic climax.

Jon Snow/Aegon Targaryen (Kit Harington) dispatched Daenerys, the woman he bent the knee to and fell in love with, via a simple knife to the chest after literally entering her dragon’s lair. Said dragon’s reaction to his mother’s death was to completely melt the Iron Throne before taking her body and flying east.

For his crime, a hastily gathered Westorosi house of lords and ladies sentenced Jon to once again join the Night’s Watch, and we last see him heading North of the Wall to lead Wildlings back to their lands.

Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner) became Queen in the North, which has now seceded from the kingdom. Arya Stark (Maisie Williams), who was left with virtually nothing to do during the final episode, decided to go off on her own again, this time as far west as possible. Brienne of Tarth (Gwendoline Christie) became part of the King’s small council and added the late Jaime Lannister’s many triumphs to his Kingsguard pages.

Grey Worm (Jacob Anderson) pouted throughout before sailing for the Isle of Naath. Samwell Tarly (John Bradley West) was appointed Grand Maester to new King Bran and had already been hard at work on the latest historical text, titled “A Song of Ice and Fire.” Seriously.

Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage) became Hand of the King (again!), in direct effect of his proposing Bran as the only reasonable choice to rule, due not only to his wisdom but also his inability to sire a child, thereby breaking the cycle of ascension through birthright. Tyrion was also reunited with his old friend Bronn (Jerome Flynn), who was also named to the small council.

Before the show’s 80-minute bow, fans were already deeply divided over the direction creators Benioff and Weiss steered the tale over the six-part final season. A petition set up by fan Dylan D. of Fort Worth, Texas, had amassed more than 1.1 million digital signatures ahead of the finale in support of a demand for HBO to remake the final season without the showrunners. Benioff and Weiss are swapping one saga for another with the announcement they will helm the next "Star Wars" trilogy following this year's "Rise of Skywalker."

At a reported cost of $15 million for each of the final six "Game of Thrones" episodes, it would be highly unlikely the studio would even consider remaking the final season, but the petition showed how beloved and divisive the show, particularly the last four episodes, had become.

Viewership in the U.S. grew year on year since its 2011 debut, with season seven averaging 32.8 million sets of eyeballs tuning in each week. Season eight had been averaging 43 million viewers per episode in gross audience ahead of the finale. That’s a lot viewers with an opinion on almost every twist and turn the story line followed.

One thing nearly all fans seemed to agree on regarding the finale was the sweet reunion between Jon and his dire wolf Ghost. It proved far more emotive than much of what had transpired prior, underlining how lacking in closure the early and neat death of Daenerys felt.

If it is any consolation to those who have patiently stayed loyal while the eight televised seasons played out and find themselves bereft of Westeros and its denizens, Martin has said there are as many as five “GoT” prequels in development at HBO. All take place in time periods some 100-to-5,000 years prior to the events of Sunday’s finale.

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