What can be said said about "Game of Thrones" season 8 now that it's over? Well, it taught me it was okay to be weird — that you can stage what should be a cinematic battle almost entirely in the dark, disregard established characterization to rush through plot points and that all it takes to turn any fantasy television show into an "I Spy" game is some not-so-strategically placed coffee cups and water bottles.
Sorry, there's actually plenty to say about "Game of Thrones," especially its finale — which, whether you like it or not, certainly made some big choices that'll shake up Westeros and the lives of the beloved characters left standing. Here are the best things to read if you're still trying to decide if you liked the ending or if you should write an 8,000-word "worst finale ever post" on Medium:
If You Found The Ending To Be Somewhat Hopeful, We Have Bad News About Oligarchies
With Daenerys dispatched and the remaining lords of the Seven Kingdoms gathered in one place (plus some other movers and shakers), the elites decide to appoint Bran as their new king — well, except for Sansa, who decides it's time to go separatist and commission a really cool weirwood-inspired coronation gown. Bran can't have kids, so in the end Daenerys' rampage sort-of, kind-of successfully broke the wheel, right? The Week's Jeva Lange is here to remind us that the show has very much teased more populist ideas of government, and that by laughing off the mere suggestion of bottom-up rule whilst appointing two Starks as heads of state, the ending's not that happy if you consider the commoners:
The true conclusion of the show is dark: We are back, more or less, to where we began. Daenerys' hubris got the best of her and the only chance for the liberation of the commoners of Westeros was quashed by her self-assuredness. Distressingly, the remaining Westerosi leaders do not adopt a significantly more progressive form of governance. It is no mistake, I think, that the show's final shot is of Jon returning to the lands of the Free Folk amid a crowd of self-determining wildlings. It is as if to remind us, in this last moment, that there could always have been another way.
Speaking Of Bran: Really, That's Our New King?
Writing for The Ringer, Zach Kram breaks down how we got from a boy who wanted to be a knight to Bran the Broken, with the show leaping across several gaps in plot and characterization to get there. It might make sense as an ending, even George R.R. Martin's intended ending, but the show did a disservice to Bran and the characters close to him:
Like much of Season 8, it works more in the moment than it does as the endpoint to a series of connected moments; in this case, every vote from the assembled high lords and ladies for Bran's rule contrasts sharply with every uncomfortable syllable he uttered to Meera's heartbroken face last season, since which Bran has exhibited no real signs of social growth or tact.
Also from The Ringer, if you want a gut check on whether or not these character fates line up with where things seem to be heading in the books, Riley McAtee's got you covered.
For Rolling Stone, Alan Sepinwall's review doesn't mince words about Bran's sudden ascension to the throne:
Arya never seemed like the type who'd want the job. But we spent all season being told the same about Jon, even as Varys and others insisted he'd be great at it. And Bran's own lack of interest in the gig was held up as yet another reason to give it to him. But it's such an odd, underwhelming choice — whether made by the showrunners or told to them by Martin — in the story of Game of Thrones itself. End the show with one of the Stark sisters — whether the one who wanted the job or the one who didn't — and it's satisfying, both as culmination of a character arc we've been watching for a decade and as summation of the ways that Martin tried to upend narrative convention. Heck, end it with Sam in the new chair — either as king or in his attempt to invent a democratic government — and it feels more earned based on how far he's come and how much time we've invested in him. Giving the crown to Bran is like giving the Super Bowl MVP to the long snapper.
Why's Arya Going West?
To be a colonizer! Okay, okay — if you want to know what D.B. Weiss and David Benioff were thinking when they decided to have Arya sail off instead of, I dunno, get in one more act of vengeance or spend some time with the horse friend she made at the end of "The Bells," Gabrielle Bruney at Esquire has the context you crave:
As we know from George R.R. Martin, the world of Game of Thrones is round and slightly smaller than Earth. In the author's detailed history, some characters have sailed the Sunset Sea to the West, including Elissa Farmen, who discovered three islands on that side of the world. Unfortunately, the rest of that geography is undiscovered.
Will Springtime Bring An End To Jon's Moping? Unlikely
In his recap at io9, Rob Bricken argues that the finale had more hits than misses when it came to ending the stories for our beloved "Thrones" characters, most of all Jon's:
This whimper of an ending for Jon is a greater tragedy than any hero's death could have been, and it is perfect, both for the character and the show. Jon has won countless battles, united the people of Westeros, defeated an ancient evil, ridden dragons, and even come back from the dead. But at the end, the only semblance of freedom he can have is to leave everyone and everything in Westeros behind him, forever. It's a completely unsatisfying end for Jon, and that's exactly what makes it so great.
Maybe All The Talk Of Stories Wasn't *That* Clunky
In the AV Club's "newbie" (not targeted to people who've read the books) review, Alex McLevy goes into Tyrion's speech about stories and the other ways the finale plays with ideas of storytelling at length, which might help you appreciate that aspect beyond all the Brienne writing memes and jokes about Samwell's big book:
Sam presents Tyrion with A Song Of Ice And Fire, a tome in which Tyrion's own role, far from that of the clever hero or Machiavellian snake, doesn't even exist. His actions have been excised from the record, for good or ill. In other words, Tyrion doesn't have a past that now needs atoning for, outside the memories of himself and those who know him. His story is yet to be written. That little twist helped this scene avoid coming off as some cutesy "here's the book of what you just saw!" nudge in the ribs to viewers, instead reminding them that stories are forever competing for our attention and our belief.
What If You're Just Pissed Off?
If you're just incredibly unhappy with how "Game of Thrones" concluded, rather than sign a silly petition, you should find some solace in Rachelle Hampton and Jacob Brogan laying into the finale and "D&D" at Slate:
Brogan: Right, and even if Martin is to blame, the showrunners still made plenty of terrible and/or corny choices entirely on their own, not least of which was the scene were they had Sam—perpetual avatar of Martin himself—present a book that was actually titled A Song of Ice and Fire.
Hampton: I think I actually screamed out loud at that point.
Brogan: This show has always loathed its fans, but it was at that moment that I realized I no longer knew whether I hated it more than it hates me.