I didn’t start Watching Game of Thrones until it had reached its sixth season. Like many outsiders, I’d grown tired of all the cryptic tweets and Facebook posts and for years had made fun of people losing their minds over something that couldn’t possibly be that good. And so I filed it away with the Bachelor or the Real Housewives of Somewhere and other things I just didn’t have time for.
It didn’t go away though. So, on a slow night, in the midst of a television lull, my wife and I gave it a go. After the first episode that ended with a man having sex with his sister and then pushing a young boy out the window to what we assumed was his death, we had our reservations.
We stuck with it though and binged watched, as modern cable series are for, and I’m not sorry that I did. It was one of the most engaging entertainment experiences I’ve ever had. And yes, that includes the last season and even the last episode.
Two days ago the series ended and there’s plenty of mixed feelings about just how. I was fine with the conclusion. And while some felt it was anti-climactic, it’s hard to tell how much of that is people sorting through their emotions as they assess the difference between what they thought would happen and what did happen. And hard to tell how much was a result of not being able to let the pace and tension to mount as the last two seasons were spaced out for years, having the opposite effect of the emotional craze of binging on demand.
For what it’s worth, the last four episodes included a siege battle against a zombie army that was so intense I was physically tired at the end of it, a dramatic turn of the main heroine who burned an entire city to the ground on the back of a dragon and a climactic scene in which the male lead murdered his queen with a kiss and a dagger before a fire breathing dragon melted the throne in question and flew off with her body.
If that’s anti-climactic, it’s only because of the expectations set by the brilliant pace and drama of the series that lead up to it.
My guess is that at least some of the frustration came with the quick and tidy ending in which over the last 40 minutes the remaining characters discussed who should be king. And then gave it to someone few expected. And then life went on. The main character, Jon Snow drifted off into obscurity. The queen that everyone fell in love with was dead. And so were all the villains. By the end though, it was less clear who was which. The evil seemed more human. The heroes less heroic.
This is how war ends. The gold standard of cable mini-series, Band of Brothers ended with someone reporting that Hitler was dead…and that the war was over. And then they played a softball game and told us what happened to the characters afterwards. The heroic lead, one of the most storied American war heroes of the 20th century, Major Dick Winters, went on to work in the personnel department at his friend’s chemical plant. The rest of the men melted into the framework of post-war America. It was how things were. And so for me, Jon Snow wandering off into the woods with the free people of the north after a war of unimaginable carnage isn’t strange. It’s very real. And consistent with the central theme of the story. Which was this:
Conquering and ruling are two different things.
Tywin Lannister gave us the key to the end years ago when speaking to his grandson whose father Robert was the king when the Series opened. Robert was “a man who thinks winning and ruling are the same thing.” His flaw, like those of the bad kings of the past, was that he lacked that thing which makes a good king; wisdom. So, when another Lannister, Tyrion, the “imp” offered the omniscient Bram, the all seeing all knowing, who lost his ability to walk when he was thrown out the window in the first episode, it was the logical conclusion. Those that watched and thought that the end wasn’t consistent, perhaps weren’t paying attention to the narrative.
Cruelty is the business of the evil. You can boil down all the justified means to the end, but cruelty is still what’s left. It’s a choice.
The reward for those that behave honorably isn’t personal gain. It is a world where honor still matters.
The only thing that comes for free in an unjust world is a violent death at the hands of your enemies. Or your friends.
And of course, what matters most, is wisdom.
The real conflict wasn’t about who would sit on the throne. But instead, what the throne would be. In this, Game of Thrones got the consistent conflict of the ruling of man right.
The Red Wedding was the most disturbing and shocking moment of television I’ve ever seen. The Battle of the Bastards was the most satisfying. And the death of Jon Snow the most upsetting. Ramid Djawadi’s score was stirring and nearly all of the it was visually beautiful. The end coming after the most engaging characters were dead and most of the political conflict settled, confirmed that it was in fact that characters and the conflict that made the story. And so it felt reasonably cold without them.
The characters that we wanted to get the things we wanted them to get, did not get those things. But they rarely did in Game of Thrones. And the belief that anything could happen and that no one was safe and the high drama it created was the real innovation of what Game of Thrones was.
Why would it end any different?