Recap: Game of Thrones’ Final Season Broke All Its Best Characters

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BY May 15, 2019

The penultimate episode of Game Thrones’ final season debuted, resolving much of what was left of the story as we know it. The episode focused mainly on a battle for King’s Landing and the Iron Throne. Unlike the Battle of Winterfell, fans could see it all very clearly. Though some may wish they hadn’t. Arguably, this feature-length episode both felt incredibly rushed and excruciatingly long, something storytellers try to avoid. In past episode recaps, we’ve discussed how fans are feeling disappointment about where the story appears to be heading. Sometimes, especially with long-awaited finales, people dislike what they get because it doesn’t match the story they wrote in their head. Yet, the latest episode shows that some of the criticism is warranted. In looking back at this episode, we’ll look at how Game of Thrones’ final season breaks the characters the show spent so long building up.

When we last left Queen Daenerys, she suffered a tragic defeat at the hands of Queen Cersei. Euron Greyjoy killed one of her dragons, and Cersei ordered Dany’s friend Missandei executed right in front of her. While enduring this punishment, her two remaining advisers discussed overthrowing her in favor of Jon Snow. While Tyrion continued to be loyal to his queen, Varys decided to support Jon, who said on numerous occasions he supports Dany. Thus, Dany seems isolated from anyone who could temper her worst impulses. Despite her defeat, she wants to press the attack, with no worry about the many citizens of the city. Cersei gathered them around her like human shields, goading the Dragon Queen into massacring them to get to her. Finally, Jamie Lannister left Winterfell, and Brienne, to ride back to his sister for an unknown purpose.

Burning Out the Spider

When fans first met Varys, people called him “the Spider” or “the Master of Whispers.” He knew all the information worth knowing, using that currency to get close to the throne. He sat on the small council for Dany’s father, the Mad King, drunken womanizer Robert Baratheon, and twisted little Joffrey. Despite all those woefully inadequate leaders whom Varys let be, he suddenly decides to overthrow Dany in favor of Jon Snow. Does he use spies or hidden allies to spread the message? Maybe. We don’t really know, because Tyrion snitches on him to Dany. Thus, he’s arrested, brought before her, and burned alive by Drogon. It’s an ignominious death for such a savvy and important character, so much so that it’s almost unbelievable. Varys ending up dead this way betrays his characterization, at least up until Game of Thrones’ final season.

The main point of contention Varys raised with Dany involved the sack of King’s Landing. He argued for patience on her part, allowing them time to come up with another plan. He didn’t want to see the innocents of the city be collateral damage in the battle. Even if his effort to raise up resistance to Dany’s rule worked, her army still stood outside of King’s Landing. If anything, his betrayal further pushes her towards the very course of action he wants to avoid. The Varys of just a few seasons ago understood this. Instead, he’s marched to his death in what feels like a ham-handed way to turn the audience against Dany. Either staying with or betraying Dany would be in character for Varys, but not doing both. So, not only does he die, what he tries to prevent becomes all the more likely.

The Impotent Imp

Game of Thrones Final Season
Image via HBO

When Tyrion tells Dany that Varys betrayed her, she easily surmises how he learned Jon Snow was actually the Mad King’s heir. Jon told Sansa who told Tyrion who told Varys. She again accuses him of being played by Sansa Stark and by his brother. Dany reveals that the Unsullied captured Jamie on the road. Tyrion immediately finds his brother and dismisses the guards. He gives his brother a key, imploring him to go to their sister and convince her to surrender. He hopes this ploy will work, allowing Dany to take the city without bloodshed. Still, he realizes that by releasing Jaime he’s signed his death warrant. The two brothers share an emotional goodbye, and then Tyrion spends the rest of the episode silently staring with a grave expression. Tyrion’s consistent failures are one of the most glaring character turnabouts in Game of Thrones’ final season.

It’s not that Tyrion keeps screwing up that breaks his character. Complaining that he’s not outsmarting everyone on the way to the Red Keep isn’t fair. A very clever character’s wits failing him in the endgame makes for great drama. Tyrion overestimating his ability to advise a conquering queen sounds like an interesting story. Yet, this version of Tyrion isn’t just failing, he keeps making the same mistakes over and over again. Once a gregarious and talkative person, he’s suddenly meek and terrified all the time. If it’s that Tyrion’s shrewdness suffers because he finally believes in someone, his conflict with Dany should sharpen his senses. Instead, they are just dulled further. Yet, he’s not failing for any apparent reason save for the show’s need to isolate Dany from everyone else.

The Stupidest Lannister

The character redemption of Jamie Lannister is one of the greatest magic tricks both the show and the books pulled off. When we first meet him, he tries to murder a child in order to hide the fact that he’s sleeping with his own sister. Yet, as his story unfolds, Jamie proves himself to be a man of honor, willing to do the right thing. In Game of Thrones’ final season, this arc continues. He is the only one from King’s Landing to fight the Army of the Dead. He knights Brienne, then falls for her. He makes his peace with the boy he tried kill, getting something akin to forgiveness. Even though Cersei put a bounty on him, he still drops all of that to rush back to her side. His last moments on the show effectively undo his entire journey and redemption.

What makes this a character-breaking mistake is not because he is “supposed” to end up with Brienne, Bronn, or off on his own. Rather, it’s because despite his personal growth, Jaime always goes back to Cersei. He knows she’s vile and partly responsible for the deaths of their children. He knows she doesn’t really care about him the way he cares about her. If he chose to turn his back on her for good, that would be an earned ending. Yet, going back to her could also fit that arc. Were it his idea instead of Tyrion’s to appeal for surrender, that would’ve worked, too. Rather, he just says whatever people need to hear just so he can die with her. Perhaps it is the right ending for the character, but it feels like a waste. When a character like him dies, the audience should not be asking “why?”

The Scared Queen

Game of Thrones Final Season
Image via HBO

During Game of Thrones’ final season, we haven’t spent all that much time with Cersei. Essentially, we’ve seen her preparing for this battle and executing Missandei. Cersei is cunning and not easily bested, but she’s always been in a little over her head. Tyrion, her father, and Jamie all point this out throughout the series. So, when Dany’s army finally arrives, she watches in her tower and seems to be in total denial about what she sees. When she finally does flee the tower, she runs right into Jamie’s arms. They go to a subterranean level to hide, only to be apparently crushed to death as the structure collapses. Her last words are spent crying like a child that she wants to live. Of all the characters focused on during Game of Thrones’ final season, Cersei feels the most like one they don’t know what to do with.

The Mad Queen

Of all the characters who’ve been underserved in Game of Thrones’ final season, none have it worse than Dany. Isolated, angry, and paranoid, she presses the attack on King’s Landing. During the battle, she’s able to fly Drogon more deftly than before. In a matter of minutes, she takes out the Iron Fleet and all the giant crossbows lining the walls of King’s Landing. When Greyworm and Jon, leading ground forces, come face-to-face with the Lannister army, they throw their swords to the ground. As bells of surrender ring, Dany’s face contorts with rage, and she proceeds to incinerate the entire city. We don’t see her face again for the rest of the episode. Still, even with all her anger and pain, this makes no sense in the context of her character. Yes, they’ve foreshadowed madness for Dany for some time, but as something she would overcome.

It’s not that Dany isn’t violent, because the opposite is true. Throughout the series she’s exclaimed that she will take what is hers with fire and blood. Yet, when she does unleash that dragon’s fire, it’s usually at a “worthy” target. Dany gives no quarter to slavers, tyrants, or even those who treat her with disrespect. Still, it’s inconceivable that a woman who refused to attack a city a few seasons ago lest one innocent die, decides to commit a war crime against the innocents of King’s Landing. Attacking and burning the city despite the populace being used as shields makes sense. Dany’s always been impulsive. Though she’s never been this murderous. That the storytellers offer no justification for torching the city, with her own soldiers still inside, is baffling. Whatever her reason, Daenerys Targaryen is now the ultimate villain of Game of Thrones’ final season.

This Is the Story We Get

Game of Thrones Final Season
Image via HBO

As mentioned, fans have to learn to accept the story they are told versus the story they hoped to see. So, even though you’ve imagined the final duel between the Night King and Jon Snow, that’s not how the story plays out. Yet, in order to subvert expectations in a way that’s satisfying, the characters’ decisions need to be consistent with who they are. Arya traveling all the way to King’s Landing to kill Cersei, only to just forget about it in the last moment is silly. It allows the show to use her as a guide through the fall of King’s Landing, regardless that the decision to leave seems out of character for her. Jamie Lannister says he doesn’t care about innocents, despite telling Brienne in season 3 that it was for them he killed the Mad King. He changes his tune simply to justify dying with Cersei.

It hurts to see a character like Dany change so abruptly and without good reason. In the span of a single episode, she goes from risking it all to fight for humanity to slaughtering innocents. This may be the story that the show’s creators, and even George R.R. Martin, want to tell. However, it’s fair at this point to ask the question, “Why?” What use was Dany’s entire journey if, at the eleventh hour, she just goes dark side? Perhaps the final episode will try to answer this question. However, it’s difficult to imagine what answer would be satisfying.

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Joshua M. Patton is a father, veteran, and writer living in Pittsburgh, PA. The first books he read on his own were comics, and he's loved the medium ever since. He is the greatest star-pilot in the galaxy, a cunning warrior, and a good friend. His book "What I Learned: Stories, Essays, and More" is available in print from Amazon and from all electronic booksellers.

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