Attention: Spoilers ahead.
Fans of HBO’s monumentally popular fantasy series, Game of Thrones, have been begging the question of who will sit upon the Iron Throne since the series premiere in 2011. Eight years later on Sunday, the answer shocked audiences everywhere.
In the aftermath of the finale predecessor, “The Bells,” Daenerys Stormborn rules upon an ash-covered King’s Landing. Although she upheld the promises she made to the Unsullied and Dothraki forces, all of whom have supported her reign long before the mother of dragons set foot in Westeros, these agreements came at a high price. A city burned. Thousands died. But this mixture of blood and ash does not bother her, who delivers a powerful speech on her future plans for the Seven Kingdoms. The same cannot be said for our other heroes. In a final act of treason, Tyrion Lannister tears off his bronze pin before a large audience, and relinquishes his title of Hand to the Queen. In response to both this and his decision to free Jaime Lannister, he is imprisoned and faces certain death.
This leaves Jon Snow with an impossible decision: betray his queen or watch thousands upon thousands more burn in the name of Daenerys’s so-called liberation. After paying Tyrion a tension-filled visit, he decides to follow in the former Hand’s footsteps.
Just before Daenerys takes her seat upon the Iron Throne, Jon arrives in the throne room. Suspecting nothing, she greets him with another stirring monologue about the future the two of them might share. And, if only for a moment, it appears as if Jon hopes to share in that glory and liberation too. The two kiss, but the embrace collapses in bloodshed. Jon stabs Daenerys, to the devastation of Drogon. But instead of killing Jon by fire as one might expect, the dragon releases his fury on the crumbling throne room walls. He then redirects his fire on the Iron Throne itself. In seconds, it dissolves from a symbol to a mound of molten metal. This act provides fans with an answer to that series-spanning question. Who shall sit upon the Iron Throne? In short, no one.
Having destroyed the Iron Throne, Drogon then picks up his fallen queen and flies toward the East. Speculators have proposed that he is flying to Old Valyria, the birthplace of the Targaryens. This is the last audiences see of dragons. The remaining 50 minutes of the series finale belong to the few human characters who managed to actually survive the past eight seasons.
Jon’s status as rightful heir does not excuse him from murder and treason. The Unsullied imprison him, and in one last desperate act Tyrion calls together a council of lords in an epic reunion: Robin Aaryn, Edmure Tully, Samwell Tarly, Yara Greyjoy, Davos Seaworth, Brienne of Tarth, Gendry Baratheon, Grey Worm, Sansa, Arya, and Bran Stark all gather in the dragon pit to discuss the future of the Seven Kingdoms, Tyrion Lannister, and Jon Snow.
At first, Grey Worm is insistent upon both Jon and Tyrion’s execution. But in the absence of a monarch, Tyrion begs them to vote instead upon a ruler. This decision will not be based upon blood or house or ambition. It shall be based upon worthiness and ability.
After a few moments of silence mixed with unhelpful suggestions on the part of Samwell and Edmure, Tyrion offers the show his final great idea.
“I’ve had nothing to do but think these past few weeks about our bloody history. About the mistakes we’ve made. What unites people?” Tyrion asks. “Armies? Gold? Flags?” He shakes his head before nodding. “Stories. There’s nothing in the world more powerful than a good story. Nothing can stop it. No enemy can defeat it. And who has a better story, than Bran the Broken?”
Although Sansa objects on his behalf, pointing out how her brother cannot father children, Tyrion turns her doubts into more reasons to support the Three Eyed Raven. “Sons of Kings can be cruel and stupid, as you well know.” He says.
This paints a new future for the Seven Kingdoms, a future where, in Tyrion’s words, rulers “will not be born. They will be chosen.”
The following vote is nearly unanimous. The only one to refuse an “aye” is Sansa, who makes a stand for the North and requests that it once again be declared its own kingdom.
And so the council hails Bran the Broken, First of His Name, King of the Andals and the First Men, Lord of the Six Kingdoms and Protector of the Realm.
King Bran soon reappoints Tyrion as Hand of the King, despite objections, and the futures of other characters likewise distill. Grey Worm will lead the Unsullied to Naath. Brienne will make sure Jamie’s true story is told. Samwell will fulfill his dream of serving as Grand Maester, and presents Tyrion with a compilation of the story in a book fittingly dubbed “A Song of Fire and Ice.” Sansa shall rule as the Queen in the North. Arya plans on discovering what’s west of Westeros. Jon is sentenced to rejoin the Night’s Watch. And for once in the entirety of Game of Thrones, the future feels somewhat sure.
The story may lack an ending that audiences expected, but it has one that seems, at least in part, to satisfy the characters who inhabit it. Satisfaction is a long way from thrill or euphoria, but to end with a final quote from Tyrion, “no one is very happy, which means it’s a good compromise, I suppose.”