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The ‘Game of Thrones’ Season 8 Finale Exit Survey

Discussing the short-lived reign of Daenerys Targaryen, the unexpected reign of Bran the Broken, and the end of the most popular show of the 21st century

HBO/Ringer illustration

After every episode of the eighth and final season of Game of Thrones, staff members at The Ringer gathered at the nearest weirwood to discuss the most interesting moments, developments, and theories. Without further ado, here’s the exit survey for the final episode of the series, “The Iron Throne.”


1. What is your tweet-length review of the Game of Thrones finale?

Danny Heifetz: Episode 73 would have made for the perfect Episode 80.

Kate Halliwell: Congrats to anyone who went into the episode wondering what in the world Edmure Tully was up to. Everyone else … hope you managed your expectations.

Miles Surrey: The strangest part about Game of Thrones ending is that I felt totally indifferent to it?

Shaker Samman: So, like, why is there still a Night’s Watch?

Victor Luckerson: An ending that felt right more than it actually explicitly made sense; shout-out to that incredible score.

Michael Baumann: You can’t put a neat little bow on a story that was made great by its vastness and messiness. Where it ended up was fine, but how it got there was a little sloppy.

Sean Yoo:

Alyssa Bereznak: And now my watch is ended.

2. What was the best moment of the episode?

Yoo: Jon’s conversation with Tyrion, in which Jon tries to talk some sense into him and inevitably gets some sense talked into himself. The exchange was the culmination of their character arcs in one crucial decision. Jon fully understands the consequences of Dany’s actions but is unwilling to admit the choices he has to make, and he needs Tyrion’s reasoning skills to push him forward. Seeing these two foundational characters conflicted by love, death, and duty is why I watched Game of Thrones, and I’m glad that I got a moment like that, in an otherwise disappointing finale.

Samman: Jon’s conversation with Tyrion right before he killed Dany was the moment this episode peaked. It was classic Thrones: two characters talking in a room about actions and consequences that go far beyond the two of them. The episode might have taken a rotten turn, but this was GoT at its ripest.

Surrey: I don’t understand why Jon needed a pep talk from Tyrion after watching thousands of people get burned alive, but his conversation with Dany about mercy was low-key terrifying. Emilia Clarke did some of her most compelling work in the final two episodes. If only Benioff and Weiss had given the Mad Queen Dany stuff—like the rest of the story lines, frankly—a little more time to breathe.

Also, a bit on the nose but nevertheless, dope:

HBO

Bereznak: Jon’s surprise kiss of death was exhilarating, both because a) he killed an evil totalitarian dictator who was planning to burn down all of Westeros and b) he finally stopped brooding, made a choice, and followed through on it. All historic implications for the leadership of the Seven Kingdoms aside, it was just a triumphant moment of personal growth for a dude who usually can’t make a decision to (quite literally) save his life.

Luckerson: Sansa shutting down her uncle at the tribunal while he was trying to pitch his Game of Thrones spinoff.

Halliwell: The final Stark montage got to me, I’m not a monster. Also, every vocalization of the main theme nearly made me tear up, no matter what was happening on-screen.

Baumann: The head fake toward Sam inventing democracy—which would have been noble but more importantly corny as shit—then everyone laughing the idea off.

Heifetz: The last lines of dialogue on Game of Thrones are, and will always be, “I once brought a jackass and a honeycomb into a brothel.”

3. What was the most frustrating part of the episode?

Bereznak: The short answer to this question is the five episodes that preceded it. But if we’re talking actual scenes, Tyrion’s half-assed reasoning that the council elect Bran to be the ruler of the Seven Kingdoms because “people like stories” is an insult to the intelligence of his character and maybe also to the viewers of the show. (This has been a problem all season.) And hey, here’s a fun tale: When the White Walkers attacked Winterfell, Bran’s best strategy was to warg into some crows, while Arya’s was to use her lifetime of training as an assassin to stab the Night King in the gut and save the human race. He’s not the only Stark kid with a compelling origin story!

Heifetz: It is incomprehensible that we did not see Jon confess to killing Dany. If Jon had explained his rationale, that monologue would have been the climax of the series and a fitting bookend to Ned’s stubborn honesty getting him killed. Instead … we don’t even know what happened. Tough.

Halliwell: The time jump from Jon killing Dany to the council in the Dragonpit was unbelievably jarring. What, I’m supposed to see Tyrion’s marginally grosser beard and discern that a few weeks have passed?

Luckerson: Again it was the pacing and abrupt tonal shifts. After the intense first half with the Mad Queen, the rest of the episode felt oddly … leisurely? Jon’s banishment to the Night’s Watch is played as a tragic end when he’s learning the news in his jail cell, but his story ends with … a triumphant final shot with swelling strings? The problem with the episode and the season was that it felt like a series of randomly juxtaposed moments rather than a carefully crafted narrative building toward an inevitable conclusion.

Samman: The Great Council scene. There’s precedent for selecting a new ruler that way. Twice, lords under Targaryen rule picked a new leader by the same manner, and a third time, they gathered to help figure out who would lead while an underaged king grew up. But to have a prisoner who was just told to stop talking convince the most powerful men and women in the realm to nominate as king a person (is he even a person?) who has abdicated his family name and possessions and has no real leadership skills is ludicrous.

Yoo: The council at the Dragonpit was really difficult to watch. It was basically watching my nightmares about the show come to life right in front of me.

Surrey: If you want to make Bran king, I guess that’s fine. But the rationale can’t be “Yo, his story was really cool” when he’s standing next to someone who killed the embodiment of death to save humanity and learned how to wear people’s faces. Sure, Arya wouldn’t want to rule Westeros, but then you’ve also got Ser Davos, who witnessed a smoke monster emerge from the womb of a 400-year-old priestess (a wild story!) and who—no offense, Bran—knows how to hold a conversation for two minutes without warging into a bird.

Baumann: [Six months later]

Tyrion: All hail Bran the Broken, protector of the realm, king of the Andals and First Men!

Multitudes: Hail Bran the Broken!

Bran: Yeah, guys? Y’all don’t have to keep calling me Bran the Broken all the time—I know it’s alliterative but it’s kind of ableist. So maybe not … every time, OK?

4. Finish the sentence: “Jon killing Dany was …”

Bereznak: [Timothée Chalamet in Lady Bird voice] ... very baller, very anarchist.

Baumann: … surprising! I imagined something like that would happen eventually, but when and how it did was unexpected.

Yoo: … poetic, beautifully shot, and the embodiment of A Song of Ice and Fire ... yet somehow I still felt weird about the entire thing.

Heifetz: … cruel. They say you should be vulnerable with the people you love, but the second Dany admitted she had trouble counting to 20, boom—stabbed in the chest. If only she had watched Sesame Street when she was in the streets of Braavos, this would never have happened.

Samman: … expected? It was a cool moment, and Drogon appearing was a nice touch, but there was little surprise to the regicide.

Halliwell: … unfortunately necessary thanks to the writing that got us here.

Surrey: … tragic, probably what George R.R. Martin intends to do if he ever finishes his books, and one of the best parts of the episode.

Luckerson: … fitting, but it left me wondering for a split second how Kit Harington planned to pull off Evil Jon. I fear there would have been a lot of eyeliner involved.

HBO

5. Give us your breakdown of the impromptu kingsmoot. (In other words: Bran!?!?!)

Baumann: So they haul Tyrion, who by his own admission had an oatmeal brain since Season 6, off death row. Out of nowhere he just announces they’re going to have a new system of government and within, like, eight minutes they’ve all agreed to go along with it. Nobody wants to sleep on this?

Heifetz: Vegas. Always. Knows.

Bereznak: What a historic gathering of randos. I see you, “New Prince of Dorne,” and I definitely see you, grown/glown-up Robin Arryn; Edmure Tully, slow your roll. That this meeting included so many characters who’d been pushed to the side over the course of the series detracted from the gravity of the decisions in their hands. And, again, the whole “Bran should do it” thing felt very rushed and weak. Here you have 13 rulers with competing interests at a meeting making the biggest decision for the realm in centuries and not one of them is going to negotiate for a Brexit like Sansa did? Not even [checks notes] “the New Prince of Dorne”? C’mon.

Yoo: It was a car accident you couldn’t help but stare at. First, they try to get Jon and Tyrion free from Grey Worm by giving him lands that aren’t actually empty. Then Tyrion convinces the group that they need a leader and tells them to choose one; Edmure Tully stands up and immediately gets booed off the stage; then Sam gets a try and literally gets laughed at by every single person there. Eventually Tyrion gives a monologue saying they should give it to the kid who doesn’t want it and is also not a functioning human being. The worst part is Bran actually accepts by saying, “Why do you think I came all this way?” I came all this way from Season 1 only to get my heart (Bran the) Broken.

Samman: I love when the person who the show sidelined for a full season and pretty much forgot about afterward becomes the most powerful man alive.

Luckerson: What did Bran do that was useful besides giving Hodor brain damage, getting a bunch of people killed so he could become the Three-Eyed Raven, and then using that power to set off a series of events that led to the mass slaughter of innocents, which he could have helped prevent but didn’t? How has Bran not been banned from Twitter?

Halliwell: If King Bran knows everything, why does he need a small council to advise him on anything? Why does he need a Master of Whisperers at all? Is this why he chose the most unqualified people in Westeros? Wild!

Surrey: They did Tobias Menzies SO dirty! And to quote a friend at my Thrones watch party: “Good for Robin Arryn, who somehow became hot.” (I’m praying to R’hllor it had nothing to do with all that breast milk.)

6. Whose ending gave you the most joy? Whose made you pull out your hair?

Luckerson: The “Queen of the North!” chants for Sansa were the perfect culmination of her arc and full-circle moment for the Stark family.

But while Dany the Despot looked cool as hell, her actions in this episode only furthered the gap between the pre- and post-bells portrayals of the character. Seems like the writers couldn’t decide whether she had grown drunk with power, gone mad, or been strategically planning to use her armies to unleash tyrannical rule for several seasons (wish they had set the last one up—that would have been amazing). Between her still-ambiguous relationship with Tyrion (he loved her … sort of?), her lack of chemistry with Jon, and her rushed heel turn, the Mother of Dragons was robbed of becoming one of the most iconic and captivating villains in television history.

Yoo: I loved what they did with Arya’s ending—it was open ended and left you wanting more. On the other hand, I thought that small council ending was a disaster and wish I hadn’t actually watched it.

Heifetz: I don’t really care what anybody says, Bronn won the Game of Thrones. This is indisputable.

Baumann: Sam not only got the chain but a tenure-track position without even finishing his PhD, an incredible bit of finesse in this economy. Arya, on the other hand, is gonna sail those couple dozen morons out into the middle of the sea, where the overwhelming likelihood is that they’ll drown, starve, or die of scurvy without so much as sighting land. I was so hoping she was going to head for Storm’s End after all, instead of trying to find America.

Surrey: I really enjoyed Arya’s ending, it was a nice callback to her conversation in Season 6 with Lady Crane. Discovering what lies beyond Westeros also happens to be my single biggest curiosity about Martin’s expansive world. (You’ll see what I mean if you Google stuff about Sothoryos and Elissa Farman.) Even if it’s not Arya-centric, give us an adventurer spinoff, HBO! Elsewhere, Bran’s ending makes me roll my eyes so far back into my head they may get lost in there forever. At least it’s thematically appropriate.

Samman: Arya sailing out into the Sunset Sea in search of whatever is “West of Westeros” is cool and could be a fun contender for a movie, considering no one who’s ventured out that way has ever lived to tell the tale. Consequently, the man who’s most equipped to tell you about the fate of those previous explorers, Grand Maester Tarly, didn’t even get to write A Song of Ice and Fire! My man just came up with the title.

Bereznak: I was unexpectedly moved by Sansa’s crowning. (And also very dazzled by her new weirwood dress.) Truthfully, the whole series of Stark children happy endings made Ned’s beheading and the Red Wedding all worth it. That being said, Arya’s decision to become Christopher Columbus was extremely funny. I wasn’t aware she even liked traveling unless it was so she could kill someone she hated!

Halliwell: I loved Sansa’s Queen of the North coronation. 10/10, would pledge my sword. Speaking of, no coronation scene for Bran is … telling.

7. What’s up with Drogon?

Bereznak: Drogon is apparently much better at identifying physical symbolism than I had previously given him credit for. Good boy? I dunno, he was sad his mom died, and probably pretty irritated by all the ash he was inhaling so he flew away like any reasonable beast with wings might. Let him be on vacation, he didn’t ask for any of this!

Samman: I would like an edit of his final scene set to “I Want to Break Free” by Queen, please.

Surrey: Either he earnestly believed the pointy chair killed his mom, or he’s a surprising proponent of democracy.

Yoo: Drogon is off to Valryia with his mom’s dead body—I feel like he’s probably going to have a rough few months. He’ll eventually get back at it and will probably start burning shit down and eating whatever the heck he wants again. Pretty good life, I’m happy for him.

Heifetz: You don’t want to wake the dragon.

Luckerson: Devastated by the death of his mother after her tragic quest for power, Drogon will fly off to another realm, determined to help humans abstain from their worst impulses. Realizing that money is the manifestation of avarice that corrupts most souls, he will launch a noble quest to gather all the gold in his new land so that humans might be compelled to organize a communist agrarian society in which resources are shared equally. Unfortunately, a hobbit and a phalanx of dwarves much more battle-ready than Tyrion will undermine his plan, killing him and his dream of a world where people don’t obsess over iron thrones and golden rings.

Halliwell: They should probably be more concerned about his going rogue. It’s like the Westerosi equivalent of losing a nuclear warhead.

Baumann: He’s eating Daenerys’s corpse, like a cat locked in an apartment with its dead owner.

HBO

8. Snap decision: Where do you rank the final season of Game of Thrones?

Yoo: All the way down in the rubble, where Cersei and Jaime ended up.

Bereznak: Second to last, right before Season 7. The storytelling was consistently haphazard, and so many things were mishandled (Starbucks at Winterfell, the North Remembers). But the sheer spectacle of these final episodes was nevertheless impressive.

Surrey: LOL! Full order: 4, 3, 6, 1, 2, 7, 5, 8.

Baumann: Not at the bottom. There were too many highs and spectacular moments, and absolutely zero Joffrey. But nearish to the bottom.

Halliwell: 4, 3, 1, 6, 2, 7, 5 … then 8. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Samman: Started off strong and ended poorly. It’s probably my least favorite season, though it has close competition from Season 7.

Heifetz: We won’t remember seasons as much as we remember it going off the rails when the show passed the books. In that regard, the last 13 episodes will be remembered as an all-time warning for future adapters.

Luckerson: Gotta rewatch Season 5 to see if “nothing happens” is worse than “everything happens.”

9. What one lingering question do you wish had been answered?

Luckerson: Why were the last two seasons shortened to prevent the resolution of lingering questions?

Samman: WHO THE HELL IS LEFT IN THE REACH, THE STORMLANDS, DORNE, THE CROWNLANDS, AND MOST OF THE BLOODY WESTERLANDS?

Baumann: Why is there still a Night’s Watch? The White Walkers and wights are all gone, and the Free Folk are now our friends, so what exactly is there left to guard the realm from?

Surrey: Will Davos ever remember he has a wife?

Bereznak: It’s eating me alive: How did Podrick get so good at sex?

Heifetz: How much breast milk do I have to chug until I’m as handsome as Lord Robin of the Vale?

Halliwell: Who was the prince that was promised? Did we just abandon that altogether? Yes? Cool.

Disclosure: HBO is an initial investor in The Ringer.