And now our watch has ended. After eight seasons and 73 episodes, Game of Thrones arrived at its highly anticipated conclusion on Sunday night. Were viewers satisfied? Did all our characters get thematically appropriate endings? How are people feeling about David Benioff and D.B. Weiss moving onto the Star Wars universe in a few years? Let’s break down the winners and losers from a truncated, frequently contentious, sometimes breathtaking, final season.
Winner: Bran Stark
What makes a good king? Tywin Lannister once told the boy king Tommen that the most important trait for a ruler is wisdom. (Granted, Tywin had ulterior motives, hoping to move his grandson around like a puppet so he could become the de facto ruler of Westeros.) But wisdom is indeed important, and what better ruler for the end of Thrones than its own sentient, meme-adjacent Wikipedia page?
The issues with Bran’s becoming king have a lot to do with how ineffectively the series laid out his endgame: If he was really so important, why was he absent from a full season of the show while he was supposed to be acquiring all the knowledge of the universe? Whether or not Bran will be an effective ruler of Westeros will be the stuff of endless internet discourse, but if you were rooting for the poor kid who was pushed from a tower window all those years ago, you couldn’t have asked for a better ending. Now, once he’s done warging into a pigeon or whatever, his first order of business as Bran the Broken should be to give Meera Reed a proper goddamn apology. She dragged humanity’s savior through the mud and snow, and all she got was a “k, thanks.”
Loser: Daenerys Targaryen
You either die a hero, or you live long enough to see yourself become Dragon Mussolini. We can gripe about how Thrones arrived at Dany’s ill-fated heel turn, but it did provide some of the final season’s most captivating moments, performances, and visuals. (Yes, Dany’s walking to address her followers with Drogon’s wings protruding behind her was extremely blunt messaging, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t look super cool.)
The tragedy of Dany’s arc has been astutely compared to Frodo’s trying to claim the Ring for his own. Power corrupts—even more so when you’ve got a savior complex, the realm’s equivalent of a nuke, and nobody at the end to check your worst impulses. Drogon knew what was up—well, either that, or he thought the pointy sword chair stabbed his mom.
Winner: Arya Stark
Thrones stars’ possibly reacting with shade when asked about the final season has become something of a meme: the internet contextualizing its own feelings about Season 8 by assuming the actors hated the narrative shortcuts as much as it did. But whether or not Peter Dinklage actually despises Benioff and Weiss—or he, like most celebrities, just hates answering inane questions on red carpets—if there’s one person who shouldn’t be upset with how the final season treated their character, it’s Maisie Williams. Arya Stark might be the real MVP of this whole thing.
For starters: SHE KILLED THE NIGHT KING! Bronn couldn’t sit on the new small council and complain about the lack of brothels in King’s Landing if Death wasn’t defeated. Arya also hooked up with Gendry, satisfying thousands of Tumblr shippers and giving the character a rare but welcome moment of intimacy. And by the end, she gets to scratch her itch for exploring and see what, if anything, lies west of Westeros (I guess Bran is too busy now to … just tell her?). Arya once told her dad that being a lady and living in a castle wasn’t for her. Now, she gets to live life on her own terms.
Relatedly: I would not be opposed to an Arya adventurer spinoff.
Winner: Sansa Stark
Presiding over Winterfell was a fitting outcome for Sansa, who proved she was the most competent leader on the series. (Though I’m still not quite sure how Sansa knew Dany was going to break bad when nobody else did. It seemed like she just disliked the Dragon Queen’s vibe.) In that sense, Sansa would’ve made for a more logical ruler of Westeros than Bran, but even if she was offered that title, she seemed to be more committed to the independence of the North.
It’s an excellent coda for Sansa, especially after enduring so many seasons under sadistic men. Time to break out the wine, the Juul, and the Jonas Brother; you’ve earned it.
Loser: Edmure Tully
Thrones had shunted Edmure Tully for so long, you assumed he was destined to be a part of one of the series’ many dangling threads. Alas, the show brought Edmure (and actor Tobias Menzies) back for that fateful council meeting to choose a new ruler for the realm. His purpose in that scene? To make an embarrassing claim to the throne and get efficiently shut down by his niece.
I suppose the series needed its own Martin O’Malley, but goodness, you couldn’t have reserved that moment of indignation for the kid who chugged breast milk for seasons like a strongman with creatine? Oh wait, this is weird: Robin Arryn showed up and actually got hot.
Robin Arryn had a shocking glow-up, and if we’re to believe Tormund Giantsbane’s, uh, giant origin story, breastfeeding was an integral factor in his transformation to the swole man he is today. Either malnutrition is a bigger issue in Westeros than we’ve been led to believe, or the final season of Thrones was sponsored by the National Dairy Council.
Both?: Jon Snow
On the plus side, Jon got to live after stabbing the queen and abdicate the throne despite having a strong claim. Now, our guy gets to live out the rest of his days beyond the Wall with his best bud Tormund and his good dog, Ghost. Such an exile from society might seem boring to some people, but for someone as perpetually mopey and dull as Jon, it’s nirvana by way of the Canadian border.
Of course, to get to this point, yes, he had to forsake the duty he pledged to his queen and once-lover, Dany, fatally stabbing her and being imprisoned by the Unsullied. It would have been traumatic for anyone to kill the person they once loved—but especially for someone as obsessed with honor and fealty as Jon. Jon eschewed that responsibility to protect the realms of men: a hero steeped in tragedy who finally has a good reason to look pouty all the time.
Winner: Ramin Djawadi
The quality of the series has ebbed and flowed, and even its most sterling actors have had bumps along the way. (Peter Dinklage, you’re great, but you definitely phoned in half of those scenes in Meereen.) It turns out that the one constant source of greatness for the series was its music.
Ramin Djawadi became a star in his own right—a composer who can sell out stadiums by playing his Thrones tunes. (I went to one of his concerts before the seventh season, and, needless to say, it slapped.) Djawadi was a relatively inexperienced composer at the start of the series, but he leaves it looking like the heir apparent to Hans Zimmer. Congrats to the real Prince Who Was Promised.
Loser: Benioff and Weiss
Benioff and Weiss never expected to end Thrones this way. When the show first began airing on HBO in 2011, the assumption was that George R.R. Martin would be finished with his final two books by the time the series arrived at its own conclusion. Martin didn’t hold up his end of the bargain, and that shouldn’t be forgotten when considering the show’s legacy.
OK, now that that’s out of the way: Holy hell, did these guys blow it. The final two seasons weren’t without their highlights—Olenna Tyrell’s final scene, the horrifically named but visually stunning Loot Train Attack, the compelling conversations around the fireplace before the Battle of Winterfell, Dany’s devastating attack on King’s Landing—but even their moments of brilliance were upended by an unnecessarily brisk pace. Reminder: It was Benioff and Weiss who decided that Thrones’ final two seasons would be shortened to seven and six episodes, and the fallout from that structural choice heavily influenced its weakest moments.
Maybe more fans would’ve been on board with Dany’s attack on King’s Landing if her descent into madness were slower (though I do think there was some willful ignorance from Dany fans to overlook the impulsive, violent decisions she made in earlier seasons). Maybe Bran’s becoming king, or Tyrion’s undying devotion to Dany—as he became more and more stupid—wouldn’t feel so off-base if there had been more buildup. But that still wouldn’t explain Euron’s perfect-then-conveniently-terrible aim with a Giant Crossbow or the bizarre moral reversal of Jaime Lannister. In the end, Thrones could be only as great as the two people in charge of it; and at times during the final seasons, they failed. Why does it seem like Star Wars is now under the control of the Dark Lord(s) of the Sith?
Winner: George R.R. Martin
Yes, he missed several deadlines—to the extent that he doesn’t even have one anymore. And he’s been dipping his toes in way too many TV projects for someone who says he’s hard at work on The Winds of Winter. But none of this would be possible without the vibrant, fascinating, and exhaustively detailed world that Martin created—one that, ironically, he conceived partly because television couldn’t handle the grand scope of his ideas.
By stumbling to the finish line, Thrones has ended up helping Martin’s legacy. If the final two books can measure up to everything else he’s written, which was the basis for the best story lines for the TV series, the wait will probably have been worth it for most fans. ( Martin himself also wrote a few of the show’s episodes, including the installment containing Joffrey’s wedding.) Fans would’ve always hoped that Martin would finish his books; now, even non book-readers might rush to buy the last two volumes of the series to see how the story is really meant to end.
Of course, those same fans haven’t always come across in the best light—their concern over Martin’s health has had more to do with him finishing the books than caring about him as an actual human being. So it’s worth reiterating: George, you’re already this generation’s Tolkien, and none of this would’ve been possible without you. Whether or not you end up finishing the series, I hope you’re happy, healthy, and eventually feel better about your New York Giants.