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A Close Reading of the Script for the Series Finale of ‘Game of Thrones’

It’s got everything: back-patting, jokes that don’t really work, gaps in logic, a complete disregard for mythology, and stray references to the Rolling Stones

HBO/Ringer illustration

It’s been more than two months since Game of Thrones’ finale aired, just enough time to go back and look at the show with some distance. And right on cue, we now have the script for the finale episode. HBO nominated “The Iron Throne” for a writing Emmy, which means the script is now on the internet. For the most part, it’s exactly the same as the episode that aired in May, but David Benioff and D.B. Weiss’s actual written words do reveal a bit about their thinking—and answer questions many fans had after the finale aired.

Let’s dive in. Here are 15 takeaways, thoughts, and notes from the finale script:

Daenerys goes full evil.

Here’s how the script lays out that moment when Drogon’s wings unfold behind Daenerys:

Drogon lands out of sight beyond the top of the stairs. Jon climbs the stairway. When he nears the top he sees Dany, already dismounted, walking towards him. For a moment, Drogon’s unfolding wings spread behind her back, an unsettling image. Her Satanic Majesty’s Request.

“Her Satanic Majesty’s Request” is a reference to the 1967 Rolling Stones album Their Satanic Majesties Request. The meaning isn’t exactly subtle—Daenerys has completed her transformation into a tyrant. This sentiment is echoed a few pages later:

Amidst the ashes of her conquest and the corpses of her enemies, Dany accepts the worship of her followers. The devastated city stretches out below her, but she shows no signs of ambivalence or doubt. She has burned the village to save it.

Here’s another ’60s reference: “It became necessary to destroy the town to save it,” a U.S. major said about a decimated village in the Vietnam War in an Associated Press story. “They decided that regardless of civilian casualties they must bomb and shell the once placid river city of 35,000,” that story continues. Daenerys is doing mental gymnastics to confirm to herself that she’s a liberator, even as the horrible devastation of her war crimes are right in front of her.

Just in case you didn’t know, the Dothraki are “badass.”

And here’s the scene as Daenerys speaks to her victorious army:

The Dothraki scream and raise their arakhs into the air. We have some badass-looking Dothraki in the mix.

I wasn’t aware there was any other way for Dothraki to look.

Tyrion doesn’t believe in liberation theology.

Tyrion, who understands enough Valyrian to get the gist of what she’s saying, looks around the ruined city. If this is liberation, he doesn’t believe in liberation theology.

Liberation theology is an actual thing in our world—an ideology concerned with bringing Catholicism to the poor in Latin America by bypassing hierarchical power structures—but it doesn’t exist in Westeros for obvious reasons. It’s tough to parse what “liberation theology” is supposed to mean in this context—it really just comes off as clumsy, and maybe even ignorant.

Arya is very perceptive.

Here’s Arya after Daenerys’s massacre:

Arya watches from afar, cool and hooded, appraising Dany and her forces. Arya hated Cersei as much as anyone. That doesn’t mean she likes the new boss. To her it looks like the Seven Kingdoms just traded one tyrant for another.

This reads like Benioff and Weiss had to stop themselves from making a reference to the Who (“Meet the new boss / Same as the old boss”) after making that Stones reference earlier. And “To her it looks like the Seven Kingdoms just traded one tyrant for another” comes off as comically oblivious. After Daenerys burned tens of thousands of innocent people alive, Arya is just beginning to think that maybe this dragon queen isn’t so great after all. This dovetails nicely with the moment she shares with Jon a page later:

Before he can take a step, Arya grabs his arm and looks up at him.

ARYA
Jon.

No one else is close enough to hear their words.

ARYA
She knows who you are. Who you really are. You’ll always be a threat to her.

Arya looks to Dany, walking away with her Dothraki bodyguard.

ARYA
And I know a killer when I see one.

Watch out, Jon—in case you didn’t notice the blackened corpses you’re standing on and the stench of burned flesh that pervades the streets, Daenerys is a killer!

Reminder: Kit Harington isn’t tall.

When Jon runs into Drogon outside of the throne room, the script goes out of its way to mention his stature:

The massive dragon stares at the diminutive man, studying him with eyes that seem just as intelligent as Jon’s own.

Season 8 went to great lengths to point out how short Harington is, mentioning it multiple times. Calling him “diminutive” here just feels mean. He’s 5-foot-8, only an inch shorter than the average height of men in the United Kingdom. Cut Kit some slack.

Drogon burned the Iron Throne by accident.

Drogon’s burning of the Iron Throne always felt a little too on-the-nose. Did the dragon possess a nuanced understanding of how power corrupts those in pursuit of it, and thus destroyed the physical symbol of that power? Or did he just burn the first pointy-looking thing he saw because Dany was killed with a knife? It turns out it was all just a coincidence:

He looks down at Jon.

We see the fire build up in his throat.

Jon sees it as well. He prepares to die.

But the blast is not for him. Drogon wants to burn the world but he will not kill Jon.

He breathes fire on the back wall, blasting down what remains of the great red blocks of stone.

We look over Jon’s shoulder as the fire sweeps toward the throne— not the target of Drogon’s wrath, just a dumb bystander caught up in the conflagration.

The use of the word “dumb” here is too perfect. It’s hard to balance how the act of Drogon burning the Iron Throne—meant to be one of the biggest, most dramatic beats in an episode that is called “The Iron Throne,” for crying out loud—can also just be described as a “dumb bystander,” as if this all happened by accident.

The Prince of Dorne doesn’t have a name in the script, either.

Here’s the description of the council that names Bran king:

Present are: The Lady of Winterfell and Wardenness of the North, SANSA STARK, who sits in the middle of the semicircle. Arya and BRAN STARK sit to her right. To her left: the Onion Knight, Davos.

The Lord of the Vale and Warden of the East, ROBIN ARRYN, with LORD ROYCE beside him.

The Lady of the Iron Islands, YARA GREYJOY. The Lord of the Stormlands and Warden of the South, GENDRY BARATHEON. The lord of the Riverlands, EDMURE TULLY. The new PRINCE OF DORNE.

BRIENNE OF TARTH. SAMWELL TARLY. A smattering of ND lords.

We still don’t know his name, or the names of the other anonymous lords who appear at the Dragonpit council. “ND” means the lords have no dialogue, and that’s the only reference to them in the entire script. My colleague Jason Concepcion spent a great deal of time trying to figure out who those lords were, making compelling cases for Howland Reed, Wyman Manderly, and Edric Storm. But there are literally no answers to this mystery.

Arya is different—yeah, she’s different.

Here’s how the script lays out Yara and Arya’s dustup at the council:

YARA
She freed us from a tyrant. Cersei is gone because of her. And Jon Snow put a knife in her heart. Let the Unsullied give him what he deserves.

ARYA
Say another word about killing my brother and I’ll cut your throat.

Yara opens her mouth to respond but sees the look on Arya’s face. Yara is as tough as they come, but Arya—Arya’s different.

Yara has so many reasons to not support Bran as king. The Iron Islands have always wanted independence, and in Season 6, Daenerys told Yara that she would have it. She watched Theon go fight for the Starks and die. It’s no surprise she’s miffed.

But besides this one short outburst, Yara never gets a platform to dive into her frustrations—even after Sansa successfully petitions for a Northern independence that I’m sure the Iron Islands would have loved. The script revealing that Yara stood down to Arya because “Arya’s different” reads like Benioff and Weiss just wanting to move on and not think too hard about the legitimate grievances Yara would bring to this meeting.

Some lines play out even more absurdly on the written page.

Here’s Davos delivering the peace offering to Grey Worm at the council:

DAVOS
There’s land in the Reach, good land. The people who used to live there are gone. Make it your own. Start your own House, with the Unsullied as your bannermen.

This line was in the finale, so nothing new is revealed here. I just want to draw attention to the fact that Davos told a group of eunuchs to “start your own House.”

Much of the finale can be explained by “lol, Bran’s weird.”

Here’s how the famous “Why do you think I came all this way?” line plays out:

Bran doesn’t really smile anymore but there is the smallest hint of amusement on his face as he answers.

BRAN
Why do you think I came all this way?

A strange response but Tyrion has come to expect strange answers from Bran.

You’d think this response from Bran would get the gears turning in Tyrion’s head. Bran alludes to knowing that he would become king. That he can see the future. But if that’s true, then did he know that Daenerys would burn King’s Landing and choose to do nothing about it? Did he engineer events to make himself king? Or is he able to see the future, but not change it? Is Bran evil? Incompetent? Both? How does all this work? Instead of lingering on that question the script just moves along.

Here’s another example of the same phenomenon:

BRAN
And Drogon? Any word?

SAMWELL
He was last spotted flying east.

BRONN
The farther away the better.

BRAN
Perhaps I can find him. Do carry on with the rest.

That’s weird. But so is the new king.

In May, Isaac Hempstead Wright told Entertainment Weekly that he thought this was “a joke script” the first time he read it. With lines like this, it’s easy to see why.

We find out why some of the lords agreed to name Bran king.

This is a direct line into Benioff and Weiss’s thinking about how Bran’s election (can you call it that?) worked. Here’s Edmure’s logic:

Edmure is still be miffed he wasn’t given serious consideration, but he expects he’ll have influence at court if his crippled nephew is ruling.

Let’s ignore the bizarre “still be miffed” typo in a script that is nominated for an Emmy and move along to Gendry, who really seems prepared to be Lord of the Stormlands:

Gendry is happy to go along.

Yara’s concerns have already been put behind her completely.

Yara has heard that her brother died defending Bran. She knows this choice would make Theon happy.

House Tarth isn’t a major house, but Brienne’s sticking with the Starks:

Brienne is a Stark loyalist and represents House Tarth.

We don’t get directions for the rest of the lords (I guess Benioff and Weiss didn’t want to explore why Dorne would be so quick to bend the knee to a Northerner), which means there isn’t even context for what was going through Davos’s head when he said “I’m not sure I get a vote. But aye.”

Benioff and Weiss like to joke around.

The script has some Easter eggs slipped into it. Here is the Stark family saying their goodbyes on the docks in King’s Landing:

ARYA
I’m not going back north.

News to Jon and Sansa both.

SANSA
Where are you going?

ARYA
What’s west of Westeros?

Jon and Sansa look at each other. They both failed geography.

This line is unbelievable fodder for memes, sure, but there’s nothing truly wrong with Benioff and Weiss slipping in a joke or two to lighten the mood a bit. Jon and Sansa failing “geography” isn’t meant to be canon—it’s a wink at the actors and anyone reading the script. But given the rushed feeling to the rest of seasons 7 and 8, these types of remarks come across as lazy and flippant. Such as, I don’t know, a coffee cup finding its way into one of the last episodes of the series—it’s totally forgivable in a vacuum, but also unfortunately reflective of the series’ deeper flaws.

But the geography line wasn’t Benioff and Weiss’s only cringey gag:

Sam isn’t sure how to put it.

TYRION
He what? What does he say about me?

SAMWELL
I don’t believe you’re mentioned.

Tyrion pages through the book to verify his absence therein. God dammit!

Somehow, Archmaester Ebrose managed to write A Song of Ice and Fire, originally called A Chronicle of the Wars Following the Death of King Robert I, without mentioning Tyrion Lannister. The same person who:

  1. Was kidnapped by Catelyn Stark, helping prompt the War of the Five Kings
  2. Served as hand to Joffrey
  3. Sent Myrcella to Dorne
  4. Masterminded the plot to use wildfire against Stannis
  5. Served as Master of Coin upon Tywin’s return to King’s Landing
  6. Married Sansa Stark
  7. Was convicted for killing Joffrey and sentenced to death
  8. Actually killed Tywin, his father and the hand of the king
  9. Served as hand to Daenerys and plotted her invasion of Westeros
  10. And, finally, came up with the idea to crown Bran as king!!!!!!!!

Ebrose forgot about all that? His Song of Ice and Fire must suck.

This interaction illustrates one of the failures of the writing in Season 8. Instead of investing in the history of and mythology behind the story Benioff and Weiss have been helping to tell for years, they nonsensically ignore it for a quick laugh line.

Sam has only one link in his chain.

How Sam—who stole from the Citadel, took a wife, and is on his way to fathering children—graduated to grand maester never really made sense. It still doesn’t:

Samwell carries a book. He wears the Grandmaester robes and a chain with a single healing link.

Maesters get a new link in their chain every time they master a new skill—and Sam has only one. Presumably he got this link for healing Jorah, but that was all the way back in the beginning of Season 7. It’ll never make sense how he became grand maester (note: it’s “grand maester” in the books, making “Grandmaester” another script typo). Grand maesters are typically older, senior members in the order of maesters, and Sam had never even completed his training. Now he gets to sit on the Small Council because: reasons.

Jon is still in the Night’s Watch.

There was some debate after the finale about whether the shot of Jon heading north meant he was already abandoning his post on the Wall. But this passage indicates that’s not true:

Jon steps forward into the sea of waiting faces. There is no suspicion in those faces, and no awe. Only trust. The Night’s Watch used to hunt them, but they will follow this Night’s Watchman.

Unless Benioff and Weiss were being cheeky by matching “Night’s Watch” to “Night’s Watchman,” it seems that Jon has truly re-joined the Watch for good. Which means Jon is likely just heading north with the wildlings to regroup now that the White Walkers no longer roam beyond the Wall, and that he hasn’t abandoned his brothers.

The plot feels even more rushed in script form.

Here’s a line that stood out to me, when Bran and Jon are talking on the docks in King’s Landing:

JON
Your grace.
(beat)
I’m sorry I wasn’t there when you needed me.

BRAN
You were exactly where you were supposed to be.

Hard to argue with omniscience. Jon stands and walks to the skiff that’s waiting for him at the end of the pier.

This is another spot when Bran heavily hints that he knew how events would unfold before they happened. But instead of anyone asking a follow-up about that, it’s just waved off. “Hard to argue with omniscience” is the exact type of thing you write when you just want to move along and not think too hard about something. If you thought it was odd that none of the characters ask many questions about what is going on in the finale, that seeming indifference was a result of thinking like this. Everything has to move toward the conclusion.

Furthermore, this scene just comes across awkwardly. This is Jon saying goodbye to his family forever. That’s all he has to say to Bran? Check out how this scene played out in the episode:

It’s a testament to Harington that he was able to bring a little life to this scene when his only direction was “Jon stands and walks to the skiff.”

This script really has everything. Between the jokes that don’t really work, the gaps in logic, the disregard for the mythology, and the lines that read like back-patting, it’s a microcosm of everything that went sideways in Thrones’ final season. It brings up all the old frustrations that come with having spent countless hours loving and analyzing a show only to watch its writers slip in a Rolling Stones reference and call it a day. Anyway, see you in September when this script wins the Emmy.

Disclosure: HBO is an initial investor in The Ringer.