Now that they are gone, and it's just us, the shell-shocked, left to consider last night's 1.5-hour episode,, let's talk honestly: That sure felt like a finale, didn't it?
The Night King, the supervillain, evil incarnate, the threat to all humanity is … dead. He was killed in spectacular fashion in episode three of the final season. With his death, the great war, the big battle, the thing the whole show, the whole book series, has been working toward—the struggle between darkness and light, life and death—is just … over.
Now we have three episodes left to watch as these badass death-slayers fight against each other over who gets to sit on a crusty old Iron Throne. But after last night's episode, who cares? You could easily skip the rest. The battle that mattered is already won.
The premature conclusion of the fight between life and death feels like a serious misreading of the books and of the fans, perhaps even a betrayal of them. That's odd, given that the showrunners seemingly went out of their way to appease the fandom by keeping their favorite characters alive. (Although, RIP Lyanna and Jorah. What does this show have against the Mormonts, anyway?)
I was prepared for far more loss, far more sacrifice. In George R. R. Martin fashion, I was braced for Tyrion or Sansa to die, for either Brienne to die saving Jamie or vice versa. Hell, I don't think they even killed Grey Worm! Instead they sacrificed the entire Dothraki horde and many of the Unsullied, which was both awful and not surprising, smacked of genocidal racial politics, and yet still didn’t count as killing a "main character." Instead, all the major players lived. The show even hinted, weirdly, that Sansa and Tyrion have love for each other, and for a brief moment, as the crypts were full of the dead arisen, it seemed like they actually might kiss, which would have been, uh, slightly inappropriate timing.
In keeping all the Starks, Targaryens, and most of their allies alive, HBO broke with Martin's penchant for active hostility to fan expectations.
Where the show did subvert expectation was by inverting the central Game of Thrones priorities. All along, Martin's series The Song of Ice and Fire, on which the show is based, has driven home the point that the battle for the Iron Throne is a game. Games, by nature, are trivial. The battle between ice and fire, on the other hand? That is existential. The point has always been that what really mattered was who would win in the ultimate face-off between good and evil.
That has led to one of the best fan theories of the show, which is that it's an allegory for climate change. In that reading, the White Walkers represent the looming extinction-level threat facing Earth, and the war for the Iron Throne is the trifling political maneuvering that nations focus on to our peril.
Whether Martin meant for Ice and Fire to be a climate change metaphor or not, it's a compelling reading that makes the stakes clear. With last night's episode, HBO turned that on its head. Life and death? Solved. The real meat, as far as the show is concerned, is in the characters working out their petty political pursuits.
It feels very wrong. Maybe that inversion is a commentary on how life is essentially petty, and even when the ultimate species-annihilating threat brings people together, eventually minor social squabbles will tear everyone apart again.
No matter what the point ends up being, I'm not sure I care. Until this moment, watching Game of Thrones has been a compulsion. I had to know. Even when Daenerys spent approximately a thousand years in Mereen and it wasn't clear if it would ever pay off, I was driven to watch every second, to read every word, back when the books were ahead of the story.
The question that kept me coming back was: How will the ultimate battle unfold?
Now I know. Arya killed the Night King, just as I always dreamed she would. I love that the showrunners gave us that! It was a perfect ending. The second it happened, I clapped. As Arya stabbed the Night King, and the reanimated dead shattered all around, and goodness persevered, and life won, I was released. Released from my compulsion to know.
Last week, a WIRED colleague at admitted he sometimes doesn't watch series finales, preferring to leave the last question unanswered. In that way, he suggested, the show could live on in his mind. He never had to deal, for instance, with the tragedy of the final 30 seconds of The Sopranos. In his mind, the whole Sopranos family is doing well living their lives in New Jersey.
In my politest possible tone I told him that tactic was insane. But you know what? In its way, episode three of the final season of Game of Thrones is a fantastic argument for following his lead.
If I stop now, I know everything I need to. The final final question—of who will take control of the Seven Kingdoms—can be left unanswered. If I keep watching, it'll only be to make Twitter tolerable on Monday mornings, and because what else am I going to do on Sunday nights for the next month? It won't be because I need to. That gnawing in my gut that used to happen as I waited for a new book, or a new season, dissipated with Arya's knife plunge.
Will Jon die? Will Sansa rule the North? Will Dany ever compromise? I'm no longer dying to know.
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