Game of Thrones finale: The Queen in the North

Spoilers for the series finale of Game of Thrones.

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I've more or less enjoyed the final season of Game of Thrones. Sure, there were missteps along the way: shortcuts taken, plotlines discarded, fan theories disproven. (I desperately wanted Brienne to reject Tormund's advances, conclusively establishing that what so many fans "shipped" was actually a medieval form of workplace sexual harassment. What I got was... not that.) There were impossibly short commutes and pinpoint accurate explosive ballistas and just Euron Fucking Greyjoy. But I appreciated the overall story the showrunners were telling, especially the way they systematically broke down the mythology they had been building up around Daenerys Targaryen.

Daenerys was not a good ruler or an especially good person (though of course she thought she was both), and it was important for the series to remind us that what the she called "breaking the wheel" just meant more power for her and more death and misery for the little people. That's not a bad message, especially for an era when revolutionary posturing shades all too easily into nihilistic burn-it-all-down edgelordism. We should pay attention to who's actually getting burned, even if the series waited until the last possible moment to do so.

That said, I didn't much care for the final episode. There's making a grand story personal and then there's making it too personal, and boiling the eight seasons of Game of Thrones down to the actions of just three characters--two, in the end--didn't feel like it did justice to everything that came before it. At its best, the series used its expansive cast to sketch out the details of an entire society, but this finale left too many key players out.

Still, the episode could have worked if the Great Council scene stuck the landing. It didn't.

It should have. It could have. It showcased the political maneuvering that was my favorite part of this series and it brought together an interesting group of characters with highly divergent interests. There were highlights like Sansa's curt and entirely correct dismissal of Edmure Tully (you can expect a thousand Beto-as-Edmure memes hitting your social media feed at just about now o'clock). But Sansa also makes one of the most dangerous, ill-advised decisions in the Council, and the other characters allow it to happen.

Sansa wants the North to be independent. This makes total sense for Sansa as a character (her family's troubles and her personal journey through hell began when her father went south), but it makes no sense for either the North or Westeros as a whole. Consider the following:

  • Sansa has just lived through the best possible case for remaining part of a larger kingdom that can protect the North from external threats. Granted, the Night King is dead and the threat of the white walkers seems to be over, but if the Iron Throne is still maintaining the Night's Watch that suggests they believe the threat could return one day. (And rightly so--the walkers already came back once.) Winterfell would not have survived without Daenerys and her armies. For that matter, Winterfell wouldn't even belong to the Starks without the knights of the Vale. They need outside alliances.
  • Jon's sentencing to the Night's Watch raises another question. If the North is independent, why should the Seven Six Kingdoms care about maintaining the Wall? Any incursions from the lands beyond, wildling or otherwise, are the North's problem now, and the North makes a pretty big buffer. We could argue that it's simple foresight on Bran's part (or old loyalties) to maintain the Night's Watch against future threats, but not every monarch will be so forward thinking (and they will almost certainly not be a Stark). Even if the south maintains its commitments, they will likely continue to use the Watch as a dumping ground for convicts and bastard sons, and the Watch will eventually end up right back where it started. (Probably sooner rather than later, given that it's starting from a decrepit and decimated state.)
  • The secession of the North leaves King Brandon without a power base. Sure, his small council supports him for now, but if he needs to raise his own swords--say, against a very ambitious and very dangerous lord of Highgarden--where are they going to come from? For that matter, if the Six Kingdoms have to face off against another external threat, they've just lost about half of their population and thus half their strength. Westeros is severely depleted, something its rivals cannot fail to notice.
  • And there's no guarantee the secessions will stop with Winterfell! The Lord of Dorne is sitting right there, and the Queen of the Iron Islands. (Which raises the question of why the ruler of a sovereign nation is even attending the Council, but that's another issue.) Both lands have a long history of fighting the Iron Throne and raiding their neighbors. If the largest kingdom in Westeros is splitting off, why wouldn't they? At this point, Bran's reign is probably unraveling before it's even begun. 

Sansa, who's shown pretty sound judgment all season long, makes an error that would almost certainly lead to the dissolution of Westeros, probably to another civil war--and everyone else at the Council, including the newly minted king, lets her.

I half wondered if Game of Thrones would follow its very loose historical precedent and end with a political marriage that placed Tyrion and Sansa on the Iron Throne, uniting the Starks and the Lannisters once and for all. I'm kind of glad it didn't--that would have been a smart political decision by the lords of Westeros but a sad personal ending for Sansa, remarrying her to one of the husbands she never wanted and sentencing her to rule in a place she loathed. Instead the show swung 180 degrees in the other direction, giving Sansa and the other survivors the best possible personal endings while saddling Westeros with their terrible decisions.

Marc Singer teaches English at Howard University in Washington, DC. He is the author of Breaking the Frames: Populism and Prestige in Comics Studies and Grant Morrison: Combining the Worlds of Contemporary Comics.
Game of Thrones finale: The Queen in the North Game of Thrones finale: The Queen in the North Reviewed by Marc Singer on Monday, May 20, 2019 Rating: 5
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