Game of Thrones Recap, Season 8 Episode 6: The Iron Throne
Summary: Tyrion walks through the carnage of King’s Landing, seeing the corpses of soldiers and innocents alike. He heads to the keep to meet Dany, turning down Jon’s offer of an escort. He goes through the map room and the hidden passages, searching for signs of Jaime and Cersei. He climbs through a small gap in the rubble and spots Jaime’s hand amid the fallen rocks. He uncovers both bodies and begins to weep.
Jon finds Grey Worm and the Unsullied killing Lannister prisoners on the Queen’s orders. He stops them and weapons are drawn, but he ultimately relents and the executions continue.
Jon proceeds to the Red Keep, and Dany arrives on Drogon’s back. She greets her army, names Grey Worm her Master of War, and delivers a speech about doing what they’ve done in King’s Landing across the world until no evil remains. Tyrion removes the symbol of the Hand on his chest and throws it down the stairs, and Dany takes him prisoner.
Jon visits Tyrion in his cell, and they discuss what to expect from their Queen going forward. Tyrion asks if Jon, with access to a dragon, would have done what Dany did, stressing this as the most important question of all. Tyrion says love is more powerful than reason, and that he loved Dany; Jon recalls Maester Aemon’s words, “Love is the death of duty.” “Sometimes duty is the death of love”, Tyrion replies.
Jon meets Dany in front of the Iron Throne and asks what kind of world she’ll try to build. He asks for mercy for Tyrion, but Dany refuses; she knows what is good, and will ensure the path they follow is good. They kiss, and Jon stabs her in the heart with his dagger. Drogon senses the change and lands in the throne room, unleashing a steady flow of dragonflame at the Iron Throne until it melts away. He picks Dany up in clawed foot and flies away.
Analysis: It’s actually quite convenient to have an undefined time gap here, because The Iron Throne really gave us two separate endings. This first finale closed out the sagas of the characters we watched grow up, experiencing unthinkable horrors and occasional victories on their way to this point, the ousting of Cersei Lannister from King’s Landing.
Reservations about Dany’s quick turn to Mad Queenhood aside, I thought this part of the episode was done very well. Seeing Tyrion and Jon take in the bloodshed and destruction wrought by the woman they loved (I guess Tyrion acknowledged it this episode, for some reason) and chose to follow showed their remorse and growing determination to take action against her. Daenerys’s arrival and speech to her troops perfectly conveyed her absolute faith in her own destiny, and its precedence over any potential obstacles in her way. Jon’s questioning of Dany in the throne room plays like the desperate search for an alternative that it is, and seeing the pain and resignation on his face as he kills his Queen was genuinely powerful. The bastard who was always Ned Stark’s son in nature, if not in genetics, acts as the shield that guards the realms of men, choosing duty over love.
I’m a bit surprised Dany didn’t execute Tyrion immediately, I’m still not sure where the hell all of these Dothraki and Unsullied have been hiding, and I guess Arya didn’t ride very far on her majestic white horse, but those were minor flaws in a fantastic opening half of the episode…
Weeks (?) Later
Summary: Grey Worm and the Unsullied retrieve Tyrion from his cell and bring him before the Lords and Ladies of Westeros. Sansa, Arya, and Bran are there to represent the North; Yara the Iron Islands; Edmure Tully the Riverlands; Robin Arryn and Lord Royce the Vale; Gendry the Stormlands; the unnamed Prince of Dorne Dorne. Three other unidentified individuals, as well as Sam, Brienne, and Davos, are also present.
Sansa issues threats in the event Jon is not returned unharmed, and Davos interrupts Grey Worm’s and Yara’s protestations to focus everyone on making peace. Tyrion suggests they work together to choose a new leader, and Edmure Tully rises to make his case. Sansa cuts her uncle short, and Sam suggests democracy. The assembled share a good laugh, and Tyrion suggests Bran based on his knowledge of human history and ability to create and share stories. With Bran unable to produce an heir, the lords and ladies of the realm will continue to assemble to select new rulers going forward. Everyone voices support until Sansa, who refuses to kneel; the North will remain independent. Everyone hails King Bran the Broken, and he names Tyrion his Hand.
Tyrion finds Jon in his cell and offers him the option of taking the Black and re-joining the Night’s Watch. They agree to check again in 10 years to determine if they made the right choice.
Grey Worm and a group of Unsullied set sail for Naath, as he and Missandei had planned before she was captured by the Lannisters.
The Stark children make their way to Jon’s ship. Jon kneels to Bran, and Arya states her intention to sail west and discover ‘what’s west of Westeros.”
Brienne, the new Lord Commander of the Kingsguard, flips through the pages of the White Book and appends Jaime’s entry, adding in his recent deeds and ending with “died protecting his queen”.
Tyrion gathers the new Small Council, with Bronn acting as the Master of Coin, Davos the Master of Ships, and Sam the resident Maester. Sam presents a book written at the Citadel recounting the events since the death of King Robert, now titled A Song of Ice and Fire. Tyrion is notably omitted. Bran arrives and encourages them to fill out the rest of the Small Council before leaving to track down Drogon.
Jon reunites with Tormund and Ghost at Castle Black and joins the wildlings heading north of the Wall; Arya sails her ship with Stark banners to the west; Sansa dons her crown and is greeted with cheers of “Queen in the North.”
Analysis: …and then we got this. The second ending deals with the survivors’ approach to ruling Westeros, and saying it doesn’t make much sense is an understatement on par with saying the Stark children have had a tough couple years. Reflecting on the second half of this episode is basically my version of Festivus, so brace yourselves for an onslaught of thoughts. To help organize the absurdity, we’ll take it in pieces.
Grey Worm and Yara’s Approach to Jon Snow.
Grey Worm has Jon locked up, because for some reason he didn’t immediately attempt to execute the man who assassinated his Queen. Maybe he was suddenly hit with a sense of self-preservation and realized the value of Jon as a prisoner of war; if so, he never used his bargaining chip in the council meeting, instead letting the assembled lords and ladies (who he has no loyalty to) decide everything. His primary ally in handling Jon is Yara Greyjoy, who we last saw being rescued in the season premiere only to then do nothing. She was conspicuously absent last week, not even dropping by Blackwater Bay to help her beloved Queen deal with Uncle Euron’s fleet. Luckily for us, Arya had the decency to put her name-scramble counterpart in her place:
I’m happy Jon Snow is still alive, but the sudden deference to prisoners seems odd just minutes after the Unsullied were slitting throats in the street.
Which brings us to another prisoner and another puzzle…
Tyrion’s perceived wisdom.
For some reason Grey Worm brings his other high-value prisoner out to help the Westerosi nobility decide what to do. Tyrion hasn’t had a good idea since utilizing wildfire in the defense of King’s Landing, but everyone waits for him to take the lead. He tells them they have the power to choose their next ruler, and when they ask if he means for them to choose him, he responds:
Me? The Imp? Half the people hate me for serving Danerys, the other half hate me for betraying her. I can’t think of a worse choice.
I don’t know why this group needed Tyrion to point them in the right direction and tell them what to do next. Maybe the other characters are like us, hoping desperately to see Tyrion return to his clever ways. They should be as sorely disappointed as us, because given the floor and a captive audience, he explains that the most important quality in a ruler is…
Having the best story?
Okay, we’re breaking the wheel here and trying to get off of inheriting thrones from your parents and the importance of bloodlines. We saw what Robert Baratheon accomplished after killing Rhaegar Targaryen in single combat; maybe picking the best fighter isn’t a good approach either. But having the best story? Not the wisest, or the most experienced, or the one with the best plan? With a continent ravaged by war for multiple years, not the person best suited to forge alliances and bring the realm back together? It’s an utterly ludicrous approach, made even more absurd because…
He nominates Bran!
Let’s review the stories of just the assembled Starks, ignoring every other person in the realm:
Raised a bastard, he sacrifices the not-insignificant privileges provided by House Stark to serve in the Night’s Watch. He demonstrates a knack for leadership and supreme dedication to his cause, infiltrates an enemy army, defends the Wall against the Wildlings, and gets elected Lord Commander. Accurately assessing the true threats to his own brothers and the realm, he makes the difficult decision to let the Wildlings past the Wall and pays for the decision with his life. He’s resurrected through magic, and with the help of his half-sister (cousin) frees his childhood home from the grasp of a brutal, sadistic usurper. He repeatedly foregoes personal gain in pursuit of effectively defending the realm from the White Walkers, even after learning he’s the rightful heir to the Iron Throne. He takes the step no one else could and assassinates a crazed ruler before she can spread her destruction further.
Taken prisoner by a sadistic King as a teenager, trained in the arts of politics by Littlefinger and the Queen of Thorns, hidden in the Vale until she chooses the perfect moment to reveal her identity. Travels back to Winterfell only to be married to another horrendous man who rapes and abuses her, but manages to escape. Reunites with her half-brother and intervenes at the critical moment in the Battle of the Bastards. Willingly takes a backseat to Jon, begrudgingly cooperates with a Queen she doesn’t trust to defend against the White Walkers, and effectively organizes Winterfell’s armies and supplies. Lends Northern aid to the battle against Cersei Lannister and has her suspicions about the Queen validated.
Forced into a life on the run as a child, travels with renowned killer Sandor Clegane until she’s able to find a boat east to become a Faceless Man. Trains as an assassin before returning to Westeros and exacting vengeance on House Frey. Plays a major role in the initial defense of Winterfell against the undead army and kills the world’s embodiment of death before he can complete his mission.
Pushed off a balcony as a child, paralyzed from the waist down. Pulled north beyond the Wall to the cave of the Three-Eyed Raven, where he refines his ability to warg into animals and learns how to view specific moments in history. Returns to Winterfell, fails to explain his abilities to anyone, and spends the next two seasons testifying against Littlefinger and issuing cryptic statements. Here’s Tyrion’s stump speech:
…I’ve had nothing to do but think these past few weeks. About our bloody history. About the mistakes we’ve made. What unites people? Armies? Gold? Flags? Stories. There’s nothing in the world more powerful than a good story. Nothing can stop it. No enemy can defeat it. And who has a better story…than Bran the Broken? The boy who fell from a high tower and lived. He knew he’d never walk again, so he learned to fly. He crossed beyond the Wall, a crippled boy, and became the Three-Eyed Raven. He is our memory. The keeper of all our stories. The wars, weddings, births, massacres, famines. Our triumphs, our defeats, our past. Who better to lead us into the future?
A good pitch! In order for Bran’s stories to be powerful, though, he’d have to tell them at some point. Who there knows what being the Three Eyed Raven means? Has he put any of the stories he knows to good use? The last time we saw him effectively converse with someone was the Season 7 finale, when he and Sam pieced together Jon’s parentage and legitimacy. He provided the Stark-garyen forces with no actionable information in their fight against the White Walkers and said nothing on-screen regarding the impending decimation of King’s Landing. Given some strong advocates and some demonstrations of his abilities, choosing Bran could make sense; somehow with one of the former and zero of the latter, when Tyrion suggests it…
Everyone immediately votes Bran!
Even Sansa and Arya can’t figure out exactly what Bran does with his time or how to utilize his powers; what compels Yara Greyjoy or the Prince of Dorne to approve of his selection? No one even pauses to say, “Excuse me, what’s a Three-Eyed Raven and how is ‘being’ it useful to the realm?” or, “you seemed to gesture towards the teenager in the wheelchair, is that Bran Stark? He told me he was a bird.” There’s no reason for anyone at this council to quickly accept Bran as their new King unless he’s been convincing them of his worthiness off-camera all season long. From what we’ve seen, he’s never even been in the same room as half of these people. They would have every right to be skeptical, or at least search for concessions. And yet…
Only Sansa even requests independence.
The Iron Islands and Dorne have held a fierce independent streak for centuries, leading to rebellions (the Greyjoy Rebellion took place less than 20 years ago) and prolonged wars (Dorne wasn’t brought into the Seven Kingdoms until 187 years AFTER Aegon’s Conquest, through marriage). Bran has no objections to Northern independence, and neither does anyone else. After all this time, and with King’s Landing less powerful than ever before, they’ll happily follow a mystical teenager while another house simply says, “no thank you”?
So great, Bran is King. They’ll elect a new king when he dies, and the process will continue indefinitely (or at least until the first newly-elected person decides they liked the old method more). Of course, we don’t know if Bran is a good choice or not because…
We have no understanding of his abilities.
In Season 8, Bran did almost nothing. He proposed and followed through on the plan to act as bait for the Night King, and spent the battle warging into ravens and keeping whatever he saw to himself. We know he’s seen glimpses of the future before (more on this possibility later), so maybe he’s been using his abilities to ensure pieces are moving into place to defeat the Night King. If that’s the case, it would have been fantastic to get one scene from his point of view or see him explaining that to any other character instead of saying “I live in the past” or “I don’t really want anymore”.
It’s actually more troubling if Bran is peering into the future and not sharing his visions with anyone else. If he “saw” Dany lose control and begin massacring the civilian population of King’s Landing, he chose to do nothing to prevent it. That’s a pretty cold way to maneuver yourself to the melted remains of the Iron Throne, which he’s now oddly interested in. He might say it was necessary to bring about his own prosperous reign for the benefit of humankind, but who does that sound like? Varys spent multiple years helping Destiny Dany reach Westeros, and he resorted to attempted poisoning when she leaned too hard on destiny to justify her actions.
So, the newly-elected King Bran the Broken is either a closed-off weirdo with limited sight into the future, or he’s working to build a future only he can see without sharing his vision with anyone else. Neither bodes well for the realm, and he begins his tenure by letting his sister carve out her own separate region. In fact, he doesn’t seem to DO anything; he drops by the Small Council to say hello and then abruptly leaves. Making an attempt to track down the last living dragon is a good idea, but did he have to start right now? How long could it possibly take? Trick question! We have no idea.
Ending the story with Bran chosen to be King isn’t a problem, but the path we took to get there was just bizarre. He’s done nothing to justify such a following, so I guess he was damn convincing off-screen.
Okay, on to the smaller absurdities.
Jon Snow is Forced to Take the Black
It’s a fitting end for his character, who Tormund noted “belongs to the North”, but it would have been nice to see the conversation where he was given the option. Grey Worm and Yara were certainly grumpy towards him, but they also raised no objections to King Bran or Northern Independence; either Bran or Queen Sansa would have no problem absolving him of wrongdoing. It’s probably not so bad serving in the Night’s Watch these days, with their enemies either wiped out (the White Walkers) or turned into allies (the Wildlings), and Jon would likely be welcomed back with open arms. That, too, is rendered irrelevant when he joins Tormund and the rest of the Wildlings as they head north beyond the Wall.
The Unsullied and Dothraki just leave peacefully?
Not that we should care, since all of the Dothraki were killed in Episode 3 before stunningly returning in Episode 5 (did we check the color of their eyes?) and the Unsullied are going on vacation. I was just curious to see how neatly foreign armies could be excised from the nation’s capital. Nice of them to listen to the new King despite having nothing to do with his coronation.
Tyrion and the Small Council need to raise the bar for their new hires.
Bran tells them to fill out the rest of the Small Council while he’s Bran-ing about, adding a Master of War, a Master of Laws, and a Master of Whispers. Even less useful than being Bran’s Master of Whispers is Bronn acting as the Master of Coin. I initially assumed he was the Master of War, because at least we’ve seen him fighting and giving guidance to troops. The Iron Bank of Braavos (remember them? Also irrelevant.) won’t be as receptive to his crossbow-aided demands to double the size of a loan, and it won’t take them long to hire a Faceless Man if he resorts to threats. Davos is probably a worthy Master of Ships, but how did Sam show up and step into the role of Grand Maester?
His studies ended with him curing Jorah’s greyscale and stealing a small number of books from the Citadel; we haven’t seen him studying since. It usually takes a long time to forge a single link in a Maester’s chain, so he either busted out a Hermione-style time turner or got his position through pure nepotism. Things are off to a great start under King Bran the Broken! Will his quality story will be enough to pull a war-ravaged, deeply-indebted, army-less kingdom back up to its feet with winter setting in?
Dragonflame Burn of the Week
Thanks for checking out our recap! If you need some more historical context for what you're seeing, you can check out our Game of Thrones Lore series, which details the history of Westeros and some of what we know of Essos. It’s been a pleasure running through these recaps with all of you, and we’ll be back for the first Thrones spinoff!