This article comes from Den of Geek UK.
Warning: contains major spoilers for the Game of Thrones series finale from the beginning.
How did we end up here, at this ending? Why, in the end, was it Bran Stark who ended up King of the Six Kingdoms?
Although the plotting in this final season has been rather rushed, most of the major elements of the eventual outcome of the Game have been seeded since Season 1 and strongly hinted at throughout Season 8.
The destruction of the Iron Throne was extremely satisfying and makes perfect sense. The desire for that particularly uncomfortable bit of furniture has been the cause of so much death and destruction that merely seeing who ended up sitting on it would not have provided a true sense of closure and ending – it had to go.
Exactly why Drogon destroyed the Throne instead of killing Jon is unclear since Drogon is a dragon and cannot articulate his thoughts, but we can make an educated guess. Drogon may have had some kind of psychic connection with Daenerys (as Bran does when he wargs) and may have understood that her desperate desire for this hunk of metal had, indirectly, led to her death.
Drogon may not have realised Jon killed her, or he may have refused to kill Jon anyway because he is also family (Jon may even be immune to dragonfire). Or he may have simply been releasing his grief. Whatever the reason, only dragonfire could destroy the Iron Throne, and its destruction is cathartic.
Following on from the symbolic destruction of the Throne, we see the now-Six Kingdoms of Westeros become an elective monarchy – essentially an oligarchy with a lifelong elected leader. This in itself is a nicely satisfying conclusion to the Game.
“When you play the Game of Thrones, you win or you die,” Cersei Lannister told Ned Stark way back in Season 1, but this new system changes the Game entirely. Removing the hereditary nature of the monarchy reduces the impact of the political marriages that have caused such turmoil over the years, since the throne cannot be simply passed to the ruler’s children.
It also reduces the chance of an armed overthrow while the monarch is alive, because the people with the armies are the same people who elected the monarch in the first place. Westeros is not quite ready for democracy, so this is a neat stop-gap on the way to it.
Of course, elective monarchy greatly increases the likelihood of civil war when the monarch dies, if there is any disagreement over the election of the next ruler. But hey ho, let’s hope Bran lives a long life.
Daenerys’ ultimate end has also been hinted at throughout the series – perhaps not always effectively, but the clues are clearly there. Tyrion helpfully recaps why we should have known she might turn on the population at the beginning of the final episode. Besides that, her vision in the House of the Undying in Season 2 shows her in a destroyed throne room, snow falling on the Iron Throne, and just as she is about to touch it she is distracted and moves away to see Khal Drogo and Rhaego – who are both dead.
With hindsight, it’s clear that this refers to the destruction of King’s Landing and the Red Keep which she brought about, and her death just as she is about to take the Throne. Jon says he didn’t see any afterlife, but here’s hoping that he simply doesn’t remember it, and that Dany really has gone to join her long lost husband and son in whatever afterlife awaits her.
Jon’s ultimate fate is also one for which the seeds have been sown for a long time. The happiest time in Jon’s life was clearly his time with the Wildlings, and although some of that had to do with Ygritte, it was not just her that attracted him to the wild land beyond the Wall. Jon admired Mance Rayder and still admires Tormund, and he thrived in a land with no kings or titles and no lords and ladies, where his birth didn’t matter. That is as true now that his real parentage is known as it was when he believed himself to be Ned Stark’s illegitimate son.
Sansa’s ultimate victory, or half-victory, has been foreshadowed throughout the final two seasons, as she has become an accomplished player of the Game of Thrones out of sheer necessity and to ensure her own survival.
Ever since she descended the stairs at the Eyrie in a new, darker outfit and took Littlefinger’s breath away at the end of Season 4, it has been clear that Sansa is a player to be reckoned with, and no amount of torture at Ramsey Bolton’s hands could take that away from her. She learned from the mistakes of Cersei, Margaery and Littlefinger himself and it is not surprising at all that she has managed to come out on top – of the North, at least.
There must always be a Stark in Winterfell, and it makes sense that the Stark is now Sansa. Bran has lost much of his human identity, Jon has been playing with his Targaryen side by riding a dragon and although Arya has re-claimed her identity as Arya Stark, she has never wanted to stay at home and be a Lady.
Sansa, on the other hand, started the series wanting to shed her Stark identity to marry Joffrey and become his queen, something she really drove home by betraying Arya and indirectly causing the death of her own (Stark emblem) direwolf Lady. She started to rediscover her Stark identity, however, once she escaped King’s Landing and started to build Winterfell in the snow in the Eyrie.
Since then, Sansa’s story has been one of reclaiming and embracing that identity, so it makes sense that it is Sansa who, in the end, rejects the South and takes up the position of being the Stark in Winterfell. (Incidentally, Lyanna Mormont’s snarking aside, she has legitimate reasons to reject both her marriages – the first was never consummated, but it was also not dissolved before the second took place, making the second marriage bigamous and therefore invalid – and Ramsey is long dead by now anyway).
Sansa also, of course, becomes Queen in the North in her own right, in a truly satisfying moment that echoes her brothers’ Robb and Jon’s earlier coronations. Perhaps she didn’t end up Queen of the Seven Kingdoms as consort of the King, as she wanted to as a child, but she has ended up in a much better position. The girl who wanted a handsome prince to save her and wanted to leave her home in the North to live in the city where there are jousts and handsome knights and so on grows into a woman who embraces the North and becomes its Queen in her own right, with no need for a husband, consort or brother by her side.
As the only surviving example of a female ruler who is not a lunatic (she may be quite ruthless, but that is a different thing), Sansa’s coronation is also essential to ensure that the show doesn’t end up perpetuating a truly disturbing message that any woman with power is dangerous and should be killed (just, er, don’t go to see X-Men: Dark Phoenix…).
Where the television series has stumbled, though, is in preparing viewers for Bran Stark to end up becoming King of the Six Kingdoms. Of course, some bright and eagle-eyed viewers worked it out, but to many, this development seems to come out of nowhere.
In fact, in several ways the show seemed to strongly imply Bran absolutely should not and would not become king. In Season 7, he told Sansa: “I can never be Lord of anything, I’m the Three-Eyed Raven.”
On the other hand, Tyrion’s whole point when he proposes Bran is that the best king is someone who doesn’t want to be king – but Bran appears to have known how events would play out from his visions, and allowed this to happen, and even specifically says he travelled south for the that reason – so surely he can’t have been that averse to becoming king or he wouldn’t have done that? Indeed, it’s possible to read all his actions since the death of the previous Three-Eyed Raven and Hodor (the moment at which he really seemed to lose the last of his humanity) as a completely unscrupulous manipulation of events to get himself onto the throne.
And, really, he’s a terrible choice for a king. It seems clear from Bran’s abandoning the Small Council meeting that Tyrion will, in fact, be the person ruling the Six Kingdoms. That in itself may be positive, but a leader in a pseudo-medieval society who relies on others physically (Brienne and Podrick are the brawn to his brain), cannot bear children to help out with his duties as he gets older and has all the work of running the kingdom done by someone else is a weak leader just asking for another civil war. The only thing holding Westeros together at this point is the fact that his most significant rival is his own sister, who so far seems disinclined to betray him or go to war with him – but that is no guarantee she won’t ever do so!
So why is Bran on the Throne, if this outcome makes so little sense, in or out of universe? Well, the simplest explanation is of course that this is the ending George RR Martin has planned for his books. The first proper chapter of the first book in the series, A Game of Thrones, is written from Bran’s point of view – perhaps we should have seen that he was the true protagonist all along.
However, the TV adaptation should stand on its own merits without requiring viewers to read the books to understand the story – not to mention that Benioff and Weiss do appear to have deviated from Martin’s plan in other respects, and could have done so here as well – assuming this is even Martin’s plan and not their own invention.
Bran’s character arc for the past few seasons (when he’s actually been on screen) has been about him losing his personality and humanity. It has been openly stated several times that he no longer feels in the same way that he used to and that love and family connections have little significance to him any more. And this may be the key to how Bran has ended up “winning” the Game.
The final episode opens with Tyrion and Jon lamenting the damage that can be done when love gets involved in politics. Love is the death of duty, and duty the death of love. Bran himself has seen from the very first episode how destructive the power of love can be, ever since Jaime pushed him out of that window – something he eventually recalls thanks to his powers, and reminds Jaime of early in this final season.
It has been repeatedly stated that the worst things Cersei did were for the love of her children, and even Daenerys’ final push into madness is spurred by the loss of three of those she loved most (Ser Jorah, Rhaegal, and Missandei) in quick succession.
So, ultimately, that seems to be how we ended up with Bran ruling over the Six Kingdoms. His very inability to love is what makes him qualified for the job, as he will never betray his duty to the people for the sake of personal love or affection, and the series as a whole has essentially been about the destructive power of the most positive life force on the planet, love.
So, yay? One thing Benioff and Weiss promised us, we certainly got – that is a truly bittersweet ending.