The Game of Thrones finale: one week on
Spoiler warning, of course.
It's been a week since the Game of Thrones finale, "The Iron Throne", and in that time I've done plenty of thinking on how this much-beloved TV programme of mine chose to conclude itself.
I was initially a little bit confused and disoriented when Brandon Stark was was placed on the Iron Throne (or rather, the lack thereof). I wrote in a previous article that I expected Jon Snow, the rightful heir, to kill Daenerys and take the crown; although in the same article I also explained how I thought this was a predictable outcome. The best conclusion which I could then foresee was for Daenerys to preempt Jon's treachery and put him to death, becoming the first of a new line of Targaryen tyrants. It would be a bleak, cyclical ending, for sure, but perhaps it could have served as a parable for the total, inherent corruption in human power, and how while some monarchs may be good and others bad, no perfect system of human governance can ever be devised. Or something like that.
So I think Bran's ascension came as a surprise to most of us. One of my first thoughts was, why is he called Bran the Broken, rather than Brandon the Broken? Brandon Stark is his full name, is it not? Speaking as a resident of a constitutional monarchy, we don't typically refer to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second as "Queen Liz".
Another matter that confused me was Tyrion's justification - that Bran has the best "story" out of all the contenders for the Throne. If anything, Bran has the dullest story. He broke his spine, thereby developing magical powers... somehow. Well, I guess that's pretty interesting. But then the other 90% of his "road to the Iron Throne" consisted of him messing around with wolves and crows while others (quite literally) did all the heavy lifting - whether that's Hodor, Osha, Rickon, or Jojen & Meera Reed; all of whom either suffered terribly or died for their efforts. Meera was the only survivor, and she didn't even get a "thank you" from the little brat, as he became the mystical Three-Eyed Raven and shed much of his humanity as a character. While we do thereafter occasionally get glimpses of the old, human Bran (such as at the trial of Petyr Baelish, or his touching words at Theon's last stand), he's inherently not the most empathetic of characters, and is therefore probably the least popular choice (among the fandom, anyway) to become King.
But since the episode aired other questions have been forming in my mind, and in the minds of other members of the Game of Thrones fanbase. If, as implied in "The Iron Throne" ("why do you think I came all this way?") Bran had planned this from the beginning, then why was he so concerned with revealing Jon Snow's true parentage? Was it in order to bring a divide between Jon and Daenerys, to therefore take the Throne for himself? Is Bran subsequently responsible for the rise of the Mad Queen and the destruction of King's Landing? Is he even more of a Machiavellian schemer than Petyr Baelish? I don't think the show's creators intended this at all, but it is an unfortunate logical consequence of writing Bran onto the Throne. They thought they were writing a happy, or at least a bittersweet, ending, but they may have accidentally penned a tragedy, and GoT fans are starting to notice.
I agree with this reviewer that giving Bran the Throne is a bit of a cheap cop-out. For a show (and a novel series) traditionally so dedicated to depicting gritty realism within a fantasy setting with minimal magic, putting an infallible wizard in charge to solve all of Westeros' problems is almost a deus ex machina. What are we supposed to learn from this? There aren't any wizards to elect Prime Minister or President in the real world.
That said, would anyone really want the Three-Eyed Raven in charge? He's effectively a magical Big Brother - like Saruman the White, his raven spies will be everywhere, and he will be able to predict and preempt revolts before they even happen. Sure, the Seven (now Six) Kingdoms will have a kind of peace, but at what cost? The Raven's reign may never end, either - at each monarchical election, the Raven could take on the body of the next King or Queen, ensuring that Westeros remains in perpetual tyranny.
Think about it. Would you trust Bran to be King? He literally spied on his own sister when she was being raped. Talk about the Snooper's Charter! Where would the right to privacy go?
Perhaps I'm taking this too literally. But even if you explain away Bran's abilities, the elective monarchy that Tyrion establishes in place of the Targaryen or Baratheon dynasties is already inherently flawed. No doubt Tyrion thought this would be a better alternative because all the wars since the death of King Robert have been, at least on surface level, squabbles over dynastic lineage. Get rid of the requirement for lineage, get rid of the wars, right? Wrong. The wars in Westeros were caused by noble families fighting for power and influence - the questions surrounding the lineage of King Joffrey, and later King Tommen, etc. were only excuses which power-hungry lords and ladies, such as Stannis Baratheon, naturally used to their own advantage. But at least these lords needed this excuse in the first place - at least the authority of the Throne was the only thing which kept the aristocracy from devolving into total anarchy. But by making the Throne accountable to the aristocracy, Tyrion has inadvertently stripped it of all its power. All the power in Westeros now belongs to the lords. What if King Bran makes a decision which negatively effects a particular House, such as diverting trade from Dorne to the Westerlands (as an example)? If Westeros was still under a hereditary monarchy, House Martell, the rulers of Dorne, would not be able to kill the King without seeing his son and heir take his place. Because the succession is set in stone by family lineage, the Realm can remain stable (the only reason the wars of GoT began is because the succession became disputable - due to the extraordinary incest of the Lannister twins). But if the Throne is potentially always up for grabs by any lord in Westeros, all that needs to be done is for the King to be assassinated so that a new election can take place. In this example, House Martell could have King Bran poisoned, then manipulate the following election so that someone favourable to their House takes his place. This, to me, seems like a recipe for more war, scandal and intrigue, not less.
This is perfectly explained by this YouTuber, who also points out that any election would involve the more powerful kingdoms putting political, economic, or indeed military pressure on the lesser ones during elections, which immediately unbalances the unity of the Seven (sorry, Six) Kingdoms. He also points out that it's illogical that Dorne and especially the Iron Islands would just stand idly by while the North is granted independence. The North has undoubtedly suffered for its membership of the Seven Kingdoms these past few years, but by that same token haven't also House Martell and the Ironborn? Why shouldn't they declare independence too? If they did (which is likely for Yara Greyjoy at least, after Daenerys' assassination) then Six Kingdoms would become Four - an unsustainable even number, for a democracy (or rather, an aristocratic oligarchy).
Anyway, without blathering on, it's basically secondary school History that the more powerful the aristocracy, the more unstable a realm becomes. This is why in the real world Mediaeval-style aristocracies like that of Westeros were eventually crushed by their respective monarchs, and absolute monarchies took their place. The Wars of the Roses, a real historical conflict on which A Song of Ice and Fire/Game of Thrones is based, did not end in increased powers for the aristocracy, but instead the very opposite! Henry Tudor won the Battle of Bosworth and became King of England, crushing the warring, scheming lords once and for all, and achieving unparalleled, dictatorial power for himself and his son (Henry VIII) in the process. Louis XIV, the Sun King, accomplished a similar feat in France, by herding his nobles into the Palace of Versailles where he could keep them under control. These were the first in a long line of absolute monarchs, which in the end would result in the Civil War and later the Glorious Revolution in England, and the French Revolution in France. So this is where modern democracy started to take shape - not at the end of the aristocratic era, but after the absolute era which replaced it. The Game of Thrones equivalent would have been for Daenerys to win the Iron Throne, crush the aristocracy (or "break the wheel", as she always put it) and begin a line of evermore brutal Targaryen tyrants that would eventually provoke a popular revolution that would establish the first semblances of true democracy (not the premature oligarchic democracy that we got).
You may not think any of this matters terribly much. And perhaps you're right. But as A Song of Ice and Fire and subsequently Game of Thrones are so thoroughly derived from real history, a historically realistic conclusion would have been educational and fitting.
Before I conclude this article and move on with my life, I would like to express my interest in the fan theory that Daenerys will be resurrected by the red priestess Kinvara in Volantis. While it likely wasn't an intentional implication and won't ever be depicted on-screen, it’s kind of an exciting idea to think of what would happen if post-Game of Thrones there was another great war between the resurrected Mother of Dragons and King Bran the Three-Eyed Raven. It’s a fun thought experiment. What would Jon Snow’s reaction be? Would Dany return to Daario Naharis in Slavers' Bay and raise a new army, and recall the Unsullied from Naath?
The last season of Game of Thrones wasn't the worst thing in the world. It was far more entertaining than a lot of television out there. But we have come to expect so much more from this programme, even the smallest blemish would have felt like a mighty tumour upon George R.R. Martin's name. Perhaps it's just my interest in the subject of unconditional love, but I did enjoy Jaime's end with Cersei. On the other hand, the more I think about it the more I realise that the only reason I initially supported Arya's killing of the Night King is because otherwise all the training we've painstakingly and not particularly interestingly seen her go through with the Faceless Men would have been for nought. Really, if it wasn't for this perhaps I would have preferred if Theon or Jon had struck the fatal blow instead. As for the Mad Queen arc, I thought it was definitely a good direction to go in. If executed properly, it could have shown how power corrupts and how idealistic utopian rulers are usually the most imperialistic and genocidal. We were given hints of this in the final product, but really, such an arc requires seasons of character development to be done justice - one mad burst of anger over King's Landing isn't character development, but a freak psychological accident (see this article for more on how this scene transformed GoT from a sociological story to a psychological one). Indeed, according to this interview with Martin himself, apparently he tried hard to persuade the GoT showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss (who have now been bestowed the unfortunate dual moniker of "Dumb & Dumber" by the GoT fanbase) to keep the show going for extra seasons in order to do the story's final act justice, but the pair declined. This sadly lends credence to the accusation that the two rushed season 8 so that they could write their upcoming Star Wars movies.
Elliot, my co-host from The Ood, the Bad and the Ugly, hasn't watched Game of Thrones and says he won't begin now that the fandom has very loudly and publicly decried the ending as the worst thing ever to happen to mankind. Which is a shame. I would still heartily recommend the programme to anyone - the last season, though slightly nonsensical, was still entertaining, and can never detract from the previous enjoyment I have got from the show. Game of Thrones is up there with Doctor Who (and that's really saying something) as one of my favourite television programmes of all time, and a classic in televisual history. It will always be worth a watch.