Ending Game of Thrones
Like many people with a television — or an internet connection — in 2019, I’m glued to the final season of Game of Thrones.
The adaptation of George R. R. Martin’s genre-upending fantasy saga A Song of Ice and Fire has long blown past the narrative laid out in the books (fans still await the long-gestating sixth installment of the novels), relying on guidance from Martin as to where he expects his story to eventually end up.
In all likelihood, Game of Thrones and A Song of Ice and Fire will end differently. But as GoT barrels towards its ending (at the time of writing there are only two episodes left) I’ve been thinking about how I would end it if it was down to me. I often do this when watching TV shows and films as a thought exercise, think to myself: if I was writing this, what would I do?
Who will end up on the Iron Throne in my version? Why, I’m glad you asked. I think it’ll be…
Wait. Wait! It’s not necessarily a bad thing. Hear me out.
We’ve already seen Cersei — ably assisted by the cartoonish Euron, his merry band of goth-pirates, and a whole load of giant crossbows — put up a good fight against the advancing army of Daenerys, Jon Snow et al. But I’m not saying she’ll end up on the Iron Throne because she will defeat the aunt and nephew romantic couple who are, at this point, the show’s main protagonists. In the books, maybe it could happen, who knows? The “good guys” losing seems like something Martin would relish. But its television equivalent has become much more of a conventional offering since running out of source material.
What I’m saying I don’t see Cersei as the big winner of Game of Thrones — but that doesn’t mean she isn’t sat on the throne by its end.
Dany may only have one dragon left, but she can still win. She has Jon Snow, apparently impervious to defeat in battle despite making frequent tactical blunders, wise advisors and possible deus ex machina type help on hand — be that from Cersei’s brother (and ex-lover) Jaime (although does he plan to help or hinder?), the wildlings, the Iron Islands or another classic Arya sneak attack.
So how — and why — does Dany win the battle for the throne but Cersei keep it?
Because when she gets up close with Cersei, Dany sees all that she has lost: her children. Her entire family, one way or another. Anyone and everyone she has loved. All she’s left with is a lover she hates, a creepy mad scientist and his zombie-bodyguard creation. In pursuit of power for its own sake, she has lost everything.
Dany realises she does not want that life. She shows mercy and leaves, back to Essos, to rule there. She understands that although Cersei has the Iron Throne, she really has nothing at all, and soon enough the people will turn on their Queen, and break their own chains.
What of the rest of our clan of main characters? Jon Snow (or Aegon Targaryen, if you prefer, though I’m not sure he does) ever the reluctant ruler, doesn’t want the throne either, but nor does he want to stay with Dany (even though neither of them are as creeped out by their now-incestuous relationship as they really should be). Instead, Jon trudges off to the North to help Sansa rule. Ser Jaime dies in battle at King’s Landing (doing something noble and redemptive like saving Brienne. Tyrion and Varys continue to serve Dany, meanwhile mysterious Arya’s story is left open ended, as she decides to pursue the life of a solitary assassin, righting wrongs throughout the seven kingdoms and beyond.
Martin has always said that his books are in conversation with J.R.R. Tolkien’s seminal fantasy work Lord of the Rings, having famously argued in an interview that he was disappointed by an ending that suggested as long as a just ruler ended up in charge (Aragorn), then everything would be OK forever more. Essentially, a “happy ever after”. It seems unlikely, therefore, that Martin’s own saga (and the show based on it) would end with Daenerys and/or Jon on the throne, bringing peace and prosperity to the seven kingdoms.
I think a slightly more cynical ending would fit the tone better, and if it was down to me I would end with Cersei on the throne — hateful, bitter, deserted by everyone she loves, wielding power without purpose, simply waiting to be overthrown.
So, that’s how I’d do it.
But if you were in charge of ending Game of Thrones, how would you do it? Who sits on the Iron Throne in the finale in your head? Let me know in the comments.