This post may not sit well with the folks who think the final episodes of Game of Thrones were a matter of great public importance, enough to warrant a million-signature petition for a final season redo. If you are one of those people, you probably should stop reading now.
For a brief recap, the show ends with:
… the Queen’s Hand has committed a blatant act of treason out of some familial loyalty to his brother who has been sleeping with his sister and has been imprisoned, pending his inevitable execution …
… the putative heroine has turned into a mass murderer, destroyer of all she surveys, women and children included;
… the Hand, assessing his difficult situation, importunes the Queen’s incestuous lover, and the true heir to the Iron Throne, to undo the Queen because, well, you know, she’s not who we thought she was …
… the Queen’s newly discovered relative, rote repeater of “she’s my Queen, she’s my Queen” right up to the point where he drives some Valerian steel into her heart, is so now “not my Queen;”
… a “council” of somebodies sits down in the shade to decide who will replace the dearly departed and one of them suggests, to much amusement, a plebiscite of “everyone” to decide who should rule the Seven Kingdoms, to which one “nobleman” in best form, suggests they let his horse vote, ahhahahaha, but …
… when it’s clear Sansa isn’t going to be chosen, she reduces the “Seven Kingdoms” to six by simply saying “not the North” and please sit down, Samwell Tarly, you idiot … and he does; thus does democracy die in the Six Kingdoms …
… and so they pick Bran whose leadership skills are … not self-evident … but perhaps he means well, though one must wonder about his first big decision to make the Queen’s former Hand his Hand so the Hand can “correct his many mistakes” in the future, a fate apparently deemed worse than death in those parts …
… and that’s a wrap … except
… the murderer of the Queen is banished back to the Black Watch and the Wall, which no longer has a purpose now that the White Walkers have been destroyed, and accepts his fate without so much as a quarrel about the inequity of it all, and …
… the one person who could upend the entire scheme is the brown-skinned guy, the slaughter-in-chief, Grey Worm, leader of the Unsullied and recently decorated as head of the Queen’s Army or something like that, due to his valor and fantastic killing skills, except there’s no Queen now and the “council” is letting the murderer off easy…
… and so Grey Worm effectively dictates the punishment, short of death, of the Queen’s murderer…
There are probably more “morals of the story” in Game of Thrones than in the typical fairy tale but for me the two principal lessons are clear:
- power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely, and
- the absence of checks and balances in a government will inevitably lead to dangerous outcomes.
The first is too obvious to need much elaboration. Daenerys Targaryen still has one full-grown dragon near the end, plus the loyalty of the miraculously surviving and bloodthirsty Dothraki and Unsullied armies. It’s hard to load more power in one person than that and Daenerys obviously relishes her position – total victory — and, as she “explains” to no one’s great surprise, there are many more battles yet to be fought as she reconstructs the “world” in the image she has in her mind. Daenerys Targaryen thus ends up as the comic book heroine and villain.
The second moral point is more important because less obvious. This principle is what makes Game of Thrones relevant to the world we live in now. In the end, with the “city” of Kings Landing in ruins, the Queen is unbounded. She is defeated only by a final act of hubris, in which she believes that Jon Snow (whom she loves at least as long as he doesn’t challenge her “right” to the Iron Throne) will not harm her, misapprehending completely the mental state of a man who has already been dead once and to all outward appearances seems dazed and uncomprehending of how things have devolved to this sorry state. Love is blind, as the saying goes.
Now the fate of the “world,” as defined by the Seven Kingdoms, is left in the hands of the “council.” The only real power in the scene is Grey Worm who, with a nod of his head, could bring the “military” to terminate the council in a heartbeat. Yet, he resists the direct and deadly use of his power, insisting, however, that Jon Snow be properly punished for his crime against the Queen.
So, ultimately, peace seems to prevail, only because the parties have inadvertently stumbled into a place where the most powerful player, the commander of force, turns out to be sensible and not interested in leveraging his position beyond seeing some form of justice done as to Jon Snow. Grey Worm turns out, then, to be perhaps the best of the men in the entire story. He stays his hand in the interest of peace when he could easily just take control.
There is no mistaking that Grey Worm is the key power player in the end. It was that “check and balance” that operated to “solve” the problem of Jon Snow and to give the “politicians” space in which to negotiate their peace with each other. As improbable as that final outcome may have been, and I’ll leave that to others to debate, the point in the end was that absent Grey Worm’s steady hand, there is no telling what could have happened as the others jockeyed for position. At the same time, we can see that if the only obstacle to the politicians dividing up the world, is the one with “force” at his command, the potential for continued instability is high. You upset Grey Worm at your peril.
That principle – checks and balances – was set up in a three-part scheme by the Framers of the U.S. Constitution. The 3-way regime has served the country pretty well until 2016 when 2/3 of the checks fell into the hands of one party, and a criminal was placed in charge of the executive branch. The balance was somewhat restored in 2018 but the Trump administration continues to undermine the Judicial Branch by nominating and approving, through its control of the Senate, judges who are ideologues and, in some cases, plainly lacking relevant experience and demonstrated judicial temperament.
We are, therefore, at a precipice, not unlike the one that the “council” in Game of Thrones faced. The sitting president has already begun to suggest that he may not respect the outcome of the 2020 election, so we may yet be looking to the leaders of the “force” component of government to decide whether we will continue to be democracy or something else. The result may turn on a Grey Worm yet again. Our fate will then depend on his being as sensible as the “real” Grey Worm.
Your assessment reminds me of Frank Rich reviews. I’m just getting ready to watch the last episode of the 8th season of Game of Thrones. I’ve been following it from the beginning.
Don’t have a strong opinion about the controversial ending. Thought your lessons were spot on. I’m going to miss the story and the characters. One thing that few people mention about the show’s outstanding quality are the special effects. To me they’re exceptional, even by today’s high standards.
Your capsulation was a valuable requiem for me to go out on. Thank you.
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