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‘Game of Thrones’ was never really about the destination

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One of the most polarising TV shows of this generation has finally come to an end. ‘Game of Thrones’ concluded its final season on Monday morning, leaving a trail of dragon smoke and memories in its wake.

NB: The following contains spoilers for the finale of Game of Thrones.

Love is the death of duty,” Maester Aemon tells Sam before the Battle of Castle Black. “I told that to your friend Jon Snow once. He didn’t listen.”

This was years ago, the preamble of “The Watchers on the Wall”, to that point one of the greatest achievements in television history and the penultimate episode of the fourth season of Game of Thrones. Jon was in love then, but by the end of the episode she was gone and it was over. Maybe it was a foreshadow.

So, it was only fitting that the show, which wrapped up its final season on Monday, revisited this exact idea in its final moments. Jon was in love once again, this time not with a wildling soldier, but with a ruthless queen, one who’d burnt an entire city to the ground just the day before.

When Jon ran his dagger through Daenarys’s heart, it really should have been one of the seminal moments of the show. It still is, if you cut the showrunners a little bit of slack and agree to go along with their uneven final two seasons. No matter what, the image was strikingly similar to the one from Castle Black in Ygritte’s final moments, the show trying to pull us back to a different moment in its history, before Dany and Jon, before dragons crossed the narrow sea, before the Night King was even a real threat.

Flash forward from Ygritte’s death to Dany’s and the show changed a lot. Jon changed a lot. He wasn’t a bystander any more, wasn’t the star-crossed lover watching the life drain out of the girl he knew he could never be with. He was a queen-slayer, finally doing what everyone knew he had to do after a season of complete inactivity.

For all the symbolism throughout the show and especially in its final season, you had to at least admire the spectacle of the final moments, the fact that Dany had spent literally every second of the show trying to reach one point and sit in a glorified chair. It was haunting, almost, that she finally got to the Iron Throne, but didn’t sit in it. And if Ygritte got a final line before she died, why didn’t Dany get a final “et tu, Jon?” or something?

But watching Drogon melt the Iron Throne was the best symbolism the show has ever had. The show was never about who “won” or who sat there in the end. It was about love, it was about family, it was (maybe a little bit) about destiny, whatever that means, and most of all, it was about death.

At its best moments, Game of Thrones was about trying to comprehend the incomprehensible, trying to find moments of joy in a world that seemed so clearly to lack them. It kept us on our toes, because like ours, this was a world that was unpredictable. It told us that “Valar Morghulis”, all men must die, and that what is dead may never die, really.

So, I don’t care that Bran ended up as King, or that the North seceded (is that allowed in the Westerosi constitution?) or that Jon went back to the Night’s Watch or that Arya is again travelling somewhere off the literal map. People will stick on those details, but that isn’t what we should remember.

The early criticism of the show was that it was too slow, that too much time was spent on long conversations between characters over a glass (or two, or three) of wine. But the glacial pace meant we got to know everyone much better, even if it was only to feel something when they got their throat cut a few episodes later. Then, in the final two seasons, everything sped up and we realised we didn’t want that. We wanted to see the characters grow slowly.

The last episode was a throwback. We spent agonising seconds watching Tyrion survey the damage of the war, the ruins of a city Dany would never rule. Every conversation seemed drawn out, every moment a reminder that these were the last precious minutes we’d ever get. If you can get past some of the ridiculous logic in the plot, it was the best episode of the season.

It’s been a long, winding road. At its best, Game of Thrones united us, gave us a conversation-starter anywhere in the world. At its worst, it infuriated us and frustrated us like nothing else ever could.

And now, eight years after it began, our watch has ended. DM

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