What We Need From the ‘Game of Thrones’ Finale
First, an awkward acknowledgement: This final season of Game of Thrones has been hella uneven. For every incredible high—Ayra shivved the Night King!—there have been scores of lows. (Like, seriously, does anything Tyrion proposes make rational sense?) Granted, the show has a lot of loose ends to tie up, but in doing so, it’s left quite a few of us totally frayed.
But there’s hope. Season 8 may have been a roller coaster up until this point, but Game of Thrones has one final episode left in which it could make everything right. It is possible! It’s highly unlikely, but still possible. To that end, WIRED gathered some in-house Thrones enthusiasts—writers Emily Dreyfuss, Emma Grey Ellis, and Peter Rubin, and editors Angela Watercutter, Jason Kehe, and Andrea Valdez—to talk about what they need from this final episode, and what questions they need answered, in order to feel satisfied with the show’s ultimate conclusion.
There Has to Be a Definitive Winner of the Iron Throne
Emily Dreyfuss: I don’t know about y’all, but I don’t think there’s anything this last episode could do to make me feel fulfilled. What I want is an ending to this series that’s paced at the same rate as the beginning and middle of this series, one that earns the plot points this last season shoved down our throats without appropriate buildup. There’s no way showrunners David Benioff and D. B. Weiss are going to end Game of Thrones with a time machine that goes back a few years and undoes their seemingly arbitrary decision to speedily wrap this show up in a manner that requires complicated characters to act in ways we’ve never seen them act before. And frankly, that’s the only thing they could do to please me at this point. Without that break in the laws of nature, I fear that whether Jon kills Dany or Sansa becomes queen or whatever will just feel irrelevant and I’m only going to be sad that it’s over, and sad that it ended this way.
Emma Grey Ellis: I saw that dissatisfaction coming after the first episode of this season, so I decided to de-invest. I barely watch the episodes anymore. I scan Twitter for spoilers so I know when to pay attention and when to just let the stultifying-yet-somehow-rushed scenes of exposition and shoddy (again, rushed) character development slide by. At this point, I see the characters the way Benioff and Weiss seem to: as plot devices, not people. All I want from the finale is for it to be logically defensible, which I honestly think is the best we can hope for.
Angela Watercutter: I agree, Game of Thrones has felt very rushed this season, which is odd since it seemed like people complained for years that it was too slow. I think the main problem is that the show was so good at building characters in the first few seasons that now that they’re people of action and not people of words, they feel hollow. Their actions feel less earned. Yet, we’re all invested now, and we have to see this through. To that end, there’s only one thing I really need: I need someone to definitively hold the Iron Throne when the credits roll on Sunday. This show is casting off plotlines left and right, but that’s the one it cannot lose. Someone becoming the new ruler of Westeros is the whole point of the show; hell, it’s the whole point of the show’s title. I don’t care who wins anymore, but so long as it is someone then the show will at least not have failed at its main objective. A low bar, I know, but it’s the one I’ve set.
Ellis: I think the show can still honor most of its characters’ purposes, if not their persons. Our obvious chosen ones—Jon and Dany—can’t end up on the throne. The throne should be held by someone who knows how to play the game, and neither Dany nor Jon do. Plus, the show has been teasing Dany’s possible madness for seasons, and Jon has been giving off big Ned Stark energy. Sansa is the best player left on the board now that Tyrion is mysteriously dense, so she should win.
Andrea Valdez: Though, if the showrunners (with George R.R. Martin’s consultation) wanted to be super subversive—which was a primary approach GRRM took in writing his epic and what set it apart from other fantasy series—no one could win the throne. It would be hugely dissatisfying to everyone, but perhaps it would be a lesson that the game of life doesn’t have to be a zero-sum game. Dany could rule the southern lands of Westeros from her mad throne and Sansa could run the North, sensibly and reliably protecting it against winter. Or, if the showrunners wanted to dole out more fan service a la Cleganebowl, they could throw a bone to a different set of fans: the shippers who have been rooting for Jon Snow and Sansa Stark to fall in love and rule together.
Dreyfuss: Sansa would NEVER put up with Jon’s nonsense.
Peter Rubin: I can’t help notice that no one has mentioned boy wonder Robin Arryn. It’s true that we haven’t seen the world’s oldest breastfeeder since Season 6, but if Dany goes down (more on that in a sec) and Jon goes down as well (more on that in a sec), and Gendry goes off to pine for Arya in his new capacity as the sword-forgin’ lord of Storm’s End, young Sweetrobin just might have a sho—oh, god, I can’t do this anymore. Obviously it has to be Sansa.
Dreyfuss: Oh my god, Robin Arryn is alive?! I completely forgot that. Now I’m mad the show is ending before murdering him.
Is Someone Going to Kill Daenerys?
Watercutter: This is hard to say, because I’ve been rooting for her pretty much since the beginning, but I feel like Daenerys might die in the finale. After she ransacked King’s Landing in the penultimate episode, she fully lost the Breaker of Chains, Mercy Giver high ground that she’d had before and will likely have to pay for that. In many ways, I feel for her—she does seem to be struggling with some mental health issues—but I feel like much of Westeros will probably just see her as a threat worse than Cersei and try to get rid of her. Some hypothesize that it could be Jon that kills her, but I’d guess Arya. She’d do anything for Jon or Sansa and since she didn’t execute Cersei, she might set her sights on Dany. This all feels so very tragic, even as I type it, but that’s my guess. Am I wrong?
Ellis: Nah, I think you’re right. If Arya kills Dany (and that bit of prophecy about green eyes suggests she will) and serves under Sansa, the story comes full circle: a realm effectively ruled by a pair of powerful siblings, one a cunning political thinker and the other a Kingslayer. I think that would satisfy me. Then again, this is Game of Thrones, so maybe all of that is backward.
Jason Kehe: Arya can’t do the deed! I mean, yes, I certainly agree someone must go all Katniss in Mockingjay and let fly an arrow aimed directly at the new she-tyrant’s head—but Arya already knifed the Night King. Can they really have the same character neatly and world-savingly kill two major villains? Even for a season as narratively unconvincing as this one, that’s dumb. Then again, no one else seems capable. Jon’s a wussy-puss. Tyrion hasn’t been effective in four seasons. Sansa—eh, maybe, but she’s pretty slow-moving in all those furs. Well, there is Yara, who better come back for the finale. Maybe she’ll seduce lovelorn Dany and then kiss her with poisoned lips so sweetly! That, or Dany, sensing her own madness, self-dracaryses. Committing hari-Drakari, as it were. Whatever happens, I’ll say this: They’re still keeping us guessing, which is some kind of victory.
Dreyfuss: I totally agree. Arya can’t be the double savior of everything. Maybe Dany could die in a tragic dragon-fire burp accident. No one would see that coming. And it would be weirdly in keeping with the show’s inappropriate shoehorning in of jokes at the wrong moments. But honestly, maybe Samwell could kill her? He’s set up to be the Horatio of this story, to live to tell the tale; why not also plunge the final dagger? And he’s already proven he can kill White Walkers despite everyone assuming that he’s too chunky to be powerful.
Rubin: The answer, of course, is Hot Pie. The answer to everything is Hot Pie. But if Hot Pie can’t come galloping in on a pastry steed waving a death-baguette, Arya might not need to be the double savior of her family—she could simply be the redeemer. That, of course, hinges on Jon Snow getting a death do-over. Nephewsurper or no, he’s got to be doing a little soul-searching vis-à-vis that whole Dany-on-the-throne thing after the slaughter of King’s Landing, which means some sort of confrontation is inevitable. Jon lucked out with Viserion, but might not with Drogon, or even Dany herself. So while it might feel trite if Arya saves Jon, I’d love to see her avenge him. After all, she left King’s Landing riding a pale horse; how could that not pay off?
Arya Has to Put on a Face
Valdez: For basically all of the fifth and sixth seasons, we saw Arya in Braavos, training with the Faceless Men. For me personally, it was a bit of a plodding story arc, but I persevered through it thinking it would prove valuable in helping Arya, a slight girl brought up in high society, become the badass assassin she always aspired to be. And at the end of Season 6, it paid off: few moments in the series were as satisfying as watching Arya peel off the face of a servant girl, state her name and intention, and methodically slice Walder Frey’s throat open, like his family did to her mother. Since then, we’ve seen Arya wear only one other face (Frey’s, before she poisoned his entire clan). Just one. We know she’s traveling with a collection of them; Sansa found the bag of them when Arya returned to Winterfell. And perhaps Arya has worn others and we just haven’t seen it. Which is why it makes sense to me that the writers will finally make use of Arya’s gruesome parlor trick, allowing her to wear a face to kill just one more person. My prediction? She’ll wear the face of Grey Worm to kill Daenerys.
Dreyfuss: That’s genius. But alternatively, she could wear the face of Drogon. She’ll have to hide her body inside a, uh, large building of some kind, but it could work! [Editors’ note: It could not work.]
Watercutter: I feel like Arya could also put on the face of Tyrion to kill Dany. At least then his character would serve a useful purpose this season. (And, once again, I’ve made myself miserable thinking about how tragic this all is.)
Rubin: I was about to propose that she wear the face of Jon—think of it!—but then I realized that I have no idea how the faces work. Can one use the face of the living? Andrea, I feel like you have a copy of whatever the Westerosi version of Robert’s Rules of Order is. Is there maybe a chapter on Shape-Shifting Angel of Death protocol?
Valdez: Oh, Peter, there is a ton of discussion about how the masks work. I suggest chalking it all up to “magic” and leaving it at that.
Bran Needs to Provide Some Value
Valdez: In WIRED’s Game of Thrones podcast, Citadel Dropouts, co-host Spencer Ackerman made an excellent point early on about the importance of Bran as a source of information. Any good military force makes smart use of its intelligence service, and thus far, Bran has offered virtually no counterintelligence to his allies. And seemingly no one has tapped his vast reservoir of knowledge of past and present. Also, Bran has his own parlor trick, one that is nearly as useful as Arya’s face-swapping technique: Bran can warg into animals (and people!) and control them at his will. Why haven’t we seen Bran warg into a dragon already?
And another thing about the Bran plotline, I have spent a shameful amount of time reading Reddit threads about GoT, so many of which theorize about Bran and his relationship to the Night King. The Battle of Winterfell episode felt bereft of the exposition I expected to explain their connection, but I accepted that because the purpose of those 90 minutes were to bring us the most epic war scene committed to camera. (And now we know that Bran was not the Night King.) However, with so little time left, I fear we’ll never know if Bran was Bran the Builder (a popular theory) or what it means that he’s the Three-Eyed Raven.
Rubin: Dunno, Bran was overhyped in the ’80s, and he’s overhyped now. When all the time-is-a-flat-circle, Bran-as-Night-King theories spun up, I was intrigued, but with Benioff and Weiss (truly the Shields and Yarnell of our time, minus the inexplicably popular mime stuff) proving themselves all too willing to let threads dangle, my own Three-Eyed cravin’ has faded fast. Let’s let him go through incredibly awkward puberty in peace.
Dreyfuss: The Bran chapters were the most tedious in the books, in my opinion. But there were so many of them that it does feel like a complete waste of time for him to wind up being useless. Martin clearly at some point thought he was essential. But then again, the show dropped many an important thread from the books—Lady Stoneheart anyone, anyone?—that I don’t expect the show to somehow make Bran matter now. The whole show is ending on such a weird note that I think I’d be OK if Bran just slinked around in the background a little more and went down in GoT history as a mere meme.
Yara Should Come Back
Watercutter: I just miss her, you know?
Everyone: We know.
Sansa Needs to Do … Something
Dreyfuss: What Sansa needs is a Varys who she could secretly manipulate in the background to orchestrate her own ascension to the throne. But given that he’s dragon breath now, I suppose that leaves Tyrion as her puppet. At least that part was set up two episodes ago. Let’s hope they resurrect Tyrion’s ingenuity and activate Sansa’s agency long enough to get them to hatch and execute a plan.
Watercutter: This is where my Bran Theory comes in: I hope that the long talk Tyrion apparently had with Bran earlier this season means that Tyrion got some intel he can use to help Sansa. But I dunno.
Kehe: In theory, Sansa’s the savviest Stark. Smarter than Jon, less impulsive than Arya, more coherent than Bran. She’s also a real snooze. She shuffles around Winterfell in elaborate furs, staring icily while advising rest for troops. So inspiring! Actually, maybe I’m not being facetious. In a show where everyone’s getting stupider by the hour, Sansa’s kept her head. Quite literally. Doesn’t have Mom’s feral verve, but Catelyn got her throat sliced open, so. Sansa’s a pragmatist, a realist, a through-and-through competent. It’s refreshing, a breath of wintry air. More important, she genuinely wants to lead. Unlike Jon, she’s comfortable in a position of authority. She’s not easily flustered. What do I want from Sansa in the finale? To be boring and graceful and stoic and kind, to stare idiocy and fire in the face with equanimity. To be sense in the sea of chaos. And then to tell everyone in Westeros to get some much-needed shut-eye. Good night!