'Game of Thrones' Creators End the HBO Epic With a Mixed Message About Power

Is the wheel really broken?
Courtesy of HBO

[This story contains spoilers for the series finale of HBO's Game of Thrones, "The Iron Throne."]

Game of Thrones is over, and no amount of signatures on a petition can change the ending: Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) is dead at the hands of boyfriend (and nephew) Jon Snow (Kit Harington), the Iron Throne is destroyed thanks to a hot breath of dragon fire, and Bran Stark (Isaac Hempstead Wright) has been improbably selected as the new ruler of Westeros.

Written and directed by series creators David Benioff and Dan Weiss, "The Iron Throne" puts an end to all the speculation about who will wind up in charge of the Seven Kingdoms, ruling from the highly coveted seat of power. In so doing, the answers dismantle the Seven Kingdoms — there are now only six of them, thanks to Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner) withdrawing the North from the land — and the Iron Throne itself is destroyed. The wheel that Daenerys Targaryen sought to break is now well and fully broken.

Or is it?

Back in season six, when they first met, Daenerys told Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage) all about her vision of the future: "Lannister, Targaryen, Baratheon, Stark, Tyrell they're all just spokes on a wheel. This one's on top, then that one's on top, and on and on it spins, crushing those on the ground.… I'm not going to stop the wheel, I'm going to break the wheel."

In the series finale, Tyrion was the person who most strongly advocated for Bran Stark as the man who deserved to sit on the Iron Throne. When Sansa points out that Bran not only lacks interest in ruling, but also cannot father children due to his paralysis, Tyrion is thrilled to hear it.

"Good," he says. "Sons of kings can be cruel and stupid, as you well know. His will never torment us. That is the wheel our queen wanted to break. From now on, rulers will not be born. They will be chosen on this spot by the lords and ladies of Westeros to serve the realm."

Tyrion suggests Bran's selection as king, along with the new rule that the next king won't be chosen by a genetic successor but by a committee of Westeros elite, will destroy the cycle of power Daenerys long wanted to conquer. But as evidenced in the moments leading up to Bran's election, there will always be fools like Edmure Tully (Tobias Menzies) who fancy themselves worthy of power, even when the mere suggestion of such a candidate should inspire nothing but laughter. (Consider the laughs very much inspired thanks to Sansa shutting Edmure down: "Uncle, please sit.") 

It's Samwell Tarly (John Bradley) who suggests the most radical idea of all: an election that's open to the people of Westeros. "We represent all the great houses," he tells the gathered lords and ladies, "but whomever we choose won't just rule over lords and ladies. Maybe the decision about what's best for everyone should be left to, well, everyone."

The response? Endless laughter from virtually everyone in the council, including smiles from Sansa — the same person who decides that even with her brother installed as ruler of the realm, she can't bring the North to kneel to a new king. She breaks her kingdom away as its own sovereign nation, a move of isolation in the face of a call for unity.

Does Bran the Broken really symbolize systemic wheel-breaking, then? Maybe not so much. Same with the final images of the series: the various Starks earning some measure of peace. Jon Snow, sent to live out his days at Castle Black, walks away from the Night's Watch and struts forth into the wild alongside the Free Folk. Arya Stark (Maisie Williams) sets sail for whatever's west of Westeros, riding a ship with House Stark's sigil on the banners. Sansa is happily crowned as Queen in the North. We as an audience have been invested in the Starks from the start of the series, but the journey of Game of Thrones has allowed us to empathize with other houses as well — most radically the Lannisters. 

The penultimate installment, "The Bells," flipped the script with the Northern army ravaging the Lannisters' most loyal soldiers, a mismatched fight that made the Red Wedding's victims look less than innocent all of a sudden. With Daenerys wreaking havoc from high above, the message seemed clear at the time: there are no heroes and villains, only people capable of very good things and very bad things. Such is the case with Daenerys herself, who did indeed liberate slaves all across the world, even if she wound up corrupted by power in the end. Tyrion suggests it was always Daenerys' destiny to create such horror: "Our queen's nature is fire and blood." Jon's retort: "You think our house words are stomped on our bodies when we're born, and that's who we are? Then I would be fire and blood, too. She's not her father, no more than you're Tywin Lannister."

In the end, Tyrion rejects Jon's notion, not only encouraging Daenerys' assassination, but also calling for an end to legacy reigns — by not only limiting the new era of kings and queens to the current lineup of lords and ladies, but standing by as said lords and ladies openly laugh in the face of free and fair elections. Perhaps the message is this: Westeros, much like our own world, has a long way to go before truly breaking the wheel. Perhaps…but even then? It doesn't feel quite right, as Jon would likely say. 

"Ask me again in 10 years," Tyrion tells Jon, when he asks if killing Daenerys was right. Maybe the merits of Game of Thrones' final statements on the nature of power will take that long to reveal themselves, too.

 

Read all of THR's Final Path series, featuring character-by-character predictions:

1. Jon Snow
2. Daenerys Targaryen
3. Tyrion Lannister
4. Cersei Lannister
5. Jaime Lannister
6. Sansa Stark
7. Arya Stark
8. Bran Stark
9. Samwell Tarly
10. Theon Greyjoy
11. The Hound
12. Brienne of Tarth
13. Varys
14. Melisandre
15. Davos Seaworth
16. Jorah Mormont
17. Bronn
18. Tormund Giantsbane
19. Beric Dondarrion
20. The Dragons
21. The Night King
22. Across the World of Ice and Fire
23. Final Predictions

Follow THR.com/GameOfThrones for continuing coverage all season long.