'Game of Thrones' Series Finale: Who Died & Who Won the Crown? (RECAP)

Emily Hannemann
Spoiler Alert HBO

[WARNING: The following contains MAJOR spoilers for Game of Thrones Series Finale.]

As another notable Stark from another fictional universe once said, part of the journey is the end. And after eight seasons and more than seventy episodes, it's time for the journeys of many beloved characters on Game of Thrones to conclude.

Though Season 8 dealt fans some truly polarizing story choices, the finale offers fans answers to some of the biggest burning (no pun intended) questions. Has Dany really gone mad? What happened to Yara and other characters seemingly left behind in previous episodes? Most importantly — who will sit on the Iron Throne?

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In heartbreaking and bittersweet fashion, Thrones has ended its tale with an episode that draws attention to the importance of a good story.

The Fight is Not Over

The episode opens with Tyrion, Jon and Davos walking through King's Landing, surveying the carnage and destruction. Tyrion tells Jon he'll find him later, but Jon insists it's not safe. Nevertheless, Tyrion insists he's all right by himself. He wanders through the Red Keep and goes down to the basement, where he finds piles of rubble... and Jaime's golden hand. He cries as he uncovers his brother's and sister's bodies.

Meanwhile, Jon and Davos approach Grey Worm as he and the Unsullied prepare to execute Lannister soldiers. Grey Worm says he's just following orders: "Kill all who fight for Cersei Lannister." Davos says they should speak with the queen, but that doesn't stop the Unsullied from killing the soldiers.

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Because when has one ever felt as real as the HBO hit?

Arya is apparently still in King's Landing, and she watches as Jon shoves his way through a crowd of Dothraki and Unsullied to approach the castle. Jon watches as Dany arrives: as she watches over her cheering Dothraki, she smiles. She tells her soldiers their fight is not over until they've liberated all the slaves in the world, thus implying she'll bring her destruction — justified in her mind as "liberation" across the land of Westeros.

Small Mercies

After her speech, Tyrion and Daenerys have an unpleasant chat. She tells him he committed treason by freeing his brother, and he tells her she slaughtered a city. He takes off his pin and throws it down the stairs, and Dany orders him to be taken and imprisoned. Once she leaves, Arya appears by Jon's side and although he wants to leave King's Landing with her, she knows he'll never be safe from Daenerys, because Dany knows his true parentage.

Jon goes to see Tyrion in captivity. He says the war is over, but Tyrion disagrees: "Did she sound like someone who is done fighting?" he asks. Jon tries to argue for Dany's sanity, saying she had no choice because she saw her friend beheaded and her dragon killed. But Tyrion insists her morality is askew and her sanity is gone, and that although they both love her, love is more powerful than reason. Without outright saying it, he asks Jon to kill Dany, so Jon, the rightful heir, can sit on the Iron Throne. His sisters, Tyrion says, won't be safe under her rule.

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From the special effects to those bittersweet farewells.

Dany makes it to the throne room, where, as ashes fall around her, she approaches the throne. Unlike she did in her vision in the House of the Undying, she reaches out and touches it — then, in the background, Jon enters. He is upset about her treatment of the civilians and Tyrion, and he asks her to forgive her former hand. She refuses to do so. "We can't hide behind small mercies," she says. She asks him to build the new world with her, and it seems he agrees, but when they kiss, he stabs her. She dies in his arms. Drogon flies up and, in his rage over his mother's death, melts down the Iron Throne; he then picks up Dany's body and flies away.

The Power of a Good Story

Tyrion is taken by Grey Worm to the Dragonpit and brought before a council consisting of Sansa, Brienne, Yara, Arya, Gendry, a new Dornish prince, Robin Arryn, Sam, Davos and a few others. They argue about what to do with Jon (Yara is still loyal to Dany). When Tyrion says Jon's fate is for a king or queen to decide, Grey Worm says they need to make their choice. Sam proposes something that sounds a lot like democracy, but he gets laughed at.

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A pairing between these two seemed to have been built up for seasons, only to be quickly toppled at the Winterfell gates.

When Tyrion is asked whether he wants the Throne, he denies it. He says stories unite people, and that there's nothing more powerful in the world than a good story. "Nothing can stop it," he says. "No enemy can defeat it." With that logic, he suggests Bran should be king because he has the best story. He says rulers, from now on, will be chosen by the lords and ladies of Westeros to rule the realm. Bran accepts the Throne, and the rest of the leaders approve... well, all but Sansa. She says the North will remain an independent kingdom. With that, the Seven Kingdoms become six.

Exactly Where You Needed to Be

Bran asks Tyrion to be his hand. Grey Worm says he needs to be brought to justice, and that naming Tyrion his hand as punishment for his crimes (Bran says Tyrion must repair the damage he did to the realm) isn't enough. As such, it is decided Jon must go back to the Night's Watch. "No one is very happy," Tyrion says as he tells him about the decision, "which makes it a good compromise, I suppose."

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Grey Worm and the Unsullied leave King's Landing and sail for Naath, Missandei's home. Jon talks to his siblings: Sansa apologizes for not being able to free him, but he says they'll be in good hands with her leadership. Arya and Jon part ways — probably forever — when she says she's going to see what's west of Westeros. Finally, Jon kneels to Bran and says he's sorry he wasn't there when Bran needed him. Bran tells him, "You were exactly where you needed to be."

Brienne sits and pages through the Book of Brothers. She takes it upon herself to write down Jaime's many good deeds — saving her and losing his hand, taking Riverrun without loss of life, etc. — and ends his story with "died protecting his queen." Her eyes fill with tears, and she closes the book.

A Song of Ice and Fire

Tyrion holds a meeting of Bran's small council, which consists of Sam as Grand Maester, Davos as Master of Ships, Bronn as Master of Coin and Brienne as Lord Commander of the Kingsguard. Sam presents him with "A Song of Ice and Fire," which is an account of the wars for the Throne. They start to discuss matters of interest, like Drogon's whereabouts, but Bran leaves after saying he thinks he might be able to find Drogon. From there, the council discusses other matters — like the importance of brothels vs. ships — and Tyrion starts to tell his joke about a jackass and a honeycomb.

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Jon returns to the Night's Watch and sees Tormund and the Wildlings waiting at the wall. Arya and Sansa prepare for their respective journeys, with Sansa putting on a new dress and Arya suiting up for her voyage to see what's west of Westeros. Jon sees and pets(!!!!!!) Ghost. Sansa is crowned queen in the North. Arya sets sail on a ship with the Stark symbol. The Wildlings leave the wall with Jon and Tormund leading them, and together, they venture into the woods.

Other Observations:

  • What a tragic ending for Dany. I can't help but wish we'd had more time to see her descend into madness or at least understand her mental state than we did, but with only six episodes, it appears that wasn't possible. There was a sad poetry to Drogon taking her away.
  • What an ending for all of the Starks. Though Thrones has baffled me at times with certain narrative decisions in its final season, I approve of the way it chose to spend its final minutes and the way it gave each of the Starks a fitting conclusion. (I do feel bad for Gendry, though — it seems he didn't go with Arya on her trip as I'd once predicted).
  • I was at first upset that Brienne didn't have many speaking lines this episode, but I've grown to like this as an end to her story. She got what she always wanted — a knighthood — and she made sure history remembers Jaime for who he really was, not who he said he was.
  • JON PET GHOST!!!!!!!!!!!!!! He has been forgiven for ignoring his good direwolf at Winterfell.