A selection of wonderful moments from the eighth and final season of Game of Thrones.
Best moment: Beric, Edd, and Tormund find a message from the Night King.
Why? ‘Winterfell’ might well be a season opener stuffed with expository dialogue to catch the audience up (and low levels of tension), but there’s a real sense of finality and dread lingering over the relatively relaxed introductions taking place at the episode’s eponymous castle. That’s because, elsewhere, we’re given the clearest warning yet of the doom facing our heroes if they struggle to band together. Having escaped from Eastwatch-by-the-Sea following the Night King’s destruction of the fortress in the season 7 finale, Beric Dondarrion and Tormund Giantsbane reach Last Hearth and stumble across the surviving members of the Night’s Watch, who have escaped from Castle Black. What begins as a comedic scene, with Edd forgetting that Tormund’s blue eyes are just that — as opposed to an indication that he’s now part of the Army of the Dead — soon transitions into one of bleak darkness. The trio stumble across the bloodied corpse of Ned Umber, a ten-year-old boy, suspended high on the castle walls, surrounded by a circle of dismembered limbs. As if that image itself wasn’t horrifying enough, the young child then rises from the dead, forcing Beric to kill him all over again, this time with fire. The burning, screaming zombie of Ned Umber is a frightening hint of what’s to come for all the living.
Honourable mention: Jaime Lannister returns to Winterfell and meets Bran Stark.
8.2 A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms
Best moment: Jaime Lannister knights Brienne of Tarth.
Why? Many fans consider ‘A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms’ to be the last classic Game of Thrones episode, and with good reason. With the Army of the Dead approaching Winterfell at a rate of knots, our heroes take the chance to have what could be their final conversations with each other. Among them is the beautiful culmination of Lady Brienne’s entire journey, as she finally receives a knighthood — and from of all people, Jaime Lannister. It’s something Brienne clearly deserved when we first met her way back in season 2, but the pain she endured after the deaths of Renly Baratheon & Catelyn Stark, and her defiance to keep rising again and again after years of adversity and failure, meant that this particular scene felt hard-earned. In an episode full of beautiful, tender moments, this is its crowning jewel. Series stalwart Bryan Cogman, writer of this episode, understands the intimacy and vulnerability of the people at the centre of this massive story better than anyone else involved with it. Choosing to gradually tease out Brienne’s innermost hopes and insecurities while awaiting her imminent demise at the hands of the Army of the Dead feels entirely appropriate, and launches her knighting into classic moment territory.
Honourable mention: Podrick Payne sings “Jenny of Oldstones”.
8.3 The Long Night
Best moment: Arya Stark kills the Night King and ends The Long Night.
Why? Arya Stark, not Jon Snow or Daenerys Targaryen, being the one to kill the Night King and save Westeros, proved that this show still had the ability to catch us totally off-guard — even when we thought we knew it better than anyone else. In the time it took to drive a Valyrian steel dagger through the Night’s King’s armour and reduce his horde to dust, Arya dramatically repositioned herself, her brother Bran, and even the Lady Melisandre, right at the centre of this epic narrative, sidelining key characters from the show’s inner circle in the process. And it all made perfect sense. It may well have prematurely resolved the supernatural threat which had been coming since the show’s very first scene, but the bold, game-changing twist the show employed to do so was crucial, especially as we moved into the very final stages of its story. Ramin Djawadi’s soundtrack, ‘The Night King’, follows us through the lows of the climactic sequence, as Jon Snow realises he can’t escape from Viserion’s wrath and the Army of the Dead start to overwhelm Winterfell, but rises just as Arya swoops as if from nowhere to save humanity.
Honourable mention: The death of Lady Melisandre.
8.4 The Last of the Starks
Best moment: Bronn explains the reality of power to Tyrion and Jaime.
Why? Bronn’s ending, with a place on the small council as Master of Coin and Lord of the Reach, is a controversial one. But his explanation to Jaime and Tyrion about how people end up in positions of power is a wonderful example of the show analysing the truth about power and glory once more. “Who were your ancestors, the ones who made your family rich? Fancy lads in silk? They were fucking cutthroats. That’s how all the great houses started, isn’t it? With a hard bastard who was good at killing people. Kill a few hundred people, they make you a lord. Kill a few thousand, they make you king.” The earlier seasons were filled with important questions: What is power? How does it behave? Where does power originate? Where does it really reside? Who has power? Who deserves it? This explanation here from Bronn brings those questions right back to the surface. All the established families — the Starks, the Lannisters, the Tyrells — started simply because someone with their family name just so happened to be the best at killing his challengers, meaning he could give himself as much power as he wanted to. This is something Bronn completely understands, and it’s why he ends up on the small council with a pair of undeserved titles.
Honourable mention: The Northern forces hold a funeral to recognise those who fell in The Long Night.
8.5 The Bells
Best moment: Daenerys Targaryen rains fire down on King’s Landing.
Why? Controversial, I know, but bear with me. Future generations of Westeros might name this episode’s events as “the Battle of King’s Landing”, but in truth ‘The Bells’ forces viewers to lay witness to a war crime. In a moment of maniacal rage that only a Targaryen could produce, Daenerys ignores the calls of surrender from the people of King’s Landing and fulfils her promise to lay waste to armies and burn cities to the ground. It’s a tragic end to her journey, which started out with the genuine hope that she could build a new world but ended with her unable to control her very worst impulses that she had always worked so hard to resist. The truth is that Daenerys was no one thing — she was not always going to burn King’s Landing down, and the fact that she did wasn’t a betrayal of her character either. She was “the human heart in conflict with itself”, as capable of incinerating the capital as she was of climbing down from Drogon’s back and sparing the innocent people below. She fought against the darkest parts of herself for so long, but ultimately lost. That’s what makes this scene so hard to watch. Away from the implications for Dany’s character, the sight of ginormous structures like the Red Keep being reduced to dust in frightening firestorms was a terrifying reminder that we were in fact reading the final pages of this epic tale. This is a devastating bloodbath that delivers an astounding feat of filmmaking and proves, with sobering brutality, that the Army of the Dead weren’t the biggest threat after all.
Honourable mention: Jaime and Cersei Lannister perish in firestorms.
8.6 The Iron Throne
Best moment: Tyrion Lannister explains to Jon the dangers of Daenerys’ journey.
Why? While Daeneyers’ actions in ‘The Bells’ forced viewers to dramatically re-evaluate her journey, the truth is that she was many things at once — almost beyond re-evaluation. A woman constantly at war with her ideals and her methods. While her decision to torch King’s Landing made perfect sense and tragically resulted in her death, someone still needed to explain why. Thankfully, Tyrion was the man to do just that. It wasn’t Daenerys’ decision to execute and kill evil men that was necessarily the inevitable warning sign (Jon Snow, for example, killed hundreds of men), it was the sense of power and enjoyment she derived from it (Jon was only ever tortured by the killings he doled out). “Everywhere she goes, evil men die and we cheer her for it, and she grows more powerful and more sure that she is good and right”, Tyrion says. Crucially, he’s careful not to place the blame squarely at Daenerys’ feet here. For Daenerys to be enabled, there must be an enabler (or enablers) present. Tyrion questions his own failure and naivety, recognising in the aftermath of his siblings’ deaths that his biggest mistake was thinking he could protect his family and see Daenerys take the throne at the same time. It’s a mistake that results in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people, and it’s something he will have to live with for the rest of his life as Bran Stark’s Hand of the King.
Honourable mention: The Starks go their separate ways in the show’s closing montage.