This post contains heavy spoilers for the series finale of “Game of Thrones.”
It’s been eight years. For 71 episodes — three days and 16 minutes worth of continuous viewing — fans have wondered who would be sitting on the Iron Throne at the end of the final season. Well, now we know.
Daenerys is dead. Brandon Stark rules the Seven Kingdoms. Jon Snow walks off beyond the Wall with the Wildlings.
Needless to say, people have opinions. There are some who love this ending, others who loathe it so deeply they will continue to petition for a complete do-over of Season 8. We asked a few Washington Post staffers and Lily readers to weigh in on what should have happened on the finale, and particularly where the female characters should have ended up.
If we were in charge, here’s how it all would have gone down.
Responses have been edited for length and clarity.
Nneka McGuire, Lily multiplatform editor: Raise your hand if you feel cheated by this finale. I certainly do. There were so many heartbreaks: Daenerys going full villain and burning innocents to a crisp, Cersei dying a dull death not befitting of her cruel-but-brilliant status, Bran randomly ruling the Seven Kingdoms (uh, what?). A better ending would have shown the ultimate futility of war, political machinations and humans’ quest for power. The Night King and his gang should have decimated the living — but first, Dany and Arya would have put up a stunning fight. Alternatively, I would have appreciated this conclusion: Dany sitting on the Iron Throne with Jon Snow serving as her hand and lover. (The show began with Cersei and Jaime, sister and brother, in an incestuous relationship. After that, I can stomach an aunt-nephew match.) Then, in the final moments of the series, we cut to a frozen corner of the far north and see a group of White Walker toddlers playing in the forest — Craster’s sons that the Night King converted back in Season 4. Somehow, they survived. We realize that the threat to humanity hasn’t been eradicated, simply delayed.
Caroline Kitchener, Lily staff writer: “Game of Thrones” is over, but I am ready and waiting for a series of spinoffs. By the time the Night’s Watch gate closed behind Jon Snow, I was convinced: All these characters ended up exactly where they’re supposed to be. Jon, north of the Wall with the Wildlings; Arya, exploring new lands; and, my favorite, Sansa, ruling as Queen of the North. Still, I have some major qualms how the show left things with a few of its primary female characters.
First, Brienne should not have been left alone to look sad with a book. Jaime absolutely should have gone back to King’s Landing to kill Cersei, not to be with her. Cersei and Jaime’s death was an absolute cop-out — the most formidable villain in the entire series killed by falling rubble? Jaime was clearly meant to plunge a dagger into Cersei’s heart in the room with the giant map on the floor, then run back to Brienne. They could have fixed his entry in the Kingsguard book together, over a bottle of wine.
Second, Daenerys deserved more. More than a knife in the heart by the man she loved, more than a dragon who couldn’t bring itself to murder her killer — but mostly, more time to go from being the kind and virtuous breaker of chains to a war-hungry villain. Over less than half a season, her character entirely transformed. After many, many long, drawn-out seasons where I came to know her as someone who mostly wanted to free slaves and ride dragons, her total decimation of King’s Landing — and her totally out-of-nowhere plan to go to war with each of the Seven Kingdoms — just wasn’t believable. I have no problem with Dany ending up as a murderous villain, but she should have been allotted more time to get there.
Travis Andrews, Washington Post pop culture reporter: I should begin by stating I never thought Sansa should be Queen of the Realm. I don’t want to rewrite my own criticism of the show now that it has ended. Frankly, I never thought it should have anything close to a happy ending. “Game of Thrones” is primarily about the corruption of power, the destruction war brings and the shortsightedness of humanity. With that in mind, I still sincerely believe the proper ending to the series would have been the Night King marching south toward King’s Landing because the people of Westeros couldn’t all unite to fight the biggest threat to humanity in history.
With that said, if this thing was going to turn into a sitcom in which Bronn (my favorite character) and crew sit around laughing about brothels, then what would have been a happier ending? I think you know where this is going: Sansa on the throne. If someone was going to be randomly chosen to rule after Jon kills Dany, how about we choose the person who has been through hell and back, grew tremendously as a character and seems to command respect from everyone around her? Instead, the show gives it to ... the teenager who sometimes turns into a bird and did absolutely nothing to help anyone ever? I would go on, but I’m honestly at a loss for words.
Ross May, Lily art director: “Game of Thrones” ended almost exactly as it should have after a season that I found tough to watch. The plot holes and character inconsistencies in the first five episodes left me frustrated, so the triumph of the Starks was the happy ending I hoped for but didn’t expect.
Seeing Sansa crowned Queen of the North and Arya riding a ship to unknown lands are both great culminations of each character arc. Jon joined the Wildlings north of the Wall (but why is there still a Night’s Watch?), which I thought was a great homage to his first love, Ygritte.
I think Daenerys’s devolution into a mad queen felt wrong. It only took three episodes for her to switch from breaker of chains to blazer of children. It was rushed and didn’t feel right. She was an inspiring character who left us in a very uninspiring way.
Franny Dent, Lily reader: I would have written “The Long Night” differently. That was the point of no return for Daenerys. She went into this battle already in pain after losing one of her dragons last season, as well as having just learned the truth about Jon. The battle started with her watching her men die. She didn’t just sit and watch from afar — she faced down the White Walkers. She risked it all. Daenerys lost the man who was a father figure to her, who had been with her since the start of her journey: Jorah Mormont. She held him as he died in her arms, having just saved her life. That should have been enough for the North to trust her, to acknowledge who she was. But it wasn’t.
All that she did, all that she lost and risked, meant nothing, except maybe to Jon. But even Jon was cold to her after Sam and Bran told him who he was. Sansa should have stood with Daenerys after the Battle of Winterfell, and yielded the North to her. With everyone behind her, there would have been no need for revenge. The bells would have ended it all, and everyone would have laid down their weapons.
Emma Olsson Thorell, Lily reader: When Tyrion, Jon and their men walk around the burned and dead civilians in the aftermath of their attack on King’s Landing, that moment highlights even more how suddenly the writers turned on Daenerys. She is at this point — and not even subtly — painted as a copy of her father, the Mad King. Jon’s shown as caring, cautious, the prodigal son of true love, the knight in shining armor, the savior. The writers killed off the big, bad Night King early in the season, they turned Cersei into a quivering coward and had her die on the run before the finale; what kind of villain did they have left if they didn’t make one up? Put fear in Dany’s advisers, tear rifts between her and the few people she loves, make her lose nearly everything, have her be abused and used throughout her life until she takes power for herself, and then make her anger seem irrational, and you have effectively created a villain that men can’t — or won’t — relate to.
As Dany steps out to speak to her army, you are reminded of how far she’s come from the little girl who was tossed around between men, given to Khal Drogo as a gift from her own brother to further his connections. If she were a man, would you really expect her to show mercy at every turn?
I don’t disagree with the somewhat diplomatic solution the writers went with. Electing a new ruler was a positive turn of events, and choosing someone who wasn’t thirsting for power for their own gain was a reasonable decision as well. But I do blame the writers for what happened to the women — not because they didn’t give us the strong female ruler we hoped for, but because they turned Daenerys into a monster. I’m not the right person to decide how this should have ended, but betraying the character of Daenerys wasn’t it.