Before the final season of Game of Thrones started, I handicapped the odds of the remaining major players winning the Iron Throne. When I ran down the odds for House Stark, I gave them the best odds of winning, but I disqualified Bran because his whole Three-Eyed Raven deal seemed to knock him out of serious contention. Well knock me down with a feather, because Bran freaking Stark won the melted slag of the Iron Throne. In a story being told well, this seemed impossible because absolutely nothing about Bran recommended him for leadership, but Game of Thrones has not been told particularly well this season, so of course THIS is the ending we get. (Although, it should be pointed out that George R.R. Martin directed Thrones showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss to his intended conclusion, so have fun with this, book readers!) I actually don’t mind Bran becoming the new king as part of House Stark’s return to greatness. I do mind that the story does not support this turn of events any better than it did Daenerys’ downfall.
Tyrion actually outlines exactly what is wrong with Thrones this season when he is talking to Jon Snow, trying to convince him to murder Daenerys. Tyrion says that Daenerys believes she is good, and her conviction in her own goodness has blinded her to the evil of her actions. I was reminded, during Daenerys’ grand speech at the top of the episode, of the old adage that every villain believes they are the hero of their own story. That describes Daenerys perfectly well. The problem is that we never saw even one instance where Daenerys’s good intention resulted in a moral failure, not until she was full-on burning untold thousands of innocent civilians. Tyrion lists all the times Daenerys has killed, and rightly points out that we celebrated her murders because she was killing unquestionably bad people. Celebrating her worst impulses is what reinforced to Daenerys that she was right, but we never saw her slip down the slope of this conviction. We’re missing the scene where she does something drastic for the greater good, only to see she has harmed people.
Ironically, we actually get that very moral complication from Bran, who is retconned in this episode into being some kind of hero of the people because he is less than human. What we needed for Daenerys is something comparable to the moment when Bran learns HE is the reason Hodor became “Hodor”. Remember how horrified Bran was—how horrified WE were?—to see that Bran was the reason Willis the stable boy became Hodor? It wasn’t malicious on Bran’s part, it was a tragic mistake, but it was also a warning about the potential for destruction latent within his new Three-Eyed Raven powers. There is a dangerous edge to Bran’s abilities, and Hodor is the conduit by which we learned of it.
We needed a “Hodor moment” for Daenerys, a moment where she goes too far, despite her best intentions and we reel in horror, not fist-pump her disposing of more toxic men. We just needed a stepping stone between “Daenerys burns bad people” and “Daenerys sacks a city”. We knew she likes to burn her enemies all along—we needed to see her burn someone other than an enemy. We needed at least one instance where she burned something or someone that made us uneasy and made us question if we should even be supporting all this burning in the first place. (The Tarleys, arguably, serve this purpose but that happened right after battle, and one of them refused to bend the knee which speaks to a potential for treason, and if we’re going by the standards of Westeros, rulers are justified in eliminating those who commit treason against them – see Varys.)
Conversely, we needed a scene with Bran where his Raven powers showed us anything to signal he would be a good leader. Instead, from the moment he turned into the Three-Eyed Raven, Bran became an unmitigated dick. Tyrion is out here talking him up like anyone has ever seen Bran use his powers to benefit anyone at all, when the most we have seen him do is help take down Littlefinger. That’s not nothing, but it’s also not particularly altruistic. I understand the argument that because Bran doesn’t want, he won’t overreach out of ambition, and I like how Thrones explains the new system of rule will work (it’s basically the ancient Celtic system of tanistry, in which rulers are chosen from an eligible pool of heirs and not limited to one specific bloodline). I understand why that would be appealing to survivors wrecked by wars fought by entitled heirs. But I do not like Tyrion out here stumping for Bran as if being the Three-Eyed Raven means he is automatically good.
Ultimately, I don’t mind how it all works out, I just wish the story was better laid to get us here. Bran was such an inconsequential character for so long, it is slightly bizarre he ends up being so critical to the conclusion. Game of Thrones is all about subverting expectations, so not delivering on the “chosen one” Jon Snow becoming king is fine, but Bran needed to be a more essential part of the narrative to truly justify this conclusion. We need something, anything, that validates Tyrion’s faith in Bran’s ability to lead effectively, because we have seen nothing to suggest that, and no matter how well written it is, one Peter Dinklage monologue does not effectively replace proper storytelling. Bran becoming king should have been a moment like Arya killing the Night King, a moment in which his entire journey comes into focus and suddenly we can see the path we never even knew we were on. Instead, Bran becoming king looks like, after a series of soul-crushing defeats, Tyrion has just decided to throw some spaghetti at the wall and see if it sticks. Ask him in ten years if it stuck.