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The final winners of the Game of Thrones

Sometimes you win AND die

Image: HBO via Polygon

The sun has set on Westeros. Season 8 of Game of Thrones is finally over. And by that we mean that the spinoffs, books, and furious arguments will stretch until the end of time. But the television show itself, which began as an adaptation and is ending as source material, has ended after close to eight years.

[Ed. note: This post contains major spoilers for Game of Thrones through the series finale.]

As Cersei said in that first season, either you win, or you die. And Cersei died. So she didn’t win. But who did?

Let’s begin trying to sort it all out.

Drogon the Dragon won the Iron Throne

The Night King killed Viserion, the first of Dany’s dragons to fall to her enemies. Then Euron killed Rhaegal with a scorpion shot that still looks more miraculous than plausible. But Drogon survived the entire series, and finally did what Dany was trying to do the entire time by destroying the Iron Throne and thus laying waste to a symbol of centuries of bloody battles over the seven kingdoms.

Also — and I might be going out on a limb here — but that scene was set up as though Drogon was guarding Dany, and decided to let Jon pass. Once Jon had assassinated Dany, Drogon could have destroyed him, but instead decided to destroy the throne before taking his mother’s body off into the distance, hopefully to a place where they can both find some peace. If that’s the case, Drogon showed more foresight and humility about the situation than Dany was able to in this final season.

Bran won the idea of the Iron Throne

It was pretty surreal to watch a council of the most powerful individuals in Westeros laugh at the idea of democracy before “Bran the Broken” was nominated to be king, and ratified by popular vote. But he graciously accepted, in a move that makes it seem as if the Three-Eyed Raven was playing the most complicated yet effective game of 4D chess the show has seen to date. This feels distressingly like giving Wikipedia the presidency.

But Bran carries with him the full history of the world of men, and now he controls it. Was this ever a fan theory? I can’t remember ever hearing it, and I’m not sure I would have believed it had anyone floated it. But I guess this is what the Three-Eyed Raven wanted, and possibly it was what the Lord of Light was also working toward.

I guess he’s going to need a new throne?

Emilia Clarke and Peter Dinklage won Game of Thrones

Daenerys may have been given the rawest deal in this truncated final season, but Emilia Clarke acted the hell out of some truly wretched scripts. The writers took the character to a believable place using unbelievable means, but Clarke remained one of the most watchable aspects of the show.

You can say the same thing of Peter Dinklage, whose character has done nothing for the past two seasons outside of get things wrong, until suddenly, he didn’t. He sold the hell out of Tyrion’s final scene with Jaime, and was given the unenviable job of wrapping up the story with that final monologue nominating Bran as king. But he nailed both scenes.

While those two actors are the most immediately obvious picks here, we can say the same thing about the rest of the creative team as well. The actors did their best, and everything from the episode’s direction to its costume design was phenomenal. For every story detail the show fumbled, it got a hundred smaller things right, proving that an entire team of talented individuals can mitigate the impact of some truly unfortunate narrative decisions.

Bronn super duper won life

Bronn was always a fan favorite, and he went where the money took him. He was always unashamed about being out for power, money, and women, and now that the story has concluded and he is the Lord of Highgarden, the Master of Coin, and sitting on the Small Council, advocating for the rebuilding of the brothels ... well, you have to admit that he’s probably the one character who got everything he was after, and then some. Bronn continually threw in his lot with whoever seemed the most likely to pay him, and that strategy led to his seemingly continual rise up the ladder of chaos.

If the Three-Eyed Raven was playing a game of 4D chess, Bronn kept betting it it all on coin tosses, and holy shit was that an effective strategy.

Sansa Stark won the North

Sansa might not be sitting on the Iron Throne, but she is Queen in the North, in charge of a free and independent Winterfell, and has learned how to be a capable and strong leader. She stays confident and sure of herself, and takes her rightful place as the ruler of House Stark, especially if you consider Bran to be a little less than human these days.

Jon Snow didn’t win, thank the Maker

Jon Snow spent most of the episode cosplaying as a political centrist, trying to convince himself that a lot of violence against innocent people was just the price you paid to win a war, but he finally took the initiative and killed Dany before being taken into custody by Grey Worm.

It wasn’t a surprising twist, but it was an effective one. For all of Jon’s inability to learn throughout the show and all his obvious mistakes, he saw the writing on the wall and did something with it. And he was rewarded with his life, such as it is, and seems to have ended the story by leading a rebooted Night’s Watch on the wall as Lord Commander. The show ended the same way it began: with men patrolling past the wall.

Jon did what was right, but he waited so long to do it that this sort of purgatory seems fitting. It’s not the worst ending, and it’s not the best. But at least he was told he was a Stark before he left, and he knows that he played a hand in whatever peace the kingdom enjoys from this point on.

The boats won

They take precedence over the brothels. Hey, someone has to sail Arya, Galadriel, and Frodo to the west.

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