What is it like to watch the final episode of Game of Thrones if you never watched the previous 72? We asked two newbies to watch the finale and then chat about their experience. Note: There are spoilers in what follows, to the extent the authors understood any of it.
Marissa Martinelli: Dracarys, Ruth! That doesn’t actually mean “hello,” but it’s the only word I know in Dothraki, so it’ll have to do. [Editor’s note: It’s actually High Valyrian.] You and I have something in common—until tonight, neither of us had ever watched an episode of the massively popular Game of Thrones. Why is that?
Ruth Graham: Dracarys, Marissa! Game of Thrones has always seemed way too bloody and dragon-infested for my taste, and my first real viewing experience did nothing to disabuse me of either impression. I’m in a mixed-GoT relationship, which means I have occasionally been in the room noodling around on my phone while my husband watches, so I have a loose familiarity with some of the characters. What about you?
Martinelli: People are always surprised when I tell them I don’t watch Game of Thrones, because I’m such a sucker for an intricately constructed fantasy world, and what is Game of Thrones if not a grittier, kinkier Lord of the Rings? I was still in high school when the show first debuted, and we didn’t have HBO, and I always meant to get around to watching it, but one thing led to another and here we are seven years later on the night of the series finale. Better late than never?
I do write about culture for a living, so like you, I have a loose familiarity with the story, even if I’ve never watched a full episode before. Y’know, winter is coming, the Red Wedding, Jon Snow knows nothing, Hodor, yada, yada, yada. Did you feel your background noodling paid off during tonight’s finale, or were you totally lost?
Graham: I was less confused than I expected to be! That was partly because of the episode’s glacial pace. There was apparently a lot of plot to wrap up in this final extra-long episode, yet they found time for what felt like 25 minutes of characters silently walking with furrowed brows.
The long conversation between Peter Dinklage and Jon Snow also helped me understand what was going on with Dany. I know serious viewers have been disappointed by her arc, but as an outsider, I found it satisfying to watch a fan favorite turn mustache-twirling villain. And that first shot of the dragon rising up behind her as she came out to greet her people made me wonder for a moment if I should have been watching all along.
I still, however, have no idea who Bran is.
Martinelli: Right, there was a lot less of the fwoom-whoosh-clank action I’ve always associated with the show and a lot more of characters explaining their own backstories and allegiances. Which was convenient, at least for two viewers joining at the very last moment. And while there were some surprises among the explanations (Did Tyrion say he strangled his lover? Isn’t he supposed to be the good guy??) I found the episode itself pretty easy to follow, even for a newcomer.
I had a rough idea of who Bran was—he’s obviously related to the Stark crew and someone pushed him out of a window as a kid, and apparently he can fly, which, sure—but I didn’t know his full name was fucking Brandon. How dare he have a name like that on a show like this! Besides obvious ones like Tyrion and Jon and
Daynaraes Danaerys the Mother of Dragons, I couldn’t put names to a lot of the characters in that dramatic gathering of the different factions beyond (according to my notes) “Tobias Menzies from Outlander,” “Samwise?,” and “Assorted Bearded Men.”
But what we were really missing, I imagine, is the emotional connection to the story. At the beginning, when Tyrion finds Cersei and Jaime’s bodies, I wasn’t moved beyond thinking “Peter Dinklage is such a good actor.”
Graham: Peter Dinklage’s “silent, sorrowful contemplation” face is definitely the most complex of the actors we saw tonight, and again, we had a lot to which to compare it. But for all the telegraphing the show was doing about its own seriousness, it evoked no emotions for me outside of light panic that Brienne did not wait nearly long enough to let the ink dry on her entry about Jaime Lannister before she closed that giant book (with a look of silent, sorrowful contemplation, natch).
The “Brandon” reveal—if it was a reveal—was a laugh-out-loud moment for me. The other, more significant moment of delighted disbelief was when the dragon (named Drogon?!) melted the Iron Throne in a fit of … rage? Mourning? Furious moralizing about the corrosiveness of the quest for power? The show seemed proud of that moment, because it lingered over the melting metal for what felt like minutes. And then the dragon tenderly picked up Dany’s body in his claw and flapped off into the mist. Do you think real fans were tearing up over that?
Martinelli: A quick glance at Twitter tells me real fans may be ready to breathe their own fire about that scene and this entire episode for reasons beyond our understanding. (I for one reacted to the throne-melting scene by observing, “That’s the throne from Game of Thrones.”)
Obviously we can’t speak to how well the finale wrapped up the broader character arcs, but as an ending, it seemed adequate to me. Dany died, Sansa rules the North, and Arya will star in the West of Westeros spinoff. I didn’t totally understand what was going on with Grey Worm, though. He seemed set on revenge for Dany’s death and then he just … gave up and left on some ships? And Jon was supposed to go back to the Night’s Watch and never marry and father no children, but instead he led a bunch of people into the woods. Huh?
Did this finale make you want to go back and watch from the beginning or are you content with what you’ve seen?
Graham: I’ll be honest: Until you mentioned it, I didn’t even register what happened to Grey Worm. Maybe he realized he was powerless when he let his supposed prisoner perform an extended soliloquy on the power of stories and then effectively choose the next king. Jon’s fate was satisfying enough to me, though I’m not sure who those winter-at-Burning-Man people were. I’m still stuck on how shaggy this episode felt, even when it had so many loose ends to tie up. At one point we watched Tyrion methodically straighten all the chairs at a conference table. Which is to say: I think I’m good.
Martinelli: Though I’m sure a legion of angry fans will tell me I’m wasting my time, I think this finale has rekindled my interest in watching the other 72-odd hours of the show, or however many there are. Now that I know how Game of Thrones ends, the pressures of Prestige TV have lifted, allowing me to sit back and enjoy the journey instead of wondering what the next twist will be. The next time you see me, I may even be fluent in Dothraki.