Brow Beat

This Week’s Worst Person in Westeros: David Benioff and D.B. Weiss

David Benioff and DB Weiss dressed as wildling soldiers after the Battle of Winterfell
Very drunk, and very far from the internet. HBO

After each episode in Game of Thrones Season 8 , we’ll be answering a crucial question: Who is currently the worst person in Westeros? This week, editorial assistant Rachelle Hampton is joined by Washington Post assistant editor Jacob Brogan.

Rachelle Hampton: Welcome back, Jacob, and thanks so much for returning to Worst Person in Westeros to help me understand what exactly we just watched. Now that we’re at the end, I don’t even know where to begin. As I settled in to watch the last and final hour of this almost decadelong show, I expected to shed some tears. This is it; this is the final chapter of these characters we’ve watched grow up on screen for the past eight years—whatever spinoffs they do don’t count. Then as the episode progressed, I realized the only grief I felt was at the loss of a show that stopped existing two seasons ago.

But anyway, let’s get into it! We’re thrown right back into the aftermath of Mad Queen Dany’s choice to burn thousands of innocent people alive. The speech Tyrion gives on her road to becoming queen—littered as it is with dead Astaporian slavers, Meereenese royalty and Dothraki khals—provides more exposition for her character than anything else this season.* I hate to admit it, but I was really into the Darth Khaleesi look. Still, despite her amazing fashion game, her lack of remorse was a little shocking. I really did expect some sort of excuse besides “Cersei made me do it.” But what say you, Jacob? Were you convinced the brutality we saw last week fit into her “break the wheel” spiel?

Jacob Brogan: I think she believes it all fits in. Sloppy as this season was, her character arc mostly made sense to me. She really does have reason to convince herself that she’s the destined one, and hence that everything she does is right. And, yes, she really did look great in that outfit.

I find myself more frustrated with Jon, though certainly not because he killed Dany, which was fine, I guess, as these things go. It’s more that he continued to remind us of his well-earned reputation for profound twerpiness. Of all of his sins, though, none seems more revealing than the fact that he apparently told on himself after doing the murder: Drogon flew away with Daenerys’ body! There was no evidence! Jon was in the clear! And yet somehow he still ends up in prison, which can only have happened because, what, he literally told Grey Worm what he’d done? Great job, dude! A true leader of men.

Hampton: In my very professional notes for this episode I wrote Jon a dumb dumb. “Profound twerpiness” is the best way to describe his particular brand of idiocy, and he somehow manages to outdo himself this episode. His murder of Dany barely ranks on the list of stupid things he did, which include: asking why what he does matters as if he doesn’t have a claim to the throne that everyone knows about, confidently asserting that Sansa and Arya will be loyal to Dany, and yes, confessing to his crime when there were no witnesses.

Still, I expect nothing less from my stupid, pretty son, and I’m glad they didn’t kill him off, or worse make him king. Instead, they did the equivalent of giving an award to a guy for just showing up. This entire season, Bran’s apparently just been sitting in the corner, staring at everyone, and singing “I Just Can’t Wait to Be King” in his head.

Brogan: The thing I don’t understand about everyone’s willingness to elevate our boy Brandon to the throne is that there’s no universe in which he’d be a decent king. If Westeros is going to have an absolute monarch, I think it could use one who’s at least paying attention to what’s going on around him. But just two episodes ago, Bran told us that he doesn’t live in the present anymore. What, exactly, does anyone think he’s going to contribute to the kingdom? Did they all start second-guessing themselves after that small council meeting were he actually rolls in, only to almost immediately roll out again, having contributed little more than the smug promise that he’ll look into this whole Drogon-is-missing situation?

But if Bran is useless, he’s not the true malefactor here. We’ve been told for eight seasons that Tyrion is this super smart, super wise guy, and then he somehow invents what appears to be a Westerosi version of the Electoral College—anointed lords gather to select a ruler—complete with totally random vote distributions? Why, for example, does house Tarly apparently get more votes than all of Dorne, represented here only by a super louche hot dude I’m pretty sure we’ve never seen before? Why does anyone think this is a good idea? Why does Tyrion think it is a good idea?

Hampton: The random Dornish dude was indeed hot—and can we address Robin Arryn’s glow-up for a moment? He really had a Neville Longbottom moment. Anyway, yes, I find it laughable that Tyrion has spent the last few weeks thinking and came up with a system that makes as much sense as the fact that two out of the last three presidents lost the popular vote. And everyone—except for my good bitch Sansa—just goes along with it! How did that scene start off with Grey Worm saying that Tyrion had talked too much already and end with Tyrion expounding on the importance of stories and choosing the king?

But I think our real true gripe here is with none other than showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss. The former already said that he would be somewhere “very drunk and very far from the internet” during this episode, and now we can see why. While the entire last two seasons’ pacing made no sense, this episode took the cake. The jump from the snow-covered throne room to the tribunal under the sun? The last 20 minutes of useless politicking and chair-moving with Master of Coin Bronn? Drogon suddenly developing a flair for symbolic drama and burning the Iron Throne? I hated all of it so very much.

Brogan: At some metafictional level, Game of Thrones has always been about the structural narrative tension between order and chaos. On the one hand, anything can and does happen— heroic knights die prematurely, whole families get executed—in a way that seems to defy narrative expectation. On the other hand, prophecies are real and they mostly come true. For Benioff and Weiss, this is surely a product of their vexed relationship to George R.R. Martin, who was at once their lodestar and their burden, pulling them forward while dragging them down. They may have been following his outline, but they were ultimately left to act on the signs and wonders he’d laid out for them—and they made a mess of it.

This episode is no exception: At times it was unexpected, but mostly it was very stupid. (Again: Why on earth is Bran king now?) While at other times it just gave us what we wanted, or what Benioff and Weiss thought would be cool, even if it didn’t make any sense in light of everything else that was happening. Why, for example, did Drogon burn the Iron Throne? Because it was unexpected and cool! Why did almost all of the surviving characters then appoint a new king, even though there was no throne for him to sit on? Because that’s what the story demanded. Each development effectively obviates every other, but in a way that feels narratively convenient rather than structurally necessary.

Hampton: It’s impossible to tell at this point how much of the blame for this ending that goes against everything this story started out as can be laid at the feet of George R.R. Martin. And we won’t find out until he finishes his books, if he ever does. But until that increasingly unlikely point, I think it’s fair to subvert expectations with one last meta choice and crown Benioff and Weiss the Worst People in Westeros. May the Force be with them as they embark on journeys to ruin other fictional properties.

Brogan: Right, and even if Martin is to blame, the showrunners still made plenty of terrible and/or corny choices entirely on their own, not least of which was the scene were they had Sam—perpetual avatar of Martin himself—present a book that was actually titled A Song of Ice and Fire.

Hampton:  I think I actually screamed out loud at that point.

Brogan: This show has always loathed its fans, but it was at that moment that I realized I no longer knew whether I hated it more than it hates me.

Hampton: The hate was the wheel all along.

Brogan: And I, for one, am glad it is finally broken.

Correction, May 20, 2019: This post originally misspelled Meereenese.