Revolutionary Thoughts

76 vs. 89

I had an odd thought yesterday morning, apropos of what I’m about to write about in this post, but I thought it was funny enough in the weird connection it makes to lead off with it.

The musicals Hamilton and Rent don’t have very much in common besides being huge Broadway hits and featuring generally attractive, youthful casts. But they do both focus on ensembles of people who fancy themselves revolutionaries: in the first case, the ardent young men who become the United States’ founding fathers; in the second, a ragtag group of bohemian would-be artists who rebel against the suffocating strictures of mainstream culture. The title song of Rent signals their first act of resistance upon receiving an eviction notice. The song agonizes over how they’re “gonna pay last year’s rent,” but by the end resolves:

When they act tough—you call their bluff
We’re not gonna pay
We’re not gonna pay
We’re not gonna pay
Last year’s rent
This year’s rent
Next year’s rent
Rent rent rent rent rent
We’re not gonna pay rent

Whenever I think of Rent or hear its music, it always puts me in mind of the late great David Rakoff’s eviscerating critique of the musical (which you can listen to here), in which he points out that none of the play’s would-be artists seem ever to want to do the work of being artists. But his key bone of contention is: “Well … why won’t you pay your rent?” At the very end of his essay, he recounts, of his agonistic 20s:

There were days when it hardly seemed worth it to live in a horrible part of town just so that I could go daily to a stupid, soul-crushing, low-paying job, especially since, as deeply as I yearned to be creative, for years and years I was too scared to even try. So I did nothing. But here’s something that I did do. I paid my fucking rent.

It occurs to me, perhaps uncharitably, that the Revolutionary War part of Hamilton is basically the founding fathers chanting “We’re not gonna pay rent!—albeit with better songs and a somewhat more nuanced rationale for why they’re not gonna pay rent than their bohemian counterparts.

***

I had this weird thought after reading a column by Bret Stephens, one of the New York Times representative conservatives, titled “Robespierre’s America.” Happily, the TL;DR is in the subtitle: “We need to reclaim the spirit of 1776, not the certitudes of 1789.”

If you’re at all familiar with Stephens’ columns, you probably know what’s coming: an invective against the woke sanctimony of the politically correct left, compared unfavourably with the reason and rationality of the Enlightenment principles on which the Declaration of Independence and Constitution were based. He enumerates a series of excesses—starting with his own victimization at the hands of a Twitter mob for calling Reza Aslan stupid—mostly recounted in the abstract, referring to professors afraid to offend students and publishers dropping books at the first whiff of controversy, comparing the ideological rigidity of the woke left to that of the Jacobins:

“Armed with the ‘truth,’ Jacobins could brand any individuals who dared to disagree with them traitors or fanatics,” historian Susan Dunn wrote of the French Revolution. “Any distinction between their own political adversaries and the people’s ‘enemies’ was obliterated.”

Leaving aside the egregious comparison of Twitter warriors with people who literally decapitated thousands, let’s address the implicit comparison Stephens makes between the American Revolution and the French—implicit, because he never explains what he means by the “spirit of 1776.” One assumes he’s citing the tacit understanding of America’s founding as rooted in and emerging from Enlightenment principles of reason, rationality, and spirited public debate—the very understanding, indeed, that made it possible for Lin-Manuel Miranda to write compelling rap battles about the creation of a national bank and the wisdom of carrying a national debt. Certainly, that’s the implied contrast with the ideological fanaticism of Robespierre and his murderous Jacobin thugs.

Normally, this sort of thing wouldn’t bother me overmuch—I find Bret Stephens’ columns annoying, but predictable and forgettable—but given that yesterday was the Fourth of July, I found myself in a headspace to think about 1776 and the American Revolution, so to me the most glaring aspect of “Robespierre’s America” is the way it so perfectly recapitulates—albeit implicitly—certain fallacies not just about the American Revolution, but revolutions generally.

I tend to be leery of revolutions, given that history teaches us that, the more extreme they are, the more they tend to turn into versions of their own worst selves. Hence, the French Revolution devolves into the Terror; the Russian Revolution turns into Stalinism. The fact that the American Revolution did not transform into something equally pernicious has been cited as evidence of American Exceptionalism, which is at least partially true; but I would argue that the principal reason the American Revolution had a relatively placid aftermath (yes, a lot of Loyalists were persecuted, often egregiously, but that hardly compares to 1790s Paris) is that nothing really changed. The radicalism of 1776 wasn’t that of material effect, but of promise—not what actually changed on the ground, but what could possibly change in the future.

For all intents and purposes, there were no upheavals in American life after the Declaration of Independence (well, aside from the war itself), by which I mean that the people in charge stayed in charge, and the power structures of the new United States were not appreciably different from the power structures of the Colonies. The King was not beheaded; the King was not even dethroned. George III basically had his status as absentee landlord revoked.

Hence my thought about Hamilton and Rent: the Boston Tea Party was basically a defiant gesture saying “We’re not gonna pay rent! Rent rent rent rent rent!”, as was the conflict that followed, and that defiant gesture is celebrated today as it was then. But after turfing the Brits, you bloody well better believe you’re paying your rent to the new owners.

By contrast, the French Revolution was about the radical overthrow of extant power, power so rooted in history, religion, and tradition that it went by the name of the ancien regime. And because of the weight of that history, it took decades to stabilize, something exacerbated by the fact that the rest of Europe was undergoing similar political upheavals. Is it any wonder that, mere years after guillotining the king, France had an Emperor?

(All of this is very broad strokes and probably has my historian friends pulling their hair out.)

As I said above, the true radicalism of 1776 wasn’t about the founding fathers’ present moment, but about the future—about what the principles of the Constitution and Bill of Rights could and can do when they become uncomfortably unavoidable. I’d argue that the true American Revolution—which is to say, the truly revolutionary moment in American history—wasn’t 1776 and the aftermath, but the Civil War. The confederates might have been the rebels, but Lincoln was the revolutionary, insofar as that the abolition of slavery overturned a foundational basis of American society. No such upending occurred in 1776, and the principle of revolutions turning into their worst selves has been painfully present in the U.S. since Andrew Johnson reversed all of the provisions made for newly freed slaves during Reconstruction, and white people in the South embarked on a sustained campaign of terror against them.

(To say nothing of everything that has happened since then, which I can’t do justice to here. If you haven’t already, read Ta-Nehisi Coates landmark essay “The Case for Reparations”).

Stephens’ opposition of “the spirit of 1776” to “the certitudes of 1789” completely glosses the material circumstances of both. The Revolutionary era of America comprises one of the most astounding argumentative ferments of history, with the debates over democracy, individual rights, proper governance, the best ways to defy and prevent tyranny, and myriad other considerations, taking place in taverns, drawing-rooms, the streets, and, most importantly, in print, with pamphlets and newspapers flying back and forth in paper fusillades. It was a period that evinced precisely the kind of civic engagement to which we should aspire, but always with one crucial caveat in mind: it was the provenance of what we today call privilege, and it has largely remained so ever since. The irony of Stephens’ longing for the “spirit of 1776” as inspired by having been savaged on Twitter, is that had the spirit of that era been as inclusive in practice as it was in principle, we might not be experiencing quite the same polarization today. Stephens’ Twitter Jacobins aren’t analogous to Robespierre, but to the citizens who stormed the Bastille: people finding a voice, voice which had previously been denied to them, through newly available means.

Speaking of revolutions that turn into their worst selves: the tech and digital revolution, specifically the rise of the internet, was heralded by many in the early-mid 1990s as a utopian shift in human connection and collective knowledge; quarter of a century later, we can see clearly how, even where some aspects of that dream have been realized, the benefits are ambivalent at best. But one key element of digital culture is that it has eroded the prominence of traditional gatekeepers of public discourse in print and visual media, allowing for a host of other platforms online or in social media. These platforms give voice to people who long went unheard, and it should not come as a huge shock that a lot of these voices are angry. It is difficult to try and make the case for “the spirit of 1776” to groups of people for whom, historically, that place within spirited public debate was never an option.

I have to believe, however, that that particular spirit isn’t dead, and if the Bret Stephens of the world would pay closer attention to the nuanced and thoughtful arguments unfolding both in “legacy” media and the new, insurgent spaces (and less attention to Twitter), they might be less convinced that there’s a tumbrel waiting for them. Of course, that’s likely a futile suggestion: more likely, it is precisely the growing presence of previously marginalized voices that threatens them and gives rise to the spectre of a guillotine with their name on it.

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Ranking the Democratic Candidates. Also, What Job They Should Have.

I cannot watch political debates without playing out in my mind what I would have said. Long before the first debates between the painfully swollen field of Democrats, I’d composed a line in my head that went something like this: “I want to say for the record that everyone here on this stage with me is extraordinary, and it gives me great hope for our future that so many talented, intelligent people are vying for the nomination. And if I may add, I make a promise here: if I am so fortunate as to earn the nomination for the presidency, you can bet that everyone on this stage with me will have a role in my administration.”

Of course, there’s a certain amount of bullshit packed into that platitude: I would be deeply suspicious of anybody, for example, who employed Marianne Williamson. But in broad strokes, I think that sentiment works. What I’ve listed here is my ranking of the Democratic candidates, in order of my preference, but also with the jobs I think they should have going forward.

debate

1. Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris: President.

Yup, these two are in a dead heat for me. Prior to the first debates, I was totally Team Warren. I still mostly am, but watching Kamala Harris vivisect Joe Biden was a good reminder of her intellect and, perhaps more importantly, her killer instinct. I’m now of the mindset that, even if Harris doesn’t get the nomination, she should still debate Trump: because that is something we all need to see.

I love Elizabeth Warren and have loved her since the first moment I saw her interviewed. She makes billionaires’ bowels turn to water, and in the present moment, that’s a great thing. She’s fearless, she’s brilliant, and she loves a good fight. I think the most endearing moment for me of Hilary Clinton’s campaign was when Hilary got excited over a question posed during one of the debates, and gave a delighted smile and a little shoulder wiggle. That few seconds is Elizabeth Warren ALL THE TIME. She’s basically Hermione Granger as a presidential candidate.

I do not, however, see them sharing a ticket. I think that if it ends up being President Harris, Elizabeth Warren needs to be either Treasury or Commerce secretary—ideally with the Consumer Protection Bureau once again under her aegis. If it’s President Warren, then Kamala Harris needs to be Attorney General. That’s just science.

2.Pete Buttigieg: Vice President, or, conversely, Governor of Indiana.

Mayor Pete has been a breakout candidate, largely due to the fact that he’s hellishly impressive. He’s also a wee bit callow and unseasoned, and needs time in an office not oval-shaped to grow into his potential. At the age of thirty-seven, he has an awful lot of years to do so. Practically speaking, I’d like to see him parlay his newfound visibility into a gubernatorial run, which would benefit the Democrats more than almost anything else he could do. On the other hand, the prospect of watching him debate Mike Pence almost overrules practical concerns for me.

3. Cory Booker: Attorney General? I guess? Or possibly VP?

Cory Booker’s an odd figure, for me … I always want to be more impressed with him than I am. He’s a compelling person with an inspiring message, but he lapses too often into vague appeals to love. It’s not that I don’t find that inspiring, it just makes me wonder what’s going on behind the curtains. Early on, I thought of him as Barack Obama’s heir apparent—a telegenic African-American man with a general message of positivity, but he lacks Obama’s gravitas, and Obama’s obvious grasp of the more granular aspects of policy and history.

4. Amy Klobuchar: stay in the Senate.

Before his ignominy, I listened to Al Franken’s book Giant of the Senate on audiobook, and one of the key take-aways was just how impressive Klobuchar is. This was well before she was bandied about as a presidential possibility—indeed, at the time Franken was considered a more likely candidate—so when she rose to prominence during the Bret Kavanaugh hearings, I already felt like I had a good sense of who she was. The picture painted in Franken’s book is of a frighteningly competent legislator. I would not object to her nomination as candidate, but my general sense is that she does enormous good where she is (reported temper tantrums with he staff excepted).

5. Julian Castro: Secretary of Homeland Security.

Julian had a good debate night, and I quite like him. I don’t think he has any traction for the big job, but he’s obviously talented, ambitious, and very smart. I’d be happy to see him run for Senate or take on the task of repairing all the damage Ben Carson’s done at his old post as HUD secretary, but his powerful words on immigration during the debate make me think he might be just the right person to fix all the shit perpetrated by the current administration, starting with the radical reformation or outright abolition of ICE.

6. Bernie Sanders: take one for the team and retire.

Left-wing American politics owes a massive debt to Bernie Sanders: his insurgent challenge to Hilary Clinton in 2016 did more to move the center of political gravity leftwards than anything since FDR. Let’s keep in mind that nothing Bernie proposes is genuinely “radical” or even technically socialist, but tends to conform to the status quo of most of the democratic world. He recently outlined the ways in which his self-applied label of “socialist” applies, but ultimately what he described makes it clear he’s really a New Deal liberal. Which is not of course a problem, except that it highlights the degree to which he relishes his outsider status and relies upon a combativeness that he substitutes for policy substance.

He’s a brilliant rabble-rouser, but would make a terrible president.

7. Kirsten Gillibrand: stay in the Senate.

I have always been underwhelmed by Gillibrand, and continue to be. I think her most useful role is to stay right where she is.

8. Joe Biden: respectfully: please just go away. I love you. But seriously.

I was once at the gym, listening to a podcast that replayed, in its entirety, a speech that Biden delivered to an audience of military families who had had relatives killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. He went off-script in the first few minutes, sharing with the people there his own story of grief, of how his wife and child were killed in a car crash just after he had been elected to the Senate. Come on, people, he said, his voice getting husky, commiserating with them how useless and impotent others’ expressions of grief—however well-meaning—are in the face of such enormous loss.

As I said, I was at the gym as I listened to this, and had to stop what I was doing and face a wall to hide the fact that tears were streaming down my cheeks. And I thought to myself: this is a politician? I had not understood Obama’s decision to go with Biden until that moment, and I have had an abiding love for the man ever since.

But. He might have been a useful and possibly necessary balance to Obama’s cool, but everything Obama brought to the office (i.e. the main reason Biden is still leading the polls), Biden lacks. Even leaving aside his legislative baggage and lack of message discipline, the very premise of his candidacy—that Trump is an aberration and he can return comity to Congress—is, or should be, disqualifying. For one thing, it suggests he wasn’t paying attention during his eight years as Obama’s VP, when congressional Republicans turned themselves into unrepentant obstructionists. His problematic callbacks to halcyon days of cooperation are bizarrely amnesiac.

His choice to make his campaign all about Trump is similarly obtuse. The biggest threat liberals and leftists face—in terms of their own thinking—is to imagine that any one person is the problem, whether it be Trump in the U.S. or Doug Ford in Ontario. Simply removing Trump from office doesn’t return us to a prelapsarian state of bliss and balance. Anyone who doesn’t grasp the fact that Trump is the symptom and not the disease needs to take a powder.

9. Jay Inslee: Secretary of Climate.

So far there has been distressingly little discussion of the climate crisis among the Democratic candidates. If we’re being charitable, we can chalk that up to the fact that there’s probably a consensus that it is a crisis and requires significant governmental action, and hence the candidates understandably choose to put their focus elsewhere. If we’re being uncharitable—which I think is the wiser choice—they’re avoiding the issue because practical solutions lose traction with voters the moment they understand what the cost will be. People want action on climate in the abstract, but become far more reluctant when it means paying more at the pump.

I like that Jay Inslee is in the race as a single-issue candidate. My sense is that he knows he has no chance, but he’s determined to make everyone pay attention to his issue. Good on him. I hope he sticks it out as long as he can, and forces the front-runners to speak to his issue. Hopefully one upshot is the creation of a new cabinet position: a secretary dedicated to climate solutions.

10. Andrew Yang: Secretary of Tech.

Climate is one issue that deserves its own cabinet enclave; the tech industry is another.

One of the things that has become painfully obvious in the past few years is that the tech industry has completely outstripped government’s capacity to understand it. Some of the most cringe-inducing moments of political theatre in recent memory involved septuagenarian lawmakers asking inane questions of people like Mark Zuckerberg. The key part of the problem is how few people—both within government and without—genuinely understand the nuances of Silicon Valley. Elizabeth Warren’s plan to break up such monoliths as Facebook and Amazon is a pretty good start, but I’d say it’s past time there was a part of government solely dedicated to the tech industry, staffed with people who actually understand its ins and outs, but also—and this is a crucial thing—aren’t acolytes of its utopian promises.

Is Andrew Yang that person? Quite possibly. Whenever I see him interviewed, I find myself nodding along to a lot of what he says, while also thinking to myself that he would be a catastrophic president. Like Jay Inslee, he’s too much of a single-issue guy, but has obviously thought long and in great depth on that issue. He’s a tech dude who’s obviously developed a healthy skepticism about tech, which is the kind of thing the world badly needs.

11. Beto O’Rourke: honestly? I don’t care.

This bit is actually an edit, as I forgot about Beto on my first go-around. I think he’s more impressive than most of the field of bland white guys, but at this point? Not by much. He did a great job campaigning against Ted Cruz, and mobilizing a moribund progressive electorate in Texas, but he hasn’t shown much substance since throwing his hat in the presidential ring.

12. Tulsi Gabbard: Secretary of Defense

Hear me out on this one: she’s a veteran, and made her anti-war sentiments quite plain during the debates. Possibly someone who could shake up the Pentagon in ways it dearly needs. She wouldn’t be my first choice for SecDef, but it would be far preferable to have here there than in the Oval.

13. Miscellaneous white men (Tim Ryan, Bill De Blasio, John Delaney, John Hickenlooper, Michael Bennet, Eric Swalwell, Joe Sestak, Steve Bullock, Seth Moulton, Wayne Messam): RUN FOR SOMETHING OTHER THAN PRESIDENT.

I don’t like lumping all of these guys into a single undifferentiated category, as it’s obvious many of them have talents and intelligence not so obviously on display in such a crowded field, but SERIOUSLY. Democrats have been living the nightmare of having focused so specifically on presidential races for too long. Who’s in the Oval Office matters less and less depending on how many senators, House representatives, and governors—to say nothing of the composition of state legislatures—are the opposing party.

 

14. Marianne Williamson: You’re perfect where you are, don’t change.

Honestly, people: can we in all good conscience allow such a sensitive soul to inhabit the punishing office of the presidency?

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Jordan Peterson’s “Identity” Fallacies

pride-flag

Happy Pride Month, everybody! And what better way to celebrate Pride than with a screed by Jordan Peterson in the National Post?

Ugh. Sorry. Bad joke. But still, he has resurfaced and written a column so chock-a-block with Petersonian fallacies that I really couldn’t do anything else than write a post about it.

What ostensibly inspired Peterson to write this was a piece of reporting by Barbara Kay about a case involving a six-year-old girl whose teacher apparently taught a series of classes on gender fluidity and gender identity, and caused the girl distress when she asserted that there was no such thing as gender, no such thing as boys or girls.

Honestly, I don’t know what to make of that story, except that it feels a little hinky, and I habitually take anything Barbara Kay says or writes with a grain of salt. Leaving aside for a moment the question of its substance, it’s safe to say Jordan Peterson knew precisely what to make of the story. What his column basically says is this is what I’ve been telling you, people!, i.e. that postmodern neo-Marxist gender theory is dangerous and will lead to psychological distress in society at large.

He ends up writing what we might call a reverse-Wente. Where Margaret Wente’s modus operandi is to cherry-pick a story that reflects badly on leftists and extrapolate out from some isolated incident to bemoan the general idiocy and moral bankruptcy of liberalism, what Peterson does in his column is save the story of the distressed little girl to the end, after he reiterates his arguments against the inclusion of “gender identity” and “gender expression” in legislation pertaining to discrimination laws and hate speech.

You all of course remember that time! September, 2016—Brexit had happened, but Trump wasn’t yet president, and a U of T psychology professor was vaulted from relative obscurity to alt-right superstardom by railing against Bill C-16 and refusing, loudly and often, to refer to his students by their preferred pronouns.

How innocent we were back then.

But about his reverse-Wente: Peterson spends the first two-thirds of his column reiterating what by now is essentially boilerplate for him, and comes to the Kay piece as a vindication for his earlier extrapolation.

What’s interesting to me is not the Kay piece, but Peterson’s boilerplate. I have, for a variety of reasons (self-loathing and masochism not least among them), read an awful lot of Peterson’s work—12 Rules For Life and (gods help me) large swaths of Maps of Meaning—and watched about as much of his YouTube lectures as I can stomach. So when I read his column, it was not at all unlike reading a Sparks Notes summary of his, well, everything.

I’m not going to link to his column, but I do reproduce most of its text below. I go through bit by bit, parsing what he says and offering my own perspective. It’s my Pride gift to everyone: I read and respond so you don’t have to.

Peterson opens by reminding us of Bill C-16 and his initial response to it, and then asserts that the most basic problem with the contemporary conception of identity, ostensibly articulated in C-16, is “that ‘identity’ is something solely determined by the individual in question (whatever that identity might be).” This is a dangerous notion, he says darkly, one that not even sociologists agree with, as they know that “identity is a social role, which means that it is by necessity socially negotiated.”

OK, so before we get into it, it’s important to emphasize the distinction he’s making, because everything that follows is more or less predicated on it. First, actual identity is a socially negotiated thing, whereas the delusional conception of identity as apparently promulgated by C-16 and “the tenth-rate academic dogmas driving the entire charade” emerges entirely as the sole product of an individual’s whim.

Here’s the thing, and I say this as a paid-up member of the postmodern neo-Marxist club: Huh? Did I miss that section of reading on my comprehensive exams? Because I’m pretty sure that all the theorists and philosophers of note who comprise the pantheon of Peterson’s hated postmodernists are all pretty much in agreement that individual identity is a product of negotiation, of power relationships, of performance, or, to use the term coined by Louis Althusser (who, now that I think about it, might actually have been a postmodern neo-Marxist), “interpellation”—i.e. the process through which the individual is “hailed” by various ideological state apparatuses (e.g. school, family, church, etc.) and forms an identity through these interactions.

The other thing to keep in mind going forward is how slippery Peterson’s prose is. Basically, this column is a repetition of his anti-transgender sentiments. He doesn’t of course say as much, but that’s what forms the substance of his complaint: people who have the selfish temerity to identify as a gender they weren’t born with, or to reject a gender distinction at all.

All set? Let’s dive in.

Your identity is not the clothes you wear, or the fashionable sexual preference or behaviour you adopt and flaunt, or the causes driving your activism, or your moral outrage at ideas that differ from yours: properly understood, it’s a set of complex compromises between the individual and society as to how the former and the latter might mutually support one another in a sustainable, long-term manner.

OK, first of all: can it be more obvious that Peterson is writing this screed during Pride Month? Referring to “fashionable sexual preference” and “behaviour you adopt and flaunt” is really just a more elevated way of castigating the very deliberate and glorious excesses of Pride—another way of phrasing the old complaint “do you have to shove your sexuality in our faces?” Also, let’s parse this for its most telling words: “fashionable” and “adopt,” both of which suggest that queer identity has more to do with individual whim than anything emerging from personal struggle and pain.

That being said, I wonder if Peterson is aware of just how postmodern this formulation is? (Spoiler alert: probably not). The thing is, I have to imagine that he thinks the first part of what he’s saying here is entirely representative of postmodern thought. But really, nobody—at least, nobody with any intellectual credibility—is arguing that identity resides absolutely within a solipsistic conception of self. What he then goes on about—identity as a negotiation between self and society—is actually a central component of what gets blandished as “identity politics,” the central premise of which (insofar as it has a central premise) is not that identity is wholly subjective, but that it is not determined by any absolute or extrinsic principles.

By contrast, Peterson’s own unreconstructed Jungian psychomythic conception of identity, as outlined in Maps of Meaning and 12 Rules For Life, specifically suggests a sense of immutable identity, mostly rooted in gender. Although we (like the noble lobster) might interact with our culture and society and forge identity by way of pitting whom we want to be against whom we are by way of whatever unpleasant or uncomfortable realities we might face, all we’re really doing in these agonistic sagas is playing out the timeless conflict between order and chaos. Peterson’s antagonism to questions of transgender identity specifically and feminism more generally becomes more comprehensible once one grasps this basic premise, which Peterson argues through an odd grafting of myth-criticism and biology.

He then goes on to say:

It’s nothing to alter lightly, as such compromise is very difficult to attain, constituting as it does the essence of civilization itself, which took eons to establish, and understanding, as we should, that the alternative to the adoption of socially-acceptable roles is conflict — plain, simple and continual, as well as simultaneously psychological and social.

We start getting into typical Petersonian verbiage here, so let’s start with the first assertion: “It’s nothing to alter lightly.” The “it” of this statement is one’s identity, which in the broader context of his column refers most specifically to one’s gender identity. And if I may say: I agree with Peterson completely on this point. I will hazard a guess that everyone who has struggled with this issue would also agree. There’s an awful lot in this column with which to take issue, but one of the most galling things is the casual suggestion running through it—which runs though most of his arguments on transgender identity—that people who come to identify as a gender other than their birth assignation, or who identify as gender non-binary, do so “lightly.” That it is akin to a “fashionable sexual preference” which one “adopts” for trivial or selfish reasons.

This is always where Peterson and his ilk lose me. (To be certain, they lose me much earlier, but it’s on this point that I can no longer see the taillights of the car and all I’m left with is blessed silence and the stars). I think there are reasonable arguments to be made about speech codes and the excesses of political correctness, but what we’re on about here is basic empathy and compassion. “It’s nothing to alter lightly”? No fucking shit. Show me, please show me, the person who comes out as transgender who hasn’t gone through the emotional and psychological wringer to arrive at the point where they declare to the world who they actually are. That person in your classroom asking you to refer to them by their preferred pronoun didn’t arrive at that request on a whim.

But to move on to the rest of the quoted passage: this is all so very characteristic of Peterson’s prose. Which is to say, it is convoluted and vague, and rooted in a mythic-historical sensibility that makes sweeping pronouncements on the nature of humanity and civilization, and which tends to crumble under scrutiny. If you’re not familiar with Peterson’s pseudo-scholarly schtick (which, make no mistake, totally informs his public persona schtick), he’s basically, as I say above, an unreconstructed Jungian—a myth-critic in the mold of Joseph Campbell and Mircea Eliade. What he says here in his confused, run-on sentence, is typical of his worldview. To break it down:

  • the “essence of civilization itself” resides in the stability of male and female identity
  • this stability? dude, it took EONS, hence has the authority of ANCIENT HISTORY
  • also, this “stability” comprises “socially acceptable roles,” i.e. men and women knowing their place
  • the “alternative” to these “socially acceptable roles” is conflict; which is to say, when men and women forget their roles (but, really, it’s mostly women), society devolves into chaos

(Let’s be clear on something: this is my reading of Peterson’s words based on my reading of his many, many other words, but there’s a method to the madness of his prose. His vagueness and indeed obscurantist writing invariably contains a rhetorical trap door. “You completely misunderstood me!” is his most common riposte when anyone tries to pin him down on anything he says or writes. “‘It’s nothing to alter lightly’ has nothing to do with trans identity,” I can easily hear him complaining, “I was merely referring to the broader currents of postmodernist neo-Marxist thought in society!” Imprecision is this man’s greatest friend).

To the degree that identity is not biological (and much, but not all of it is), then it’s a drama enacted in the world of other people. An identity provides rules for social interactions that everyone understands; it provides generic but vitally necessary direction and purpose in life. If you’re a child, and you’re playing a pretend game with your friends, you negotiate your identity, so the game can be properly played. You do the same in the real world, whether you are a child, an adolescent, or an adult. To refuse to engage in the social aspect of identity negotiation — to insist that what you say you are is what everyone must accept — is simply to confuse yourself and everyone else (as no one at all understands the rules of your game, not least because they have not yet been formulated).

Oh, my … so if identity is a “drama enacted in the world of other people,” does that then make it—oh, what’s the word—PERFORMATIVE? Is Peterson about to invoke Judith Butler?

Just kidding. Of course not—the point isn’t the drama, but the rules of the game. See how he switches the analogy up in the middle there? In order to play a game, we must agree upon the rules, yes; you can’t play a proper game of chess when your opponent decides to randomly change the moves the pieces can make, but that’s not what Peterson’s example evokes. Rather, the kind of “pretend game” he mentions is improvisational, and if the game is ruined because one player can’t stick to the provisional rules, it is also ruined when you have a bossy player who sucks the joy out of the game by refusing to allow any degree of improvisation and flexibility.

That’s where the aspect of negotiation comes in, a term whose meaning seems to have passed Peterson by. The suggestion being made in this analogy is that someone identifying as transgender or non-binary is being perverse in refusing to play by the rules, and instead play only by their own private rules, which Peterson then dismisses as being nonexistent anyway. What seems lost on him is the fact that someone saying “this is who I am” is precisely engaging with “the social aspect of identity negotiation.” It is, in fact, an act inviting a re-negotiation of the “rules.” The problem with what Peterson argues here isn’t the idea that social negotiation of identity is a matter of give and take, it’s that ultimately Peterson refuses to give. He’s the kid taking his ball and going home because he’s upset the gang decided to let a girl play.

Peterson then goes on to list four increasingly dire consequences of individuals asserting identities at odds with normative “rules.” We’ll break those down one at a time, but first we need to address his prefacing assertion: “The continually expanded plethora of ‘identities’,” he writes, “recently constructed and provided with legal status thus consist of empty terms.” Again, imprecision is a hallmark of Peterson’s writing: one is left wondering what “the continually expanded plethora of identities” is, because he never specifies. One assumes he’s referring to the spectrum of LGBTQ+, but he doesn’t say. If, as seems borne out by the substance of the column, his preoccupation is with transgender and gender-fluid identities, then it’s hardly a “plethora”—it’s male, female, and non-binary. I suppose that, theoretically, these three create a spectrum with an infinitude of points between its poles, each representing a possible unique identity, but then we get into a variation on Xeno’s Paradox. Just as the hare will always catch the tortoise, so we know, commonsensically, that people are people.

Also, pay attention to the weasely “thus” thrown in there: based on what he has said so far, this “plethora” of identities “thus consist of empty terms.” I have to imagine he feels he has proven his point and earned his “thus,” but I beg to differ.

At any rate, he then enumerates the problems including this putative proliferation of identities in C-16 will cause.

(1) [They] do not provide those who claim them with any real social role or direction.

Remember, what he’s talking about is the inclusion of gender identity and gender expression in the legal questions of discrimination and hate crimes. The legislation wasn’t about giving transgender and gender non-binary people social roles or direction, it was about protecting them from the actions of others.

(2) [They] confuse all who must deal with the narcissism of the claimant, as the only rule that can exist in the absence of painstakingly, voluntarily and mutually negotiated social role is “it’s morally wrong to say or do anything that hurts my feelings.”

“The narcissism of the claimant.” Here it is again: the premise underlying Peterson’s entire argument in this piece is that trans identity isn’t real. Therefore, anyone identifying as anything other than that signified by their genitalia at birth must be an unserious and selfish person choosing an alternate identity for reasons passing imagination, with no consideration for the confusion it causes in the innocent bystanders upon whom they inflict their petulant demands for recognition. Because they’re the real victims.

I’ve read enough of the science on this subject to accept that there are real genetic and biological underpinnings to being transgender, but really all I need to do to accept and respect somebody’s gender expression is answer a commonsensical question: considering the social stigma, the hatred, and the real danger of violence facing the transgender community, why would anyone choose to so identify for reasons other than for a deeply felt need to be true to oneself? Peterson frames his opposition of using people’s preferred pronouns as a question of free speech, but in reality it articulates a profound lack of empathy. Know that when you are faced with someone asking that you use a pronoun that seems wrong to you, that person has endured a probably traumatic struggle to arrive at the point where they can voice the request.

Also, not for nothing, but nobody who has this as his author bio should be casually accusing others of narcissism:

JP-bio

(3) [They] risk generating psychological chaos among the vast majority of individuals exposed to the doctrines that insist that identity is essentially fluid and self-generating (and here I’m primarily concerned about children and adolescents whose standard or normative identity has now merely become one personal choice among a near-infinite array of ideologically and legally defined modes of being).

Psychological chaos? Seriously? Seriously. This makes about as much sense as the old chestnut that exposing children to depictions of gay people will somehow turn them gay. Acknowledging and respecting alternative identities and challenging traditional repressive figurations of sex and gender isn’t about to destabilize “the vast majority of individuals”—except perhaps those who incorrectly see their protected status as straight white men threatened. (Considering how many of those dudes probably bought 12 Rules For Life, Peterson might not want to complain too much).

Also, let’s keep some perspective on the size of the issue. Transgender, gender-non conforming and non-binary people comprise a tiny fraction of the population, and they suffer disproportionately from violence, sexual assault, and suicide. As a white cishet man, my own quality of life and my own sense of self does not suffer from the presence or visibility of trans people. It behooves those of us with such privilege first to acknowledge it, and secondly to listen and learn. I have, to the best of my knowledge, known six people identifying as transgender. Six people—in my life. So let’s be real here: they’re hardly storming the Bastille, which you would never know from the edge of hysteria in Peterson’s warnings.

(4) [They] pose a further and unacceptably dangerous threat to the stability of the nuclear family, which consists, at minimum, of a dyad, male and female, coming together primarily for the purposes of raising children in what appears to be the minimal viable social unit (given the vast and incontrovertible body of evidence that fatherlessness, in particular, is associated with heightened risk for criminality, substance abuse, and poorly regulated sexual behaviour among children, adolescents and the adults that they eventually become).

All right. You know what, folks? I’m done. This is some Focus on the Family shit he’s now getting into. All I’ll say about this particular head-smacker is that at least it pulls the curtain briefly aside: as I observe above, Peterson frames his anti-trans and anti-feminist rhetoric as being about freedom of speech, railing against the PC left and SJWs for their ostensible attempts to impose Sovietesque speech codes on everyone. But at the heart of it all is the stern 1950s dad persona he has cultivated, and much of his popularity proceeds from nostalgia for a time when white, straight men’s centrality wasn’t questioned or characterized as “privilege.”

***

I’ll end with a message of love. To all of my queer friends: I am in awe of you. You are the embodiment of strength. I hope your month of Pride is fabulous and remains undimmed by such assholes as Peterson or the hate-mongers who disrupted the festivities in Hamilton. I am with you, and I will go with you.

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The Politics of Meanness

The word “mean” is typical of the glorious clusterfuck that is the English language, insofar as that it wears many hats. Generally speaking, our first encounter with the word was probably to sound a note of wounded complaint: someone was being mean to us. “Stop being mean!” “He’s such a meanie.” And so on. As our vocabularies grew, we developed a more nuanced quiver of words that spelled out the spectrum of what being “mean” might be, distinguishing between thoughtlessness, selfishness, cruelty, spite, or just general assholery.

But “mean” has its own subtleties as well, connoting not just cruelty but a certain kind of small-mindedness. To be a mean person can entail a sense of willful ignorance, especially ignorance of the value of the intangible or ephemeral. It can also connote a lack of generosity or compassion, the short-sightedness of NIMBYism or the inability to see value in anything that does not yield immediate benefit. To be mean is to dislike seeing others benefit. To be mean is to lack empathy.

I’m ruminating on this semantic question because it helps articulate something about our present moment, which is a moment in which the politics of meanness threatens to become the status quo.

doug-ford

I lived in Ontario for the first thirty-three years of my life; I went to university and grad school there, and now work as an educator. Which means that a significant proportion of people with whom I’m friends on social media live in Ontario and work in education at all levels, from grade school through high school, at colleges and universities and in libraries. What this further means is that for the past year my news feed on Facebook has consistently featured friends’ anger, incredulity, and despair at whatever indignities Doug Ford’s government has recently inflicted on Ontario’s education system.

To many who lived through the 1990s, it feels like déjà vu, a terrible throwback to the Mike Harris years and the assault perpetrated on the educational system by his minister of education John Snobelen—a man who had no background in the field, and came into the job determined to “create a crisis in education.” I felt very keenly the effects of Snobelen’s high-handed and contemptuous treatment of teachers and schools, as my father was a grade school principal at the time. What was worst to watch was my father’s mounting bafflement as Harris and Snobelen went through the education budgets like buzzsaws, with little to no concern for the effect their cuts had on students. It was particularly hurtful for my dad because he and my mom had both voted conservative in that election, buying into the rhetoric of Harris’ “Common Sense Revolution” and the promise to right the fiscal ship after what they saw as the New Democrats’ feckless mismanagement. I’m probably cutting myself out of the will by revealing this, as the years of Harris’ regime cured them of their conservative leanings, which had at any rate always been more about financial conservatism. Their conservative party had always been that of Bill Davis and Joe Clark, the sort of avuncular Tories whose politics a left-wing type might disagree with, but whose compassion and public-spiritedness was not in doubt. What my parents didn’t grasp until it was too late—what my father learned particularly acutely—was that Harris and his ilk embodied a politics of meanness. My dad’s bafflement at John Snobelen’s evisceration of the educational system was the confusion of a dedicated educator who could not understand the rationale behind the cruelty of the cuts. It was only after months of the Harris government’s sustained assault that he came to understand that the cruelty was the point. Harris and Snobelen hated teachers, were in fact antagonistic to the very idea of education more broadly, and the “Common Sense Revolution’s” project of budget-slashing austerity was a very blunt tool for carrying out a mean-spirited revenge, and ultimately drove my father into early retirement.

Fast-forward to the present moment. Doug Ford is basically Mike Harris on steroids, but lacks even the patina of ideological veneer that informed Harris. Everything he has done since taking office has had the quality of a bully’s taunt. Like Donald Trump, he revels in being antagonistic, and his most devoted followers love nothing better than enraging liberals, leftists, and “elites”—this last term which has come to connote not social status but a kind of attitude, in which a millennial with an MFA in creative writing earning minimum wage qualifies, but not the premier who was born heir to millions and spent the better part of his professional life in the corridors of political power. Ford and his followers really might as well change his slogan from “For the People” to “NERRRRRRDS!” That would at least be more honest in terms of his policy preoccupations, to say nothing of his general disposition, personality-wise.

Whatever complaints one may have about the Liberals’ long tenure from 2003 to 2018 under Dalton McGuinty and then Kathleen Wynne, the province’s investment in education during this period saw great dividends, with high school graduation rates rising from 68% to 86.5%. That fifteen-year interval tells its own story, namely that these changes take time and diligence, and also that the greater effects are likely always going to be intangible. Speaking as a professor in the humanities, I’m all about the intangibles: getting a degree in English or languages or philosophy or history doesn’t train you for a specific job, necessarily, but there is an innate value to learning to read and write critically. There is an innate value, also, to taking drama in high school, or learning an instrument, exploring your creativity, or just opening your mind up to new ideas and stories.

empty-class

Unfortunately, it is always these programs—music, art, drama—that tend to be the first on the chopping block when budgets are slashed, as they are not seen as “useful” topics. I often ask my students how many of them, when they answer “English” to the question “what are you majoring in?” receive one of two responses: either “what kind of job are you going to get with that?” or “so … you’re going to be a teacher?” The response is pretty much always 100%. Since I first started grad school, there have been more and more articles, columns, and think-pieces by prominent businesspeople, tech moguls, and the like, all pleading with universities to stop cutting humanities programs, as these courses of study produce graduates with precisely the kind of communicative skills and creativity otherwise lacking in industry (most recently it was Mark Cuban, predicting that a degree in philosophy will soon enough be more valuable than one in computer science). And yet the predominant administrative priority, both in secondary and postsecondary education, resides in expanding STEM programs.

Which brings us back to the politics of meanness. Doug Ford and his ilk may be mean in that original sense we all learned as children when someone was cruel to us, but they have also weaponized the sense of the word as “miserly, stingy; not generous” (as denoted in the Oxford English Dictionary), both literally and spiritually. Perhaps the epitome of this sensibility was the absurd claim made by Ford’s education minister Lisa Thompson when she announced that average class sizes in Ontario would increase from 22 to 28. When asked about the deleterious effects of larger classes, Thompson suggested that it would make the students “more resilient,” as if a smaller fraction of the teacher’s attention taught toughness of spirit.

I remember quite vividly a question posed by someone during the worst depredations of Mike Harris’ government: do you remember who your MPP was when you were ten years old? Or do you remember who your teacher was? Our education system isn’t perfect—what would that even look like?—but it has a profound effect on literally everyone. Starving it of resources is, well, mean, both in the sense of being short-sighted, and being and cruel.

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Thoughts on D-Day and Generational Memory

When Tom Lehrer was asked why he quit doing political satire, he famously quipped, “Because Henry Kissinger won the Nobel Peace Prize.” Translation: where do you go from there? What kind of parody or satire can rise to the level of the architect of Pinochet’s coup in Chile and the secret bombing of Laos and Cambodia being lauded as a peacemaker?

If the years since Lehrer’s quip have taught us anything, it’s that metaphors of bars being lowered and new depths being plumbed no longer work. There is no bottom, and new normals will always provide a basis for ironic, satirical critique—even if that critique comes to feel more and more like affectless laughter in the dark. Since Kissinger’s peace prize, a B-movie actor was elected president, a subsequent president was essentially impeached for getting a blowjob, and the Terminator was elected governor of California … and that only brings us up to 2003. The fact that a critical mass of liberals would probably be happy to swap Donald Trump for either Reagan or Schwarzenegger both speaks to the fact that they had depths belied by the prior entertainment careers, but also how far down the political slope arse-first we’ve slid.

(Just as an aside: I will maintain to my dying day that Saturday Night Live missed a golden comedic opportunity when, apropos of Schwarzenegger’s re-election campaign, they did not stage a skit in which the Governator debated political opponents Sylvester Stallone and Jean-Claude van Damme).

trump-d-day

All of this is by way of saying that, if Kissinger’s peace prize was what drove Tom Lehrer out of political satire, I wonder what he makes of the spectacle of President Donald Trump, he of the bone spurs and dictator-envy, speaking solemn words on the 75th anniversary of the D-Day landings. The layers of irony are thicker than the Burgess Shale: a president whose slogan “America First” was originally used by isolationists and Nazi sympathizers like Charles Lindbergh, who wanted to keep the U.S. out of the war; a president who has consistently attacked NATO and the European Union, both of which were established with the express purpose of preventing another war in Europe; a president who has refused to condemn neo-Nazis and white nationalists, and whose presidency has indeed proved to be a clarion call emboldening the racist and anti-Semitic right; a president whose racist populism has been mirrored in the rise of comparable alt-right groups in France, Germany, Hungary, Poland, and in the viler strains of Brexit rhetoric; a president who loves the idea of military thuggery but seems incapable of recognizing honour and sacrifice, who is so thin-skinned that his aides panicked at the thought of him seeing the name “John McCain” on a ship or its sailors’ uniforms; a president who is even now poised to pardon actual war criminals; a president who, sitting mere feet away from the graves of American war dead, petulantly smears the name of Robert Mueller, a decorated veteran; this president recites the prayer delivered on D-Day by Franklin Roosevelt—a president whose legacy is the antithesis of everything Trump embodies—and speaks some boilerplate platitudes before returning to his golf course in Ireland.

I used to get outraged at George W. Bush’s blithe ignorance, but that was before I knew what was coming: first Sarah Palin as a potential VP, but then Trump himself, someone not just ignorant but functionally illiterate. I’m hardly a monarchist, but I do admire Queen Elizabeth’s capacity to deliver a diplomatic fuck-you, as she did in her choice of gift for Trump: a first edition of Winston Churchill’s history of WWII, something entirely appropriate for the occasion, but also painfully discordant with this president’s aggressive, ahistorical ignorance. Back in the halcyon days of late 2016, such a gift might have encouraged the naively optimistic—those poor souls who fervently wanted to believe that assuming the office would transform Trump—to hope that Trump would read and learn. But that was then and this is now, and so the subtler insult of the gift—the Queen gave him the abridged edition—is lost in the mere fact that simply giving Trump a book, any book, is to draw attention not just to the fact that he doesn’t read, but to his arrogant incuriosity. The Queen could have given him a boxed set of the Harry Potter series and made the same point.

The Queen’s gift and the insult it delivers, sadly, is a potent symbol for the present moment, in which the felt history of WWII and its transformative effects on the 20th century have become abstract and mythologized. I teach a class on American literature after 1945, and I always begin with a lecture on the sea-change wrought by the Second World War. I ask my students: where do you think the U.S. military ranked, globally, in size and strength in 1939? My students are astute enough to recognize that, if I’m asking the question, there’s a trick in there somewhere. But they’ve also grown up in a world in which American military might is indomitable, and if they know anything about WWII, it’s probably through movies like Saving Private Ryan that depict the vastness of the U.S. war machine. So … Fourth? they say, tentatively. Fifth? A more audacious student might suggest tenth.

No, I reply. Nineteenth. And by 1945, a scant four years after Pearl Harbor, they were rivaled only by the Soviet Union. And then went the way of the rest of the century. Without a grasp of the war at mid-century, one cannot properly understand what came next, and indeed what is happening today.

American troops approaching Omaha Beach.

D-Day occurred 75 years ago, which means that the youngest person who stormed those beaches or parachuted in behind German lines would be 93 years old today (assuming they didn’t lie about their age). We’re on the cusp of losing the last of the Greatest Generation, and when the last of those people die, so too does the generational memory they carry. We’re already seeing the effects: there’s an awful lot of reasons for the rise of the alt-right, but baked in there is a cultural amnesia, a collective forgetting that isn’t just about the passing of the generation that fought WWII, but an erosion of historical consciousness. Ask any student of mine and they’ll tell you (presumably with an eye roll) that I reliably harangue pretty much every class I teach at some point about the need to read history. The last few years I’ve taught Philip Roth’s novel The Plot Against America, an alternative history that imagines what would have happened if Charles Lindbergh, a Nazi sympathizer, had run against FDR in 1940 and won. I taught the novel once before, when I first started my job at Memorial, but it didn’t get much traction with students. Now, however, I assumed it would grip them with its eerie prescience: a story about a populist celebrity with autocratic and racist tendencies upsetting an establishment politician with the message “America First.”

But no. It did resonate with a few students, but overall the reaction was meh. A colleague of mine has also taught the novel a few times in recent years, and he reports much the same response.

In my very first year here at Memorial, I taught Martin Amis’ novel Time’s Arrow in a first year fiction course—a Holocaust novel that takes place with time reversed, the conceit being that only when witnessed backwards can the Holocaust be understandable. Backwards, it becomes a story of German munificence, in which they call down smoke and ash from the sky to create inert bodies, into which they breathe life and send them on trains out into the world. My argument in lecture was that Amis works to defamiliarize the narrative of the Holocaust as a means of combatting the way in which repeatedly hearing a story inures us to it, and reawake the reader to the pure unthinkability of the atrocity. I cited Art Spiegelman’s graphic novel Maus and Roberto Benigni’s film Life is Beautiful as texts that perform a similar function, but by that point the blank expressions on my students’ faces made it clear that defamiliarizing the Holocaust was a bridge too far when mere familiarity was lacking.

To be clear, I don’t blame my students. They have grown up in a culture that has de-emphasized history, both within the educational system and without, and terms like “Nazi” and “fascist” have more traction as online insults than as historical actualities. Millennials are understandably more preoccupied with the future, given that the realities of climate change mean they may not have one. But if the future is to be secured, it must needs be with global and internationalist solutions—we’re well past the point when nation-states can turn inward. The European Union was hardly a perfect construct, but it emerged from the recognition that the world would not survive another conflagration like WWII. Now that that memory has faded, the EU looks to be on a knife’s edge, and nativist autocracies have been making a comeback worldwide. We should of course honour the sacrifices made by those who fought and died 75 years ago, but more importantly we should remember the collective sacrifices of nations mobilized to large-scale action, and the ways in which alliances and cooperation made the defeat of Nazism possible.

The generational memory of WWII is fading. Let’s lose the platitudes about freedom and sacrifice and the why of it all, and honour the dead by not forgetting the how.

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The Sense of an Ending

WARNING: this post contains spoilers for, well, everything.

 

When I was eleven years old, my parents allowed me to stay up late and watch the series finale of M*A*S*H. I loved M*A*S*H, and still do—it was, I think, the first bit of television (aside perhaps from The Muppet Show) that was more than just mere entertainment for me … I was deeply invested in those characters and their situations, and when it came to an end I was gutted by the fact that there would never again be new episodes. Hence my parents’ willingness to let me stay up late for once.

The series finale of M*A*S*H, which ran for a feature-length two hours, remains the single-most-watched episode of television ever, pulling in over 120 million viewers. I have never again watched it, and only vaguely remember a few key plot points—Hawkeye has a nervous breakdown, Charles teaches North Korean prisoners to play Mozart, Klinger ends up staying behind to help his new Korean bride find her parents. That, and of course the iconic final shot of the word “GOODBYE” spelled out in rocks for Hawkeye as he choppers away.

Endings are tricky things. When done well, they bring everything that has preceded into sharp relief, or deliver a satisfying sense of closure. I tell my students that the period is the most significant bit of punctuation, because it defines the sentence. Without a period, a sentence simply runs on and on and adds more and more possibly extraneous information, or digresses into the eddies of subjunctive clauses, twisting about its length like the confused coils of a snake, which can of course be virtuosic in the hands of a talented writer, but if the sentence, like a story writ small, cannot be brought to a satisfactory conclusion, then, well …

There are two endings in fiction that have devastated me. The first was when I finished The Lord of the Rings, the novel that first taught me that literature can have affect, can change you on the molecular level. In the final chapter, Frodo and Sam, along with Merry and Pippin, ride to the harbour of the Grey Havens; Sam does not know that Frodo means to leave Middle-Earth forever. Along the way they meet up with Gandalf, Elrond, Galadriel, and Bilbo. Frodo and Bilbo depart with the others across the sea to the Undying Lands. Frodo cannot stay—he has been too deeply hurt by his time as Ring-Bearer. In spite of his grief at losing his best friend, Sam watches him go and returns home to Bag End and his wife and baby daughter.

At last they rode over the downs and took the East Road, and then Merry and Pippin rode on to Buckland; and already they were singing again as they went. But Sam turned to Bywater, and so came back up the Hill, as day was ending once more. And he went on, and there was yellow light, and fire within; and the evening meal was ready, and he was expected. As Rose drew him in, and set him in his chair, and put little Elanor in his lap.

He drew a deep breath. “Well, I’m back,” he said.

It is a simple enough ending, but that is where its power lies—in the sense of return, of homecoming, a narrative depiction of what T.S. Eliot expressed lyrically in “Little Gidding”: “the end of all our exploring / Will be to arrive where we started / And know the place for the first time.” There is also, however, a profound sense of loss: though Sam is now entering the next, fulsome stage of his life, the world of Middle-Earth has ended—the magic has literally gone out of the world with the destruction of the Ring and the departure of the elves, all of which for Sam is encapsulated in the loss of his beloved Frodo.

The sense of loss I felt at the end of The Lord of the Rings functioned on several levels, not the least of which was the inchoate recognition that I could never again read the novel for the first time. It was, like Sam’s farewell to Frodo, like saying goodbye to a good friend.

The other ending that devastated me was that of One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez. While the end of LotR was all about departing a world that had held me in greater thrall than any I’ve ever read, Solitude was about getting hit with the hammer of narrative virtuosity. A defining text of magical realism, the novel is a multi-generational, sprawling tale about the (fictional) isolated Columbian village of Macondo. Early in the story, an elderly Gypsy man writes out in coded language the very story of Solitude; the text is indecipherable until decades later when a younger scion of the central family cracks the code and realizes that the Gypsy had essentially foretold his family’s story down to the last detail. He reads the final lines of the story just as a hurricane strikes the village, and reads of his own death at the conclusion just as the storm kills him:

Before reaching the final line, however, he had already understood that he would never leave that room, for it was foreseen that the city of mirrors (or mirages) would be wiped out by the wind and exiled from the memory of men at the precise moment when Aureliano Babilonia would finish deciphering the parchments, and that everything written on them was unrepeatable since time immemorial and forever more, because races condemned to one hundred years of solitude did not have a second opportunity on earth.

The convergence of that moment left me quite literally breathless—I had to put the book aside and inhale deeply to deal with its emotional impact.

Novels are one thing, as are films, as they tend to be self-contained narratives. Television is quite another thing, unfolding as it does episodically and often over multiple seasons. The shift from episodic to serial TV changes this dynamic, but not entirely: the length of a series’ run still tends to be determined by its popularity, and even the most rigorously serial series—I’m thinking especially of The Wire, in which the credits at the end of individual episodes often caught me by surprise—tend to have season-long narrative arcs. And one way or another, television tends to have a cumulative effect: even when we’re considering classic syndicated TV (in which self-contained episodes don’t require you to have seen anything previous), there is still a great emotional weight when it comes to the conclusion of a series. Theoretically, episodic TV shouldn’t need a definitive finale: there is really no need to put a bow on a sitcom or a procedural when each episode follows a wash-rinse-repeat formula. In these cases—excluding, of course, series that find themselves cancelled unexpectedly—making a big deal of the finale is largely about fan service. It was unthinkable to end M*A*S*H mid-stream, just as it was unthinkable to end Friends or Seinfeld or Cheers without giving longtime viewers something approaching the closure of an emotional goodbye.

But what makes a “good” series finale? In case it wasn’t blindingly obvious, I’m writing this post apropos of the conclusion of Game of Thrones, and the social media backlash that has accompanied not just the finale, but the entire final season. As I made clear in the previous two posts I wrote with Nikki, I have some fairly serious complaints about the way the series was brought to an end, but they are complaints that fall well short of shitting on the entire show retroactively or demanding that HBO entirely redo season eight with “competent writers” (good luck with that, people). That being said, I think that GoT does fall into the category of Very Good Shows That Ended Badly. It is not asymptomatic of HBO, which has tended at times to rush or condense series for budgetary reasons; most notably, Deadwood and Rome had each planned to run one season longer than they were allowed, with the predictable effect that the conclusions the showrunners had planned were arrived at with somewhat less narrative subtlety than was really needed. We see this most egregiously with Rome, whose first season, I will always maintain, is about as perfect a season of television as has ever been made. It was never intended to be a series to run indefinitely: the creators planned a modest three seasons, but HBO stepped in and told them that would be too expensive for too few viewers, and made them end it in two. Hence, they had to cover way too much historical ground: presumably in the original plan, season two would have ended with the defeat of Brutus and Cassius at the Battle of Philippi, and given season three breathing space to explore the fraught story of Antony, Cleopatra, and the rise of Augustus.

As has been made clear, however, Game of Thrones’ hasty ending was not a budgetary imperative but the active choice of showrunners Benioff & Weiss. HBO was willing to let them take as much time as they wanted—unsurprising, considering that the show is the most profitable property ever for the network, even with the huge budgets it demanded—but they opted for brevity. This choice makes me an awfully lot less sympathetic to the last two seasons’ flaws. Serenity might not be the greatest film ever made, but one can see in it the nascent virtuosity of a final season of Firefly, had certain executives at Fox not been ginormous douchenozzles; similarly, the final few episodes of GoT feel more like plot sketches than fully realized story, but one can see the shape of a subtle and nuanced conclusion, if only it had had the space to fill.

I suppose it should go without saying that none of this would really be noteworthy were it not for the fact of the series’ massive popularity. Had GoT only boasted viewership numbers on par with, say, The Wire—which topped out at about two or three million—not only would it have been an extremely different series, it probably would not have survived eight seasons. As it was (the final episode drew over nineteen million viewers), its popularity fed its budget, giving us vastly more lavish set pieces and special effects than anything we saw in season one (if you recall, there were no large-scale battles then: we only saw the aftermath of the Battle of Whispering Wood, where Robb Stark captured Jaime Lannister; and the climactic battle between the Starks and the Lannisters resorted to the expedient of having Tyrion knocked cold before the battle started, waking up to hear how it had gone). Lacking the viewership it developed, it might well have gone the way of Firefly—a short-lived and cruelly decapitated piece of well-made TV loudly lamented by fans crying for the blood of the studio execs who wielded the axe.

But its popularity also fed its fans’ expectations, and at the time I’m writing this, the Change.org petition to have the entire eighth season re-done has surpassed one million signatures.

In some ways, the unevenness of series finales is simply reflective of the unevenness of television itself. Episode to episode, season to season, the necessarily collaborative nature of the medium and the necessarily sprawling nature of the storytelling lends itself to a significant ebb and flow of quality and focus. The revolving doors of writers’ rooms, the switching up of showrunners, pressures brought to bear by ratings and studio interference, the departures and arrivals of key characters and actors—all of these considerations and more mean that it becomes difficult to look at a television series in its entirety as a cohesive, finished text. (By way of example, a question for passionate fans of Lost: if you could go back and change ONE THING, would you “fix” the finale or excise the protracted Nikki and Paolo storylines?)

The rise of the televisual auteur á là Joss Whedon, Amy Sherman-Palladino, Aaron Sorkin, Shonda Rimes, David Simon, or Benioff & Weiss has meant that there is more television out there now with more coherence in terms of vision and over-arching narrative, but the flip side of that is when the auteur departs a given show, especially when the departure is acrimonious: fans of Gilmore Girls, The West Wing and Community will all attest to, if not necessarily a decline in quality, then certainly a change in the basic character of these shows when Sherman-Palladino, Sorkin, and Dan Harmon were respectively given the boot. The situation with Game of Thrones was a bit different, as it was (the consensus seems to be) the point at which the series definitively outstripped the extant source material than things started to go pear-shaped—perhaps revealing that the showrunners were very good at adapting rich and complex narrative to a more abbreviated format (mostly—I think most of us would agree that the Dorne subplot was something of a failure), but not so good at building out from a thumbnail sketch to a nuanced and textured story.

I suppose the TL;DR of all that is that almost all television, but especially longer-running series, has peaks and valleys, good episodes and bad, stronger and weaker seasons, and that how a series ends is a function of that inconsistency. Game of Thrones always had its work cut out for it, as it is a story that necessitates an end in a way that almost all the other flagship dramas on HBO have not. Deadwood ends with the passing of a lawless order and the establishment of a corrupt legal order; Six Feet Under ends with one stage of Claire’s life ending and a new one beginning; The Wire ends with a recognition that nothing really ever changes; and so on. Which is why I think the series finale of The Sopranos—which evoked Lost-level howls of complaint—was particularly brilliant. Cut to black. Wait? What happens? Was Tony about to get whacked in the diner? Analyses of that final scene have been written with Talmudic intensity, trying to come to a definitive answer, but I think the point was that it doesn’t matter. The cycle continues one way or another, a point made more lyrically by the montage at the end of The Wire, which shows change at the personal level for some characters, but none at all on the societal level.

In the end, there’s a certain truism in that, ultimately, series finales are about fan service. I was thinking about this after watching Avengers: Endgame. I would imagine that, to someone who has been an indifferent and sporadic viewer of the MCU, that film would seem needlessly protracted; speaking for myself, as a fan who has seen all of the preceding films, I felt quite definitely served, to the point where I really could not care less about the glaring time-travel inconsistencies. We do expect a certain emotional punch at the end of things, which was probably why the one part of the Game of Thrones finale I haven’t read or heard many complaints about was the final montage of the Stark children: Sansa being crowned, Arya the Explorya heading west on a direwolf-prowed ship, Jon returning north and being reunited with Ghost. Those few minutes, at least, felt something like closure accompanied by a swelling soundtrack.

I think this might be why proleptic endings, i.e. those that project into the future to show you the fates of beloved characters, tend to be the most successful. I asked the question on Facebook of people’s favourite series finales, and by far the most common answer was that of Six Feet Under: as Claire drives east to her new life, we have a montage to Sia’s haunting song “Breathe Me” of the deaths of all of the series’ main characters. What makes this work so well is that it is entirely in step with the series key theme: at the start of every episode we see someone die, who will then end up at the Fischer family funeral home, along with a title card with their name and the years they lived.

Another favourite was the final episode of Parks and Recreation, which similarly looked into the future to show us where and how everyone would end up. And more recently, the series finale of Veep ended twenty-four years in the future, with everyone attending Selina Meyer’s funeral. After seven seasons, Veep has the distinction of being one of the more consistent television series, in both tone and quality, ever made … but the fact that coverage of the Meyer funeral was pre-empted by the death of Tom Hanks at 88 seems like a sly acknowledgement of the fact that the conclusion of Veep was almost certainly going to be overshadowed a week later by the conclusion of Game of Thrones.

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Game of Thrones, Episode 8.06: The Iron Throne

Welcome, friends, for the final time to the great Chris & Nikki Game of Thrones co-blog. After eight seasons of reviewing and recapping and discussion, we’re finally turning the last page on what has been a genuine television phenomenon.

It is fair to say that this entire final season has pissed a lot of people off; I can’t say that I’m at all satisfied with how the showrunners brought about the conclusion, but neither am I about to sign the petition demanding a do-over. Would the series have benefitted from even just a few more episodes? Absolutely. Do I think Benioff and Weiss proved not up to the task of realizing GRRM’s vision? Pretty much, yeah. A lot has been written in the last few days about how the show suffered from not having the wealth of source material once it outstripped the extant novels … but then again, GRRM’s glacial pace is, I think, indicative of intractable narrative problems of his own devising. Benioff and Weiss erred badly in rushing this story to its conclusion, and perhaps their own writing talents were less than satisfactory, but they nevertheless managed to finish a series with massive numbers of moving parts without the same detailed map they’d had for five or six seasons.

Good ending? Bad ending? In the words of Marge Simpson: It’s an ending. That’s enough. And I’ll say something here I often tell my students: art and literature, whether a beloved television series or a Booker-nominated novel or an obscurantist poem–or any other myriad examples of creative imagination expressing itself in the world–is in part about conversation. It’s not just about how it speaks to us as individuals, but about how we share our thoughts and reactions. Game of Thrones has been by turns brilliant, infuriating, flawed, and problematic from any number of perspectives … but it never failed to get us talking, and those moments and places where it was flawed produced some of the most fruitful discussion and criticism.

Thank you all for letting Nikki and I contribute our thoughts and insights to that great converation, and for all the comments and reactions you’ve shared with us. It has been quite the ride.

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Christopher: Well, here we are at the end of all things … and I just want to start by saying, Nikki, how much of a joy it has been writing these reviews with you for the past eight years, and how much I will miss it. For those just tuning in to these co-blogs, Nikki (who, when she’s not protecting Gotham, is a mild-mannered freelance editor named Jen) and I have known each other for twenty-three years, having met during our MA at the University of Toronto in a class called “Victorian Fiction and the Politics of Gender.” We bonded during a conversation that, as conversations often did in the 90s, became a lengthy series of Simpsons quotes. This would not have been remarkable in and of itself were it not for the fact that most of our grad student peers took hipster pride in ignoring popular culture. Meeting someone who was not only willing to admit to watching television, but was positively enthusiastic about it, was not at all unlike finding your long-lost twin with the other half of the amulet you’ve worn all your life.

And if that sounds like an exaggeration? Really not.

But of course, there’s more to friendship than just a shared love of The Simpsons. We’re lucky to have people in our lives with whom time and distance don’t matter, and when you see one of those people in person after months or years, it’s as if your conversation picks up where it left off. I’ll miss writing these GoT reviews in part because I’m going to miss GoT, but really, I’ll be missing the back-and-forth with a dear friend whom I don’t see nearly often enough. (Seriously, Nik—time for that family vacation to Newfoundland).

End of sentimentality. On with the review.

I have, unsurprisingly, been thinking over the last few days a lot about final seasons and final episodes. Which ones worked, which didn’t? Which series stuck the landing? Which ones managed to piss off a critical mass of fans? Even just a glimpse at social media in the hours following the GoT finale makes it obvious that the most vocal fans hate the way the series ended, but that is hardly surprising, considering that those same voices have been declaring this final season an irredeemable dumpster fire for several weeks now (and I just hasten to point out that “the most vocal fans” on social media does not necessarily translate to “the majority of people” more generally).

I suspect Nikki will have a lot to say on this topic, as she is one of the few stalwart defenders of the series finale of Lost—an episode, it doesn’t hurt mentioning, that was slagged by none other than GRRM.

Payback’s a bitch.

Ending a TV series is a fraught affair at the best of times—the “best of times” meaning that you’re bringing the plane in for a landing when there is still a critical mass of love for the show. (I suppose, then, when you end a TV series at the worst of times, nobody really cares). But that also means there will inevitably be upset people.

Given that I devoted a lot of words in our last post complaining that Benioff & Weiss did not give this season enough episodes to breathe and properly develop character arcs and narratives, I won’t rehash that here. That being said: my first thought on watching this, the last new episode we’ll ever watch of GoT, was that it followed pretty closely on the last one. The previous episode might have needed an awful lot more in the way of lead-up to be properly comprehensible, but the first part of this episode made total sense so long as you don’t question the last one.

Which is to say: Daenerys is now the Mad Queen and has gone the way of her predecessors, and thus everything that follows her sack of King’s Landing makes sense in the context of that fact.

Are we all on board with that? At least provisionally? Good. Then, if you’re seated comfortably, we’ll begin.

Oh, wait—one last thing: a professor at UWO, whom I TA’d for in my first year there and who has become a good friend was interviewed on CBC the other day. John Leonard is a brilliant Milton scholar and also a Colbert-level Tolkien nerd, and has for several years been teaching a course on A Song of Ice and Fire. His thoughts on Game of Thrones coming to an end are unsurprisingly insightful.

But now, on to the episode.

Let me start by saying I completely whiffed on everything I’d suggested in the first episode, re: the new credits. OK, so no new dragons, no clutch of eggs beneath Winterfell. Given that we end the series with a single dragon who decamps for parts unknown, the promise of the many dragons on the third armillary sphere band now seems like the deepest crimson of red herrings.

On the other hand, I totally called two key points, though neither quite unfolded the way I expected: Drogon melting the Iron Throne to slag, and Jon Snow returning to the North to be reunited with Ghost.

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The episode begins with Tyrion (re)entering the city, registering anew what Daenerys visited on it. We see the burned corpses and the devastated city, and Tyrion’s distraught expression as he registers the destruction that he, despite all his best efforts, helped create. Behind him walk Jon Snow and Davos. The three pause around the incinerated corpse of the little girl still clutching her toy horse, whom we saw in the previous episode, and who—as someone Arya attemped to help—functions as the metonym for the thousands killed by Daenerys’ rage. “I’ll find you later,” Tyrion tells Jon and Davos, and when Jon tells him it isn’t safe and offers to send men with him, Tyrion insists, “I’m going alone.”

Where he is going isn’t clear at first, and my initial assumption was that he was going to confront Daenerys—and that Jon’s warning and offer of a bodyguard was a recognition of their erstwhile queen’s state of mind. But no—he’s going into the bowels of the Red Keep, presumably to see if Jaime and Cersei made good their escape (and possibly to escape himself?). I’m being charitable in that reading: what is communicated is that he has somehow intuited that that is where they met their end, and he finds their remarkably intact corpses under what seems like a rather shallow amount of rubble. (As Tyrion entered the space of their demise, my girlfriend muttered, “What, is he going to see a golden hand sticking out of the rocks?”, and moments later—a golden hand sticking out of the rocks. Not the subtlest or most believable moment in the episode, however well Peter Dinklage played Tyrion’s grief).

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Meanwhile, Grey Worm’s execution of surviving Lannister soldiers is interrupted by Jon Snow. “It’s over,” he says. “These men are prisoners.” To which Killy McGhee says, “It is not over until all of the Queen’s enemies are defeated.” Davos, ever the voice of reason in a crazy world, demands “How much more defeated do you want them to be? They’re on their knees!” But of course Grey Worm is implacable. Daenerys has commanded him to kill all who followed Cersei, and he’s going to carry out her orders. “These are free men,” he points out, and therefore their choice to follow Cersei makes them culpable—a callback to Daenerys’ riposte to Tyrion that the people of Meereen rose up against their tyrants, while the people of King’s Landing willingly submitted to Cersei’s rule. When Jon holds Grey Worm back, there’s a brief standoff between the Unsullied and the Northerners; Davos tells Jon that they should speak with the Queen, which is more or less the equivalent of saying “we’re telling Mom!”, but it’s hardly as if the matter has been tabled—as soon as Jon and Davos walk on, Grey Worm proceeds to start slitting throats.

After Tyrion uncovers the weirdly peaceful-looking bodies of his siblings, we shift to Jon and Arya arriving (separately) at Daenerys’ triumphant address to her troops, which looks and feels uncomfortably Triumph of the Will-ish.

What did you think of the finale, Nikki?

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Way to be subtle there, Daenerys.

Nikki: Triumph of the Will indeed, my friend, right down to that Targaryen banner (seriously, did someone bring that with them to the battle?!) in the Nazi colours. Why have I never noticed that before?

I will similarly become sentimental about the end of this show, and what a joy it’s been working with you on it, but since I have the pleasure of going last, I’ll save my blubbering until then. What I do want to say at the outset, if y’all will indulge me for a moment, is to pause for a moment to mention something that has happened in the real world we live in. I’ve been involved in fandom for many years now, as long as Chris and I have been friends and I first got an internet connection when we were doing our MA together. And among the very first fandoms with which I connected was Xena: Warrior Princess. I was writing my first book about it, and reached out to fans on various mailing lists and listservs (remember those?) and among the many amazing fans who got back to me, one in particular stood out. Over time, Kim and I became very close friends, emailing each other several times a day, and the first time we met was to share a hotel room at a Pasadena Xena convention where we saw Lucy and Reneé. (Probably not the smartest move on either of our parts, but this was before people were aware of catfishing on the interwebs and, luckily, it worked out.) She travelled from Arizona to Toronto to see me, and we continued to keep in touch for many years, and then, like most friendships, the emails were further and further apart. Just over a week ago I saw something I wanted to tell her about, but since I hadn’t spoken to her in a couple of years, I did a quick google search to make sure she was at the same place.

And that’s when I found her obituary, from 2018.

I managed to contact her workplace and someone there contacted me back (she had no real family to speak of), and generously explained what had happened. I’ve been heartbroken for a week to know that the world no longer contains Kim, one of the kindest and most generous people I’ve ever met. She was someone I met through fandom. And, like Chris expressed above, we fans are a very specific kind of people; we find our tribes and stick to them. Kim was such an important part of my tribe, and I miss her so much. This final blog post is dedicated to you, my friend. Love you.

Anyway, back to the story. My overview on the finale: the moment it was finished, my husband turned to me and said, “Thoughts?” and I thought for a few moments and simply replied, “Satisfied.” And I am. I remain committed to loving last week’s episode, and thought the writers made all the right decisions. I also remain convinced of what you pointed out, Chris, that the timing is what’s working against them this season, that it should have been drawn out over a longer period. But for that, we can probably blame HBO: no TV writer is offered 10 full episodes and says no, so I’m assuming it was the network stupidly putting a severe limit on a final season of their most successful show ever. As John Oliver said two weeks ago, “In two weeks this network is fuuuuuucked.” (Note how many ads ran right before the episode basically begging subscribers not to leave and showing all the great shows coming up…)

All week long, my mind has been racing back and forth over various storylines from the past eight years, thinking of plot points I hadn’t thought of in a long time, considering the number of times we joked about who we want to win the game of thrones. I think it was pretty evident by this final season that no derrière was ever going to occupy the Iron Throne again (to be honest, I just assumed it had been destroyed last week, and even this week when we got that iconic moment in the throne room I was shouting, “Hurry up and sit because it’s the only chance you’ll get!!”) We said we’d love to see Tyrion ultimately in charge, or Sansa, or Arya, or Jon and/or Daenerys. And in the end… a bunch of them are indeed in charge. Not in the ways we’d considered, but I’m actually pretty happy with the way things ended up. But more on all of those points later as we hit them. Let’s get back to where you left off.

(Our readers are now thinking good LORD this is going to be the longest blog post ever…)

I stand by my assertion that the end of Jaime and Cersei was a deeply affecting and poignant one. I know a lot of people this week have been complaining about it, saying Cersei deserved to be tortured or worse. Maybe they’ve never been a parent, but I don’t think there’s anything you could do to Cersei that would be worse than holding her child in her arms while he chokes to death… only to have another one poisoned because of something she had done, and the third one commit suicide just to escape the world she’d created. She’s made so many errors, and lost all of her children along the way. And Tyrion wasn’t blowing smoke when he said she was a devoted mother: she truly loved those children. Cersei tortured and killed, and she’s been tortured back… it’s over. I thought Dinklage’s performance when he finds their bodies was beautiful, I agree with you 100%, Chris. Just as Daenerys was (until Jon’s revelation) the scion of House Targaryen, so too is he the last of House Lannister.

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As Daenerys prepares to give her Hitlerian speech to the troops, I was amazed at just how many Unsullied and Dothraki were still there. I thought most of them had been wiped out at the Battle of Winterfell, and I’m certain she set more than a few of them on fire last week as necessary casualties, yet it looks like there are more now than were at the beginning of Winterfell. Which was a little odd.

Daenerys says something in thanks to everyone who aided her:

To the Dothraki: “Blood of my blood. You kept all your promises to me. You killed my enemies in their iron suits. You tore down their stone houses. You gave me the Seven Kingdoms!” Drogon roars.

To Grey Worm: “You have walked beside me since the Plaza of Pride. You are the bravest of men, the most loyal of soldiers. I name you commander of all my forces, the Queen’s Master of War!”

To the Unsullied: “All of you were torn from your mothers’ arms and raised as slaves. Now… you are liberators! You have freed the people of King’s Landing from the grip of a tyrant! But the war is not over. We will not lay down our spears until we have liberated all the people of the world! From Winterfell to Dorne, from Lannisport to Qarth, from the Summer Isles to the Jade Sea. Women, men and children have suffered too long beneath the wheel. Will you break the wheel with me?”
It’s a powerful speech, and if you listen to it and imagine yourself one of the people she’s addressing, you’d follow her to the ends of the Earth. She liberated everyone in front of her, and they’ve followed her this entire way. They’ve seen her at her very best, and they saw King’s Landing as a place of rot. If some innocents got killed along the way… oh well; it’s a sacrifice for the greater good. Having a queen who would take the throne and liberate all of Westeros is more important than a few measly lives.

Her idea isn’t a new one. And historically, it’s not always seen as a bad one. Do you think the British troops in WWII made sure not a single German civilian died in the war? That the American troops in Vietnam made sure there wasn’t a single innocent casualty? Last week as Drogon was immolating most of King’s Landing, I said to my husband, “It’s like napalm.” And guess what? Napalm was invented—and dropped—by the Americans, the “good guys,” during the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and as far back as WWII. They did it in an effort to quash Communism, and killed untold numbers of innocent people along the way.

Oh well; it’s a sacrifice for the greater good. And it’s OK that the Americans did it, because, you know, freedom and all that. But Daenerys? First of all, she’s a woman, and secondly, she speaks some foreign tongue. Better do away with her then.

I actually love how the writers frame this, because in the end, I don’t think anyone is suggesting that what ultimately happens to her was the right thing; it’s all about perception. Arya and Jon saw people being burned alive in the streets in a single day in a horrific act; Daenerys and the Unsullied and the Dothraki have seen people live their entire lives in chains, and have liberated them. When she says, “You have freed the people of King’s Landing from the grip of a tyrant,” we’re supposed to think, “Um, look in a mirror!” She talks about liberating people across Westeros, and says, “From Winterfell to Dorne,” and a dark cloud goes over the faces of Jon and Tyrion. They read that as, “Because that tyrant Sansa Stark is keeping people under her thumb” when the Unsullied see it as, we were just there, and there are a lot of people being treated badly in Winterfell; did you see the way they treated those servant girls? Of course, Dany very much could have meant, we’ll unseat that tyrant Sansa Stark. We’ll never know.

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Side note: throughout this scene, I kept thinking, Tyrion and Jon don’t actually speak Valyrian; we saw how badly Tyrion bungled it last week trying to see Jaime, and there’s no way Jon is fluent in anything beyond his own language, nor has he been given the opportunity to become so, since even the wildlings speak the Common Tongue. So… how do they understand a word of what she’s saying here?

But anyway, this is a very complicated scene because of the way one speech is interpreted by various people. And the reason it works so well and makes us so angry is because it mirrors what’s happening in the world today. Fans have wondered why Game of Thrones has changed so much. But it’s always been a kind of reflection of our own world, and the world has changed very much from 2011 to now. Could you imagine your 2011 self being suddenly zipped to 2019? You’d be reeling from how different the world is politically and ideologically. And watch Dany’s speech, as the woman speaking for the people. She says something that the progressives behind her don’t like, and their faces are nothing but scorn. But the people in front of her hear every word differently and are willing to overlook the bad things she’s done. Nah, that doesn’t look like a certain rally that we see regularly done by a certain politician who doesn’t seem to get that he’s already won an election and can stop campaigning now. Many people actually love him, and they’re not all morons, despite what you might think. They’re people who are desperate, who feel like their leaders have never helped them no matter how many times they’ve appealed to them. They didn’t get what they’ve been promised, so they vote in someone who looks like a monster to some people; a savior to others.

As Dany makes her speech, the camera zooms in on Tyrion, who slowly walks forward. My heart stopped; I was so worried he was going to do something stupid in front of too many witnesses. She looks at him with scorn. “You freed your brother; you committed treason,” she says.

“I freed my brother,” he concedes. “And you slaughtered a city.” And with that he rips the Hand of the Queen brooch off and tosses it down the stairs. Dany’s face is a bundle of emotions. Deep down, she knows what she did, but she has to remain stone-faced… “Greater good, greater good, greater good” she must be saying to herself. Jon watches Tyrion escorted away as prisoner, and then realizes she’s watching him. He says nothing, and neither does she.

As she walks away, Jon turns to see Arya suddenly standing beside him, creepily appearing out of nowhere, as Arya brilliantly does. Arya immediately refers to her as “your queen,” and he says, “She’s everybody’s queen now.”

“Try telling that to Sansa,” says Arya. And with that, she turns the screw a little deeper into Jon. Torn always between the family he loves and his loyalty to his queen, he knows that one is in serious danger from the other. But as Arya says next, Sansa’s not the only one in danger; Dany knows that Jon has doubts, and she won’t abide a threat to her regency. “I know a killer when I see one,” Arya says.

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Jon goes to see the imprisoned Tyrion, who immediately asks for wine (a Lannister through and through). Tyrion has been sitting and thinking about how he’d betrayed Varys and watched him burn, and that Varys must be thinking, “TOLD YOU SO” from wherever he is. (Interesting side note if you don’t follow me on Facebook: my friend Mary pointed out an awesome tidbit from Reddit that had gone right over my head, but last week when Varys was talking to kitchen girl Martha about how Dany wasn’t eating, and he said we’ll try again later, it seemed like such a throwaway scene; except what many of us missed is that he was actually trying to poison Daenerys, and she wasn’t taking the bait. When he removed his rings, that was likely a payment to Martha, who would collect it later. BRILLIANT.)

Tyrion asks Jon if there’s any life after death, and Jon says there wasn’t in his experience. Tyrion is thankful for the oblivion that awaits him, and says he asked for this fate: he’d strangled his lover, killed his father, betrayed his queen… and he’d do that last one again. He is where he is as a result of a series of choices; the people of King’s Landing weren’t so lucky. Jon reassures him that the war is over now. Tyrion says, “OH REALLY?!” and reminds him of the war speech (that, again, I don’t think either of them fully understood, but perhaps they were going on body language alone, which was pretty telling). Tyrion gives that flip side perspective I was talking about earlier, saying she “liberated” the people of Slaver’s Bay and King’s Landing, and will go on doing so until she can rule over everyone that’s left. Jon reminds him that TYRION was the one counseling her, until today.

I LOVE the back and forth that happens next, which pretty much mirrors the fandom battles I’ve seen all week: Jon is the apologist, explaining exactly why Dany did what she did: she saw her best friend beheaded; her child had been shot out of the sky. She’s not her father, and shouldn’t have to bear the banner of her House just because her last name is Targaryen, no more than Tyrion should have to apologize for the sins of Tywin Lannister. Tyrion counters: my father and Cersei killed a metric shit-tonne of people in their lifetimes, and still didn’t come close to what Dany did in a single day; the city burned for her grief, and they didn’t deserve it.

“It’s easy to judge when you’re standing far from the battlefield!” says Jon. But Tyrion says, “Would you have done it?” knowing the answer to that question, just like he and Varys knew the answer to that question two episodes ago. Jon says he knows nothing, but Tyrion doesn’t accept it. “Does it matter what I’d do?” asks Jon.

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“It matters more than anything,” says Tyrion. Tyrion reminds Jon, as if he’d read my words in the blog last week, of all the people she’s burned in the name of them being evil, but once they were killed no one could argue they were anything else. They “stood between her and Paradise,” and she killed them, Tyrion says. Jon is devastated. He knows the truth, but he loves Daenerys. And Tyrion concedes that. “I know you love her… I love her too. Not as… successfully as you [ha!]…” but he believes her. And he says love is more powerful than reason.

“Love is the death of duty,” says Jon, such a brilliant little parable that even Tyrion asks if he came up with that one himself. No, Maester Aemon said it. “Sometimes,” Tyrion says, “duty is the death of love.” He says Jon’s entire life he’s tried to protect people. He’s never been the sword; he’s been the shield. Who’s the biggest threat to the people now? Shouldn’t he be doing his civic duty?

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Tyrion knows what he’s asking, and he apologizes for it, but just as Arya had said earlier, Jon is a threat to the Iron Throne, and she won’t leave him alive. “That’s her decision,” says good ol’ Jon, “she IS the queen.” And Tyrion stands there, wondering if he’d been speaking gibberish this whole time. So he tries one more thing:

“And your sisters… do you see them bending the knee?”

Jon pauses, looks stricken. He says they’ll be loyal. “Why do you think Sansa told me the truth?!” Tyrion pleads. Jon says they don’t get to choose, and Tyrion says, “No, but YOU DO. And you have to choose now.”

And Jon leaves to go see his queen.

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Christopher: Before I continue with the recap, I need to correct you on a specific point: Benioff & Weiss were not forced to bring GoT to a quicker conclusion than they would have liked. HBO was happy to let them do two ten-episode seasons for seven and eight, but they made the choice to condense them. I bring this up because I’d also assumed that the studio execs were repeating what they’d done to Deadwood and Rome (and the ghost of Firefly haunts us all), but no—the choice was artistic rather than fiduciary, so I’m not overly sympathetic to B&W’s blunders.

As Jon walks purposefully to see Daenerys, we have what is, on rewatch, the most comical part of the episode: the pile of snow shifts and moves and Drogon emerges. Presumably the attack on King’s Landing really took it out of him, enough that he fell asleep long enough to become covered in snow. But the erstwhile Targaryen scion’s approach is enough to wake him (or perhaps he’s just standing guard) and he turns to regard Jon quite closely.

This moment is very interestingly shot: we do not get a close-up, as we have in the past, of Jon facing the dragon from just a few feet away. Instead, the moment unfolds from a distance. Drogon stares at Jon for long enough to make it anxious, but then curls up again in his snowdrift.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it now: dragons are just giant cats.

Jon enters the Red Keep, and in a transition that is both symbolic and quite nicely done, disappears into darkness as Daenerys emerges from it—him descending into the dire task he must perform, her seeing for the first time the light at the end of her long tunnel. She emerges into what remains of the throne room, which isn’t quite as she saw it in her vision. There is more roof and walls missing, for one thing. But sitting (miraculously) intact is the Iron Throne itself, and Daenerys walks slowly toward it as Lord of the Rings-esque music plays. The music is a nice touch, as it evokes precisely the kind of generic clichés we expect from traditional fantasy—the Chosen One approaching the throne of destiny, etc. One imagines that that is the narrative unspooling in Daenerys’ mind as she regards the object of all her labours. She approaches the throne; she touches it; but, crucially, she does not sit in it. Either sensing or hearing him, she turns to see Jon Snow standing in the entrance. And in that moment, just briefly, the Music of Destiny switches to a few notes of the GoT theme. I missed that on my first viewing; whatever else one might complain about the final season, the scoring of this show has never been anything less than top drawer.

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Daenerys regards Jon, then turns back to the throne, and tells a little story. “When I was a girl, my brother told me it was made with a thousand swords of Aegon’s fallen enemies.” This, indeed, is the story of the Iron Throne as told in the novels: the swords of defeated enemies, forged into a throne by dragon fire. (Devotees of the novels like myself cringed the first time we saw the series’ version of the Iron Throne: it was too perfect, utterly unlike the mass of misshapen steel and iron described in the novels, with points and edges protruding so that an unwary monarch might cut him or herself; Aerys the Mad King was described in his later days as always having scabs on his hands and arms from these hazards, and in a key scene King Joffrey cuts himself while in the midst of a tantrum while sitting on the throne). Daenerys continues, with childlike wonder, to remember what it was like to try and imagine what a thousand swords might look like. And now I’m here is the obvious end-point of her narration, but Jon doesn’t let her get there. “I saw them executing Lannister prisoners in the street,” he practically spits at her. “They said they were acting on your orders.” “It was necessary,” Daenerys responds, obviously a little irked to be distracted from her reminiscence, but Jon is having none of it. “Have you been down there?” he demands, outraged. “Have you seen children—little children!—burned!” Daenerys’ response—that it was Cersei’s fault for using them as human shields—is of course weak tea. She is similarly unsympathetic to Jon’s plea that she forgive Tyrion, reminding Jon that he, too, has been ruthless with people who betrayed him.

I kind of wanted Jon, in this moment, to give her an itemized list of the people he has executed. Did he behead Janos Slynt so as to make an example and cement his authority as Lord Commander? Well, yes, but the man was a treacherous cock napkin. He killed Mance Rayder as an act of mercy. And the others he executed? THEY MURDERED HIM. Nothing really in the realm of “I let my beloved brother escape and he ended up dying anyway.” Duty is the death of love, indeed.

He pleads with her to forgive everyone, and in this moment we see how, had he been able to see past the incest ickiness and marry her, he might just have been an ameliorating element in her reign. But, having burned an entire city to the ground, Daenerys is at her Macbeth moment: “I am in blood / Stepped in so far that, should I wade no more, / Returning were as tedious as go o’er.”

Her initial response to Jon is one of the most interesting lines from the episode, and indeed from the entire season: “We can’t hide behind small mercies.” It evokes what she said in the previous episode, about how Cersei saw mercy as weakness, but Daenerys’ rule will be all about mercy—for future generations. The “greater mercy” becomes synonymous here with “the greater good.” Jon doesn’t see or accept the distinction. “The world we need won’t be built by men loyal to the world we have,” says Daenerys. “The world we need,” Jon counters, “is a world of mercy. It has to be.”

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This episode, and the season leading up to it, will be justifiably pilloried for lacking nuance and subtlety, but this moment is an exception … alas that we don’t get a more sustained argument on these points. Because both Daenerys and Jon are right. Daenerys’ Nuremberg speech was chilling in the way it spelled out precisely the kind of utopian vision that can only be realized through blood, and which quickly becomes the opposite of what it intended. But she’s not wrong here when she says that change cannot be effected by people invested in the status quo. At the same time, Jon articulates one of the most basic principles of any just society, which is that “cruelty is the worst thing we do.” Small mercies in his perspective are not qualitatively different from large mercies, and that foregoing small mercies and small-g good in the name of the Greater Good is ultimately self-defeating.

Daenerys promises that the new world order will be one of mercy. “It’s not easy,” she says, “to see something that’s never been before.” This line made me think of our long-standing fascination with post-apocalyptic narratives: from The Road to The Walking Dead, one of the key points of these stories’ appeal is our inability to think outside of our current system, making the prospect of burning it all to the ground appealing (which I’d also argue is one of the biggest factors in Trump’s election, but that’s a WHOLE nother blog post); that Daenerys quite literally burned everything to the ground is a key element here, as is what follows on this argument between her and Jon.

Jon Snow may know nothing, but he’s not a complete idiot. He’s loyal and honourable to a fault, but also recognizes megalomaniacal delusion when he sees it. When Daenerys promises him that her new world order will be good, he asks her how she can be sure. “Because I know what is good,” she says.

Yeah. A shiver ran down my spine when I heard that too, dude. All that was missing was her adding “Believe me!”

“What about everyone else?” he asks desperately, still hoping for a lifeboat. “What about the other people who think they know what’s good?” And, reading from the tyrant’s handbook, Daenerys replied, “They don’t get to choose.”

Well, that tears it. Daenerys implores Jon to help her build this world and break the wheel with her, and he says, “You are my Queen, now and always,” but “always” in this instance means “for at least the next twenty seconds.” They kiss passionately, but are interrupted by the inimitable schhhkk sound of a blade being slid home … at which point we have our answer to the question of who would be the one to kill Daenerys. Jon of course weeps over her body, and in the background we hear Drogon’s perturbations as whatever psychic link he had with Daenerys is cut. I want to say that the true grief in this scene belongs to the dragon: Jon might have loved Daenerys, but it is the moment when Drogon nudges her inert form—and makes little mournful sounds—that made me cry a little.

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Drogon then rears up over Jon and screeches his grief and rage more loudly, and for a few moments we wonder if this is the end of Jon Snow, too—will he be immolated, in spite of his Targaryen blood, for the murder of Drogon’s mother?

For a moment it looks like it, as Drogon opens his maw wide and we see the tell-tale signs of fire at the back of his throat … but instead he lets loose not on Jon, but on the Iron Throne itself, melting it down to molten metal.

As I mentioned earlier, I called this moment, though not in this particular way: I’ve been saying all season that an appropriate and satisfactory end to the question of “Who sits on the Iron Throne?” would be (á là the Faceless Men) “no one,” and that the best way to accomplish that would be having Drogon burn that damned thing to slag. But I’d always imagined Daenerys being the architect of that choice … unlikely, but a more radical way to conclude a fantasy narrative (or perhaps not that radical, as it would be of a piece with Frodo tossing the Ring into Mount Doom—the destruction of power). Instead, it is the dragon that makes that choice, which is … well, interesting. One of the funniest things I’ve read about this episode suggested that Drogon is either extremely intelligent or just kind of dumb—either he recognized that the Iron Throne was the object of his mother’s desire that corrupted her and perverted her good nature, or he saw the dagger sticking out of her chest and thought “DIE, YOU CHAIR OF KNIVES!”

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Whatever his motives, he tenderly picks up Daenerys and flies off, leaving Jon Snow looking more bewildered than usual.

Fade to black. And then we’re back to Tyrion, lying in his cell.

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Nikki: I’m with you that Drogon is the true sympathetic character in this scene, and he made me well up, too (made worse when my husband quietly said, “He’s… sad.”) And it didn’t surprise me that he intuited that the throne was the cause of all of this, that, as I said last week, they could have stayed across the sea and have been perfectly happy, three dragons and their mum, but she wanted that damn throne. After all, as you and I have insisted from the beginning, the dragons are very, very large cats with wings. And anyone who thinks a cat doesn’t walk into a room, immediately intuit the situation, and show its utter disdain or delight based on a number of complicated machinations in their brains… doesn’t own a cat.

One question I have about the section you covered: You mentioned that Drogon is covered in snow and rises up out of his snowbank, but do you think that might be ash? After all, just earlier that same day the sun was shining and it was hot out, based on the clothing the people of King’s Landing were wearing, and I don’t think winter came that suddenly to King’s Landing… (especially since we’ll see three weeks later it’s hot again). But I wondered if it was supposed to be an indication of just how much stuff Dany burned, that there was that much ash still floating around, enough to entirely cover Drogon.

But now our queen is dead, and I’m in mourning along with Drogon. I adored Daenerys, right from the beginning, and had pledged my loyalty to her House, and despite everything, I miss her already, and I’m gutted to see the end of her. She could have been so amazing for Westeros before things went wrong. And as my husband said, he thinks if a man had made those decisions or said the things she did leading up to the penultimate episode, they would have listened, but he thinks in the end, Varys didn’t want a woman on the throne.

I will admit… during the scene where Jon shivved Daenerys, I was convinced it was Arya wearing his face, thinking there’s no way Jon could actually do this. But it was Jon. I keep thinking we’re going to get a callback to the Faceless Men, but there’s a reason we don’t: Arya doesn’t think of herself as no one anymore.

But oh my god, what a beautiful corpse Dany made. :::tears::: I cried a lot as we saw Drogon flying over the sea, Daenerys clutched carefully in his left claw. She was born in the middle of a great storm, and now she returns, disappearing into a stormy sky. It was so beautiful and sad and I can’t believe her story is over.

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And then the screen goes black. And then it opens on Tyrion, who looks like Tom Hanks in Cast Away and I was like wait, what? What’s happening? (I guess if you’re going to do this in six episodes—and wow, thank you for clarifying that bit about it being B&W’s choice, which makes it even more aggravating—you have to skip over some finer details to move this story along.) It’s a few weeks later, and Grey Worm shows up and lets Tyrion out of his cage, and takes him to a council meeting at the Dragonpit—ironically an area built by the Targaryens as a place to keep their dragons, and famously the place where all of this bloodshed could have ended if only Cersei and Daenerys had managed to hash out a deal last season.

Sitting there are the most powerful people in Westeros, all united in one council. I wasn’t 100% sure who everyone was there, and perhaps Chris can chime in on his pass to fill in the blanks, but here are the ones I knew:

The first three were Samwell Tarly (obvs), someone I didn’t recognize, but who might be associated with Highgarden? His outfit was a little flowery. Beside him is Frank Edmure Tully, that dipshit brother of Catelyn’s who, unfortunately, is the Head of House Tully, I presume, and whose sentences are always cut off when he’s trying to do something noble (see below). I poke fun, but I was THRILLED to see Tobias Menzies appear one last time on the show!

Next, House Stark is super-represented in Arya, Bran, and Sansa.

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Next, we have Brienne, who doesn’t seem to be representing a House, per se, but is definitely one of the most powerful people in Westeros (to which I say… YAY YOU!); Ser Davos Seaworth, who isn’t exactly from a great House either but having served as such an important advisor, I’m glad he’s seen as being a VIP; Gendry Baratheon; and some other dude I couldn’t place, perhaps from a House loyal to House Baratheon, which, until Daenerys recently legitimized Gendry, had been an extinct House.

Next is another person I don’t know, but I will presume he’s from the North given his fur collar; Yara Greyjoy, looking fierce; and another unknown whom I think we can safely presume is the Prince of Dorne, given the golden robes and the fact he looks exactly like the other Dornish princes.

Finally, as I exclaimed on Facebook… ROBIN ARRYN looking shockingly good-looking after an entire run on Game of Thrones looking vaguely inbred, here to represent the Vale as the head of House Arryn; Yohn Royce, whom we all remember as the advisor to Robin, given that Robin was… vaguely inbred; and another man I can’t place but who looks sort of familiar: I’m assuming he’s a Northman and we’ve seen him at Council meetings at Winterfell? Or maybe he’s just Kenny Rogers, not sure.

And of course, we have Tyrion, last of the House Lannister, and Grey Worm, leader of what’s left of Daenerys’s followers.

ANYWAY… suffice to say, these are some important folks. But before anyone can talk about Tyrion, Sansa wants to know one thing: “Where’s Jon?” He was supposed to have been brought out along with Tyrion, presumably to represent House Targaryen, although it’s not clear who actually all knows that fact (or if they want anyone knowing that). Grey Worm explains that King’s Landing is now the city of the Unsullied, and they decide what happens to Jon. Yara Greyjoy speaks up and says the Ironborn do not give up their loyalties lightly: they’d pledged fealty to Daenerys Stormborn and Jon Snow killed her; he should die. Arya tells her to say one more word and she’ll cut her throat. It’s an interesting back-and-forth, given that Yara let her brother go to defend the Starks and die with them at Winterfell, but the Starks don’t know that about her. All they know is Jon Snow did what he did to save his sisters.

Thankfully, Ser Davos is the reasonable one (natch) who stands up and says let’s stop all this talk of slitting throats, and he thanks the Unsullied for fighting with them in the North against the Dead, and for sacrificing so many of their men in that battle. He suggests the Unsullied go to the Reach and start their own House. He calls for an end to war. Grey Worm argues that they don’t want payment; they want justice. Jon Snow took the life of the woman who liberated them.

Tyrion cuts in and says it’s not for him to decide. Grey Worm shouts at him, but Tyrion keeps going. He says it’s up to the queen or king to decide. Kenny Rogers says they don’t have one, and Tyrion says, “You’re the most powerful people in Westeros, so choose one!” Grey Worm tells them to go ahead. Everyone sits silent, and looks at one another, or faces the floor, and of course, the absolute most qualified one stands: Edmure Tully.

It’s an extremely funny moment, as he stands and begins to speak with such gravitas about his experience in two wars (where he spent one as a POW, but he doesn’t mention that) and his experience in statecraft (which is negligible at best) and at this important juncture—

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“Uncle… please sit,” says Sansa, cutting him off mid-sentence. Edmure looks at her with surprise, and, rejected, turns to sit, banging his sword against a pole. It’s a fantastic moment, and Menzies is SO good in this scene. (You can actually see Maisie Williams looking like she’s trying not to laugh once he’s sat down.) Yohn says they have to choose someone.

And that’s when Sam stands up. He explains that whoever is king or queen will rule over everyone, so shouldn’t the decision be up to… everyone? And for a moment, I thought oh my god please don’t make this a cheesy moment where they break the wheel by embracing democracy and changing everything in one fell swoop—

But the supporters of the Vale all begin laughing, and Edmure asks if they should give the dogs a vote too. If you listen closely, you’ll hear, “cough Trump cough gerrymandering cough electoral college” and the laughter continues. Whew. They want to move forward, but not THAT far forward.

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Grey Worm asks if Tyrion wants the job, and he says no, of course not. He steps forward and asks, “What unites people? Armies? Gold? Flags?” No. “Stories. There’s nothing in the world more powerful than a good story. Nothing can stop it. No enemy can defeat it, and who has a better story, than Bran the Broken? The boy who fell from a high tower and lived. He knew he would never walk again, so he learned to fly. He crossed beyond the Wall, a crippled boy, and became the Three-Eyed Raven. He’s our memory, the keeper of all our stories. The wars, weddings, births, massacres, famines. Our triumphs, our defeats. Our past. Who better to lead us into the future?” He’s right. Think of how many people in your Facebook or Twitter feeds whose politics are the opposite of yours, but who watch all the same shows, read all the same books.
Sansa looks shocked. She points out that Bran’s not interested and he can’t father children. Tyrion says that’s what makes him the perfect choice. They all know what the children of kings can do, and “his will never torment us.”

He turns to Grey Worm. “That is the wheel our queen wanted to break. From now on, rulers will not be born, they will be chosen. On this spot by the lords and ladies of Westeros, to serve the realm.” He approaches Bran and says he knows he doesn’t want it, nor does he care about power, but if they choose him, will he wear the crown? The camera pans in, and Bran says in that infamous monotone, “Why do you think I came all this way?”

I will admit, it’s only on thinking about it later, he seems like the perfect choice: someone who doesn’t want war, who isn’t power-hungry, who barely speaks, who knows everything that has ever happened in Westeros and why, and what’s to come so he can avoid the bad and focus toward the good. But, in the moment, I went, “BRAN?!” Ahem. Yes, Bran. And with that, we get a Stark on the throne. Not Robb, not Sansa, not Jon Snow… but Bran. And everyone else sitting there agrees. Except, of course, his sisters, who are like, “Mom always loved you best and now this godDAMmit.”

Sansa turns to her brother and tells him she loves him, and will support him, and he’ll be a great king. But the people of the North have seen too much to ever bend the knee to anyone ever again. “The North will remain an independent kingdom, as it was for thousands of years.” Bran quietly nods, in complete agreement as a Northman himself.

“All hail Bran the Broken, First of His Name, King of the Andals and the First Men, Lord of the Six Kingdoms, and Protector of the Realm.” To which Bran says, “Um, thanks, but… could we discuss this whole Broken nickname?”

He immediately tells Tyrion he wants him as his Hand. Tyrion very quickly turns it down, saying his counsel was terrible when he was Hand. Bran refuses Tyrion’s rejection, Grey Worm disagrees and refuses to hand over his prisoner, and Bran reassures him Tyrion will spend the rest of his life trying to redeem himself. Nope, says Grey Worm, not good enough.

And so, in a scene I swear was filmed last—note how Kit Harington’s hair is about six inches shorter in this scene than it is in the very next one—Tyrion goes to give Jon Snow the bad news.

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Christopher: I will confess that I am ambivalent about how all this falls out. On one hand, we’re witnessing incremental progress: kings or queens whose rule is established not by patrilineal descent and divine right, but by being chosen by the representatives of the kingdom’s power brokers. A number of reviews I’ve read have suggested that Westeros is inching toward parliamentary democracy, but really, it’s more of an extreme version of the electoral college, with the executive’s term limit being his or her lifespan. And keeping the title of king or queen is not just a misnomer, but misleading. I wasn’t expecting the kind of pure democracy Sam proposes, but perhaps something more along the lines of pre-imperial Rome would have been workable.

Also, Tyrion’s rationale for Bran as, essentially, the “keeper of the stories,” only works for Bran’s reign … unless, at some point in the near future, Bran trains a new Three Eyed Raven to take his place, at which point the principle of the monarch selected by the newly struck electoral college falls apart.

(Also, I’m with you on being delighted to see the return as Tobias Menzies as Edmure, though for me he’ll always be Brutus from Rome).

There is also the rather sticky question of why the North gets to be its own kingdom, while the other six don’t seem to be particularly concerned about submitting to the rule of King Bran. When Yara first pledged her loyalty to Daenerys, she hedged—would the Iron Islands be forced to bend the knee, or could they be their own fiefdom? As I’ve mentioned previously, Daenerys was far more elastic on that question than she ever was with Jon or Sansa, but then that was back when she was still in Essos and needed a fleet of ships to bring her home. Yara’s loyalty to Daenerys in this scene is quite staunch, but one wonders whether the notoriously independent people of the Iron Islands would be quiescent about surrendering their sovereignty when the North refuses to do so. The same goes for Dorne, which in the novels is characterized as almost as reluctant as the Iron Islands to suffer the rule of a king or queen not of their own.

(Again, questions that could have been answered with world enough and time).

When Tyrion gives Jon the “bad news” that he has to go back to the Wall, Jon asks the question that I think most people watching had: “There’s still a Night’s Watch?” Because … well, seriously. Why is there still a Night’s Watch? The ancient enemy that first prompted Brandon the Builder to raise the Wall is no more, and the lesser enemy that had become the Night’s Watch’s primary foe (i.e. the wildlings) are now something resembling allies. So why in the name of the old gods and the new do we still have a Night’s Watch? “The world will always need a home for bastards and broken men,” says Tyrion. Seriously? So this is basically now a make-work project? Will we at least be changing the terms of reference for the men in black? Perhaps they can be something like the Peace Corps now? “I am the shield that guards the realms of men” doesn’t have quite the same resonance when there isn’t really anything to guard AGAINST.

Perhaps the Night’s Watch functions in this way just as a means of saving Jon: the Unsullied want him dead, his family want him freed, but this is a useful compromise, even if the actuality of “taking the black” isn’t really a thing any more (you’ll talk about this in your final pass, Nikki, but my own sense of that last scene when Jon rides north of the Wall with Tormund and the wildlings was that he wasn’t going to return—he was heading north to live as he did for a time with Ygritte). It hasn’t escaped many commentators that Tyrion’s observation “No one is very happy” could easily apply to fans of the show.

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“Was it right—what I did?” Jon asks. “It doesn’t feel right.” Tyrion gives what, in my professional opinion, is a very professorial answer: “Ask me again in ten years.” Which is to say: in this moment, I have no idea. Let’s let time and the consensus of history have its say, and I’ll get back to you. Tyrion places a comforting hand on Jon’s shoulder, and turns silently to go. “I don’t expect we’ll ever see each other again,” Jon rasps at Tyrion’s back. Tyrion pauses, and replies, “I wouldn’t be so sure. A few years as Hand of the King would make anyone want to piss of the edge of the world.” I rather loved this line, as it’s a callback to the first season: Jon, frustrated by his status as a bastard and inspired by his Uncle Benjen, decides to join the Night’s Watch; Tyrion, in Winterfell with the king’s retinue, doesn’t return with them but heads north to see the Wall and “piss off the edge of the world.” He ends up in the group traveling with Jon.

From there, we follow Jon’s sprung-from-prison steps down to the docks, where he suffers Grey Worm’s hateful gaze, glaring down at him from the poop deck of a ship—we learn through some brief exposition—bound for Naath. Missandei might be dead, but the dream still lives: having turned down the offer of lands and titles in Westeros, the Unsullied are making like trees and getting the fuck out of the continent. It’s uncertain whether their arrival will be welcomed by the peaceful inhabitants of Missandei’s home island, but presumably future slave-catchers will have to negotiate with the business end of a shit-ton of spears.

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Jon carries on to where he meets up with his siblings. Sansa is apologetic about the deal that was struck. “Can you forgive me?” she asks, and for a long moment it seems … maybe not? But then he says, “The North is free, thanks to you.” “But they lost their King,” Sansa replies, albeit with the slightly smug tones of someone who no longer has to kowtow to whom she’d once understood as her bastard brother. Jon observes something we’ve all known for a few seasons now: that Sansa is the best the North could ever ask for. They embrace. When Jon tells Arya she’s welcome to visit him at Castle Black, we learn her plan: to sail west beyond what has been mapped.

Not sure what I think of Arya’s ending … I suppose it makes a certain amount of sense, as eight seasons’ worth of learning to fight and kill has rendered her unfit for any role besides hired assassin—which, of course, being a basically decent person and having rejected her membership in the Faceless Men besides, is not really a career option. So … she now means, like Tennyson’s Ulysses, “To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths / Of all the western stars, until I die”? Or is it meant more as an evocation of the end of The Lord of the Rings, in which Frodo, too marred by his experiences as the ring-bearer, departs for the west across the sea? I suppose it’s a sentimentally symbolic choice, which means it’s entirely out of step with the sensibility of GoT.

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And then, he kneels before the new King. “Your Grace,” he says. “I’m sorry I wasn’t there when you needed me.” “You were exactly where you were supposed to be,” Bran replies, in that cryptic monotone that, I’m predicting, is going to drive his royal subjects a wee bit batshit in the coming years. Jon then walks down the pier to where his tender awaits, and his siblings watch him go … the remaining trueborn children of Ned Stark watching their erstwhile bastard half-brother, actually their trueborn cousin, take his “punishment” and head north.

(I just want to ask: are we supposed to believe that Jon is genuinely aggrieved that he has to go to the Wall? He doesn’t seem happy, but it made me think of Ricky Gervais’ bit of stand-up about the Book of Genesis, when God’s punishment for the serpent is that he has to crawl on his belly for all eternity. “But … Oh, no. Wait. Yeah. You got me. Crawl on my belly? Is this how I do it? I wish I could fly, like normal”).

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From that scene we cut to what is my favourite moment of the episode (though it goes without saying, it would have been infinitely more affecting if we’d had time to see Brienne and Jaime’s relationship properly disintegrate). Brienne—now the Lord Commander of the Kingsguard—sits with the book in in which the Knights of the Kingsguard’s exploits are chronicled, and she turns to the entry for Jaime Lannister. We’ve been here before, back when Jaime was the Lord Commander; his paltry entry was given more weight in the novels, but also played in the series. Now, Brienne looks at the scant text, which reads:

Squired for Barristan Selmy against the Kingswood Outlaws. Knighted and named to the Kingsguard in his sixteenth year for valour in the field. At the Sack of King’s Landing murdered his King Aerys the Second at the foot of the Iron Throne: pardoned by King Robert Baratheon.

And then in a different hand, Jaime’s own: “Thereafter known as the Kingslayer: After the murder of King Joffrey by Tyrion Lannister, served under King Tommen I.”

Brienne, being Brienne, reads this laconic entry, and starts to write—as is one of the duties of the Lord Commander of the Kingsguard, to faithfully record the exploits of his or her fellows. She fills the rest of the page, and turns the leaf over. (And just for the record, Brienne’s penmanship is ON POINT). She details everything Jaime did, from his capture at the Whispering Wood to his oath to Catelyn Stark to the bit of misdirection that sent the Unsullied to Casterly Rock while he took Highgarden.

And his last deed—which could not have been easy for Brienne to write—was “Died protecting his Queen.”

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After she finishes writing, she has a moment in which it seems tears might come, but they don’t quite, and she closes the ponderous tome. It’s our last real Brienne moment, and can I just reiterate now and for all time just how much I love Gwendolyn Christie? She has been SO GOOD in this role.

And then we shift to the true downslope of the denouement, with Tyrion as Hand of the King essentially re-enacting a scene from several seasons ago as he fussily shifts chairs around the Small Council table. But I will hand off the final commentary on this episode to you, Nikki … bring us home.

My watch is ended.

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Nikki: Now I’m gonna cry. (Hold it together, Nik, hold it together.) I too loved Brienne’s moment, it was so quiet and lovely, and like you, I commented aloud that clearly, at some point in her childhood, her father must have given her calligraphy lessons in order to try to make her more “womanly.” I also wondered if she’d write something like, “Slept with another knight after the Battle of Winterfell, but then fucked off to King’s Landing to screw his sister, whom he’d been shagging all along.” But no, our Brienne rose above it (she’s better than I am) and I felt like this was the ending her character deserved.

But now onto the Small Council meeting. As Chris said, I loved Tyrion shifting the chairs, and then muttering grumpily when everyone comes in and bangs them around. And to be honest, it’s been so long since we’ve seen a proper Small Council meeting, it was like we were back in an early episode, and it made my heart swell.

And then Ser Davos enters. I love that he gets his due for all the honest counsel he’s given over the years; who would have thought Ser Davos would outlast Stannis, the Red Woman, Varys, and Daenerys. He’s a man with reason and love, and I’m happy he’s here. He’s the Master of Ships, which is a perfect position for him.

But he’s with Bronn. Now, I understand for many, this is going to be a shrewd decision on Tyrion’s part: making him the Master of Coin makes sense on the one hand, because no one can negotiate a bargain better than Bronn. Keep your enemies close, and all that. But it’s freakin’ BRONN. Of all the other people in the series who have been reasonable, good people, HE is the one who gets a seat on the Small Council? A guy who, if he went to Braavos to secure a loan for Tyrion, and they said, “For double what he’s paying you, we’ll pay you to put a knife through Ser Brienne,” he’d do it. Only if Tyrion didn’t offer him double that to NOT put the knife through her. He’s a backstabbing blackmailer, and while he’s been great for one-liners, he’s about as trustworthy as Joffrey running the King’s Landing daycare.

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Sam Tarly is there, in the white Grand Maester’s robes, a position that he’s clearly gotten through taking some quick online Coursera courses and some string-pulling on Tyrion’s part. The Grand Maester is seen as the most senior of all the Maesters throughout the kingdom, and Sam isn’t exactly… senior. However, I don’t think it would be a stretch to think that possibly, all the Maesters in the kingdom have been wiped out, and that Sam, having studied the texts of the Citadel, would know more than they do. Besides, Bran is a walking Citadel library, with all of the books in his head, more or less, so they don’t need a senior member.

But here’s why Sam as Grand Maester works for me: I think this is yet another example of breaking the wheel. Why should the most important Maester position in the kingdom go to the eldest? Pycelle was an old fart who didn’t care about the laws as much as currying favour with the Lannisters. Why not make it a meritocracy? Not the eldest Maester, but the most qualified, the best one for the job. Tyrion’s known Sam long enough to know he has no designs on power, and is wise (he found Jon’s true heritage, as well as figured out how to cure greyscale). I think he’s perfect.

He hands Tyrion a massive book: A Song of Ice and Fire. How… meta. (My favourite bit here is where Sam says, “I helped him with the title,” and then looks at the others, beaming with excitement, darting his head from one face to the other, while they just stare back. Oh Samwell, how I adore you.)

I don’t know how much time is supposed to have passed, but I think it’s safe to say… quite a bit? The Red Keep is looking like it’s been mostly fixed, the floor of the map room is still broken but cleaned up, the place is livable again. (Of course, some of this could have happened while Tyrion and Jon were still locked up.) There’s been time for Tyrion to assemble a Small Council, and for Samwell to rise to the position of Grand Maester. But even then, I would say it’s only been a few months? I say all of this because I’m trying to figure out how Maester Ebrose found the time to write that entire MASSIVE tome in a matter of months when we’ve been waiting approximately 143 years for GRRM to write volume 6 of HIS version of events. (For those keeping track, Archmaester Ebrose was at the Citadel, and was played by Jim Broadbent last season.)

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But let’s look past the quickness of writing by hand 1,500 giant pages in perfect calligraphy (cough). Tyrion immediately begins flipping through the book with the same concern anyone has who finds out a friend of theirs has written a memoir: what do they say about me in it? (I will admit to always flipping to an index of a pop culture academic book to find my name, and it’s often there, but mostly so the academics can disagree with something I wrote in my books. I also had an acquaintance write a memoir and found my name in the index, and what he wrote was neither good nor bad, it just was. Which was disappointing; we kind of hated each other, and I wanted it to be horrible, which would have been far more interesting. But the rest of the memoir was shite, too, so what can ya do. HA.) Like me, Tyrion wonders if he’ll be criticized. Or maybe he’ll be kind? Tyrion begins flipping pages. “I… I don’t believe you’re mentioned,” stutters Sam.

HAHAHA! Frankly, this revelation made this whole meta silliness worth it, mostly because it’s a perfect representation of the history books: Tyrion was behind the scenes at every turn, and is arguably THE star of Game of Thrones in a story with about 65 other people vying for that position. But throughout history, it’s not the kings and queens making decisions, changing the course of every day: it’s their advisors, the people in backrooms, the people in the kitchens, the people hiding in alleyways. Their names don’t end up in the history books, but they were the catalysts for so many things along the way. Queen Cersei and King Joffrey will be all over the pages of Grand Maester Ebrose’s book, but it’s Tyrion who was doing the real backroom deals, making the decisions. It was Littlefinger and Varys who were changing the course of history. It was Olenna Tyrell who was ordering the deaths of people who got in her way. They won’t be listed in the book, either, or, at best, they’ll be footnotes. The beautiful thing about Game of Thrones is that it showed the people who play the game aren’t necessarily the ones who want that throne. I loved this little tidbit.

And, side note, when the episode was over, I immediately went over to my first Game of Thrones book and flipped it open to see if Tyrion was actually, in fact, the first perspective chapter of the entire series… but it wasn’t. It was Bran. Of course. (The answer was there the whole time, Dorothy!) And then it flips to perspectives of various Starks before the first non-Stark entry: Tyrion.

Bran enters, wheeled in by Brienne. He begins speaking in that monotone that yes, I agree with you, Chris, will drive the citizens of Westeros (and mostly this poor, wretched, Small Council) completely batty in the coming years. Could you imagine him doing the King’s Speech? “Hello. It is Christmas. Snow is falling. Falling like ash. Ash upon the fields. Fields of the dead. I have seen the dead.”

Meanwhile, people across Westeros are wondering why the hell Samwell Tarly invented the bloody wireless radio so they have to listen to this shit every year.

Anyway, he immediately notes that they’re missing a Master of Whisperers, a Master of Laws, and a Master of War. Tyrion reassures him he’ll be looking at suitable candidates for all those positions, and it made me wonder who they would be? I suppose even after a wheel has been broken, you’ll still need a Master of Whisperers because people continue to conspire. The other two are necessities, although frankly, Bran could do all three: he can see everyone at all times (ew) and would know who’s conspiring. He knows all the laws of the past, present, and future, and he already knows what wars have happened, what ones are coming, and what would be the best strategies for each.

Seriously, how are they going to deal with this guy in every—

Oh wait, he’s leaving Small Council to go warg into Drogon and figure out where he is. You can just see the “Toto, I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore” looks on everyone’s faces. (Note that “Ser Podrick” comes out of the shadows to wheel Bran away—he’s a knight!) I guess one good thing about Bran is, he doesn’t need an Iron Throne because he’s got a cool chair of his own.

Before I forget, though, I just wanted to call back to one character I don’t think has gotten her due: Meera Reed. Remember her? Along with Osha and Meera’s brother Jojen, they’re the ones who accompanied Bran through a large part of his story and him becoming the Three-Eyed Raven, and for, like, three seasons she dragged that sled with Bran on it. I’m thinking he owes a lot of his survival to her. I hope he sends her a Christmas ham on the day of his next speech.

As Bran leaves, Tyrion ham-fistedly bids his king adieu with the proper honorifics, ending with “Long may he reign” and the others, scattered, say it with various levels of conviction. “That will improve,” Tyrion says sheepishly as Bran is wheeled out of the room. Ha!

Now Tyrion reveals that Bronn is Master of Coin (look at Ser Davos’s unconvinced face when he does), and asks if the Crown’s debt has been paid. In full, he says. After all—say it with me—a Lannister always pays his debts. And Tyrion begins conducting business. After listing all of Bronn’s titles, he asks about securing more money for the kingdom to rebuild. Then Tyrion tells Ser Davos that they’ll need to rebuild the ships as well. Davos says he can do that, once the “Master of Coin and Lord of Lofty Titles” secures the money. Bronn snarkily responds that first he has to ensure they’re not wasting coin, “or soon there won’t be no more coin.” “Any more,” corrects Davos. “Oh you’re Master of Grammar now too?” Bronn says.

At which point I sat up and said, “OMG there’s a Master of Grammar?? I COULD TOTALLY BE ON SMALL COUNCIL.”

“Grand Maester!” shouts Tyrion to try to move away from the little toddler boys fighting at the head of the table. He asks about water purification, and Sam begins to speak before Bronn cuts him off, and instead wants to discuss reconstructing the far more important brothels of King’s Landing. (Seriously, someone shoot this guy with a crossbow NOW.) Sam doesn’t agree with this, and Brienne says the ships should take precedence, as the camera slowly pans out of the room, showing us that the Small Council is a new world… and much of the same one it’s always been.

And then Tyrion says, “I once brought a jackass and a honeycomb into a brothel…” I laughed out loud. This is an onrunning joke and a callback to previous seasons, and it’s the third time Tyrion has begun to tell this joke but WE HAVE NEVER GOTTEN THE PUNCHLINE. In season one, standing before the horrid Lysa Arryn, Tyrion is asked to confess his sins, and he begins telling one lewd story after another, nearly every one involving his penis. When he gets to, “I once brought a jackass and a honeycomb into a brothel…” Lysa shouts for silence.

Again in season six, he’s sitting with Missandei and Grey Worm, and they’re drinking wine and laughing. Grey Worm is looking at Missandei with so much love (sniff) and she’s giggling and begging Tyrion for jokes. “I once walked into a brothel with a honeycomb and a jackass,” he begins. “The Madame says—” and then they’re interrupted. Since then, fans have tried to come up with the ending of that joke, and a fan on Reddit came up with a BRILLIANT one that I wish the writers had incorporated into this episode:

Tyrion walks into a brothel with a honeycomb and a jackass.
Madame: What can we do for you?
Tyrion: I need a woman to lay with, for mine has left me.
Madame: Whatever for? And what’s with the honeycomb and the mule?
Tyrion: My woman found a genie in a bottle, and he granted her three wishes. The first was for a house fit for a queen, so he gave her this damn honeycomb. The second wish was that she have the nicest ass in all the land, so he gave her this damn donkey…
Madame: And what about the third wish?
Tyrion: Well… she asked the genie to make my cock hang down past my knee.
Madame: Well that one’s not so bad eh?
Tyrion: Not so bad!? I used to be six foot three!

Seriously, how Tyrion is that joke?! I’m convinced that’s where he was going with it.

And… our watch ends at the Night’s Watch and Castle Black. We see Jon Snow approach the gates, like he did in season one, for a life of celibacy and isolation, for… what, exactly? I’m with you, Chris, to me, this was the least satisfying bit of the entire finale. Tormund stands on a parapet looking down at Jon as he enters the grounds through the gate, and like you I was like, what, exactly, do they do at the Night’s Watch now?? The wilding is RIGHT THERE inside the grounds. And seriously, the only reason Jon is there is because Grey Worm has demanded it. And as you pointed out, Chris, he’s fucked off with the rest of the soldiers, so why didn’t Jon just go North to Winterfell and be done with it? Is it because Sansa could feel threatened by his presence? She knows as we all do that Jon has zero designs on the throne, so I have no idea why he did the good thing and continued to the Wall. Other than the fact he’s Jon Snow and has always done exactly what he’s been told.

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But at least I was going to get the reunion with Ghost. And then… the screen went black. OH COME O—

Oh, it’s not done yet. The next scene opens on the hilt of Jon’s sword, and that little direwolf head that always looks a wee bit comical to me in a war scene. And from this point, as the staggering music of Ramin Djawadi—the true MVP of the entire series, who has NEVER let us down—plays, we get a montage of where everyone has ended up. Sansa is suited up with an utterly stunning new dress that has the red leaves of the weirwood tree on it; Jon walks up the steps of Castle Black; Arya rolls up her maps and her telescope and walks onto the deck of her ship.

(And I know this is a deadly serious and beautiful montage, but I started singing, “Arya Arya Arya the Explarya!” and my husband joined in. I do hope her cartographer is a flamboyantly gay man who sings, “Here’s the map, here’s the map, here’s the map, here’s the map, HERE’S THE MAP!” while First Mate Boots looks on.)

ANYWAY BACK TO SERIOUSNESS NIKKI. Arya is the commander of her ship and watches the action around her, as Sansa walks majestically down an aisle flanked by northerners (you deserve this, Sansa), and Jon walks through the grounds, flanked by wildlings to see… YES it’s Ghost, minus one ear and looking a little scuffed around the face but it’s Ghost oh yes WHOSAGOODBOY and Jon FINALLY crouches down and gives him the big pet he’s deserved for eight years, and the one we all wanted a few episodes ago. I’m so happy to see this reunion.

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Back to Arya’s ship, now revealing a massive Stark direwolf head on the prow (OMG tears) and Arya looking calm, happy, and in control for the first time all season. The gorgeous, small crown is placed on Sansa’s head and she sits on her throne, to shouts of “Queen of the North!” by the Northmen who crown her. This is such a sublime moment, because it takes us all the way back to the first time we saw Sansa, sitting in a window and sewing with the ladies. Her obsession with Joffrey wasn’t so much that she was smitten with him, but smitten with the idea of one day being queen, being led around on the arm of the King of the Seven Kingdoms, with people bowing down to her because she was married to the king. This youthful fantasy soon turns into an absolute nightmare for her, and she’s tossed around from one man to another and mistreated again and again until she decides to own herself, own her fate, and show others who Sansa Stark really is. And now men are bowing down before her NOT because her husband is the ruler, but because SHE is. What an incredible journey Sansa’s has been.

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Arya has been someone who’s roamed around Westeros, has seen and met so many people, all with one reason for moving forward: to kill the people on her list. But now there’s no list, there’s no vengeance; only peace. And it’s left her content—her brother is on one throne, her sister on another, and at the moment there’s no danger of anything happening to them. So she can go back to her wandering ways, but since she’s been along every road in Westeros, she’s now branching out to discover America, apparently, since she’s going west of the very British-seeming Westeros. If Drogon is flying east and she’s moving west, perhaps they’ll somehow meet in the middle. (Unless GRRM is a Flat-Earther, in which case they’ll just fall off the edges when they get there.)

And we end with Jon Snow. The man who would be king, who’s been the main character of the story all along. Who couldn’t die because he was integral to the ending. He ultimately broke the wheel, has devoted his life to peace and protection, has never done a single bad thing… and now he’s exiled to the Wall. But in the time he spent up North, he met Ygritte, and as you say, Chris, that was where he actually felt like he was at home, among the wildlings. I’m with you. The way he looks back at the closing gate indicates to me that he’s not returning. Jon Snow will go and live up in the far north among his people, and he’ll probably never see his family again. But he has his new family, the people he managed to bring into the fold for the first time in the history of Westeros.

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And as the Game of Thrones theme song rises up, we see him, and Tormund, and Ghost, and the free folk on foot, as they disappear into the trees of the North. And I don’t think it’s an accident that as they first set off, the camera is filming from the ground, where we see a green spring plant sprouting up from the snow.

Summer is coming, and with it a new hope for the future of Westeros.

And… that is it. The end of easily the most spectacular-looking TV series of all time, a sweeping epic that was so far-reaching it often required multiple viewings, books, guides, and Christopher and I recapping along the way.

And now that my watch, too, has come to an end, I wanted to send out a huge thank-you to Christopher Lockett, my Brother of the Night’s Watch, my fellow knight, my associate Keeper of the Book, who has studied at the Citadel far longer than I have, who shares my passion for the humour of Lord Homer and Lady Marge, who has joined me week after week for eight years to bring his knowledge of the books and his knowledge of pop culture to all of us, enriching our experience of watching this show.

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And I’d really like to thank all of you, who somehow make it to the end of these posts every single week (my husband constantly says, “NO ONE reads all the way to the end, you know that, right? We live in an age of soundbytes and your posts are too… wordy” and I just have to show him the comments to prove otherwise). You read, you comment, you offer corrections and more insight to what we said here, and when we were late, you would send notes saying, “Where’s that post?” which was so flattering. It wouldn’t have been worth missing work two days a week for the duration of the seasons and massaging sore fingers without knowing all of you were reading what we said.

I feel like I now need to go and rewatch the whole series in light of the ending, and probably will. Until the next great TV show comes along, I say to you:

The day is bright and full of hope.

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