The Lesson in The Game of Thrones Finale (and Why we Hate it)

In this way, the finale did exactly what it was supposed to do—it gave us our grief, and it gave us our catharsis. But that begs the question, “What’s the lesson?”


By Sensei Alex Kakyuo


WARNING! Game of Thrones Spoilers ahead! If you haven’t seen the final season yet, you may want to close out this article now.




Reactions to the series finale of Game of Thrones have been mixed.

In fact, there’s a petition circulating online requesting that the entire eighth season be redone by different writers. At the time of this writing, it’s nearing a million signatures.

For my part, when the credits rolled on the last episode, I felt profoundly sad. Initially, I chaulked the feeling up to one of my favorite shows going off the air, but as time progressed, I realized there was something more at play.

It was during one of my evening meditations that I realized the actual problem—I wanted a happy ending. I wanted Daenerys to rule the seven kingdoms, I wanted The Hound to find inner peace. And I wanted Grey Worm to go to Naath with Missandei where they’d have lovely adopted babies.  Of course, I didn’t get what I wanted.

During the penultimate and final episodes of the series Daenerys, The Hound, and Missandei all died horribly while Grey Worm was left a shell of his former self.

However, despite my sadness, I’ve come to realize that the finale happened precisely as it should have. In fact, things couldn’t have gone any other way. I say this not because of the characters themselves, but because of the nature of the story itself.

By definition, Game of Thrones is a tragedy.

That is to say unlike the Star Wars franchise, which hinges on the fact that there will always be a Skywalker waiting to Deux ex Machina, the rebel alliance out of trouble, the crux of Game of Thrones has always been that bad things happen to good people. But they occur in a way that teaches us something.

So, in the tradition of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, George R.R. Martin created characters, made us love them and forced us to watch as they made one terrible mistake after another. With each tragic event, we were wounded, but when those wounds healed, we were left wiser and more mature than when we started.

This is a hallmark of tragedy. Learning always comes through pain and the catharsis that follows it. After all, how can we learn humility if Icarus never flies to close to the sun?  And how can we learn patience if Romeo doesn’t die in the arms of Juliet?

In this way, the finale did exactly what it was supposed to do—it gave us our grief, and it gave us our catharsis. But that begs the question, “What’s the lesson?”

We find a hint during one pivotal scene when Jon murders Daenerys in the throne room. Drogon, the dragon-child of Daenerys, enters after the fact and spends several heartbreaking minutes trying to wake up his mother.  When he realizes that she’s dead, he goes into a rage. Unable to kill Jon due to his Targaryen blood, Drogon takes out his anger by melting the Iron Throne.

The message is clear. Jon wielded the knife that pierced Dany’s heart, but it was the quest for the iron throne and the power it represented, that really killed her. In fact, almost every bad thing that happened in the show can be traced back to that chair. Every character struggled to get it, to keep it, or to place someone they deemed worthy upon it. And all of them suffered as a result. Clearly, the desire for power is a dangerous thing.

That’s why Buddha, in his wisdom, chose to abdicate his royal authority and live as a simple monk. That’s also why the first and second noble truths of Buddhism go as follows:

1. Life is suffering

2. Suffering is caused by desire

One might argue that desire is a natural part of life, and they’d be correct. But that’s why pain is also a natural part of life. These two truths feed each other in a never-ending cycle, and the only way to break the wheel of suffering is to let go of our attachments.

Of course, some people take a different approach. Instead of working to remove desire from their lives, they work to fulfill their desires in every way possible. They hope to accumulate enough possessions or build a big enough empire that pain will never darken their door. This is the approach taken by the characters in Game of Thrones, and the entire show centers around the results.

For example, Cersei blows up the Sept of Balor to kill a political rival, and an entire religion is destroyed as a result. Likewise, Daenerys sacks King’s Landing in part to send a message to her political opponents, and millions of innocent men, women, and children died in the aftermath.

These were atrocities, but one can’t gain power or build an empire without committing atrocious acts.

This trope is mirrored in world history. In fact, a quick Google search reveals what happens when people work single-mindedly for power. As the kids say, “It is what it is.” If we want to eat hamburgers, we have to butcher cows. And if we want to build empires…

The beauty of the Game of Thrones tragedy, and why no one likes the ending, is that it showed us how desire makes good people do terrible things. We were forced to watch as Daenerys went from liberating slaves in Mereen to threatening to conquer the world. She wanted to build an empire for all the right reasons, but the process of building it destroyed everything that was right within her. As hard as it was to watch, her death was the only logical conclusion to a life rooted in fire and blood.

Thus, if Game of Thrones taught us anything, it’s this: The quest for power always ends with sorrow.


Photo: source

Editor: Dana Gornall


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