After a brutal story costing countless lives, Game of Thrones left quite a few main characters alive in the series finale.
Warning! Spoilers for the Game of Thrones series finale lie ahead!
This Sunday, fans said goodbye to Westeros for a while, apparently leaving it in steady hands. The event TV show of the decade ended years of medieval fantasy war and battles of succession in one epic episode, spanning several months and giving a glimpse of how life will look in the Seven Kingdoms going forward.
All things considered, life will not look that much different. Many of the main characters we have loved and followed from the beginning of the series remain alive, and more powerful than ever in some cases. As for the brutal world they inherited, we cannot rightly say it has changed that much. Many critics are identifying a theme of incremental change in the Game of Thrones finale, and not everyone is into it.
There are mixed feelings about the long list of survivors as well. After Episode 3 of this season, many fans complained that too many beloved characters had survived the Battle of Winterfell. They called this "fan service," and said that the characters had "plot armor" — meaning that the writers were too afraid to kill off big names in the way they did earlier in the series.
After that, when the armies marched south, fans complained that Cersei had killed too many main characters too easily. They questioned why the deranged queen was able to take more names off of the board than an immortal ice demon.
At the end of the show, a balance seemed to be struck between thematic consistency, realism and good storytelling. The season may have been rushed with just six episodes, but taking the whole picture into consideration, the events themselves make sense.
Here is a look at who is left alive in Westeros at the end of Game of Thrones.
After a strange and meandering journey, Jon Snow's story ended up close to where it began — the Wall. The soldier obsessed with honor and duty was left with a terrible choice to make in the series finale, and not a lot of time to make it. His story embodied the duality of the series, choosing between Stark and Targaryen, duty and love, ice and fire.
The finale saw Jon kill Daenerys Targaryen, sacrificing his own honor to save the realm and his northern cousins. He then faced down her dragon without getting burned, and submitted to imprisonment.
When the leaders of the new world finally gathered, it was decided that Jon Snow would be sent back to the Wall. Daenerys' followers could not bear to see him set free after what he did, but the Northmen were prepared to go to war if he was killed. They compromised by sending him back to the end of the world.
Still, even Jon himself questioned why the Night's Watch should still exist with the White Walkers defeated. When he arrives back at Castle Black, the scene mirrors the opening sequence of the show, but in reverse. Jon enters the Wall from the south, joins the wildlings inside, reunites with his direwolf Ghost, and rides out north. Fans are already debating whether Jon is going to join the wildlings or just help them resettle. Perhaps it is some combination of the two, ensuring that mankind will not be so divided next time a real threat approaches from the north.
Perhaps no other character fulfilled as many personal story arcs as Arya this season. The faceless assassin reclaimed her family name, defeated death itself, and finally gave up her decade-long quest for vengeance. She also reunited with some important figures in her life and apparently succeeded in forgiving Sandor Clegane.
With all of that done, Arya had nowhere to go after the series was over, so that's where she went. The girl who became "no one" sailed west, to "where the maps stop."
Some fans saw this ending as out of nowhere, although Arya's desire to explore and seek adventure has been a constant through-line for her. Moreover, George R.R. Martin gave us a hint about what a girl like Arya could find west of Westeros in his most recent book Fire & Blood.
Tyrion Lannister also survived the Game of Thrones, but not before revisiting the most important constant of his arc: the trial. Tyrion was dragged before the lords and ladies of the realm in the Dragon Pit and asked to answer for just about everything.
Tyrion was put on trial for murders he did not commit in Season 1, and again for the murder of Joffrey in Season 4. At the time, he confessed to the crime "of being a dwarf," telling his father: "I've been on trial for that all my life." The third time around, he seemed to accept this constant for him, and made the best of it.
The results were not bad, all things considered. In the space of one conversation Tyrion convinced the leaders of the realm to elect their own ruler, then directed them to his favorite candidate, Bran. Bran in turn named Tyrion Hand of the King, which Tyrion hesitantly accepted.
In the end, we left Tyrion at the Small Council table where he always belonged. The smart, sharp-tongued adviser has traveled the world, served three monarchs and come to peace with the thanklessness of his work. The last we heard of Tyrion was him finishing a dirty joke he began telling years ago.
Sansa proved to be the ultimate survivor of the series, outliving all of her oppressors and abusers and crowning herself so confidently that no one thought to argue. In the end, we saw her named the Queen in the North, sitting on a throne with a crown on her head in a more realistic version of the fantasy she dreamed of as a girl.
Sansa's ending might leave more to be unpacked than any other story in the show. She is one of the last leaders to to sit on a throne who seems to want it, as both Bran and Tyrion take power reluctantly. However, there is no doubt that she is capable and compassionate, so it will go well for the North.
Meanwhile, the fact that the North alone names itself an independent kingdom is odd. None of the other lords object to Bran's rule, although it is not clear what they think he can offer them. They also don't object to Sansa's claim of independence, despite the fact that she is Bran's sibling, and the North is presumably devastated by the cost of two great wars.
The ending for Grey Worm, the Unsullied and the Dothraki who followed Daenerys to Westeros may be the most somber of all. Having lost everything, they hold King's Landing under martial law for a time, but ultimately decide not to fight for it. We heard Grey Worm say that he did not want to stay in Westeros earlier this season, and thankfully he decides to flee the country rather than fight.
Grey Worm mentions that they are sailing to the Isle of Naath, the native home of his lost love Missandei. Fans loved this touching ending, showing Grey Worm releasing his anger and succumbing to grief. However, the soldiers may not find the peace they are hoping for on the island.
In George R.R. Martin's books, he notes that Naath is populated by butterflies that are poisonous to outsiders, and any non-native who sets foot on the islands will die within hours. Whether that holds true in the show is up to fans, at this point.
Bran Stark found himself on whatever passes for a throne at the end of it all, and he seemed less surprised than anyone. The semi-omniscient psychic has never been the same since leaving that subterranean city north of the Wall, and he has never seemed to be in great danger.
Still, many fans expected Bran to make some kind of self-sacrifice in the final season, so his survival is a bit of a surprise. In one sense, however, it makes sense that he would use his powers to maneuver himself into a position of influence.
Fans will undoubtedly debate for years whether it is a good thing for Bran to be on the throne. He has told us he is "not really" Bran Stark anymore, but the combined memory, knowledge and consciousness of countless Three-Eyed Ravens before him. if this is true, than Westeros has elected a functionally immortal deity as its leader, and his motives are still unknown.
The last we hear of Bran is a bit unnerving as well. The king speaks to his small council, but his only interest is in locating Daenerys dragon, Drogon. He leaves the meeting abruptly, telling them that he is going to use his powers to try and find the monster. He could be trying to keep tabs on it to make sure the country is safe.
On the otherhand, he could be trying to skinchange with it, as he has done with wolves and ravens in the past. We will never know for sure, unless perhaps it is made more clear in the final two novels of the series.
Many fan favorite characters survive to take seats on King Bran's Small Council. Along with Tyrion, we have Ser Davos as Master of Ships and Samwell Tarly as Grand Maester. It is notable that Sam has been made Grand Maester in spite of having a family — Gilly and their children — which maesters are not typically permitted to do.
Brienne sits on the small council as well, apparently made the Lord Commander of the Kingsguard, as she always dreamed. Her final scene is her writing down the deeds of Jaime Lannister in the White Book, proclaiming that he was honorable in the end.
Finally there is Bronn, who fought his way from a poor sell-sword to the lord of The Reach and the Master of Coin in the end. His story was a bit brief this season, although his monologue to Tyrion and Jaime is haunting. He clawed his way to the top as many ruthless killers before him have, so in a way he represents the ceaseless brutality of the world and the kingdom's compromise with it.
The show confirmed that several other characters remain alive in the realm, some of whom we have not seen in years. Robin Arryn remains Lord of the Vale, with Yohn Royce by his side. There is also a new Prince of Dorne in place, whom book-readers want to believe is Quentyn Martell.
Yara Greyjoy remains in control of the Iron Islands, and she pledges fealty to Bran in spite of Daenerys' promise that she could be an independent queen. Edmure Tully is free, and rules awkwardly over the Riverlands. Finally, Gendry Baratheon remains the legitimate ruler of the Stormlands and Storm's End, as commanded by Daenerys.
There are too many characters to mention in one place, but there are a few we should make note of. First, we saw Podrick Payne in the finale, and Brienne called him "Ser," implying he has been knighted. Podrick pushed Bran's wheelchair, and wore the same gold armor as Brienne, implying that he is part of the Kingsguard as well.
Finally, let's not forget that, as far as we know, Hot Pie is still alive and well in the Inn at the Crossroads, where the first war of the series began. The motor-mouthed baker has a lot of stories to tell, and it is heartening to think that he is still in that kitchen making wolf-shaped bread.
Lastly, no one in Westeros can forget that the giant black dragon Drogon remains at large. He flew off with Daenerys' remains in his claws, and was last seen flying "east." Before we can get a more exact idea of where he went, Bronn cuts in to say "the farther the better."
This is an important piece of symmetry for the series. In the beginning, we saw a hint of ice magic returning to the world in the north — the White Walkers. In the end, they are defeated, but the threat of fire magic — Drogon — persists in the world.
In general, the world of Westeros became more magical over the course of the series. Dragons were reborn, the mythical White Walkers returned and Bran proved to the world that the magic of the greenseers is alive and well. The themes of duality, balance and natural order were satisfactorily wrapped up in the finale, without leaving Westeros more boring than we found it.
Next weekend, HBO will air a feature-length documentary on the making of Season 8 titled Game of Thrones: The Last Watch in the place of the series. It airs Sunday at 9 p.m. ET. The next novel in the series is expected soon, although no release date has been announced yet.