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The Game of Thrones series finale ending explained

Game of Thrones concluded its eight-season run on May 19, 2019, and as one of the most anticipated television finales since other heavyweight dramas like The Sopranos or Breaking Bad went off the air, it certainly had high expectations to live up to. After an uneven final season comprised of only six episodes (with some clocking in at nearly ninety minutes), fans were excited, concerned, and downright desperate to see how this saga would finally end, and whether or not their favorite characters would die, reign, or simply survive the carnage — especially in the aftermath of the penultimate episode, which left King's Landing in ashes after Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) and her forces sacked and destroyed the capital city.

In the end, showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, who wrote and directed the episode, did what they've done best for eight seasons; specifically, they subverted everybody's expectations with plenty of twists and turns, an unlikely candidate for the Iron Throne, and a grand finish that offered up a surprisingly happy ending for many of the main characters (which, for a brutal and often bleak show like Thrones, was shocking in and of itself). From the Iron Throne to the fate of Westeros and the showdown between Daenerys and Jon Snow, here's what the ending of Game of Thrones means not just for the final season, but for the entire series. Beware: spoilers are coming!

Damage is surveyed

After the burning of King's Landing in the previous episode, several main characters wander through the brutal aftermath, with Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage), the Hand of the Queen, looking stricken as he walks down ruined streets and sees the bodies of those Daenerys burned without mercy. As he and Jon Snow (Kit Harington) survey the destruction, Jon and Tyrion separately set off to meet the queen. Jon's journey finds him at odds with Grey Worm over the execution of Lannister soldiers; as Tyrion sets off solo, he makes a horrifying discovery.

Before the siege of King's Landing, Tyrion returned a favor to his brother Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) by freeing him from captivity and going against Daenerys. Tyrion risked everything so Jaime and their sister Cersei (Lena Headey) could escape the carnage and find a safe harbor, but they were crushed to death by the rubble of the Red Keep before they could get away, and in a truly heartbreaking moment, Tyrion finds their bodies, breaking down as he sees the remains of the other two Lannisters. With the rest of his house literally entombed, Tyrion finds himself suddenly alone, and in that moment, his resolve to go against his queen strengthens.

Daenerys returns

After the bells rang as a signal of surrender throughout the streets of King's Landing, Daenerys went on a murderous, dragonfire-fueled rampage anyway, killing women and children seemingly without a second thought. As the Dothraki and Unsullied celebrate their victory, she makes a grand entrance, riding atop Drogon and landing in a perfect shot with her silhouetted by his wings as she addresses her army, giving a full-throated victory speech in which she praises her army for taking down a tyrant and claiming the city as their own.

As Jon, Tyrion, and Grey Worm stand behind Daenerys (she declares Grey Worm as her new Master of War, thanks to his unfailing loyalty and prowess on the battlefield), Daenerys tells her forces that the war is not yet over, much to Jon and Tyrion's surprise. Winning King's Landing wasn't enough for the Dragon Queen, and she tells her forces she intends to conquer and liberate every inch of the Seven Kingdoms with them by her side so she can finally "break the wheel" once and for all. Daenerys has always bent towards justice, but with this proclamation, it seems as if she's finally gone too far, and even her most trusted advisors seem frightened by her endless hunger for power.

Tyrion quits his job

Tyrion, who has served as Hand of the Queen for quite some time by the time Daenerys takes King's Landing, has stood by Daenerys time and time again, even as she committed atrocities, murdered those who wouldn't bend the knee, and even killed Varys, his oldest and closest friend. However, in the aftermath of the siege on King's Landing, during which Tyrion begged his queen to show mercy to those who couldn't defend themselves, it seems as if the last remaining Lannister can no longer bring himself to follow Daenerys, and has seen her for what she really is — or at least what she's ultimately become.

Daenerys is already furious with Tyrion after finding out that he freed Jaime (which ultimately doesn't even matter, considering that Jaime and Cersei are both dead), but Tyrion has his own grievances with the Mother of Dragons, and as they confront each other atop a ruined King's Landing, he admits that he freed his brother, but reminds her that she decimated an entire city before tossing aside the pin that identifies him as Hand of the Queen. Daenerys immediately arrests him, but his point is made, marking yet another advisor who leaves her side when she needs them the most.

Jon seeks out Tyrion

As Tyrion sits in captivity, awaiting his certain execution, he's visited by a visibly torn Jon Snow, who, despite his allegiance to Daenerys, still obviously trusts Tyrion's counsel. Jon defends Daenerys at first, saying that though he can't condone what happened, the war is finally over — but Tyrion persists, making it clear to Jon that Daenerys isn't even close to finished, and the only way she can achieve her goal is through even more death and destruction. Jon keeps sticking up for Daenerys until Tyrion reminds Jon that he once had the power to do what Daenerys did — specifically, to ride atop a dragon and mow down an entire city — and he never would.

Before she sacked King's Landing, Daenerys' destruction often seemed entirely righteous, but as Tyrion points out, the murder of women and children can't possibly be defended, and at this point, the Dragon Queen will stop at absolutely nothing to achieve her goals. Though Tyrion recognizes that "love is more powerful than reason," he still does everything in his power to convince Jon of the path ahead. "Who is the greatest threat to the people now?" Tyrion asks Jon, who seems to steel himself, knowing that there's only one move left to finally end the war once and for all.

Jon does the 'right thing'

Jon Snow might not be the show's most brilliant character, but he's certainly always been one of the most righteous, and has always tried to do what's best for the world around him and the people he cares about. After he meets with Tyrion, he recognizes that Daenerys might very likely go after not only Jon, but his sisters Sansa (Sophie Turner) and Arya (Maisie Williams). Jon tries to tell Tyrion that Sansa doesn't get to "choose" which queen she follows. "No," Tyrion counters, "but you do, and you have to choose now."

After a brief encounter with Drogon, Jon finds Daenerys in the Throne Room, admiring the throne she's worked so hard to win, and as he asks her why she murdered children in the streets of the capital, she tries to entice him with her vision of the "new world" the two of them can build together. As they embrace, Jon proclaims that Daenerys will always be his queen, and just when it seems like all hope is lost, he stabs her in the heart, holding her and weeping. Ned Stark lost his head for being too honorable — Jon Snow kept his by making an impossible choice.

Drogon's final moments

After Jon becomes the Queenslayer, all is silent for a moment until Drogon reappears, coming face to face with Jon in a frightening moment when it seems like the last remaining Targaryen might immediately face justice for killing the Mother of Dragons. However, Drogon's anguish over the death of his mother is directed not at Jon, but at something entirely different – specifically, the Iron Throne, which he torches into a melted pile of rubble in a stream of fire, leaving the ultimate symbol of power in Westeros completely destroyed.

Daenerys has always referred to her dragons as her "children," and her final moments with Drogon are heartfelt, as he tries to nudge her awake and screams in pain for his lost mother. After demolishing the Throne once and for all, Drogon gently lifts Daenerys off the ground and flies away with her safely ensconced in his claws, making for a fitting end to Daenerys' arc; she was reborn with all three of her dragons, and even in death, she remains a part of her only remaining child.

A new group of leaders

Weeks after Daenerys' death, Tyrion is led out of his cell to face a new council, made up of familiar characters alongside a few faces who have been absent from the show for several seasons. The Unsullied have taken King's Landing and are holding Jon and Tyrion captive, and Tyrion must not only argue his case against Grey Worm, but for the entire council.

Sitting alongside the Stark family are heroes like Gendry (Joe Dempsie), Davos Seaworth (Liam Cunningham), Sam Tarly (John Bradley), Yara Greyjoy (Gemma Whelan), and Ser Brienne of Tarth (Gwendoline Christie), as well as long-lost characters like Edmure Tully (Tobias Menzies), the uncle of the Stark children and Robin Arryn (Lino Facioli), the inept young Lord of the Vale. With the North now at odds against its own former allies, everybody seems unsure of where to go next, but one thing is certain — a new ruler has to be chosen, and soon.

A king is chosen

Before the group really tries to choose a king, Sam Tarly gently tries to suggest that maybe the common folk should have a say in who rules them and is laughed off, returning to his seat in shame — though his attempt to contribute isn't quite as embarrassing as Edmure Tully's, who tries to make a case for himself to lead the Seven Kingdoms until Sansa tells him to be quiet and sit back down. When Tyrion is asked whether he wants the throne, he describes himself as the worst possible choice. In order to explain who he does have in mind, Tyrion begins by telling the assembled that what unites everybody is the power of a story, then identifying the person he says has the "best story" — Bran Stark (Isaac Hempstead-Wright), who has journeyed beyond the Wall and back to become the all-seeing Three-Eyed Raven.

Everybody seems a bit stunned by this unexpected nomination (except for Bran, but now that he's the Three-Eyed Raven, showing emotions isn't really his thing), but once Tyrion points out that after Bran, the leader of Westeros will be chosen rather than receive it by birthright — as Sansa notes, Bran can't have children — he receives a unanimous vote, and after everything the Starks have lived through, the eldest Stark son is named Bran the Broken, First of His Name. In exchange, Bran chooses Tyrion as his new Hand, bringing his arc to a fitting conclusion.

The North remembers

Since the beginning of the series, Sansa, who has established herself as a fair leader as well as a sharp and shrewd strategist, has bristled at the thought of the North falling under anyone's rule, and throughout Daenerys' reign, she argued for the North to maintain its status as an independent territory with its own monarchs and wardens. When Jon told her about his true parentage, she immediately shared the information with Tyrion, clearly hoping to keep control of the North by not only keeping a tyrant from taking the throne, but by putting a half-Stark regent in power, and though that plan didn't pan out, Sansa ultimately made sure the North was taken care of.

During the council meeting, Sansa is hesitant to cast a vote in favor of Bran, and as she turns to her brother and tells him that she loves him and that she's sure he'll be a great king, she insists that the North remain its own territory, and Bran grants her request. Thanks to Sansa, the North can keep its identity and its independence, and since the North always remembers, its citizens will certainly remember what the Lady of Winterfell did to protect them.

Stories are completed

As for the rest of the characters, each of them is seen off properly, with arcs completed, stories told, and journeys finally finished. Grey Worm sets off for Naath alone, still smarting after losing both Missandei and his queen. Bronn returns to claim his lordship of Highgarden and becomes Master of Coin in Bran's administration, flanked by a council that includes Brienne, Davos, Sam, and Tyrion. Podrick Payne, now Bran's attendant, has been knighted since viewers last saw him.

Not only are several stories completed, but some characters write out stories of their own, making sure the people they lost won't be forgotten. After finding Jaime's unfinished entry in the book listing Westerosi knights, Brienne completes it herself, capping it off by writing, "Died protecting his queen." Meanwhile, Sam presents the council with a book written by one of the Maesters called — what else? — A Song of Ice and Fire, in an obvious and rather heavy-handed reference to the book series by George R.R. Martin on which the series is based. Unlike Martin's series, however, this book appears to be finished.

Jon returns to his roots

Tyrion is ultimately able to smooth things over with the Unsullied and the rest of Daenerys' subjects once Bran is crowned king, but unfortunately for Jon, it doesn't work out quite as well for him. After facing imprisonment for murdering the queen, he's banished back into the Night's Watch. Even though the Army of the Dead is defeated and the Wall, as well as the Night's Watch, is no longer needed to protect the Realms of Men, it's a symbolic move, and the only way the council can seem to broker peace with the Unsullied and get them to relinquish their hold on the city.

Jon must leave his family once again, and after an emotional goodbye with Arya, Sansa, and Bran, he sets off for the far North, donning his heavy furs as he departs from King's Landing for colder pastures. Upon returning to Castle Black, Jon reunites with Tormund as well as a large group of wildlings and his direwolf Ghost, who, despite missing an ear, is thrilled to see his master once again.

Spring is coming

In the end, the series closes with shots of the family with which it began — the Starks, who have scattered to various corners of Westeros and beyond. Sansa is seen dressing for her coronation at Winterfell, proudly taking her seat as the citizens of the North raise their swords and cheer for the new Queen in the North. Arya boards a ship headed for the unknown lands west of Westeros, sailing under the Stark banner on a quest to learn what lies beyond the part of the world where their maps end.

Meanwhile, Jon sets out from Castle Black with Tormund, Ghost, and a group of wildlings in tow (always a friend to the Free Folk, it appears as if Jon is seeking a new life beyond the Wall), and as they begin their journey to the far North, some green growth can be seen peeking out from underneath the thick layers of snow. Throughout Thrones, audiences have always been told that "winter is coming," but now it seems as if, in the closing moments of the series, a new season is dawning.