Updated May 21
Game of Thrones, Episode 806: "The Iron Throne"
Original airdate: May 19, 2019 on HBO
Spoiler warning: This page may contain descriptions of events in this and previous episodes. Watch before reading.
For this final season of the HBO hit Game of Thrones, we are collecting reviews and impressions from professional TV writers for each individual episode, concluding with the series finale, "The Iron Throne," written and directed by series creators David Benioff and D. B. Weiss.
While we won't try to assign an overall score to each episode, we have grouped the reviews into rough categories based on critic enthusiasm, beginning with the most positive. Scores for individual reviews are displayed only in those cases where a reviewer has specifically indicated a score. (Those scores have been converted to a 0-100 scale when necessary to facilitate comparison.) "Recaps" are not included if they merely discus the plot details and fail to assess the episode's quality in any way. Click on any publication name to read the full review.
Extremely positive reviews
Tonight’s finale pulled the bow with precision.
This hasn’t been Game Of Thrones’ finest season by any metric, yet it’s far from the disaster some make it out to be. ... “The Iron Throne” fares the best, in some ways, of any episode this season. Freed from the necessity to do anything else, it simply concludes the story of Daenerys Targaryen and the Stark family’s adventures in Westeros. It didn’t stretch too hard attempting to wrap everything up in a bow, but instead focused narrowly on two moments: The aftermath of Daenerys’ brutal violence, and the weeks-later meeting of the rulers of the lands to determine a course of action. This isn’t to say the episode was superlative—it was too uneven to be great—but the simplicity of scope was refreshing, admittedly an ironic statement given it was literally about deciding the fate of the realm.
["Experts" review for people who have read the books] I said going into this finale that my test for a final season of a television series is whether it enriches what came before, but this finale succeeds—more or less, at least—by doing the opposite, putting most of its energy into constructing a vision of the future rather than relitigating the past. And the result is a finale that by its conclusion felt more like Game Of Thrones at its best than the season that preceded it, albeit in the process reinforcing how much the show struggled with how to integrate its final act into its larger story arc.
For what it’s worth, I think the events of last week were ruinous ... Which is why, in reviewing this week’s finale, I have vowed to try and be as even-handed as possible. To swallow my objections, take what has happened as read, and see if the ending can satisfy on the terms the creators have now set out. And, largely, it does.
Birth. Movies. Death.
“The Iron Throne” ... proved largely satisfying after eight seasons of incredible drama. ... In spite of the elasticity of its storytelling, I also think that the season, and the series, brings together its most important stories in a satisfying, conclusive and most of all fully earned way.
A melancholy, bittersweet, twist-filled and at times surprisingly humorous send-off. ... I found some of the plot machinations arbitrary and a bit forced — but I won’t join the chorus of haters who are no doubt already lighting up the Twitter-sphere with their wailing about how it all turned out. ... It was a solid and largely satisfying wrap-up to one of the most exciting and enthralling TV series ever.
Overall, it wasn't a one-for-the-ages finale, held up against the best examples of them and the abundant hype, but it wasn't an unworthy one either. ... Flaws and all, "Game of Thrones" rewrote the rules for a TV epic, providing a brilliantly cast serialized storyline, produced with a scope and scale that rivaled theatrical blockbusters. It's too bad that the show couldn't completely stick the landing. But when you fly that high, a few wobbles are perhaps inevitable.
Den of Geek!
Some of it might be rushed, some of it might’ve needed further detail, yet nevertheless I believe these final two episodes are the closest we’ve come to capturing George R.R. Martin’s tone and vision since Hodor held a door to a grim end.
Den of Geek! [UK]
The finale, rushed though it is, is ultimately very satisfying, because everyone involved brought everything they had to every scene within the episode. ... Not only is the show a visual feast, it's also a stunning series of performances from the actors involved.
In truth, the final episode did work, with the few caveats about the end of Dany's story.
This episode was gorgeously made and nailed many of the absolutely crucial character moments.
It’s fair to say that regardless of some questionable writing over the last couple of seasons and one incredibly controversial choice in the finale, it’s a worthy ending to a truly phenomenal series.
You might not please all the people all the time, but I thought that was a fantastic conclusion, melancholy and stirring in all the right places, to a show that has had to wrestle with the often unwieldy but always addictive nature of the story being told. ... The Iron Throne managed to pull the three themes that have dominated this show – the power of love, families and, above all, stories – into a coherent, enjoyable whole.
There’s no doubt this season has been a rushed business. It has wasted opportunities, squandered goodwill and not really done justice to its characters or its actors. But the finale just about delivered. It was true to the series’ overall subject – war, and the pity of war – and, after doing a lot of wrong to several protagonists last week, did right by those left standing.
The Hollywood Reporter
It arguably ended just about as well as one unwieldy, sprawling, complicated epic could end. ... Once you get enough distance from whatever dubious decision making went into "The Bells" and how you felt about that, this was a series finale episode that delivered enough answers to the overall question of who would rule the Seven Kingdoms and sit on the Iron Throne. ... Was it perfect? No, because it couldn't be. Was it enough to course-correct some of the more truncated story decisions from this season? Yes, I believe it was.
"The Iron Throne" offered a bittersweet but ultimately hopeful ending to one of the most popular TV shows of all time, and in that respect, it's probably more than we could've hoped for.
Its final episode, “The Iron Throne,” saw a conclusion that didn’t so much serve as a corrective for the narrative shortcomings of its preceding installments as much as it reframed the last few dozen hours spent in Westeros. A punctuation of sorts to one of TV’s most massive installments, it cut through the myriad expectations and offered up an impressive closing chapter, balancing a litany of character sendoffs with a parting thematic statement on the nature of power.
A finale that was often too obvious and probably too happy, but still got more right than it got wrong. More importantly, it was the ending the show needed—and deserved. ... I think this is the best ending we could have hoped for—not in terms of the storytelling, necessarily, but the story itself.
The Iron Throne represents a high-point in a season troubled by rushed decisions. You might not agree with the outcome, but this is a satisfying, pleasing finale which manages to just about overcome season eight’s flaws.
Game of Thrones ended with a whimper when we were all hoping for a bang, but I really did love this show. ... But ... I’d be lying if I said this final season has been the satisfying conclusion I was hoping for. ... I’m glad the show that became famous for sudden shocking deaths of main characters delivered some happy endings.
I’d say that the finale was a little cliche, a little predictable, a lot scatterbrained, and, yes, even a little poignant.
Sean T. Collins
A quiet, and quietly lovely, affair.
Although Game of Thrones has always been an ensemble show, this ending proved where its heart has always lay: with Jon, Sansa, and Arya. Ending the show with a montage of them preparing for new adventures is perfect.
The thing I wanted most from this finale was for an emotional and satisfying ending that did right by the show’s characters – and for the most part, I think that’s what we got. ... There were some clear missteps along the way, but overall, Game of Thrones was a tremendous piece of television storytelling.
I thought it was a good finale! Certainly I found it nothing like the disappointing, semi-enraging ripoff so many others seem to view it as. ... First of all, Benioff and Weiss (who directed, as well as wrote the episode) went all in on cinematic grandeur. ... And, perhaps most importantly, the finale took the characters we cared about the most and gave them real endings.
By the time of the finale ... I was less worried about plausibility and more just wondering how everything would end up. After a largely disappointing lead-up, I was at least satisfied by where the pieces fell. ... As a book reader who hopes that George R. R. Martin will one day finally deliver the ending he’s been working toward all these years, I was reassured. ... As a fan of the TV show, I felt battered into submission.
Well, that was… satisfying intellectually, I guess, sort of. But Sunday’s big series finale of “Game of Thrones,” which saw -- spoiler alert -- all manners of justice meted out, at the tip of a dagger and in an exile, didn’t exactly stick the landing.
“The Iron Throne” ... managed to emblematize this season’s greatest strengths and its most galling weaknesses in a neatly bifurcated package. ... The first half was an intoxicating tone poem on par with the best aesthetic work of the series’ 73 chapters; the second half was a conventional TV finale that wrapped everything up in a tidy bow.
Detroit Free Press
I've thought a lot about what makes a series finale satisfying, and this is what I've got: It doesn't have to be what you want, but it should be what the story needs. A series finale that works — think "Cheers," or "The Shield," or "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" — should feel authentic to the story that has preceded it, and to the characters who have populated it. Did this hit the mark? Eh.
This wasn’t a great finale, and I didn’t think it was terrible. “Middling” sounds right: It left you with a lot to think about, even if most of those thoughts jockeyed between “Bwaahhhh??” and “Huh.”
The Game of Thrones ending did as much as it could to tie up one of the biggest pop culture phenomena of the 21st century, but with so little time to do so, it was always going to feel slightly… meh. Almost all the decisions make sense (Bran being king could have done with a bit more explaining, especially considering Sansa’s suitability to rule) and having some characters come full circle feels right, but it did come across as rushed. And a little too happy, to be perfectly honest.
All in all, “The Iron Throne” was stunningly gorgeous, even by the show’s high standard. ... But it was impossible not to bring the weight of eight years to the episode. Game of Thrones made its name by being ruthless, unceremoniously killing off heroes and subverting preheld notions of who and what a hero is. In “The Iron Throne,” and the show’s final season more broadly, though, Game of Thrones reverted to the poetic and the predictable.
Los Angeles Times
Fans would have likely suffered a few more losses of their favorite characters for a more thrilling outcome.
The New York Times
In a show that was once defined by a kind of gritty realism within a fantastical setting, Bran is the ultimate cheat. So his promotion to the Rolling Throne was a sort of final confirmation that over the past couple seasons, at least, the series became something different from what most of us signed up for. ... This was a Shakespearean saga about power, blood and loyalty, we once told our skeptical, fantasy-averse friends. Not some show about dragons and wizards. And then in its final episode, a dragon committed the story’s most potent symbolic act and a wizard was put in charge.
Endings are the toughest act in television because showrunners can reliably expect that some part of the fan base will be disappointed. Nevertheless, the showrunners for "Thrones" almost seemed to ensure that much if not most of the fan base would be annoyed (or enraged) with this outcome.
The finale wasn't terrible, but we definitely deserved better. This last episode seemed rushed — Daenerys died quietly like, 20 minutes in. Certain character arcs *cough* Daenerys and Jaime *cough* seemed completely abandoned, and after Daenerys' death, it all became sort of predictable.
“The Iron Throne” features moments that will satisfy those fans and feels less hurried than its predecessors this year, but is it enough to make them overlook who has been crowned king? In the spirit of Weiss and Benioff’s speed, I’ll tell you now that the answer is no.
Eventually, Thrones hit on a conclusion that was in keeping with its core identity. Unfortunately, finales never stand alone. Television shows are cumulative, and their climaxes can’t be separated from the relatively mundane plotting that makes them possible. Many have criticized late-period Thrones for cutting corners en route to its endgame. In theory, “The Iron Throne” presented an opportunity to justify this breakneck pace. In practice, it demonstrated its cost. Plenty of developments in “The Iron Throne” landed. They just could have landed much deeper if they’d been preceded by a more meticulous set-up.
The “Game of Thrones” finale marks a noble and satisfying ending for the Starks and everyone rooting for them. ... “The Iron Throne” also is an entirely predictable end to a season marred by rushed narratives and uncharacteristic U-turns in behavior that Benioff and Weiss explain away in their post-episode behind-the-scenes features. There’s really no talking one’s way out of the clumsy scripting that produced some of the most aggravating moments in the eighth season of this series, one that already has a tank full of aggravating moments to choose from.
While Game of Thrones didn’t conclude as well as its first seasons led viewers to hope, it was never less than compulsively watchable, and even at its most annoying, it was leagues ahead of the true finale failures whose trophy belongs, perhaps eternally, to Lost. ... [The finale] provided some satisfying closure, but was also lacking in depth and genuine surprise.
Drogon showed more emotion and more depth than any other character in the show's last episode, which says a lot about the brilliance of the special-effects team and the less-than-spectacular contributions of the cast's flesh-and-blood actors who spent much of the past eight seasons doing little more than finding new ways to look constipated.
The dialog was so sparse that the hour could have easily been condensed to make way for more storytelling to wrap up the series.
The finale, which had to live up to the impossible demand of encompassing both the sweeping and the personal, did offer some of both. ... But in the end, I couldn’t help but feel that the show gave up on the magic of the books because its writers didn’t have the puzzle skills to really work through them.
The Washington Post
It was everything nobody wanted, but it was still quite a thing: adequately just, narratively symmetrical and sufficiently poignant. ... It was a final showdown that was instead a big sigh.
I was already expecting the finale to be a disappointment, but I didn’t foresee the tonal and narrative whiplash that I experienced here. ... I don’t fault viewers who’ve become inured to the shoddy writing and plotting, and who’ve been grading each episode on a curve as a result. But I personally haven’t been able to get into a mind-set where I can watch an episode and enjoy it for everything except stuff like pacing issues, rushed character development, tonal dissonance, the lack of attention to detail, unexplained reversals, and weak dialogue. All of those problems absolutely make the show less enjoyable for me, and I haven’t learned to compartmentalize them.
Tonally odd, logically strained, and emotionally thin, “The Iron Throne” felt like the first draft of a finale. ... It’s “nice” to see beloved characters ride off into various sunsets, but I balk at the notion that these endings even count as fan service. What true fan of Thrones thinks this show existed to deliver wish fulfillment?
The plot points happened, but any emotional connection or deeper exploration of the material did not. It was a slap in the face to viewers as well as, frankly, the actors themselves to spend as long as the show did building up a complicated and nuanced world only to shove together a hasty outline of where these characters end up. ... It wasn’t an absolute abomination, because there is a general sense that the story might have been heading this way all along. And yet, the particulars of how it played out and the pacing that got us there were a disgrace.
Consequence of Sound
Bran? BRAN?! ... But my god, who wants this? Who thinks this is a good idea? Even apart from what the fans might want (a dubious rubric to judge an ending), it doesn’t feel like Game of Thrones adequately built to this moment over the past eight years. ... This ending isn’t satisfying.
For a show that was originally going to be billed as ‘The Sopranos in Middle-Earth’, it ends on a … remarkably uncomplicated note.
These final seasons felt like nothing more than an outline with a few big battles to make it seem exciting. ... For the most part, [the finale] felt comically lazy. It was half-baked. But at least it was an ending.
Too many plot points were swept under the rug and too many endings came from seemingly out of nowhere for this to feel satisfying.
The Globe and Mail
I wish we could all pull a Brienne and go into the history books to write a better ending.
But after that strong opening, the Game of Thrones finale falls back on the show’s old habit of laborious, wheel-spinning conversation. ... This show, which used to be so dense and complicated, has whittled itself down to a series of easily digestible parts. ... In the end, there’s something frustrating about seeing a show that was once so obsessed with consequences decide to sweep most of them under the rug.
From the moment the bell, smashed and covered in ash, lingered in the corner of an early shot, the signs were there that this was never going to be subtle. But even so, the series went out in a blaze of corn. Samwell’s presentation of A Song of Ice and Fire – a moment akin to the famous “something Picasso” scene in Titanic – was GoT at its cheesiest. ... Benioff and Weiss may not have been able to tie up every loose end, despite giving over a full 30 minutes to admin, but a few would have been nice.
Its final episode, “The Iron Throne”, was as unexpected and subversive as the best that the series has had to offer; and as misjudged and hammy as its worst. ... A few years ago, it would’ve been hard to imagine watching the final shot of Game of Thrones without the twinkle of a tear in the eye, but, tonight, that was the reality.
Los Angeles Review of Books
The outcome was so beyond baffling that I found myself fixating on little things. When the Iron Throne was melted by dragon-fire, it should have been grand and dramatic and terrible, and instead it was just funny; did the dragon burn the chair-made-of-swords because he saw his mother murdered by a sword and blamed the chair? Can we really blame him for jumping to that conclusion, given what nonsense the rest of the plotting was?
Los Angeles Times
No one is very happy, and whatever closing kick consistent with seven prior seasons of tangled intrigue that viewers had in mind, the biggest closing twist on “Game of Thrones” may have been the way the show let us down.
Julianne Escobedo Shepherd
The Game of Thrones finale ended up being exactly as expected: Rushed, weird, inexcusably corny.
The one important death we got was so underwhelming it felt intentionally lame, and most of the overly, almost Tolkien-esque happy endings didn’t make any sense. The Realm might be in a slightly (and we do mean slightly) better place after the series finale, but after all of the great work that preceded, Game of Thrones deserved a final episode that worked a lot harder to make sense.
The New York Times
This was the endgame of “Thrones” in miniature: Stunning on the outside, affecting in small moments, inscrutable at heart. How well “Game of Thrones” ended depends largely on how well you think it pulled off the key turn of last week’s “The Bells,” in which Daenerys, having won the surrender of King’s Landing, presses her attack and incinerates the defenseless townspeople. After a week, and especially after the finale, I’ve decided it was a botch.
A bittersweet mix of story endings that felt balanced and yet strangely unsatisfying. ... Season 8 ultimately proved consistently entertaining but incredibly rushed, some developments requiring a whole season but only getting 20 minutes of one episode. What an enjoyable show it’s been, and what silly fun dissecting it, but this final run sunk its ambitions toward prestige TV status into the snow.
Lots of things happened in the final 80 minutes of Game of Thrones, a saga that didn’t seem to want to be nearly as complicated at the end as it had seemed at the beginning. If you like your finales tied up with a bow, well, this one was. I’m only surprised no one was strangled with it. If you think now that this might not be quite the show you thought you were watching, it’s important to remember that the experience of series television is a cumulative one, and that the things that you liked before still occurred.
This episode, which was filled with odd narrative and stylistic choices ... Giving the crown to Bran is like giving the Super Bowl MVP to the long snapper. ... But does stumbling at the conclusion invalidate Game of Thrones‘ overall storytelling prowess? ... Even before Benioff and Weiss grew hasty and sloppy in their storytelling over the last two seasons, their work often seemed less than the sum of its many amazing parts. ... There are so many different levels to telling the story of a television fantasy epic. On some of those levels, Game of Thrones was a jaw-dropping success that’s forever raised the bar for what can be done in this medium. On others, it fell maddeningly short.
Why they tried to make it a happy ending anyway is beyond me. Happiness and love are not the show’s strong points. I’d have much preferred something a bit ominous and dark, with just a tinge of hope, and it would fit in line with the tone of the series much more. ... The ball was dropped for season eight as a whole and the finale was in keeping with what directly preceded it; it all should’ve been better. I’m bitterly disappointed.
Audiences are right to feel disappointed by this absolute letdown of a denouement, which felt shoehorned in and ultimately betrayed the show’s thematic ambitions. ... The show’s assertion that Bran’s otherworldly asceticism makes him the best possible ruler becomes downright infuriating when we consider its implications.
Game of Thrones has long lived by the surprise, and it ended with a surprise, proving, in the process, what anyone who has ever used a 25-cent candy machine already knows: Some surprises are trifling. ... Even people predicting Bran would become king were probably not predicting it would come about thanks to a tribal council with significantly less political sophistication than any episode of Survivor. It was surprising, but surprise wears off, and then there’s not much left.
A finale that somehow managed to seem both rushed and sluggish, with a final twist that was both puzzling and underwhelming.
The most crushing thing about the Game of Thrones finale was how empty it all felt. ... And not once did the feature-length farewell come close to tugging the heartstrings. ... Thrones was over but it didn’t feel as if our watch had ended. More that our time had been wasted, our emotions toyed with – a great story betrayed at the death.
There’s no question that Bran and his sassy council are better news for the people of Westeros than Cersei, Joffrey, the Mad King, Robert Baratheon—or, in all likelihood, Daenerys. But as a viewer, I shrugged. A happy ending isn’t the same thing as an ending satisfying enough to keep you up at night, thinking about how the show’s elemental questions were resolved ... In this case, it was all I could do to stay awake through the end credits.
But either due to time restrictions or lack of source material or just plain lack of creativity, the show took shortcuts this season. And those shortcuts tended to rely on the laziest of sexist stereotypes about crazed, power-hungry women. ... All of the well-written complexity the show brought to Cersei, Sansa, Arya, Brienne and others over the years may not be able to make up for Dany’s too-swift downfall
A lot of the Game of Thrones series finale seemed designed to comment on and even glorify the roles of storytellers, cement the importance of sagas, and explore how carefully shaped tales and histories function in society. But if stories are so damned important, why did executive producers and showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss rush so frantically and sloppily through this one? ... It's hard not to wonder what the series finale could have been had the show not sprinted toward the finish line in such a slapdash, mechanical fashion. ... The first rule of storytelling is show, don't tell. The finale told me, again and again, that the story worked.
It was hacky; it was cliched. ... "Iron Throne" is an episode that will go down as one of the most controversial series finales of all time, in the same camp as "Lost," "Dexter" or "Battlestar Galactica." ... It didn't gracefully swerve into another lane, it careened off a cliff. And looking back at the series will never be the same.
It was as though the show, burdened with a story near-impossible to carry across the finish line, lost its nerve. ... That the show didn’t do whatever Martin is to publish justice is a shame. But what it did accomplish was something generational.
Unlike some viewers, I don’t object to some of Game of Thrones’ big concluding plot points per se. Daenerys going mad could have made sense, as could Bran becoming the king. The problem was the execution: The show so prioritized shock value over cogent character development and attention to political detail that the complex reality of Westeros — the element of the series that had previously engaged so many viewers so deeply — crumbled like a King’s Landing tower blasted by dragonfire. It’s a deeply frustrating end to what was, at its best, one of the deepest and most exciting shows on television.
After a final season that saw two powerful queens reduced, respectively, to going mad and dying whimpering in a cave collapse, the show’s choice to place the future stability of Westeros on a bunch of male shoulders feels deeply regressive and thoughtless. ... Showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss seem to have simply thrown up their hands and shrugged, “medieval politics favored men over women, so what can you do?”
Anticlimactic might be the best way to describe it. ... I can always respect an attempt to take a big swing — as the show did in its penultimate episode, “The Bells” — even if I don’t like the result. But just dutifully trying to conclude the story as perfunctorily as possible is somehow even worse than a big swing that misses.
The Washington Post
Well, I called it. I just didn’t expect that it would be this goofy. ... The series ended the way it probably had to, though in a fashion that revealed both co-showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss’s weaknesses and the way the strengths of their cast often carried this lumbering series through anyway.
More good Game of Thrones reads
Not reviews of the finale, but interesting takes on the series published this week:
- Critic-at-large Maureen Ryan examines Game of Thrones' "woman problem" in a column for the Hollywood Reporter. (Spoiler alert: She believes "the show has already destroyed its legacy.")
- New York Times critic-at-large Wesley Morris never watched Game of Thrones—until this spring, when he watched the entire series in just five weeks.
- Slashfilm's Danielle Ryan examines everything wrong with the final season of Game of Thrones.
- In Scientific American, Zeynep Tufekci analyzes why fans have turned against the series (and it's not for the obvious reasons but rather because this season "Benioff and Weiss steer[ed] the narrative lane away from the sociological and shifted to the psychological.").
- Vulture's Matt Zoller Seitz analyzes the series as a complete entity and finds the Game of Thrones' most shocking death was ... the show itself, or at least the show that we first loved in the original seasons before it succumed to a "failure of process." ("But like The West Wing after Aaron Sorkin’s departure and Seinfeld after Larry David’s, something was off so profoundly that you could see how hard the series was trying to pretend it hadn’t really lost anything.")
- Slashfilm's Joshua Meyer argues that the series serves as a time capsule of the 2010s.
- In Vox, Dylan Scott makes the case that this season's storylines could work much better in book form—if George R.R. Martin ever gets around to finishing his novels.
- Variety's Caroline Framke praises Emilia Clarke's season eight performance, which was all the more impressive given the poor writing: "Even as final scenes stood on increasingly shaky ground, Clarke nonetheless delivered a titanic performance that never lost sight of who her character was — a feat that stands in stark contrast to the scripts’ weaker attempts to do the same."
- New York Times opinion columnist Ross Douthat argues that Game of Thrones (the TV series, at least) ultimately failed the fantasy genre.
- In Slate, Lili Loofbourow offers a thoughful analysis of the full series' main weakness: the growing gap between "what Game of Thrones said it was showing us and what viewers themselves saw on screen" and a devolution in its storytelling from analysis to mere "chronicle."
- Vulture's Jen Chaney compares the negative reaction to the Game of Thrones finale to that of the Lost finale. She adds, "If forced to choose, I would pick the Lost finale as the better of the two, despite its flaws," though she adds a caveat: "Ask me again in ten years."
What do you think?
What did you think of Sunday's finale and the eighth season as a whole? Let us know in the comments section below.