Podculture: Daily staffers talk ending theories, reflect on eight seasons of ‘Game of Thrones’’

Wilson Chapman, Reporter

WILSON CHAPMAN: From The Daily Northwestern, I’m Wilson Chapman. Thanks for tuning in. This is Podculture, a podcast series covering the biggest events in entertainment. After nine years, HBO’s massively successful series “Game of Thrones” is coming to an end this Sunday night. In preparation, I sat down with Daily staffers and “Thrones” fans Crystal Wall and Gabby Birenbaum to talk about our thoughts on the final season, theories for the end and what we’ll remember about this global phenomenon. This podcast will contain spoilers for all eight seasons of the show.

CHAPMAN: So, to start off, what have you all thought of these past few episodes overall, and specifically, what have you guys thought of Dany’s arc, which has been what most of the criticism has been directed at?

BIRENBAUM: I think what I found is that the directing and acting and like the cinematic stuff with the season has been really good. But the writing is really what I’m struggling with and personally Dany’s arc. I was very pro-Dany. That was who I wanted on the Iron Throne coming into the season. And so I understand if they wanted to go down this, like, Mad Queen arc. I think that’s interesting to explore. But I thought the decision to just — after the bell had rung, after the city had surrendered — to make her go full, “Mad Queen,” I thought made no sense with what we’ve come to know from her. As Jorah always had said, she has a gentle heart, I think she’s always cared about the common people. So I thought that just didn’t make a lot of narrative sense.

WALL: Yeah, I think I agree. Everything cinematically and acting-wise has been really spectacular this whole season. But I do think the writers have really shied away from something that’s been at the heart of the show, especially when the show was based on the books, which was that George R.R. Martin was not afraid to do something shocking and kill these main characters and ruin character arcs just by not completing them. And I don’t know, I wasn’t as surprised about Dany’s arc as I think a lot of people were, ’cause I felt like I’ve been watching her slowly descending into this. And so I feel like this is something that they probably rushed into as writers and as a show, but I wasn’t shocked when it happened.

CHAPMAN: I think it’s a decision that’s very much in line with the show and especially how the show was when it was based off the books, because having us grow to empathize with and sympathize with this character only to slowly understand that, “Oh, she’s just another conqueror who wants power.” I feel like that’s a very George R. R. Martin twist. But just the way they did it, it felt too rushed and didn’t make any sense. And I guess that’s honestly my main problem with this season and the season before it. It just hasn’t had any room to breathe. I feel like if there were maybe – if this was a full 10-episode season, I think I would have enjoyed it a lot (more) because I think I would have been able to understand these characters’ motivations so much more.

WALL: I completely agree with that. And I feel the same way for so many of the character arcs that I feel like this season has kind of put in a new direction that people weren’t expecting. I think both of the arcs of Jaime and Cersei last episode were completely different than what people thought. And it didn’t make sense to so many people because there wasn’t enough time to show that. Jamie has had a redemption arc for five seasons about, ever since he got with Brienne, whenever that was, and he, like, suddenly lost all his growth in this one episode and went back to this figure in his life. And I have the unpopular opinion of loving Cersei. As a character, not as a person, as a character, and I cannot believe she didn’t have a plan.

BIRENBAUM: I think it would have been so poetic if Cersei had died in like a trap of her own making, like one of her weird long cons backfires, like it always does in this show. I think it would have been best if they had everything that happened as it was, they had rung the bells, they stopped fighting and then Cersei, like, secretly had them, like, fake surrender and keep fighting and then Dany had gone “Mad Queen.” I think that would have made more sense and would have made Dany’s actions more justifiable, and it would have meant Cersei died in a way that was her own fault, which I think makes sense with how the show had portrayed her.

WALL: I can’t believe all Cersei’s done this season is look out that window.

BIRENBAUM: And drink wine!

CHAPMAN: Lena Headey got a million dollars for that.

WALL: And I wanted this to be her Emmy season. And I mean her performance was incredible. She’s arguably one of the best actors in the show.

CHAPMAN: For me she’s the best. Her and maybe Peter Dinklage.

WALL: But all she’s gotten to do this season is look out that window, and then smirk and drink wine and I don’t know.

BIRENBAUM: It was a waste of a talent, I think.

CHAPMAN: Yeah, for me she was a TV villain for the ages and just watching her like go out this way just felt sad. I almost wish they killed her off in season seven just because who cared at this point?

WALL I almost felt like they never even gave her the chance to be the villain, though. Like every time she was the villain there was another villain there. And then the one chance that she actually had to be the villain, Dany came in and actually is the villain and I feel like she never really got her arc as a villain.

CHAPMAN: It seems pretty clear to me at least that Dany is not making it out alive. So I’m interested to hear what you guys think is going to go down in this last episode and how the final confrontation between Dany and Jon is going to play out.

WALL: I think — so Arya clearly has the thickest plot armor of this entire show. They have not killed her.

BIRENBAUM: This girl has had four concussions in the past three episodes.

CHAPMAN: I think I read somewhere that George R. R. Martin’s wife made him promise to never kill off Arya because she’s her favorite character.

WALL: Well that’s an issue for me because I have a bet going on that she’ll die by the end, so I’ve got one more hour. But it seems that Arya is going off to kill her. I do wonder if she’s going to try to kill Daenerys. Daenerys is going to somehow hurt or or kill her, and then I get free sushi. And then that gives Jon his final reason to go, “This is out” and kill her. But they’re just making Arya so big and I can’t imagine she’s going to get the double kill. I can’t imagine she’s going to kill both the villains, that would just be kind of wild. So I feel like it has to be Jon. Jon has to have his arc.

BIRENBAUM: I don’t know. I feel like they’re sort of setting it up that it’ll go back to independent kingdoms, because I feel like there was no need to promise Bronn Highgarden and to make Gendry –

WALL: Bronn! If Bronn gets his castle I’ll be content, no matter what happens.

BIRENBAUM: I feel like they promised Bronn Highgarden and they made Gendry the head of House Baratheon and gave him Storm’s End. And I think they’ve now set it up so there’s somebody in each kingdom and I feel like, I don’t know who’s going to kill Dany, but I feel people are going want Jon for the throne and he’ll be like, “We should go back to independent kingdoms and Sansa and I will rule The North and Bronn can rule The Reach, and everyone can do whatever they need to do.”

CHAPMAN Honestly, I think it makes the most sense for the show.

BIRENBAUM: It’s truly breaking the wheel.

CHAPMAN: Yeah, having the daughter of the people who have ruled for 300 years is not breaking the wheel. It’s the only solution, I think, that makes sense after it’s spent so much time showing how this throne has made everyone kill each other.

WALL: Someone needs to slam on the brakes.

BIRENBAUM: I wonder if the throne’s even still standing. I would be kind of sad for Dany if, after going mad, she didn’t get to at least sit on the throne for like two seconds.

CHAPMAN: I’ve always thought the series was going to end with someone melting down the throne or something like that as like a very symbolic act of the changing of (the) guard. But I guess the throne is destroyed now so it doesn’t matter.

WALL: At this point with all their metaphors, I wouldn’t be surprised.

BIRENBAUM: I almost wonder, because the Dany that we’ve seen for every episode, besides the last, to me would be so remorseful by this action. And I almost wonder — I don’t think they’re going do this because they’re leaning into this Mad Queen — if she would pull a Tommen and jump out of what’s left of the Red Keep. But I don’t think they’re going to do that because they need her to be this villainous person.

WALL: I’m wondering if she’s just becoming, what’s the word I’m looking for, just like a tool to finish a character’s arc, like is she just a tool to finish Jon’s arc?

BIRENBAUM I think they’re using her in service of everybody else’s arc, and I’m like, you spent so much time making me invested in this person and you just ruined it like that.

CHAPMAN Yeah, even if you do make her go evil, I think you still need to have a resolution to her arc that makes sense, even if it’s her realizing at the end like, “Oh my god, I’ve become a monster.”

BIRENBAUM: Yeah and I always thought of her as more of the inheritor to like Aegon The Conqueror rather than the Mad King. I’ve always thought she’s more into conquest than killing innocent people and that it was going to be a commentary on that, like how violence begets violence and everything, but I mean, that’s not the path they’re going down.

WALL: I also think though I’m pretty positive that Varys sent out those letters he was writing, like actually pulled a Ned Stark and sent them out before he was killed. And so I wonder how that’s going play into next episode too. Cause we know apparently news travels very fast in this realm.

BIRENBAUM: I mean the whole point of Robert’s Rebellion was to overthrow this Targaryen monarchy, so I wonder if claim even matters to anybody anymore after all the violence that they’ve been through in the past however many years, if it matters to have Rhaegar’s son alive.

CHAPMAN: I mean, the person with the best claim for the throne right now is Gendry. And he’s not going to be king.

BIRENBAUM: Yeah, Gendry should not be king.

CHAPMAN: No, I love Gendry, but he also would 100 percent not want to be king.

WALL: That’s true.

BIRENBAUM: Who do you guys think would honestly be the best ruler? I think Sansa.

CHAPMAN: Sansa by far would be the best.

WALL: Clearly Bronn. Clearly Bronn should end up on the throne. No, probably Sansa’s the most level-headed. If not, Jon. Jon’s also very good. But I think Sansa is smarter than Jon.

BIRENBAUM: They always talk about the commoners don’t care who sits on the throne. They care if they’re fed and I feel like that’s Sansa’s must, to make sure we have enough harvest.

WALL: Sansa is also not afraid to do what she needs to do to get the job done. And Jon, much like Ned Stark, his downfall is sometimes his loyalty and his honor, and I think Sansa would be willing to be like, “No, screw this, this has to get done.”

BIRENBAUM: She learned from Littlefinger, yeah.

CHAPMAN: I’ve read some fan theories that Bran of all people will end up on the throne.

BIRENBAUM: I’ve also heard that.

WALL: Please no.

BIRENBAUM: I don’t understand what that would mean narratively. I don’t understand anything about that. I don’t even know where Bran’s going from here.

WALL: I don’t know what his deal is. Someone told me he thinks Gendry and Arya are going to sit on throne together cause then it’s a Baratheon and a Stark, but that ship kinda took on a lot of water. All my ships took on so much water and one of them completely sank. R.I.P. Jaime and Brienne. That was sad.

BIRENBAUM: There are so many characters I wonder where they go now. Like Arya, who’s left on her kill list? Like no one.

WALL: Dany now?

BIRENBAUM: Yeah but I also thought her whole thing with The Hound was like, she’s giving up on revenge. So I wonder if she’s going like go live out her days eating chicken in the Riverlands.

CHAPMAN: I can see her and Gendry getting back together and him giving up his lordship.

WALL: Yeah, I mean, she’s not going to give anything up for him. He would give something up for her. Unless after seeing this whole past battle, she’s like, “Screw this. I just want to be a lady. I want to retire and just go peace out.”

BIRENBAUM: I also wonder what all of the people who are at Winterfell are going to do, like Sansa and Brienne.

WALL: When they hear this, I’m sure Sansa is just there like, “I told you.”

CHAPMAN: The memes of her this week have been so funny.

BIRENBAUM: Yeah, I don’t know. I feel like there’s a lot of loose ends to tie up.

WALL: Honestly, at this point, I’m genuinely like, I don’t know anymore. I thought I was going to go into last episode. I thought I knew what was going to happen. I thought Cersei was going to try to wildfire the city. Jamie was going to kill her, that was going to be his redemption arc. Arya was going to die. I thought I went into the last episode knowing exactly what was going to happen. And then I was just staring at the screen like, “Oh my God, everything I had thought was falling apart.” So honestly now, I have no idea.

CHAPMAN: I think the biggest question mark for me is Tyrion. I’m really curious what’s going to happen to him.

WALL: I mean he committed treason, so that’s not looking bright.

CHAPMAN: I feel like it would be unsatisfying to just have him be killed by Dany.

WALL: I don’t think he’s going to die.

BIRENBAUM: I almost think his goal now is to like preserve the Lannister name and like go to Casterly Rock. Like who knows, maybe him and Sansa will get together?

WALL: I’m kind of here for it?

CHAPMAN: I’ve kind of been seeing it.

BIRENBAUM: I kind of support it. I think together that’s a lot of power.

CHAPMAN: Yeah the thing is, they didn’t make sense when they were married. But now Sansa has grown into someone that is very similar to Tyrion. So I can totally see them being like the Westeros power couple.

BIRENBAUM: That would be an ideal Iron Throne pairing.

WALL: Yeah, I don’t think he’s going to die, honestly. Like, does Dany know he even let Jaime out?

CHAPMAN: I don’t think so.

WALL: Who knows. I’m mean she was a little preoccupied with them.

BIRENBAUM: I don’t think Dany knows anything anymore.

WALL: And Tyrion needs to give Bronn his castle. I will not give up until Bronn gets his castle.

CHAPMAN: Looking back on “Thrones” as a whole, I’m just in general very curious about how the series is going to be remembered. So do you guys have any particular scene or episode or story arc that made you fall in love with this show and what do you think you’re going to remember most about the series after it ends?

WALL: I had known so many spoilers going into this show. But I knew that there was something called the Red Wedding. So I was watching with my boyfriend, and he was waiting for my reaction. And when it all just started to go down, I was in this state of complete shock. And the next day, I actually felt sad. And there aren’t that many shows that leave me with this lingering feeling the next day. And I think that was a moment that stood out to me a lot, just how much the show actually impacted me. And so I think I’m going to remember it by those times where it really left that lasting impression on me. And I have a feeling this next episode will.

BIRENBAUM: So I started the show over spring break, and I was like, “Maybe I’ll keep going. Maybe I won’t.” And I think the moment for me that I was like, “I’m going to watch this through,” was when Littlefinger holds the knife to Ned Stark’s throat and was like, “I told you not to trust me.” When he essentially betrays Ned, and their pact to put, I think it was Stannis at the time on the throne. I remember just being like, “That’s crazy cool.” And, I knew Ned was going, I knew he was going to die, I heard that before. But I was like, “That’s crazy,” and I did not predict that and all this backstabbing and all the political movement, and I was like, “Oh, this is really cool,” and I just flew threw it. Yeah, definitely the moments that this show created and the WTF moments, but also just the scheming and the attention to detail. I’m not a big action person, but the battles are incredible. So I think I’ll definitely remember the cinematic value and the characters and having so many characters that had full arcs that I invested in. I don’t think you find (this) on TV, and I think that’s super super cool.

CHAPMAN: So I started it my junior year of high school, and I remember I enjoyed the first season. But I think the episode where I was really like, “This is one of my favorite shows,” was the Battle of Blackwater, just because the scale of it was incredible. But looking back, I think honestly the things that really stick with me aren’t even necessarily the big moments but maybe some of the smaller moments between these characters who I grew to care about so much, like the scene with Jaime and Brienne when they’re in the bath and he explains how he’s Kingslayer. That had just such a huge impact on me.

WALL: Their whole relationship, and not even as of recently, just their whole friendship and relationship on this show, has just been one of my favorite duos.

BIRENBAUM: What they brought out of each other.

CHAPMAN: Like ever.

WALL: Yeah.

CHAPMAN: And Arya and the Hound.

WALL: Another one. Maybe everyone’s my favorite duo.

CHAPMAN: But yeah, I really grew so invested in these characters watching the show. And part of it was that they were played by just such world-class actors who gave everything into the show. So even though I’ve been disappointed by this last season, I think if nothing else that “Game of Thrones” will probably be remembered as a show that sort of broke barriers for what TV could be and for the scale it could be on. And it’ll be remembered for having one of the greatest ensembles of all time.

BIRENBAUM: I think it’s really the end of like, must-see TV for like scripted shows. I don’t know what would take its place. Anything, in the past five years, everybody on Sunday nights, you know, is talking about it and you can’t escape it on Twitter.

WALL: I don’t see another show gripping the world like this for a while. This show as a whole is really something that’s going to be remembered and there’s a reason why you can’t escape it anywhere. It’s just ingrained in pop culture. And that’s something that no matter what people think about this season, it won’t be taken away from this show.

CHAPMAN: Thanks for listening. Be sure to check back for a discussion after we’ve all recovered from the finale. I’m Wilson Chapman, and I’ll see you next time.