Warning, spoilers ahead.
Thus ends the greatest finale in the greatest season of the greatest show of all time. (I might — just might — be too much of a fan to be a true TV critic.) The opening minutes — beginning with a haunting score as each character dressed for the fateful trial in the Great Sept and culminating in the detonation of the Great Sept and the burning of an entire section of King’s Landing — represented some of the best moments of the entire series. Two episodes after Jaime declared his unconditional love for his sister (including his willingness to commit unspeakable atrocities) to Edmure Tully, she finished the work that the Mad King started and roasted her enemies with wildfire. He deposed the Mad King ultimately for the Mad Queen, and the look on his face at the end told us that he knew exactly what he was doing.
At the same time, the show made its big reveal — that Jon Snow is a Targaryen and potential rightful heir to Iron Throne — and set up a potential clash with Daenerys. A vengeful queen is sailing from the south just as a new king is named in the north, and she has made it quite clear that she intends to unite all of Westeros under one banner. Jon Snow has his eyes firmly fixed on the threat beyond the wall, but he still doesn’t know his lineage. How will he change when he knows who he is?
One of the fascinating aspects of the show (and the books) is the way it realistically explores the growth and change in characters who encounter extreme pain and suffer profound injustice. Should we continue cheering for an Arya so hardened and vengeful that she fed sons to a father? Sansa’s smile walking away from Ramsay Bolton looked a lot like Cersei’s smile as the Mountain raped Septa Unella. But the Starks are good, right?
The war for Dany’s soul is perhaps the most obvious — and consequential. She is sailing with three dragons, a mighty army, and temptations towards mass murder. The Starks and Daenerys have suffered injustices that give them ample reasons for rage, and their opponents have proven their own ruthlessness time and again. But they’re veering dangerously towards becoming the very thing they hate, for the sake of destroying those they hate. For those who’ve watched the show from the beginning, it is interesting to see Tyrion and Varys become the consciences of the realm. At times, only Tyrion’s reason stands between Dany and her potentially genocidal rage.
To defeat evil by force of arms, even the good must become perilous (Tolkien was quite good at demonstrating this reality). Yet the very act of steeling oneself to do what’s necessary to confront deadly evil can also harden a heart so completely that it transforms heroes into villains. Arya, Sansa, and Dany have changed. Daenerys still has a conscience. So do Arya and Sansa. But it’s flickering. Whether our heroes remain heroes will be just as interesting as the coming confrontation between dragons and white walkers. One mad queen is enough.