But let’s be real: the best moments of this finale belonged to the two characters who have had the best season of any character, Tyrion and Arya. Tyrion has made a habit of morphing into whatever he needs to be at a particular moment, when his pride and sharp tongue don’t get the best of him. He is smart enough to be a leader of soldiers, a procurer of goods and negotiator, one whose mind can get him out of any number of fixes, usually in the form of having the sense to offer bigger, stronger people his family’s money to protect him. This season, though, we saw him use one of his greatest strengths, his charm, humor and general likeability, to get people on his side. There was Oberyn, who sympathized with Tyrion’s plight and ended up fighting for him through a combination of pity and vengeance, and now Jaime, with whom Tyrion has forged an even closer bond. He’s also maintained the favor of Varys, who finds him a much better conversation partner than Littlefinger. The last thing Tyrion morphed into this season, after Jaime and Varys conspire to free him, is a killer, taking out his frustration on Shae, and letting out a lifetime of anger on his father, who has also always been his greatest threat.
The other character who has demonstrated the greatest level of adaptability to maintain her own survival has been Arya, whether it’s learning to fight despite all the efforts to convince her otherwise, disguising herself and even her gender, utilizing the offer of a mysterious hitman, and gleaning wisdom from the likes of Tywin Lannister and, most recently, her partner in crime, the Hound. The show has spent a lot of time with these two characters, who have been wandering Westeros together for more than a season by themselves, and their parting was appropriately emotional for us, while beautifully cold-hearted by Arya. Credit to Maisie Williams for perfectly personifying the ever-increasing ruthlessness of this character. That camera could hold itself on her face for as long as it may in the Hound’s goodbye scene—she is not going to show a morsel of emotion as she watches her target-turned-companion beg for death. And finally, in the happiest note the show has ended on, we get to see her use that coin from Jaqen H’ghar, the faceless man from season 2, and can only assume the ways she’ll change once she reaches her destination of Braavos.
One of the reasons we like these characters the most, and have the most hope in them, is that they’re proven survivors, willing to do whatever it takes to preserve themselves while maintaining the desire to be good. On one hand there’s those like Littlefinger or Tywin who are relentless in achieving their goals, but have no investment in righteousness of any kind (one could argue that Tywin goes a step too far in antagonizing and underestimating his youngest child, which leads to his undoing, but hey, he lived a long life). On the other, there are those like Ned Stark and Brienne, who are good and noble and valiant, but for Ned at least, it’s his honor and trust in the justice of his kingdom, his refusal to compromise his moral code that costs him his head.