Spoiler Alert: Everything Game of Thrones.
I don’t watch much television.
Not that I’m trying to come off elitist, I just don’t invest my free time in television today.
As a child, teenager and young adult, its easy to catch the latest episode of Smallville. For a young American growing up, the adventures of a young Clark Kent was a great way to spend my evenings when needing a break from hours spent playing video games.
Smallville was on the air for ten seasons. That’s ten years. It’s the only show of its length that I’ve ever consumed from start to finish. Two hundred and seventeen episodes, all an hour a piece. And you know what? It overstayed its welcome. In my opinion, the series lasted far longer than it should’ve.
And in the end, it wasn’t very satisfying.
After ten years of Smallville, I was done with television.
Working a full-time day job, attending college at night and courting the woman who would eventually become my wife left little time for digesting small screen entertainment. I’ve maintained a Netflix subscription for nearly ten years now, but I’ll always prefer cinema and film over television. I’ve watched a few limited series here or there. Still, I’m very much out of touch when it comes to traditional television. I’m that guy in the room who won’t understand your favorite references.
Breaking bad, The Sopranos, Dexter, The Office, Big Bang Theory. They mean nothing to me.
Coincidentally, Smallville ended the same year Game of Thrones began; the latter being part of HBO programming. Like most shows, I paid it no attention.
I went five years ignoring television, and with that, Game of Thrones.
Mother of Dragons. The Night’s Watch. Red and Purple Weddings.
More references I knew little about.
I finished college around the time season six was being advertised. With extra time on my hands, I found entertainment in casually playing video games and digesting short limited series like Spartacus; which at the time was on Netflix.
I caught onto Game of Thrones because I loved HBO’s True Detective Season One and Telltale Games’ A Wolf Among Us.
Plus, the marketing for Throne Season Six was on fire. There was no escaping it.
The company that brought me True Detective was coming back for round six of their hit show, which also had a video game tie-in from a respectable video game developer.
I had to see what the fuss was about.
I can’s speak for a Song of Ice and Fire, as I’ve never read the novels, but the television adaptation is the most addictive show I’ve ever experienced. I wish I could rewind time and tell you what got me hooked.
Maybe it was Boromir.
Ned Stark and Boromir are not the same character, but Sean Bean clearly channeled experiences from his old days on Peter Jackson’s set. The Lord of the Rings film adaptations are amazing. Again, I haven’t read the books. But the movies, and most importantly the production stories behind them, are outstanding achievements in cinema.
Anyways. I gave Game of Thrones a chance, and was instantly hooked.
It’s an interesting experience. Catching up with a show when it’s at peak popularity. Especially when you consider I knew nothing about the source material and had little spoiled regarding the show’s plot points.
I went in knowing only two main spoilers. Ned Stark and Jon Snow died. I’ve seen enough memes on Facebook to know about those two, but the lead up to their deaths were engaging nonetheless. And honestly, there’s so much more to discover.
For example, I figured out Jon Snow’s true parentage early in the show.
Lyanna Stark dies in a bed covered in her own blood, and Ned Stark returns from war with random baby; unwilling to name the mother. They made that one way too easy.
Especially when he promised Jon to tell him all about his mother when he returned. It’s too bad he never got that chance.
Ned’s death was quite impactful. It demonstrated the reality of Westeros and one rule that’s constant: Truth is irrelevant without power. Cersei ripping up Robert’s will proved that much. Ned had no support, no men; therefore, no power.
I wanted him to win. I expected Ned Stark to die a hero’s death, whilst appointing the one true king to the Iron Throne. Kinda like the ending of Gladiator. But that didn’t happen. That’s not the game. Our supposed hero was decapitated in the streets and made to look like a traitor to his country; in front of his two daughters. He lowers his head, closes his eyes, says his prayers and dies.
So, who do I cheer for now?
I’ll say it upfront, I’ve never cared for the characterization of Daenerys Targaryen.
I recognize Daenerys’ hardship. Her introduction involved her being married off to a warlord like property. I also recognize that people love this character and the journey she’s endured.
Last year Halloween, I was out trick-o-treating with my daughter. We came across a mother and her small son. My kid looks the woman and yells, “HI ELSA”.
She was wearing a blue dress with a silver wig. Hell, I thought she was Elsa too. The mom gestured at her son and proclaimed “Mother of Dragons.” Her little boy was dressed in a cute dragon costume… Got it. Whatever. You’re Elsa tonight.
What I’m saying is I “get it.” I understand this character has a following and a positive affect her fan-base. Unfortunately, I’ve never been one of those people.
When folks start talking about birthright and bloodlines around me, I’m instantly turned off.
Anytime the show transitioned to her adventures in the east, I’d easily loose focus.
Anytime she’d start spouting off her name and titles, I’d role my eyes.
Daenerys Targaryen is both entitled and stubborn which in ends up costing her life. Yet, I still consider her characterization a triumph in storytelling; we’ve been following the rise of an antagonist the entire time.
“You either die a hero, or live long enough to see yourself become the villain.”
– Harvey Dent
For me, this makes sense.
Daenerys is a sith.
Okay, okay. So maybe that’s too heavy handed of a reference.
But face it, the concept of Daenerys rolling over to Westeros and claiming the iron throne. That’s not breaking the wheel. She’d be just another monarch fighting over a fancy chair; like Stannis, Renly, Margaery and Cersei.
Her first actions in Westeros gave hint to how this ending would play out. After winning her first military victory in the west, Daenerys reverted back to her old tricks. Ultimatums and executions, providing insight into how little she’s grown as a leader.
We (the audience) have been conditioned to accept Daenerys’ brutality. Yes, everyone she’s sentenced to die had it coming, but we never considered a more peaceful option. Because that’s what Daenerys does. She delivers powerful speeches and burn people alive.
Much criticism have been lobbed at the shows’ writing for the past few seasons. Weirdly enough, just the writing. As the show breezed through its outstanding source material, shortcuts were taken to move the plot forward. I understand that. What were they to do? Wait for the books’ author to finish his novel series? Hollywood is a business.
Those who categorized the past few seasons as fan fiction probably have never played the Game of Thrones video game.
As I stated earlier, I’m a big fan of Telltale Games’ Wolf Among Us. Thinking I’d share the same sentiment for their take on Game of Thrones, I gave the video game tie-in a solid chance thanks to it being on sale on Steam.
The game takes place between seasons three and four, and is made to feel like it’s a part of the mainline HBO series; show characters are even voiced by their respective actors. But you don’t play as any of them, you play as made-up characters whose stories are made to weave in and out of the main series. And it sucks. Its boring and unengaging. Things that a video game should never be labelled.
It’s officially licensed fan fiction. I couldn’t finish it.
I have little criticisms for the show’s conclusion because I know what Game of Thrones is at its worse. Yes, the show’s ending is sharp. It could’ve used a extra time.
Nonetheless, what was served was like nothing I’ve ever seen on television, and that’s a good thing. We weren’t fed the Disneyfied ending imagined in our heads. We were presented with something more somber and gut-wrenching.
Game of Thrones is not The Chronicles of Narnia.
The show didn’t end with the forces of life united against the forces of death. The final conflict was not against a horde of unholy monsters. The real threat, in Game of Thrones, was the unchecked potential for darkness we hold within ourselves.
Fear. Anger. Hate. And suffering.
Suffering that’s manifested in the years of war and conflict depicted in the show.
The world of Game of Thrones is ugly.
It exposes how war and conflict brings out the worst in us.
In my opinion, Daenerys is the most tragic character in the series. Her life was never her own. Born an exile of her nation. Daenerys’ quest for the iron throne was actually a quest for acceptance and validation.
Many of Daenerys’ actions in Westeros show how unconcerned she was about the people she intended to rule over. Her concerned was focused on how we (the people) perceived her.
When given a chance to be better than those who came before her, Daenerys chose to be worse. Her arc was leading us to that moment. As shocking as it was to see her firebomb King’s Landing on screen, it was in keeping with her character. She was never going to arrive in Westeros as the great liberator. Daenerys arrived a foreigner with little concept of diplomacy. Devoid of her most valuable confidants, she regressed into the only fact pattern she knew:
Fire and blood.
Worse were the actions of her military. As she led the firebombing from the air, they followed suit with her crimes against humanity on foot. With us (as viewers) being forced to witness and understand how terrible things have become.
“But war is ugly. There’s nothing glamorous about it.”
– Meryl Silverburg
Mankind has waged war with one another since the beginning of time, and the results are always the same. Death and suffering.
In the Art of War, It’s heavily recommended to avoid war at all costs. Marching into combat should only be conducted when all other forms of resolution have been exhausted. There’s additional Chinese literature, written during China’s “warring states” period, that addressed the brutality of war and the Confucian ideals of waging “justifed” wars.
I bring this up because in modern times we have humanitarian laws dictating how war should be conducted, the latest emerging from the Geneva Convention. But we (mankind) have been trying to regulate war, and minimize the consequential suffering that comes along with it, for a long time. And it doesn’t seem to work.
Well, how about no war?
I think that’s what Game of Thrones is trying to convey.
As the lords and ladies of Westeros fight, the small folk (us) suffer most. Lannisters fight Starks. Tullys fight Freys. Martells fight Martells? Their military fight, not because they want to, but because they have to. Because of the feudal system they’re born into. Unfortunately, we have the habit of seeing them as disposable soldiers. We’re so disconnected from the violence, we (audience) fine ourselves desensitized to the concept of war.
War in Game of Thrones, is a reflection of mankind’s ugliest moments.
If we’re not careful, we can do this again. Easily.
Its important to identify that the imagery shown on screen drew from powerful real-world events. Its something we should never overlook. To call it “too on the nose” is ignoring the point.
I’m not a pacifist. I believe in national defense and maintaining a certain degree of military readiness, but there’s always a line. Daenerys crossed that line. When presented with a list of options, she almost always chose the most hasty and violent resolution.
If you want to pick out narrative flaws or tropes in the show, let’s get into it.
There’re folks who’re deeply upset at Daenerys’ conclusion. So far as to calling it the character assassination of a strong feminine character. But If we’re going to roar about that, I’ll be the first to point out the misuse of black and brown characters throughout Game of Thrones. Daenerys led an army of freed slaves who conveniently were incapable of having any children, effectively eliminating their prospects of lineage.
They aren’t people, they’re a horde of shadows at its worst.
The only semi-prominent characters of colors in the show were Daenerys’ two black besties, both lacking any agency of their own. Everything regarding their story’s is in service to their great liberator. One died in chains and the other became an angry war criminal. In a lot of ways, Daenerys facilitated their downfall.
Yet another reflection of the cruel history of our world.
Ruling in the east was not good enough of Daenerys. This led her to drag them along in her crusade for absolute power; dooming them both. Their tragedy is that they thought they were fighting a “just” war. But they (the Unsullied and Dothraki) were just tools used in a political parade for power. She said the right things and pushed the right buttons to coalesce her army. It shows how populace rhetoric, when left unchecked, can affect our perception of reality.
I brought up Smallville at the top of this article because I wanted to hammer down this final point.
When people indite the finale of Game of Thrones of being the worst season finale in television history, they’ve probably not sat through ten seasons of Smallville.
Smallville’s ending was sloppy. Their maintaining a “no tights, no flights” mandate created for a lackluster ending to the show. Resulting in a television knockoff of the old Christopher Reeves movies, with production value worse than A Quest for Peace.
Its not good.
While people choose to protest the end of Game of Thrones, I choose to evaluate the significance of the story we received. Consider the irony of handing over Westeros’ leadership to the two most scholarly individuals in the country. That’s not an accident. And why didn’t anyone bring up Jon Snow’s lineage?
Because it doesn’t matter. It never did.
In a society that continuously rewarded martial culture and martial people, it’s now led by the most gifted minds of the realm; with their focus not on espionage and war. Bran Stark, through Tyrion Lannister, instead choose to focus on rebuilding their kingdom.
Game of Throne’s ending feels like less of a finale and more like a new beginning.
That’s a good thing. Their new political system, and focus on reconstruction, will surely bring a new age of enlightenment to the six kingdoms. That’s my interpretation.
I’ve no doubt there’ll be some sort of conflict brewing in their future. Maybe the Iron Islands will take another pass at independence.
Years from now, hopefully people will come to appreciate the story that we received on screen.
Of course, this is all in my humble opinion. As I progressed through the series, this was the ending I sensed was coming; with some pleasant surprises. The conclusion presented was a powerful and fantastical depiction of war and what it does to a society.
Our emotional anchor, the Starks, guided us through that journey.
It began them. It ended with them.