It’s the tenth anniversary of Game of Thrones… and I wouldn’t have noticed if not for this video on its ruined legacy. And it got me thinking a couple of things- 1) how did time fly so fast and 2) was GOT ruined or was it always designed to go up in wildfire? Obviously, I won’t be using this post to address the former, just the latter 😉
Before GRRM superfans tar and feather me- I’m not trying to take away the series’ merit. Don’t get me wrong: I love the world building, the characters and fascinating themes. However, speaking to my own personal taste, reflecting on some of the concepts does make me wonder if I was always going to wind up unhappy with the ending.
Game of Thrones was always a divisive series. Barely an episode could go by without some kind of critique or scandal. And this is not an accident or merely the showrunner’s doing. Going off of Martin’s own interviews, much of the series is designed to be a counterbalance to traditional fantasy. The traditional fantasy that I, and many other mainstream audiences, love. Lord of the Rings, for instance, is famously hopeful, inspiring and the prime example of good triumphing over evil. Though it has tragic elements, it certainly does not hinge on them. When we set out from the Shire we are assured of a safe(ish) resolution.
Whereas GRRM promised us bittersweet. And if it is to be a counterbalance to the likes of LOTR then by golly that must be some BITTERsweet ending. Most of the plot points have tragedy written all over them; there is barely a glimmer of optimism in all the books. The best we could hope for is our favourites not dying and maybe, just maybe getting their revenge! In the words of Ramsay Bolton…
That’s not to say all tragedies are disappointing. In the usual ebb and flow of a tragedy, there is often a highpoint that alleviates the characters’ (and the readers’) suffering. Think Tess and Angels’ blissful summer in Tess of the D’Urbervilles. Of course, we know this lovely moment cannot last, yet we can delude ourselves into thinking it will, and this gives us our catharsis. Game of Thrones never really does that. Romantic moments are often told from another perspective or tarnished by the realities of the situation (eg Daenerys may fall in love with Khal Drogo, but she’s also raped by him first).
There’s a reason every moment of “happiness” is framed this way. And that’s because it’s working from a principle of being *realistic in the postmodernist sense*. It’s fundamentally endorsing the idea that meaning is found where you place its value. In the world of Game of Thrones, there are no heroes and villains, there is no good vs evil, there is no right and wrong. There is no objective truth- merely the matter of where you place your sympathy. GRRM takes the morally relativistic view that all his characters will inevitably fall to the dark side… And frankly none of their struggles matter because of that. No happy ending is/was ever possible in this series- for anyone. Which is not so much tragic as it is depressing.
As much as I can appreciate this for its uniqueness, it’s not exactly satisfying. That’s not the point of this story. Rather, it’s designed to push boundaries, subvert our expectations and make us question the genre. While we like to blame D&D for the subversive elements, subversion is pretty much woven into the fabric of the narrative. And that has its upsides… and its downsides. Because sometimes there can be narrative consequences when you try to challenge an existing idea.
Inevitably you may question the story that’s making you question everything. I for one don’t think every concept in GOT makes sense. The critique of Aragorn becoming king, for example, is flawed. Because, I happen to think that if he’s capable enough to get an army of dead people on his side, then he’s perfectly capable of hiring some plumbers to set up a sewage system (and I have no idea why GRRM thinks otherwise). It is entirely possible for a leader to be strategic on the battlefield and with the treasury (and there are historic examples of this). This may seem like nit-picking, yet this is such a foundational element to the story, that it leaves me questioning will I ever be satisfied with the outcome of this series? These issues nag away at me and could indicate that this series was never for me in the first place.
Of course, this whole post is somewhat premature. No matter what I think I know, I have to add the caveat that I don’t know the actual ending (none of us do). There are some incredible theories mapping out sensational conclusions and GRRM’s finale could end up putting even those to shame. So, this post could be meaningless when the final book comes out. Personally, I very much look forward to being proved wrong 😉
So, what do you think? Are you optimistic about GRRM’s ending? Do you have doubts like me? Let me know your thoughts in the comments!