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The final days of game of thrones couldn’t but leave a stain on the legacy of the former phenomenon. Although completely deserved, it’s also extremely unfortunate. It seems that now whenever we bring ourselves talk about Game of Thrones, all we can talk about is the final season. We seem to forget about all of the conversations shared over the years. From how obsessed we all were with theories about how the show would play out, to who we felt was next to die. The decisions of show writers David Benioff and D.B Weiss plunged the series to a catastrophic ending but George RR Martins universe consists of so much more than their contribution. In the A Song of Ice and Fire book series, the real mastermind behind it all, GRRM, created one of the most amazing stories ever told in an incredible world full of complex and unique characters that face challenges and consequences which at times, are not too far from our own. With more to come from George’s incredible story, both on screen and in text over the coming years, I think that to exile the entire universe of A Song of Ice and Fire from our memories because of the ending of Game of Thrones would be an unfortunate mistake.
I decided a long time ago that once the show reached its conclusion I’d begin reading the books. As of now, I’ve read the entire series to date and have joined the millions of others who have been patiently waiting for Winds of Winter since 2011. As I read through the events that take place in the earlier seasons of Game of Thrones and was reintroduced to the Starks, the Lannisters, Stannis, The Night’s Watch, the brotherhood without banners, the Dothraki and Daenerys Targaryen, I began to feel sad that so many people can’t bring themselves to enjoy this world anymore. It wasn’t hard to see why the show was such a sensation. From breaking HBO viewership records, cleaning up at the Emmys to viewing parties becoming a worldwide phenomenon, maybe it’s time to briefly set the ending aside and reflect on why this became the biggest show in history.
Fantasy fans and critics alike were pleasantly surprised to discover that Game of Thrones actually has a lot in common with stories such as Breaking Bad. Look at Walter White’s temperament in season one, then fast forward to season five. They’re worlds apart. He looks the same, but his personality has changed so much that he’s unrecognisable as a human being. Essentially, a whole new character has been born. We also find him in situations of steadily increasing risks and levels of danger. As he becomes more familiar with them, we as the viewer become more accustomed to it and learn more about how the individual is expected to act, creating a relationship that will stay fruitful. Now, imagine the very same situation but instead of just one character, a vast list of characters, all with their own ambitions and fears who all progress from what they were to what they will be. Weaving in and out of each other’s lives, between horrible, nightmare situations to positions of power and responsibility, their personalities and motivations constantly evolving. This is what Game of Thrones delivered.
In Westeros, one small thing sets off a chain of events that quickly turns the world into a warzone full of betrayal, ambition, unlikely alliances and friendship and the ominous threat of much older myths and legends. Yes, it is a fantasy show, but it was always so much more complex than your usual swords and sorcerers and absolute good vs absolute evil. While it may be fictional, this world is full of humans just like you and I who are forced into very real positions of conflict and struggle, forcing them to make very real choices which most importantly, have very real consequences. While all of this takes place in the foreground, the background gently leans on the two larger ominous threats based around the two natural opposites of ice and fire.
One of the reasons the show was so impressive was George RR Martin’s effective storytelling. The story offered some truly memorable high points that people will always remember. The battle between the nights watch and the wildings at the wall, the massacre at hardhome and of course, the battle of the bastards were absolutely spectacular to watch. But what made them so incredible wasn’t just the jaw dropping effects, action sequences and music, it was the personal choices and decisions of the characters which gradually led to this moment. For example, all of these battles feature Jon Snow, but in relation to the overall context of the story each of them are extremely different. Jon has to fight each of these battles for completely different reasons. He’s constantly evolving and learning and therefore keeps plunging himself into harm’s way for a new, greater cause. Either through shady and unlikely alliances or the ominous threat of something greater, new player were always emerging.
Another trademark aspect of Game of Thrones and arguably the one which initially made it stand out from anything we’ve seen before was that in this world, the stakes are always high and your actions have consequences. If the hero misses a step, the hero will die. Simple as. They’re only human just like the rest of us. George RR Martin understands this, which is why this ideology lies at the focal point of his books. The death of a main character, immediately destroys all of your hopes and dreams associated with them. It forces you to give an unparalleled level of attention to the remaining characters as you’re now unsure if anyone is safe while also wondering who’s left to step up and be the hero.
If you really wanted to revisit the show at its best then one should look no further than season four. Personally, I believed this is was peak of the show as it was in season five when the writers began to overtake George’s source material. The story of Game of Thrones followed many different sub-plots, the only time this wasn’t the case was in the later seasons when the show had overtaken the books and all of the subplots converged to form one storyline. The plot was always far more exciting and captivating when there was a variety of them. Season four offered eight dominant stories within the world of Westeros and also offers the viewer a wide variety of challenges and genres. For example, for lovers of political drama tensions were always high in King’s Landing along with conspiracy in the vale. Meanwhile lovers of action would become engrossed in the ruthlessness of life at Castle Black and beyond the wall. We don’t get bogged down in an overabundance of one specific element like action, drama or adventure, but instead it’s constantly changing, offering us something new with every new scene. In contrast, in the final season all the characters are not only crammed into one setting, they’re often crammed into the same room.
The action in kings landing throughout season four was absolutely sensational. Tyrion’s life hangs in the balance due to something completely out of his hands, and as a result Jaime’s loyalties are tested. All the while, for the first time in his life, the mighty Tywin Lannister seems to be losing control. Four seasons of anger, distain, frustration and loathing between these two characters emerges to give us huge moments in the show. It all bursts into the forefront in an epic speech from Tyrion. It’s both heart-breaking and frustrating and manages to create even more drama when Tyrion demands a trial by combat. Similarly, further north, Jon Snow is torn between a new found love in Ygritte, the freedom of life beyond the wall and his vows to the night’s watch. This was the season in which the man who never knew who he was seemed like he was finally finding himself until the call to arms gets in the way. Even take Arya’s adventures with the hound. The hound’s dark view of the world made him the perfect mentor, slowly laying the foundations for the master assassin she would become in the later seasons.
One of the biggest issues the world took with the final season revolved around Jon Snow and the Night King. Personally, I felt that there had been no doubt that it would fall to Jon Snow to kill the Night King. Something happened along the way between the writers, whether or not George RR Martin was also involved I’m not sure, but I think it’s safe to assume that Kit Harrington himself along with all of the fans, were led astray here. It had been foreshadowed from the very beginning. The writers obviously had not informed him before the release of the scripts for season eight that they were going in a new direction. You can tell from his reaction at the Season 8 table read that he wasn’t happy, nor was it what he had been expecting.
Here’s a quote from George:
“If you’ve planned your book that the butler did it, then you read on the Internet that someone has figured out that the butler did it, so you suddenly change in mid-stream and it was the chamber maid that did it then you screw up the whole book because you’ve got this foreshadowing early on and you’ve got these little clues you’ve planted and now they’re dead ends and you’ve to introduce other clues, it’s a mess.” – George RR Martin. Now if you contrast that quote with this quote from writer David Benioff regarding the long night episode, “Jon Snow has always been the hero and the saviour, but it just didn’t see right to us for this moment.” There’s no need to dive too deep into things here, for one reason or another there’s a blatant lack of consistency.
The character arc of Jaime Lannister was another unique aspect that made Game of Thrones so special until the final season seemed to squander it. We first meet Jaime as a corrupt knight who pushes an innocent child from a tower to protect his own twisted secret. After losing a battle against the Starks and being captured he later ends up losing his right hand and in doing so, loses his identity, his legacy and his reputation as a swordsman. Gradually however, he begins to learn who he is beyond the hand, beyond the shroud of Lannister gold that he’s been cloaked in his entire life.
“King slayer”, “man without honour”, “Oath breaker” , are names that have been thrown at Jaime for most of his life but there’s so much more to him than meets the eye. In Jaime’s most incredible scene we learn what really happened that night during the sack of kings landing and why he really killed the mad king, Aerys Targaryen, the king he swore to protect. His actions that night have since led to entire world to have already made their minds up about him but that outstanding scene with Brienne reveals that they were all wrong. As the story progresses he continuously betrays the rest of his family to save his outcast of a little brother, puts his life on the line to save Brienne and eventually leaves Kings Landing to fight at Winterfell.
He acts in the name of a queen who’s tyrannical and corrupt, yet these acts are often admirable. During the loot-train attack in season seven, Daenerys and the Dothraki ambush the Lannister forces. There comes a moment when Jaime stops and observes the terror inflicted on his men. As the fire burns and the screams echo in the background, the look on Jaime’s face says he’s seen this before. It’s this moment that allows us to really understand why he stepped in and killed the mad king all those years previous. He pulls a spear from the ground and charges at the dragon on his own, deciding that he’s had enough Targaryen terror for one lifetime.
With Jaime Lannister, the liar becomes truthful and courageous. His redemption arc, spanning nearly a decade, was one of the most enjoyable elements of the story. Unfortunately however, it became another reason why we didn’t get what we deserved from the show’s conclusion. Regardless of whether or not he should’ve returned to Cersei, the line “I never really cared for them”, completely threw away the entire journey his character had embarked on.
The best days of Game of Thrones were nothing short of outstanding in so many ways. I’m confident that they’ll never be topped. The irony is, I struggle to recommend the show to friends and family, knowing how the story eventually ends. Does the nature of the ending mean however, that we should erase the entire story from our memories. I think that to do so is a shame to George and the amazing world he created.
HBO is returning to Westeros with House of the Dragon, a show based on George’s Fire and Blood, the history of the Targaryen dynasty. I can completely understand someone being hesitant towards entering back into that world after how everything ended with Game of Thrones. Personally however, the world of ice and fire offers me too much enjoyment to ever turn away from it. I’ll be watching House of the Dragon. I’m sure one day there’ll be another prequel show set in the age of heroes which follows the ancient ancestors of House Stark, the children of the forest and finally reveals all about the white walkers. Until then, I’m content with waiting for George’s next book. Game of Thrones may have let us down at the final hurdle, there’s no denying that. I would be lying however, if I said that I look back on the entire story from the age of heroes, the Targaryen dynasty, Roberts rebellion and finally the events of Game Of Thrones, and think that it’s not one of the greatest stories ever told.