“But wait,” you say. “We still have two more seasons!”
“Well,” I reply. “Technically, it’s only thirteen episodes.”
Perhaps I should explain further. While the HBO hit show, Game of Thrones, keeps right on hitting for at least the next two years, the defining titular element of said television blockbuster has ended. A turning point has been reached and, from here on out, expect a lot less intrigue and a lot more bloodshed. ‘The great game,’ as Tyrion calls it – has finished, at least in so far as being recognizable.
Warning: This article contains spoilers.
When Game of Thrones first aired back in 2011, it was hailed by critics and audiences alike. In particular, what set it apart from other fantasy was its focus:
“But ‘Game of Thrones’ is more fascinated with corruption and decadence. That’s what helps give the show more range than you might expect from fantasy; it has a dark view, even in terms of the cool-toned production design. Westeros is a fractured continent, pulled apart by the baser instincts and desires of its inhabitants. The good guys don’t automatically prevail, as they might in other fantasy tales. The most riveting characters are the most self-serving, notably the queen, Cersei (Lena Headey), and her twin brother Jaime Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), with whom she is having an incestuous affair. They have gorgeous, aristocratic features, but they are pure, compelling evil.”
So simply put – what set Game of Thrones apart was that it was fantasy (full of dragons and dire wolves) that was fully concerned with politics. This gave a welcome reprieve from fantasy villains who were simply “evil” and heroes who were born “good.” People could be corrupt, manipulative, honorable, naive, cynical, subtle. In other words, as opposite from Lord of the Rings as you could get while still being the same genre.
And as the show went on, it played to those strengths. Over and over the game was played, the pieces moving about the board. New pieces entered, old pieces left – often in shocking and unforeseen ways that immediately made sense in hindsight (Robb Stark’s political miscalculations resulting in the Red Wedding, for instance). As I wrote before in an earlier article, Game of Thrones and its source material, George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire, made its mark by subverting traditional fantasy.
As Game of Thrones enters its penultimate season, the titular “game” has changed all together. Bold action now speaks much louder than minor gesture. The characters emerging on top are not the smartest or the most intriguing – the are for the most part the militarily powerful (Jon Snow and Daenerys Targaryen) or the unpredictably insane (Cersei Lannister).
To speak to this, two of Westeros’ most politically-savvy characters were made to look foolish in the final episodes of season six. First, Tyrion Lannister (a man normally in control, even when he isn’t), was made to look the idiot when the Masters ignored his diplomatic treaty and fire-bombed the city of Meereen. Second (and more severe), Margaery Tyrell was helpless and incinerated as Cersei Lannister laid waste to the Sept and all inside it.
Both Tyrion and Margaery are known for their charm, their subtlety, and their ability to weave intricate plans to achieve what they want. Turns out, none of that matters outside of the world of politics. Tyrion, out of his element but not realizing it, merely created a temporary peace and would have been slaughtered if not for Daenerys’ timely intervention. Margaery… well, she had no one to save her. She was playing chess, Cersei was playing Whack-A-Mole.
It seems now, that Cersei was right (at least partially):
The only lesson here is: one can’t out-reason the unreasonable. Cersei blowing up the Sept could not be anticipated. The Slavers inflexibility could not be foreseen (by a foreigner) and, most importantly, the White Walkers cannot be negotiated with. They are the big bad guy, the one that the show has been building to since the first episode. With only 13 episodes to go, they cannot continue to be a presence.
It is a safe bet to think that the bulk of the remaining episodes will deal with alliance forging and banding together against a threat that is far greater than any army. Even Daenerys with all her ships has little real power against the Night King. She has three dragons – and we know White Walkers were a problem when dragons were plentiful.
So when I see articles discussing “Jon, Sansa, Littlefinger: what will happen?“, I can’t help but think: “Will it matter?”
What major role could Littlefinger possibly have in stakes so far above his petty scheme of “I think I’d look prettiest on the Iron Throne.” He’s still playing chess, he’s still playing politics.
The game has changed. This show doesn’t have time to show proper travel times anymore, forget long-developed schemes with many twists and turns. For all its early intricacy, Game of Thrones is looking to be very black-and-white in its finale.
Perhaps that’s why George R.R. Martin has hit serious writer’s block with the books. He knows better than anyone how much fame his series has enjoyed by subverting fantasy – but now it looks like we’re finally heading towards that super-climactic death struggle between good and evil. You know, the one between clear-cut heroes and villains?
In other words: there may be fewer surprises ahead. The game is over, the prophetic Song of Ice and Fire begun. Oh well, at least we can still speculate.