‘Game of Thrones’: What Was the Point of All That?

     May 21, 2019

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Game of Thrones ended in a very weird place. I expect when the book on this show is written (presumably, delivered by hand and with the title of the show on it in a hilariously meta moment), it will say that the biggest failing of Seasons 7 and 8 was how rushed they were. Game of Thrones needed either full 10-episode seasons instead of 13 episodes spread out over two seasons, or they needed a ninth season of six or seven episodes. Either way, there wasn’t enough time to do the story justice, which is how you basically wrapped things up with Tyrion Explains It All, both to Jon Snow and to the lords of Westeros on what should happen next. Without that much-needed space, the conclusions felt rushed and arbitrary with no real way to accept the scope of what had happened.

When we’re told stories, it’s because those stories have some kind of importance. There’s a reason Star Wars doesn’t focus on Luke’s life as a young moisture farmer or why The Lord of the Rings isn’t centered on Frodo enjoying a good book by the fire. Stories are about breaking from the routine and showing upheaval, and on an epic canvas, they’re about how these stories change the world in some monumental way. In its final season, Game of Thrones dealt with the Army of the Dead as well as Daenerys Targaryen burning King’s Landing to the ground. The fallout of all of this seems to be the end of dynastic rule, that Lords will now choose the king, the North is an independent kingdom again, and Bran is ruler of the Six Kingdoms.

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Image via HBO

If showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss were going for a perverse kind of circular storytelling–King Robert, a ruler with no interest in being king and no official heirs, is eventually succeeded by Bran the Broken, a ruler with no interest in being king and no official heirs–then it never really landed. And the problem with that kind of circular storytelling is while it puts a nice bow on everything, it makes the entire journey feel, to crib from the Bard, “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” What was this story all about?

You could make the argument that it’s about the fragility of power, but if that’s the case, there doesn’t seem to be much care in how it’s handled in the finale. The show’s own logic–Bran has the best story and therefore is the best choice to rule–doesn’t even hold up in the space of the meeting they were having. Yeah, Bran Stark was crippled, but thanks to other people dragging his ass around Westeros, he became the Three-Eyed Raven where he ceased to have much interest in the affairs of people anymore. He also knew that thousands of people would die at King’s Landing and did nothing to stop it. Either Westeros is a real place where it matters who has power, or it’s an empty fantasy where we cuddle up with a good book and appreciate the value of storytelling. And in the end even the show kind of admits that Bran is more of a figurehead, and that the real power will be in the hands of his advisors, so I guess we missed out on the scenes of Bronn studying monetary policy.

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Image via HBO

What’s the big takeaway from the conclusion of Game of Thrones? That you shouldn’t be like Daenerys and buy into your own hype lest you murder thousands of innocent people for no reason? Maybe it’s that you should read more books and write some fiction because authors are the true heroes. Maybe the lesson is just to be vaguely more likable than other people because mean people eventually get killed by nicer people. Perhaps it’s that incremental change in Westeros is its own reward, as I’m sure the next group of nobles who meet up will be just as reasonable and follow the wisdom of “best speech wins.”

As Zach Kram over at The Ringer astutely pointed out before Season 8 began, Game of Thrones lost sight of consequences. In the show’s earlier seasons, characters who acted with only an eye on the short-term were almost inevitably defeated in the long-term. The “game” was about being able to see more than one move ahead and maneuver in such a way as to maintain power. But because Benioff and Weiss became more enamored of spectacle and hitting certain plot points, those consequences ceased to matter. That’s how you get Bran falling ass backwards into an Iron Throne that no longer exists because Drogon understands symbolism.

In the end, the story of Game of Thrones doesn’t seem to have Westeros-shaking consequences. Sure, representative democracy was a longshot in the medieval setting, but at least it would be a serious impact. Instead, we’re left to believe that whenever Bran dies, the Lords of Westeros will reunite and calmly and benevolently pick a new ruler. The “wheel” that Daenerys spoke about will keep on spinning and maybe because slightly nicer people are currently in charge, the people on the bottom won’t get crushed as badly. But no one seems particularly concerned about whether the White Walkers might ever return. No one wonders if there might be more dragons in the world. The most consequential thing is that the surviving Stark children get to determine their own destinies, so good for them, I guess. Perhaps the biggest subversion of the fantasy genre that Game of Thrones pulled was that nothing really changes.

For more on the Game of Thrones finale, click on the links below:

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