10 April 2019
Well, this is it. One season left, then it’s off to whatever comes next in the world of Westeros. Perhaps some stories from The Knight of the Laughing Tree? Or the grand saga of Aegon Targaryen’s conquest of the Seven Kingdoms? Maybe, if we’re very lucky, do you think we might see some of the stories from before the wall, of heroes fighting ice spiders, rival tribes clashing over territory, and all sorts of pre-dynastic hullabaloo?
Wait, wait, I’m getting ahead of myself. After all, we’ve still got a season to go, where the average episode length will be 72 minutes. So much still has to be resolved. Baelish’s death at the end of season 7 was satisfying, sure, but it’ll be interesting to see if there’s any fallout for Sansa. After all, you don’t just execute the most well-connected person on the continent and not suffer any consequences, no matter how justified it was. Indeed, one thing Game of Thrones never fails to remind us is that those who go looking for justice tend to, in the long run, suffer most of all.
I’m looking forward to the awkward, big-nasty revelation for ‘the people’s hero’ Jon Snow, and who’s going to give it to him. On the one hand, it seems likely that Sam, his best friend and voice of reason, would be able to break it gently to him. On the other, Game of Thrones is not a show where revelation is a matter to be handled in any way other than brusque, so the honor of being the bad news bear passes to Bran, who in his customary flat “I am the Three-Eyed Raven” schtick will drop the load on Jon like a pile of bricks. And what a load it will be! Spoilers for those of you still playing catch-up, but the White Wolf is actually a Targaryen, legitimized by the marriage of his mother, Lyanna Stark, to Rhaegar Targaryen. This makes Daenerys his aunt, which is a whole other side of sticky nonsense I’ll let the actors sort out on-screen.
What I’m interested in is the issue of who has the claim and the support to take the Iron Throne. Certainly, Daenerys is senior in terms of the family tree, and has got the army, the dragons and the big dream to make it happen. Jon, on the other hand, has the North, the largest of the Seven Kingdoms, a direwolf, a weird assassin of a sister, and a brother with big wisdom and poor timing. Cersei Lannister, too, is a player in this. She still has the Lannister army, plus Euron Greyjoy’s dread fleet and the backing of the Iron Bank. Whether or not the Golden Company makes an appearance, she’s going to fight to the bitter end for that throne, for the continuation of the family line, even if everyone ends up hating her or dying because of it. There’s a very real chance that the show ends with Cersei as queen and the Night King killing everyone, just to drive home a point that the prophecy from season five was trying to make – if she rules, she will rule over the dead.
Odds are, Jon will still support Dany’s claim, being a man of honor and such. Our stand-in for Ned Stark, he won’t pursue power and titles, and he may suffer for it. Game of Thrones is a big fan of repetition and mirroring, and the coming season provides plenty of opportunities for both. Just as Ned was betrayed by those he felt closest to, so was Jon by the brothers of the Night’s Watch. Once the North finds out about his true parentage, it’s hard to imagine them wanting to stay loyal to him. Sansa may see an opportunity to take charge, as she’s done in the past, or be forced into taking charge, also as has been done to her in the past. Dany could see Jon as a threat to her sovereignty, too, a mirror for the Targaryens of yesteryear and their infighting in the Dance of Dragons.
Yes, this is starting to read like a speculative piece, about who’s going to fight who, who’s got what interests where and how they’ll get screwed over. But all that wearies me. This is a long-form show, with long-form plots. And while we should all be looking forward to the wrapping of these plots, the denouments and the climaxes and the final form, what makes me really excited about this show is how the ending forces us to reflect on the show as a whole. One of the things I love about long form series is thinking about them in totality, not as they’ve aired, because it’s only when you see the whole narrative thread do you truly understand the picture being made (ideally). This applies to trilogies, sequels, operas, plays, all sorts of entertainment. And it’s no less true with Game of Thrones. There have been weaker seasons, there have been problematic episodes, there have been characters replaced and actors fighting for their rights and representation. The show has grappled with using rape as a plot device, villanizing/exoticizing the ‘east’ as all fantasy shows have done (I mean, it’s called Essos and it’s full of brown people, come on), and turned the child of foreign conquerors into a white savior figure. As exciting as things have been, as attractive as the cast may be, it’s not a show without problems.
We shouldn’t expect season eight to solve those problems. It’s only six episodes, after all.We shouldn’t expect it to be an endcap, to tie things off neatly, because with an army of the dead bearing down from the North, ain’t nothing gonna be neat about it. Maybe we should expect the world to be saved, but have the same problems from before, the same corruption and mistrust. Maybe we should expect the return of Azor Ahai, because Melisandre being right is just the sort of maddening twist we’ve come to love and hate from Game of Thrones. For my part, I try to hold no expectations, so I can react honestly, critically, and write honestly, and critically.
But however you need to face it, be ready for it. Because it is the end.