I’ll say this for George RR Martin and for HBO’s David Benioff and D.B. Weiss — their commitment to exploring choice and consequence is both ruthless and realistic. As the series continues its slow build to the end, we’re seeing the consequences of choices made long ago. The Children of the Forest, in their desperation, created the enemy that doomed them and may doom mankind. Arya Stark, in her justifiable rage and quest for vengeance, made a choice that now stands to maker her an instrument of evil. Bran Stark, in his ultimate crisis, made a choice that doomed an innocent boy to a life of mental torment and a horrible (though meaningful) death.
And we of course watched new choices that will likely have unforeseen consequences. Sansa chose to withhold material information from Jon. Tyrion – in the absence of his queen — invited the Red Priestess to become her ally in Mereen. Each decision was understandable and perhaps even correct in the moment, yet if the story holds true to form, both decisions will cause suffering in the weeks and years to come.
But not all is bleak in Westeros and Essos. Just when I was growing concerned that Daenerys’s heart was turning cold and grim, she demonstrated genuine love and forgiveness for Jorah, and rarely do we see any character turn his back on power — as Theon did — no matter how broken they may be. There is virtue in Game of Thrones, but virtue is hard, and virtue — like everything else — has its consequences. Just ask Jon Snow. Just ask Ned Stark.
The show’s narrative honesty in fully playing out the consequences of choice is one of the primary reasons why it’s so captivating. Characters change because of the choices they make, and we can’t predict those changes. Heroes become villains — and back again. While I’m the campaign manager for #Khaleesi2016, you can discern the war in her own soul. Her best intentions have led to extraordinary violence, and her greatest accomplishment — liberating Slaver’s Bay — has been largely undone. Her next invasion will likely be far more violent than the first. As a reader and viewer, I’m still rooting for Daenerys to end up on the Iron Throne, but I still want her to be recognizably herself. Tempered and hardened, to be sure, but still ultimately just and humane — at least as compared to the alternatives.
Finally, much has been made about the show’s transition from the older generation to the younger generation, with virtually every significant ruler from the first season now swept away. But it’s also fascinating to watch the younger generation become the older generation. As a colleague remarked to me last night, Sansa is becoming more like her mother with every episode — playing the “game of thrones” herself, with the same degree of independence and a similar degree of deception. May she play it better than Catelyn, or the Starks’ heartbreak has only just begun.