The Corner


Game of Thrones Thoughts — Cleaning Up Martin’s Mess

In response to Kerry & Bush “Dirty Work”

Spoilers ahead. Consider yourself warned.

If you’ve read all of the books in George RR Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series, you know two things. First, Martin has crafted one of the most fully-realized worlds in the history of fantasy writing, and — second — Martin can’t stop crafting. The story sprawls and keeps sprawling. New storylines emerge, unfold over hundreds of pages, then at least seem to disappear into relative irrelevance. It’s sometimes difficult to discern the main storyline or even to know the central players in the drama. 

This all makes for exciting and interesting reading, but if I’m a showrunner charged with ending the story, I’d feel something like cold panic. So I’d be tempted to do what David Benioff and D. B. Weiss are doing and massacre the characters who plainly don’t figure in the endgame. So goodbye Doran Martell, Balon Greyjoy, and Roose Bolton — the Prince of Dorne, Lord of the Iron Islands, and Steward of the North, respectively. We’ve had entire seasons revolve around the fate of even one ruler of their stature, and now three fall in two weeks. 

I also view Jon Snow’s resurrection in the same vein. While my esteemed colleague, Stephen Miller, wishes that Snow had stayed on the slab, his resurrection felt necessary for the story. We’re at the beginning of the end of the entire arc, and it’s way too late for the kind of massive narrative reset that a “true” death would entail. Martin left Snow lying on the ground at Castle Black, and he presumably told Benioff and Weiss what he intended to do about that, so the showrunners did the best they could. (Incidentally, I can imagine a famously ornery Martin pulling the rug out from HBO and switching up his story. If the upcoming Winds of Winter keeps Snow dead, the cognitive dissonance may well drive hosts of nerds stark raving mad.)

By the way, isn’t the ongoing chaos in Westeros setting the table nicely for a certain savior-queen? War is coming (again) in the North. In King’s Landing, Tommen can’t even control his own capital, and both Dorne and Iron Islands are leaderless (for now). The time is right for a blonde benevolent dictator to fly in, wise dwarf by her side.

Finally, no Game of Thrones recap would be complete without a response to at least one hand-wringing thinkpiece. This week’s come from The Atlantic, where Megan Garber writes about the show’s “epidemic of child-killing.” Speaking of the savage deaths and brutal lives of the show’s younger characters (including, in this episode, an infant), she says:

Game of Thrones has long had an extremely tense relationship with childhood as a stage of life. The show is populated by young people who are not, in any meaningful way, children. There are the kids—Joffrey, Ramsay, and their like—who, contra quaint cultural assumptions about youthful innocence, are as cruel and sadistic as any adult could ever be. There are also the kids whom the show’s plot has systematically robbed of whatever youthful innocence they may have began with. Bran Stark, all gawky limbs and buoyant energy, is quickly de-fenestrated by one of the adults charged with keeping him safe. Arya undergoes a figurative version of the same treatment, the traumas she endures plunging her into a very mature kind of violence. Sansa’s initial innocence is converted, through a similar alchemy, into a cold impulse toward self-preservation. The surviving Starks are still young; they long ago stopped, however, being youthful.

Pundits have an interesting relationship with the show’s unusual (for the fantasy genre) gritty realism. On the one hand, it’s perhaps the element that’s made the show most relatable for millions of fans who’d otherwise never watch a show featuring dragons and zombies. On the other hand, that same realism is the source of endless angst. A show loosely based on the Wars of the Roses, set in a land that intentionally vaguely resembles late medieval England, is of course going to show a kind of brutality and early-childhood horror that’s utterly alien to our generation. If anything, the show grants the characters more of a childhood than the books. In the books many of the characters are substantially younger when they undergo their ordeals — as they were many of the central players in England’s long-running dynastic struggles.

Watching that kind of violence should make us squirm. But it also clearly demonstrates the stakes of the “game” itself, and it explains the extreme behavior of the players. When — as throughout most of human history — you win or you die, we can get a glimpse into the reasons why our own world has been so fractious and violent. Good fiction can be a window into reality, and Game of Thrones is very good fiction indeed.


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