While everyone on social media congratulates one another on the victories of their preferred fictional characters over other fictional characters they despise far more than anyone they could possibly know in real life, I’m left asking myself (and my elated friends) a question: What happened to the Game of Thrones that we all became so obsessed with?
(IF YOU DIDN’T FINISH SEASON SIX OF GAME OF THRONES AND ARE GOING TO WHINE ABOUT SPOILERS, STOP READING HERE.)
For the first time in the show’s six seasons, the protagonists saw overwhelming victory after overwhelming victory for 10 straight episodes. Yes, direwolves had their toughest season in quite a while, but the only even remotely upsetting moment of the entire season was when we all found out how the human version of Groot got his name.
That’s not what I signed up for.
If I wanted to watch a show in which death isn’t permanent, the good guys win every time and everything works out with a tidy ending, I’d watch one of the garbage superhero shows on Netflix or nearly any network series. The thing that made Game of Thrones a must-watch every Sunday was that you never knew if it would be the last time you’d see your favorite character. For those of us who didn’t read the books (I never got past the first chapter of the first one), the plot twists and seemingly random character deaths were so surprising that having them spoiled by book readers was worse than being lectured by men’s rights activists.
Shows like Breaking Bad, The Sopranos, The Wire and Boardwalk Empire showed the world how engaging a series can be when you never know who, besides the main protagonist, is going to live. Game of Thrones took that a step further by brutally murdering the show’s apparent main character (and predominant Stark) at the end of three of the first five seasons.
Now, I’m not the most emotional person to watch shows with, but every Sunday of the first five years of Game of Thrones had me on the edge of the couch, hoping that my favorite characters (currently Bronn, the Hound and Granny Tyrell, in that order) wouldn’t be offed by a stray arrow or elaborate assassination scheme. There wasn’t a single scene that made me throw my laptop (like Jimmy’s death on Boardwalk Empire), look away (Opie’s death on Sons of Anarchy) or raise my hands in victory (Jesse finally murdering Todd on Breaking Bad), but there were constantly moments that had my heart pumping and forced me to avoid social media for hours on Sunday evenings until I could find an hour to fire up HBO Go.
Season six blew all of that, if you ask me. The way the Battle of the Bastards unfolded was the same plot line a 7-year-old smashing his Ninja Turtles into his G.I. Joes would create. I missed the part in The Art of War where Sun Tzu recommends running directly into the middle of a battlefield as a way to survive a massive battle — just like Ramsay’s thousands of soldiers missed Jon Snow. Seriously, though, how do you have a battle that big and the only “good guy” casualty with a name is an overworked giant with three lines? Even the Avengers suffer more losses than that, and they’re owned by Disney.
At this point, it seems like bad choices made by the Starks are being rewarded. Arya should’ve died after wasting an egregious amount of our time learning to pull people’s faces off in Braavos. Jon Snow should’ve died again when facing thousands of soldiers who wanted him dead after completely ignoring Sansa’s advice (and, in the final episode, getting rid of arguably the most powerful person in his crew to side with an adviser who’s done virtually nothing for him since they left Castle Black). And I think we can all agree that Bran deserved to die more than anyone after what he did to poor Wylis.
The bigger issue going forward in the show is that the most interesting villains are all dead. Following Joffrey’s demise, Ramsay did a fantastic job of picking up the slack and making himself so unlikable that people forgot how angry they were when, in Batman Begins, Batman saves the actor who played Joffrey. The High Sparrow and Shame Nun were so twisted that Cersei became a protagonist and people started saying things like, “This never would’ve happened on Joffrey’s watch …”
For season seven, we’re left with the Night’s King — who doesn’t seem as if he’ll add much in the way of dialogue — until Jon Snow and company presumably defy all odds to maul his army while absorbing minimal losses. Either Daenerys or Cersei will have to become a villain, as the two seem poised to square off while Snow takes care of Winter, but haven’t we already done the Cersei-as-an-evil-ruler thing? Here’s betting that the victor of that battle becomes the antagonist for Jon “Bran says I’m a Targaryen” Snow’s eventual ascent to the Iron Throne – until he does the right thing and bows to the only person who seems fit to rule the Seven Kingdoms, Lyanna Mormont.
And finally, how the hell did Varys get back to Mereen from Dorne in the time it took Khaleesi’s people to finish painting the ships?
Aside from the triumphantly murderous return of the Hound and the general badass-ery of his brother, Sansa getting her swagger back and the introduction of Lyanna Mormont were the only two real high notes of the season. Silicon Valley and Veep were both darker and more surprising this year than Game of Thrones, and those aren’t shows known for their soul-destroying plot twists. I’ll still watch Game of Thrones next year, and I’ll be hoping it returns to the bleakness that frustrated optimistic viewers in years past. I find it hard to believe that George R.R. Martin really had this much positivity planned for the books he hasn’t written yet (not to mention the fan theories confirmed this season).
Maybe this season was a sign that the bad guys in real life are all doomed, and someone like Cersei will successfully pull a Guy Fawkes on President Trump’s inauguration party and real-life Jon Snow will singlehandedly take out ISIS. Maybe it was just the Return of the Jedi to the first five seasons’ The Empire Strikes Back.
Until then, I’ll be the jerk ruining happy people’s days by repeatedly asking them to hold the door.