Game of Thrones is Gonna Be Trash... You Can Quote Me On That
In celebration of Game of Thrones returning to the cultural spotlight for its final season I wanna talk about why I think its quality has deteriorated substantially in the last several seasons and why the ending cannot be good.
What made Game of Thrones so good in the first place is that the narrative was character driven. The story was built on characters and their interactions; it makes Westeros feel like a world that evolves organically because of the actions taken by the characters. Lord of the Rings pioneered a structure in which the characters are given an arbitrary task that the story is built around. Post-Tolkien fantasy is built on this foundation. But from a modern perspective this approach tends to creates a story that it feels like the characters are just moving down a hallway towards their goal. Most importantly it forces a binary ending, either Frodo and Friends destroy the Ring and save the day or they don’t and Middle Earth is doomed. Early in GoT there was no end game. It was just like the real world, different actors with different ideals and motivations moving towards different goals. Sometimes they interacted with each other, other times characters would have no relation beyond their six degrees of separation. For example Bran never met Daenerys, they never really even knew of each other’s existence.
So what's changed?
White Walkers have emerged as Game of Thrones’ Mount Doom, Dorothy’s return to Kansas. The White Walkers create a finite number of endings. And while GoT still isn’t quite as binary as the a lot of other entries into the genre, the change still causes predictability. Coming into this season there are a set number of endings: John/Daenerys end up on the throne, Cersei has a shot still, Tyrion is a darkhorse pick on Essos, any number of smaller characters could also ascend to the throne randomly, and I've been saying for literal years that my personal favorite outcome is that Team White Walker rolls on through, kills everyone and the whole affair is just a lesson in futility. All these endings are disappointing in their own right. The point isn’t that any of these endings is satisfactory or not, the point is that there is finality at all. What made GoT great in the first place is that it transgressed “Happy Ever After”.
That’s why it’s so devastating with characters die in GoT, the audience has to live with the loss. GoT unpredictability was a breath of fresh air that still surprised audiences in a post-M. Night Shyamalan world.
The other device that made GoT so great was that none of main characters are strictly good or strictly evil. In a fantasy environment full of black and white, Saurons and Aragorns, GoT delivered a shade of gray. Was Tywin Lannister a good dude? Nah, but he did what he did for a reason. Daenerys is a terrible politician and has done some real wishy washy shit in the morality department, but she did it because of her ideals. Ideals which, I generally think are in the right place; we can all agree that slavery is bad.
The problem with White Walkers is that they put all of the characters firmly on the “good guys” side. While Cersei may still be a morally corrupt, power hungry autocrat whose only redeeming quality is that she loves her children, she is still more redeemable than a personified force of nature hellbent on destroying every living thing in the world. That kind of pure evil archetype does not make for good villains and it leads to stories that feel very old fashioned.
I would normally reserve judgement and say, “we’ll see how it turns out”. But I think there’s about a 0% chance that the ending is good, you can quote me on that. You heard it here first folks, the end to GoT is gonna be trash.
That being said, I’m still gonna watch it so I can complain at the end.
Go Team White Walker!