Thwarted Expectations

POTENTIAL SPOILER ALERT: This post will discuss last Sunday’s Game of Thrones finale.  Considering that spoilers were flying around online before the episode even finished airing, I doubt that this warning a week later is even necessary, but, just in case YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!

So it’s the end of another season of Game of Thrones, and we have another pile of corpses to sort through.  Based on what we saw, we can take Stannis Baratheon’s name off of the list of potential Iron Throne occupants.

More surprising to many viewers, though, was the apparent death of Jon Snow, a character most assume will have an important role to plan in the show’s endgame.  Ok.  A couple of things.  Yes, the readers of the books knew this was coming.  And yes, there are possible ways that Snow could return to the series, even if the showrunners and the actor all insist that he is definitely deceased.

Let’s take them at their word for now.  Jon Snow’s dead.  Great.  So all of that stuff about wondering who his mother really is and whether or not he’s actually Ned Stark’s son?  Irrelevant.  He’s dead.  Ned’s dead.  His birth mother is probably dead.  None of it matters.

In the real world (not that Game of Thrones is anywhere close to the real world), people don’t get all of the answers.  A child who was adopted could die in a car wreck before she knows that the people she’s been calling Mom and Dad her own life aren’t actually related to her much less the identities of her true birth parents.  We may not ever learn who stole our car, or who got the job instead of us, or the solution to hundreds of other mysteries great and small in our lives.

Storytelling, however, usually plays by different rules.  If we as readers, viewers, or listeners are given a particular piece of information, we expect it to become important later.  George R.R. Martin knows this, though, and has thwarted our expectations before.  We went through most of the first book/season of the series believing that Ned Stark would be our main character.  Not so much, as it turned out.

So of course our main character must be Ned’s son, Robb, who is out to avenge his father’s murder!

Ehhh…not so much.  And now millions of people will be nervous at weddings.

For five books and five seasons now Game of Thrones (Or A Song of Ice and Fire, if you’re reading the books) has been tearing through plot and people, the show even more so than the books.  And with the apparent deaths of Stannis Baratheon and Jon Snow, we’ve lost two more established characters that we have any kind of investment with. 

I don’t care how much Martin and the showrunners want to thwart our expectations.  At some point they have to leave someone alive that we care about, or the ending of this saga is going to be exceptionally unsatisfying.

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m all for playing with the audience’s pre-conceptions.  Twist endings, when done properly, can be exceptionally effective because, while the audience doesn’t see them coming, they make sense in retrospect.  Otherwise, the term used isn’t “twist,” it’s “out of left field,” which is not something you want said about how you wrap things up after this many years.

And this is why I don’t believe Jon Snow is truly dead.  He may know nothing, but I cannot believe his entire existence is a red herring.  Martin is telling us a story, and, while he may toy with us along the way, in the end there are rules he must follow to end things in a way that satisfies his audience and, very likely, himself. 

It’s fun to keep the audience guessing (and as an audience member to be kept guessing), but eventually things are going to coalesce to the point that someone is able to deduce what’s coming.  Very likely some Game of Thrones fans already have (Look up R+L=J if you want a theory that could be a huge potential spoiler.).  That’s not a bad thing.  It’s just inevitable.

In the end, what we want is a satisfying conclusion to this story that we’ve devoted so many hours to reading/watching.  As I’ve discussed in previous posts, sticking the landing can be difficult, especially with the expectations surrounding this series.  I am convinced it can be done.  I am hopeful that Martin and the showrunners are going to wow us.

But, guys, seriously, for that to happen, YOU HAVE TO STOP KILLING EVERYBODY!  

-Alan Decker

@CmdrAJD on Twitter