Game of Thrones: Winterfell

Dispatches from the final season

Spoilers ahead but mostly speculation. This isn’t the blow by blow plot review you’re looking for.

Game of Thrones is finally delivering on its true name: A Song of Ice and Fire, and I’m surprised by how excited I am to close out the series. I burned out on GOT around the time the plots started leaving the books behind — and because it got harder and harder to watch. But catching up after my hiatus reminded me why I care about the characters in the horrible, very no-good world of Westeros. I care because I hope.

In episode 1 of the final season, more than a few characters are dealing with truths we already know about them. Jon Snow is blindsided with a you’re-the-chosen-onebombshell under the stoney gaze of Ned Stark (now uncle, not father) in Winterfell’s family crypt, a reveal with massive implications for how this story ends. On a smaller scale, Samwell Tarly’s heart of gold mourns his father and brother’s execution and Theon Greyjoy—the turncoat and the tortured—rescues his sister Yara, giving the him the first of what I hope are many redemptions this season.

Way back during Season 5, I wrote about how Game of Thrones was a song of ice, fire, and, oddly enough, hope.

Right now, because Game of Thrones is unfinished, it’s like following breaking news. We have our theories and, of course, hopes for how the story will end, but no one knows except the author. It’s easy to be cynical after all the death and injustice, but there is less room for despair in a world where magic exists. So we keep on dreaming satisfying, fanciful dreams, because it’s what we do.

Perhaps, when the final page is written, we’ll find out that Martin isn’t quite so at odds with Tolkien. The Lord of The Rings isn’t all second breakfasts and triumph, darkness descends and there’s real struggle, risk, and loss. The force that impels us to read stories to completion is hope, but we can only identify with hope in the midst of suffering. So yes, Game of Thrones is bleak, horrifying, and often reprehensible, and that’s why so many keep watching and reading.

The horror can’t go on forever, can it?

Here, at the end of nearly a decade of brutal politics and moral relativism, I’m still waiting for a turn toward the transcendent. When the dead rise and it snows in summer, we can only hope the weary and the cynical start thinking more about good ends and not just effective means.

Here’s what I’m hoping for in the final season.

Some real, honest self-sacrifice

It's probably too much to ask for people to just give the whole "you win, or you die" thing a rest until humanity's future is assured but it would probably also be foolish to ask for that. Once Westeros is saved from the White Walkers, and I believe it will be, the realm is going to need someone to lead it towards a brighter future. Honestly, I they opt for a constitutional monarchy and get themselves a Magna Carta—the small folk have suffered enough!

What moving forward in Westeros will look like, I don't know. It's not a mythical past like Middle-earth and has none of the more homelike than home-ness of Tolkien's creation, so maybe a Seven Kingdoms parliament is truer to the DNA of Martin's world. All I know is I want characters to fight for something more than a lifetime of personal glory.

My gut says Jon should be king, not only because he's horrified not only by the prospect but also because he seems adverse to usurping any authroity he's sworn to serve. Could Danaerys be a good queen? Maybe. But probably not before she's faced with losing everything she's earned and built.

A shift from instrumental (logic) to intrinsic (value)

This is Cersei to a fault. She wants things, some of which are even good things, but her willingness to burn and destroy poisons her desires. Are good ends still good when you leave a trail of selfish and vicious means behind? I say not so much.

Characters like Tyrion, Jaime, and even Theon, have been changed by the price they've paid to use people around them as instruments, mere means, of their own desires. Jaime's face when he locks eyes with Bran at the episode's close speaks to his journey through the series. He may have lost a hand, and much of what made him Jaime Lannister, but he may yet become someone who values the virtues and honours he once "shit on."

Another slight echo of Middle-earth I hear in this season is the opportunity that "Isildur's heir should labour to repair Isildur's fault." Westeros is a broken world, much like this one, and, whether hopelessly or with faith, several characters are grasping after redemption.

Bittersweet Finale

I want a fairy tale ending to GOT, and I expect to see something like that, even though the fairy in question is probably a soulless undead dragon. I do not believe the Night King will win and that Westeros will be covered in darkness and ice, even if that would be a kind of justice. I think GRRM enjoys stories too much to do that.

However, I do think whatever beauty emerges from the struggles and sacrifices will be a broken thing. Will Jaime die protecting a sovereign he respects, or will he be called Queenslayer and, like Tyrion, Kin-slayer? Will Jon and Danaerys grasp at power, or will one of them break the power of the Iron Throne and replace it with a dining table? Will Arya subodinate her childish list to the King or Queen's justice; is she resigned to only know death?

Yeah, I'm invested. I think I convinced myself in 2015:

That’s why I can’t give up now, not yet. The bodies keep piling up, but I want to hold on despite the weight of the darkness. I’m hoping for an end to the vicious game of thrones, for a good king or queen for Westeros. If we, as humans, give up on the Seven Kingdoms, a place designed to display the complexity of the morass that is morality, how can we bear to live in this world, the one we see on the news and in our Twitter feeds?

Hope is categorically and necessarily human; we need it—I need it—to get up in the morning, and to sleep at night too. Will I wake up to another sunrise? Will everything sad come untrue?

I hope so.

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