Looking Back on Game of Thrones

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Spoiler warning: Game of Thrones:

So, Game of Thrones finally concluded. It was a good show. Problematic, but good. Now that the epic tale has been told, I would like to share some of my thoughts on it.

This was a show that took tried and true storytelling conventions and threw them out the window (kinda like what a certain Lannister did to a certain Stark). The first episode starts by introducing several characters, then having them die. Then, it introduces a character as though he was going to be the protagonist of the entire series, then has him die before the first season is over. That death solidifies one of the key aspects of the show, which had been implied by the deaths at the beginning. Plot armor is all but nonexistent here and characters that almost any other show would treat as indispensable could very well not survive the conflict. This created a level of tension that few shows can match. You can’t watch Game of Thrones and say “of course this character is going to survive.”

The show boasted an enormous cast. Of the characters who are introduced in the first season, who will be important later on is difficult to determine for the most part. This contributes to the powerful sense of uncertainty that permeates the series. A character could seem important at first and then die, or seem minor at first before becoming a key player. In most cases, this felt organic for the show rather than forced. Such was the outcome of the story’s tone and approach to the narrative.

Game of Thrones was far from being an idealistic story and it deconstructed a lot of fantasy tropes. The fight for the Iron Throne was a cynical power struggle that was mostly fought between corrupt nobles. Most of the more sympathetic characters were only sympathetic relative to the story’s extremely vile villains. There were very few truly good characters and the story was not kind to them. Granted, it wasn’t kind to anyone in it. This contributed heavily to the show’s grimdark tone.

One character warrants special mention. For most of the story, Daenerys was the only character whom I knew would not be killed off (though she does die at the end). The reason for that was simple. The story would switch focus to a completely different part of the setting than the rest of the story in order to show her part of it. If Daenerys were to die before completing her journey to Westeros, there would have been no point in depicting it at all. Thus, it was clear that her character arc was building up to something important. What surprised me was that what it was building towards was her becoming the final villain of the series. In retrospect however, this makes sense. She had always been ruthless and entitled, believing her every action to be justified. She was an imperialist and a fanatic. One of the show’s most ingenious tricks is to make the viewer sympathize with terrible people, then punish us for buying into the narrative’s horrible morals. Daenerys was merely the most extreme version of this.

Due to the fact that Game of Thrones had a lot of prominent women, including women who are warriors and leaders, some have argued that the series was feminist. Frankly, I find the fact that people would interpret this series as feminist for clearing such a low bar to be offensive. Most of the women in Game of Thrones were either terrible people or were treated horribly by the narrative. Daenerys was at best a blatant example of the white savior trope and that was before she became an outright villain. Arya was a jerk who pulled the “I’m not like other girls” bullshit (it’s fine to reject traditional femininity but it’s seriously not okay to call other girls “stupid” for not doing so). Nearly all of Sansa’s character arc was about being harmed by men. The list goes on. So no, Game of Thrones was most definitely NOT feminist.

Game of Thrones was however, an excellent show. It had great writing and complex characters. The final season could have been better, but overall the show turned out well. It was my problematic fave despite the fact that it wasn’t even what I usually look for in a fantasy series. I guess it’s time to move on to the next fantasy epic.

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