After last nights final scene, Game of Thrones feels like it is at a critical crossroads. Are we killing people off for shock value or are we using important character deaths to forward a complex narrative?
If Jon Snow truly is dead after last nights’ icy-stabby-mutiny, then the narrative is going to have major issues. Some viewers have already gotten on their soapbox this season, perhaps rightfully so after a wedding night rape scene, pedophilia scene, and a sacrificial burning of a little girl scene, but it’s not like Thrones has upped the ante this season. Let’s take a moment to remember the season long torture of Theon, the many previous brutal murders, pretty much anything involving Joffrey, or the Mountain squeezing Oberyn’s head like a ripe tomato. This show lives in a brutal world and it has never pulled any punches about showing us those realities.
Thrones has always been gritty and “real”; an interesting attempt to combine the horrific realities of our medieval experience with the awe of fantasy. The terrible realities of our history are portrayed well in the show: ugly executions and deaths, inquisitions, mutilations, diseases, slavery, serfdom, rape and female subjegation…these things happened and they happened frequently in our past. Many of these things were institutionalized in the western world until very recently (the U.S. And Brazil had legal slave systems until the late 19th century for example). Many of these things remain institutionalized to this day in parts of the world.
Will people keep watching? Yes, of course they will. Internet whining and complaints about favorite characters being offed won’t trump the time investment people have made in the show as well as our collective societal sadism. We might truly hate to watch a little girl get burned alive or traumatic wedding night rapes but we sure do love to complain about it online. As long as that fact remains then Game of Thrones will thrive. At this point the only thing that can seemingly slow down the unrelenting momentum of Thrones is when it slows itself down. We saw that first hand with the early season doldrums this year that were only broken when hurricane Hardhome sent the end of the season flying on home.
While Thrones does not have to apologize for its brutality there should be concern about its narrative. At some point does the sheer brutality and all the death derail the story? How many characters can a story lose before the story itself collapses and Thrones merely becomes a series of events taking place in a fictional world? People did not watch Breaking Bad because they wanted a glimpse into the world of the New Mexico meth market…they tuned in to watch the story of Walter White. The same applies here. People aren’t tuning in because they love Westeros. They tune in because they love the characters. Unfortunately we could be now be down two of our best in Stannis and Jon.
While Stannis’ plot at least has some level of tragic conclusion (assuming Brianne did her duty), Jon’s death should be concerning.
His death concludes no narrative. It adds nothing to the overall plot. It even leaves us with no one to carry the story at the wall which, after Hardhome, is the most important place in this world. Is Davos going to pick up Longclaw and take the lead at the wall? With Sam’s departure the only characters we know up there are Tormund, Davos, Melisandre, Ser Allister, Olly, the Night’s King, and Ghost. And out of those I like two of them and a dog.
In addition, if Jon is lost then along with him goes the knowledge at the wall that Valyrian steel kills walkers. The entire point of the Starks further diminishes (unless their point is to create foils for the characters we despise). The importance of his parentage means nothing. His story arc of bastard to recruit to man lost behind the lines, to Lord Commander means nothing as well. If we are going to kill off Jon Snow then at least let his death further the plot. Even Caesar’s murder launched the war that founded the Roman Empire.
This is why I believe Jon isn’t dead. The method by which he remains in the story does not matter. What matters is this world has shown resurrection exists and that Jon is critical to the narrative. To eliminate Jon for no reason and then fail to resurrect anyone of consequence in this story proves that this isn’t a narrative but rather a whole bunch of stuff that is happening. That’s the key to all of this. Thrones has proven that it’s writing and its story can be cruel but it’s never been sloppy. Everything serves a purpose. Heck even Dorne served its purpose as a place to keep Jaime and Bronn on screen when their characters would otherwise be doing nothing. Killing a character to mix up the plot is a Thrones staple. Killing a character for needless shock value is not.
And if Jon is dead for shock value alone then we will still watch Thrones, and likely enjoy it, but it won’t recover the hit to the story. A real shame for one of the best written, acted, and presented shows in TV history.