There are fewer than 10 episodes left, and a lot more people on “Game of Thrones” are going to die.
(This is hardly news, but since talk of recent events will follow, there are in fact spoilers ahead.)
We’re not just talking about the blink-and-you-miss-them Noah Syndergaards of George R.R. Martin’s world, the armor-bearing redshirts whose screen time serves as kindling for dragons or pincushions for Jon Snow (Kit Harington) and the like to slash and stab. Or even the still smoldering Tarlys — Dickon we hardly knew ye! — who paid a heavy price this week for refusing to bend the knee to Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke). These are major characters who viewers have followed for nearly seven seasons to see them wind up on opposing sides (in some cases).
And although — surprise! — a water-logged Jaime Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) resurfaced quickly in this week’s episode to end any misguided speculation about his fate, there’s really no guarantee for how much longer he will survive. (Though, surely he has plenty to live for given he’s about to be a father again. Or at least that’s what Cersei told him.)
This overall lack of sanctity for life is the bargain “Game of Thrones” established when it broke the mold for every prestige TV series by killing off the name first atop its opening credits in Sean Bean’s Ned Stark in the first season. It’s that weirdly real-world ruthlessness that led to reaction videos being circulated around the Internet capturing viewers who were unfamiliar with Martin’s ability to kill his darlings howling over the “Stark-pocalypse” of “The Red Wedding” and the (albeit fleeting) death of Jon Snow.
As the series went on, however, that familiar invincibility for key characters in TV drama began to return. Unmoored from the books for answers after the series outpaced Martin’s output for “A Song of Ice and Fire,” many grew to expect Snow’s resurrection with a general idea that the show had invested too much in his character’s development.
The same could be applied to the rest of the Stark children, presumptive queen Daenerys Targaryen and the surviving Lannister siblings. Aided in part by Peter Dinklage’s Emmy-winning performance, Tyrion in particular simply had been around too long and stayed too close to the center of the story to fall in a “Red Wedding”-type surprise before the series reached its endpoint.
But with eight episodes to tidy up a battle for the Iron Throne to the south and what will presumably be a continent-encompassing war for humanity with the Night King’s ice zombies to the north, the end game is already here. And, given the show’s track record, there’s no reason to believe everyone will survive.
With that in mind, the act of checking social media after the series has aired on the East Coast – or, worse, a few days later – and registering any expressions of shock opens up any number of grim possibilities. Though this week wound up constituting a catch-your-breath sort of episode that made time to reintroduce the wayward Baratheon bastard Gendry (Joe Dempsie) and further tease Jon Snow’s true parentage, viewers got a taste of what lies ahead for the series last week when the “Loot Train Attack” landed Jaime in hot water (sorry) in the first place.
Watching that battle unfold amid Internet rumblings of a surprise being in store – aided, perhaps, by the HBO leak before the episode aired – Jaime seemed the obvious choice for a possible fatality given his choice to be on the wrong side of a fire-breathing dragon. But “Game of Thrones” at its most effective has a knack for choosing a zig when viewers (or readers) are expecting a zag. For a little while anyway, everyone seemed in play as a possible victim.
There was newly questionable tactician Tyrion lingering on some hillside amid the battle, for some reason – would he somehow meet his end in all the chaos? What about the fun-loving mercenary Bronn, would he regret his distaste for armor? And could showrunners D.B. Weiss and David Benioff be crazy enough for Daenerys’ fate to take a turn after her dragon was struck by that giant crossbow?
Not that time, it turns out, but it’s a testament to the show’s track record of indifference toward expectations that has made this show such a phenomenon. But with the end coming up faster than anyone would like — especially HBO — fans should most likely consider these dramatic teases warning shots.
All men must die, as the show says, a phrase that practically functions as a subtitle. With dangerous work ahead for Jon Snow north of the wall, Littlefinger up to his old tricks in Winterfell and Cersei proving herself increasingly short-tempered with so-called betrayals from her brother in the south, don’t say they didn’t warn you.
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