Game of Thrones: A Reluctant Fan Perspective
Winter has finally come! The 8th and final season of Game of Thrones is only a few hours away, and it’s fair to say that the country, if not the world, is in quite a state about the popular TV show coming to an end. As someone who lives in Northern Ireland, it’s impossible to stress how the entire country appears to have lost its collective shit about a fantasy show that usually would only have appealed to the nerds who typically refrained from venturing more than 20 feet from their computer. So, how did a show that contains elements such as dragons, a boy who can see through the eyes of animals, and an undead army of frozen zombies become the most popular TV show in the world? The answer it seems is sex, a load of back-stabbing narrative, and lashings of death and bloody violence.
SEMI-COHERENT SPOILERS FOLLOW BELOW
I must confess at this early stage that I only started watching the Game of Thrones after the fourth season had started on television. The show was a smash hit at this point, but I really didn’t have much interest in watching it. People would talk about it all the time at work; it became a topic of conversation amongst people who had never even discussed anything to do with TV with before. It didn’t matter that all the grim, dark parts of the show were filmed here in Northern Ireland. We were an integral part of the biggest show in the world, and everyone was talking about it.
I was aware of the show throughout these first years, and usually kept an eye on the main plot points each week in order to be able to engage in conversations that would convince people that I was religiously watching the show. “Wasn’t it shocking when Sean Bean was killed?” “Oh yes, yes”, I lied as I sat there remembering the many, many times I had seen Sean Bean die in TV and films. “It’s shocking to see an incestuous relationship between a couple of main characters, but that nosy kid deserved to be pushed out of a window.” “That Hodor fella really did have a big dick.” “Joffrey really is a little shit and I hope he dies horribly.” “I’ll never look at sausages the same way again!” The show came up so often in my day-to-day interactions that inevitably I had to relent and watch the show. I binge watched the entire first four seasons in about a week, and have continued to watch the show as it comes out since. I figured it was easier to do it this way as it became tiring having to explain to everyone why I wasn’t watching.
You may have guessed from my descriptions so far that I’m not someone who’s fully versed in the Game of Thrones lore. I’ve decided to try and write most of this piece from memory and there’s a good chance most of this is wrong. For the uninitiated, Game of Thrones takes place in the continents of Westeros and Essos, home to various kingdoms vying for rule over the Iron Throne. Each of these kingdoms have a unique look and feel, different climates, and their people have their own internal struggles to accompany the overall desire for Iron Throne. The whole place is a viper’s nest of inbreeding, back-stabbing and, just in case that wasn’t enough, to the north there’s a giant wall of ice that keeps these kingdoms safe from a huge army of white walkers. This is a serious wall. A wall that definitely gives Donald Trump the vapours. It’s reasonable to assume that there’s a chance he clings to the idea of having a wall on the Mexico border because he accidentally tuned into an HBO Game of Thrones marathon whilst channel surfing and shovelling hamburgers down his throat in bed one night.
There are also three big dragons under the control of Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) and they know how to mess people up. I mean, really mess people up! Actually, correction; Daenerys Targaryen only has two dragons now. One of them was killed and is now a zombie dragon, and it just brought down the ice wall!
Phew! As you can see, there’s a lot going on.
The show has made stars out of the aforementioned Emilia Clarke and Kit Harrington (Jon Snow…no, not that one). Jon Snow and Daenerys Targaryen are good bets to be the characters most likely to survive at the end of the show and will remain important to all events that occur throughout the final season. Both of them are portrayed by very pretty, but ultimately limited, actors that have struggled to convince in other films beyond their Game of Thrones roles. It’s actually the actors who leave the show early who appear to be best served for establishing successful careers. Jason Momoa (Khal Drogo) has done a serviceable job as Aquaman, and Richard Madden (Robb Stark) has won actual awards for his role in The Bodyguard.
A personal favourite has been Maisie Williams’ Arya Stark, who started out as the Scrappy Doo of the show; diminutive, somewhat annoying, and overly eager to dish it out to those bigger than her who get in her way. As the shows progressed, we’ve watched her slowly develop the skills to finally achieve the revenge she’s desired since watching her father have his headed chopped off. Why she didn’t put these skills to good use and rid Westeros of a singing Ed Sheeran I’ll never know?
Game of Thrones has also given several heavy hitters of the acting world a chance to chew the scenery before inevitably meeting grisly ends. As noted earlier, Sean Bean (Ned Stark) went out heroically during the first season akin to the arc experienced by his Lord of the Rings character, Boromir. Jonathan Pryce (High Sparrow) has fun playing a crazed evangelical before coming unstuck by pissing off the wrong person who blows him up in an explosion that even Michael Bay would say was a bit much. Charles Dance (Tywin Lannister) got to repeatedly tell his children how much he hated them before it came back to bite him when Tyrion, the most put about one, shot him on the toilet. Peter Dinklage (Tyrion Lannister) connects as the most human member of House Lannister, but it’s Lena Headey’s portrayal of Cersei Lannister that steals the show. Amongst a sea of bastards, she stands out as a formidable, sneering presence that remarkably is still able to make you feel sorry for her at times. Well, as sorry as you can be for someone who raised the loathesome Joffrey (Jack Gleeson) and is guarded by the reanimated Mountain, portrayed by a former World Strongest man competitor (Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson). We all want and expect her to die, but we’re probably going to miss her the most after it happens.
The sheer amount of characters, plot lines and threads to keep track off is often overwhelming, and can’t even begin to summarise everything that has happened across all of the seven seasons so far. I’ve had to concentrate fairly hard to remember who is dead, who’s playing dead, and who is definitely going to end up dead. For all its depth and complexity, Game of Thrones is at its most exhilarating in the dramatic deaths that punctuate the entire show. You may not remember the preceding details that lead up to these events but you’re sure as hell going to remember exactly what happens to these characters after they occur.
Whether it’s the crushing of a man’s eyes and skull in front of his screaming sister, burning a small child at the behest of a crazy witch, pushing a woman through a hole in a castle floor that reveals a massive drop to the ground below, or the satisfying end of Ramsey Bolton (Iwan Rheon) as he’s torn apart by his own dogs; death is the thing that you remember most from the show. It’s burned into your memory and no means of mental scrubbing will remove these moments from your consciousness.
The most infamous of these moments comes in the genuinely shocking ‘Red Wedding’ episode. Several key cast members, characters we have followed from the beginning of the show, are brutally slaughtered whilst celebrating the wedding of Roslin Frey to Edward Tully (thank you Wikipedia).
Robb Stark (who ironically could have used a good bodyguard), his pregnant wife and mother are taught the sort of lesson reserved for people who refuse buy something from the wedding gift list. Look, we’ve all been to weddings that we hope would end that way, but it’s still shocking when you see what unfurls. It’s always been fairly bad form to host a wedding and then kill half of the guests just after the ceremony. In my experience, bad wedding events are limited to the actions of a drunk family member doing something that remains unmentioned for years afterwards. In a show famous for its rug pulling moments, the brutality of The Rains of Castamere episode is a moment so shocking that it almost transcends the entire show. You think you’re in a safe environment. It’s a wedding. “People may get betrayed at the drop of a hat in Game of Thrones but they’ll definitely take a break during a wedding”, you confidently say to yourself before sitting down to watch the horror unfold. The Red Wedding episode changes the way you approach the show from that point on. It’s shocking, upsetting, ground breaking and you swear you’ll never let yourself get attached to any Game of Thrones characters again. [Spoiler: you still get attached]
So, turning our attention to the final season we are left with several questions that we hope are addressed. Will any of our favourite characters make it to the end? Who will end up on the Iron Throne? Will Jon Snow finally know something? Is Northern Ireland’s future threatened more by the outcomes of the Brexit catastrophe or the loss of Game of Thrones filming opportunities?
You could reasonably argue that the makers of Game of Thrones have done more for Northern Ireland’s economy and standing than any of our politicians at Stormont have since the Good Friday Agreement was signed. You would expect the end of the show to be a worrying proposition but we’re probably going to be okay given our repeated ability to flog an opportunity to within an inch of its life. Just like our Titanic obsession, Game of Thrones has already resulted in a plethora of tours, exhibitions, and a general explosion of related marketing across TV, airports and the like. The news that a prequel series has been given the green light by HBO will be warmly greeted by everyone at the NI Tourist Office, along with the hundreds of people who have become reliant on the jobs such a large production inevitably brings to the country.
I can’t be the only one who would welcome putting our useless, do-nothing politicians to work on any future productions if the current impasse at Stormont continues. We could do a lot worse than asking Arlene Foster and Michelle O’Neill to sort out their differences and frustrations with each other through a bit of trial by combat. We all know Arlene would call in maroon-faced Sammy Wilson to fight for her. Sammy’s the closest thing she has to the ‘Mountain’ and he’s similarly been zombified as a result of leading the DUP fight to bring about Brexit. It will be fascinating to see who the Sinn Féin leader would go with.
Sure, adopting these tactics would definitely set back much of the progress we’ve achieved in Northern Ireland across the years but, if Game of Thrones has taught us anything in recent years, it would be damn entertaining.