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For seven seasons and thousands upon thousands of pages, Game of Thrones has been dedicated to subverting expectations. Will a character meet a horrible death? Oh, most assuredly. Will loyalties shift based on the whims of lesser men? Yeah, that checks out. Few shows inspire fan theories as obsessive and intricately detailed as Game of Thrones. That kind of speculation is born out of rich mythology; we’ve been given much, so obviously, that information will seep into our brains until we’re reciting house words in our sleep.
With the release of the full trailer for the final season, people are faced with the possibility that their favorites will likely meet untimely ends. Make your peace with it now, guys. Valar morghulis. Coming after a series of posters that envisioned every major character on the Iron Throne — adding fuel to my “Brienne Wins It All” pipe dream — it’s safe to say that fans are currently in theory overdrive.However, staring down the barrel of an actual ending, we’re faced with a very real question that may not have an answer: how do we even want this all to end? Even though fandom lives on long after shows end (especially with prequel series and spinoffs on the way), all of our theories will be either validated or shown to be total codswallop. Do we want to be proven right, or do we want to be surprised?
With a fantasy ending, there are really three general outcomes: total annihilation, the fairy tale standard, or a little bit of both.
So, total annihilation. Despite the best efforts of the remaining houses — an increasingly tiny number — the White Walkers win. Even with their dragon glass and the will to survive, we watch all of our heroes fall to endless winter’s icy fist. The Night King ascends to the Iron Throne as bones pile up around him. It was literally all for naught. No matter how hard our heroes fought, they were found wanting.
For a series as bleak as Thrones, this is not an unbelievable outcome by any means. Since the death of Ned Stark, the point that anyone can die, regardless of how beloved they are, has been hammered home again and again. And again. And again for good measure. Showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss have been adamant that Game of Thrones will never take the “stereotypical” route for fantasy. There will never be a moment where the land is made beautiful again, the Red Bull is driven into the sea, the hobbits are regarded as saviors, etc. etc. etc.Now, there are plenty of people who think that this is how it all should end. A grim end to a grim series. Anything happier would feel dishonest in the face of the ugliness that we’ve endured. Ramsay Bolton, may he rot in seven hells, told us outright: “If you think this has a happy ending, you haven’t been paying attention.” That moment was the ultimate fourth wall break: sure, he was informing Theon of his condition, but he was also letting viewers know exactly what kind of show they were watching.
Is that really what we want to happen? To have the idea that nothing you do can stop the onslaught of pain around you driven home again? While this is often not the way that stories wrap up, this still feels predictable. This is the show that had a father burn his only child at the stake in order to appease gods that weren’t listening, after all. After dedicating years of loyal fandom to a show that often jeers at you for having any hope at all, this outcome would feel a bit like a cheap trick. You actually cared about these things? F*ck you. Here’s one final round of nasty medicine to sear that optimism out of you for good.At the opposite end of the pain spectrum, there is the stereotypical happy fantasy ending. Jon and Dany rule as king and queen benevolently until the end of their days and everyone conveniently forgets about that whole incest thing. All of the remaining Starks survive and get a second chance at a life that dealt them a hard hand. Brienne and Tyrion get the respect that they deserve and have been long denied. After a truly magnificent character arc over the seasons, Jaime gets the chance to die a hero in Brienne’s arms (Jaime dies in every scenario. Sorry, folks. This is one train that can’t be stopped.). Each and every prophecy and dangling storyline is tied up in a tidy bow. We finally get Lady Stoneheart! All of the direwolves are magically alive again!
Now, OK, intentionally ridiculous examples aside, this would also feel wrong. Fantasy is often a place to work out tropes of good and evil, and while it may have been heavy-handed at times, Game of Thrones has never been about clear cut black-and-white morality. Everyone has made ethical compromises or betrayed someone they care about, and everyone has been deeply human, with all of the complexity that comes along with it. This is not to denigrate stories that have happy endings and eternally noble characters (my love for Samwise Gamgee will live on past the fiery death of the universe), but that is not the story that Game of Thrones has been telling all along. That doesn’t make it better or worse, just different. Different stories can and should have different goals.I’ll call it optimism instead of misguided faith, but I’m hoping for a bit of both. If they want to circumvent expectations, they could keep Cersei on the throne (#ImWithHersei). In a way, that would represent “evil” winning and throw out the white knight narrative that fantasy loves to fall back upon. Sure, there’s the whole issue of the Valonqar prophecy to contend with, but prophecies have been wrong or misunderstood before. There are plenty of ways to convey a dark message without going full-on end of days.
I don’t think that leaving fans with a few seeds of hope would go completely amiss either. As bleak as Game of Thrones has been, it hasn’t been completely without hope. Arya and Sansa found their way back to each other and are on the path of mending sisterly wounds. Jorah Mormont went through revolting, peeling hell to rid himself of dragonscale and was healed. Hot Pie managed to stay alive and spends his time baking wolf bread. Dany tragically lost a dragon last season, but the fact that they are around at all is a miracle. Jon Snow literally rose from the dead. Sometimes, for a brief moment, things in Westeros can look a little brighter.
I do not envy the team tasked with wrapping up Game of Thrones. Fans can get quite rabid when their expectations aren’t met — just look at the bitterness that still permeates the Lost fandom — and to say that expectations are high about this final season would be the understatement of the century. Game of Thrones has secured these expectations through stories masterfully executed, resulting in event television the likes of which may not be seen again in the current age of streaming and Peak TV. It’s impossible to write an outcome that will satisfy everyone and it is unfair to expect such a feat from them. At this point, I’m just hoping for something that isn’t an utter betrayal.Kit Harington claims that he “blubbed his eyes out” about the ending. That’s fine.
They can break my heart. They’ve earned the right. Just do it in a way that feels true.