The end of one of the biggest shows to ever to grace our television screens is nigh. Few shows have spawned more conversations, and regardless of one’s opinions on the final season, it’ll be a shame to see it pass into the long night. Looking back on a decade of the comings and goings of Westeros and beyond, one has to wonder what Game of Thrones’ legacy will be, and whether this season will have changed that. However, as to who the story was really about, that’s a relatively easy answer.
**SPOILER WARNING: There are spoilers for the most recent episode of Game of Thrones below!**
Many have focused their arguments and ire on the trajectory of Daenerys as a protagonist. I think she was always going to go Mad Queen, evidenced by seasons of burning people alive and claiming she’d take what was hers by fire and blood. Regardless, it elides a crucial point: Game of Thrones has always been about the Starks. Daenerys is a cursory character, a red-herring of a false paragon that believes its her divine right to have the throne. The heart of the tale has been how the Starks have survived and thrived, thrown into a world of politics, deceit, and war unlike the seemingly idyllic Winterfell of their youth.
At its core, the HBO show has always been about the trials and tribulations of the remaining Stark children, robbed of their too-loyal father in the first season, and their too-faithful mother and eldest brother not long after. These early losses were all heartbreaking and rage-inducing (though our ire was focused on the fictional antagonists, not the writers of the show). It also set the table for the remaining Starks. How were they going to live and play in this world that was hell-bent on destroying them? By winding up on top, of course. (Except for Rickon. Sorry, Rickon.)
As people shake their fists at the arcs and deaths of their favorite peripheral characters, only the core Stark children have experienced character arcs that have been even remotely satisfying, or frankly, important. Bran’s journey from being pushed out of a window to being the all-seeing beacon of Westerosi history is a prime example. Jaime tossed him out a window, then wound up being crushed by a falling castle. Everything leads back to the Starks.
It could be argued that we’ve all been cheering for the northern family all along, hoping they make it through each episode, clinging at chairs and pillows in an anxiety-driven haze as they've run for their lives and made stupid decision after stupid decision (looking at you, Jon Snow). Each has come to symbolize something profound, and not just because Bran has gone all weird with his Three-Eyed Raven schtick.
Sansa, easily the most level-headed of the Stark children, has become the diplomat and best player of The Game. Her transformation is best summarized in her own words, going from porcelain to ivory to steel. She’s suffered horrible, brutal things, but she has persevered through them — and quite often, exacted proper revenge with a deft hand. She carries her scars with her, but her resilience and determination to actually do good by the people of Winterfell and to not become another victim of pointless political bickering has made her an impeccably strong and capable leader, more than worthy to rule.
She seems to be the only one with a clear-eyed view of whatever treachery is afoot at that moment, but when she offers wise guidance, she is time and time again belittled or cast aside. And yet, she always turns out to be right. Rather than let this fuel resentment that turns to rage, Sansa instead retains her focus on her people and doing what is best for them. No character has shown as much growth as Sansa, and this is particularly important because she’s not a warrior, but instead embraces her femininity. The importance of that, that feminine women can be strong and powerful, is one of the more important lessons the show has actually given us and allowed us to celebrate.
Arya’s journey has been perhaps the most important. Once a young whippersnapper, she managed to make her way through the service of Tywin Lannister, pseudo-squireship of The Hound (RIP), and a voyage to Braavos to become a Faceless Man. She trained to become an assassin for years, and to see and defeat Death by perfecting her craft through training both in and beyond Westeros. It would make sense for the Night King to symbolize the death that Arya was meant to face and defeat, but after "The Bells," I’d argue otherwise. The Night King was but a precursor to the true face of death: war. Real, senseless, horrible war.
Arya saw the true face of death in King’s Landing: the brutal slaughter of innocents in battle, the screaming of the terrified, the mother who tried to save her burned forever in an ashy embrace with her child. That’s the true terror of death, the real face of it. And it’s changed her. The Hound sent her away, releasing her from being a slave to revenge — as he was — and in turn her eyes were truly opened to the real God of Death.
What result this will have on her, we’ll have to wait until the finale to find out, but the soft, quiet moment of her choosing a white horse to ride out of King’s Landing may hint at her final choice. Perhaps she’ll marry Gendry after all. Or perhaps Daenerys will be the final name on her list and she can finally come to some peace.
Jon has been the link between the Starks and Targaryens, though based on his armor and general mentality, he still considers himself the former in his heart. Having grown up not believing he was more than Ned Stark’s bastard, Jon’s discovery that he was not only a true-born Stark, but also a Targaryen and heir to the Iron Throne, more than threw him for a loop. And while this revelation was all well and good, his true journey was his humility and loyalty (to a fault). His time on The Wall made him a man as well as someone people were drawn to (until they mutinied).
Despite claiming his allegiance to Daenerys, Jon has shown time and time again when push comes to shove, he will align himself with his true family. It’ll be that loyalty, that earnest desire to do good, that will be the driving force in the finale, especially after the battle at King’s Landing. He doesn’t want the throne, and perhaps that in itself is his rejection of his Targaryen heritage. At the end of the day, Jon Snow wants to be a Stark. Family is at the heart of why the Starks do what they do. Their loyalty to one another drives many of their decisions, and that has long been reflected in Jon’s character. In the end, he may have to kill the Targaryen part of him once and for all in the name of once-lover Daenerys.
One can only theorize on how Game of Thrones will end come this Sunday on HBO, but one thing is certain, the Starks will have a role to play; this is their story.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily reflect those of SYFY WIRE, SYFY, or NBCUniversal.