Game of Delayed Gratification and Thrones

Another season of Game of Thrones is behind us, and I have some thoughts and feelings. No subject is off the table, so only read on if you’re completely caught up. And in the immortal words of Taylor Swift, “don’t say I didn’t, say I didn’t warn ya.”

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Game of Thrones always has many narrative pieces on the board, and Season 6 finally brought some of those pieces together. To borrow baseball lingo, Season 5 felt like a “rebuilding season.” Tyrion was travelling toward Daenerys. Daenerys was struggling in Meereen. Arya was assassin-training in Braavos. Bran wasn’t actually present, but we knew he was off seer-training with the Three-Eyed Raven. Although they were having some interesting adventures, these characters were in narrative limbo, on their way to series-altering action that was not yet imminent. King’s Landing and Castle Black offered us ch-ch-changes, but so many fan favorites were away from the mainstage of Westeros.

Luckily, Game of Thrones fans expect heartache and delayed gratification. Along came Season 6, and the gratification started rolling in, as did the heartache. Characters returned after many seasons of absence! Starks were reunited! The good guys started to find each other and ban together against evil! Except that this is Game of Thrones, so even the “good guys” commit objectively evil acts from time to time. One of my attractions to this show is how it can change my opinion about a character multiple times over. For example, I remember hating all of the Lannisters with a fiery passion during Season 1, with the obvious exception of Tyrion. Now Jaime has become one of my favorite characters, and even Cersei can elicit sympathy while simultaneously being awful.

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In my first post about Game of Thrones, I discussed how George R. R. Martin focuses on marginalized characters. As the series has progresses, many of those characters find themselves in positions of power. Perhaps even more notably, by the end of Season 6, almost all of the leaders are women. These women have learned to play the game well, but their knowledge comes at a cost. Daenerys, Sansa, and Arya have all proven their ability to be ruthless when necessary. Even Cersei, who was fairly ruthless to begin with, reached a new level of cruelty in the season finale. As satisfying as it is to see our heroines reaching their goals and exacting revenge, the moments can be bittersweet when you consider what was sacrificed in the process. I’m reminded of Peggy on Mad Men, who learned to compete in a man’s world by sacrificing some of her humanity.

Season 6 was so full of Big Moments that it almost felt too good to be true. One of the biggest was the confirmation of R+L=J, a fan theory so popular that it was already spoken of as fact. Now that years of speculation have been satisfied, I (and the rest of the internet) have moved on to a new pet theory about the Lannister siblings. This article outlines the theory nicely. It all centers on the prophecy given to Cersei as a girl, most of which has already come true. I find prophecies to be a dubious plot device, but this particular one is so clever in its wording. Gold will be their crowns, gold their shrouds, and all that. Some of my greatest anticipation for the next season will be about how Jaime reacts to Cersei in full Mad Queen mode, not to mention if Tyrion arrives back on the scene.

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Game of Thrones is often imperfect, at times downright problematic, but it’s always kept me interested. I will watch this show till the bitter end.

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