The first time I said this aloud to a large group I was prepared for the disbelief I would receive. After events like the Red Wedding people had generally lost their faith in the humanity of these showrunners. I see countless tweets quoting something along the lines of “if you think this has a happy ending, you haven’t been paying attention.”
But there was one response that struck me. Someone remarked that one point Game of Thrones drives over and over into our heads is Valar Morghulis: all men must die. That’s true, but people often forget that this is only the first part of the saying. It’s supposed to be followed by the phrase Valar Dohaeris: all men must serve.
Meaning to say, before a man can die he must first serve. Before these characters can go to rest and find peace, they must first fulfill their duty. For the heroes left in this story, it means putting Westeros back to rights and giving it a chance at survival.
And I believe they will find success in that before being allowed to peacefully die — however slim that success may be. The reasons for this are two-fold, and the first is that George R.R. Martin is too much of a sucker for fantasy to end everything in death and despair. The second is that Benioff and Weiss care too much about payoffs.
Let’s start with George R.R. Martin, the man behind the world of Ice and Fire. Many mistakenly label A Song of Ice and Fire (ASOIAF), Game of Thrones’ source material, as a subversion of fantasy tropes. It’s really more of a deconstruction that questions and takes apart these tropes, but ultimately still sees them fulfilled. At his core, GRRM remains infatuated with tropes and their role in a fantasy story.
You only need to look at Sansa and Sandor Clegane’s story to get a whiff of this. The beautiful princess discovers the heart of the fearsome figure: a skeleton of Beauty and the Beast albeit without the happy ending. Then there’s Jaime Lannister, the quintessential golden knight. Of course, in the beginning, this looks like a mockery; the gallant knight being a Kingslayer who holds no oaths and harms innocent children. But his trajectory in the series is one of redemption and the recovery of his honor.
So these tropes aren’t carried out in a typical way but the fact that they ultimately find a place in the story evidences GRRM’s adherence to the traditions of the fantasy genre.
We even see showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss respect this in the series. A glaring example is the love story of Rhaegar and Lyanna, which plays into a trope more cliche than any GRRM has utilized so far: True Love. Their romanticization of ‘the Dragon and the Wolf’ plays into the belief that “love can conquer all” and this is even more evident when that love results in a destined savior (one amongst others): Jon Snow.
It’s reasonable, then, to believe that Benioff and Weiss are just as committed to the fantasy element as GRRM is. And the ultimate element of fantasy is to have a happy ending, to have the good guys win. The last ASOIAF novel is literally titled “A Dream of Spring” — that doesn’t sound very dire to me.
If it’s not enough to base it off on the assumption that they have a desire to do justice to GRRM’s world then consider the narrative pattern of GoT for the past few seasons they’ve written independently. The creative team is obsessed with payoffs and have actually been giving us endings that are more satisfying than horrifying recently.
From Arya’s incredible feat of killing the entirety of Frey house on her own to Theon’s minimum effort rescue mission that got Yara back, the showrunners have shown a vested interested in indulging its viewers. Even Dany and Jon’s newfound relationship has been one of the happier, healthier dynamics to take place in the show. Not to mention all the gratifying deaths that have taken place: Petyr Baelish, Ramsay Bolton, and the Night King to name a few.
While they’re not far-fetched plot points and have been necessary for the narrative to progress they are also…much happier than anything we were given in the first few seasons. And that’s because we’re nearing the end. All they have left to give us are satisfying conclusions. Benioff and Weiss are not sadistic storytellers — quite the opposite. They’re storytellers who are obsessed with delivering on payoffs. Ending the series with complete and total mutually assured destruction? That’s just not a satisfying ending.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying we make it out with all of the Stark & Targaryen force alive. I’m not deluded enough to think we end with Jon and Dany on the throne and benevolently ruling over The Seven Kingdoms with a horde of children behind them. But do I think the series ends with everyone dead and Westeros entirely gone to waste? Absolutely not.
I think that despite facing losses, maybe even severe ones, our heroes triumph at the end.
We won’t get a utopia or even a fully functioning kingdom, but we will see the beginnings of it. Perhaps most of those we know will die, perhaps the magic in the world goes out again but still, I think it will end with a show of hope…or a dream if you want to get all corny about it.
What are your own theories for how Game of Thrones will end?