As Game of Thrones begins journey to end, here’s why we’ll never see characters like these again
I remember the day, the exact moment when Daenerys Targaryen stepped into Khal Drogo’s funeral pyre at the end of season one of Game of Thrones. I remember watching her curled up on the ashes as a tiny dragon revealed itself, perched on her shoulder, another in her lap and one at her feet. In that moment of disbelief and subsequent amazement, I remember my heart pounding out of my chest as if I had seen a dragon in my own world. The political gains, the rebellions, the scheming and all the travelling throughout the season made me forget that this show isn’t telling stories about real people from some little nook of our human history. I think it only proves how it won on both counts: as a fantasy epic and also as a tale of horrible, kind, cowardly, brave people. People just like us.
As the show begins to bring down the curtain with its final season, it is time we reflect on why Game of Thrones became the worldwide phenomenon that it did. The biggest shows with the most stellar stars could not even come close to being half as popular. What makes it the most watched (and most illegally downloaded) show on the planet? The infamous boobs and blood can definitely bring in the audiences but can they make them stick through for nine years, eight seasons and more than 70 episodes? Surely there is something more to it.
It wasn’t really the dragons, the ice zombies, the smoke babies or the clairvoyant kids that made Game of Thrones something that I kept coming back to. It was the characters, written by George RR Martin and played by some of the greatest television actors of our time. From the heroes to the villains, showrunners David Benioff and DB Weiss knew just how to make them relatable or despicable. The wronged, the bullied or the underdogs, all found a place, and respect on the show.
Tyrion Lannister is a dwarf hated by his father, Daenerys is an orphan used as a pawn by her brother, Jon Snow is a bastard sworn in to a hopeless brotherhood of men, Sansa Stark is a deluded princess who doesn’t realise the ugliness of the world, Arya Stark is a child hoping to survive against great odds. All these characters have come such a long way from their initial descriptions in the early seasons. These descriptions don’t fit them anymore and they didn’t even begin to encompass the complexity of their personalities even in the first season.
Over the years, Tyrion establishes himself as a worthy leader and the only one with any cerebral capacity to know what it takes to rule a kingdom (or seven). Arya becomes a cold blooded assassin and merely surviving is not a task for her anymore. Once upon a time, she could not watch her father get beheaded but now she slits throats like they’re made of cheese. But let’s not kid ourselves. If you were living in the world of Westeros, it’s more likely you’ll find yourself in Sansa’s place rather than Arya.
The show was successful in making us rue her existence and call her stupid or selfish. But to think of it, you too would nod your head at the sadistic prince’s orders, you too would jump at the chance when someone offered a glimmer of hope in hopeless times. We didn’t realise it then but the girl we hated was the girl we would have been in that world.
As for the villains, when was the last time you wanted someone to die more than Joffrey Baratheon—real life included. He’s the brat we’ve all known, except he has been handed unlimited power and a sadistic, horrible heart that knows no good. There have been evil characters aplenty in storytelling, but none of them could unite the world in collective hatred quite like Jack Gleeson in his now iconic role.
But it’s not just him. There are villains of all kinds on the show. There is Cersei Lannister, who explains her villainy as motivated by love for her children. There was the wise but abusive Tywin Lannister, who was hungry for power and cruel towards his own son; there was Peter Baelysh, the conniving, scheming one who brought entire houses down with his evil whispers. The list of villains is just as long as the heroes’, another reflection of the real world, maybe.
But even in this clean dissection between good and evil, the show is peppered with characters like Jaime Lannister, Theon Greyjoy, Melissandre, Ser Jorah Mormont and more who do not fit in any of such binaries. There are righteous people like Ned and Catelyn Stark, who make stupid (and ultimately tragic) decisions, and there are horrible characters who make us question everything we had learnt about them.
Jaime throws a child off a tower in the first episode but years later, we are ready to mourn his death should he die in the final season. He makes friends, saves a few others and is revealed to be a righteous man after all. He killed for Cersei in the first season but turns his back on her when he learns of her lies. He is not an idiot, he is no longer blinded by love.
All these characters simply form the surface of the vast ocean that is Game of Thrones. To watch them and witness their evolution through the years has been an experience that I don’t believe we’ll get in this lifetime. With the series coming to a close, we hope they get a farewell that they deserve.