This Is It: The End of Game of Thrones Will Be The End of ASOIAF

Introduction & Caveat

May 19th, 2019, saw the end of Game of Thrones, after eight tumultuous years. Through this final season, one refrain in particular has resurfaced time and again: well, it won’t be like that in the books. Right? Arya won’t kill the Night King, Daenerys won’t burn innocent people after the Others are defeated, Jon won’t retire beyond the Wall in true superhero fashion. Right?

Wrong, friend.

Before I get into why I think this is the same ending we’ll get in the books, I do want to lay out one important caveat:

I understand I might be wrong. I do! I am going to argue my opinion and my case as persuasively as I can. But I understand that the only one who really knows is George R. R. Martin, and he ain’t talkin’.

Okay. With that said. I think this is the ending we’re getting in the books, almost 1:1. I wasn’t convinced at first. But I’ve had time to sit with this for a while, to mull it over, and to read up on other critics who saw the art in the story. And I do truly believe that:

  1. Game of Thrones is, overall, a good story
  2. This is the same story we’ll see in the books

I won’t try to convince you of #1 here. But #2? Hell yes. I’m tackling that bad boy from three different angles. In the first section, I will look at what GRRM himself has said about the end of the story, and about what interests him in fantasy stories. In the second section, I will zoom in specifically on the story of Daenerys Targaryen, central figure in the controversy swirling around the end of Game of Thrones. And in the final section, I will look at what the story is telling us about the nature of power, and how the big ideas inherent in the end of Game of Thrones are the same big ideas to which A Song of Ice and Fire is building. And then I’ll have a fourth section. You can’t write about ASOIAF without going over your intended word-count.

GRRM’s Path To The End

Bittersweet.

From the beginning, fans have asked GRRM how the series would end. Now, that’s a dumb question, because what is he going to say? But his answers have been consistent for the past several decades. In 2004, a fan reported GRRM’s answer to this question:

Asked if he knew the ending, he replied that it would be bitter-sweet. He expanded on this by talking about the scouring of the Shire. When he first read LOTR at the age of 12, he didn’t understand the ending. However, as a more mature reader he came to appreciate that triumph is always bought at a cost.

He’d made similar comments before, and has made the same statement since. And again. And again. Let’s look at some common elements.

From questions on his reading is that he doesn’t much believe in the happily ever after endings, he prefers the bittersweet ending much like the Lord of the rings. (2004)

I think there’s going to be a bittersweet ending. I’ve always taken my influence from J.R.R. Tolkien and if you’ve read Lord of the Rings, Sauron is defeated and the ring is destroyed in the end but it’s not a happy, happy ending. There’s a real sense of things lost too, and I found that very powerful, and very moving. So I think my ending will also have a bittersweet tone, I hope, if I can bring that off the way I want. (2014)

I haven’t written the ending yet, so I don’t know, but no. That’s certainly not my intent. I’ve said before that the tone of the ending that I’m going for is bittersweet. I mean, it’s no secret that Tolkien has been a huge influence on me, and I love the way he ended Lord of the Rings. It ends with victory, but it’s a bittersweet victory. Frodo is never whole again, and he goes away to the Undying Lands, and the other people live their lives. And the scouring of the Shire—brilliant piece of work, which I didn’t understand when I was 13 years old: “Why is this here? The story’s over?” But every time I read it I understand the brilliance of that segment more and more. All I can say is that’s the kind of tone I will be aiming for. Whether I achieve it or not, that will be up to people like you and my readers to judge. (2015)

“I think you need to have some hope,” he said, referencing the manners in which sagas end. “We all yearn for happy endings in a sense. Myself, I’m attracted to the bittersweet ending. People ask me how Game of Thrones is gonna end, and I’m not gonna tell them … but I always say to expect something bittersweet in the end, like [J.R.R. Tolkien]. I think Tolkien did this brilliantly. I didn’t understand that when I was a kid — when I read Return of the King.” Now, however, he notes that Tolkien’s use of allegory to reveal life’s grittier truths (the tragedy of post-war Britain in the late ’40s and early ’50s, in the case of Lord of the Rings), even in the face of a well-earned victory is brilliant. You can’t just fulfill a quest and then pretend life is perfect, he said. Life doesn’t work that way. (2015 again)

I don’t want you to think I’m just dumping GRRM quotes on you and walking away. The common elements here? Bittersweet, of course, like good chocolate. And a comparison to The Lord of the Rings, usually involving an invocation of the Scouring of the Shire.

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pictured: grrm’s perfect ending

In particular, that final quote is the one I want to especially emphasize, because he puts his ideal ending in a pithy way:

You can’t just fulfill a quest and then pretend life is perfect.

Other fans (for whom I have great respect) argue that the story has been inverted somehow in Game of Thrones; specifically, that the battle against the Others will be the final conflict in the books, while Dany’s rampage against the people of Westeros will come before that ultimate conflict. But I want to return to that line I just quoted. “You can’t just fulfill a quest and then pretend life is perfect.” If there is a high-fantasy quest in ASOIAF, a quest on the scope and scale of destroying Sauron’s One Ring, it is the defeat of the Others. The Others, like Sauron, are an existential threat to humanity. Humanity must be saved. But the question posed by the Scouring of the Shire – and the question that I am sure GRRM is trying to pose as well – is why is humanity (or hobbitity, even) worth saving? Is it worth it? Are we capable of building a better world than our absence would create?

If the story’s uttermost end is the defeat of the Others, it’s hard to answer that question. To end the story with the defeat of the ultimate evil overlord is to fulfill the quest and then pretend life is perfect. So many other fantasy stories – lesser sons of greater sires, you might say – lop off the “why did we do that?” epilogue portion and just end with the Big Bad Evil Guy getting thrown into a pit or whatever.

Much has been made of GRRM’s “Aragorn’s Tax Policy” quote. I reproduce it here:

Ruling is hard. This was maybe my answer to Tolkien, whom, as much as I admire him, I do quibble with. Lord of the Rings had a very medieval philosophy: that if the king was a good man, the land would prosper. We look at real history and it’s not that simple. Tolkien can say that Aragorn became king and reigned for a hundred years, and he was wise and good. But Tolkien doesn’t ask the question: What was Aragorn’s tax policy? Did he maintain a standing army? What did he do in times of flood and famine? And what about all these orcs? By the end of the war, Sauron is gone but all of the orcs aren’t gone – they’re in the mountains. Did Aragorn pursue a policy of systematic genocide and kill them? Even the little baby orcs, in their little orc cradles?

Now, I’ve long argued that part of GRRM’s answer to these questions comes at the very start of ASOIAF. The story begins twenty years after the ultimate battle between the forces of good (the heroic rebels) and the forces of evil (the nasty dragons). The series critiques those archetypes from the get-go, showing us the “orc babies” in the form of little Aegon and Rhaenys. But I think, too, that the end of the story will reflect this idea.

Some fans have used this quote to argue that we’ll get some humanization of the Others – they will have some sort of leader, maybe even a peace treaty to negotiate, because surely they can’t just be evil orcs. But I think that’s the wrong approach. Rather than say “how can this quote be about the Others?”, perhaps we should say “how could the Others be the end of the story?”

They’re not, is what I’m saying. The Others are not, in fact, the final foe. The final foe is us. The cost of power. GRRM intends to push back against the idea that “if the king was a good man, the land would prosper.” If the Others are perfunctorily defeated and then one of our heroes just plants their butt right on the throne, how is that a critique of the perfect monarch?

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the people of westeros realize who the real foe was all along: us!!!!! ahhh!!!! also i know it’s got the watermark on it, you can send me money if you want me to get higher-quality images for my essays, the images aren’t the point

Now, there’s lots of ways to answer that question. You might say “well, maybe someone unsavory ends up on the throne at the end, and that’s GRRM’s way of saying ‘heroes fought the Others but unscrupulous people still take the throne.'” And sure, there’s a lot to discuss there. But for one fact:

We have been shown how this story will end.

GRRM has been pretty consistent on the differences between the books and the show, with regard to the ending. Back in 2013, he met with David Benioff & D.B. Weiss to give them some of the broad strokes of the end-game material:

“I can give them the broad strokes of what I intend to write, but the details aren’t there yet. I’m hopeful that I can not let them catch up with me.”

More recently, GRRM had this to say about the ending:

“I don’t think [showrunners] Dan [Weiss] and David [Benioff]’s ending is going to be that different from my ending because of the conversations we did have. But there may be – on certain secondary characters, there may be big differences.”

And this:

“The major points of the ending will be things I told them five or six years ago. But there may also be changes, and there’ll be a lot added.”

In his “An Ending” blog post, GRRM once again addressed the differences between the books and the show. Is it the same ending, or different, he asked:

Well… yes.  And no.  And yes.   And no.   And yes.   And no.   And yes.

He goes on to list a host of minor characters who do not appear in the show, and adds that there will be unicorns “of a sort” in his book. Nowhere does he say “this isn’t my ending.” It’s not even a particularly strong statement either way. Which makes sense, if the show hit the big points of his story: he won’t confirm or deny that the show “spoiled” his story, but will instead point out the places where we know to expect differences.

I think there are two ways to approach the ending the show has given us.

The first: Martin told Benioff and Weiss the general outline of the bullet points at the end of the story. Benioff and Weiss decided to switch some of those around because they didn’t like how it ended with the Others being defeated, and didn’t really care for XYZ plot points in particular.

The second: Martin told them the general outline of the ending. They adapted those bullet points as closely as they could, based on what they knew and what they’d already done in the show.

Personally? I find the second far more likely. Benioff & Weiss have made major changes, yes. They’ve excised Young Griff, a couple Greyjoys, a bushel of Dornish characters, and Daario’s beard. Major changes to the storyline! They may have even moved up certain events, like the burning of Shireen, to clear the board a little bit as they moved into the final three seasons.

However, I want to quote GRRM again (I promise I’ll stop eventually). At Balticon in 2016, someone asked him if he was still going with the same ending he had in mind in 1991. He responded:

“Yes, I mean, I did partly joke when I said I don’t know where I was going. I know the broad strokes, and I’ve known the broad strokes since 1991. I know who’s going to be on the Iron Throne. I know who’s gonna win some of the battles, I know the mayor characters, who’s gonna die and how they’re gonna die, and who’s gonna get married and all that. The major characters.

The major characters, who’s gonna die, how they’re gonna die, who’s going to be on the Iron Throne, who’s gonna get married. The major characters.

Jon Snow will kill Daenerys Targaryen at the end of A Song of Ice and Fire. Bran Stark will sit a throne at the end. Tyrion may even be his Hand (seems a little more dubious, but there’s not much reason to doubt).

And, I believe, the order of events – the Long Night followed by the Red Dawn – will be the same. How do we get there in the books, I hear you ask? Michael, you’re a dipshit, you don’t understand fiction! WRONG, I do, and here’s how it’ll work.

Daenerys The Destroyer

Daenerys is the key to the whole thing. Well, so is Tyrion. And Sansa, actually. Jon, too. Bran. Arya likely has a role to play as well.

But it’s Dany at the center of fan controversy.

Some folks found her role in the War for the Dawn unbelievably small. Others found her sudden act of violence in “The Bells” to be uncharacteristically violent. And there have been many, many hot takes about Jon assassinating her in the ruins of the Red Keep. I want to tackle each of these in turn, because I think each betrays a fundamental misunderstanding about what the story has been trying to tell us about Daenerys Targaryen.

A Time For Wolves

I’ve long argued that dragonfire will not stop the Others. I have also argued that it will be Bran who stops them. I’m going to flesh that out a little.

The fantasy magic of A Song of Ice and Fire is not as transparently elemental; in other words, this ain’t Pokey Mon. Fire doesn’t necessarily always defeat ice. And ice burns, in ASOIAF. In the prologue, Gared tells us:

It burns, it does. Nothing burns like the cold.

Thematically, we aren’t getting into a rock-paper-scissors elemental magic contest. Rochambeau will not stop the Others. Dany et al. may pin their hopes on dragonfire for a time – they may even try burning an Other, as Drogon did in “The Long Night!” (Perhaps in the books that’s how Daenerys loses a dragon to the Others, if that happens – not through some half-baked wight hunt, but because of her own hubris, thinking she can singlehandedly end the war by roasting the Others herself. But that’s wild speculation). The point is: dragons and Others are two sides of the same coin. Magic made flesh. Power and terror. Beautiful, yes, but terrible.

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Dragons won’t stop the others…but Road Runner(r) brand ICE MELT will! Stock up today, people of Westeros!

I believe it is humanity that defeats the Others, not dragons. Not even humanity using dragons. Specifically, I believe the Starks (Bran and Arya in concert, possibly, similar to the show) will stop the Others. With Dany’s help, certainly! Dragons are mighty useful at mowing down undead legions. But the sheer spirit of the human will to live is what defeats death, not big magic worms. At least, not just big magic worms. Now, in the show, they adapted this as Arya going through hell on earth to shiv The Lord of Judecca with the Plot Dagger. I don’t see it going exactly that way in the books, mostly because the Night King is a show invention. But I do see Bran getting sucked into the dreamscape by the Others, being tempted to walk away from his human form and take on an icy mantle like theirs…and then rejecting that, walking back to humanity, maybe with Arya’s help.

As an aside – in GRRM’s original draft for the story, we get this tantalizing little alternate timeline:

Catelyn and her children will find their only hope of safety lies even further north, beyond the Wall, where they fall into the hands of Mance Rayder, the King-beyond-the-Wall, and get a dreadful glimpse of the inhuman Others as they attack the wildling encampment. Bran’s magic, Arya’s sword Needle, and the savagery of their direwolves will help them survive, but their mother Catelyn will die at the hands of the Others.

Now, I will say: I’m not a huge fan of using this outline to predict where the story is going. GRRM clearly changed a lot, and it’s dumb to cling to this as some sort of secret gospel when really it’s the first notes on a very complicated, fluid series. HOWEVER, I do think there’s a little core story there about Bran and Arya avenging the Starks by eventually defeating the Others. The fact that the show has Bran and Arya standing alone against the Night King in “The Long Night” speaks, I think, to a deep through-line in the story, a thread of familial love among the Starks.

In fact, I would go so far as to say that “Arya saves Bran from the Night King” might be closer to the books than many suspect. We’ll have more of Bran’s internal life in the books, of course. Given the creepy stuff that Bloodraven has said to Bran (“Let darkness be your mother’s milk” or whatever), I think Bran will walk a dark path to becoming the savior of mankind. He may even end up almost like one of the Others – so bitterly cold and focused on his goals that he ignores the human cost to saving the world. And I think Arya – Arya, who was taught to Truly See by Syrio Forel – will recognize her brother’s humanity even at his darkest hour, and bring him back to the world of the living, and together the Starks will defeat the Others.

It’s been a while since I even mentioned Daenerys. Did you notice that?

The Broken Promise

If dragonfire doesn’t stop the Others, how will Dany feel when the dawn comes? She may choose to believe, for a time, that she is the Chosen One, that she is Azor Ahai. She’s about to collide with Marwyn (and Moqorro, and maybe even Benerro) in the books, all of whom will point her towards the north and the Others. Tyrion, of course, is going to try and point Dany towards Cersei, because in the books he haaaates Cersei. But no matter how it plays out, Daenerys will agree: she is the savior, this is her purpose. In Storm, she dreams of melting an army armored in ice – it is a dream of the perfect enemy, the enemy she can kill without qualm, knowing that she is Right and Just.

So imagine the Others are defeated…but Dany isn’t queen. Maybe Young Griff still sits the throne. Or maybe, as in the show, Cersei is now the queen in King’s Landing. How would that eat at Dany’s soul? How would she feel, after finding out she wasn’t the chosen one? Would she feel purposeless? Would she feel that she could walk away from it all, or that she needs deep down to see this thing through to the bitter end?

The show has told us: she chooses violence.

(And for what it’s worth: I think the show told us all of this. I would point to my friend Joe Magician’s lovely video about Dany’s choices in the show, and add only: The final season, through the shot composition, soundtrack, and costumes, let alone the writing and acting, showed us that Dany was slipping further and further away from mercy and purpose.)

At the end of A Dance with Dragons, after long struggles with fire and blood, Dany comes to a reckoning.

“Drogon killed a little girl. Her name was…her name…” Dany could not recall the child’s name. That made her so sad that she would have cried if all her tears had not been burned away. “I will never have a little girl. I was the Mother of Dragons.”

She cannot remember Hazzea’s name. To spell it out: that means she is forgetting/ignoring the cost of war. She no longer clings to the names of the innocents (Eroeh, Hazzea) who were harmed by her actions. She instead chooses violence:

“I was weary of war. I wanted to rest, to laugh, to plant trees and see them grow. I am only a young girl.”
No. You are the blood of the dragon. The whispering was growing fainter as if Ser Jorah were falling farther behind. Dragons plant no trees. Remember that. Remember who you are, what you were made to be. Remember your words.
“Fire and Blood,” Daenerys told the swaying grass.

Dany returns to her chosen identity. Fire and Blood. Who she was made to be.

Dragons are fire made flesh, and fire consumes. Daenerys’ choice at the end of book 5 will not be her final choice in the series. Far from it! I expect we’ll see her interrogate her choices time and again – as she’s done all along, from day 1. I expect we’ll see her turn to dark fire and blood, particularly when she learns that Illyrio sat a pretender on the throne…and I expect, as I said, that we’ll see her cling to the role of Azor Ahai, a key role in the War for the Dawn, as a way to absolve her spirit, to prove that she is the savior she wants to be.

I see no way in which standing atop this thing for months and months would warp your perspective on the world.

And when she’s not that savior – !

When she’s not that savior, she will fail! At least, that’s the story the show gave us, and I’ve made my case for why I think it will be so in the books as well. Particularly, I think she’ll see how she’s not the god she thinks she is. She’s not the Chosen Woman, she – in her own words – is “just a woman”.

In her absolutely stunning essay “Daughter of Death: A Song of Ice and Fire’s Shakespearean Tragic Hero,” my good friend Eliana (aka arhythmetric on twitter, aka glass_table_girl on reddit) makes the very convincing case for the circumstances around Dany’s death. I’m going to quote extensively now. Just go read it.

Dany’s inability to give into her other heart’s desire of love will spell her doom. Having fought so hard to survive, to make her way back to Westeros, to win it—”I know she is proud. How not? What else was left her but pride?”—she is incapable of acquiescing.

Eliana goes on…

 Because she is a tragic hero, I rule out two possibilities for the death of Daenerys:
1. She will not die in childbirth.
2. She will not die in sacrifice of a greater good – and if she does (though I am significantly less keen on the possibility), it will not be so simple and will result from a complication that is her own fault.

I agree resolutely. Daenerys, as a tragic character, will die not because she’s so pure and good she gives of herself to the world, but because of the unceasing conflict within her own heart. As Eliana says (seriously, go read it, now):

A young girl can soar to great heights and show the magnitude of humanity.

She is capable of great good and great evil, Daenerys. As are we all. Great or small, we must all do our duty. Men’s lives have meaning, not their deaths. And as a tragic character, Daenerys will let her capacity for great horror loose at last, riding atop the nuclear weapon that is Drogon. And there is joy in riding Drogon!

Drogon’s wide black wings beat the air. Dany could feel the heat of him between her thighs. Her heart felt as if it were about to burst. Yes, she thought, yes, now, now, do it, do it, take me, take me, FLY!

(By the way, tell me that’s not an oblique reference to the end of Ulysses):

I was a Flower of the mountain yes when I put the rose in my hair like the Andalusian girls used or shall I wear a red yes and how he kissed me under the Moorish Wall and I thought well as well him as another and then I asked him with my eyes to ask again yes and then he asked me would I yes to say yes my mountain flower and first I put my arms around him yes and drew him down to me so he could feel my breasts all perfume yes and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will Yes.

Daenerys will believe, for a time, that succumbing to the dragons is a good thing – becoming Fire and Blood will free the slaves and destroy the Others. But what do you do when the perfect enemy is gone? Who do you burn?

Many – myself included – have already compared Dany’s explosive destruction in “The Bells” to the Sack of King’s Landing at the end of Robert’s Rebellion. A wanton slaughter, an unnecessary act of violence and horror all to sate the bruised psyche of the mastermind at the head of the army (Tywin/Dany, respectively). Moreover, the Sack comes after the defeat of the fantasy character, the Dragon, Rhaegar Targaryen. Daenerys dreams of melting the Usurper’s armies at the Trident, but after the Battle at the Ruby Ford, there was a Sack. After the song came a horrorshow, a brutal epilogue. In the show, Cersei sat the throne for the Second Sack. In the books? It could be Cersei, although I think it likely that Young Griff, Aegon VI, will be on the throne. Either way: I doubt Dany will show a lick of mercy.

Imagine this: once again, the mangled body of Aegon VI Targaryen is laid at the base of the Iron Throne after a brutal, terrifying show of force in the streets of King’s Landing. Or even: imagine that Jaime and Cersei, like Rhaenys and Aegon, will lie dead at the foot of the twisted throne, bathed in the light of the conqueror’s star.

Imagine that Jon Snow, like Ned Stark, arrives in the waning hours of the Sack to find what this person he loved has wrought. Daenerys, like Robert, like Tywin, will sit above the murdered children and dare the son of Ned Stark to stop her. Maybe not in so many words, obviously – I expect the show’s take on this scene was close to the books’. But ultimately, it’s about Jon being faced with a choice: is he the son of Rhaegar Targaryen, a dragon, a monarch, a prince, or is he the bastard son of Ned Stark, sworn to Ned’s bloody honor from this day until his last?

Swords and Power

In a way, it all comes back to that first chapter. Bran I, outside Winterfell. Famously, it was this image that jump-started the series for GRRM:

Suddenly it just came to me, this scene, from what would ultimately be the first chapter of A Game of Thrones. It’s from Bran’s viewpoint; they see a man beheaded and they find some direwolf pups in the snow. It just came to me so strongly and vividly that I knew I had to write it. I sat down to write, and in, like, three days it just came right out of me, almost in the form you’ve read.

I will point you to this very compelling analysis of King Bran and Jon Snow by Adam Feldman, posted in the hours after Game of Thrones ended. The first chapter of the book explores ideas of mercy and duty, of what is right and just, of when to sacrifice oneself for others.

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“any last words” “yeah there’s this whole apocalyptic thing -” “ok we’re done here”

But at the core of the story is this idea, oft-repeated:

The man who passes the sentence should swing the sword.

Not to belabor the obvious, but: swords in ASOIAF are a symbol for institutional power, and power in general. Take, for instance, Jorah Mormont’s oft-quoted line from A Storm of Swords:

“Your Grace,” said Jorah Mormont, “I saw King’s Landing after the Sack. Babes were butchered that day as well, and old men, and children at play. More women were raped than you can count. There is a savage beast in every man, and when you hand that man a sword or spear and send him forth to war, the beast stirs. The scent of blood is all it takes to wake him. Yet I have never heard of these Unsullied raping, nor putting a city to the sword, nor even plundering, save at the express command of those who lead them. Brick they may be, as you say, but if you buy them henceforth the only dogs they’ll kill are those you want dead. And you do have some dogs you want dead, as I recall.”

The “sword or spear” Jorah refers to here is simply power itself. The nature of power, Jorah claims, is inherently corrupting. To put a sword in a man’s hand – to give him permission to decide the lives and deaths of his peers – is to awaken a terrible beast. It’s true of institutional power in ASOIAF; it’s equally true of magical power. Varamyr Sixskins is a testament to this – given great magical tools, he literally became a boogeyman, a monster. The beast stirred. Magic, we are told, and prophecy, are swords without hilts, power that burns at both ends. You could alter Jorah’s statement and get the subtext of “The Bells:”

There is a savage beast in every person, and when they sit astride a dragon, the beast stirs.

To ride on dragonback, to rule the minds of undead thralls, to burn infidels for good tailwinds – all invite a kind of innate darkness, a willingness to choose the easy way, to wield power for power’s sake. In “The Bells” – as in the books, I believe – we see that even the vaunted discipline of the Unsullied is nothing against the human spirit. Yes, the human spirit, always capable of terrible, unspeakable things. But the abusive training of the Unsullied is not the path forward from savagery. Abuse breeds abuse; cruelty breeds cruelty.

The story is not nihilistic, though. There is a path to wielding power responsibly! And Ned taught it to his kids in the opening passages of the book:

“…the man who passes the sentence should swing the sword. If you would take a man’s life, you owe it to him to look into his eyes and hear his final words. And if you cannot bear to do that, then perhaps the man does not deserve to die.”

What Ned speaks to here is the choice to wield power responsibly. Ned speaks to a belief that you can have a better world, a just world. The world is not anarchic, Ned says; you can choose to give meaning to it, to keep the greatsword sheathed unless it must be drawn. And while poor Ned dies, his good, earnest ideas live on. Long after the nihilistic realpolitik of Tywin Lannister withers and turns to dust, Ned Stark’s legacy guides his children (and his symbolic children, his bannermen) to hew to goodness, righteousness.

To bring this around to the end of the show (and the end of the story):

King Bran and Queen Sansa will rule well – not because of their magical bloodlines or other hinky properties, but because they choose to live out the maxim of Ned Stark. Jon Snow chose to look Daenerys in the eyes when he killed her, as Ned Stark commanded. Jon and Bran do what they do because of what Ned Stark taught them – about love, about mercy, and about power. Power – whether Bran’s magic power, Sansa’s political power, or Jon Snow’s martial power – can be wielded responsibly. Every powerful person must choose, every moment of every day, to live out the burden of responsibility.

The motif of swords as symbols of power floats all through the story. One could write a whole essay on just that. But I’ll leave this with one final note: on Lightbringer, the Red Sword of Heroes.

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pictured: totally normal, not weird guy making a regular sword the normal way you make swords

The forging of Lightbringer is a terrible thing. It requires sacrifice. It requires abomination. But if ordinary swords are power, then Lightbringer is a kingdom, an empire, the absolute reign. Jon, when he drives his dagger in Dany’s heart, forged a sword: the new kingdom of Westeros, ruled by Brandon of Winterfell. The kingdom is Lightbringer; the people are Lightbringer; and Lightbringer could be wielded for terrible things. But in the hands of the son of Ned Stark, Lightbringer’s glow is more than enough to lead us from the darkness of winter into the light of spring.

Epilogue: “In The Books…”

I don’t want to belabor my points any more than I already have. So I’ll sum up exactly which show plot points I believe will appear in the books:

  • Cersei will survive for a surprisingly long time, possibly even to the endgame.
  • Jaime and Cersei will die in each other’s arms.
  • The Hound and the Mountain will die together.
  • Euron will take out a dragon (with a horn, I suspect).
  • Arya will save Bran from the Others.
  • Jon will discover R+L=J at a very inconvenient point, possibly after he meets Daenerys.
  • Daenerys will turn north while an enemy remains in the south.
  • Daenerys will contribute to the defeat of the Others, but won’t be the key.
  • Daenerys will turn south and sack King’s Landing after the defeat of the Others.
  • Jon Snow will kill Daenerys.
  • Bran will sentence Jon Snow to exile at the Wall.
  • Bran will become king (possibly at the God’s Eye/Isle of Faces instead of King’s Landing).
  • Sansa will be the reigning Lady of the North (or Queen in the North).
  • Arya will sail off on an voyage.
  • Brienne will finish Jaime’s entry in the White Book.
  • Theon will sacrifice himself for the Starks.
  • Jorah will eat it.

Controversial? Undoubtedly. Brave? Always. I will not reply to DMs.

So much of the #discourse around Game of Thrones – particularly the end of Game of Thrones – has been oriented around “what if ____?” or “wouldn’t it have been cool if ______?” And I understand this impulse. I do! We all do this! And HBO has certainly done their part to encourage it. #ForTheThrone, the hype-marketing around who will “win” the game of thrones, the barrage of behind-the-scenes information at the end of every episode – we are encouraged to look through this show, not at it. Fans feed into this, too. Genre stories, from Star Trek on, have cultivated fans who want to know Everything about the story – no, not just the story, the World, the Canon. And when the Official Content doesn’t fit? You reject it, write your own. Fans re-writing their favorite genre stories is a time-honored tradition. (And this isn’t always unproductive or bad, that’s not what I’m saying, believe me. Great art can come from being angry that good art wasn’t better).

But that’s only one way to engage with the story.

The tendency to see all possible alternate universes, Doctor Strange-style, can be limiting. It’s the same tendency that leads readers to come up with wildly impractical conspiracy theories about, say, Doran Martell, or even in-real-life conspiracy theories about GRRM having already finished the books. We ignore the evidence of our eyes, searching instead for a narrative that satisfies what we want to see.

Or: If you take as a given that the Game of Thrones TV show is bad, you might be predisposed to think that the show will differ wildly from the books. After all, the books are good, and the show is not, so they have to be different. If you work backwards from the premise that the show is bad and therefore different from the books, then you can certainly find ways to view the text and production to confirm that belief. You can find ways to view any text to confirm any belief, if you’re willful enough!

But to quote Syrio Forel, First Epistemologist of Braavos himself:

“Just so. Opening your eyes is all that is needing. The heart lies and the head plays tricks with us, but the eyes see true. Look with your eyes. Hear with your ears. Taste with your mouth. Smell with your nose. Feel with your skin. Then comes the thinking, afterward, and in that way knowing the truth.”

The eyes see true. Game of Thrones is an adaptation of ASOIAF. George R. R. Martin told them the main bullet points he had in mind for the ending. The endings are the same. Now comes the thinking, afterward, and in this way knowing the truth.

2 comments

  1. I like it. I like it a lot.

    For my part…

    I think Cersei will survive until A Dream of Spring. I don’t think she’ll hold onto power in the Red Keep though – I think she’ll be booted out by fAegon and JonCon’s new army. The big unknowns for me in that are the Tyrells. I don’t think they’re all going to be conveniently blown up like the show did when they ran out of salacious stories for them. Willas is very likely to survive until the end, and be one of the High Lords who bow to King Bran. Garlan is likely to go out fighting Euron’s unholy fleet of Kraken and darkness in Oldtown. Margarey and Loras – I don’t know, but I think they and Mace will get caught up in the games of politics they’ve played and become other people’s pawns. Olenna will likely retire, defeated to Highgarden, and mentor Willas.

    I didn’t like King Bran at first. It was so weird and out of place. But over time… I think it’s SO weird and disconnected that it must be what GRRM is intending – the hows and whys and paths to that end point will be so different in the books to the show though, that it will virtually be a completely different story. Which means I have to concede defeat to my theory that Bran and Co never leave the cave in the True North. If he’s going to be King of the Seven Kingdoms, he has to leave and head to the God’s Eye. (I think King’s Landing is going to be wiped off the map.)

    Which brings me to… Dany.

    To paraphase George way back when: we never really found out what makes Sauron tick. We’re just told htat he’s a fallen Maia, a servant of Morgoth, who rose to become a second Great Dark Lord. He wanted to conquer and fill all the lands with darkness. But why? What was Aragorn’s tax policy? etc.

    Dany is Sauron, personified. Not because she will “go evil” per se, but because she will arrive in Westeros, on dragons, burning everyone who defies her, nuking King’s Landing (most likely by accident, as she doesn’t know about Daddy’s wildfire caches) and being condemned by all the smallfolk and remaining nobles as this terrifying conqueror of Fire and Blood. Dany will make many choices to get to that point. She will forget all the Hazzea’s, and seek comfort in the legend of AAR. She will tell herself constantly that she is special and she should rule because she is special. And… she won’t. She will be feared and reviled as a mass murderer. It will be shocking to readers who have seen her grown from scared little girl to queen. Book and Show fans already give Dany way too many free passes for her existing problematic behaviour (adopting a slave army – they still aren’t paid, and don’t really have a choice about serving her, what’s the word for that again…. oh. yeah. SLAVES. She is a colonial imperialist parallel. We are meant to be troubled by cheering her on.) Dany will be PERCEIVED and received by Westeros as the Dark Queen. Whether she goes that dark or not in her internal monologue remains to be seen. But the seeds for her destruction were sowed way back in the earlier books… she will not die in childbirth. She will not die a hero. She will die because she brought Fire and Blood to people who didn’t want it. And that means…

    She will probably be killed by the king or the leader who adheres to the Old Way: the man who proclaims the sentence should swing the sword. Jon Snow will find out that his father wanted him to be Visenya Targaryen, and his mother wanted him to be Aemon Snow or Rhaegar Snow, but that his uncle Ned kept him safe at Jon Snow. He will claim no titles, and wear no crowns. But he will lead the Free Folk and the peoples of Westeros to fight back against the Others. He will make the hard choices, like killing Dany before she kills anyone else. And he’ll give up his father’s Iron Throne to his cousin/brother Bran, realising that the time of Dragons is over.

    Sansa as Queen in the North is likely, IMO. Or at least as Regent for Rickon, boy King in the North. There’s more shenanigans with Littlefinger and the Vale before we get there, and Harry the Heir. Sansa will take everything she learned from Margaery and Cersei, but will not compromise her fundamental Starkness. She will reclaim her identity and her place at Winterfell.

    Dorne is going to ally with fAegon, because it’s better to ally with the dragon who is already here than the one that burned Quentyn and is faffing around in Essos. When Dany learns of this “betrayal” (as she will see it) she will burn Dorne to the ground (or at least Sunspear/the Water Gardens are goners.)

    Arya is also a big ? for me. I completely agree that she will come back to Westeros. I also think that she will give Mercy to Lady Stoneheart. I’m not so convinced that she will stab the Night King, not least of all because there is no Night King in the books. I think Jon, Bran and Dany will all have important roles to play in defeating the Others – the Prince Who Was Promised (but is not a prince), The Last Hero (who can’t walk) and Azor Ahai Reborn (who will be consumed by her own hubris and become the Prince’s Nissa-Nissa) Arya is also there but in what role? I like your idea of Arya bringing Bran back to his humanity. The pair of them have been through hell in very different ways, and will bring each other back from the darkness. But after the war for dawn has been won, what then? Arya never wanted to be a lady in a castle. She loves her family, but will she stay in Winterfell? Probably not. Exploring is a great end for her.

    Other things…

    * Euron will be up to no good and will raze Oldtown to teh ground trying to birth something freakish. This is the sea swallowing the towers that Melisandre saw in the flames, and it’s also the great stone beast taking flight that Dany saw in the HOTU.

    * Stannis will burn Shireen. He will die facing the Others.

    * I still don’t know where Hodor will be holding a door. But I guess if Bran is coming back south then it’s a cave related door? Maybe the Nightfort door?

    * Sam will gtfo out Oldtown when Euron sacks it, and bring key books about the Others back to the North.

    * Cersei will be killed by Jaime, and he will choke her.

    * But before he does that, Jaime will knight Brienne properly, and try to fight for humanity in his last attempts to be the knight he meant to be when he was 15.

    * Tyrion is going to fuck shit up, and if he stays as nihilistic and destructive as he was in ADWD, I really hope he doesn’t survive to the end. He doesn’t deserve to survive to be on Bran’s small council.

    * Gendry might be important in forging dragonsteel or weapons with dragonglass, but he is not going to be the new Storm Lord. That will be Edric Storm, who will likely be installed by King fAegon, and then bend the knee to King Bran.

    * Asha and Theon are going to challenge Euron for the Driftwood Crown, and will be supported by Stannis and/or Jon in doing so. If they survive (big if) they’ll be pardoned by Bran – Theon most likely posthumously, having sacrificed his life to defend the Starks.

    * I’m really interested to see the Great Northern Council. It’s going to be far more complicated than the show version. Sansa’s claim, backed by the Vale Knights (with Harry Arryn fancying himself Lord of the Vale and North… or King of the Vale and North…); Rickon’s claim pushed by Lord Too Fat To Sit A Horse, which will be undermined by how young, damaged and wild Rickon is; Maege Mormont and Jason Mallister with Robb’s will, legitimising Jon Stark – plus Jon turning up with the Free Folk, resurrected from death and with the age, skills and armies to defend the North against the Others…. and Bran’s claim. The last, oldest true born son of Eddard Stark. Plus Stannis wondering why all these Northmen fought with him to oust the Boltons only to ignore his claims of kingship.

    Like

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