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How to End 'Game of Thrones' in a Way that Will Actually Give It Literary Heft

By Dan Whitley | Game of Thrones | August 27, 2015 |

By Dan Whitley | Game of Thrones | August 27, 2015 |

Man, I hate it when a piece of fiction dies on the page. When it takes some compelling aspect of life and storytelling and bleaches it, guts all the fun and energy from it, leaving you with a husk that’s all concept and no heart. And no fiction has done that in recent memory better than Sport of Seats Game of Thrones. Up yours, Game of Thrones. You managed to take the two best things in drama — betrayal and murder — and make them boring.

Boring how? Because when death and betrayal become frequent in a fiction, they lose their edge. Don’t get me wrong, I love those things; I eat it up most days. But love turns to hate when someone takes such powerful forces as character deaths and betrayals and mishandles them by making the idea the standard, rather than the exception. There’s no reason to care about any given character’s arc in a world so supposedly lethal. You can’t care about even a small cast running around — much less the full-to-bursting cast that GoT flaunts — plotting and backstabbing and dying if you expect it on the grounds that it keeps happening, or because you were told about it beforehand by a fan.

Don’t get me wrong: Chance of Chairs is not a lost cause. It can be saved. Part of the problem is that it exists in limbo right now. It is too popular for anyone to get into at present, has been since just after its popularity took off like a rocket with the release of the show. The shock of GoT is predicated on the idea that you go into it like any other intrigue-centric fiction, expecting a good majority of the cast to hang around for most of the run, only to find them dropping like flies. This can’t work right now; non-fans have picked up too much of it via osmosis, so you have to wait a few years for a new reader-viewership to come along.

The thing is though, that’ll never happen if Game of Thrones continues on its present course. It’ll become another pop-culture phenomenon that no one is talking about in five years unless it ends properly. Right now it’s bad because it’s a boring cycle of plots and backstabbing, but it could become quite great if its ending redeems it.

How? Kill ‘em all and let God sort ‘em out.

Our goal here is twofold: We have to establish the titular “game of thrones” as a character in its own right — assuming this isn’t already occurring, in which case we just make it the central character — and we have to make sure it survives the events of the final book / season. I’m told that there are a few events in the grand seven-books-planned arc of Ruckus of Realms that still need to be played out. One was that something had to go down up at The Wall with Jon Snow, but he got iced at the end of last season, so we’re on a good start already, so long as the Whitewalkers come over the wall and jack up the northern lands. Another is that everyone’s favorite blonde lady-Jesus Daenerys has to come across the sea at the head of her imitation Mongol horde and besiege King’s Landing.

Step One in our grand Save Game of Thrones plan is to have these things actually play out and go absolutely nowhere. Jon Snow doesn’t get magically revived to fight the Whitewalkers, but they are still beaten back by the Watch and whatever qualifies for a militia in the Starks’ realm and status quo is maintained. Daenerys is stymied in her ambitions by the combined might of whoever might want to keep her out of Westeros, and the fake Mongols are driven into the sea. Anything and everything plot-relevant that was forecasted in the first three books plays out by the end of the seventh, and none of it rocks the boat to the point of capsizing. None of keeps the game of thrones from continuing onward.

Step Two is goddamn everyone gets put in the ground. And I mean everyone. Any character introduced in the first three books is indisputably dead by the time the seventh book draws to a close. Every Stark, Lannister, Tyrell, Baratheon, Targaryen who you have known since the third book, all of them are just obliterated, and they drag down a great deal of their supporters and friends and such with them. No magical revivals, no Clegane Bowl, none of it. Not even the dragons are safe.

If done correctly and with precision, this has no bearing on the game of thrones itself. Not a single effort by anyone can change the fact that the game survives. The series is always introducing new people trying to play the game, and should continue to do so right up until the curtain falls.

This leads to Step Three, which is that the series’ ending has to be a non-ending in its own way. Despite everyone you cared about in the plot being dead, the game of thrones lives on. The seventh book must end in such a way that you can conceive of an eighth book existing, it must give the reader the impression that Game of Thrones could be written forever. Because the game never dies, and from what you’ve seen across seven over-long books depicting it, it cannot be won.

However, one character gets to live. This is Other Step Three. That character is Tyrion Lannister. Recall near the beginning of the series Cersei”s famous line: “When you play the game of thrones, you either win or you die.” From where I’m sitting, Tyrion is the only person in the story who took the unexpressed third option, which is not to play at all. Yes, Tyrion participates in the game of thrones in his own way, but he doesn’t throw himself into the grinder like everyone else does.

The thrust is that everyone of importance in the series who tries to play the game of thrones does not win, and simply dies. The game cannot be won, only survived for a finite amount of time.

Why? Setting aside my desire to see Spiel of States < fans openly weep for days after the hammer falls, this is the only way to give all the death and betrayal that has occurred so far any sort of meaning. If people are dying wholesale just because other people want them dead because they’re in the way of winning something, that’s boring. But if they’re sacrifices to some uncaring political machine that runs off corpses and ambitions as it churns across the landscape ruining anything in its path, that’s something else entirely. That’s payoff.

That’s also literature. One of the criteria that separates literature from everything else is that it makes some sort of point about the human condition, usually by teaching you something about yourself or your world. The point made here is that politics doesn’t care about you, even if you win. Politics is its own character in the story of our lives, and politicking is one of the most dangerous games you can play, and that game is absolutely addicting once you first taste it. And by setting itself in some completely fictional universe, Game of Thrones ending in this way makes its grand point about politics itself, and not just American politics the way something like House of Cards does.

If it ends right, Game of Thrones has the potential to show us that politics is a beautiful spiked monster that people will impale themselves upon willingly. If you’re gonna show me some blood, show me that.

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