The long-awaited Battle of Winterfell in Games of Thrones has come and gone. There was less bloodshed than expected, fans everywhere lost money in their “which characters are going to die?” pools, and a powerful musical score almost made up for the lighting budget being provided entirely by Melisandre. (I’m not actually sure she’s union, come to think of it.)
Reactions to the episode have been mixed. Some people loved it. Some thought it was a big mess. I felt the same way I do about many “big” episodes of Games of Thrones: having ALL THE FEELS while it’s happening, and realizing the next day, “Wait. That didn’t make any sense!”
The biggest complaint about the episode, aside from the inability to see much of the action, was that the hyped-up Big Bad was defeated too easily. They expected the battle between the living and the dead to be the climax of the series, not an inconvenience the North had to take care of before fighting Cersei. After all,
Al Gore Jon Snow has been sounding the alarm bell for years that all these petty battles are meaningless, that climate change the White Walkers are the real problem facing humanity.
I see a lot of storytelling potential for NOT ending the series with the White Walkers. The last three episodes could be great if the show addresses the question, “We stopped the end of the world – now what kind of world do we want to live in?”
At the same time, I understand why critics and fans are disappointed and confused, wondering, “What was the point of the Night King and the White Walkers if they were going to be defeated so easily?”
I keep going back to what Bran and Sam realized at the end of the seventh season: Robert’s Rebellion was based on a lie. At the time, their conclusion seemed incredibly sad and ironic. One of the few love marriages in Westeros led to pointless bloodshed and the destruction of several noble houses. Almost every conflict between every family traces directly back to the series of events that destroyed almost all of the Targaryens and put Robert Baratheon on the Iron Throne.
After the relatively quick defeat of the undead armies at the Battle of Winterfell, though, I wonder if the show is trying to tell us a different story – that the tragedy of the Rhaegar/Lyanna love affair, Robert’s Rebellion, and everything that came after was necessary to prevent a much bigger tragedy from taking place.
Imagine a world where little Aegon Targaryen was able to live in King’s Landing as the trueborn son of Rhaegar and Lyanna. He’s given all the privileges entitled to a young prince and heir to the throne. He grows up wealthy, loved, and with few cares in the world.
But then he’s not Jon Snow, bastard of Winterfell, who joins the Night’s Watch and goes beyond the wall, and bridges the divide between the Night’s Watch and the wildlings.
Jon Snow, more than any other character on the show (except Bran), sees the world from multiple angles – as a bastard of a highborn house that has a front seat at all of the politicking happening between families, yet never allowed to participate due to his illegitimate status. He’s more educated than most of those at the Night’s Watch, and definitely different from the wildlings he joins as an undercover agent. He was an outsider in every group he became a part of, but he was able to turn that into an advantage, as people from each group warmed up to him and trusted him.
If Jon had raised as Aegon Targaryen instead of Jon Snow, there might not have been anyone to sound the constant alarm bells about the danger of the White Walkers. The White Walkers would have remained a superstition until it was too late, and the Night King might have led his army through Westeros and destroyed all of life before anyone could come up with a defense.
What if Jon is “The Prince That Was Promised” because he’s the Paul Revere/Sybil Ludington of Westeros?
And he’s not the only character who seems fated to be a part of this successful stand against the dead. If Bran had never spied on Cersei and Jaime’s tryst in the towers of Winterfell, Jaime wouldn’t have pushed him, he would have lost the use of the lower half of his body, and he never would have become the Three-Eyed Raven with his own unique perspective that guided the fighters.
Finally, we have Arya Stark, Night Kingslayer, who needed to lose most of her family, travel to different lands, to become the assassin she is, because only a sneaky assassin could get close enough to the Night King in the first place.
If the real lesson of the series is “This tragedy had to happen to prevent the ending of ALL of life,” Game of Thrones will have a fatalistic, Battlestar Galactica feel. “All this has happened before and will happen again.” I’m not sure that’s the ending we’re going to get, or if it’s the best ending for this story, but it will at least be a fitting ending to a saga filled with prophecies, time travel, and perhaps most importantly, humans growing stronger after suffering through tragedy.
But, if this IS the ending we’re getting, I struggle to see where Daenerys fits in, as her Dothraki, Unsullied, and dragons were largely useless in the battle with the dead. I’ll be disappointed if she becomes a mad ruler like her father or Cersei, and I’ll also be disappointed if this war of the roses just concludes with another Targaryen on the Iron Throne.
We have three episodes left to see what will happen. In the middle of this uncertainty, I’ll conclude with the words of Hamilton’s King George:
What comes next?/You’ve been freed
Do you know how hard it is to lead?
You’re on your own/AWESOME, WOW!
Do you have a clue what happens now?
Oceans rise/Empires fall
It’s much harder when it’s all your call
All alone, across the sea
When your people say they hate you
Don’t come crawling back to me.
You’re on your own…