I read the first three books. I loved them, and then I waited. I waited for George R. R. Martin to write the fourth book. By the time it came out, I had forgotten what happened in the first three, so I read no more Song of Ice and Fire.
Then, in 2011, HBO gave us the television series Game of Thrones.
I’ve enjoyed watching, thinking and arguing about the series. Some people don’t think Christians should watch it because of the content. I disagreed with them in “Why Christians Might Watch Game of Thrones.“
Now we are in the eighth season. The first episodes of this final season suggest an important theme. Perhaps it’s the way we might understand the entire series.
The story is set in a pseudo-medieval world, a brutal world. The series follows the main players in the deadly game of thrones. The purpose of the game is to establish and solidify and expand their kingdoms in Westeros at the expense of the other players.
The nine main houses of Westeros are Stark, Arryn, Baratheon, Tully, Greyjoy, Lannister, Tyrell, Martell and Targaryen. The first 7 seasons are dominated by the overt and covert machinations of various of these houses as they struggle for control or domination of a greater piece of Westeros.
The Game of Thrones
The cost of playing the game of thrones is high. Ned Stark (Sean Bean) is beheaded at the end of season 1. Ned was thought to be the hero of the story–he was admirable in every way. If he played the game at all, he played it with integrity. His integrity, in fact, kills him. His name has become a verb in my family–when a main character is unexpectedly killed on a TV show, he is said have been “Ned Starked.”
Besides Ned Stark’s there are many significant deaths that are a result of playing the game:
- Oberyn Martell played the game with a little too much confidence in his matial skills–he payed, first with his eyeballs, then with his life.
- Because of this death Ellaria Sand poisoned young Myrcella Baratheon, a Lanister princess.
- Sweet and innocent Tommen Baratheon kills himself after his mother kills his wife, and a lot of others, when she blows up the Sept of Baelor in the game.
- Lysa Arryn cannot fly, so she falls to her death when pushed through the Moon Door by Lord Baylish, a master player until the Stark girls take him out.
- Renly Baratheon is murdered indirectly by his brother, Stannis. He is assassinated by magic smoke.
- Speaking of Stannis; he burns his own daughter to death in order to win the assistance of the Lord of Light to win the game. The Lord of Light was away from the table.
- Viserys Targaryen earned a golden crown–he died because the gold was still in liquid form.
- Joffrey Baratheon was poisoned by at his wedding by Olenna Tyrell–no regrets here.
- The vile Ramsey Bolton decided to play. He played the game hard, but lost big time.
- Walder Frey wanted to play. His big move was the Red Wedding.
Almost all of the people who killed the above were killed our of revenge for doing it.
“Winter is Coming”
“Winter is coming” has been the tagline of the show since the beginning. In literature, the seasonal year has long been a metaphor for human life. Spring is linked to birth and the winter is analogous to death. This idea is reinforced in Game of Thrones with the simultaneous arrival of winter and the Night King.
“Winter is coming,” then, means “Death is Coming.”
The Night King is accompanied by a gigantic army of the dead.
By the end of season 7, Jon Snow realizes that the inhabitants of Westeros are no longer playing a game of thrones, but a game of life and death. His mission is to convince the other leaders that they must stop fighting each other and come together to face the far bigger enemy–the Night King and his host.
He has limited success in creating a coalition of the living against the zombies from beyond the wall. The houses Stark, Targaryen and Arryn join together to fight the dead. But that’s pretty much it.
The Tullys would likely help, but the head of their house, Edmure, was last seen rotting in a cell at the Twins. Gendry is the only remaining Baratheon. He’s at the fight, but since he’s illegitimate, he’s just a soldier. Theon of house Greyjoy is doing his bit, but he’s brought no army. House Tyrell has been erased. All that’s left of the Martells is Ellaria Sand who is in a prison cell watching her daughter decompose. These families have lost the game of thrones before it became the game of life.
This leaves the Lannisters. Although her brothers fight with the north, Cersei and all the armies under her control have refused to march. The Greyjoy navy under Euron are joining with Cersei.
Game of Thrones as Allegory
Game of Thrones can be looked at allegorically.
“Winter is coming,” means “Death is Coming.”
This might be the tagline for all of our lives. There are various ways to play the game of life. We can pursue love, money, fame, sex, family, and power. Analogous to the game of thrones, our playing of the game of life will have a high cost. We invariably pay the cost by sacrificing our relationships or money or family or health or happiness.
Then we become aware of death. For many, this awareness comes too late; they have already been consumed by the game itself. Some will stop playing the game when the reality of death crosses the wall. Priorities will change as they become begin to grasp reality. An then there a those like Cersei. Still able, but refusing to acknowledge the reality of death, the true enemy. They respond by playing the game harder than ever.
Game of Thrones might be, among other things, an allegory for our response to the reality of death. If the series is, in fact, allegorical, it will be very interesting to see the conclusions Game of Thrones will offer in the remaining episodes.
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