My adoration for Game of Thrones died at the end of rope.
It died with an orchestral swell, thick with sentimentally and scored to evoke sympathy.
Not sympathy for the child on the gallows, but sympathy for the man about to murder him. Sympathy for his cloak, and office. The wounded airs of a wounded heir. A martyr to personal pride.
The boy’s death is irrelevant, because this is not the boy’s story. His death is minor moral quandary. A footnote in the legend of a hero, in a show that tells us the legends of heroes are the only ones worth telling.
“You shouldn’t be alive” One of the doomed men tells the murderer , his throat pressed against a woven rope necklace. “It’s not right”
“Neither was killing me” Jon Snow retorts, with all the certainty of a tyrant so insane that he considers his own murder a crime worthy of execution.
When Ollie dies, the shot lingers on his pale face. You can feel the lens gloating at his purple lips and vacant stare. This is not camera as observer. Not even camera as narrator. This is camera as fanboy. Camera as sportsfan. Camera as sadist. A pause to sate a thousand viewers, and a vessel to launch a thousand memes. This is a camera that has long abandoned George RR Martin’s observation that ‘living breathing human beings are grey’. This is a camera that deals in moral absolutism. A camera that revels in righteous slaughter.
The top comment on the Youtube clip of the scene I watched?
“I love how they show ollys face in particular after he died. they knew exactly who the people wanted to see dead.”
I call this the Burlington Bar-ification of Game of Thrones. A show that doesn’t trust a fandom to find its own favourite moments, so leaves just enough of a pregnant pause after forced one-liners for a drunk audience to cheer without missing a beat. Any philosophy that doesn’t fit neatly on a coffee mug is too complicated to bother with. Only quips and quotables pass the edit. Quotes like the ones that reduce thousands of pages exploring the futility of senseless revenge and the horrors of feudalism to slogans. Slogans that, when divorced from context, directly contradict Martin’s messages. Slogans like I choose violence, or You win or you die. Slogans like “He who passes the sentence should swing the sword”.
I can’t help but wonder how dead old Ned would feel about the rope though. Makes for a cool moment, if you’re keeping score. Three for one. Azor Ahai’s play of the game. But it’s detached. Cold and impersonal, like American pilots using Xbox controllers to deal fiery, biblical death to perceived enemies of a god-granted imperialism. The actions of a character broken free from the prison of diegesis to sneak a look at the script. A character that doesn’t need prophecies to spell out their path to godhood. A character filled with unshakable faith in their own importance.
“I had a choice, Lord Commander. Betray you, or betray the Night’s Watch”
But whether Thorne betrayed a superior is irrelevant. His crime, as far as Game of Thrones is concerned, was much greater. He betrayed a leading man. A central cast member, a rock solid set of abs, and a hairstyle that looks great on Funko Pops.
Jon Snow is Game of Thrones biggest villain, and the writers are his biggest enablers. All that alligns with his personal whims is good, and all that stands in his way is evil. The only uncertainties permitted are those that further heighten his legend. Is he the super special prophecy bastard, or just a regular extremely special bastard? Who are his parents? I want to know where Olly’s parents are buried. But Game of Thrones has adopted the philosophy of the feudal lords that Martin decries so powerfully, and only the lives of those chosen by gods are worth a second thought.
With A Feast for Crows, Martin released his ravens further afield than the heroic myopia that defined the first three books in the series. In the thunderous wake of crusades led for petty grievances lies the story of a realm that bled so men could play at war. The head that wears a crown may well lie uneasy, but it still lies in a soft bed, with fine clothes and a full belly. A lord’s worst day on earth is still a paradise compared to the women who wash his clothes, and the men who scythe his grain.
This was Martin’s attempt to critique two common tropes of epic fantasy fiction. The first of these is what the critic Bob Case calls ‘The Heinleinian Premise’ – the idea that, as Heinlein puts it “violence is the supreme authority from which all other authority is derived”. A handsome hero gives orders from his horse, slaps some steel together, and is immortalized in portrait and song for valor. His violence is glorious. The violence he has inflicted on his own people for the sake of his legend is forgotten, or worse, used to prove his unshakable will.
The second premise Martin skewers on his pen, like a haunch of a venison on a spit, is Thomas Carlyle’s idea that “The history of the world is but the biography of great men”. The idea has its fair share of critics in literature. Not least of Tolstoy, who, as Chelsea Ennen puts it, explained that “any historical event is really the result of an infinite amount of smaller events and choices made by everyday people”. A backbone of egalitarian thought. Of humanism. Of generally not being arsehole. An idea that Game of Thrones repeatedly shits on.
Jon Snow is Game of Thrones biggest villain. Not just for who he is, but for what he represents. A show that has warped the humanist messages of its source material into a celebration of Nietzschean Supermen, Divine Right, and inherited nobility. Winter may be coming, but that’s fine. The only people that matter, according to Game of Thrones, have blazing hearths to warm their noble bones.