All of My Friends Will be Dead - Meditations on the Great Battle of Game of Thrones
THIS POST CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR GAME OF THRONES – YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!
It’s Saturday, April 27, 2019. That means that in about 24 hours I’ll be excited to watch – or be subjected to – Game of Thrones season 8 episode 3, in which the White Walkers and the Army of the Dead will attack Winterfell. It means that, almost certainly, characters who have survived the entire story up until this point are going to die. Characters who are flawed but likeable. Characters who are smart, or strong – who are loving, or leaders, or some combination thereof.
I am attached to almost all of them.
It seems foolish: This is Game of Thrones. This is the story where anyone you expect to be important to the story will – on the next page or in the next episode – be stabbed, burned alive, eaten, turned into a zombie, etc. One of George RR Martin’s central themes is that this is not your parents’ fantasy novel. The good guys don’t always win, and frankly: “If you think this story has a happy ending, then you haven’t been paying attention.”
But if there’s two things that literally every character you saw in S08E02 - A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms has in common, it’s this: 1) They are a survivor, and 2) They have walked through hell to be here today. It’s hard not to identify with each of them. It’s hard not to root for them. It’s hard not to want each and every one of them to have a happily ever after.
In particular, the scenes around the fireplace in the great hall gave me a sense that these characters have fulfilled various journeys of self-actualization. This in turn culminated with the long-overdue knighthood of Brienne of Tarth by Jaime Lannister (which gives the episode its name), a scene which moved many viewers to tears.
While George RR Martin and Game of Thrones have hurt us fans over and over and over again – from the Red Wedding, to the burning of Shireen, to Hodor’s death, to the capture of Viserion – it has nonetheless been a constant companion in my life – both as books and a TV show – for almost a decade. With so many characters dead and gone (though many of them are not missed at all), the ones left on screen represent the true core of this story, this world, that has been present with me throughout all these years.
The world of A Song and Ice and Fire is not one which delivers simplistic, fantastic endings where Everyone Lived Happily Ever After. As author George RR Martin has stated, he aims to portray the brutality and randomness of the real world. Sometimes good people don’t get noble deaths. The Red Wedding in particular was designed to leave us mournful and confused and angry years later, despite the fact that it never actually happened. That’s part of the brilliance of George RR.
I guess I have to remind myself that this is what I signed up for – to feel the full gamut of these emotions, both joyous and painful. To be shocked – utterly blindsided – at something I should have suspected or seen coming all along, if only I had been paying close enough attention. Honestly, the most shocking, unpredictable outcome of tomorrow’s episode would be the death of few or no characters. But I’m not counting on it.
So as we, like our beloved characters, endure one more sleep before the fateful battle – the one, TRUE battle – I would like to hail those characters at Winterfell, who have been with me for so long. These people – albeit fictional – have made a big impact on my life and have felt, weirdly, like friends. I know many of you reading feel the same.
Jon Snow, the last King in the North, former Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch – also named Aegon Targaryen, rightful heir to the Seven Kingdoms, and Protector of the Realm
Daenerys Targaryen, called Stormborn, First of Her Name, the Unburnt, Khaleesi of the Great Grass Sea, Breaker of Chains, and Mother of Dragons
Tyrion Lannister, Hand of the Queen to Daenerys Targaryen, and former Hand of the King and Master of Coin to Joffrey Baratheon
Sansa Stark, the Lady of Winterfell
Arya Stark, who knows the secrets of the Faceless Men
Ser Brienne of Tarth, former Kingsguard to Renly Baratheon, Lady of the Isle of Tarth, and heiress of the Evenstar
Ser Jaime Lannister, called Kingslayer, former Kingsguard to the Iron Throne, and heir to Casterly Rock
Brandon Stark, the Three-Eyed Raven
Ser Davos Seaworth, called the Onion Knight, former Hand of the King to Stannis Baratheon
Samwell Tarly, a man of the Night’s Watch, and Slayer of White Walkers
Sandor Clegane, called the Hound
Ser Jorah Mormont, Queensguard and advisor to Daenerys Targaryen
Lyanna Mormont, the Lady of Bear Island, and forever loyal vassal to House Stark
Theon Greyjoy of the Iron Islands
Varys, called the Spider, former Master of Whispers to the Iron Throne
Missandei of Naath, advisor and translator to Daenerys Targaryen
Grey Worm, leader of the Unsullied and General of the combined armies of Daenerys Targaryen
Eddison Tollett, called Dolorous Edd, Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch
Gendry, a blacksmith, bastard of King Robert Baratheon
Tormund, a wildling, called Giantsbane and Husband to Bears
Gilly, a wildling and mother to Young Sam
Beric Dondarrion, the Lord of Blackhaven and leader of the Brotherhood without Banners
Podrick Payne, the most loyal squire to Lady Brienne of Tarth and Lord Tyrion Lannister
Qhono, commander of the Dothraki Horde for Khaleesi Daenerys Targaryen
Yohn Royce, the Lord of Runestone, called Bronze Yohn, Lord Protector of the Vale
Drogon, a dragon of Daenerys Targaryen, named for Khal Drogo
Rhaegal, a dragon of Daenerys Targaryen, named for Prince Rhaegar Targaryen
Ghost, a direwolf, the familiar of Jon Snow
My friends, I wish you good fortune in the battle to come. May the Old Gods watch over you. May the Seven keep you safe. May the Lord of Light push back the darkness.