The world of Westeros was once cruel, messy and utterly unpredictable, killing off heroes with a random sweep of a sword. Now, it all feels so preposterously safe. What a betrayal of George RR Martin and fans everywhere
Warning: this article contains plot spoilers.
The most telling moment in Game of Thrones doesnt concern a battle but a beetle. In the shows fourth season, while he is awaiting a trial that will determine whether he gets his head lopped off for murdering his nephew, Tyrion Lannister reminds his brother Jaime of their cousin Orson. Dropped on his head as a child, Orson had from that time onwards spent his days brainlessly crushing beetles with a rock. Tyrion, being an inquisitive type, desperately wanted to know what motivated Orson in his continued act of beetle-cide. I had to know because it was horrible that all these beetles should be dying for no reason, he explained. Yet long after Orson had met his own fate kicked in the chest by a mule the answer to this conundrum was still unclear.
The answer, though, was staring Tyrion right in his scarred face: there was none. In Game of Thrones, horrible stuff can happen without an underlying reason or logic. There is no long arc of history bending towards justice. Best-laid plans can be disrupted by the sudden swish of a broadsword. The world of Westeros is cruel, violent and chaotic, and if you want to survive in it, you need to recognise that and act accordingly (chaos is a ladder, after all).
That dark worldview is something Game of Thrones and its showrunners, David Benioff and DB Weiss, have practised as well as preached. Over its seven-season run, the show has featured a slew of moments that underlined that sense of chaos and cruelty. Chief among them, of course, are the execution of Ned Stark, Westeros most outwardly moral character, and the grand guignol spectacle of the Red Wedding. But you could also add to the list the head-squishing of Oberyn Martell, the sacrifice of Shireen Baratheon by her own father or any of the many heinous acts committed by Ramsay Bolton during his reign of terror in the North.
These moments may have led some to deem Game of Thrones and its creator George RR Martin too sadistic, but its also what made the show a uniquely jolting watch. Here was a series where characters we had followed across seasons and continents could be brutally swept off the board at a seconds notice. But this ruthlessness wasnt just a gimmick it felt consistent with the harsh and messy world that had been constructed, where shallow noblemen squabbled over their fiefdoms, while on the other side of the Wall an all-consuming force of unreasoning evil was preparing to wipe out everything.
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