CAUTION – SPOILERS AHEAD!!!
Game of Thrones is one of the most critically acclaimed shows on television at present and will soon be starting its seventh season. However, although the battles and the dragons – as well as the medieval setting – put the show firmly in the fantasy genre, it is not your average clichéd good versus evil.
Most shows of the sort have been inspired, and largely based on, the Lord of the Rings trilogy, written by J.R.R Tolkien and converted into film by Peter Jackson. In that epic series of films, the heroes were easily discernible from the villains, with the good people often wearing lighter colours while the inhuman enemy wore black and lacked any human emotions. The heroes also seemed strangely immune to the means of killing to which their enemies were so vulnerable, and the number of lucky escapes racks up well into the tens and hundreds as almost all the heroes manage to make it through to the end and happiness is restored.
Of course, it is impossible to say at present whether or not a similar ending will be seen in Thrones, as there are still two books and thirteen episodes to come but, judging by the comments of the author and the series so far, I would say there is a minimal chance of the kind of happy ending which was seen in LOTR. George R.R Martin has come out and said the ending to his series will be ‘bitter-sweet’ which I take to mean that, although the force of ‘good’ will emerge victorious, things will never be quite the same as they were before the conflict which started when Jon Arryn was murdered by Cersei Lannister. Further evidence for this can be found in looking at the author himself. Martin is heavily anti-war and was a conscientious objector in the Vietnam War, so the ending to his story is likely to show the destruction war reaps upon the world rather than a satisfactory ending.
One thing which can be said at this stage though, is that Thrones is different from LOTR in that the heroes are far less easily discernible from villains and either are constantly in danger of dying. In fact, with the exception of the undead ‘white walkers’, there are many differing views among the Thrones viewership over which categories characters fall into. The walkers do not seem to have any human emotions and simply look to wipe out anything living, but it has to be noted that we have not yet seen much of them and it could turn out that even they are simply pursuing some purpose and may not be as evil as they seem.
The human characters are often very ambiguous indeed: one of the more clear-cut villains in the first couple of seasons was Jaime Lannister, the so-called golden boy of Westeros, who engaged in an incestruous relationship with his twin sister, murdered the king he had sworn to protect, and was prepared to push children out of windows in order to protect his secrets (“the things I do for love”). However, losing his sword hand in season two went to great lengths to humanise him, and we also found that he killed Aerys Targaryen in order to prevent him from blowing up his own city, which has to go some way to redeeming him. Although Jaime is by no means a perfect embodiment of good, nor can he be classified as a villain. A further example is Sandor ‘The Hound’ Clegane who, despite his fear-inducing look, love of murder and tendency to cut down men in his quest for roast chicken, undertook a quest to return a vulnerable girl to her family through seasons three and four. We most recently saw The Hound joining Berrick Dondarrion with the intention of protecting Westeros against the threat of the white walkers. This seems to be quite the turnaround for Clegane, and he is another who does not fit perfectly into the category of either hero or villain.
Some characters are much easier to assign to being good or bad, and among them are the late Walder Frey and Ramsay Bolton. These are two of the more despicable villains from the show and both characters met their end to the delight of viewers around the globe in season six. Frey is a truly disgusting man who does not seem to have any saving graces, having plotted the murder of several main characters at the ‘Red Wedding’ including Robb and Catelyn Stark, as well as Talisa Stark and her unborn child (though only in the show). This would normally quash any thoughts of people being sorry to see him go, but the performance of David Bradley in the role, as well as the manner in which Frey was killed, made me at least a little bit sorrowful. The way Bradley pulled off the disgusting character made me enjoy his scenes to some extent, despite the horrible events which were almost always taking place around him. And does anybody – yes, even Walder Frey – really deserve to have their throat cut after being fed a pie filled with the remains of their own children? This made me slightly sympathetic towards the man whose death I have longed for since the ‘Red Wedding, but at least I can console myself in that, if anyone deserves to die like that, it is most definitely Walder Frey.
Bolton is another who I did not expect to feel any sympathy for after he repeatedly tortured Theon Greyjoy for several years, reducing him to a state where he was scared of his own shadow and went by the name of ‘Reek’, and raped Sansa Stark. He also had an unnatural attraction to killing, and the youngest Stark child, the inhabitants of Winterfell, and even his own father were all victims of Ramsay’s psychopathy. But when Bolton met his end, it was not nearly as satisfying as I was expecting. He was almost beaten to death by Jon Snow’s bare hands before Sansa got her revenge by setting Ramsay’s own hunting hounds onto him to finish him off. The rather graphic way in which Bolton was killed saw his face being ripped apart by a dog before the final shot of the episode was of Sansa walking away with a smirk on her face. Similar to Walder Frey’s scenes, I enjoyed the scenes with Iwan Rheon as his mad demeanour added a somewhat lighter tone to the dark issues being dealt with in the programme. This shows that even the villains can be likeable in their own twisted way. Or that I’m just an awful person.
These four examples are testament to the blurred lines that separate good from evil in Thrones as it is difficult to put many characters in the categories of heroes and villains and even those which fit comfortably into either category can still help viewers enjoy the show. The politics of the show are so dark that it is often necessary to have scenes with a mad villain to lighten the mood. Another area in which Thrones differs from more conventional fantasy series such as LOTR is that no character, no matter how good or bad, is safe. It may have seemed that way at the start of the series and one might have foreseen Ned Stark and Robert Baratheon imprisoning Cersei Lannister, with good prevailing. However, those hopes were dashed in episode nine of the first season when Ned Stark was executed in front of his watching family, and since then countless main characters have been killed off; so much so that the series is famous for killing off main characters. It would not have been especially difficult to predict the ending of LOTR with all the heroes but Boromir surviving and Aragorn being crowned king, but very few would have seen anything that has happened on Thrones over the last few years coming.
I am probably already preaching to the converted with this article, but hopefully I have helped to bust any lingering doubts over whether Game of Thrones is your stereotypical fantasy programme. Yes, the characters do have funny names, and the medieval setting does take some time to get your head around, but it is far from a direct battle between good and evil. For a start, before you dismiss the show as simply good versus evil, try deciding which characters are good and which are evil! As to the misconception that the show is predictable, go away now and watch the first eight episodes of season three and guess what happens in episode nine. You won’t get it right. Trust me. What I am really trying to say is that the show is well worth watching and is like no other fantasy show I have ever seen.