Actual Discussion Point from Game of Thrones (SPOILERS)

First off, shoutouts to The Ringer for including huge, gigantic fuck-off spoilers in this morning’s headlines and bylines. To look at their front page on this day is to know exactly what happened, immediately and irrevocably. Stay classy y’all.

Second, as the title indicates, this post contains hella spoilers! If you have not seen last night’s episode of Game of Thrones and intend to at some point, or feel that you may wish to watch it at some point, or you’re like me and try to avoid spoilers as a matter of principle, because really, you never know, look the fuck away from this post.

Finally, before we get going, please note that this as an actual talking point of mine. I am making my main point here sincerely, as opposed to in the spirit of stoned goofing off and pissing in the wind that this I try to embody. As much as I hate to be yet another dbag blogger picking at the bones of a dumb TV show every other internet content scavenger has picked clean, I feel compelled to do so anyway.

Seriously, spoilers ahead. This is your final warning!


So at the end of the episode, Arya destroys the Night King, which led to the destruction of the rest of the Army of the Dead, in turn. The show had previously established that when a White Walker is destroyed, it also leads to the destruction of every undead that White Walker created. So since the Night King is ultimately responsible for the creation of all of the other undead, destroying him entails destroying the others.

Even the show established these were the rules, I think this a significant abuse of the “Destroy the leader, destroy them all” trope. It is an abuse of the trope in the storytelling logic sense – historically, this trope is invoked when the threat in question is some kind of hivemind or has some other form of clearly demonstrated interdependence, like in the movie Slither (which, if you haven’t seen, like, get on it already. It’s great fun!) It sure seems to me like we’ve seen White Walkers and wights and so on act independently, particularly in the early seasons. Back then, they appeared plenty capable of wandering off into relative isolation for no clear purpose. (Remember that one time a White Walker just sort of wandered into Castle Black in Season 1?) Granted, this doesn’t preclude the possibility that these incidents were collective hivemind actions orchestrated by the Night King, but that assumption comes with a whole other suite of questions, all of which make the Night King look stupid, and none of which interest me.

Much more importantly than that, however, is the violation of the metaphorical logic under which the Army of the Dead exists. The undead in Game of Thrones represent a significant act of otherization, being presented as an unnatural “them”, existing as something fundamentally different from all other characters. Without getting too deep into the philosophical implications of otherization in fiction, suffice to say that when a group is otherized in fiction, this is done to make the group in question represent something. Just what that something is can take a variety of forms, some of which are extremely problematic (as you can probably imagine), but that’s a discussion for another time.

My point here is that the undead in Game of Thrones are no different, being otherized in order to represent the threat of societal entropy and the collapse of civilization. While the major houses of Westeros were doing all this scheming and plotting and warring in order to obtain the Iron Throne, the Army of the Dead existed to remind us viewers of the futility of that struggle. Worrying about the Iron Throne is a pretty stupid thing to do when the society it is meant to rule is going to be overrun to the point of collapse anyway, and the dramatic irony of this situation is a driving force of the whole show.

In other words, the Army of the Dead represents a whole suite of historical, sociological, economic, and political questions that have been pored over and debated for centuries and which may not have any singular, true answers as such. By stipulating that destroying the Night King entails the destruction of the entire Army of the Dead, this reduces the entire suite of complicated, thought-provoking questions about the nature of civilization and decay represented to a single, brute-force solution.

That’s lame as hell! It is a cheap cop-out clearly intended to provide definitive resolution at the expense of every other possible storytelling goal. Granted, we all knew this would happen. Over time, the emphasis on Game of Thrones turned from the human and political drama it started off as into the same sort of fantasy yarn it initially set out to deconstruct, chock full of prophecies and destinies and a whole bunch of other played straight fantasy tropes. The books have done the same. The thornier elements took a backseat to the cheap thrills. Like entropy itself, perhaps that was inevitable, but it doesn’t make it any less disappointing.

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