Monday, May 20, 2019

Better "Bittersweet" Ending(s) for GAME OF THRONES

Once upon a time noted fantasy author George R.R. Martin told fans to expect a "bittersweet" ending for A Song of Ice and Fire. He specifically said that once a quest is completed one can't expect everything to be perfect. Although Lord of the Rings and A Song of Ice and Fire are often contrasted with each other, that comment reminded me of the LOTR ending in which the hobbits return from Mordor to find Saruman had ruined the Shire and even after it's rebuilt, Frodo leaves for the Undying Lands because having taken the One Ring to Mordor and surviving a continent-spanning war in the process, this world is no longer bearable for him.

Well, now the Game of Thrones television series on HBO is over. Going in I was already extremely annoyed with how the series piled on a conga line of contrived tragedies to break Danaerys and drive her crazy, culminating with the gratuitous destruction of King's Landing even though the city had already surrendered. I was thinking they were destroying a powerful female character they'd basically set up to be the messiah for the last decade in favor of Jon "Fail Upward" Snow, (and I wasn't the only one to think that--I most definitely was not). My students' graduation was that night so I didn't see the finale, but although the recaps do describe a "bittersweet" ending, some of the stuff they describe sounds absolutely stupid.

Danaerys: I expected there to be consequences for torching King's Landing, but I didn't expect her to go even more crazy before they came. Her ordering everybody who fought for Cersei down to the common soldiers to be killed and advocating an eternal war to free all enslaved people (and for her to basically rule the entire world) is ridiculous. Her goal from the beginning is the Iron Throne--where does world domination come in? She left Slaver's Bay for her ex-boyfriend Daario to rule without any intention of coming back, even though it would have made a good logistical base or source of funds for a continued war in Westeros.

If she needs to die, there was no need for her to get progressively more of a megalomaniac to make the viewers agree this was necessary. If you wanted a sad ending that does justice to her earlier humanitarianism, have Jon find her sitting on the Iron Throne having a total guilt-driven breakdown, remorseful for the havoc she wreaked when she went psycho but unable to be trusted not to do the same thing (or worse) again if she gets stressed out enough. Jon mercy-kills her no matter how much he hates to do it for the good of everybody, which seems to be something the series finale got right. Think Carol's "look at the flowers" execution of the unstable Lizzie from The Walking Dead.

(There's actually a GOT meme based on this, although I'd have said "look at the Iron Throne, Dany.")

The series finale (and the burning of King's Landing before it) sounds like the writers were just trying to beat Danaerys' alleged insuitablity to rule into the viewers' heads, much like they had Varys crap on the idea of a dual Jon-Danaerys monarchy that would be the obvious solution to Northern separatism, Jon's superior legal claim vs. Danaerys' superior military one, etc.

Bran: Bran has demonstrated even less interest in ruling (he refuses to be Lord of Winterfell even though he's the legal heir with Robb dead) and has vastly less experience in governing than Jon. And not only is he disabled (probably bad enough in a medieval world), but he seems disabled to the point of being unable to father children. Depending on where the spine break is, paraplegia can also cost one bladder/bowel control and sexual function, although there's nothing in the books or show to indicate Bran has to wear a diaper. Given the political instability (the dynasty that united the kingdom falls, the successor dynasty implodes in less than twenty years, and there's a prolonged civil war by rival dynastic claimants afterward), I would think the lords of Westeros would want a familiar, stable system. An elective monarchy in a continent that's never had that (outside of occasionally on the Iron Islands and at least one Great Council to select among Targaryens) this isn't. And then there's his becoming increasingly weird and inhuman in the process. Jon for all my issues with him would be a more realistic in-universe choice for king.

Arya: It's been established from the beginning Arya didn't want to be "a proper lady" at all, so her turning down Gendry's marriage proposal (especially the way he worded it with "be my lady") made sense. But when did she ever show any interest or aptitude for sailing? When has "what's west of Westeros" ever been an interest of anybody since Brandon the Shipwright, who I don't think is ever mentioned in the show? And why wouldn't Yara kill her at sea for publicly threatening her like she had earlier in the episode? I would imagine she'd be something like Dune's Master of Assassins for King Bran (Six Kingdoms) or Sansa (the North).

EDIT: A friend pointed out that in an earlier season she did say that she wanted to see what was "west of Westeros." My mistake. I'm keeping this entry here to retain what I thought might've been a better course of action and to show my fallibility.

Edmure: Why is Edmure offering himself up as the new king? The books establish him as a good peacetime lord who legitimately cares for his people, but he's a poor commander and the TV show emphasizes his incompetence with that whole "ignite Hoster Tully's funeral barge with an arrow" farce. After all the stuff that's happened to him, I could easily imagine that he knows this. And given his continued loyalty to his Frey wife (this is more in the books than in the show), he's going to have enough problems with the Riverlands. Is this just an excuse to have Sansa publicly humiliate him for a laugh?

Drogon: He didn't kill Jon why? Hell making Bran king would make sense if that happened.

However, it's easy to complain. Here's how I would have handled the last couple episodes to provide a "bittersweet" ending that's much less ridiculous.

*Make it more obvious that Cersei's propaganda campaign against Danaerys as a foreign invader has taken much deeper root among the elites and the common people. We see that in Season 7 with Randyll and Dickon Tarly, but that's just two nobles. If Cersei's nonsense had spread more widely, the armies moving south could find that the people simply do not trust Danaerys. If there are any incidents where the Dothraki rape and pillage, that would make things worse. These would be against Danaerys' orders, but that doesn't really matter where PR is concerned.

The fact that most people view the White Walkers as "grumpkins and snarks" means the fact that Danaerys' dragons saved Westeros from the Night King doesn't cut any ice (hee hee)--they think it's all made up. Varys sees this and between the likelihood the leader of the coalition would not be able to rule an increasingly xenophobic land and his own doubts about Danaerys' sanity (maybe we still get a "destiny" rant from her when he points out the PR problem she's having) starts spreading word around about Jon. Between that and a more obvious poisoning attempt, Varys gets executed in a situation that some viewers might think is a sign Danaerys is turning into her father.

*When Danaerys attacks King's Landing (provoked like in the show by Missandei's gratuitous murder), make the destruction of the city an accident. The bells are ringing and the Lannister main army is routing, but there might still be scorpion fire from the Red Keep from Cersei's die-hards. Danaerys attacks the Red Keep and accidentally triggers her father's wildfire stashes, utterly destroying the city to her shock and horror.

*Danaerys returns to her allies and they discuss that as word of this spreads, it will confirm forever in the eyes of both the elite and commons that Danaerys is the new "Mad Queen" and the rest of the continent will rise up against them. Danaerys could rule by terror via the Unsullied, the Dothraki, and Drogon, but that would require untold cruelty that would be too much for her and wouldn't really work in the long run. The Dornish held off the Targaryens via guerrilla warfare and there's always poison or other forms of assassination. Danaerys is stubborn (giving the viewers more worry that she actually IS the Mad Queen) but the guilt from the obliteration of King's Landing finally pushes her to agree to make Jon the new Targaryen king (even though he emphasizes he DOES NOT WANT IT) and return to Meereen with her loyalists. Danaerys has saved the kingdom from the White Walkers and the narcissistic tyrant Cersei, but she's lost the throne due to Cersei's dishonesty and the accidental destruction of the city confirming the "truth" of this in the minds of ignorant people.

So Jon is left mopier than usual on an Iron Throne he doesn't want and Danaerys retreats once more into exile. Perhaps someday there could be dynastic unification of the "Bay of Dragons" and Westeros with a marriage of Jon and Danaerys' children (or Jon and his heirs get the chunk of Essos Danaerys ruled by default if Danaerys really can't have children), but strongly imply this isn't likely to happen. Jon and Danaerys will have to marry other people, no matter their love for one another, for political reasons and to reduce the likelihood of future Targaryen insanity among their descendants. Very sad for everybody, although I could easily imagine Daario being happy to see her again.

*Alternatively, the PR situation hasn't gotten that bad (enough of the allies' leadership and common soldiers recognize the wildfire for what it is), but between the still severe backlash and Northern separatism epitomized by Sansa and all those skeptical peasants, it's still politically impossible for Danaerys to rule the Seven Kingdoms despite her military superiority. Jon resumes his rule from Winterfell, presumably with a dynastic marriage of his own (to someone from the North or perhaps the Vale), while Danaerys marries that new prince of Dorne (I'm guessing some distant member of House Martell since Doran and his son are dead) to stabilize her rule in the south and replaces the obliterated elites of the Reach and elsewhere with sellswords like Bronn, common soldiers who've fought well enough to be knighted, Dothraki (if they can adapt or if there's enough wasted land that can be left as pasture for their nomadic lifestyle), Northerners seeking better opportunities, etc. There're plans to eventually have Jon's children (and hers if she ever has them) marry to reunite the realm much like how Dorne joined the Seven Kingdoms through marriage, but imply with the Northern proto-nationalism that this isn't going to happen even though it worked before by making the ruler of Dorne a prince in his (or her) own right.

*Bran and Arya go with Jon, with Bran as the near-omniscient Master of Whispers and Arya as his enforcer. If Jon becomes the new king of Westeros, the Northern separatists are bought off with Sansa being elevated to Princess of Winterfell in the Dornish fashion. Tyrion, recognizing his multitude of mistakes as Danaerys' Hand, returns to Casterly Rock and Davos becomes Jon's new Hand either in the North or in King's Landing. If Danaerys stays in the south, perhaps Edmure Tully is brought in to become her peacetime Hand to buy off the Riverlands. There'd be an understanding that Grey Worm would have the military responsibilities so Edmure can focus on making a better life for the regular people, as one would think Danaerys based on her characterization early in the show would like.

*Ghost shows up, either having followed Jon south the whole time (Nymeria seemed to be doing pretty well in the Riverlands) or waiting for Jon in Winterfell when he returns. And he gets his pets. :)

What do you all think? This is a "bittersweet" ending that makes Jon and Danaerys suffer both politically and personally despite their victory, but at the same time it avoids the showrunners' character assassination (or rushed "character development" if you wish to be charitable) of Danaerys, along with the other bizarre character choices I listed above. In fact, it reminds me a lot of the eventual fate of the Federated Commonwealth from BattleTech--the best hope for human unification under rulers who respect human rights is thwarted by the villains' treachery and heroes' bad decisions even if said villains are ultimately beaten.

If anybody wants to do fan-fiction based on this premise, go ahead. I've already seen post-"Bells" fan-fic out there and this would certainly be better than petitioning HBO to re-do the final season.


  1. I visited this blog because I've been rereading some old fanfiction, and remembered you from years ago when I was reading Harry Potter fics. Nice to see you're still pondering ideas about improving disappointing finales!

    1. Sounds like you were one of the readers for "Lord of the Werewolves" then. :) Am I correct?

    2. Initially, I was a poster at the Fictionalley anti-DH series, but I enjoyed LotW.

    3. Thanks. Glad you liked it. Until my original books were published (THING IN THE WOODS and the new LITTLE PEOPLE, BIG GUNS--print book available now, e-book sometime next week), LoTW was probably my best writing.