SPILLING INK: Is Game of Thrones Subverting Expectation or Delivering Fan Service?

We’re halfway through the final season of Game of Thrones and have been treated to the most epic battle in history.

I’m torn between loving the hell out of this season and being disappointed by the fact the showrunners are no longer honoring the source material. Since they surpassed the original creator of this series they have veered as far as possible from story canon, which would not seem so odd if they hadn’t spent a lot of time trying to be faithful to it during the previous seasons.

I understand that book to screen adaptations have to be taken with a grain of salt. There is no possible way to make something picture perfect to the original source material. But Game of Thrones was sticking pretty close, in the grand scheme of things. However, since surpassing the creator’s source material, they have decidedly gone in their own direction as they race to the finish.

Before I continue, there be dragons…er…spoilers ahead.

Read at your own risk.

But, if you’re caught up to season 8 episode 3, and are ready to discuss, let’s dive in!

The Prince That Was Promised /Azor Ahai

The Crypts of Winterfell

The Three-Eyed Raven’s importance.

The Night King

We have spent a lot of time learning these very important prophesy plot points.

From the very first episode, we were introduced to the chief Fantasy threat in the world our favorite characters reside in: The Night King.

Fantasy is not the only threat in this world. It wouldn’t be called the Game of Thrones if it weren’t meant to be a political-heavy story. But, despite all the squabbling over the Iron Throne, the fantasy element is a thread weaved through each episode.

The Prince That Was Promised /Azor Ahai has been teased right alongside nearly every mention of the Night King. He or she (High Valyrian doesn’t specify genders with words) was meant to bring the dawn after the long night. The one assumed to end the Night King.

The Three-Eyed Raven is introduced to us as a Greenseer with knowledge and wisdom to pass on to Brandon Stark. Connecting him to the Children of the Forest (who created the Knight King) and the Others (wight walkers). His true importance has yet to be discovered since GRRM hasn’t finished the last two books in the series.

But let’s not forget that Brandon is a Stark of Winterfell, a place built by Bran the Builder, also a Stark, during the Age of Heroes. Below Winterfell are the Crypts, built with the same magic as the Wall and its construction was aided by the Children of the Forest. It contains the tombs of all the Stark Kings laid to rest with Iron swords across their laps to prevent the vengeful spirits from rising.

All of these major fantasy threads are connected.

But those are more book elements than TV show elements. The show has teased us with a few, turning Brandon Stark into the Three-Eyed Raven, hinting that either Jon Snow/Aegon Targaryen or Daenerys Targaryen are potentials to be the Prince that was Promised, and hinted that Winterfell and it’s crypts were the safest place to be when the Night King came to bring the long night.

However, after 7 seasons of buildup, when the moment came, the Night King arrived at Winterfell, they changed gears and not only subverted our expectations, they negated all that they had set up in exchange for what feels like a combination of fan service and shock value.

Please understand that while I’m questioning the repercussions of ignoring all the lore, I do feel the Battle of Winterfell episode did what it set out to do. Epic Night King Killing Action!

From the moment the show began we knew it was going to be tense. Dothraki screamers, long hailed as the most fearsome fighting force to meet in open combat, armed with swords ablaze, rode into the darkness. In seconds, their flames were extinguished. That set the tone for this battle. Viewers knew, right then and there, that this was not going to turn out the way everyone planned.

The die had been cast and there would be no turning back.

As far as battle planning went, it was clear, as a viewer, that they were not concerned with a real strategy. Every effort was made to create a sense of maximum drama. Fighting in the dark, our key players were all out in front, in the thick of things, easy targets.

Ser Jorah, Ghost, Brienne, Jamie, Podrik, Sam, Edd, Grey Worm, Tormund, etc… And we expected them to die. Maximum drama.

For 82 minutes, viewers were left sitting at the edge of their seat praying their favorite characters would survive. This constant questioning saw us through the front lines, the retreat into Winterfell, the breach of Winterfell and did not let up until the last moment of the show.

82 minutes of edge of your seat, stressed out, fear for the lives of characters we’ve followed from the early days. Maximum drama.

When deaths came, they were almost hand-picked to evoke the most emotion.

Dothraki Screamers – Too many to count

Unsullied – Too many to count

Eddison Tollett – Saving Sam

Lady Lyanna Mormont – Killing the Giant that killed her

Theon Greyjoy – Protecting Bran

Beric Dondarrion – Protecting Arya

Jorah Mormont – Protecting Dany

The Night King – Arya

Melisandre – The End

While the death count seems high, there were less main character deaths than I expected. “Valar Dohaeris,” unless you have plot armor. Many other characters in this episode were in obvious mortal peril but somehow made it through. A hint of fan service there, but we have three more episodes to go. We’ll have to see what the final death count is at the end.

Back to the Night King. Mr. Big Bad himself. For 7 seasons we have watched him build his army. We got hits of how he raised the dead, made more wights, and eventually, claimed a dragon as his mount. This guy literally brings the winter with him wherever he goes. He is an unstoppable force. And he was heading straight for Winterfell.

As expected the Crypts were touted as the safest place to be. A nod to the magical protections that lay within. We have spent so much time down there over the seasons. We have stared at the statues. We have been hinted at their importance. But when the Night King came, they served little more than a room to hide in. No Stark Kings rose up. No magic prevented wights from entering. For all the lore, we were let down. The crypts might as well have been a wine cellar for all the protection they offered during the great battle.

Fine. Crypts are nothing. But once the Night King got knocked off his Dragon, we were sure to see Dany or Jon become Azor Ahai and wield the flaming sword, Lightbringer, to defeat him, right? Well, Dany tried to burn him. She gave him the best Dracarys she could, a poetic license take on the flaming sword, right? Not really. The Night King just stood there and smiled. A totally badass moment, for sure. Not defeated, however, that must mean it was not Dany. Okay, for sure, Jon, right? He did take off after the Night King on foot, ready to challenge the big bad to what I expected to be the most epic of epic sword fights. Only, he didn’t. Big Baddy raised the dead to handle Mr. Snow and kept on walking. Major subversion of expectations there.

While that’s all happening, Brandon Stark, the self-proclaimed Three-Eyed Raven is sitting in the Godswood waiting. That’s it. Just waiting. All that knowledge. All that power. The ability to warg into other creatures and command them. All he does is sit and wait. Bait. Nothing the Northern Army did could stop the Night King. He walked right on into Winterfell and straight into the Godswood to meet Brandon face to face.

Of course, it wouldn’t be a satisfying end to the episode if after all that the Night King wasn’t destroyed, and for that, we get Arya Stark with the amazing save right at the last moment. Maximum drama, this time with an even bigger dose of subverted expectations. No one saw that coming. She doesn’t fit the profile of Azor Ahai. She’s a badass for sure. She earned her assassin badge many times over during the last 7 seasons, but she is not the Princess who was Promised. The showrunners themselves said they chose her to do it because everyone expected Jon to be the one and they wanted to subvert our expectations.

Here’s the thing, we expected Jon because he fits the prophecy that had been set up for the last 7 seasons.

Stabbed through the chest with a Valyrian steel dagger, the Night King shattered and with that, his army fell too. After 8 seasons we’re now finished with the fantasy element of this series. And while I’m pleased to see they are closing out the big plot points (we only have 3 episodes left), as a fan of both the books and the show, the way they did it feels hollow. As I said above, I’m torn between loving the hell out of this season and being disappointed by the fact the showrunners are no longer honoring the source material.

And, it should also be said, that now they have defeated the Night King and the fantasy element of this world is over, will the remaining political drama hold enough interest?

We’ll just have to watch and see.

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