In the Game of Thrones, You Win or You Quit Playing

(Spoilers for all of Game of Thrones are below. Even if you’ve never watched the show, don’t read this, because we know that someday you will.)

One of the things that I have always liked about Game of Thrones, among many, is that you always had someone to root for to take power over the Seven Kingdoms. It wasn’t always necessarily the same potential monarch that your friend wanted, either. Whether you’ve been on Team Daenerys since day one and your friend had a brief stint on Team Stannis (before he committed the most despicable act of the series and burned his daughter alive), or if you and your friend have both always been about the Starks, the point is that you’ve pretty much spent the last seven years hoping that your chosen one would usurp whichever ass was sitting on the Iron Throne.

Although the list of hopeful leaders has essentially dwindled down to just Dany, it’s still easy to get behind her because Cersei is the one currently occupying that uncomfortable chair, and as Jon Snow so succinctly puts it, “At the very least, you’re better than Cersei.” That makes things pretty cut and dry and we would all be rocking House Targaryen apparel, if the rules hadn’t changed.

But of course, season 7 didn’t just change the rules of the game. It changed the game entirely. And much like the friend who is left playing Halo while everyone else moves on to Call of Duty, Cersei now presides over a city that almost every notable character has abandoned and holds a seat of power that everyone but her has stopped trying to obtain. I suppose when you finally master the game you’ve been playing for so long, you’re not about to let it go that easily (especially when you’re a cold-hearted bitch with just a slight drinking problem).

This is why I was telling anyone who would listen that I was certain Cersei would meet her demise before season 7 reached its conclusion. After all, how are our heroes supposed to take on the Night King and his undead army (complete with his own ice breathing dragon!) when there is still one other person on the board who wants to fuck everything up for everyone else? Then I watched last night’s season finale and realized that I’ve already answered my own question: because Cersei isn’t going to stop playing the game just because everyone else quit, and her objective is to ruin all the nice things that everybody else has. That’s why she’s the most reviled figure on the entire show and that’s why her presence is necessary as we race to the furious finish. I mean we don’t want to make things too easy for our favorite characters, right? Don’t know what the hell I was thinking.

It’s still a very odd shift in a series that has always been more about the plotting and scheming behind the scenes than the actual wars and battles. The Red Wedding and the Battle of the Bastards may be the episodes we remember, but it’s all the dialogue heavy ones with two or more people meeting in a room that even made those possible. As Triple H would say, “It’s all about the game and how you play it.” But now the game that everyone else is playing is as basic as tic-tac-toe. The White Walkers aren’t going to make an alliance with this one house while they strategically eliminate these other two houses. They are going to barrel over everything and everyone in their way and be completely transparent about it the whole time. In a strange way, sometimes it doesn’t even feel like we’re watching the same show.

What muddies the waters even further (or shall I say what would have done so) was the full reveal of Jon’s parentage, including his real name. Yes, Aegon Targaryen, born after the marriage of Rhaegar Targaryen to Lyanna Stark, is the true heir to the Iron Throne. This could have potentially caused a rift between Aunt and Nephew, particularly after they stayed true to their lineage with some good ol’ fashion boat sex. But despite the initial shock that Jon and Dany will have to endure, there are a couple of reasons why I believe this reveal will have little impact on their relationship: 1) This is a fantasy world where a certain family likes keeping their bloodlines pure, and while that may be appalling to some (understandably so), it is just something that isn’t that out of the ordinary for them, and 2) Even if Jon learns that his claim to the throne is the most legitimate one around, his singular focus is going to be stopping the White Walkers. He spent the whole season trying to convince the rest of Westeros to do the same, and much like Cersei, he’s not going to abruptly quit when he has come this far.

More importantly, I have a hunch that Jon believes it will cost him his life to take down the Night King, or that he will die trying. Not exactly a leap of faith there, seeing as this is a guy who has already been resurrected once and has nearly bit the dust on a half-dozen other occasions. I’m simply saying that he’s probably not going to challenge Dany’s claim by throwing his name in the hat, even if people insist he do so. If anything, he’ll do whatever he can to make sure she makes it to the end unscathed, especially now that they are lovers. Yeah, that whole Dany being infertile theory? The show has done everything but come right out and say that it’s complete bullshit. Not only is she practically guaranteed to have a child of her own, but her family line won’t end with her. And considering that they won’t want that child to be named Snow, you can bet that we have one last wedding on the way (one that will probably and thankfully be devoid of slaughter and rape). Jon Snow may know nothing, but we know how strong-willed and stubbornly courageous he is, and that he would do anything to protect his wife and child.

All the while, the whole point is that this is not how Thrones is supposed to be. Even if somehow both Jon and Dany make it to the end of the series alive, we’re still looking at a scenario where they are far more likely to ride off into the sunset together than stab each other in the back, and that’s just not what we’ve been conditioned to expect over the last seven seasons. And of course, we’ve always known that eventually the Night King and his goons would find a way past the Wall, and it would take the combined might of all our heroes to defeat him. It’s just interesting to me how willingly and readily everyone accepted this, and how quickly Cersei seized this as an opportunity to turn to her advantage. I guess if there is a true metaphor for how the days of double-crossing and screwing people over have come to an end, it was Arya cutting Littlefinger’s throat in the great hall of Winterfell while everyone else watched. When the most slippery character around receives his comeuppance, you know that the times are a changing (that doesn’t mean it wasn’t awesome to see, because it most definitely was).

This is my favorite show at the moment and quite possibly my favorite of all-time, and that’s not going to change just because everyone’s motivation has shifted or because they discovered fast travel between seasons 6 and 7. And I guess it goes back to something Tyrion told Dany at the end of season 6: “You’re part of the great game now, and the great game is terrifying.”

And there is no game greater than preventing an army of mystical creatures from obliterating you and everyone else in the world.

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