The main theme of “Game of Thrones’” present – and future

Note: there is some speculation contained within this post regarding Game of Thrones’s sixth season. Although it is just conjecture, it is well-informed and, thus, may end up spoiling some of the show’s future developments. Please proceed at your own caution.

One of the most interesting aspects of Game of Thrones’s adaptation process – and, indeed, one of the main reasons the television series is one of the best adaptations out there – is how showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss choose to carve up George R.R. Martin’s overriding narrative into various seasons not according to a particular book, but, rather, according to a particular theme.

Tyrion enslaved

Take the most recent season as an example. The main thematic motif uniting all the myriad plot threads and character arcs throughout season five’s 10 episodes is imprisonment: Cersei Lannister gets incarcerated by the Faith Militant; Daenerys Targaryen becomes a prisoner of sorts of the office that she herself chose to adopt, but then gets taken captive by the Dothraki (or so we think, at least); Arya Stark finds herself trapped within her own need for revenge, no matter the cost; Sansa Stark becomes Ramsay Bolton’s brutalized plaything; Myrcella Baratheon may or may not know it, but she’s a political hostage of the Martells, some of whom desperately want her dead; and Tyrion Lannister becomes literally enslaved but can be said to be the figurative hostage of other people’s game-playing for much of the series, from Lord Petyr Baelish to, most recently, Varys and Magister Illyrio Mopatis.

The constriction of freedom is an interesting thematic device, one that has been a literary trope for millennia and which, as can be seen just within the auspices of Game of Thrones, is nearly infinite in its conception or application. The famous explanation of storytelling is chasing your protagonist up a tree and then throwing sticks and stones at him, and, indeed, there are few bigger trees than slavery; seeing Tyrion and Ser Jorah Mormont being beaten, sold, and, possibly, casually discarded for body parts (all hail the cock merchant!) is chilling – though, perhaps, all narratively necessary, as both characters had previously thought that they had hit rock-bottom, with only bleak prospects on the horizon. (And with slavery being one of the few sins to not flourish on the continent of Westeros, it could be argued to offer a similar readjustment of attitudes or perceptions on the part of the audience, as well.)

Sansa's "marriage"

Which isn’t to trivialize the torture that the other imprisoned protagonists endure; Queen Regent Cersei is deprived of sleep, shorn of her hair, and made to walk naked through the streets, becoming filthy and bloodied in the process. Lady Sansa is sexually ravaged by her new, sadist husband, placing her in a peril for most of the year that doesn’t require a traditional jail cell.

But it’s the figurative incarcerations that are, in many ways, the most interesting. The pull of loyalty versus progress, vengeance versus forgiveness, and attachment versus moksha that is experienced by Arya, to one degree or another, in her training to become a Faceless Man encapsulates the entire story thus far, touching upon not only the character’s personal journeys but also the political jockeying around the game of thrones itself. (Indeed, the same dynamics could be argued to be at play within Stannis Baratheon, who, just like Arya [intriguingly enough], consistently chooses the selfish over the general good – though, in his case, it costs the lives of his family and of thousands of his men.) In this way, the crucible of losing one’s freedoms becomes one of the most poignant ways possible to, ironically enough, expand the characters’ possibilities – not to mention their development.

Cersei's "redeemer"

Perhaps the single biggest reason to have imprisonment be the season’s main theme, however, particularly as we enter the home stretch of the series (whether it ultimately be eight or nine years), is for the setup that it provides for the upcoming sixth season: liberation, not just from external factors, but from internal dynamics, as well. “The night is darkest before the dawn,” District Attorney Harvey Dent reminds us in The Dark Knight, and this is precisely the narrative device being employed here. We can already see some of this payoff, in fact – Tyrion has been freed from his bondage and is now the temporary ruler of one the oldest and biggest cities yet depicted on the show, and Cersei has been rescued by a resurrected monstrosity of a man, who promises to be her devoted instrument of “justice.” Meanwhile, Sansa and Theon both have fled Winterfell, and with the promise of seeking safe refuge comes the newfound inner strength that only captivity can breed – something which can very likely still hold true for Arya, as well.

But this idea of freedom from past struggles or psychologies can also take a much stronger, much more fundamental, and much more archetypal form: rebirth. This is where Jon Snow finally comes into play – feeling constrained by his oath to the Night’s Watch at various points since the very beginning of the series, when Tyrion the Imp helps open his eyes to the true nature of his future brothers (and perhaps most poignantly when he falls in love with a girl that he can never possibly have any type of future with), Jon finds himself the most imprisoned by the office of the lord commander, with its responsibilities to the organization’s continuation and, more importantly, the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros’s well-being. Being an agent of change is never an easy process, particularly when the institution(s) involved is so long-lived and well-entrenched, and, in the end, Jon finds himself being the captive of his brothers’ fears and anger as they stab him to death.

Season six one-sheet

And it is in Jon’s death that Game of Thrones’s ultimate – and literal – expression of rebirth will find itself as he rises from the dead, liberated from the constrictions of the Night’s Watch and abetted by the wisdom that only mistakes (especially the fatal kind) can bring. Jon’s freedom will have profound consequences for the entire rest of the narrative, providing the thematic light that other characters can follow and allowing the greater plot of conquering corruption, both within (the lords’ positioning around the Iron Throne) and without (the White Walkers), to be concluded.

78 responses

Jump to (and Always Support) the Bottom

    1. Wow this is really well written, I was so into reading this that I lost track of time. I love looking into things in a new light, or better yet how you never looked at it before. I’m about to watch season 5 over again, thanks WOTW for a great read.

        Quote  Reply

    2. This is a really impressive essay, where symbols are creatively explained and supporting facts are richly added. My deepest respect, Mark! *applause*
      And about themes: I would say a general one is achieving a powerful status, while preserving one’s identity. About season 6 I could only guess, but, following your ideas, Mark, I think main themes will be the costs of freedom and the alienation caused by difficult choice.

        Quote  Reply

    3. Great piece! Absolutely agree with the thematic narrative the show has taken and really looking forward to the bittersweet payoff to come. Thanks for a wonderful year wotw and happy holidays!

        Quote  Reply

    4. Great stuff

      One thing I get irritated at “book purists” is that they slag off the show for not conforming enough but it has to be said that themes in a literary medium and a visual medium have to be explored differently

      I get irritated at some things, eg “rapegate” but always apply a “wait and see” and so in this respect the merging of Jeyne Poole/Sansa has been adapted into a theme once we see the following episodes

      In this case the “bastard” talk shows that the Boltons need the Starks to prevent rebellion, which means Sansa has quite a lot of power in the relationship, so in this case Ramsay is trying to take back power by being brutal etc

      Then there’s the Jon/thorne Wall stare-off, that scene is most important not for the stare-off but having Karsi’s children still alive behind Jon, we know Jon often straddles two Ice/Fire extremes, Shireen burning via R’hlorrism and the Child Wights via Otherism point to the fact there are no children (future) under either if they have absolute victory

      All I ask of the show is that they don’t dumb it down as it becomes popular mainstream wise, always keep it intelligent. Otherwise it just becomes another stupid TV show

        Quote  Reply

    5. Merry Christmas to the staff and commenters of WoTW!

      The liberation theme is interesting. Applied to Arya, she’ll likely break free of the FM and head back to Westeros. In addition, Jaime frees himself from Cersei’s influence, while Brienne ends up no longer obligated to her vows to Catelyn.

        Quote  Reply

    6. Great insights. These are all themes that are explored in depth in the books too. Not sure that the showrunners have portrayed Stannis well in the later seasons, however. There’s a lot of ambiguity over his motives and ethics in the books because he isn’t a POV character. His relationship with Melissande is really interesting in the books. He needs her, is manipulated by her but by the last book he is doing stuff on his own. He took a chance with her because he needed her magic but he’s so used to being forgotten by other powers that his default position is to disregard everyone. He is definitely not the religious fanatic that everyone thinks he is.

        Quote  Reply

    7. Well written article but that part wih the show being that 9 years,that just isn’t going to happen sorry,i think D&D comprimised enough to get the show to 8 seasons,which made sense considering that some plotlines needed more developement . However stretching beyond that is just doing what Martin did with expanding boring sideplots that nobody cares and forgetting about the main ones,which is the main reason i’m done with the books whether another one ever comes out or not . Delaying the WWs and Daenerys’s arrival or any other plotline that fans have wanted to know the outcome just because of greed is pure criminal .

        Quote  Reply

    8. swornsword,

      You could also say that exile is another dominant theme in the most reason season as it is in A Dance with Dragons. Dany ends up exiled from Mereen as well as Westeros, Stannis has been in exile for ages, Jon is murdered, exiling him from the Night’s Watch, Tyrion chooses exile and ends up enslaved, Ayra chooses exile as well and suffers a similar fate although you feel that like Tyrion her brains, talents will rescue her from the situation, Theon is back at Winterfell, the place he was exiled to at 10. Oddly, in ADWD he feels it is his home and he knows it better than any of the other Northeners. [ spoiler ] I really feel that Theon has come full circle (scaling the walls of Winterfell, jumping off the wall to escape) and that his story arch is complete. RIP [ / spoiler]

        Quote  Reply

    9. Horseshit.

      Season 5 has a theme, and the theme is “imprisonment?” Sorry but i don’t see the parallels you’re trying to draw between the season 5 “arcs” of say, Tyrion and Sansa, to name a couple of characters whose stories have been “adapted” into something drastically different from their book counterparts.

      You might try reading some people who actually have some expertise in literary analysis.

      The only intelligent thing that can be said about GoT lately is how it is a complete failure as an adaptation of Martin’s novels.

        Quote  Reply

    10. Ghosts Christmas Lunch:
      Great stuff

      Then there’s the Jon/thorne Wall stare-off, that scene is most important not for the stare-off but having Karsi’s children still alive behind Jon, we know Jon often straddles two Ice/Fire extremes,

      For me it was more about Jon being pro-Wildlings. Kind of symbolism standing there with them and facing Thorne and NW. But still Jon should’ve land on the other side of the Wall just purely from logical point of view. It’s safer there, no WW looming around. No scene about Hardhome, just some small talk between Jon and Sam. Just a few things, but show is not a perfect but not that bad as some book readers make it to seem so.

      Great article.

      Btw Merry Christmas to you all.

        Quote  Reply

    11. I think another theme of season 6 will be “going back.” Dany goes back to the Dothraki and then later Meereen (and hopefully the promise of Westeros). Tyrion is already back to running a city. Arya is heading back to Westeros (specifically the Riverlands). Jaime and Brienne will also head back to the Riverlands. Sansa and Jon will both head back to Winterfell. This time with an army. Theon heads back to the Iron Islands. Sam goes back home. Not sure about Dorne. Cersei will be back in a situation similar to when Tywin was in King’s Landing, and probably get back some power later on. And of course Bran will literally be looking back in time.

        Quote  Reply

    12. And the season 6 theme will be resurrection, Jon (obviously), Theon (he shall Reek no more), House Stark, Stannis (not being dead and being a born again Crow) and of course LS.

        Quote  Reply

    13. I’m pretty sure we won’t be seeing LSH or Stannis next season. However, we might get a certain digger of graves.

      Edit: I wouldn’t be opposed to the idea of Stannis being alive, but I honestly think that LSH’s moment has passed, and it would now be too late to introduce her.

        Quote  Reply

    14. I loved this article so much! Very well written! And as everyone who visits your site on a daily basis will agree, thank you to all the writers, staff, and Sue for your undying pursuit of all things GoT!!! All of you bring passion in the articles you write on a daily basis! And strive to find out information and spoilers for all your readers! Look forward to any info you may bring our way and am excited to read everything, every day! Wishing everyone at WOTW a very Merry Xmas and a blessed New Year!! And same to all your followers!!!

        Quote  Reply

    15. This was a very interesting article. I never thought about a lot of this, but it makes perfect sense. Well said!
      I really can’t wait for season 6!

      One thing I want to add about Stannis though – I think, from his own twisted POV, he is actually being selfless – sacrificing things he personally cares about for the good of the rest of the world (remember, the reason he wants the Throne is so he can stop the White Walkers.
      I’m not saying I feel that way, or that that justifies his actions – killing his daughter and brother were acts of evil, no matter how you try to spin them.
      I just think that’s what makes him such an interesting character.

        Quote  Reply

    16. Yeah,
      Sansa is in some kind of purgatory ever since she lied about what Joffrey did to her sister, Arya, by the river. Joffrey actually threatened to gut her sister with his sword. Sansa has to learn loyalty and genuine love to get out of her purgatory. The only love she had was the selfish, starry-eyed kind that caused her to choose Joffrey over her own sister.

      I suppose it could be argued that that is the only reason she managed to survive…but the buther’s son died because of it, and her own wolf paid the price. Then she goes and begs for her father’s life. Maybe Sansa has to learn that some things are worth dying for, instead of trying to survive at ANY cost.

      Maybe in the end she will grow to love Tyrion, the imp. I think they’re a good match. She, with her courtesy armor, would make the pefect wife for Tyrion, the politician. Then she’ll have 10 blond-haired lion babies, all of them tall and normal and learn that good looks aren’t everything, all while sewing herself into a stupor.

        Quote  Reply

    17. Miguelito,

      Tell us more,i’m sure someone will care eventually. Too bad you are so bitter and miserable on Christmas Eve but that’s book purists for you,always grumpy no matter what .

        Quote  Reply

    18. I read somewhere that Valonquar means little brother, in Valerian. In English, it sounds like it SHOULD mean monstrous, conquering, war-like, beast!

        Quote  Reply

    19. I always find your articles thought-provoking and well written, Marc, and this one is no exception. Thanks! 🙂

      Thanks, also, to all the staff here at WotW and the commenters, too. May everyone have truly joyous holidays, and may the New Year have great things in store for all of you.

        Quote  Reply

    20. Release from imprisonment of any sort produces an entirely new and different set of challenges. For Jon Snow, this release will most likely lead to his learning his true identity. Cersei on the other hand will most likely become an instrument of revenge against the Faith Militant, the Terrells (who may temporarily become her allies) and any one who challenges her son Tommen’s right to hold the Iron Throne. I am less clear about the fates of the other characters, but then that’s why I watch.

        Quote  Reply

    21. Turncloak,

      Regardless of what Benioff said, themes have appeared in every season of game of thrones, whether or not they were intentional, as seen in the article above.

        Quote  Reply

    22. Big Mac,

      I agree about Stannis. After believing Melisandre’s claim that he is Azor Ahai reborn, he was bound by a sense of duty and made some extremely painful personal decisions because of the enormity of the responsibility to save the world, which was thrust upon him. His last conversation with Shireen pointed to that idea. I am anxious to read of his ultimate finality in the books to see how, and if, it will be addressed.

        Quote  Reply

    23. Miguelito,

      So far, you’re the only person I see here that actually knows what they’re talking about.
      For myself, it’s not about staying true to the books (there’s just too much detail, plot and characters for them to fit into a TV show), it’s about writing a story/character/plot that makes sense, which D&D didn’t do.

      For all those who disagree…

      Littlefinger: “Yeah, I will leave Sansa here in WF all alone with no guards to protect her even though I don’t really know anything about Ramsey except his dad betrayed Robb and Cat but HE seems trustworthy and it’s not like Sansa means a whole hell of a lot, you know, like she’s the last known living, true born Stark that the North could rally around.”
      Off the top of my head I can think of 5 different ways that storyline could’ve gone that didn’t involve Sansa marrying and getting raped by Ramsey but still being in WF.
      How about Dorne and the rescue/kidnap attempt of Myrcella by Jaime/Bronn and the Sand Fakes?
      How about the “You like the good girl but you need the bad p***y” line? Seriously, some one try and defend that line as an example of talented or good writing.
      Remember back in S1, Shae told Tyrion no woman would have sex with a man minutes after almost being raped and D&D said that that incident with Tysha hadn’t made sense to them in the books and thats why they axed that story? Remember Sam and Gilly this season, having sex minutes after she is threatened with rape?
      How about Stannis, in one episode “You will not burn my daughter and I don’t change my mind!” (see inside the episode commentary- 9- by D&D stating exactly that about Stannis) and then next episode “Oh! It’s a little chilly! Light the fire!”? WTF?!

      D&D can’t even stay true to their own canon, never mind GRRM’s.
      If there are themes each season, I’m convinced they don’t do it intentionally.

        Quote  Reply

    24. I would disagree with the notion that Season 5’s theme was imprisonment. I mean, I understand why you drew those conclusions, but Cersei did not start off the season imprisoned, nor did she spend much time there. Myrcella WANTED to be in Dorne, as did Daenerys in Mereen, and Arya in the House of Black and White. Hell, some would argue that Sansa “chose” to go back to Winterfell and marry Ramsay (*takes 5 aspirins*). That the consequences of those decisions led to abuse, death, and imprisonment isn’t (imo) a thematic narrative running throughout the season, but rather, a natural consequence of the stories being told. If anything, I would argue that Season 5 was more about the consequences of previous decisions that were made, rather than “imprisonment”. Tyrion being in Essos is the consequence of his actions in season 4. Cersei being imprisoned is the consequence of her actions throughout seasons 1-5. Arya being at the HoBaW is the result of a long-stated desire (back in season 2) to learn how to become a FM like Ja’qen. Jon being stabbed by the NW’s is a consequence not only of the decisions he made in season 5, but also because the main culprit (Alister) had it out for him since season 1. If anything, I think season 5’s thematic narrative was “Chickens coming home to roost,” (with the exception of Sansa’s storyline, but that’s a whole different beast that I’m not going to get in to right now).

      If anything ties every storyline together in the end, I think it will be the theme that Martin constantly espouses; a theme he gets directly from Faulker who famously stated the idea of, “The human heart in conflict with itself.” For every character on this show–past and present, living or dead–the heart being in conflict between duty and desire has been the central struggle of their story, and the side that won out has been the defining narrative of that character.

      -Ned died for his “duty” to his King/Friend and for his family.

      -Robb and Cat both died as result of their desires; Robb’s desire for Talisa and Cat’s desire to ‘avenge’ her son Bran (when she took Tyrion captive; an act that basically started the war between House Stark/Lannister), and her desire to have her daughters back (she freed Jaime in that desire).

      -Its duty that keeps Daenerys in Mereen (one of the best lines of this entire series was Daario’s line to her that she is the only person in Mereen who wasn’t “free” (because she doesn’t do what she wants, she does what she has too) and I think it’ll be “duty” that ultimately propels her to make life-ending decisions (either for herself or her dragons or both).

      -Jon is bound by duty. He has always chosen duty over desire (i.e. his duty to the NW vs. his desire to be the Lord of Wintefell, or stay with Ygritte). It’ll be interesting to me to see if a resurrected Jon chooses desire over duty in his ‘second’ life.

      -Sansa is another ‘dutiful’ character; and we’ve all seen how THAT’S worked out for her.

      -Cersei has always chosen her desire for power over love, duty, loyalty, etc, etc.

      I mean, this list can go on and on. What’s interesting to me in all of this is that neither choice (duty vs. desire) has produced “favorable” results for the person who chose between the two.

      Ned (Duty) = Dead
      Robb (Desire) = Dead
      Jon (Duty) = Dead
      Cersei (Desire) = Imprisoned
      Sansa (Duty) = Raped and abused
      Arya (Desire) = Blind

      The fact that this world doesn’t seem to reward based upon the honorability (or lack thereof) of one’s decisions is this story’s greatest strength, and its greatest weakness. Ultimately, I think THAT will be the defining theme of this series (no matter what season we’re discussing); the human heart in an eternal conflict between its duties and its desires.

        Quote  Reply

    25. Lady J,

      None of what you said had anything to do with themes or the topic at hand, so your claim that the rest of us don’t know what we’re talking about is a bit rich. You’re post was simply a typical rant I’ve come to expect from book purists, nothing more.

        Quote  Reply

    26. Young Dragon,

      I would go on to say that there exists themes in every episodes…
      Just take the episode titles and how you can connect it to every arc that is happening in the episode ….
      So most of the episodes do have themes if not all …

      Nice article enjoyed reading it Marc ….

        Quote  Reply

    27. Young Dragon,

      If you read it then you know right at the beginning I said I WASN’T concerned with them staying true to the books, it was about writing a story that made sense, which they didn’t. I provided examples. I then mentioned that if they had themes in their seasons it was unintentionally so that part was on topic. Thank you for your reply.

        Quote  Reply

    28. Bravo bravo bravo bravissimo!

      I was practically holding my breath reading this- extraordinary writing… I didn’t think it was possible I could get even MORE excited for season 6, but I guess I was wrong!

        Quote  Reply

    29. Lady J,

      No,you didn’t,all you did is just spread more of the boring crap about bad writing this,bad writing that,but never bring out any decent argument except subjective bullshit . At this point book purism isn’t even annoying,is just boring to read and nobody cares about it on a fansite of the show,the only people who are going to agree with you is the people of your kind,so why even bother coming to this site if all you do is downgrade the discussion ?

        Quote  Reply

    30. Although “imprisonment” is plenty interesting and debatable as a physical and symbolic “theme” for S5, I thought the unisexual “kill the boy” was a more appropriate psychological and thematic description of this season, with the episode title bearing that name perfectly placed in the middle of the season. For all of our beloved characters, their world has significantly changed and they are forced to independently adapt, often violently, with gruesome consequences.

      I am still moved by Aemon’s prescient, figurative words to Jon, made even more heavy while on his deathbed. In a moment of tearful irony, he only wanted to remember the dream of his youth and his fear of “growing old,” alone.

      “Egg, I dreamed I was old.” …. the ultimate ironic counterpoint to “Kill the boy”, spoken by a man who has seen his dynasty fade from existence.

        Quote  Reply

    31. Thank you for articulating some things that have been bouncing around my head. The whole arc of the series seems to hinge on moments of rebirth and destiny. (Agreeing with Nights Jester here) Daenerys emerging from the pyre literally naked as the day she was born comes immediately to mind. Bran in a coma after being pushed from the tower, awakening to a life of mystical power. Even Jaime does not literally die, but loses his sword hand, ending his previous identity. Ceirse is imprisoned but does not die. She is the same nasty piece of work. Arya, however sympathetic a character she is, has refused to “die”. She will not give up her ego and is blind to the necessity to change roads from revenge to something less selfish. Sansa I’m not sure about yet.

        Quote  Reply

    32. Mihnea,

      Sorry but being a book reader and being a troll are 2 different things. The books r my favourite thing ( except Pullman) but I read them after Ned got killed in The show!!!!! GOT is the best show of all time and the books r as good in my opinion.

      Sorry for the rant merry Xmas fandom and mods

        Quote  Reply

    33. Rewatching S5 now and I’m struck by just how much was set up in the first 3 episodes to play out in the later episodes. I’ll be watching the start of S6 with a microscope now.

        Quote  Reply

    34. Hodors Bastard:
      Although “imprisonment” is plenty interesting and debatable as a physical and symbolic “theme” for S5, I thought the unisexual “kill the boy” was a more appropriate psychological and thematic description of this season, with the episode title bearing that name perfectly placed in the middle of the season.For all of our beloved characters, their world has significantly changed and they are forced to independently adapt, often violently, with gruesome consequences.

      Yes, I can more easily see “kill the boy” as an intentional theme than imprisonment. “Kill the boy” is still an awesome setup for rebirth.

        Quote  Reply

    35. Tyrion the myrion,

      Oh please. Lady J, made some valid points whether you agree with it or not. I loved the books and I enjoyed the show but I’m not blind to its faults either. And I certainly don’t call people who hold a different opinion, trolls.

        Quote  Reply

    36. Great write-up, no matter what yhe trolls say ? thanks for taking the time to give us thought provoking articles all the time

        Quote  Reply

    37. One of the interesting themes this year goes back to Varys’ riddle for Tyrion about power earlier on in the series. Where does power reside?
      Tommen Margaery Loras and Sansa for instance all thought they had more actual power through their status than they turned out to have. The High Sparrow was the most effective wielder of power in Kings Landing.

        Quote  Reply

    38. swornsword: He is definitely not the religious fanatic that everyone thinks he is.

      Stannis is not a religious fanatic. However, he is something just as bad: Stannis is a moral absolutist. Everything is either “right” or “wrong”: shades of grey present huge problems for him. (In the books, it’s clear that years later he is haunted by being forced to choose between King and Brother during Robert’s Rebellion.)

      And that is the problem with this assertion:

      Main Article: Stannis Baratheon, who, just like Arya [intriguingly enough], consistently chooses the selfish over the general good.

      In both book and show, Stannis does not choose “self” over “general good”: Stannis always chooses “Honor” over “Dishonor.” Moreover, you can pretty much substitute “Good” and “Evil” for “Honor” and “Dishonor” for Stannis: his entire (and extremely rigid) morality is based on this.

      Indeed, a more selfish and more morally flexible Stannis would have made an alliance with Rob Stark. He would have lost the North, but he would have taken Kings Landing. However, for Stannis, it is all or nothing: and becoming King of the Six Kingdoms would be a dereliction of his duty, just as it would be a dereliction of duty for Daeny to give up on trying to take back that throne. So, rather than take the easy (and selfish) way out, Stannis does what must be done.

      We can ditto that for burning Shireen. That is pretty much the ultimate sacrifice for Stannis: and he does it because he has to do so if his army is not going to get frozen to death. (Never bargain with gods: they fulfill your request and nothing more!)

      As for Arya, I am not certain that we can call her actions “selfish” either. She does make a mistake of wasting a “hit” on people who just pissed her off. However, 1) she does not fully appreciate what Jacqen has offered her; and, 2) much older people than her have let an immediate personal grudge get in the way of a greater threat (e.g., a big chunk of the Night’s Watch, and all of the Wildlings who rejected Jon’s offer of help). Later, it becomes a choice of saving her own skin vs. saving Westeros: and, besides, an even wiser head would have noted that (say) killing Tywin Lannister would only hurt the opposition; it never would stop it.

      Indeed, Arya is much more selfless than most of her class: her willingness to ignore class in who she befriends is a type of selflessness. And that brings us to the paradox: Arya is in this case unwilling to accept the restrictions of her class morality because Arya is much more empathetic than most members of her class. (I suppose that many would say that women being unwilling to accept lives of servitude and broodmaring is selfish: but fortunately these people are dying off! 😀 )

      In many ways, I think that the “empathy” angle is the most important one. I am not sure where M,B&W are going with this, but the primary protagonists of the series (Jon, Daeny, Tyrion, Arya & Bran) all display much greater empathy for humanity as a whole than do the other characters. In contrast, characters like Cersei and Stannis standout for their lack of empathy (the former from pure selfishness, the latter from moral rigidity.) Somehow, someway, the fact that all of The Big Five can see both sides of issues is going to be huge before it’s all said and done. But the “bondage” issue might be important, too: humanity seems to be held in bondage between the Others, R’hllor and other things; freeing them from this might be a big part of the conclusion.

        Quote  Reply

    39. LordDavos: The High Sparrow was the most effective wielder of power in Kings Landing.

      For the nonce! However, I really doubt that this will prove to be the case over the long-haul. What the High Sparrow provides is a different issue: a clash of morality systems. He imprisons Margaery for “immorally” lying about her brother. However, in the eyes of the nobility, Margaery could have committed no more immoral (= dishonorable) an act than tell the truth: good people do everything in their power to advance their families. The High Sparrow chides Olenna for thinking that the nobilities moral system is above that of the Church’s; however, chances are pretty good that the High Sparrow is going to perish because he made the mistake of thinking that the Church’s morality system is above that of the nobility! The problem with Varys’ riddle is that there really is not an answer: the answer changes from one situation to the next.

        Quote  Reply

    40. Hodors Bastard,

      I would argue (and have argued) that “Kill the child” was the story of Crows/Dragons and Season 5. “Imprisonment” has been a constant theme of the series, starting with the first story: class, sex, legitmacy, ancestry, etc., all greatly restrict the freedoms of the characters in this series. Some (like Stannis) are completely imprisoned by these things. Others (like Daeny & Arya) rebel by trying to tear some of them down, either for others (Daeny) and/or themselves (Arya). Still others (like Bran & Jon & Tyrion) try to rise above the restrictions. However, none of them are entirely free of these things. After all, today’s liberal always holds some values that are “conservative” in the next generation, if only because (say) campaigning for the rights of women or blacks in the 1970’s partially blinds you to the oppression of gays at the same time!

        Quote  Reply

    41. Wimsey

      Yes agreed. I guess the examples show that status isn’t enough. HS is effective at the moment because he has status as head of the faith but also a vision, a determination to implement it and violent support. And no Tywin Lannister to oppose him.

        Quote  Reply

    42. Hmm, so where to start.

      First off, your writing is very nice. I agree with all those who say that this is a well written piece. I do, however, also agree with the guy who said it’s “horseshit”. I’m not trolling or trying to bash you at all. I just wanted to give an honest opinion. It’s a well written bunch of horseshit.

      There is no theme for season five. There are many themes in the series but if you truly think each season has some overall theme or arc, I think you’re looking too far into it. Dave and Dan have even said before that there is definitely no overall theme to anything, just a wonderful story to be told. You can certainly draw themes from it but it’s clearly not written with that intention (the book or the show).

      Arya isn’t imprisoned and your speculation there is really stretching it to try and make your point. If anything, what I see with her is that no matter how cool everyone thinks that story is, it’s really just a little girl who’s had a terrible life slowly giving up on hope and losing any value she once had for human life. She’s not imprisoned, she’s broken.

      I won’t tear apart every point you make but the one I just made is a very good one to show you where you’re argument is flawed. I could make a very compelling argument with beautiful words that the theme of season five is that all the characters are broken… especially Jon Snow. Which must mean the theme of season six will be the great fix when he’s resurrected. That doesn’t mean any of that is true though. It’s just using pretty words to describe what some of the characters are going through then stretching it to tie it in with some point I’m attempting to make.

      So basically, me and you are both spouting off horseshit! We can polish it all we want, but it’s still horseshit.

      Fun read for sure though. Once again, I enjoyed this and sorry if I sound like I didn’t. I like stuff like this and dumb theories (Daario is Euron anyone?).

      I’ll leave you with something to think about. Maybe imprisonment pops up so much (not just in season five, but in the series as a whole) due to the world it’s set in. People aren’t really free to just do what their hearts desire in this world. The small folk of Westeros must do what their high lords command just as the slaves in Essos must do what their masters tell them. The lords and ladies and masters must also live by a certain set of expectations that also disallows them to follow their hearts in life.

      It’s just not a very free world. Bottom line.

      Once again, thanks for the article. It’s a fun thing to debate and discuss.

      Happy New Year

        Quote  Reply

    43. Wimsey: I would argue (and have argued) that “Kill the child” was the story of Crows/Dragons and Season 5. “Imprisonment” has been a constant theme of the series, starting with the first story: class, sex, legitmacy, ancestry, etc., all greatly restrict the freedoms of the characters in this series.

      Yes…those “kill the child” discussions, many which predate S5, are some of my favorites. I merely wanted to point out that the “imprisonment” scenarios go hand-in-hand with the “kill the child” themes throughout S5 and ADwD. In fact, I was almost distracted by direct and indirect references to them in the arcs of each character throughout the season.

      I am so happy that Aemon had this key contribution during S5. He was a sad ironic metaphor for both “kill the boy” and “imprisonment”. He did not commit any crime yet he chose to go to the wall to preserve the reign of his cherished brother, and from a distance he observed the twisted downfall of the Targ dynasty. Aemon (and Peter Vaughan’s wonderful adaptation of him) will be missed greatly. Kudos to D&D for preserving his moments so well.

      It is interesting that, as a reader, we experienced Aemon’s final words regarding his brother, Aegon, and his childhood dreams (and fears) in AFfC before we read Jon remembering Aemon’s “kill the boy” imparted wisdom in ADwD. GRRM quite intentionally (per that interesting retroactive technique) wanted that to be Aemon’s contribution to the overall tale, because of his metaphorical life.

        Quote  Reply

    44. Maybe it’s not themes, but as writers D&D surely know what story they want to tell each season and how it should relate to the overarching story.

      In season 5, I found it interesting that there were quite a few allusions as to where we are in the overall story if one applied the principles of the Monomyth. As others pointed out more eloquently some of the protagonists did indeed „kill the child“ by trying to step up. They failed and approached their innermost cave, gazed into the abyss if you will or literally died in Jon’s case. What normally follows is ressurection, rebirth and transformation.

      Wimsey has very often said that the experiences of the Big Six (I’d like Sansa to be a part of it) throughout the tale will help them to understand and overcome the crisis in the end.

      D&D will certainly not follow slavishly the Monomyth and parallel everything of course, but it’s still interesting to make a guess based on storytelling priciples. In some cases, we already know that after some ordeal, characters will also find new strength in Season 6

      e.g. Daeny ahead of a huge Khalasar or Jon at the Battle of the Bastards with the free folk (and most probably on the winning team).

        Quote  Reply

    45. Lady J,

      Of the things you mention, Littlefinger leaving Sansa at Winterfell is the one that actually makes the most sense to me when you break it down.

      There’s nothing Littlefinger can do with Sansa. If he keeps her identity a secret then she’s useless. If he reveals that he has her and tries to rally the North to their side, he basically restarts the war, reinforces the Bolton/Lannister alliance, reveals his true double-dealing colours and potentially implicates himself in Joffrey’s murder.

      He’s then in the same position as Robb. He and his allies either take the Iron Throne or they’re unquestionably done for.

      By handing Sansa to the Boltons he instantly destroys their alliance with the Lannisters. He also re-positions himself at arm’s length from the situation, able to manipulate both sides and take advantage of whatever happens.

      If the Lannisters decide to crush the Boltons (as Cersei immediately wanted to upon hearing Sansa was back at Winterfell) he can offer to assist in return for further reward (e.g. Winterfell / Warden of the North).

      If Stannis defeats the Boltons he can then either offer to crush Stannis instead in return for a reward (e.g. Winterfell / Warden of the North) or, more likely, especially if Sansa survived, ally with the North and Stannis and crush the Lannisters.

      It’s far from a flawless or risk-free strategy. But as long as Sansa was in his company she was useless. Or, at least, to take advantage of her he would have had to put himself in the firing line too. He needed to place her back on the chess board to use as a pawn. As established earlier in the show, Littlefinger utilizes chaos to climb the ladder of power.

      Placing Sansa at Winterfell ignites chaos from what had been approaching a stable situation (Stannis was the only remaining loose end).

        Quote  Reply

    46. Shadow Shifter,

      When they keep forcing their opinion over and over again like i would see it their way i do for example there are many people who think that season 5 was bad and that’s the universal truth and i have a problem with that,also i think the books are garbage so we are obviously not going to come into an agreement here so let’s leave it at that ,i won’t change your opinion and you won’t change my opinion .

        Quote  Reply

    47. Rygritte:
      The theme of season 6 will be revenge.

      Ooo, I hope so! Comeuppances are a few of my favorite things, and the Freys are particularly due more than their fair share, right? I know in the books we have some pie-in-your-face moments, but there has to be more than that, right? With the Rat Cook story (both TV and books) setting up massively high expectations for Red Wedding payback, surely we will see something unmistakably glorious.

        Quote  Reply

    48. LordDavos:
      One of the interesting themes this year goes back to Varys’ riddle for Tyrion about power earlier on in the series. Where does power reside?

      I agree but I would say that the theme of power, the game of thrones, is and will be a common thread throughout the entire show.

        Quote  Reply

    49. Stauncho:
      “Themes are for eighth grade book reports” – David Benioff

      You just don’t get it, man. D&D realised that the lack of themes thus far is in itself becoming a theme. You know, a theme of themelessness. Like a paradox of sorts. Therefore, in order to reaffirm their original artistic vision, they wisely decided to make Season 5 have a theme so that it truly doesn’t have one.

      It’s an elegant solution and I applaud them for it.

        Quote  Reply

    50. Does there have to be one overriding theme? Several themes are recapitulated, and many here have raised valid points. If anything, season 5 paints a bleak picture all round of a world of increasing anarchy, displacement and dispersion. Things have fallen apart. Winter has truly come.

      Think back to Robert’s speech in season one, ‘which is stronger, five or one?’ Without hesitation, Cersei chooses ‘five’; the more the merrier; let it all fly asunder! She can’t understand the power of ‘one,’ since she’s never known how to forge a common purpose, not even with Jaime. Before the War of the 5 Kings, Robert and Cersei’s marriage had somehow held the realm together (‘how long can hate hold a thing together?…16 years is a long time’), a tenuous unity, but one nevertheless. She broke that (with a little help from Littlefinger), served Robert to the boar, got Ned’s head lopped off, and…

      Ever since then, there’s essentially been a power vacuum, which other parties have flocked to fill. In season 5, we see the ongoing repercussions of all the divisiveness that has cracked ‘the realm’ wide open. In quick succession, we’ve seen the downfall of the houses of Stark, Baratheon, and now Lannister– leaving Cersei, a dim relation of Lann the Clever, and the least competent Lannister, scrambling to pick up the pieces.

      If anyone epitomizes the anarchy which characterizes season 5, it’s Cersei, the woman supposedly at ‘the center,’ holding it all together. ‘The small council grows ever smaller’; even Varys has fled. Cersei’s ‘consolidating’ her power in the only way she knows how, recklessly lashing out, rejecting any sane counsel, destroying any alliances she may have inherited, unleashing dangerous extremists, entertaining the dark arts, and generally following in the footsteps of Aerys, her spiritual if not her biological father.

      All the major players are scattering. This has led to characters, previously separated geographically, now meeting up in far-flung destinations, and regathering in novel combinations, no doubt to play out in season 6.

      Cersei’s desperate trajectory epitomizes season 5. Not coincidentally, her sequences open and close the season. She has spent her life trying to free herself of the prophecy of her childhood (the flashback which introduced the season), only serving to further entangle herself, and others, in misery. While imprisonment and liberation are definitely themes, they are not necessarily mutually exclusive. With his characteristic grim irony, GRRM shows how extrication often gives rise to further complication.

      Another example is Dany’s ‘liberation’ of the slaves, and the ‘peace’ she visited on Mereen, which only served to bring about further ensnarement, chaos and suffering, for a great many parties. Finally, when the ‘mission creep’ surged up and threated to overwhelm her, she flew away from it all, and at season’s end she is adrift in the Dothraki sea, looking a bit tattered, but no less glamorous. She certainly knows how to ‘break the wheel’; she just doesn’t seem to know what to put in its place. In Essos, as in Westeros, the cart is out of control.

      From this point, things can only get ‘better’…right? Although she didn’t have much of a role to play this season, Brienne was another who, in her small, tall way, epitomized the dark (one might say ‘cynical’) direction of season 5. Waiting at a window, watching for a candle, in a broken tower…Brienne ever-thwarted, Sansa ever-tortured…posing the question: How long can unyielding chaos and relentless brutality be entertained (or be entertaining)? Likewise, if Arya were to ever really become ‘no-one,’ would we still care? There is a risk for the writers/producers inherent in the structure of ‘the game’ itself, namely, that as more and more pieces are toppled and removed from the board, the audience may grow restless, and stop caring. That’s why it’s useful, now and then, to bring back a beloved character, or two, from the dead…

        Quote  Reply

    51. swornsword,

      Agreed, but even so, I really don’t feel like he’s being “selfish” (burning his daughter alive aside). And, I am sure having read the books it creates a bias, but Stannis is the rightful king, if we’re following the rights of primogenture, and he’s fighting to protect the realm. That’s why he went to the Wall in the first place, to protect the realm from the threat of the Wildlings. By taking out the Boltons and restoring a Stark in Winterfell he hopes to win the North to his cause, which should help him take the Iron Throne. His death is (would be?) a dark mark on the series.

        Quote  Reply

    52. Tyrion the myrion,

      Do you only read your comments and the articles? Because basically the biggest problem with book purists and the show is those side plots that basically mean nothing are not in the show. I think you are the only one who doesn’t like the side plots. because the majority of Game fans get agitated when those side plots don’t make the show.

        Quote  Reply

    53. The Sphinx,

      The dark thing is that light in Stannis’ eyes. Something evil has taken hold of him. He didn’t flinch or look away as his daughter burned. Even his insane wife responded, in the end, to her child’s cry.

        Quote  Reply

    54. The Sphinx,

      Stannis just doesn’t seem like a man who would go gently, even with the events that unfolded in the series (but not the latest book). His sword is right next to him when Brienne swings hers. I can see him pick it up. Stannis definitely isn’t a saint and he’s a more selfish man than Jon but like Jon he’s also not a quitter.

        Quote  Reply

    Jump to the Top

    Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *