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The Prince That Was Promised?
Arya, Bran, Sansa. Yasss.
Sadaf Ahsan: In Game of Thrones, it was never enough to just be a good man wanting to do good
In Game of Thrones ‘s final season, we watched a number of characters quickly turn the other cheek: Daenerys Targaryen went the way of her Mad King father; Arya Stark decided to give up revenge; Sansa Stark went from victim to queen; Cersei Lannister surrendered.
But it may have been Jon Snow whose journey had the most unlikely conclusion. Despite eight seasons of being pegged as “the prince that was promised,” in the end, Jon didn’t kill the Night King, take the throne or find prestige of any sort. Though he showed all the signs: the heartbreaking past (as a bastard son with unknown lineage); a relentless need to prove himself; the best intentions and morals; deeply-rooted angst; a literal return from death; a very visible destiny weighing heavy on his shoulders; and, oh yeah, he’s a man.
Heroes of his kind are compelled by an inner sense of goodness and an inherent desire to set everything right. James Joyce referred to this type of character as the “monomyth;” Joseph Campbell, in his 1949 book The Hero with a Thousand Faces , described their typical journey: “A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.”
He comes home, in other words, after saving the world. We’ve seen an array of fictional figures who have followed this trope: Harry Potter, Indiana Jones, Neo/Thomas Anderson, etc. Except Jon didn’t get a decisive victory, a power to bestow or a ticket home.
In the series finale, after witnessing the brutal vengeance Daenerys laid upon Westeros, and then some quick deliberation with Tyrion Lannister, Jon realized he didn’t have a choice as to what he should do. Despite his love for her, while holding her tight and telling her she’d always be his queen, Jon stuck his dagger into Daenerys’s heart, the life and villainy slowly leaving her eyes. As her last living dragon came to scream over her corpse and melt the throne down behind them, Jon fell to his knees in tears.
After being held prisoner, once Bran Stark was declared king by a makeshift election council, Jon was given his sentence: Banishment to the Night’s Watch, and the order to never take a wife or have children. If that sounds particularly harsh, it is.
But total sacrifice has always been the “good guy’s” ultimate weapon in Game of Thrones . We saw it before in the men who gave up their lives for the women they were devoted to: Jorah Mormont for Daenerys, Theon Greyjoy for Sansa, Jaime Lannister for Cersei. Heavy-handed at times, it illustrated the kind of Christ-like hero J. R. R. Tolkien would’ve been proud of: He who sacrifices all in order to protect the ones he loves. All guts, no glory.
For all the talk of subverting the fantasy genre, what Game of Thrones has actually emulated is Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings . After helping to destroy the ring (which he didn’t want) by series end, presumptive hero Frodo doesn’t get to return home and spend the rest of his days hobnobbing with his fellow hobbits. Instead, he serves his purpose and leaves for the Undying Lands, forever changed. Jon’s version of the Undying Lands is the Night’s Watch. Similarly changed, he, too, is damned after serving his essential purpose by vanquishing the mad queen and triggering the end of the war.
There seems to be a greater gallantry in this sort of sacrifice. It makes space for Arya to kill the Night King, for Sansa to ascend to a queenship in the North, and for Bran to take the throne. While that last turn of events seems inexplicable, it made for an end that circled back to the start (Bran being pushed out of a window and paralyzed by Jaime) and allowed for a king who not only didn’t want the job but, by his own admission, “[didn’t] really want anymore” period. Devoid of passion or emotion of any kind, Bran made for the ideal ruler. Love, after all, as Jon told Tyrion repeating Aemon’s words, “is the death of duty.” Jon chose to fulfill his, sacrificing his love for Daenerys and his family.
It may not have made for an enjoyable ending, particularly in its harried state and a whole lot of missing details, but there is sense to it; while Bran may have become the king, Jon and his sisters were the heroes.
It abolished the concept of the chosen one, offering something more cruel, devastating and real. Game of Thrones was never one for a happy ending, and in its final season, it didn’t entirely offer one.
In a lot of ways, that’s a good thing; life is never so kind or so just.
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019