Game of Thrones has finally wrapped up its final season, and I’ve found myself reflecting on the complexities of the show and the rich plot that engaged millions. While it takes place in a high fantasy realm with dragons and White Walkers, it is at its core a study of human beings rising to power, both within and without. Throughout the seasons, characters develop through their trials and tribulations. Relationships are forged and broken. Each aspect of Game of Thrones gains great depth as the plot progresses. And, within all the bloodshed, magic and political manoeuvring, there are didactic moments that speak volumes about the dynamic of everyday life.
1. There is no such thing as a single story.
As all fans are aware of, Game of Thrones is not the typical black-and-white show with clear protagonists to root for and antagonists to boo for. It is rife with dubious characters who will perform brutal acts of murder and have a drink on the side, as well as those who will manipulate the day away and then reveal a tender heart at night. Each person exhibits redeeming qualities as well as deep-rooted flaws. These people symbolize the universal truth that nobody is one thing, but rather a million stories and experiences, a million shades of light and dark.
2. Always know what you’re fighting for and what you’re willing to sacrifice.
The players of Game of Thrones know all too well that power exacts its price. The climb towards the top is strenuous and costly, as evident of Stannis Baratheon and the heartrending scene of Princess Shireen at the stake. This moment certainly branded the minds of its watchers as an agonizing reminder that striving towards a goal never comes without a caveat.
3. Those who seem the weakest may turn out to be the strongest, and those who seem the strongest may just be the weakest.
The show stands as the very definition of jaw-dropping character arcs. Sansa Stark begins as a soft, spoiled lady and blossoms into a fierce, respected Queen of the North by season eight. Daenerys transforms from the obedient, frightened sister to a ruthless liberator who single-handedly carves up an army from the ashes, then into a mad queen that leads to her demise. Ned Stark certainly had a bright future, but his noble and honest heart only served to be his downfall in the end. Are you a wolf in sheep’s clothing, or the other way around? Nothing is ever as it seems.
4. True leadership comes from neither fear or love, but from the common hopes and ideals of a people banding together.
Kings and queens are made and destroyed constantly in Game of Thrones. Some are loved, many are feared, and most are downright despised. Daenerys Targaryen’s and Jon Snow’s brutal, enduring journeys to the peak highlights the fact that real leaders are empowered by their followers. Daenerys’ Unsullied choose to fight for her because they believe in what she offers. The Brotherhood of the Night Watch and the North choose to fight for Jon because they believe in what he offers. Together, they represent the startling force of a people working towards something bigger than themselves, rather than out of obligation or duty.
6. Do not wait for a hero to come along. Seize control and save yourself.
At some point, each character is put to the test in which they are put in a precarious situation and are faced with two options — give in or take action. When Theon Greyjoy is captured and tortured by Ramsey Bolton, he lets his mind capitulate, and he refuses to be saved even when given the opportunity from his sister, Yara. However, he does manage to redeem himself later when he and Sansa escape from Winterfell, and his story is just one of many in the show that capitalizes on the strength of taking risks for yourself and others. Theon is an example to all that, while it may seem easier to just sit and hope, dreams will only take you so far. Action will take you as far as you desire.
7. Never let pain cloud your mind and your ability to love others.
Game of Thrones is one of the few TV shows completely undaunted by killing off beloved characters or putting them through unimaginable horrors. At the same time, Game of Thrones enraptures its fans by exploring the many ways people cope with trauma and spelling out profound truths about the aftermath. For instance, Cersei retreats back further and further into her icy mask as each of her children are systematically killed off. The tragedies shape her into someone crueler and more calculating, rather than more appreciative of life. Daenerys, after losing both Ser Jorah and Missandei, embarked on a blood-thirsty rampage throughout King’s Landing and burned innocents. Other characters, on the contrary, such as Arya Stark or Tyrion Lannister, allow their hardships to fuel their passion and determination. Their hearts stay open even through the pain.
With eight seasons of breathtaking character development and thrilling storylines, it’s been a wild decade-long ride. Despite the show concluding with such a controversial end, it leaves behind a remarkable legacy of pain and power that, hopefully, the entertainment industry will try to emulate in the future.
Photo by Helen Sloan via HBO