The Great Game Over
“Are you afraid? … Good… Because you’re in the Great Game now… and the Great Game is terrifying.” -Tyrion Lannister
I wrote this back in 2019, after the end of the Game of Thrones HBO series.
Game of Thrones paralleled a decade-long journey of my metaphysical understanding of the world and reality. I believe that the reason that Game of Thrones was so compelling and groundbreaking is that it is a harsh and no-holds-barred reflection of our current society and world. This is my personal interpretation and reflection on the show and series.
Television and entertainment are a mirror of the times, and according to IMDB, Game of Thrones is the most popular television series of all time and spans the 2010s. The series has ended. And in the end, the eighth season and series finale has fans up in arms and upset. “It was rushed.” “Dany went mad.” “Fuck those writers.”
“So did you see Game of Thrones last night?”
-Elizabeth Warren, U.S. Senator
“I did. I’m sad. Disappointed about it… I feel like we were getting so close to having this ending with just women running the world… and then the last two episodes… it’s like, ‘oh, they’re too emotional.’ The End.”
-Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, U.S. Congresswoman
Uh… wait, what?! Which women??
“I choose violence.”
“Look at me! Look at my face! It’s the last thing you’ll see before you die.”
“Everyone who isn’t us is an enemy.” (parenting her teenage son-king)
“When you play the Game of Thrones, you win or you die.”
Psychopathic Greatest Hits:
Drugs her husband/king Robert Baratheon, resulting in his death from a hunting accident.
Plots the Red Wedding — a mass murder killing Robb Stark, his pregnant bride, mother, and their guests… at a wedding.
Blows up the High Sparrow’s temple, the High Sept of Baelor, burning her daughter-in-law and her family, the city’s religious leader, and hundreds of citizens alive with wildfire.
Waterboards the High Sparrow priestess with wine (wineboards?) before having her raped to death by a giant undead monster.
“I will take what’s mine, with fire and blood.”
“Yes. All men must die, but we are not men.” (Valar Morghulis)
“Sometimes, it is better to answer injustice with mercy.” -Barristan Selmy
“I will answer injustice with justice.” -Daenerys Targaryen
Psychopathic Greatest Hits:
Orders her newly acquired slave-eunuch army to kill their former Astaporan masters and the soldiers of the city after commanding the dragon she traded to burn the slave-master alive.
Sacks the city of Meereen and crucifies one hundred and sixty-three civilian noblemen without trials.
Burns her late husband’s kinsmen alive and takes command of a bloodthirsty, raping-and-looting barbarian horde.
Burns down King’s Landing, unleashing her dragon and armies on the civilians, women, and children after the city has surrendered.
We fell in love with Daenerys, alongside Jon Snow, Tyrion, Jorel, Missandei, her dragons, and the rest of America. We rooted for her as she blossomed into the Khaleesi, the Unburnt, the Breaker of Chains and Mother of Dragons. We felt the uneasy rush of justice and power as she burned her enemies and liberated the people, the victims. She was rescuing them. The killing was justified. Her enemies deserved it. They were all bad.
Daenerys was strong, powerful, willing to be cruel for justice to those who wronged her. She was kind to those she smiled upon. She is willing to make sacrifices and she made sacrifices. She helped to save the realm from the Night King. She hoped to bring peace and paradise. Wehoped she would bring peace and paradise.
But, she is the Mother of Dragons…
“When my dragons are grown, we will take back what was stolen from me and destroy those who have wronged me. We will lay waste to armies and burn cities to the ground. Turn us away, and we will burn you first.”
Time Magazine says Game of Thrones squandered its opportunity with Daenerys Targaryen. “Viewers saw her snap in one shot.” Really? Go back and watch the series from the beginning. Business Insider published a list of events that foreshadowed Daenerys Targaryen’s deadly character twist.
Foreshadowing? It’s called character development.
She has had a ruthless and cruel streak from the start. But, we were dazzled by our beautiful Dragon Queen. We wanted to hope.
The Dark Side of Hope
“Through her art she seeks to support her fans to process the complex and oftentimes dark emotions and ideas that oppress individual potential and hold back collective power.”
This is the story. This is the point. The shock factor… the violence, the sex, the shadow… The purpose is to shake us up a little, stir up our primal urges, and create a dark empathy with the characters. We understand why Cersei does what she does… We understand why Daenerys does what she does. It’s a reflection that makes us uncomfortable… and it wasn’t just Daenerys that went on a rampage, the Unsullied, the Dothraki, and the Northmen participated as well.
We might say, “Oh, but I would never do that…”
George R.R. Martin writing was inspired by medieval European history, including the War of the Roses where the rival families Lancasters (Lannisters) and Yorks (Starks) fought. History is a collection of stories of the past. Understanding stories is understanding history and humanity.
“Don’t you compartmentalize it. This is about you. This is not about someone else… When you read history, you think, ‘Well, that’s about someone else.’ … It’s a very rare person that reads history and identifies with the perpetrators… but unless you read history and identify with the perpetrators, you don’t understand history at all… and so who wants to understand that?” -Jordan B. Peterson
History... and shows and movies that twist your brain and make you really think, feel, and reflect are the stories of our time and of all time.
Dany’s choice to raze King’s Landing was a choice… Was it vengeful or cruel? Or both? The unfolding of her destiny that she had to endure to break the wheel and set up her future utopia cost her dearly. She had lost almost everything she loved.
“I’m here to free the world from tyrants. That is my destiny. And I will serve it, no matter the cost.” -Daenerys Targaryen
She strived to break the system because she knows how to rule better, more justly, more freely… She knows how to build a better world, a good world. It is her destiny.
Destiny. Hope. Durable Conviction. Delusion.
“For a delusion to thrive, other more rational ideas must be rejected… destroyed… only then can the delusion blossom… into full-blown psychosis.”
Wai H. Tsang examines some of the most powerful revolutionary movements in history and two critical ingredients of revolutionary movements are an apocalyptic (or prophetic) archetype and esoteric religion and mystical beliefs.
The entire Game of Thrones saga is a series of revolutionary movements. History has been a series of revolutions, ranging from the American, French, and Russian Revolutions, Marxism, Chinese Cultural Revolution, Nazi Germany, Arab Spring, and onward. Many of these have resulted in massive death and destruction. Our current generation has grown up with stories of heroic revolution such as Star Wars, Dune, and The Matrix.
In the center of all of these stories are Messiahs who believe they are the One, chosen to save Humanity. In our stories, our messiahs tend towards self-sacrifice for the greater Good. In our true history, most self-professed messiahs end up being mass murderers.
Our world today is full of self-professed messiahs, on noble missions to “make the world a better place.”
AOC wants to dismantle the fossil fuel industry, government corruption, and break the wheel at all costs. It is her God-given destiny. Zuck wants to connect the world. In other words, he wants to govern world communication while charging a toll for selling eyeballs and audiences to the highest bidders. Elizabeth Holmes was on a mission to create a miracle solution to disrupt the Big Pharma medical insurance complex. Trump is building a Wall and fighting global trade wars to Make America Great again. Because they all know what is good.
Ben Shapiro was also upset (#triggered you might say) by the ending. He felt that Jon became “a whiny twerp.” He couldn’t understand why the dragon was pissed off at the throne. He considered Bran to be the most useless person and theorizes that he may even be the “most evil person in Westeros” who used his mystical powers to seize the throne.
Jon Snow has always struggled with balancing love and duty, emotion and reason. In the finale, Jon faced the ultimate trolley problem, continue the journey with a woman he loves and loves him back… and continue the Game of Thrones, or kill her in what is most likely will become a murder-suicide. After all, there is a bloodthirsty army and monstrous dragon right outside the doors.
In her final scene, Daenerys implores Jon, “We break the wheel together… because I know what is good, and so do you.” Jon responds, “No I don’t… What about everyone else, what about all the other people who think they know what’s good?” Daenerys without a shadow of a doubt, states, “They don’t get to choose.”
“Love is that which enables choice.” -Forrest Landry
It is at this point that Jon knows what he must do. He has spent his life choosing to do what he believed was good. Jon is not killing her to take the throne, he really doesn’t want it. He is sacrificing himself and the woman he loves to prevent her from “liberating” Westeros and Winterfell.
Drogos, representing primal nature, melts the throne to oblivion. In many ways, this represents our real-world situation… Don Howard Lawler, a profound shaman, and amazing man once told me, “Mankind’s lust for power is the root of all of Humanity’s problems.” The dragon understands that it was the Iron Throne (lust for power) that killed Daenerys.
Jon Snow, Aegon Targaryen, the true heir to the Iron Throne, ultimately ends up north of the Wall, which symbolically represents the land of his first love.
“You could be free too. You don’t need to live your whole life taking commands from old men. Wake up when you want to wake up. I could show you the streams to fish, the woods to hunt. Build yourself a cabin and find yourself a woman to lie with.” -Ygrette
In the end, there’s a poetic transdimensional celebration where Kit Harrington and Rose Leslie get married and have a joyful wedding ceremony in the “real world.”
Jon Snow doesn’t win the Game of Thrones, he gets to leave it and be free.
The Night King is driven to kill Bran, the Three-Eyed Raven. They are two opposite ends of a spectrum, one a manifestation of the story of Humanity, the other a manifestation of the existential annihilation of that story.
Humanity is facing Winter today. This is undeniable. We have the mother of all apocalyptic prophecies in play today. We’ve invented and dropped the atomic bomb. We’ve created the Night King. We are collectively playing the Game of Thrones.
There are a few amusing interpretations of the Night King on the Internet. Mashable thinks he represents Mark Zuckerberg. There is a WeChat conversation in China that the Night King shows the flaws of a centralized system.
The Night King and his undead army represent the existential threats facing us today. Mark Zuckerberg and centralized systems can play a role. So can war, cosmic collisions, pollution, ecosystem destruction, climate change, and artificial intelligence. These are all threats that could erase the world and its memory.
Bran the Broken, the most interesting man in Westeros, ends up becoming the King of the Six Realms. Once the Small Council is in place, he departs, looking for Drogon. A metaphorical use of the term “chasing the dragon” refers to the elusive pursuit of the ultimate high in the usage of some particular drug.
“You’ll never walk again, but you will fly.” -The Three-Eyed Raven
During his training with the Three-Eyed Raven under the Weirwood Tree, Bran ingests Weirwood paste, brewed from the blood-like sap of the Weirwood tree which sounds a lot like an entheogenic plant medicine such as Ayahuasca.
It also explains his change in behavior. Dr. Jeffrey Martin is researching enlightenment or Persistent Non-Symbolic Experience which appears to relate to Bran’s transformation into the Three-Eyed Raven (opening his third eye) results in an Ego Death and a new state of Being.
With the recent decriminalization of psilocybin in Colorado, the work of MAPS (Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies) and resources such as the Third Wave, the therapeutic and healing uses of plant medicines are hitting mainstream awareness.
In The Moral Case for Psychedelics, Jeff Pawlak writes that “this group of substances represents one of the best hopes for humanity in preventing existential collapse and ensuring our collective evolutionary growth as a species.” I wholeheartedly agree.
My interpretation of the Bran story is that he became the Three-Eyed Raven and pulled a Doctor Strange-like manifestation of reality using his greensight and warging powers. He has no desire for anything, especially not Power.
Bran the Broken no longer has an Iron Throne to sit on. He is “chasing the dragon,” working in other dimensions, surrendering to his destiny, with Strength Over Power.
“Was it right?” Jon Snow asks Tyrion after assassinating Daenerys. “What I did? What we did — it doesn’t feel right.” Tyrion responds, “Ask me again in 10 years.”
Game of Thrones was one of the worst rated series finales in history.
The Internet complains that “Mad Queen” Daenerys is the culmination of every demeaning sexist trope over the series. An online petition with 1.5 million signatures to remake Season 8 with “competent writers.” The anger and outrage are visceral.
Game of Thrones’ showrunners, David Benioff and D.B. Weiss have gone into hiding to open some bottles, get drunk, and avoid the Internet. I think they knew they would get the reaction that they have gotten, and it was all calculated. They invite us to think about the reflection that the show presents to us… individually, collectively, as a culture… and I believe they’ve done it brilliantly.
Here are some numbers:
The cast spent 55 days filming the Battle of Winterfell in the mud and muck.
The Series finale was the most watched show ever with 19.3 million viewers (not including pirates.)
HBO spent roughly $600 million producing the show, including over $90 million on Season 8 alone.
To HBO, the writers, the creators, the cast: Thank you!
Game of Thrones provided over 72.5 hours of some of the highest production value and compelling entertainment ever, and much of the Internet is freaking out because they felt that writers turned Daenerys into a manic pixie dream girl.
Obviously, the moral of the story ultimately is a warning against Power.
“Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” -Lord Acton (late 1800s)
This is nothing new. Game of Thrones is not the first story about the dangers of power. The brilliance has always been in the depth of the characters, “honorable” traits among “evil” men, “evil” acts by “good” people. Every character struggled between love and duty, emotion and reason. As we all do.
“When you play the Game of Thrones, you win or you die. There is no middle ground.” -Cersei Lannister
Cersei’s quote reflects our current political and corporate environment across much of the world. It sounds disturbingly like many of our politicians. Our society’s power-hungry messiahs are ready to break the wheel and I would invite all of them to look at the reflection that the show gives them and explore the shadow of their negative emotions from the ending.
A breaking wheel is a medieval torture device that provided scaffolding so that a prisoner is strapped to it could have his/her bones broken while being bludgeoned to death. It is a metaphor for a broken system that tortures its citizens, which reflects parts of our modern society — the scaffolding that is our civilization.
In the ending, Bran the Broken has no Iron Throne to sit on. He literally sits on wheels. Rather than building a new throne, perhaps it is time to Unbreak the Wheel.