Game of Thrones has never been a show afraid to kill off any and all beloved characters, indiscriminately breaking the collective hearts of viewers on a regular basis. George R.R. Martin’s carefully constructed universe is one where anyone could die. The latest teaser released by HBO makes an effort to emphasize this, as it teases as the one burning question fans have leading into every new season: Who’s going to be the next to bite the dust?
Up until now, the answer to that question has always been readily available in Martin’s books, with the show having stayed true to the source material when it comes to character deaths. Season 6 though will mark the first time in Game of Thrones history that there hasn’t been a companion novel. The Winds of Winter (Book 6) won’t be ready until at least late 2016, leaving both readers and non-readers united in not knowing what happens.
More than the “who’s going to die?” question, fans are still left wondering about the fate of Jon Snow, who we last saw bleeding out following a Night’s Watch mutiny. If the latest teaser from HBO is any indicator, Snow might not only be dead, but also soon joined by the rest of Westeros. We see the Hall of Faces, housed within the House of Black and White occupied by the Faceless Men assassins. First, it reflects on those we’ve already lost; the camera pans first over Ned Stark (beheaded), then moves over to his son Robb (stabbed) and wife Catelyn (throat cut). It then moves over to Joffrey (poisoned), before settling over the deceased visage of none other than Jon Snow himself. The camera then shifts and pans out, revealing the faces of Tyrion Lannister, Sansa Stark, Daenerys Targaryen, Jaime Lannister, and Arya Stark.
All this seems to send a clear message to viewers this season: No one is safe. Whether or not it’s meant to prophesy the death of virtually every major character, which seems like a bit much even for Game of Thrones, far be it from us to not at least entertain the idea that no one survives the Song of Fire and Ice saga. We know the White Walkers are marching south with an army, and if Jon Snow is well and truly passed on, there’s little hope for Westeros.
While representing the typically ruthless sentiment of Martin’s original story, all of this poses a huge dilemma for the series. How long will fans stick with a series where there isn’t even a glimmer of hope? Many have criticized The Walking Dead‘s midseason premiere for reveling too much in the misery of its characters, and GoT‘s Season 5 finale found itself wading into similarly grim waters. There’s something to be said for a show that keeps the stakes high, but when “who’s going to die next?” is a more important question to viewers than “what happens next in the story?”, you begin to see the problem with death-driven television.
You see the evidence of this all around us. People (ourselves included) are digging up every clue they can find to figure out whether Jon Snow survived his brutal stabbing. What they aren’t doing is perhaps the most telling: focusing on the greater narrative of Game of Thrones. No one’s asking about the future of the fate of Westeros, and it all comes back to the fact that death is the only driving force behind the show anymore. We see it in the teaser, which is light on promoting the story of Season 6 and instead is merely a reminder that more death is coming. The new season will mark a major turning point for the series, as soon we’ll see if it can move beyond misery and back into a suspenseful narrative.
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