The penultimate episode of Game of Thrones left us with one clear message: no matter how hard you try, you can’t change who you are. Inspiring stuff, isn’t it?
After nine years and eight seasons, Game of Thrones has shown us some of the most interesting characters on television. It’s been able to believably execute the idea that people are not just good and bad. Good people sometimes do bad things, and bad people are capable of good things.
What’s more, we’ve watched many of these characters grow, and change. We’ve seen characters break free from restrictive circumstances, we’ve seen characters slowly become better versions of themselves, and we’ve seen characters constantly fight against others’ opinions of them.
In one fell swoop, Game of Thrones undid all of the work they spent seven seasons establishing. “The Bells” brought many of the main players back to their original season’s character arcs, making this entire journey feel like a waste of time. All it stands to show is that people aren’t capable of change, and that people can never escape their past. Game of Thrones has never been the pinnacle of positivity or happy endings, but that’s a dismal message to send, even by Game of Thrones’ standards.
Sandor Clegane has had incredible growth during Game of Thrones. Starting out as a ruthless man whose only purpose was to do as commanded (typically commanded to kill someone), he grew to make his own choices. Interestingly, those choices were largely on the side of good.
This character development stuck right until the end, with Sandor encouraging Arya to leave, abandoning her revenge mission so she could survive. If only his death echoed this growth.
The Hound has been afraid of fire since he was a boy, when his brother shoved his face into a fire. He became permanently damaged by it, both physically and psychologically. As tough a man as the Hound is, he’s petrified by fire, never able to overcome this fear. Ultimately, the thing that terrified him the most is the very thing that killed him. Some might call it a perfect parallel, but it’s just one of many indications that Game of Thrones has refused to let characters escape their pasts, no matter how hard they try.
When we first met Missandei, she was a slave in Astapor. Freed by Daenerys, she went on to serve beside Dany as an advisor and friend. Little did she know that her freedom wouldn’t last.
It wasn’t a surprise that Missandei was one of the casualties of Game of Thrones season 8. There was no way Game of Thrones would let Missandei and Grey Worm both survive to live happily ever after. That said, there are tasteful, and distasteful, ways for her to die. Naturally, Game of Thrones chose the latter.
After being ambushed by Euron and his fleet, Missandei ended up getting captured by Cersei. She was then presented to Dany and company, in chains, during a fruitless negotiation that resulted in her execution. Missandei died the way she lived: a woman in chains, a slave.
Like others on this list, Missandei is a victim of not being able to change her past, despite her efforts to do so. What’s worse, unlike others on this list, her character assassination (both literally and figuratively), is not a result of her own actions or choices. Somehow Game of Thrones felt this an appropriate way to end the only woman of color’s character on this show.
To add insult to injury, the last mention of Missandei we get is in a conversation between Daenerys and Grey Worm that continues to emphasize her slave past. Dany presents Grey Worm with Missandei’s only possession, a slave collar. Instead of highlighting some other, positive aspect of Missandei’s life or personality, Game of Thrones opts instead to reiterate, yet again, her slave status.
Jaime Lannister had a huge turnaround over eight seasons of Game of Thrones. There were definitely bumps along the way, but in the end he made a choice to be with the good side, to be a better man. Well, he did until he didn’t.
In his iconic first episode, Jaime pushes a boy out of a window after it’s discovered Jaime and his sister have a sexual relationship. The handsome Commander of the Kingsguard had a pretty good life until that moment. Everything changed after that. Or so we thought.
Jaime’s journey eventually brought him to Brienne of Tarth. The two travelled together for seasons, he as her prisoner, and eventually as strange friends. He saved her life multiple times, losing his sword hand in the process. He even gifted her his sword and fancy armor. Somehow the most selfish man in the Seven Kingdoms grew a soft side for people other than himself and his sister.
Of course, his path did deviate a bit when he went back to Cersei. However, the end of season 7 showed Jaime make what seemed to be his final choice: he left Cersei, choosing the North, and Brienne, over the longtime love of his life. We were all fooled. Jaime Lannister fell victim to Game of Thrones’ character assassination.
Apparently all the growth Jaime had over seven seasons was for nothing. He reverted straight back to his season 1 self, pining for Cersei, unable to live, or die, without her, caring about nothing else than their ‘need’ for each other. He’s the poster boy for Game of Thrones’ messaging that learning from your mistakes is a futile task so you might as well not bother trying.
Daenerys Targaryen’s past paints her in a favorable light. She travelled from city to city freeing slaves and punishing those who harm the innocent. According to Game of Thrones though, Dany’s living past holds no weight to her blood past. That is to say, despite how hard Daenerys has worked to not be the ‘mad Targaryen’ everyone assumes her to be, despite all the good she has done for people in Essos, apparently she was destined to kill hundreds of innocents because she has Targaryen blood.
The King’s Landing burning and massacre at the hands of Daenerys Targaryen was not in character with the Daenerys we’ve seen on Game of Thrones. It’s true there was always a possibility Daenerys would burn everyone in King’s Landing, the good and the bad, but that was before there was an option that King’s Landing would surrender. Indeed, back in season 7, Dany let any Tarly soldier live who bent the knee to her. Somehow in season 8, that mercy went up in a ball of flame. Even though the people and soldiers of King’s Landing surrendered, Daenerys still torched them all.
We’re meant to believe that Daenerys’ sudden change of heart is due to the ‘mad’ Targaryen blood that runs through her veins. In other words, no matter what choices you make in life, no matter how many of those choices you make, you’ll always revert back to your old ways. Or in Dany’s case, your ancestors’ ways.
Notable Exception: Jon Snow
Although Game of Thrones season 8 has seen many characters’ arc circle back to their inception, Jon has managed to evade such a fate. He’s changed greatly from his previous seasons, and somehow managed to not fall victim to the same fate as his equal.
If Daenerys was inevitably going to lose her mind because she’s a Targaryen, then it stands to reason that Jon also should have lost his mind, given he is also a Targaryen. Neither character has shown tendencies to inflict injury on the innocent, but they’re both Targaryens, so it doesn’t matter. They’re both destined to crack at some point. Except Jon hasn’t cracked, and with only one episode left, it seems unlikely to happen.
Moreover, back in season 5, Jon was witness to Mance Rayder’s execution, in which Stannis Baratheon burned Mance Rayder alive. Feeling it a cruel death, Jon shoots Mance with an arrow, killing him instantly. Fast-forward to season 8, Jon stands by Daenerys’ side as she commands Drogon to burn Varys alive. Evidently Jon has come around on the burning alive-style execution