The long arc of Game of Thrones, now in its final season, is all about fantasy magic gradually coming back to a gritty and ugly world. We begin in a place where kings die of boar infections and the biggest threat to the world is the hair color of the king's kids. But by the end of it, magic has breached the wall. Dragons cross the sea. And the dead are resurrected.
And, in a way, that's the arc of Game of Thrones as a TV show, too. Game of Thrones is a story of a cynical deconstruction of fantasy tropes — a mockery of your Chronicles of Narnia and Lord of the Rings stories — gradually giving in and becoming one of those stories.
At the beginning, the entire appeal was how ruthless it was. Honor was a synonym for weakness. Love was vulnerability. Betrayal was savvy. Power was the only currency. Never fall in love with a character, book readers warned TV watchers, lest his gorgeous head get popped like a grape.
"If you think this has a happy ending," one villain sneered, "you haven't been paying attention."
But now, to anyone who has been paying attention, it looks almost like a happy ending of sorts is possible. The ruthlessness has waned. Our heroes are less likely to get massacred. We spend a lot less time trudging from one place to another. Villains started getting defeated. It's all started looking awfully conventional.
Game of Thrones is like the cynical romantic comedy protagonist, the one who spends the first half proudly announcing that he doesn't need love, not in this world of important business meetings and hookups with hotties. But by the end, he's making the mad dash to the airport to proclaim that, darn it, he's never felt this way about a gal before. And he's delivering his big will-you-marry me speech from atop a dragon.
In a way, this shift is necessary. The merciless choices of series author George R.R. Martin often hurt his series. It's one reason he increasingly struggled to finish the books, it seems. Kill off your most compelling characters and you need to keep expanding your world to find new ones. Dead men lead to dead ends. So as the series began to move beyond the books, the show became almost hopeful, despite the ice zombies cutting a swath through Westeros. We've seen this kind of story before, where good manages to eke out a win over evil. Happy endings are cliche — but in the end, that's how to make most fans happy. ♦