Subverting Expectations: Why Game of Thrones Keeps Shocking Us

Musing-by-MoonlightYes, that’s right, there are TWO Musing by Moonlight posts this week, because I have ALL THE FEELS about Game of Thrones and need to express it after the finale of Season 5.

Is George RR Martin The Only One Keeping It Real?

I haven’t read George RR Martin’s epic fantasy A Song of Ice and Fire, and I don’t expect to. It’s somewhat different to the TV show Game of Thrones, which I love. It’s the same reason I won’t read The Seeker of Truth, because I loved the remarkably different TV show Legend of the Seeker. This discussion is purely about the Game of Thrones TV show as adapted from Martin’s books.


This post is full of spoilers.

For everything.

You have been warned.

Game of Thrones is a shocking TV show. I can never predict who is going to win or live or die. This is because for some reason George RR Martin has this uncanny ability to recognise clichés, tropes, and traditional storytelling and subvert them into the unexpected.

game of thrones finale stephen king

  • While the first surprise was little Bran being permanently paralysed (this is fantasy, surely they can find some way to magically fix his legs?!) the first shock was not in fact Ned’s death.
  • It was Lady, taking the place of Nymeria, who had attacked Joffrey when he threatened her human, Arya. Lady’s death was so unfair it seemed like something was going to happen to help her get away unscathed. But nope.
  • And that ‘expecting our heroes to escape’ continued. And we wept salty tears of shock as they made stupid-ass decisions and faced the consequences – the consequences of the time being brutally murdered.
  • Ned was our hero. Ned was THE hero of season 1. And he died right near the end. How could the show go on without Ned? But it did. Martin subverted reader expectations of a saviour at the last minute. We as an audience have been trained to believe that the good guys always win, that heroes in danger will be saved.
  • So we adjusted and figured our new hero would be Ned’s eldest legitimate child, Rob. But then Rob and Catelyn were murdered. Who are our heroes now?
  • Robert Barathion’s eldest bastard? Gendry went missing after escaping with his life. For all we know he’s rowing in circles around the world.
  • Ned’s bastard? Jon was stuck at the Wall doing Wall things. When given the opportunity to become a legitimate heir, he declined. His vow to the crows was more important than his Stark family.
  • In other places, Danearys lost control of her dragons and decided to stay in the east rather than conquer Westeros so soon.
  • Then Joffrey was killed on his wedding day.
  • Tyrion’s true love betrayed him and didn’t repent at the last minute, and continued to betray him by sleeping with Tywin. So he murdered both of them.
  • Oberyn was murdered by the Mountain. Cocky, heroic, vengeful Oberyn, who looked like he was about to win…
  • Then Arya didn’t mercy kill the Hound. Arya, who had developed a strong morality, a good sense of right vs wrong, who gladly murdered those who did her and her friends wrong, walked away from a mortally wounded Hound.
  • Brienne failed to protect Renly. And Catelyn. And Arya and Sansa.
  • Sansa was raped. Everyone expected Theon/Reek to go crazy and save her from Ramsey, but he didn’t. No one busted in to save Sansa at the last minute. That’s not how stories are told, it’s not how we’ve come to view damsels in distress. Damsels in distress get rescued, damn it!
  • The guy Daenerys was going to marry to solve all of her problems was murdered.
  • And then that thing happened at the end of Season 5 that has about half the fandom declaring they are SO DONE WITH THIS SHOW.

jon snow

These are but a few examples of how Martin and the TV show writers subverted reader expectations and defied traditional storytelling to keep the story not only

  1. Full of conflict and
  2. Surprising, but
  3.  Fresh

I’m always surprised by the outcomes and the effects character choices have on the overall narrative.

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The only problem with all these deaths, where the good guys often don’t win, is that there is a decreasing number of characters to root for. But that’s another issue entirely I might explore in the future.




About Nemo

A lover of kittens and all things sparkly, Nemo has a degree in English Literature and specialises in reviewing contemporary, paranormal, mystery/thriller, historical, sci-fi and fantasy Young Adult fiction. She is especially drawn to novels about princesses, strong female friendships, magical powers, and assassins.

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4 thoughts on “Subverting Expectations: Why Game of Thrones Keeps Shocking Us

  1. Annie

    I loved Legend of the Seeker! I did read the first two books (which are basically the series) and while they were both alike and different from the show and added some depth and some different perspectives…. I kind of wish I hadn’t and just enjoyed the show as it is.

    I also haven’t read the Game of Thrones books. When the first teaser from HBO as released I wikipedia’d the whole story (thus far). I noticed the trend where he kept killing of the character you were rooting for and then at one point it seemed like he’d run out of good characters to root for so he was trying to turn the previously villainized characters into heroes because he’d written himself into a box. So I decided they weren’t worth getting started on. But that was just the wikipedia version so….

    Annie recently posted: Fairy Tale Legacy: Jasmine
    1. Nemo

      It sure is hard to figure out who to root for, all the good, honourable people we normally associate with ‘heroes’ keep dying.

  2. Jordon

    Hahahaha I love the last line!

    I love Game of Thrones so much, for how shocking it is, for the story lines, for the depth and for the characters. I haven’t read the books, I did try once but as I already knew what was going to happen because I had watched the series first, I got bored really fast. I then thought I didn’t want to read the books anyway because I wanted to enjoy the show for what it was. Where will the TV show go next?! The next book isn’t out… It will be so interesting to see what the screenwriters come up with compared with what George RR Martin comes up with. I guess I will need to read the books to find out the differences!

    1. Nemo

      I think the show writers know what Martin’s planning on writing, but as for how Martin’s book turns out compared to the TV show, we’ll just have to wait and see.

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