The Wheel Was Never Going to be Broken
Game of Thrones has finally ended, and a lot of people (at least on Twitter) are not satisfied. There are legitimate critiques to be made, as the story was more rushed for the past few seasons and character arcs were sacrificed to drive the plot forward, but, on the whole, I was satisfied with where most of the characters ended up.
For the past eight seasons, we watched as Daenerys Targaryen went from being sold to a horse master in service of her brother’s ambitions to leading her armies across the Narrow Sea and in great wars to secure her place on the Iron Throne. She promised to break the wheel — to end the fighting between great families over who should rule in the interest of the common people. But as the show progressed, particularly through season 8, it became clear that breaking the wheel was much more about defeating the houses that killed Daenerys’ father and forced her into exile than changing power structures.
Freeing commoners was a justification she used to convince herself and those around her that her quest was noble. None of the common people of Westeros asked for her to rain fire and blood upon them in service of her deepest desire. Daenerys was never planning to break the wheel; she simply wanted to replace the spokes of the other houses with those of her own name.
It’s fair to argue that the writers failed to effectively show how Daenerys came into her own as a tyrant through the course of the eighth season — calling back to events from previous seasons alone is not enough — but, upon reflection, her arc does make sense (and will likely be better developed in the books, if George R. R. Martin ever finishes them).
Daenerys’ choice to burn King’s Landing and her assertion that she needed to keep going to destroy every house, bringing war and death to every corner of Westeros and killing countless commoners along the way, made it undeniable that breaking the wheel was the fantasy that justified her aims, not the goal itself. She believed that her rule would be just, but only after a mass slaughter to cement her place on the Iron Throne.
The wheel was never going to be broken because the wheel is the creation of the Westerosi nobles and breaking it would require breaking the system that allows them to rule — Daenerys is no exception. Game of Thrones is a show about the arguments, fights, and wars of those noble families — with a side of ice zombies. Nobles wouldn’t abandon the system that gives them such immense power, and that should have been obvious.
In the series finale, as the lords and ladies were assembled to choose a new monarch, Samwell Tarly suggested that since the ruler had dominion over everyone, maybe everyone should choose — and was promptly laughed back into his seat. Commoners never had a voice in Game of Thrones, and the only way to change the power structure would be from the bottom up — for a class below the nobles to challenge their dominance — but most of the people in King’s Landing had just been burnt alive, so that wasn’t going to happen.
The world of nobles and their squabbles is an inherently unfair one. Martin never cared about giving his readers — and, by extension, the viewers — what they wanted. He killed our favorite characters, put others through hell, and let terrible people succeed, so it should come as no surprise that the woman who many believed would change everything was ultimately corrupted by the same desire for absolute power as so many others before her.
That doesn’t mean the ending must be satisfying, but in the fantasy world of Westeros with its powerful houses, it at least makes sense. There has been a discussion for quite some time about whether someone who doesn’t want power would ultimately be a better ruler. Varys and Tyrion believed that person to be Jon Snow, but it ended up being Brandon Stark, whose powers allow him to see far beyond the Red Keep despite his physical impairment.
One of the final scenes of the show is a council meeting with Tyrion, Hand of the King; Bronn, Lord of Highgarden; Brienne, Lord Commander of the Kingsguard; Samwell, Grand Maester; and Davos, Master of Ships squabbling over finances and what should be prioritized in the governance of the city and the realm. After all of the fighting, things are, for all intents and purposes, back to normal.
Martin was inspired by English history, in particular the Wars of the Roses, in crafting the story of “A Song of Ice and Fire.” The Wars of the Roses were a series of civil years that lasted more than three decades during the 15th century, but once they finally ended, the feudal system and monarchical rule remained. Mercantilism didn’t become a major force for more than a hundred years, and industrial capitalism not for a couple hundred years after that.
The wars between the great houses did not change the material conditions of Westeros, so it’s wrong to believe that its power structures would magically be altered. Once the fighting was over, things returned largely to normal with new kings, new lords, a new throne, a Queen in the North, and Highgarden continuing to feed the realm.
But while the current power dynamics may be cemented a little longer, things will change. Arya is sailing West where she may find a New World, after which a likely scramble for colonies and the empowerment of a new class of merchants could finally challenge the power of the nobility.
Bring on the Arya spinoff.
The Wheel Was Never Going to be Broken
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