“If there is one thing the multi-award winning series Game of Thrones taught us during its serpentine labyrinth of twists and turns, it is that death is frequently unexpected and ultimately unavoidable…”
In this piece, we explore how the show’s merciless and often seemingly random ‘killing-off’ of characters can encourage us to prepare for death prematurely. If you are one of the tiny proportion of viewers yet to finish the show (and have somehow managed to avoid online revelations about its characters’ fates thus far), then be warned, the following paragraphs contain spoilers.
How did Game of Thrones shock us with its deaths?
During the show’s eight seasons, fans watched in horror and delight as a multitude of favourite and much-hated characters alike met their ends. Some deaths (such as the viciously evil Joffrey Lannister and somehow-even-worse Ramsay Bolton,) were perversely looked forward to, whilst others (countless, innumerable, unjustified others,) left their audience totally devastated. Game of Thrones demonstrated to its viewers that no matter a character’s age, status, wealth or involvement in conspiracy, none are guaranteed exception from an untimely or unexpected death.
Daenerys Targaryen is responsible for over 135,000 deaths alone ????
Whose Game of Thrones death shocked us?
Take Season One’s protagonist for example, the sturdy, steadfast and honourable Ned Stark. Ned was played by Sean Bean: a casting which in itself might have implied the longevity of the character’s performance given that Sean Bean is generally epic and makes for the perfect medieval, sword-wielding hero (just sayin’).
In Season One, Ned is portrayed as the authoritative head of the Stark household, the ruler in the North and a close friend of King Baratheon himself. He is even-tempered, cares for his family and subjects and is undoubtedly the “good-guy.” Having watched him comfortably retain this position throughout the first 9 episodes of the season, it therefore comes as a complete shock when he fails to escape the Lannisters and is instead beheaded with his two daughters, Arya and Sansa Stark, looking on.
Right up until the moment the blade (of his own sword, mind you! rubs salt into wound) irreversibly falls, we viewers do not believe he is truly going to die. He has power, strong-allies and more than enough narrative reason to live, so surely this can’t be happening? Ned Stark’s death does not make sense. We as an audience invested in his life cannot compute.
Yep, we “literally can’t even” either.
What happened after their death?
After the abrupt end to Ned Stark’s life we see a tumultuous overhaul of ‘the natural order of things’, particularly for those who were closest to him: Arya Stark must conceal her identity as she goes on the run; Sansa is left in a constant state of terror, stripped of her freedom and any semblance of security now that she finds herself hostage to her father’s killers. Similar themes of uncertainty, insecurity and chaos follow every death in Game of Thrones to a varying degree: Selyse Baratheon commits suicide after watching her daughter burnt at the stake; Daenerys is so enraged at the murder of her confidante, Missandei, that she burns the city of Kings Landing to the ground, and even Jon Snow, despite having fallen in love with Daenerys, is forced to kill her to put an end to the havoc she wreaks.
Those who were once in a comfortable position of wealth, privilege or safety now find themselves destitute, captive or estranged. Those left alive find themselves newly motivated by grief, revenge or the cruellest necessity, sometimes so embittered and incensed that they are driven to irreversible measures.
For most characters, a significant death in some way changes their lives irrevocably and it initially isn’t clear how things will ever improve.
Why are these depictions important?
Whilst the deaths in Game of Thrones are frequently brutal and sometimes even bizarrely unrealistic (take Tywin Lannister being shot by his son with a crossbow whilst sitting on the loo or Hodor’s devastating fall at the hands of the wights), they do perfectly encapsulate death’s reality as the great, unstoppable leveller: visitor to all and evaded by none. In much the same way, the deaths in Game of Thrones clearly demonstrate the grief and disorder felt by the surviving loved ones. Death is rarely predictable and usually upturns any semblance of normality felt by those left living.
If at all possible, it can therefore feel significant to gain some semblance of control over a death and the events that follow, by planning in advance.
How can Neo help?
Luckily for us, we live in a world where White Walkers can’t sack a city and it is highly unlikely that we will find ourselves poisoned by an enemy, let alone a relative! That being said, death is still sure to find us all even if only in its most mediocre form, and as it’s highly unlikely that we can predict the exact time and place of this occurrence, our deaths will still probably be largely unexpected.
In order to therefore exercise some autonomy over our deaths, and so also to ease the distress felt by those left behind, we at Neo will soon offer pre-paid direct cremations. Right from the collection of the deceased to the subsequent handling of the body and return of their ashes, Neo guarantees the fulfilment of predetermined decisions. Our direct cremations cover a comprehensive list of the services and accessories required to conduct a simple and highly dignified send-off.
Download our After Life Planning Guides
In addition, we provide insightful Planning Guides in our Advice Centre aimed to help you plan for the inevitable. Our guides make the conversation around end-of-life therapeutic and empowering. You can find our guides to download here.
Whilst flaming arrows can no longer be fired at our memorial pyre or used to set ablaze our boat as we float downstream like the Vikings of old, we do believe that there is something beautifully symbolic and archaically instinctive about returning our bodies to the elements.
And, if at Neo our service allows us to do so whilst also lessening the turmoil or anxiety of those we leave behind, then all the better for it.