Game of Thrones’ season 8, the long awaited final of the show, has left millions of viewers disappointed for a variety of reasons. Almost all great and long expected events ended in an unsatisfying way. But as much the meagre screenwriting of the 8th and final season impacted the storytelling, it did not actually impair the outcome of the story.
While many fans were particularly disappointed about the climax of the show – Jon Snow killing his beloved Danaerys Targaryen –, the mistake lies not in the event per se. It lies in the lack of dramatic preparation, which made the event appear unplausible and incomprehensible to the viewers.
In truth, this scene and its implications are the archimedic point towards which the whole series was aiming at right from the beginning.
Don’t believe me? Read on.
Game of Thrones: “a long history of romance not ending well”
As true as Peter Dinklage’s words prove to be, they leave one essential element unexplained. Yes, we’ve seen the Red Wedding, we’ve seen Jon Snow lose his beloved Ygritte. We’ve also seen Tyrion Lannister tragically having to choke Shae, the concubine he loved, to death. But all these stories share a common denominator. And this common denominator adds quite a bunch of further couples to the list of “romances not ending well” in GoT.
For all of these romances ended tragically for the same reason. Robb Stark broke his oath to Walder Frey to marry one of his daughters, and married Talisa Maegyr instead. Jon fell in love with a wildling girl, which the Night’s Watch regarded as their primal enemy. And Tyrion failed to send Shae away from King’s Landing, although his father Tywin had explicitly warned him not to bring “that whore to court”.
In all these couples, the man neglected his duties for the love of a woman. Each and every time, tragic consequences were a reflection of Maester Aemon’s words: “Love is the death of duty”.
But the list of “romances not ending well” because the men neglected their duty in GoT is quite longer. Already Jaime and Cersei Lannister are another example. Their forbidden relationship kicked off the initial conflict in the first episode of season 1, when Jaime pushed Bran from the tower, after he spotted them having sex together. And we can find prominent examples for this constellation in events that happened even before the show. Rhaegar Targaryen, who was married to Elia Martell, by abducting and secretly marrying Lyanna Stark, who reciprocated his love, gave rise to Robert’s Rebellion, and with it to the war that changed the whole continent. Yet another example, although I admit that it is speculative, could be that the Mad King, Aerys Targaryen, had a secret relationship with Tywin’s wife Joanna Lannister, which could have had something to do with her dying while giving birth to Tyrion. (And yes, I believe that Tyrion is Aerys’ son, which is why Tywin hated him and told him “You are not my son” before dying.)
To explain the psychological mechanics of what happens in this constellation, I’m recurring to Robert Moore and Douglas Gillette’s theory of the 4 male (Jungian) archetypes King, Warrior, Magician, Lover.
The 4 male archetypes: King, Warrior, Magician, Lover
Archetypes are primal behavioural schemes of the human psyche. They are the underlying forces that pre-configure human behaviour, similar to instinct. As such, they are personified symbols.
In this context, the 4 relevant archetypes are King, Warrior, Magician and Lover. As essentially “male” archetypes, they represent the major aspects of mature masculine energy.
In Jon Snow, Ned Stark’s bastard, we see the King archetype right from the start. In the scene where Ned Stark beheads the deserter of the Night’s Watch, the King archetype is what makes Jon say to his brother Bran: “Don’t look away. Father will know if you do.” The King archetype is not the individual, mortal monarch. It is what the individual monarch represents: the order, the truth, the honor, but also the “way”, which in China is called the Tao, and the Dharma in Hinduism. Jon is conscientious. He’s “temperate and measured”, he is driven by the will to make “the right choice” that is best for the realm, and not for himself.
We see in modern dysfunctional families that when there is an immature, a weak, or an absent father and the King energy is not sufficiently present, the family is very often given over to disorder and chaos.Robert Moore/Douglas Gillette: King, Warrior, Magician, Lover
The Warrior archetype might be the most obvious archetype in Jon. For Jon is known to be a great swordfighter, arguably the best in Westeros. The Warrior is not only associated with aggressiveness, but also with courage, discipline, and emotional detachment. In both his dysfunctional bipolar extremes, the Warrior becomes either the sadist or the coward.
Jon embodies the healthy archetype of the Warrior in his fullness. He is brave, he is a fighter. But Jon is merciful, he is empathic. He is kind. He is not cruel. He stands between the two dysfunctional bipolar extremes of the sadist on one hand and the coward on the other hand. We’ll find out in a bit why that is.
The Magician archetype is very easy to explain in the world of Game of Thrones. The healthy aspect of the Magician is the Maester. He’s the full masculine energy of knowledge, of wisdom and science. The Magician is everything that is related to the higher spheres of life.
For all we can say about Jon, we have to admit that it is perfectly true that he “knows nothing”. The Magician is not very strong in him. I would rather say, the Magician in him is kind of “outsourced” into 3 characters who are particularly close and influental to him. One character into which Jon’s Magician aspect is outsourced is certainly his closest friend Samwell Tarly, who becomes a Maester. But Jon’s greater and more important Magician influence is Maester Aemon, whose wisdom guides Jon into manhood. And later, in season 8, Jon’s biggest Magician influence becomes Tyrion.
But the Magician, in his dysfunctional aspect, is also the sorcerer, the great manipulator and liar. Jon is certainly none of that. Like his father (or rather uncle) Ned Stark, he is a man of honor, truth and loyalty. And he speaks the truth even when the consequences seem to be disadvantageous for him. That is because the King in him is stronger than the Magician.
Finally the Lover is the energy of not only romantic and erotic love, but also of sensitivity, of receptiveness, of experiencing life. Contrary to the Warrior archetype, which essentially detaches (to kill, to win, to destroy), the Lover is the force that unites the man with his environment.
We can see the Lover in Jon when he says he doesn’t like fighting. He doesn’t want to kill. He feels compassion with his enemies. The Lover energy makes him see the human being behind the enemy – which the Warrior archetype ignores detachingly. But we see the Lover also when he keeps chanting “You’re my queen” to Danaerys all through season 8. This trait he inherited from his true father Rhaegar, who was a poet and a musician.
The typical untypical hero
What was the first thing you heard about GoT, even before having seen a single episode? Bloody battles, explicit sex scenes and twisted schemes. This is what most attracts us, as citizens of the modern world, to the medieval-flaired fantasy world of Westeros. Of course, later on, also the dragons. And sometimes, Tyrion Lannister’s wits.
Jon Snow, the true and actual hero of GoT, is the exact opposite of all this. He always speaks the truth. He is no schemer. He keeps his lust in check (Ygritte kept bothering him for as long as 2 seasons before he allowed himself to be seduced by her). And he’s rather laconic and direct, instead of funny and witty like Tyrion, Bronn or The Hound. And yes: he is one of the, if not the best, swordfighter in Westeros. But while all the other characters in the show love to do what they do best, he does not.
After, in the battle of King’s Landing, Danaerys kills hundreds of thousands civilians, Jon confronts her. He loves Danaerys. He wants to find out whether she will be reasonable and repent for her behaviour. He needs to hear from her that she will not go on like she did in this last battle. But she doesn’t show any guilt, nor any awareness of ill-doing. Her answers force him to face the truth. He understands that she will keep going over corpses to realize her idea of a new world order. He professes his love to her. He kisses her. While he kisses her, he pierces her heart with a dagger. Although he loves her.
This is not about misogyny or delivering a justification, or even a role-model, for murdering your own wife. Nothing could be farther from the truth.
So what does Jon killing Danaerys mean, symbolically? What is this hero, with whom we inevitably tend to identify? What is he supposed to show us?
Game of Thrones is full of tyrants (the toxic King), cruelty (the toxic Warrior), conspiracies and treason (the toxic Magician) and sexual indulgence (the toxic Lover). In a world ruled by the corrupted forces of Patriarchy, Jon Snow is the example of the healthy, balanced way.
Jon Snow is the hero that exemplifies the strength to end a deeply felt love when it becomes harmful. The Magician (Tyrion) aligns him with the truth about Danaerys. The Lover is the force that makes him want to deny this truth. But it is also what allows him to feel pity for Danaerys’ innocent victims, and to recognize her cruelty. And the Warrior is what gives him the courage to do what is necessary.
But these 3 forces are properly aligned only by the order and strength of the King. This is what Ned Stark represented: truth, courage, empathy.
Although, in the beginning of GoT, Ned and his family seem to be on the losing side of the “Game”, in the end the Starks remain victorious. All good things have to go through pain. Bran ascends the Iron Throne. Sansa becomes Queen in the North. Arya sets off to discover what lies west of Westeros.
And Jon, as a Stark and a Targaryen, could (still) be King in the North and sit on the Iron throne. But the re-established order comes at a sacrifice. Jon is the one to sacrifice the expedient for the meaningful. He, personally, loses everything. He is cast out to the north – where the “untameable” Free Folk choose him as their leader.
And our last glimpse of him shows us a faint smile on his lips. It is the face of a man who, despite all suffering and despite all losses, is confidently aware of having done the right thing.
All that which Ned Stark represented is proven to withstand and endure the test of time. Jon Snow, the true protagonist of Game of Thrones, shows us the virtues of a healthy and fully developed manhood. In a man, the King must always be stronger than the Lover.