The Last Truly Significant Death on 'Game of Thrones'

Which death was the last one to have significant narrative consequences? Today's Opening Credits explores.

Opening Credits Oberyn

Which death was the last one to have significant narrative consequences? Today’s Opening Credits explores.

In my own Internet Echo Chamber™, a new debate has broken out around Game of Thrones. Because these are the kinds of debates that fill my life and make me happy. It began with a discussion between myself and my Storm of Spoilers co-host Joanna Robinson on our most recent episode, a re-watch of Thrones season 4. The question: was Oberyn Martell’s death the last one that truly had any weight? An interesting topic to ponder and discuss, as there is a certain emotional and narrative switch that gets flipped between seasons 4 and 5. It’s no secret that this affects the loyalists of George R.R. Martin’s books most — Season 5 is when showrunners Dan Weiss and David Benioff went from master adapters to traveling north of The Wall alone with an old, worn-out map. For better or worse, this is their story to tell now. And one area in which they’ve lagged a bit is delivering high-quality character moments the likes of which are all over the first four seasons.

But this isn’t a slag on Dan and Dave. Their judgment comes when it’s all said and done and we can pit their four seasons of solo albums vs. their four seasons of collabs with George. Perhaps the matter of deaths with emotional resonance has a lot to do with the fact that after season 4, there just weren’t a lot of special characters to kill. In season 5, we got the one that we knew wouldn’t last very long. In season 6, we were left sobbing while a large man held a door. Do either of these deaths carry with them the reverberations and weight that followed in the wake of the deaths of Ned Stark, his Red Wedding’d family, Oberyn, or even Tywin Lannister?

The truly special deaths in Game of Thrones are not simply there to manipulate the audience to tears — they have far-reaching consequences for the other characters involved. Oberyn’s death inspired an uprising in Dorne. And while the show didn’t stick the landing, we know what they were getting at. Similarly, Tywin Lannister’s death broke his family apart and drove a stake through the heart of any chance that Cersei would ever make a sane decision again. These deaths mattered.

Then again, perhaps it’s hindsight that makes them feel special. We know that they matter because we’ve seen what came later. We haven’t yet had a chance to see the full fallout of the deaths propagated by Cersei’s Sept-bombing or Arya’s visit to The Twins. Those may prove to have major consequences within the story.

We also can’t discount the unique perspectives of other show watchers. As one Storm of Spoilers listener put it in an email, “I am writing to fully disagree that Oberyn Martell’s death was the last death that matters. The Sept being blown up with Margaery and Loras was really impactful and emotional for me, and I imagine especially difficult for other LGBT people. I know the religious anti-gay thing was made for the show, but in America’s political climate it makes perfect sense, especially at the time of the shows writing. Loris was arrested for being gay, Margaery was arrested for protecting him from the church, and everyone in the church that day died because “the political structure” i.e. Cersei was only using the church to take down her political enemies and was shocked when that blew back on her.”

Some of these subsequent deaths are meaningful to the audience in ways that can be specific to each person’s interpretation. Yet, I would argue that this listener’s email further illustrates my point. It’s one thing for a death to mean something extra-textual to the audience. It’s another for it to mean something inside the context of the story. It does not seem likely that there will be a three-season arc in which someone gets revenge for the deaths of Margaery, Loras, or the High Sparrow. Then again, the Queen of Thorns remains as lithe and lethal as she’s ever been.

All of this is to say that I agree with the original point. Something died at the end of season 4. Between Oberyn, Shae, and Tywin, we saw the loss of those huge, narrative-altering deaths. And as I suspect we’ll find as we continue our #reThrones project with seasons 5 and 6, that might not be the only thing we lost.

Listen to the most recent episode of Storm of Spoilers here:

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