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Who’s going to survive Game of Thrones when all is said and done — assuming anyone survives at all? We won’t have to wait long for the answer. There are only eight episodes left in the HBO fantasy series, expected to resolve within the next year or two, though there’s still no word on when exactly the final season will air.
But if that feels like too long to wait, you could always give an early outline from author George R.R. Martin a gander for an answer.
A 1993 pitch from the A Song of Ice and Fire architect, previously seen online in 2015 and suddenly resurfacing this week on Business Insider UK (with a hat tip to Mashable), seemingly spells out the outcome for “five central characters,” as Martin describes them: Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage), Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke), Arya Stark (Maisie Williams), Bran Stark (Isaac Hempstead-Wright) and Jon Snow (Kit Harington), destined to “[grow] from children to adults and [change] the world and themselves in the process.”
Of course, all five of those characters are alive and well — well, alive, at least. One could argue that Bran isn’t even Bran anymore, and certainly Arya seems unwell, having trouble readjusting to life back home in Winterfell. For his part, Jon Snow has been through death’s door once before, and could pass through again as soon as this week’s coming episode, “Death Is the Enemy.” Tyrion and Daenerys are the safest of the five at the moment, despite the Hand of the Queen striking out strategically on several recent occasions, not to mention the Dragon Queen being all too eager to charge into battle on her own. Still, all five of these characters Martin identifies as “[making] it through all three volumes” are still within the realm of the living, if only for now.
That’s not to say they will be alive for long, or that Martin’s story should be held accountable to an initial pitch written almost 25 years ago. By his own admission within the pitch: “I don’t outline my novels. I find that if I know exactly where a book is going, I lose all interest in writing it.” As a writer, Martin has long described himself as a gardener rather than an architect, planting seeds of stories and seeing where they take him, instead of building rigid blueprints. Even if he knows what he’s planted beneath the soil (one assumes Jon Snow’s Targaryen lineage is an ironclad fact, as an example), Martin leaves himself open to surprises in the growing process.
In that regard, look no further than the fact that he initially pitched A Song of Ice and Fire as a trilogy, which has since become five published novels in the proper series, with two still unreleased installments for seven planned books in total. That’s not even mentioning how far the details of what Martin proposes in this pitch veer away from what he’s actually written — unless we’re heading for some surprise left turn where Jon Snow and Arya confess their love for each other, of course, which is about as unlikely a scenario as it gets. In other words, just because he listed Jon, Bran, Arya, Tyrion and Daenerys as safe “through all three volumes,” doesn’t mean the man hasn’t changed his mind, and certainly doesn’t mean Game of Thrones showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss don’t have their own ideas in mind.
With all of that said, this sentence from Martin’s outline is interesting under closer scrutiny: “In a sense, my trilogy is almost a generational saga.” Now that’s an idea that might be instructive for how this story is coming in for a landing. Looking through the thousands of years of Westeros history (much of which is described within the pages of The World of Ice and Fire by Martin and Westeros.org co-founders Elio Garcia and Linda Antonsson), one common thread becomes clear: Starks, Lannisters, Targaryens and other recognizable names run rampant throughout the centuries, somehow surviving no matter how many deadly obstacles are thrown their way. Ancient wars against unholy monsters, countless rebellions, petty in-fighting … throughout it all, many of the major houses have endured in the face of overwhelming odds.
It’s easy to see how the end of Game of Thrones might keep that tradition alive, allowing at least one or more representatives from great houses to survive through the end. Bran doesn’t identify as Bran anymore, and there’s an argument that there’s no place like home for Arya anymore either, but Sansa (Sophie Turner) is certainly being positioned to keep House Stark alive moving forward. Cersei (Lena Headey) and Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) feel like they are on a collision course with disaster, but Tyrion could keep House Lannister in the mix. There are two Targaryen options in Jon Snow and Daenerys, too; only one needs to survive in order to keep the family alive.
There are other houses and regions of Westeros primed for the next generation, too. For instance, Gendry (Joe Dempsie) returned this week, the last Baratheon, albeit an illegitimate one. But House Baratheon was originally founded by a bastard, which puts Gendry in an interesting place to echo some ancient history. Likewise, Samwell Tarly (John Bradley) is positioned to fulfill a similarly circular destiny. Long ago, in the days of Aegon’s Conquest, House Gardener was in charge of the Reach, their line completely extinguished in the Targaryen invasion. Sound familiar? Following House Tyrell’s collapse across seasons six and seven, Sam’s father was in line to take over Highgarden, before meeting the business end of Dany’s dragonfire. As Jon’s best friend and Jorah Mormont’s (Iain Glen) savior, Sam should have an easy time getting along with Daenerys, assuming he doesn’t hold a grudge over what she did to his father (a man Sam feared and loathed by all accounts). His ascension to Lord of the Reach would be yet another fulfillment of the idea of A Song of Ice and Fire as “a generational saga.”
After five books and almost seven full seasons, Thrones viewers should know that nobody’s safety is guaranteed within this story, certainly not as promised more than two decades ago. But if Martin’s a gardener, and if he planted the seeds of “a generational saga,” then it’s worth chewing on the strong possibility that some version of Westeros and its historical families will still be standing when all is said and done — even if the specific representatives of those families remain very much in flux.
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