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A Tale of Three Corpses: ‘Game of Thrones’ Goes for Broke

HBO
HBO

He’s alive! As we hoped and, deep in our flaming hearts, knew Jon Snow would be. One of Game of Thrones’ few out-and-out heroes is back in the picture, a twist that feels all the more satisfying for being the exact inverse of the show’s previous shockers. There’s even a neat symmetry with the death of his own father, another leader whose moral compass led him straight to his own grave. (Other small joys: Melisandre has her groove back, and Kit Harington the right to roam the streets of Belfast in relative peace.)

But while Jon’s resurrection was the biggest thing that happened last night, it’s worth zooming out and taking a look at the world he’s been dragged back into. Though his revival didn’t need any additional hype, it came on the heels of two other changes in life status. And those deaths might be even more shocking, given that they didn’t come on the heels of almost a year of frantic theorizing.

Roose Bolton and Balon Greyjoy had plenty in common — besides a shared penchant for emotionally manipulating their children. Both were elder statesmen who’d waited their turns to climb Westeros’s ladder of chaos; both executed their plans with a decade’s worth of grudge-holding and expertly tactical shrewdness (Roose) or ferocity (Balon). And now both men have been murdered, and seem sure to be succeeded, by younger versions of themselves — younger versions who don’t plan to take advantage of chaos so much as revel in it. Ramsay Bolton is a sadist, both sexual and otherwise, who wants power less for political status than for raw, uncut freedom. And while we don’t know who or even what Euron Greyjoy (a.k.a. That Dude on the Bridge) is, he appears to be playing an entirely different game of you-know-whats than everybody else.

The arc of Game of Thrones’ particular moral universe has always bent toward anarchy. We started with one king, and then bumped up to five. And now all five of those would-be rulers are out of the picture, with a pack of wild cards in their place. It’s a world now scrubbed of a whole generation of men committed to asserting some kind of order from the top of that ladder. Which also sounds an awful lot like a world in need of a messiah. Anyone know where to find one of those?

This piece originally appeared in the May 2, 2016, edition of the Ringer newsletter.