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‘Game of Thrones’ Goes Big-Picture

HBO
HBO

There’s a long-running tension within Game of Thrones between the, well, game of thrones and the much larger struggle to save Westeros from becoming one giant, subzero “Thriller” video. The show typically keeps its viewers from thinking too hard about this with some expertly applied burns and strategically placed goblets of wine, but if you stop to think about it — and many, many have — why does the Iron Throne matter so much if the Night’s King can stroll in at any time and decapitate whoever’s on it?

“The Door” finally offers an actual, in-show answer (as opposed to message-board frantic speculation). This is an episode that zooms way out, definitively framing almost every one of this show’s infinite plot threads in terms of the Big Picture. The White Walkers aren’t just mindless invaders, they’re a backfired WMD designed to fend off an earlier invasion — humanity, back when it was the new kid on the Westerosi block provoking the Children of the Forest into unleashing their nuclear option. Hodor isn’t just a medieval Lennie Small; he’s collateral damage in the struggle to save mankind, a struggle we now know has been in the works since literally the dawn of (man-made) time.

Similarly, Daenerys isn’t just a talented warlady with a penchant for grand, flaming gestures — she’s the real Prince That Was Promised, the savior that Melisandre has so often invoked (albeit with Jon Snow in mind). “Stormborn” is only the first of approximately seven hundred and eighty-two titles she’s racked up over the years, including “Mother of Dragons,” “Breaker of Chains,” and, most recently, “khaleesi to end all khaleesis.” But her latest supporter, a Red Priestess who made such a strong impression that Tyrion shipped her in from Volantis, offers up a job title that’s both more grandiose and more important than any of Dany’s self-assigned monikers: chosen one.

Ironically, Dany is arguably the most skilled player of the very game we’ve been slowly shown might not be worth all those mass casualties after all. It’s no coincidence that Littlefinger, one of her few competitors in that regard, shows up in “The Door” — only to be dismissively swept off the board. Daenerys, on the other hand, gets promoted to another league entirely: She looks an awful lot like the messiah of a god who’s already demonstrated he’s capable of some serious shit indeed. Melisandre might have gotten a few of the details wrong, but any deity that’s capable of resurrecting the dead, spawning murderous shadow babies, and supplying industrial-strength wrinkle cream to his most devoted followers isn’t totally full of it.

And with a worthier title come worthier adversaries. After all, a bunch of infighting aristocrats won’t pose much of a challenge to a woman who just flash-fried a room full of accomplished warriors. A genocidal ice king with a horde of reanimated minions sounds like more of a fair fight — and way more fun to watch.

This piece originally appeared in the May 23, 2016, edition of the Ringer newsletter.