Game of Thrones Finale Discussion: At What Point Do Shocking Deaths Become a Gimmick?

Everything is not going to be OK. Photo: HBO

If you are reading this, you have likely finished watching the season five finale of Game of Thrones. And what a finale it was. Spoilers ahead for the season five finale of Game of Thrones.

Cersei has her walk of shame. Arya crosses one name off her to-do list and loses her sight for it. Daenerys is left surrounded by Dothraki. Myrcella is poisoned by Elaria Sand. Sansa and Theon jump out of Winterfell. Stannis is no longer a living man-nis. And last but definitely not least, that kid I'll give you a million doll-hairs if you remember the name of finishes off Jon Snow. Ultimately, you can say the episode was filled with all the twists and turns we expect from Game of Thrones. But is that expectation a problem?

Last month, as part of Red Nose Day's Coldplay-written Game of Thrones musical, Peter Dinklage as Tyrion sang a song mocking all the characters who have died, while he's "still going strong." In that lay the fundamental thing everyone, fans and nonfans, book readers and show watchers, knows about Games of Thrones: Anyone can be killed at any moment. It's in part what made the show so exciting at first — they killed Ned, the effing protagonist, in the first season, reflecting the book. But a dozen big-name deaths later, I feel like Wile E. Coyote, just going through the motions, knowing eventually I'll look down and be "surprised" there is no ground underneath me.

My reaction to Stannis's death, and especially Jon's, was not surprise or anger (like Robb's and Oberyn's deaths were respectively) — it was annoyance. This again? Aren't we done with this? If an audience expects to be "shocked," shocking deaths are no longer shocking; they're perfunctory.

I'm not saying that no character, or even no major character, should die, but what would have been really surprising is if the season ended with all the big players still in play. I can imagine if Stannis made it through the season, only to die in the first episode of season six — that would've been surprising. Instead, Stannis felt like a fulfilled quota. I have not read the books, but from what I understand he is currently still alive in them. I ask book readers: Did that make his death more shocking or more annoying?

I know these deaths were one of the things that made the show special, but at what point do they become a gimmick? Discuss!