3 Major Storytelling Lessons from Game Of Thrones’ Devastating Season Finale

3 Major Storytelling Lessons from Game Of Thrones’ Devastating Season Finale

When I checked my Twitter feed a few days ago, I found it flooded with pissed-off tweets about the last episode of Game of Throne’s fifth season.

Watchers wrote angry blog posts, took their rage to the social media platforms and announced their boycott.

Seriously, the intense finale episode has proved that even in its fifth season, Game of Thrones knows how to ruffle feathers. If you think you’re know where this story is going, buckle up and crash into uncertainty.

I want to share with you the 3 major story lessons from this greeeeat series. Trigger warning for the perpetually offended.

3 major Game of Thrones lessons for storytellers

Put your character at risk. SERIOUS risk.

No character, no matter how popular *cough*does it Snow in here?*cough*, is guaranteed to live on in Game of Thrones. And that’s thrilling.

One of the biggest reasons why Hollywood movies suck is because the main character will survive.

It’s a guarantee.

Tension therefor is fake and superficial, because deep inside, you know how the story ends.

Now, saying: let’s just kill a bunch of people is rarely a good storytelling method. But if you’re deliberate about your char’s death, and you embed it
skillfully into the story, you’re in for an emotional payoff.

A character that can’t die is like Superman, and the guy from Krypton is probably the most boring superhero of them all. In order to fear for a character, there has to be the possibility of death. Otherwise he’s just a fictional entity with zero emotional pull.

Nothing is taboo. Everything goes.

Decapitation, castration, slut-shaming, rape, children getting burned, crippled, blinded and poisoned.

Most series and books play it safe and politically correct. Because with today’s outrage culture, everything becomes problematic.

Create a jokingly in-game eulogy about a trans-person? You’re transphobic (it’s really a word)
Create a female who’s a house wive? You’re regressive, or even better, a misogynist!
Create a classic male protagonist? You’re promoting toxic, straight white male masculinity!


It seems like the internet’s populated by adult kids with the emotional stability of three year old girls (see what I did there). How dare you write something that could trigger the special snowflakes.

For example, author Chuck Wendig announced on his blog that he was going to quit watching Game of Thrones because the show apparently hates their audience…and women in general. He goes on to say that it’s women getting hurt and men doing the hurting.

Really? What show were you watching? This outrage reminded me of the shitstorm when Sansa Stark got raped by Ramsay Bolton. Some parts of the internet blew up and RAGEQUIT the show, blaming the show runners for misogyny.

Even feminist online mag The Mary Sue started their Game of Thrones boycott because of that single scene.

Hypocrisy times H8.

In case you can’t remember, Theon Greyjoy was CASTRATED and ABUSED LIKE A STRAY DOG by Ramsay. The torturer even renamed him to Reek, stripping
away any humanity that was left in Theon’s wounded soul.

No outrage about that, because Theon was a man, but when a women gets abused, which BTW you don’t even see (the camera turns away), the internet explodes with fem frags.

Truth is, every character in GRRM’s universe, regardless of gender, is a death row inmate. It’s the uber-grim style of the show.

Men are not the exception, they are the worst victims.

Men’s eyes get stabbed out, their dicks cut off, their teeth punched out, their faces smashed like watermelons. They get poisoned, stabbed by friends, thrown off cliffs, decapitated and eaten by dragons. If there’s a kind of death you haven’t seen yet, wait for it. There’s always a next season. In GRRM’s universe, death is ever-present. The question is not if the character dies, but when. No gender is safe. Of course, through the lens of an ideologue, you see only what your tunnel view allows you to.

Game of Thrones thankfully ignores the PC-crippled hivemind and goes to the edges of what seems to be socially acceptable.

In a world where everything is possible, everything becomes exciting.

Break the story tropes

A trope is basically the stereotype of telling a particular story. It’s used ad nauseam and bores your membrane, but it’s familiar, and creators think familiarity sells.

Let’s check out some basic story tropes:

A chosen, young man discovers his true destiny and embarks on a dangerous journey to save the world.

Two unlikely people falling in love, having the time of life, experiencing trouble because of their differences and then enjoying a happy end because the differences actually make their relationship whole?

Knight sets out to defeat the evil dragon in the cave and rescue the princess?

Possible one of the oldest tropes out there.

Now Hollywood loves some tropes. They worked in the past (read: made lots of moolah), so they’ll work in the future, until they don’t.

Jon Snow was the one of the major characters with the hero trope.
Unlikely boy discovers his true fate and embarks on a dangerous journey to save the world?
Except when he was betrayed by his own comrades in the Nightwatch. Jon’s death snow-balled into the end of a five season long trope. Wonderful.

If you want to play it safe, use tropes. If you want to tell an exciting story, break tropes,
or at least, twist them. When your reader feels safe because (he thinks) he knows what to expect, hit ‘em hard.


Game of Thrones is far from perfect, but its lessons are invaluable to every storyteller. In a world where stories play by the numbers, doing the unexpected will piss of the feeble-minded but enthrall the true fans.

What’s your major story lesson from Game of Thrones?

If you found this post useful, share it with the folks you care about.

  • Amelia Robin King

    *Slow clap*
    All you mention above is what makes GOT and Shameless such bold and edgy tv shows. (Well death it’s not a major thing on Shameless but anyway).
    I know somebody mentioned this before,”The great thing with GoT it’s anyone could die, and the bad thing is everybody could die” .
    It’s not easy see yout fav characters die, and yes we want to see our heroes defeat evil, but it’s refreshing having a show doing the homework of actually surprise the audience.
    I loved how I didn’t see “that” coming. That’s something I used to like when I was an anime fan.Not that my characters die, but the suspense…
    Now, it’s easy to understand why fans are so pissed off. Robert Mckee explained how stories are the only place where life have some sense or meaning, so if we don’t get a happy ending in a story the where is it?
    I’m not sure If would handle too many shows like GoT in terms of major deaths, but I’m glad this one have the balls and take the risk.

    I think one of the best lessons (including what you already mention) is create great secondary characters no matter if they are going to die. Make them do great things not just letting them in the background.

    Also I feel a little bit dissapointed with The Mary Sue, it wasn’t like the show was encouraging rape or portraying it like a good thing.

    Excuse me for my long comment and my english…

    • http://www.marsdorian.com/ Mars Dorian

      Agree. If every show was like GoT, we’d all need Prozac and Ritalin to come down, heh. But there’s pretty much no show like it, that’s why even the morbid style is sooo refreshing.

      I also think it’s good for the overall genre/TV Series biz. Just like Harry Potter launched a boom in fantasy books/series/games/movies, which hasn’t stopped yet, GoT expands the scope of what is possible in a story. I’m sure it influences many more storytellers and might even inspire showrunners to take more risks with their stories and characters.

      Now let’s see if Jon Snow arises from the dead in season 6;)

      • Amelia Robin King

        Yeah, I’m so influenced by GoT right now that I can’t wait to kill a character in my stories in the future, or not having engames in terms of couples.

        I wish Jon backs, even if we have to wait until season 7.

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