Is Love the Death of Duty? ‘Game of Thrones’ Says Yes

I had many issues with the Game of Thrones finale, as I established both in my review and in the roundtable, and there are probably still a few rants in my future about how badly this show bungled GRRM’s vision, and just, in general, how they went from telling a compelling story with compelling characters to becoming a vessel for shock.

But one of the things that bothers me the most, a little over a week after that disappointing finale, has more to do with a general message, a theme of the series, if you will, than with the dumbass endings to everyone’s character arcs.

Though those still bother me, don’t think I’m happy. I’m just picking my battles. Or ranting in some sort of order, as it were.

So allow me to focus on this whole ‘Love is the death of duty’ theme, as presented by Jon and Tyrion as a justification for killing Dany, and upheld by everyone’s endings.

Though, on its face, the fact that Jon does kill Daenerys seems to contradict this message – HE PUT DUTY FIRST, after all, the fact is that the endings of every other major character in the show end up reinforcing the notion that you cannot have both love and power – to put it more bluntly, that if you have love, you cannot do your duty.

And, that if you have love, you cannot be you.


Love makes you dumb, you see. You fall in love, and bam, there goes rational thinking. The brain short-circuits, and poof, you’re useless! Especially if you’re a woman, because God forbid you deal with all that plus hormones.

Nah, can’t be done.

Jon kills Daenerys, yes, putting “duty” above love, but his story is framed as the exception that confirms the rule, in the same way Jon is framed as the ONE MAN WHO CAN MAKE THIS ZOMG SO DIFFICULT CHOICE. And it’s not like him putting “duty” above love gets him a happy ending, either.

The point of Game of Thrones seems to be that no matter what the hell you do, you cannot get a happy ending, after all.

But back to love and duty. Let’s examine Brienne first. Why couldn’t she have duty, the kind she always wanted, as a member of the Kingsguard, and love too? I mean, other than because the writers wanted to kill Jaime in the most nonsensical way possible, I mean.

The way this storyline progressed – whatever the intention, and let’s be clear, intentions mean jack shit when compared to the actual message – meant that the Brienne that spent time with Jaime was framed as weak, giving into emotions framed as a mistake, and a woman like her daring to hope for more than duty, was framed as asking for too much.


Jaime could only love beautiful Cersei, after all, no matter how many awful things she did. It didn’t matter if Brienne was good, kind and honorable, and it didn’t matter if she taught Jaime how to be all of those.

Love is the death of duty, so when the writers had to choose one path for Brienne, they obviously chose the one where she ends up alone.

Or worse – they chose Jaime’s path based on the very same stupid notion, and doomed Brienne by extension.

Either way, the choice reflects the idea that a character like Brienne cannot do her duty and love at the same time, that balance is somehow impossible, and that’s borderline offensive. People all over the world love and live and undertake thousands of hard and complicated tasks without needing to cut themselves off from any vestige of human emotion.

Feelings aren’t something to be ashamed of, and the idea that having nothing to love is the only way to do your duty is preposterous.

But, of course, that wasn’t the only problematic theme running through the series finale of Game of Thrones. The idea that balance is impossible manifested itself in Arya’s storyline, as well, in the same insidious way.


You could say Arya chose herself, because if there’s one thing we can all agree about Arya Stark, is that she never wanted to be a lady. But did Arya choose herself or did a bunch of men chose what they thought a woman had to do to be strong? Considering the makeup of the writer’s room on Game of Thrones, I don’t think I have to answer that question.

Arya didn’t need to be a lady to be with Gendry, and she didn’t need to change to be in a romantic relationship. Gendry never wanted to be a Lord, all he wanted was to be with Arya, so the common sense scenario would have been for Arya to be like hey, Gendry, you wanna come on a roadtrip with me?

Except that smelled too much of happiness, and happiness is bad, or something.

By choosing to forsake love, not just romantic love, but any kind of love, to paint it as an obstacle in doing your duty, in being good, the show could only end the way it did, with loneliness. And after eight years of investing in these characters, we expected better than to be told they were never going to be allowed one iota of happiness.

Duty comes first, after all.

Game of Thrones aired Sundays at 9/8c on HBO.


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