Wading the Gray Area: Moral Ambiguity and Game of Thrones

**SPOILER WARNING: This posts discusses the most recent Game of Thrones episode, “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms.” If you haven’t watched it, avert your eyes!**

Last night’s episode of Game of Thrones was unique in that, recently, we haven’t seen many thoughtful, introspective beats– ones that remind us that these people are, in fact, people. People who have done a plethora of things: great people who have done terrible things, and conversely, horrible people who have done kind, benevolent things.

This ambiguity was on full display in one scene in particular: where Sir Jaime Lannister presents himself before Daenerys Targaryen and House Stark, offering his service and life to save Westeros from its impending White Walker doom. Daenerys not-so-gently reminds him, hey, you killed my dad.

The North remembers, and so does she.

Jaime counters, and fully admits to his earned title of Kingslayer; in fact, he suggests that he’d do it all again for his family. However, he’s there to set things right, and reminds the room that “this is about survival.” After all, no house matters if the whole of Westeros falls to the Night King.

As Daenerys prepares to open a can of verbal whoop-ass, Brienne of Tarth stands and defends Jaime’s honor. She knows his past as a bad man who has done despicable things, but that’s he’s also taken a hard road of change.

After all, few have taken such a leverage of change as Jaime Lannister. But we as viewers know that– the majority of the people in that room surrounding him, judging him, do not.

Jaime is moved by her testimony, as is Sansa Stark. He’s permitted to stay and fight, despite a good chunk of those folks wanting to beat him mercilessly.

He spends a lot of the episode trying to make amends, some which fall on deaf ears.

This pulls on our strings of humanity; we KNOW he was trash. We saw it firsthand. But we also watched him suffer, and through the seasons, noticed a change in him.

Something that I said, that wasn’t in the episode: are we gonna turn a blind eye to Daenerys just murdering those who won’t follow her? Which one becomes worse? More tyrannical? As Shirley Manson once sang, “good people, bad people, guess it doesn’t matter people.”

(Seriously, so much of this song applies to various people in Game of Thrones.)

Accusing one of their moral failings while holding those same wrongs yourself is quite the conundrum. Their perceived differences are which one had the right to do it, and whether theirs was just. Jaime thought he was saving the kingdom from a Tyrant. Daenerys thought she was taking rightful vengeance against a world who wronged her legacy.

Can you choose?

Think of the character you find most honorable in Game of Thrones. Can you find something horrible that they did, justified by whatever reason they gave?

Here’s a hint: it’s nearly every single one of them. Even the most stalwart men have done things forbidden to them. Whether those moments end in triumph or tragedy is the real crap shoot. We’ve seen every kind of outcome on the show.

Truly though, this whole episode shows us what being human is. We see enemies share a drink (and INCREDIBLE SONG, THANKS PODRICK) together, we see acts of redemption, we see the exploration of youth and feelings and JUST SO MUCH. All this shines even more light on the fact that people, in general, are gray areas. Some are willing to do terrible things for the best reasons. Others will fight– and die– trying to do what’s right. Horrible people can win, and often do. Winter is here, and people are living, in case the dawn brings their death.

In Westeros, just like the real world, nothing is left unchanged.

(As a bonus, here’s Podrick Payne’s rendition of “Jenny’s Song,” a haunting melody ringing out on the eve of the fiercest battle Men will ever know.)

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