Game of Thrones – and the book series that inspired it – is renowned for its high bodycount. What defines the series, of course, is not just the number of characters its happy to kill off, but the choice of characters and the timing. Ned Stark is the Ur-example; the shining paragon of nobility who met his end towards the end of season one when he’d been positioned as the show’s protagonist.
He’s maybe not the best example, though: more shocking was the surprise death of Renly Baratheon, arriving out of nowhere and dispatching a character that was complex and interesting before his arc had properly begun. Similarly the recent assassination of King Joffrey was shocking on a narrative level, demonstrating a willingness to off prominent characters that few series possess (outside of the occasional actor wishing to leave the show, naturally).
But there’s some deadwood in the Game of Thrones universe that, I would argue, deserve to meet the same fate as Joffrey and Renly. So I present a hit-list of my own – much like Arya’s – of characters that I’d prefer to see meet a grisly fate. Not because I necessarily hold any kind of grudge against these characters, but because they’re an unnecessary weight on the show: anchors that deserve to be released.
Disclaimer: I haven’t read the books, nor do I intend to read past where the show has gotten up to. Therefore this is not founded on any foreknowledge, and may look quite silly to anyone deeply familiar with the series. Deal with it.
Maister Pycelle: Let’s start with the snivelling, conniving Pycelle. If Varys is a spider and Littlefinger is a weasel, then this gentleman is certainly a rat. He’s supposed to be smarter than he looks, with his affectations of enfeeblement, but he still hasn’t demonstrated much intelligence and is, simply, one cook too many in King’s Landing. He remains alive only because Tyrion underestimated the man, but it seems implausible by now that a man who’s only defences are a loyalty to whoever has a power in concert with some geriatric overacting has yet to meet his maker. Clearing him from the deck leaves room for the more interesting players in King’s Landing to dominate the narrative. Speaking of…
Tywin Lannister: Okay, unlike Pycell, Tywin is a great character, inhabited with panache by Charles Dance. I enjoy watching him lord over his licentious brood of children, manipulating them with the confidence that true power is manipulation, not titles or gold or armies (though those are important too). But Tywin’s death – not necessarily immediately – would be a boon to the show, in much the same way that offing Joffrey presents a power vacuum at the heart of the show. It’s not impossible to imagine – he pushes his children so far, one might just push back – and would leave King’s Landing a more tenuous, but far more interesting place.
Shae: Shae’s just recently departed the thoroughly unsafe sanctuary of King’s Landing, so there’s a slim chance we won’t hear from her again, dead or alive. It’s for the best. Shae is the single female character on this sausage fest of a list, and that’s no accident – while Westeros might be dominated by men, most of the most interesting characters are female. Shae is an exception; she’s the classic “whining wife” archetype, who since arriving at King’s Landing has had her character arc bifurcated to consistently complaining about Tyrion’s behaviour towards her. This isn’t even a Skyler White-type situation, where her complaints are more than justified, but inane objections towards a man doing his best to protect her life in a precarious situation. It’s bad writing of a bad character.
Samwell Tarly: Sam was a refreshing character in the first two seasons of Game of Thrones because he was – like so much of the series – a subversion. On the surface he’s the Mary Sue of the series, a bookish, ungainly neckbeard that George RR Martin and many of his readers can relate all too well to. It’s a common character in fantasy – the overlooked, overintelligent everyman who saves the day – but Sam was actually incompetent. Sadly, the subversion has begun to trend towards cliché, with Sam’s love for history leading him to a potent weapon against the white walkers. True subversion would be to off Sam before he can convince anyone else he knows what he’s talking about; he’s already lucky enough to have survived battle without a grain of fighting ability.
The Mountain: Gregor Clegane is another stereotype altogether – a brutal barbarian, physically gigantic, morally repugnant and decidedly uninteresting. He’s been recast not once, but twice across four seasons. I loved Conan Stevens’ presence in the role in the first season, and while “3rd strongest man in the world” Hafþór “Thor” Björnsson might be able to match his physicality, I’m not convinced this one-note character is worth all the effort. Prince Oberyn – who has good reason to wish vengeance upon Clegane – is already a more compelling character after three episodes.
Balon Greyjoy: Yawn? Yawn. He’s likely not long for the world given he’s the third of Stannis’ three leeches, but the sooner he pays the true iron price, the better.
Jorah Mormont: Jorah was an important figure in Daenerys’ early arc, but he’s increasingly marginalized. This was on full display in the latest episode, where Daenerys has to choose from a steadily increasing list of sidekicks for her champion. Jorah just isn’t necessary anymore, but while necessary isn’t, well, necessary, interesting is. There’s the potential for Jorah to be an interesting character – his murky past could be an engaging contrast with Daenerys’ anti-slavery agenda – but that potential has never been realised and frankly, he does more for the narrative by dying than his continued unrequired pining for his Queen.
Jon Snow: Sam and Gregor made the list because they’re underwhelming clichés, and that’d be sufficient to put Jon’s head on the chopping block. He’s an example of the least-interesting fantasy trope – angsty young man with a complicated pedigree (he’s a Stark, but not really) who’s a gifted soldier destined to do great things. But this cliché exists for a reason – it’s relatable and there’s something to be said for a character straddling the divide between nobility and civilians.
Sadly, while Jon Snow might be an interesting character on the page, Kit Harrington’s brand of bland handsomeness robs it of anything noteworthy. He knows nothing of how to portray emotions beyond “vaguely constipated,” which was in stark evidence in his time amongst the wildlings. We should’ve wondered at his moral dilemma faced with Mance … but any sense of internal conflict is lost in a vacant expression and a wispy beard. We need a reason to care about the White Walkers advancing on the wall and, sadly, Jon Snow ain’t it. Perhaps he’d be more interesting as a White Walker?