There are certain things we Game of Thrones fans dread. One is weddings. Another is trials (by combat or by High Sparrow). But chiefly we fear loveable supporting characters signing up for dangerous missions.
When Gendry agreed to follow Jon Snow north of The Wall within minutes of him returning to the show, was there a single fan who didn’t groan in despair? Jon – safely enveloped in plot armour – is basically untouchable. But the people around him drop dead constantly. And they’re usually more interesting than him. Now he’s leading fan-favourites like The Hound, Jorah, Gendry and Tormund into White Walker-filled territory, and there’s not a hope in hell of all of them returning home safely – not least because the next episode is the penultimate one, famed for being the most death-filled episode of every season. Well, Jorah, you’ve had a good run. Daenerys was never going to return your feelings anyway.
Game of Thrones has a reputation for indiscriminately killing its characters – but, if you look closely, certain characters are Valyrian steel-proof. The reason the ‘Jon Snow’s dead’ cliffhanger didn’t work has less to do with the fact that Kit Harington didn’t cut his hair, and more to do with the fact that Jon’s impossible to kill while the mystery of his birth remains unsolved. Once he’s outed as a secret (and legitimate – if Gilly’s book was correct) Targaryen, then all bets are off. Daenerys might very well decide to roast him alive in order to protect her throne. But, until then, Jon couldn’t be safer if he was tucked away in a panic room.
Tyrion is running thin on plot armour – unless the theories around why he was able to touch Dany’s dragons are true – but we can expect him to survive at least long enough to have a face-to-face showdown with Cersei. Bran is basically invulnerable and omnipotent now – the carrier of far too much knowledge to be done away with just yet. Daenerys has to take on the White Walkers with her dragons, otherwise what is even the point of this show? And the Stark women are safe for now – although I wouldn’t count on it staying that way.
In a show like Game of Thrones, ‘safe’ characters are not interesting. When Ned Stark was killed, it became clear that anyone could die – except, on closer inspection, it actually became clear that anyone who had served their purpose could die. Three people on Jon’s mission already have died, at least from the audience’s perspective. We’ve already grieved for The Hound and Jorah once, we don’t want to do it again. (But Beric Dondarrion can die properly this time, we don’t care about him.) We lost Gendry for three and a half seasons. These are clearly not characters that the show can’t live without – it did live without them, for quite some time. And no matter how much we want Tormund to end up with Brienne, his ‘big woman’, wishing it isn’t going to make it so.
The same applies to the likes of Davos, Bronn, Theon, Missandei and Brienne. The reason that epic fight between Brienne and The Hound was so tense is because either one of them could have died. They both could have died. They’re not ‘safe’ characters. During Daenerys’ dragon attack, we were more worried for Bronn than we were for Jaime, because while Jaime has unfinished business with Cersei he’s safe, but Bronn had ‘doomed’ stamped on his forehead.
Even the show’s disposable villains are great, with Euron Greyjoy stepping into the doomed boots of Ramsay Bolton and King Joffrey this season. They can be a little more fun, broader, more absolutely batshit crazy, because we know they have a limited shelf life. If Cersei had been at Euron Greyjoy levels of mental since season one, it would have worn thin by now.
Game of Thrones’ supporting characters need to be great, because they’re the ones that are going to die. If we don’t love them, their death won’t have an impact. And, at the same time, part of the reason they’re so great is because there’s a sense of danger around them. We could lose them at any moment. Every time Jorah says a noble goodbye to Daenerys (three times and counting), we scream at the TV because his death seems so inevitable. Every time Jon says bye to someone, we take the opportunity to check Facebook. Eh, he’ll be fine.
The show needs its supporting characters – they’re the best ones. If it’s going to step up the indiscriminate death as the end approaches, then we just have to hope that they pace themselves. They might be killable, but we’re just not ready to lose Davos, The Hound or Brienne just yet.