Game of Thrones Episode 9 served as either the most shocking hour yet or the least surprising, depending on whether a viewer read the books. Long time Game of Thrones experts knew from the start how Episode 9 would wrap up, but to those who never read a word from author George R.R. Martin, they were blindsided.
Warning: Spoilers follow
When main character Ned Stark was decapitated by sadistic boy King Joffrey in the novels, it stunned readers everywhere. Yet they stayed aboard and read the next three books in the series, and are on edge for the long-awaited fifth installment. However, TV audiences who didn’t see Ned’s death coming at the end of Sunday’s episode are more uncertain.
According to Entertainment Weekly, many fans are threatening to not watch next week’s finale, or any other Game of Thrones episode ever again after Ned’s downfall. Since he was the main character, and was played by fantasy icon Sean Bean, his loss leaves these viewers with nothing left to invest in.
The show has still been renewed for another season, and presumably has enough of an audience left to survive any backlash. After all, the novels survived the aftermath of Ned’s death, and got strong enough to inspire HBO to adapt them in the first place.
However, TV inspires different expectations than books; this kind of audience isn’t used to main characters getting killed in the first season. But there were hints all through the year that key characters weren’t safe: Seemingly important figures like King Robert and Viserys Targaryan were killed very quickly, and Ned’s young son Bran was pushed out of a tower to end the pilot.
Shows like 24, The Shield and Lost gained reputations for killing major characters, signaling to audiences that no one was really safe. Yet no matter what, those programs’ leads always managed to survive — in occasionally outlandish ways — to undercut that argument. However, with Game of Thrones,literally anyone at all can die at any given time, even a lead.
Because Ned died in the first book, his TV demise wasn’t a complete shock to those who read the book. Yet the show’s creators could have easily decided to spare him and forge their own path away from the novels. After all, HBO’s own True Blood is still keeping fan favorite Lafayette alive, even though he died early in author Charlaine Harris’ books.
However, Game of Thrones stayed decidedly true to the novels in Episode 9, in spite of the backlash it risks from newcomers. The outcry became so powerful on the Internet that HBO had to step in, as programming president Sue Naegle assured that “the star is the story” in lieu of Bean and the other actors.
Regardless of the controversy, the other Starks, Lannisters and Targaryans will have to carry the load in Sunday’s season finale, and in the seasons and wars ahead.
Entertainment Weekly- “HBO defends Game of Thrones shocker”