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Who would have thought that an anachronistic coffee cup on the set of a television show would have outpaced a trade war with China as a news story? And that was even before the controversial penultimate episode of Game of Thrones aired. An article in USA Today sums up the significance Game of Thrones has had for its viewers: “‘Game of Thrones’ is the defining pop-cultural experience of the millennial generation.” That’s a significant burden to place on a television series, even one that spread over a decade.
The author of the USA Today article, Kelly Lawler, falls back on what can be an effective argumentative tool when used well, the analogy. She compares the Stark children, who grew up in a long and prosperous summer, to millennials: “Their world was always safe, and they were taught by their parents that if they worked hard and followed tradition, they would succeed. . . . But the Stark kids’ adolescence coincided with rapid changes in the sociopolitical environment that shattered their collective worldview.” Meanwhile, millennials grew up looking ahead to a good college, a good job, marriage, kids, a house, and a car. “The American dream and all that. But that’s not how it turned out. Just like the Starks, we were thrust into a chaotic world we didn't create, and now we try to survive. The difference is that we're worried about interest rates instead of dragons.”
Lawler goes so far as to argue that Game of Thrones may be the last television show that millennials will watch together, given the growth of streaming and other means of watching shows that fragment the audience that once tuned in at a certain time on a certain night for the latest installment of a beloved series.
The major controversy that grew out of the next-to-last-ever episode of the saga has inspired arguments that have inundated social media since the first hint it was coming. Viewers had seen Daenerys Targaryen evolve from a rather ethereal young woman with nothing but an empty title to Daenerys of the House Targaryen, the First of Her Name, The Unburnt, Queen of the Andals, the Rhoynar and the First Men, Queen of Meereen, Khaleesi of the Great Grass Sea, Protector of the Realm, Lady Regnant of the Seven Kingdoms, Breaker of Chains, and Mother of Dragons. She gained the troops to cross the Narrow Sea to retake her throne—and gained the love of her people—by freeing slaves and using her dragons to incinerate their masters. She promised to make the kingdom she would rule from King’s Landing a place of freedom and prosperity. What viewers tended to forget was all the times she swore to use blood and fire if necessary to do that. Viewers loved Daenerys, though, and hundreds named their daughters after her. She was a strong, admirable woman—until she wasn’t. Viewers saw it coming, as Danerys suffered emotional blow after blow, and hoped it wouldn’t. Yet, in the moment of her victory, when everything she had ever wanted was hers, Danerys was unable to reign in her fury. Suddenly she became her father, a Targaryen who took pleasure in burning his enemies.
Seldom has a fictional character undergone such scrutiny and such condemnation. Article after article on digital newsfeeds has analyzed Daenerys’s “breaking bad,” her going “Mad Queen.” Will Jon feel morally obligated to kill her to keep her from taking the Iron Throne? Will the people ever accept her as their leader after what she has done? These are the arguments in this week’s headlines.
Kelly Lawler finds Daenerys’s fall from grace oddly fitting: “But in a dark and tragically comical way, a ‘Thrones’ finale letdown only makes it feel more millennial. Many of us expect life to only get worse from here, as we work until we die and the environment degrades around us. For the Starks and millennials alike, winter, as they say, will always be coming.”
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