Wrapping up the fantasy - how will Game of Thrones end?
The hugely popular TV show Game of Thrones has two seasons to go; already the showrunners, David Benioff and Daniel Weiss, are speeding towards the endgame. But providing a satisfactory conclusion to a show that has multiple, interweaving storylines and which incorporates both realist and high fantasy elements is no easy task.
George R R Martin, author of the A Song of Ice and Fire series on which the show is based, is also obliged to invent endings for narratives within an even more complex storyworld. Can Benioff and Weiss - and Martin - wrap things up in a way that will satisfy the fan communities and make narrative sense?
One of the pleasures of both show and books is the multiple genres that they encompass. Detective story, horror, sci-fi have all been invoked: who killed Jon Arryn, and why, was a pressing question in the first and fourth seasons.
Horror tropes are activated when the zombie wight army and the White Walkers loom into view; meanwhile discredited Maester, Qyburn, is reinventing himself as Victor Frankenstein in his laboratory down in the Black Cells. The genres of epic, comedy, myth and tragedy offer different possibilities for closure to the stories of the Targaryens, Starks and Lannisters - and the rest of the Known World.
A comic ending - in the sense of Shakespeare's comedies - is attractive. In this scenario, Daenerys wins the Iron Throne, marries Jon Snow, has lots of children to perpetuate the Targaryen dynasty, and everyone in King's Landing lives happily ever after.
One of JRR Tolkien's plots within The Lord of the Rings came to just such a conclusion; Aragorn became king and ruled wisely and well for a hundred years. Martin has expressly criticised the conventional nature of Tolkien's comic ending though, and this solution would leave a number of questions unanswered, even if the Starks become Wardens of the North once more and Tyrion is Hand of the Queen.
Epic, meanwhile, is a public and political genre, concerned with the rise and fall of empires. An epic scenario would expand on the comic version by offering global solutions to the narratives. In this scenario, I'd expect more focus on the Essos plots, closing down the saga of Slavers's Bay with the restoration of the slave-trade. The city of Volantis, the regional super-power, would intervene to restore the status quo. Peace would be restored throughout the Seven Kingdoms, thanks to Daenerys and Jon's combined wisdom and firepower. These turbulent few decades in Westeros and Essos history would come to a satisfying end.
Comic or epic endings don't solve the North's most pressing problem however: Winter is coming, but a winter unlike any in living memory. How can the Westerosi combat or call off the implacable White Walkers?
A heroic ending?
Now that Benioff and Weiss's vision has gone beyond the plot material in Martin's published works, they are free to opt for a heroic-mythic ending. The fan community would certainly like to see a titanic battle between the forces of fire, embodied by the dragons, and the petrifying antithetical figures of the White Walkers/Others, along with their Army of the Dead.
A heroic ending would mesh with the prophecy that the legendary warrior, Azor Ahai, will be reborn in order to overcome the existential threat to the Known World. Jon and Dany (representing Azor Ahai as male and female principles) could sally forth on dragon - back to battle against the blue-eyed ice-demons.
But if they are to save the Seven Kingdoms, their triumph will surely come at a cost. Fans have speculated that, by virtue of his Stark ancestry, Jon could become the new Night's King, the White Walkers' leader, and negotiate a peace on their behalf with the southern humans. That would put paid to his chances of sitting on the Iron Throne, but his sacrifice might be worth it.