How the hell did Game of Thrones get its 'OMG Anyone Could Die' reputation?

Zhukov

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(Spoilers for books and TV show.)

It's something I often hear in regards to the series. Sometimes as praise, "Oh it's so unpredictable and surprising, nobody has plot armour, anyone can die just like real life". Sometimes as criticism, "I can't be bothered reading/watching any more, everyone just keeps dying anyway."

And it's bullshit.

There are 14 main POV characters [http://awoiaf.westeros.org/index.php/POV_character]. The total body count among them amounts to... two, maybe three.
- Ned Stark died (incidentally, if his and King Robert's deaths were a surprise then you really weren't paying attention).
- Catelyn Stark died but was brought back to life (in the books). Let's be generous and count her as a death since she might not have come back quite right.
- Jon Snow died but is probably coming back too (and is just peachy in the show but who gives a shit).
- Brienne was last seen in a cliffhanger, but isn't dead yet (and is also just fine in the show).

Honourable mention to Theon/Reek being fucked up to a tranformative degree (in the books, much less so in the show).

Then there are 10 POV characters of lesser importance. Among them the body count is... also two.
- The Kingsguard Knight in Dorne.
- Martell chap sent to woo Dany who got himself roasted.
- One death the show, Barristan Selmy, but a different one because they cut stuff out and... oh, fuck it, who cares.

Technically there's a bunch of very minor POV characters who only appear once in prologues and immediately die. Not counting them for obvious reasons.

So where the hell does the Anyone Can Die thing come from? Because I'm just seeing an ordinary story where the main characters mostly survive and a whole bunch of secondary characters get killed off whenever things need to get dramatic. It's totally conventional in any story involving violence and death.

That's not a criticism by the way. Those conventions exist for a reason and it's not GRRM's duty to overturn them or anything. Just utterly puzzled by the series' reputation.
 

balladbird

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Almost all of it comes from the Ned Stark/red wedding 1-2 combo punch. The thing about swaying an audience is that you only have to genuinely surprise them once in a while. After that, even if you follow the laws of conventional narrative and plot, there'll always be a bit of fear in them that the unexpected will happen again. The spectacle of those one or two shocking scenes will make them numb to the fact that the threat of death for main characters isn't actually as big as they think it is.

One thing I will say to the series' credit (the book series far more than the tv series) is that they actually pace out the "surprising MC death!" events pretty well. If you get too kill happy you lose audience investment, because no one can get attached to characters coming in and out of a revolving door, and if you hold off on killing too long then the tension gradually lessens.

Ned dies in book one, the red wedding takes place in book 3, and Jon Snow's betrayal is in book 5. Those three are really the only events that were "shocking" narratively, but they were just big enough and just spaced out enough that they loaned the series a feeling of mortality and consequence, even though, as you correctly pointed out, the actual body count of important characters is pretty low.
 

Thaluikhain

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Stark was played by Sean Bean. I guess nobody expected him to play someone that gets killed. Again.

But, eh, I don't understand how GoT got any of it's reputation. Well, excepting the incest and rape and stuff, it is notable for having more than most shows.

[small]Huh, Got got...didn't notice that[/small]
 

Saelune

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I just want someone to kill Littlefinger. He has -no- business being alive. Sansa should have killed him, or Brienne.
 

Adam Jensen_v1legacy

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It's because of the way the show is done. They made it so that everything appears to revolve around the Starks and Daenerys, and to slightly lesser degree Tyrion. Those are all your typical good guys, your typical protagonists. Almost the entire story in the earlier seasons appeared to be about them and from their perspective. At least that's what the showrunners wanted the audience to think. So to a lot of people it came as a bit of a shock when it turned out that a lot of those characters weren't important enough to keep alive. And if they're not important enough to keep alive, who is? I think that's the logic behind it.

I thought that it was obvious from the beginning that Jon and Daenerys are central characters. It was obvious to me even reading the books. Jon is the only main character who's aware of the real threat beyond the Wall and Daenerys is the only character that wasn't even in Westeros. And then she got her dragons. And the books are called "A Song of Ice and Fire". How much more obvious does it have to be that they're the ones that matter the most?

Saelune said:
I just want someone to kill Littlefinger. He has -no- business being alive. Sansa should have killed him, or Brienne.
I think he's going to die in the finale. There's only 6 episode left after season finale and those are going to be about the war with the White Walkers. Littlefinger didn't manage to accomplish what he wanted and there's no time left. His arc is done. He's a goner. You'll get your wish, I can almost guarantee it.
 

Phasmal

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A lot of people thought Ned was safe because he was the "main character".
I think that's the thing I heard the most after he died, "But he was the main character!"
Mostly I think it's that and the Red Wedding which cemented the reputation.
 

stroopwafel

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balladbird said:
Almost all of it comes from the Ned Stark/red wedding 1-2 combo punch. The thing about swaying an audience is that you only have to genuinely surprise them once in a while. After that, even if you follow the laws of conventional narrative and plot, there'll always be a bit of fear in them that the unexpected will happen again. The spectacle of those one or two shocking scenes will make them numb to the fact that the threat of death for main characters isn't actually as big as they think it is.
Exactly this. Killing off important characters(espescially when played by high-profile actors like Sean Bean) isn't something you see often. Though that's not the only thing. These deaths become especially effective when the writers let evil 'triumph'. It brings a degree of unpredictability that's pretty much non-existent in Hollywood productions.

GoT is one of my most favorite shows but I must admit the effect has worn off. Ever since Jon magically came back from the dead I understood both the show and the characters had become too popular for the bold storytelling of the earlier seasons. That and there were few important characters left and the new ones they did introduce weren't interesting.
 

Casual Shinji

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It's less a reputation of anyone can die and more one of a lot of people whose story still seemed to be ongoing kick the bucket. There were a bunch of characters who we expected to continue being part of the story who then suddenly got killed. This along with certain storylines.
 

Trunkage

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I'd point to Martin's desire to kill off a bunch of people. Then he realised that, like most books, you need someone to survive from the start. They have to be the ones going off and adventuring to different places and be the centre of the story.

That being said, there still too many of these people from the start and if he wants to keep that reputation, he shouldn't follow the show.
 

Gethsemani_v1legacy

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Casual Shinji said:
It's less a reputation of anyone can die and more one of a lot of people whose story still seemed to be ongoing kick the bucket. There were a bunch of characters who we expected to continue being part of the story who then suddenly got killed. This along with certain storylines.
This. Let's not forget that Khal Drogo, the guy who intends to invade Westeros, gets offed by a minor wound that gets infected (and from being poisoned by the "treatment"). No matter if you read the books or just watched Momoa chewing scenery, Drogo is played up to be more important then dying by the end of the first book from trivial causes.

Joffrey's death should also count because even if he's a psychopathic asshole, both the book and the show killed off a child in a very graphic fashion.
 

bastardofmelbourne

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With the books, it was mainly three things.

- Martin had a knack for luring the reader into expecting one thing (Ned Stark being sent to the Wall, for example) and then delivering another (Ned Stark being needlessly executed). This increased the impact of each death.
- It was, and still is, unusual for a multi-part fantasy series to kill off its protagonist in the first book.
- It was, and still is, unusual for any writer to kill off a main character without resolving their narrative arc. Authors are supposed to have unrealistically structured plots with arcs of character development. Martin had a habit of killing people before they were "done." Like Catelyn. Or Oberyn.

The problem recently is that season 7 has been layering the plot armour thicker than ever. The showrunners are doing the one thing they had no business doing: pulling their punches. It's kinda killing the appeal for me.
 

Bobular

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bastardofmelbourne said:
The problem recently is that season 7 has been layering the plot armour thicker than ever. The showrunners are doing the one thing they had no business doing: pulling their punches. It's kinda killing the appeal for me.
This is the main issue I have with the current series. I was thinking that there has been no new major characters introduced this season and I think its because they're not needing to replace people.
 
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Casual Shinji said:
It's less a reputation of anyone can die and more one of a lot of people whose story still seemed to be ongoing kick the bucket. There were a bunch of characters who we expected to continue being part of the story who then suddenly got killed. This along with certain storylines.
This. For example, Robb Stark (who I guess didn't get a POV or Zhukov forgot him) seemed to have a big storyline ahead of him as the Stark who survives and outdoes his father, becoming King in the North and rescuing his sisters; he was the pivot point for the war in the south, while Jon had the war in the north. He also had a nice 'love wins out' plot going on.

Then he gets his head chopped off. No resolution, no denouement, he's dead, his mother is dead, all the supporting characters they fleshed out for that is done, and the girl is taken away (or killed herself, in the show). The tension that creates is very valuable, because you believe that anyone can die at any time, whether or not it seems to make narrative sense. The Dornish prince can spend forever crossing the world, getting you acquainted with him and his friends and on his side for his quest, only to burn to death immediately before he gets a chance to really do anything. Why can't Brienne die in this fight in a muddy innyard against some bandits? Why can't Sansa finally push the Lannisters too far and get executed in their court? There's always the possibility of an abrupt end.
 

sXeth

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It's generally an exaggerated trope, and its become wide enough now that its not even surprising.

Buffy was supposedly crazy for killing off major characters too, but very few of them bothered staying dead for even a season. Others with some retrospective, were never really major, and kind of background to begin with.

Prison Break was another one that people often sold like people were dying left and right. But never the main good guys, and the one that did turned out to be alive later anyways.
 

hermes

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It comes from the first seasons/books. In particular, Robb and Ned Stark were unceremoniously killed, when they were clearly presented as main protagonists. There were a lot of named characters killed or maimed in the middle of the first season, like Drogo, Robert, Syrio, Bran, Rhaego (Daenerys' son), Lady... compare it with other fantasy series, and it was almost sadistic in its disregard to the protagonists.

That was a thing in the first books/first seasons of the series, but it gets pulled of in later installments. People complain about the show, but by books 4 and 5, you can pretty much see the same patterns. Personally, I have little issue with it, mostly because if the characters had the same level of plot armor that they had in the first books, there would be no one interesting left to fight off the zombie invasion; and while we know Martin can keep delaying any kind of resolution for 10 more books, the show has a limited amount of episodes left.
 

faeshadow

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I'm not sure I get how people can complain that they aren't just randomly offing main characters left and right anymore. There aren't that many left, and there's still a whole other season to get through! At some point you're going to have to start slapping on some plot armor or you'll be having the Night King and his army fighting a battle against some random Northern peasant, which would make for a very short -- and very boring -- Season 8.
 

Breakdown

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In addition to Ned Stark and the Red Wedding, Oberyn Martell's death was a shock, particularly in regards to the gruesome nature of the death.

The TV show seemed to be killing off a supporting character every week for the last few series.
 

hermes

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Breakdown said:
In addition to Ned Stark and the Red Wedding, Oberyn Martell's death was a shock, particularly in regards to the gruesome nature of the death.

The TV show seemed to be killing off a supporting character every week for the last few series.
Yes, that is true. But it seems more motivated to keeping the cast a manageable size than banking on the shock value the earlier seasons had.

My point is, Dontos Hollard, Yara Greyjoy, Meera Reed, Grey Worm and Missandei are likely to get killed off at any point to provide some shock value and trim the cast now that they fulfilled their roles (the same way I felt they were trimming a lot of fat from the show by killing Stannis Baratheon's army off screen, or the entire country of Dorne in a couple episodes), but characters like Varys, Tyrion and Jon Snow can dance naked on the sharp side of the Iron Throne and suffer nothing but some minor bruises.

Again, not a criticism of the show writers... if Martin were able to work with less than a hundred named characters and didn't stand on top of an herculean manuscript (the last time he said the next book was going to be more than a thousand pages long, and it sounded more like a threat), he would have finished the entire story already.
 

shrekfan246

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Well, just looking at POV characters ignores the many more otherwise-central characters who have died, as people have mentioned, Robb and Joffrey being the two big ones, followed by Drogo. Lumping them in with secondary characters just because they didn't have POV chapters kinda does them a disservice.

And it's largely because while it's conventional to storytelling as a whole, it's still relatively unconventional for popular epic fantasy specifically; the Starks are built up as the "main" family, the "good guys" in a world full of cruelty and betrayal and brutality, and then at the end of the first book the entire idea that they'll be the ones making it through the story to the end because they're virtuous gets shattered and dumped in the gutters.

Moreover, it is also partly probably thanks to just how the characters are treated even when they do live - Bran is crippled, Sansa and Rickon are both shipped off and forgotten and the latter is likely going to be killed off in the next book if they even bother mentioning him, Theon was already mentioned in the OP, Cersei ends up stripped of her position and imprisoned, Jaime loses his sword hand and ends up wandering around being more or less ineffectual at everything except making Brienne awesome. Tyrion, Daenerys, and Arya arguably have come out the most unscathed of any characters in the story so far, and even look at where they are right now; Tyrion has nearly died multiple times and is being hunted by everyone in the Seven Kingdoms, Daenerys went on a rampage through Slaver's Bay and ended up destabilizing the whole region before getting lost with her dragon in the Dothraki sea, and Arya is stuck in Braavos.

I'm sure it's not entirely unique to Game of Thrones/A Song of Ice & Fire that all of the characters are constantly put through the wringer, but it's still one of the most well-known series' that does it, and it manages to do it in a way that remains compelling to most of the fans.

I don't watch the show and I don't really talk to other fans of it or the books, nor do I really follow news or articles about either, and I think it's even managed to make me kinda wary about that reputation. Like, at this point the only characters that I'm not expecting to meet some sort of untimely doom are Tyrion/Daenerys/Arya, and that's resulted in the paradox that I'm expecting something terrible to happen to them because they're the characters who are the most "safe". So, take that for what it's worth.