Ned Stark has his head chopped off. Catelyn Stark’s throat is slit at the Red Wedding. The Mountain makes Oberyn Martell’s head explode. Jon Snow is stabbed in the back by the men he commands.
These deaths were shocking. In part, because they were unexpected. But mostly because they so mirror life as we know it.
Contrast this to the number of faceless, nameless, meaningless characters that are killed off in most books, films and shows. The death of these individuals is a triviality. A necessary but unimportant consequence of the story’s arc.
George R.R. Martin may have done it by accident, I don’t know. But by forcing us to invest time and energy understanding his characters, and then ending their lives, he found a parallel between his art and real life.
In real life, death strike us the hardest when the person who dies is someone we care about. Seems obvious, I know. But it’s the opposite of what is portrayed in an average story.
Usually, we spend hundreds of pages learning the desires, ambitions, fears, insecurities, strengths and weaknesses of a character, only to see them prevail over every obstacle.
The characters in the story that matter to us prevail. Those who don’t, perish.
But that’s not the life we experience.
The people we know and care for die. Sometimes, peacefully. Sometimes tragically. But always at a time that is unexpected and that we are unprepared for.
Perhaps G R R Martin’s plot twists aren’t just plot twists. Perhaps he’s trying to make a point. Perhaps he’s trying to say that in the real world, the people we love, the ones we can’t imagine losing, could be the ones that go next.