Game of Thrones — It all hangs on a promise

Daenerys Targaryen annoints Tyrion Lannister

The finale of series six in Game of Thrones entailed tying some key narrative knots. To focus the grand sweep from the South, the dragon queen Daenerys Targaryen annoints Tyrion Lannister as the Hand of the Queen, bestowed with a severe iron brooch. He duly pledges his allegiance in her world-changing ambition to take Westeros.

Meanwhile, in the North, we witness the foundational event in Game of Thrones, when Ned Stark’s sister Lyanna, on her death bed, demands that he promise to protect her son. As the baby’s eyes open to see his father, the face fades into the older Jon Snow, as he confronts the banner men who had failed to come to battle as they once vowed. Admitting their wrongs, they pledge their enduring allegiance to him as their king in face of the terrible challenges that winter will bring.

Lyanna Stark seeks Ned Stark’s promise to care for her son.

These are honourable moments in an otherwise dastardly world. Earlier in this episode, Cersei Lannister had delivered a sinister soliloquy about pleasure as the guiding force in everything she does. She provides the moral antithesis to the stirring consciences awakening her realm.

Game of Thrones is sometimes read as a pathology of a neoliberal century, where power is to be taken rather than given. The denouement of this series, setting forth the narrative arc towards its completion, returns to the enduring human condition, where in order to survive the dangers ahead we must make and honour compacts between ourselves. There is no algorithm for trust.

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