Monday, 20 May 2019

Narrative Rebellion: The Last Song, Or, How A Song of Ice & Fire & A Game of Thrones Should End (But Probably Won't)

What A Song of Ice and Fire was always about for me.

So, that's the end of A Game of Thrones. I've written about it a few times on the blog, often quite sceptically, but generally more against the pundits than the show itself.

I, like I'll wager a great many other people, had my own idea about where the series was going. I'm sure many of us had our own theories about how the great struggle for the Iron Throne was going to end. Now, while 25-year-old Aly might've gone into rage over some of the decisions made over the course of the series - by Martin & the showrunners alike - 35-year-old Aly has mellowed out somewhat. I've realised that not only is it OK if a story makes decisions you find bad or terrible, it can be an essential creative spark.

When J.R.R. Tolkien experienced Shakespeare's Macbeth, he couldn't help but be deeply disappointed in its treatment of the Weird Sisters' prophecies: Birnam Wood didn't actually march on Dunsinane, a bunch of soldiers just tied sticks to their bodies to make it look like the forest was marching. Similarly, the entire justification for MacDuff killing Macbeth based on a painful semantic point over the definition of "born" was total weaksauce. As such, two of the most important & beloved elements of The Lord of the Rings - the Ents march on Isengard, & Eowyn's prophesied defeat of the Witch-King - could be traced back to Tolkien's displeasure at Shakespeare's perceived cop out. Whether you agree on that point - wordplay like this was a popular conceit in Shakespeare's time - is somewhat beside the larger point that, rather than complain about what he didn't like about the story, Tolkien did something creative about it.

Hence, while I'm not going to sign the petition making the rounds to remake the last season of A Game of Thrones (and certainly without presuming to be J.R.R.T. to Martin's Shakespeare!), I think creating our own alternate takes is a great creative outlet for any frustrations one might have, as well as possibly inspiring more productive, creative possibilities for the future.

So here's how I would've written the final stretch of A Game of Thrones.

The Last Winter

The final years of the great game of thrones were full of intrigue, betrayal, hope, disappointment, devastation, cruelty, malice, hate, and war. The lords and ladies schemed against one another, changing loyalties according to whatever suited them best; the people were trapped in a perpetual feudal society which could not sustain them in a world where winters could last decades; giants and dragons and other beings walked the earth. And all the while, a terrible menace looms in the distant north - one that all the political machinations and ploys are useless against.

There was a certain romance about the Others: in a world where sibling fought sibling and kin slayed kin, one knew that the Others would not indulge in the petty squabbles of their masters. They would not sell their people out for coin, or manipulate their own for power and influence: all they knew was to burn and slay. So the people, Small Folk and High Lord alike, knew the implacability of the Others - there could be no negotiation, no traditional means of warfare at all.

But in truth, the Others were victims of circumstance as surely as the kings and knights who considered themselves somehow greater than the lowly worm and meagre fly. They did not choose to march south any more than the wild men. They were driven there by a force more powerful than anything else on the planet. Stronger than life: stronger, even, than unlife.

The Watchmen spotted something they never encountered before, creeping ever closer beyond the fog. It was a wall - even greater than the ruins they still watched with futile dedication. But this wall was not constructed by men & sorcery: this was a frozen tidal wave, the accumulated fathoms of ice gathered in the uttermost north, now finally breaking free of the unknown mountains which kept them contained far from life & unlife. It moved with uncanny speed, crackling and roaring with unbearable intensity. Day by day, it crept closer. And the Watchmen stayed, and watched. 

The Movement Under Their Feet

The rumblings from the north went unheeded. News that a new Wall shattered the old ruins and smothered the northernmost regions was met with cynicism & bravado from the High Lords, who simply sent more men north. The people cried out, and the High Lords did not listen. But the Small Folk were listening. They saw how they died in their thousands for some noble or another's birthright, some useless cause, some meaningless stretch of dirt.

It all started with one slave who said "no more." It was just one menial task too tedious, one chastising whip too cruel, one brother worked to death too many. They grasped the slaver's whip, and turned on their masters, whipping and flaying with what seemed the collective fury built over unknown years of enforced servitude. That slave inspired others to take up the very tools of their oppression to rise up. The slaves inspired the serfs, the peasants, the outcasts, the underclasses. The power of the nobility, the clerics, all the power and prestige, seemed to disintegrate before the fire of that slave's relentless, indomitable determination to end the injustice of their existence.

They saw their light-haired, light-eyed champion from across the sea: how she spoke so eloquently of freedom, of her rise from chains to coronets, the scars of servitude replaced with the spoils of conquest. But it was all talk. She boasted of ancient royal descent, proclaiming her right to rule on those merits - not the quality of her command, the clemency of her rule, the righteousness of her cause. She was just another royal. Just another parasite.

Wild beasts know what to do with parasites: they pluck them from their hide, crush them between their digits, grind them into the dust. The Small Folk of the land decided they had let their parasites fester long enough.

The Game Unending

The uprisings wrought havoc on a continent already wounded by war. The playground of two mighty houses in a game over who gets to sit on a jagged metal chair was collapsing beneath their softened feet. Fools who had no business leading armies or countries made reckless decisions, ruinous orders, devastating mistakes. Thousands died needlessly through their incompetence at best, their pride at worst. In the end, one of the houses won, with fire & steel reducing their rival's power to ashes. It didn't matter which won, in the end: were the advantage in the other's place, the exact same would have happened. Thousands upon thousands would die either way, with a kingdom of ashes and blood all that remained in this brutal war of attrition and hatred.

And as soon as one great house was victorious... the game continued. Only this time, it was the house's own supporters who acted. Through principle, cynicism, ambition, or otherwise, even with the war over, the game was not. Betrayal, pacts, cynicism, and ultimately, blood. The uprisings that were quelled resurfaced with renewed vigour; the uprisings that persisted grew. Whole kingdoms were overthrown in violent retribution. And the larger kingdoms still played their game, not aware or not caring that their kingdoms may be next.

So the same game played out, weeks and months and years after the last great war. Every time it seemed like it was over, some other worm or rat would come from the woodwork. Even as the uprisings came to their capitals, as the battering rams of the revolution were breaking down their doors, they quarrelled with one another over who received the honour of having the crown ripped from their gory heads when the Great Kingslaying came for them.

And so they bickered and plotted and schemed in the balmy southern realms, all the while barely noticing the first snowflakes in generations to fall.

Winter Has Come

There was nothing they could do. The Creeping Wall crept southwards. Farms, towns, villages, castles, cities, citadels - all were consumed. They tried everything - green fire, siege engines, earthworks - to no avail. Even dragon fire was like a match against a burst dam. And all the while, desperate refugees swept in their hundreds and thousands south into kingdoms still gripped in the midst of their petty wars.

The wise & the forward thinking left early - travelling south or east to the hot lands, hoping to escape. But there they found even the deserts were starting to cool, with baffled & frightened populations fearing the End Times. Still others took to the southern seas, hoping the Creeping Wall would stop at the shores. The last wayfarers watched as the last thousands of the seven proud kingdoms clambered for the last boats, as the waves clogged with all the bodies forced into the deep by their own delirious kin.

The ragged fleet of ships of all the lost lands watched as the Creeping Wall pushed the last land-dweller into the sea... and kept creeping. The fleets of all the nations of all the continents of all the world converged, and sailed ever southward. Even then, they played the game, as captain schemed against captain, royals proclaimed their chosen destiny, slave agitated the lowborn - all seeking control of the Iron Flagship. And the game continued, even as they saw another wall stretching far in the south.

There came a time when only one ship remained: the rest scuttled by sabotage, burned in battle, or broken by the rapidly chilling seas. Only one ship, only one crew. And they still bickered, and plotted, and schemed: first mate plotting mutiny, boatswain betraying quartermaster, carpenter leading a rising against the last admiral.

Humanity's final war ended with just one soul left alive.

The Last Song

They lived as long as they could, in the desperate hope that someone - anyone - else had survived. They steered the ship as best they could along the length of the walls, as the two immensities crept ever closer to one another, crawling for the embrace that would end the world. Time was lost to that last soul, but even with the days and weeks and months and years blending, it came as a shock to them when the last ship stopped suddenly - wedged between the two walls.

The Last Human looked up to the thin sliver of light between the two great shadows stretching horizon to horizon. The walls pushed what was left of the once-vast ocean upward. The human gathered what supplies they could carry, and began to climb. Makeshift picks mechanically struck and pierced the ice walls. The human steadily rose closer and closer, as the walls closed: their legs suddenly caught between the ice only feet from the precipice. An almighty crash deafened the last human's ears, the terror forcing them to wrench their broken limbs free. They fell forward, lost consciousness.

When they awoke, they beheld the new world. A great, featureless, flat plain of ice; a burning sun high in the sky; unending, inexorable, maddening silence. The last human realised they were deaf - and within minutes, their eyes began to burn, blinded by the ice. As they stood speechless on the line that marked the new equator, soon the feeling in their limbs started to fade away - replaced by a terrible burning. The heat became unbearable, and the last human ripped off their clothes. Deaf, blind, numb, and naked, the Last Human sang a song - an old rhyme from their childhood - before they collapsed, and the white faded to black for the last time.

Spring Is Just A Dream

The world is now a perfect white sphere. The crevice that marked the two Creeping Walls has long been buried under tons upon tons of snow, the division long fused together as one vast shell across the planet. The remains of the Last Human have joined their kin in the great cold sea. Were you able to see through the ice, you would find an endless frozen ocean: dive deep enough, beyond the last rays of natural sunlight, and you would find an abyss which was once land. Those structures not broken in war or the weight of uncountable fathoms of ice are perfectly preserved, as if in blue-green amber. Animals, birds, and people float eerily in the shifting ice, tranquil, as if asleep. Displaced ships loom above their harbours; toppling towers trapped mid-collapse; forests pressed under the weight of ages.

The memory of all that came before - records, documents, histories - all remain ensconced in their libraries, with no-one left to read them. Bodies lay as they fell, with the swords and arrows which slew them still fixed in their flesh. Some huddled together, preferring to face the ice together than die apart. Others grasped their most treasured possessions - a trinket, a jewelled sword, a crown - as they sat on their chairs or thrones.

Perhaps life will return to this world. In time, the ice may recede, revealing the mountaintops to form a new landmass, then the hills, then the land. New creatures - new humans - could arise from this great cataclysm. But the weight of ages would grind the relics, the remnants, even the memories, of the old world into dust. None will remember the bickering, the plots, the schemes; all the intrigue and war and happenings that seemed gigantic to those living them are as nothing to the immensity of the cosmos. And so it will be for the next generation of humans - and the next, and the next.

But winter will end. It may last months, years, centuries, millennia, more - but the eternal change that the cosmos undergoes leaves nothing behind. Nothing lasts forever, except everything. Nothing changes, except everything. Even the Last Winter must, inevitably, end.

That is the Dream of Spring.

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