This post contains spoilers for the series finale of Game of Thrones.
This past Sunday at 10:19 pm EDT, I (and literally millions of others) bore witness to the end of an era: the final episode of Game of Thrones. It seems trite to pay tribute to the end of a TV show, but as the final credits rolled, I found myself emotional, not at the content of the ending (which was far from perfect, as almost literally everyone has pointed), but in the fact of it.
This series has been a through-line for the past 8 years, which have been some of the most formative of my life. It was a reason to check in with far-away friends, a catalyst for larger conversations about equality and social justice in our real (and sometimes equally horrific) world, and the cause of many late nights down subreddit theory holes. These characters were with me through Peace Corps, grad school, the first years of my career, and saw me start my own family. It has been a touchpoint for so many relationships, given me memories with people with whom I have long been out of touch, and encapsulated moments that otherwise would likely have been lost to time.
Andrew and Aubrey introduced me to two exotic places in the same evening: Zunyi, China, the city of my Peace Corps service, and Westeros. They were a Peace Corps couple that had arrived in Zunyi a year before I did. My first weekend there, they invited my sitemate and me over for dinner. They told us all the Peace Corps Volunteers were reading this fantasy series called “A Song of Ice and Fire.” The books were huge, and I was disinterested. They emailed us the Kindle versions anyway.
Months later, I was leaving China for the first time since my arrival for a family reunion in Tuscany. I lived four hours by train from the nearest airport, and my flight was so early that I had to leave my town the night before to get to the airport in time to catch my flight. When I arrived at 3am, the airport wasn’t open yet, so I found a corner outside, sat on my backpack, and opened “Game of Thrones” for the first time. It was perplexing and character-heavy, and I wasn’t sure I was into it. But then Catelyn Stark’s narrative voice, as she described how the hot springs that ran through Winterfell’s walls kept the rooms warm, and how she couldn’t understand her own inability to love her husband’s bastard son, hooked me. My obsession with finding out who Jon Snow’s mother was began outside the Guiyang Airport that morning. I devoured enough of the first book on my week-long trip to safely watch the first episodes of season 1 on my flight back to China without fear of spoilers.
For the next year and a half, those characters were often my only companions on countless long, lonely train rides throughout China. They helped me forget where I was when China was uncomfortable. They procrastinated with me on the rare warm, sunny day when I would open all the windows in my concrete-block apartment, lay in the cross breeze, and read. When I visited Peace Corps friends in other cities, these characters were like mutual friends that we would all gossip and theorize about. Westeros became a familiar world to return to when I wanted to leave the real world I was in.
The Red Wedding happened beside the pool of a rented vacation home on the bluffs of southern Bali. Four of the friends I was traveling with reached the Red Wedding within days of each other during that trip. Those of us that had already gotten through that dinner of horrors waited anxiously when we knew someone else was close, and knew exactly when they got there by their cursing and angry pacing.
Lysa Arryn was pushed out the Moon Door while stuck in a two hour traffic standstill on a mountain road between Lijiang and Dali in southern China.
On my last trip in China before leaving Peace Corps, Danny and I hiked a trail called “10,000 Step Mountain.” At the top, we rented bunks in the back of the one tiny food store at the peak, and read to each other from “Storm of Swords,” making up voices for each of the characters and wondering how weird we must sound to the Chinese tourists in the other bunks. His Varys was hilarious. It was uncomfortable and cozy at the same time.
Phil, Lif and I discussed how problematic and horrific Sansa’s gratuitous rape scene was from a beer garden on 14th Street in Washington, D.C.
Dave, my then-boyfriend, and I watched Viserion dragged from the frozen waters and become a wight in the guest room of my grandparents’ house on his first trip home to meet my family.
And three nights ago, sitting in the home we bought together, Dave, my now-fiancé and I, watched Drogon carry Dany’s body away, Jon Snow start his life beyond the Wall, Arya begin her new adventure, Bran become the first elected King of the Six Kingdoms, and Sansa take her much-deserved crown. We said goodbye and wished them well. These characters weren’t always great, they weren’t always kind, but I’m thankful they journeyed with me.