Spoiler alert: This article discusses plot points from George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series of novels to date as well as the TV series episodes to date including season 6 episode 5 ‘The Door’
Game of Thrones has always wowed us through its unrelentingly audacious willingness to kill off even the show’s most central and well-loved characters; the types of stalwarts that in almost any other series would be considered ‘safe.’
No one knew what happened to Hodor was coming. The realisation, all at once, of both Hodor’s founding and apparently penultimate moments, witnessed both through flashback and the gentle giant’s last heroic act was a master stroke; his very name and most distinguishable feature both the key to Hodor’s character and seemingly his undoing.
More than that, the decision to sacrifice Hodor shows the extent to which the series’ has engaged with both casual viewers and the die-hard fans who have together made Hodor an internet sensation. A Northern Irish DJ plucked from obscurity and asked to deliver one line, actor Kristian Nairn has toured the world on his surge of popularity, staging sets everywhere but known best for the affectionate delivery of his highly-recognisable moniker.
The character’s actions last night, carefully executed with the devoted in mind, are something fans will remember – whether trawling through umpteenth memes about Bran’s guardian or re-watching old episodes, for the most dedicated of viewers the very mention of Hodor’s name will remain a jarring reminder of the tragic circumstances that befell him both as a child and in the later stage of his life.
Setting the tone with Ned Stark’s very sudden decapitation in season one, the still-shocking Red Wedding and the death of Oberyn Martell, the sheer amount of characters has meant that even those conditioned to expect the unexpected can still be taken aback by the growing pile of Thrones’ fatalities. Balon Greyjoy, Roose Bolton, Doran Martell and Osha are just a few of the characters to bite the dust in recent episodes, but it was Princess Myrcella’s death at the end of last season which changed the series entirely.
Up until then, those who’d read the books, knowing full well (in most cases) what was going to happen, had a very different appreciation of the show. Thrilling in no small measure to see Westeros writ large on screen, readers got a little jumpy every time there was a slight derivation from the book or something we weren’t ready for; the tragic joy of seeing the best and worst author George R. R. Martin had to offer without pretence or know-how reserved for the series’ fans alone.
After Cersei lost her second child, for the first time, everyone was on the same page, and fans of either iteration could both look forward to and wait in horror for the merciless deaths of our most beloved characters. There was no “I’m not going to say anything…” or “I wonder how they’re going to pull off this next bit” from the book’s readers during season six’s fifth episode; having no choice but to witness Hodor’s fate at the same time as everyone else.
In its final moments, anyone watching could just as well have thought, “no, Hodor can’t die, it’s Hodor.” If Jon Snow’s fate is anything to go by they may just be right. Viewers had misgivings after Ned’s beheading, only to be assured of his death by a blood-soaked sword in the opening shots of the first season finale. A long-hold on Jon Snow in the final moments of season five, later replicated in the opening frames of this season, attempted to drive the same point home, only to reaffirm in the next episode that in Game of Thrones, not even death is sacred.
While the fates of many were left hanging from the latest instalment, with recurring fatalities Game of Thrones has always managed to one-up itself. We’re only halfway through this season and the show still has a slew of characters who, for now, are still breathing.