Game of Thrones operates on one simple principle: valar morghulis. The High Valyrian proverb, meaning "all men must die," perfectly encapsulates the entire series. When it comes to the game of thrones, no character is safe from the threat of death by treachery, negligence, or just plain cruelty.
The threat of death is so omnipresent in Westeros that it's become part of the show's official marketing. Death has loomed over every teaser and trailer released ahead of the HBO series's sixth season, and while valar morghulis is no longer the drama's tagline -- that was so Season 4 -- it's ever-pervasive in the nihilistic world author George R.R. Martin has created. In a newly released teaser trailer for Season 6, Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage) asks, "Are you afraid? You should be. You’re in the great game now. And the great game is terrifying."
If that weren't foreboding enough, two other characters promise death is on the horizon. Jaqen H'ghar (Tom Wlaschiha) of the Faceless Men promises: "One way or another, the gift will be given. One way or another, a face will be added to the Hall." This seems to allude to another ominous teaser, released in February, that played right into those fears. In it, set inside the House of Black and White in Braavos, we see the faces of the fallen -- Ned Stark, Catelyn Stark, Robb Stark, Joffrey Baratheon, and Jon Snow* -- before zeroing in on an ominous shot of six faces we know to be very much alive. (*Jon Snow isn't dead. Nope.)
Meanwhile, elsewhere in the trailer, The High Sparrow (Jonathan Pryce) notes, aloofly, that "we are sinful creatures. We deserve death... we all do."
But should we really be surprised that a show like Game of Thrones, which brutally established that no one was safe from the axe in its first season, will trim its character count in Season 6? As the series narrows its focus to prepare for the war between ice and fire ahead, Game of Thrones will undoubtedly get leaner in its final 30 hours. It has to. (Note: HBO has yet to confirm that the show will end with Season 8, but actress Maisie Williams recently said that after the table read for the Season 6 finale she sat there thinking, "God, they are setting up for the end.")
That being said, showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss will need to axe at least half of these characters to get some semblance of forward momentum. When each character only gets about 10 minutes of screen time per episode, it's hard to get anything done, which is what made an episode like "Hardhome" so thrilling. For the first time, the show gave us an epic, 20-odd minute battle sequence at Hardhome, the seaside Wildling settlement, between the Wildlings and the White Walkers. It was the moment we really got to see the extent of the Walkers's devastating powers, and was a great showcase for Jon Snow (Kit Harington) as he fought a leading Walker one-on-one, learning that Valyrian steel is one of the few things that can defeat them.
And while there is reason to believe death isn't always the end of the journey in this universe -- like Beric Dondarrion, who's been resurrected multiple times by his red priest -- it's all but expected. Game of Thrones never promised us a happy ending. It seems obvious that the show's final bittersweet moments will be tainted with tragedy. How could it not? It's part of the series's DNA.
That's not to say the entire series is void of hope. As it becomes increasingly apparent that the Night's King and his horde of White Walkers are the only threats worth worrying about in the Seven Kingdoms (seriously, King's Landing needs to get its priorities in check), we have to believe that good can triumph over evil, that characters like Jon, Dany, Arya, Sansa, and Tyrion can prevail.
However, I don't suspect that all of our so-called heroes can survive the fight, nor do I expect them to. This is Game of Thrones, where heroes are not made solely in battle but also in death. But I'm more than willing to go along for the journey, no matter how heartbreaking the end result.