On Game of Thrones, death has become a basic audience expectation. The showrunners have killed off audience favorites, heinous villains, and innocent bystanders alike. One reassuring thing to keep in mind while witnessing the constant murder throughout the show is that every character rolling in their grave still has a chance of pulling the strings of the living. In “The Queen’s Justice,” the third episode of Game of Thrones season 7, the dead kept coming up as influencers, which is particularly ironic, given the ongoing war against the dead throughout this show.
Spoilers for “The Queen’s Justice” and past Game of Thrones plotlines ahead
A long list of Westerosi ancestors laid the path for the fateful meeting between Daenerys and Jon Snow, including the Mad King, who fanned the flames of Jon and his Northern lords’ distrust, and Torrhen Stark, whose fealty to the Targaryens gives Daenerys an opening to demand loyalty from the North. Countless other dusty figures of the past are part of this oral history; their contribution to the Westeros of today is still remembered.
Shireen, the daughter of Stannis Baratheon, whom Melisandre burned at the stake in season 5 as a sacrifice to her god, is still a source of embarrassment for the Red Woman. She’s too ashamed to show her face to Jon Snow and Ser Davos, who cared for Shireen, and rejected her even after she resurrected Jon. When they arrive on Dragonstone, she chooses to hide on a cliff, talking to Varys about the terrible mistakes she’s made. It’s clear who she’s thinking about in that scene, and why she’s choosing to leave Westeros now.
Oberyn Martell’s reach similarly extends far beyond the grave. Oberyn died in a duel with Gregor Clegane all the way back in season 4, but to honor him, his lover Ellaria swore vengeance against the Lannisters, including Myrcella, Cersei’s daughter, whom Ellaria poisoned. Ellaria ended up in Westeros, allying with Dany, to honor his memory, and Cersei uses those memories against her in “The Queen’s Justice” to twist the knife once Ellaria is in her hands.
And Myrcella similarly motivates Cersei into having Ellaria chained, gagged, and forced to watch as Cersei poisons her daughter Tyene in return. The entire vicious cycle of revenge sounds like a Shakespearean play. If Ellaria manages to escape prison alive, it can be expected that she’ll return the favor for Cersei. Meanwhile, Gregor himself, resurrected as a zombie, is still hanging around as Cersei’s unblinking guard.
Two more dead Lannisters’ legacies continue in episode 3, for better or worse. Cersei’s father Tywin built the fortress of Casterly Rock, but his dismissive attitude toward his least favorite son, Tyrion, left holes in his defenses. Assigned to design and fund the building of Casterly Rock’s sewers, Tyrion added a secret entrance so he could smuggle in women, and it’s still there for Daenerys’ forces to exploit. Tywin, killed while on the toilet by that same son, can’t catch a break, even in death.
Then there’s Jamie’s son Joffrey, whose name is further besmirched by Olenna Tyrell in her final moments. “He really was a cunt, wasn’t he?” she says. Then he reveals to Jaime that she was the one who killed Joffrey back in season 4. It’s her final attack against the Lannisters, the only blow she can deliver with her forces destroyed. And Jaime, unlike Cersei, stumbles away with the knowledge that he failed to kill Olenna in the same way she assassinated Joffrey — with a painful poison.
Not all dead people are just revenge-enabling plot devices. In a more positive example of ancestral remembrance, Jeor Mormont, the good and decent Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch at the start of the series, is the motivation behind Sam Tarly’s laboring to save his son, Jorah Mormont. Out of genuine respect for Jeor, Sam risks his life to rip the greyscale-infected skin off Jorah, one inch at a time, in the most dangerous and disgusting manner possible. But it works, and for now, Jorah isn’t joining the ranks of the dead and influential. Still, there’s a lot of carnage left to come. At least if the viewers’ favorites die, it seems likely that someone will be left to honor them, either by healing or harming on their behalf.