Chekhov’s gun is the principle in literature that every story element must have a purpose. Obviously this isn’t strictly applicable to Game of Thrones (heavens!), but there are five story elements that have stood out to me in my most recent rewatch.
Now, I’m not talking here about obvious plot elements: the Night King, the ultimate fate of the Iron Throne, the likelihood of incest romances turning into happily-ever-afters, et cetera. Those are storylines that absolutely must be resolved in order for the ending to feel satisfying. What I’m talking about instead are those odd standout lines, or other elements, that feel like they were put in for a reason, and we just don’t totally know what that reason is.
Below: my personal favorite Chekhov’s guns of the show, in no particular order. Warning: no actual spoilers below, but I do refer to a few actor and writer interviews that you may want to avoid if you’re a real baby about that kind of thing.
- The Eyrie is impregnable. I just think that if a character is gonna say “give me ten good men and some climbing spikes, I’ll impregnate the bitch,” I’m gonna wanna see some impregnating eventually. It’s possible that the foreshadowing given in season 1 is meant only to set up Littlefinger hiding Sansa up here in season 4, and therefore we’re now finished with Eyrie stuff altogether. But I can’t help but notice that Ser Royce and the rest of the Knights of the Vale have been specifically shown as still hanging around Winterfell as of the end of season 7. Not to mention, it’s been a whole year without the Sweetrobin, and as one of the only remaining heirs to a major house that is (1) alive and (2) not in prison, he does sort of seem important.
- Davos is a bad fighter. If you didn’t realize this was an established character trait, you’re in good company! I was a little confused when around season 7, Davos started conspicuously talking smack about himself. He’s now pointed out on at least three separate occasions that he is terrible in a fight and would only weigh the other guys down. Also, apparently when Liam Cunningham, who plays Davos, met G.R.R.M. for the first time, G.R.R.M. leaned in and said “I’m about to tell you a secret that nobody else knows.” All I’m saying is, Davos is probably Azor Ahai.
- Nymeria’s pack. Nymeria is a Very Good Girl who has been having a great time running around the Riverlands with her pack. This is a plot element that is way more important in the books, and G.R.R.M. has even said of the matter, “You don’t hang a giant wolf pack on the wall unless you intend to use it.” That said, we don’t have nearly as much from the actual show to indicate that Nymeria is going to have a further role. It’s possible that her reunion with Arya in season 7 is the last payoff we’ll get from her. I hope not, though!
- Varys’s whole deal. I’m sorry, but he SEWED A GUY’S MOUTH SHUT AND KEPT HIM IN A BOX. Even if you grant that Varys was totally justified in getting creepy revenge on the warlock who castrated him, the lack of resolution as to what even HAPPENED to that guy is enough to keep me thinking about it. Also, several years after we forgot about that particular scene, the Red Priestess of Meereen called it back, by reminding Varys of what he heard in the flames when he was a child. I have honestly no idea what to make of all this. Varys’s plot importance has plummeted drastically since he brought Tyrion to Essos, and his characterization has always been a bit of a mystery. I’m not sure if it would be satisfying to see him play a key role in the conclusion of the series, either heroic or villainous. But I just want to know what the hell this has all been about.
- The importance of Valyrian steel. I want to be clear that Important Swords are something I almost never care about. And in the book series, there are far more notable Valyrian weapons than we see on the show. That said, it’s interesting to me that there are five specific weapons, each of which have been called out loudly in the past couple of seasons, as though to remind the audience, “hey, these are Special Swords guys.” A rundown:
- Longclaw – the Mormont family sword, given to Jon by Jeor Mormont in thanks for his protection against the wight way back in season 1. Jon tried to give it back to Jorah (and don’t even get me started on the fact that he DID NOT do the same with little Lyanna Mormont), but Jorah was like nah man keep it for your kid. At no point did Bran warg into this sword btw.
- Heartsbane – the Tarly family sword, stolen by Sam to spite his jerk father, and arguably now Sam’s rightful property as his dad and brother both got burnt. Also, I hate to say it, but out of all the Valyrian steel wielders, Sam is absolutely the most useless swordsman. Yeah, I know he killed a white walker already, but that was basically luck, and the walkers are more cautious now. Sam needs to give this sword to someone who can handle it in a real battle. Jorah? The Hound? Bronn? Those are the only notable fighters I can think of who don’t already have a really cool sword (aside from Tormund, who doesn’t use swords).
- Widow’s Wail – at one point half of Ice, the Stark family sword, which was melted down by Tywin Lannister and given to Joffrey as a wedding present. After Joffrey died, Widow’s Wail sort of disappeared from the story for a little while, until Lady Olenna pointed out that Jaime is now carrying it around. And although Jaime’s not the swordsman he once was, he’s surely got to have a reason to be carrying the sword that is the twin to…
- Oathkeeper – the other half of Ice, the Stark family sword. Tywin originally gave it to Jaime, who then passed it along to Brienne to help her protect the Stark girls. This is my personal favorite Valyrian sword in case you were wondering. I love that the sword which Ned Stark once held was stolen by his enemies and melted down, but has still ultimately ended up back in service to House Stark. Brienne pledging her sword to Sansa is one of the best moments of season 6.
- Lastly, the unnamed Valyrian dagger – first seen in the attempt to kill Bran back in season 1, Littlefinger pretended it had fallen into Tyrion’s possession, sending Catelyn on a mad dwarf chase. Turns out it was Littlefinger’s all along, and like an idiot he returned it to Bran in season 7, only to have Arya kill him with it oops. Also, this dagger appears in one of Sam’s books from the Citadel library. All of this seems to suggest that it’s a Very Important Dagger, although it’s possible that all of this heavy foreshadowing was merely in place to add to the fun of irony slashing Lord Baelish’s throat.
And that’s the real question about Valyrian steel weapons: do all of these heavy reminders and character moments with these swords and daggers actually point towards a broader purpose, or are they ultimately just good detail work? We know that they’re great for killing White Walkers, but now that Jon has gone and mined a whole ton of dragonglass, it’s not clear that Valyrian steel has a unique function anymore. Unless they lose all the dragonglass, in which case that entire plot point is rendered pretty stupid. My gut tells me that there is going to be some payoff here, but whether that payoff is across the board for all Valyrian steel or specific to one or two of them, I’m not sure.
Real quick, here are some more potential Chekhov’s guns that I think we’ve either seen paid off, or aren’t important enough to worry that much about. Let me know if you think I’m wrong!
- Wildfire – Cersei already blew shit up, no point in revisiting old news
- Greyscale – honestly I’m disappointed, but I think Jorah’s encounter with the disease is all we’re going to get out of this one
- Howland Reed – it’s too late to introduce another character and we don’t need him to confirm Jon’s parentage
- Edmure Tully – we saw him in season 6, and he’s not interesting enough to spend much more time on
- Tyrion’s saddle-engineering technology – this is a dumb one dating back to when he designed a horse saddle for Bran back in season 1, and honestly it wasn’t THAT dumb back when there were 3 dragons, but now that Viserion is gone, and Dany clearly can ride Drogon with no problems, I don’t see why Jon would need any special tricks to do the same with Rhaegal. Everybody basically needs to calm down about people riding dragons because it’s actually not that hard.
What do you think? Any other ones I’m missing?