Does Game of Thrones get any unpleasant when a whole bunch of characters die every season, for example?

Leaving hooking elements aside, at what point does exploration of uncomfortable aspects from the reader within the story (yes), beloved characters suffering and dying, and unthinkable plots make the reader just put something like that aside?

  • 1
    This differs per person, but I personally abandoned GOT for faulty world-building. While reading the very first book.
    – Bookeater
    Jul 9, 2015 at 4:16

3 Answers 3


When there's no one likeable left alive. Or if there is anyone, you just know they're either faking it or doomed.

TV Tropes calls it Darkness-Induced Audience Apathy.

I lasted until somewhere in the third Game of Thrones book. Or maybe it was only the second, I can't remember. Then I put the book down because I didn't want to read an account of a rape and murder at that moment, and somehow never got round to picking the book up again. That said, the rest of my family continually urge me to reconsider.

Perhaps George R.R. Martin himself is suffering from the same malady!

  • 2
    One of the "tricks" in GoT is that the Daeneris plot keeps going without her dying and that you wait for her to finally return to Westeros. And that John Snow is at the Wall and you wait for the Others to invade Westeros. These are two strong parallel storylines, which are only superficially related to the ensemble cast kill-them-all, both with one single protagonist that cannot die from the point of narrative logic (because the book would end then), and these carry much of the weight of the breaking of narrative strands of the ensemble cast protagonists.
    – user5645
    Jul 9, 2015 at 10:14

I guess it really depends on the readers. There's a lot of fuss about GRR Martin, and if he does have a tendency to kill off characters unexpectandly, there are less murders in the books than in the series. And there are some author more prone to characters killing, as can be seen in many internet memes. Nevertheless, IMHO, the key isn't the death toll, but the explanation for it.

If you kill your characters by building some pressure, letting some previous signs, or with a plot logic and in-world logic, than a lot of people will go on. If you kill your characters for no reason, by lightning in a middle of a Sunny afternoon, when walking around: people might not understand. If it appears logic, then no problem. If it doesn't then it will bother people.

Again, back to GRRM. Note that he is well read. He does kill a few people, but there are mostly two death that are of importance, namely

"Ned" and Robb Stark.

and those are made for a plot reason

To destabilise the readers by removing any (main) hero. The honest-to-God good willing hero,

or as he puts himself

"I killed Ned because everybody thinks he’s the hero and that, sure, he’s going to get into trouble, but then he’ll somehow get out of it," said Martin.


"The next predictable thing is to think his eldest son is going to rise up and avenge his father. And everybody is going to expect that. So immediately [killing Robb] became the next thing I had to do."

But on the top of that, it is realistic in the given world, and has some logic behind it, like

folly and vengeance.

For me, gratuitous things are more a problem. I had problems to start the series, as it left most of non-violent, non-sexual content out.

At what point does it bother readers? Well if you do kill one important character in the middle, you will loose some readers. This is inevitable. The more the reasons for it are clear, the less you loose.

But you might consider the "trauma" of Aeris' death (in Final Fantasy) to see that one important character is often enough to mark the audience.

So it really depends on who you are writing for.

  • 3
    +1 for "it depends on the reader". We all like different things, and some people read books that I wouldn't even begin reading (so I wouldn't even have a chance to break off reading them). Most people prefer to read about happy and friendly things, or events that turn out well. If you write that, your book will sell easier than anything totally dark and depressing. But there are people who like that, so if that's your thing, by all means write it. (And +1 for all the rest of your good answer, too, of course.)
    – user5645
    Jul 9, 2015 at 10:07

When hope that the protagonist(s) will win is snuffed out.

I came very close to this with Person of Interest in the middle of the most recent season. There are a number of Good Folks and several groups of Bad Folks. About mid-season the Bad Folks had racked up so many successes and the Good Folks were getting boxed into such a corner that I was struggling to see how the writers were going get the Good Folks past the obstacles.

The story, particularly a long-running serialized TV show, doesn't have to have a happy ending for every episode, or even every season, but the audience needs to have some hope that the protagonist(s) for whom we are rooting will have some measure of success at the end. If every protagonist is killed off or removed from play by the antagonist, what the hell are we still watching for?

Ultimately the Good Folks were able to score some wins on the Bad Folks, and while they didn't defeat the Bad Folks overall, they are in a better place than they were mid-season. That's all I ask for: some hope.

In the case of Game of Thrones, it depends on whether you hope that any of the surviving characters will eventually defeat their adversaries, or at least will live long enough to team up against the White Walkers and the wights. Separately, if there are so many rapes and humiliations that you give up hope that the women will ever have agency in their own lives or will ever defeat their personal nemeses, that might be enough to tip the scales.

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