All Men Must Die, but What Is Dead May Never Die
How 'Game of Thrones' helped me through my dad's suicide.
I didn't find his body. All men must die. He never left us a note, but we knew why he had done it. All men must die. He was my hero in every sense, and I know heroes are just human. All men must die. I understand that the future he saw for himself, he didn't want. All men must die. I never got the opportunity to tell him one last time how good a father he had been and how much I loved him. All men must die. It broke our hearts. All men must die. I get that one day we all will die, but when, in 2016, my dad took his own life, I wasn't ready to accept: All men must die.
It might sound ridiculous that one of the very first things I said to my mother after my dad's suicide was, "He'll never know the end of Game of Thrones." It might sound even more ridiculous that my mum acknowledged she'd had the self-same thought. Were we that obsessed with a TV show? Or had the show we'd all come to love really meant that much to us? I am not ashamed to say it's the latter. Three years on from my dad's death and the TV show he loved, and that we enjoyed together as a family, has helped me find a resolution to the pain of his death. All men must die.
My dad was diagnosed with Muscular Dystrophy not long before Game of Thrones hit our screens. The news devastated all of us, my dad, my mum, and me. Over the next few years, his physical decline was more rapid than we ever expected. This broad-shouldered, barrel-chested man, this warrior-king dad of mine, began to waste away. Once-muscular legs faded away from beneath him like withered roots of a tree. First, he walked with one stick; then he had to walk with two sticks, and later wheelchairs became a part of his life. This proud man was broken every time he had to sit in a disabled seat, park in a disabled bay, ask for that extra help boarding and alighting public transport. It is heartbreaking to see your hero become a petrified soul trapped in a broken body, with no ability to escape, no ability to fly away. But. All men must die.
The physical breakdown of my dad was one thing to witness, but the mental breakdown, which followed a few years later, was far more terrifying and gut-wrenching to watch. As time passed, it became more apparent to my mum and I that my dad was not coping with his demise, with his inability to do what he once could, and with the fateful realisation that his future was not what he had imagined or hoped. Day by day, the decay of his masculinity and his very essence of being a man was stripped from him. In October 2015, my dad had a complete mental health breakdown. Depression, drugs, anxiety, panic attacks, tears, clinics, shrinks, nurses, outbursts, and anger all followed as our home became unfamiliar. My mum and I watched as the man we loved began to fade away from us. All men must die.
One of the few constants in our lives during this time was Game of Thrones. I had introduced my parents to the show after the first season, and after binge-watching their way through the first season together, they were hooked. Subsequent seasons became an event in our home. We were one of those UK families who would wake in the early hours of a Monday night to watch the show at 2 AM—the same time it aired in the States. None of us could risk the spoilers. My dad loved the show. Usually, it was my mum and I who got too engaged in TV, but Game of Thrones was all our thing.
For a period, like many, I was the smug offspring who'd read the books beforehand so knew some of the shocks were coming. I would watch with glee at their response to the dramatic events. Like everyone around the world who has loved the show over the last eight years, it became an essential part of our life. It was a happy part when the sweet moments were few and far between. As Tyrion said in the finale episode, nothing is as compelling as a story, and I saw that firsthand. For an hour or so a week, my dad, like everyone, escaped his world and was there in Westeros. A good story lifts and transports. Story is the power to transcend reality, and once a week, the reality of my dad's life was forgotten as he was lost in Game of Thrones. The truth of his demise was gone from his mind, and the future he was beginning to fear for a time was diminished. The future that: All men must die.
My dad hung himself on a hot Monday afternoon in July. My mum, returning home from the school where she worked, found him. I was out of town at the time, in London. I can't imagine what she saw that day, or perhaps I just don't want to. I went straight to Kings Cross Station and boarded the first train home. I don't know what the other passengers must have thought as I sat there staring at the English countryside passing by with tears streaming down my face. But hey! All men must die.
Realising my dad wasn't going to see the end of Game of Thrones sounds stupid, I know. Could my thoughts have been that trivial at a time like this? It's just a TV show. Who cares? Well, we did. My mum and I knew that my dad not being there to watch the final two seasons meant something. It wasn't just the realisation he wasn't going to be there for Game of Thrones. It was the realisation he wasn't going to be there at all. I wouldn't hear his laugh again as he cracked up at the humorous vulgarities of the Hound. I wouldn't see the smirk on his face when his beloved Missandei came on screen. I wouldn't hear his Jon Snow and Ygritte impressions. "You know nothing, Jon, nothing." At that moment, nothing was all I knew. Life without my hero would feel like nothing. All men must die.
If we have all learnt one thing from Game of Thrones, it's that heroes and good people die, often when you least want them to. The shock that comes from losing a loved one, when you least expect it, is horrendous. I can't put it into words but multiply the shock of the Red Wedding or Eddard Stark's beheading by a billion, and you still don't get close. I was numb for months after. The reality of it all always seems hard to take and not a day goes by when I don't think about him and the impact he had on my life. Nearly three years have passed, and I have begun to find a place in my head and heart to talk to him, to hear his voice, to see his smile and to know he is still here in me. It takes time to realise: All men must die.
For many, Bran's ascension to the Iron Throne doesn't seem right; it doesn't seem believable. I have heard people say "I don't buy it!" What don't you buy? Why shouldn't Bran be king? What's your problem with that? A little part of me is sorry to say that I think many people's issues with King Bran the Broken is because of the fact he is broken. Somewhere deep-rooted in our societal conscience we can't imagine a "cripple" being a king. We can't see past the disability. Why can't Bran be king?
At the moment, when he was chosen, I broke down. I broke down in tears. And my only hope at that second was that somewhere my dad knew Bran had made it as king. My dad looked into his future, his broken future, and he decided to abdicate from life. He couldn't see himself living when he was so broken, and that breaks my heart.
In contrast, the Three-eyed Raven, the broken boy, who could see everything, saw a future in which he could be more. The signs were there throughout. Tyrion anointed and selected him as king. Think back to the first season; what was the first thing Tyrion did for Bran after his fall? If it wasn't make him a "throne" so he could ride a horse like a lord or a king. Bran has every right to be king. The last and only remaining son of Eddard Stark. What's so wrong about that? For me, Bran becoming king is a strong and powerful message that having knowledge and wisdom is more potent than fire and steel.
Knowledge is the most powerful weapon and having knowledge in the hands of someone just and honourable is even more critical. We only have to look at our modern day leaders to see the dangers of leadership without knowledge, wisdom, and compassion. A disabled body is not as terrifying as a disabled heart. I wish my dad could have seen that. We loved him because of his mind, his heart, and his beautiful soul. His broken body never limited the image of the hero that I saw. And it never will.
So, what did Gameof Thrones mean to me in the last eight years of my life? More than you will ever know. All men do die. But if you believe and love someone enough, then what is dead may never die.