Warning: spoilers for this week's episode ahead!
Game of Thrones has lost its truest hero. The show and - to a greater extent - the books love to remind us that its characters are flawed, impure, deeply human. Even the noble knights in Sansa's books turn out to be imperfect, not-so-subtle reminders that every story has at least two sides. This dirty, bloody admission that heroic fairytales are themselves fairytales is one of the things I love about Game of Thrones. It isn't afraid to tear down its own pillars of virtue. And that's why the death of Hodor - in season 6 episode 5 - has such an impact.
Hodor (or Willis, or Walder to give him his true names from the show and book) was the exception to Game of Thrones' dirty little rule. While other characters around him showed weakness, pride, aggression, or any of the other less heroic human idiosyncrasies, Hodor was a shining beacon of nobility. He was that character with no vices or flaws, who existed purely in honour. In that sense, he was the purest hero in the whole show - his virtue actually forced upon him by a fate that could never be changed. In fact, he was often used as a cypher to fulfil the less-than-savoury actions of the characters around him.
There's a fair amount of hate online for Bran and Meera, as many blame them for the demise of one of the show's most loved characters. Even Isaac Wright, who plays Bran in the show, Tweeted jokingly about killing off Hodor. His end was tailor-made to make us, as viewers, feel it as deeply as possible - from the perfectly-paced revelation about his 'secret' to the shot of his stoic face being torn apart by wights to the silent rolling of the credits that mark the end of his story.
Nice one, Bran. 😞May 23, 2016
Make no mistake, though, Hodor's fate was inescapable and his life was a fixed loop in the series' timeline. In other words, his purpose - ever since he was a boy - was to hold that door to allow Bran to escape and, as Jojen reminded us earlier in their travels, there is no way of changing fate, even with full knowledge of what's going to happen. Hodor was Hodor because of Bran. He became the character we knew and loved because of this singular purpose that was thrust upon him. It couldn't have happened any other way. That's all a bit of a mindfuck to be honest, but the key message here is that we owe the wonderful, virtuous character Hodor to Bran and Meera - they're responsible for his life, not his death. If Bran hadn't intervened, he'd have been just another stable boy, likely cut-down when the Ironborn sacked Winterfell.
But his fate is only one facet of his life. Sure, Hodor has spawned Game of Thrones' most prolific meme, and was often the butt of so many jokes. I'm even guilty of milking the meme myself, having created several entire features based on his one-word-wisdom. He was, however, far larger than the single word that kept tumbling from his lips. Hodor served faithfully and while his language and destiny was restricted, his day to day actions never were. He assisted Bran because he was commanded to do so by Maester Luwin, but he carried the crippled boy to the ends of the earth without complaint because of a loyalty to his friends. To what extent was Hodor aware of his own purpose? Neither books nor show make it 100% clear. It certainly didn't make him a slave, and he was every bit a human being in his own right - the scene shortly before the White Walkers attack, where Meera is talking about home-cooked meals with Hodor is a painful reminder that his inner thoughts are just as colourful and emotional as everyone else's. Ironically, Hodor was one of the show’s best-written and perfectly-acted characters.
At the same time, however, Hodor could never have abandoned Bran. His loyalty was, whether he knew it or not, something he couldn't escape. It's what makes his death doubly tragic. Not only was he a firm favourite (because he was funny and likeable), but his entire purpose throughout the whole show has been to die to save his friends. He's one of the few major characters whose death actually means something; which adds something positive to the whole Game of Thrones journey. All too often big personalities are sacrificed in the name of shock value or narrative change - Robb Stark, Joffrey, Prince Oberyn - but Hodor's sacrifice gives us a deeper understanding of how the world of Westeros works, and the part Bran has to play in it. He's a crucial link between the chaotic early seasons, and the more revelatory 'end-game' seasons. Also - to remind you - he sacrificed himself to save his friends.
That fact just makes him a bigger hero, in my mind. Hodor changed the world around him and made Game of Thrones a slightly brighter, less cynical place. Sure, his destiny was fixed, and he had no choice but to hold the door, but it's the stuff he did in between that makes him a true champion. Good night, sweet giant. Or, in your own words: “Hodor”.