If Game of Thrones is "the last show we'll all watch together," then it follows it will be the last show we all meme together, too. Savor these next six weeks while they last because the collective memeing of Game of Thrones is what makes the show so delightful — an adjective I otherwise hesitate to use in the same sentence as "Game of Thrones."
But that's just it: Thrones is practically one-note in its misery. Children and dogs are wantonly murdered; beloved characters have their throats cut at every turn. Heck, they made everyone's favorite sweetheart, Samwell Tarly, cry last Sunday! Aside from a few one-liners by Tyrion, the show has very, very little levity. Leave it to the internet to offer its own.
Game of Thrones memes have been in circulation since the show first went on air in 2011, although what can now be found in numerous Facebook groups, Reddit communities, and Twitter feeds was once most abundant on Tumblr. The blog Winter Is Coming B--ch was one of the pioneers of the genre, and introduced the world to the "stupid Ned Stark" meme:
The static jokes are pretty simple — "Littlefinger tells you not to trust him? Trust Littlefinger," goes one — but they also reveal the tension with which fans watched the show, and the humor that anxiety produced. The eventual downfall of Ned Stark ended up being softened by jokes about how obviously dumb his actions were when you put them in overly-simplified phrases and block letters. This being the internet, the meme subsequently splintered into many other forms, like "stupid Bran Stark" ("Promise mother you won't climb. Climb tower.").
What is clear from the Game of Thrones memes' earliest origins is that jokes about the show rely heavily on a wicked, dark sense of humor, frequently pulling from the most disturbing scenes for inspiration, backdrops, and riffs. Season one's pivotal moments, including the brutal death of Daenerys' brother, Viserys Targaryen, and the beheading of Ned Stark, were quickly recirculated as relatable moments:
It is only natural, then, that the show's most morbid memes came out of the Red Wedding, in which several major characters were stunningly executed during season three. Memes ranged from fans commenting on how not okay they were to raging at Game of Thrones author George R.R. Martin to responding to character deaths with — what else? — Taylor Swift lyrics. While fans' reactions to the show were genuine in the moment, it is hilarity that aids in the processing afterwards; grief, terror, and humor are strange, but undeniable, bedfellows. It's not that people can't emotionally handle Game of Thrones without memes, but the show, downer that it is, is still entertainment, a way to spend your leisure time. The memes, at the very least, balance out what might be a bummer of a night with some buoyancy.
Memes also don't always have to be coping mechanisms. Game of Thrones is nothing if not self-serious, and that invites friendly mockery even from diehard fans. Many memes are so far tonally from the show that the act of making the joke is itself funny and surprising. That impulse was on full display on Sunday night after the premiere of the eighth season, an episode that, relatively speaking, was pretty tame. Memes nevertheless addressed the unintentionally amusing expression of Daenerys' dragon before she and Jon Snow embraced, as well as Bran's general creepiness throughout the episode:
— McKenan bundy (@mckenanbundy) April 15, 2019
— Joe Brueggemeyer (@JoesTakeOnStuff) April 15, 2019
It's not just about making the memes, although hats off to all of you funny people that do. It's about consuming them in bulk, the way you might a recap or an analysis, giving the show a continued relevance and life in the days after it's aired. Collecting the memes has become its own industry — aggregates are frequently dozens of items long, playing with every major twist, plot development, or zinger in the episode. Daenerys making Sam cry after telling him she executed his family? Yep, there's a meme for that. Or rather, there's 21. Sharing them is at least as fun as discussing major moments in the episode and, I'd argue at this point, even more so as the show has gotten grimmer and more convoluted.
What makes me most excited about the season ahead are the surprises left to come — the ones in the plot, sure, but also the shocked amusement that comes with stumbling onto an off-color joke or a bit of good-natured gallows humor (if such a thing is not an oxymoron). Admittedly, not all of the memes work; as with all forms of humor, there are duds and worse, jokes that are truly offensive, racist, sexist, or unnecessarily vulgar. More commonly, though, I come across memes that other people find hilarious that I don't get or simply don't find funny myself.
But that last point is why Game of Thrones — and its memes — are so great. There's a meme template out there for everyone.