Note: Major spoilers through to and including the fifth ASoIaF book.
This series is commonly considered to be the archetypical Crapsack World , in which life is short, nasty, and brutal, and hardly anybody “bad” ever gets their just desserts while the innocent suffer.
However, if you really get to thinking about the various deaths and fates of A Song of Ice and Fire – illustrated in morbid elegance for the show by the Beautiful Deaths series – you quickly realize that there such an astounding degree of poetic justice that if anything it is closer to a traditional morality tale than the grimdark nightmare it is so commonly believed to be.
Robert Baratheon is a drunk, fat, stupid pig. He gets killed by a pig. He even appreciates the humor of the situation before he dies.
Viserys suborned everything to his goal of becoming king, becoming cruel and insane in the process. He ended up getting crowned, though not quite in the way he expected to.
Balon Greyjoy dreamed of returning to the old ways, and put those plans in action once the Seven Kingdoms fragmented. He met his Drowned God sooner than he anticipated.
Lysa Arryn, paranoid towards everyone, was murdered by the one person she trusted; and in the same way she had executed dozens of others at the whim of her mentally ill son.
Khal Drogo. A steppe warlord in his prime brought down not by arms or sorcery, but by a common infection of a minor wound.
Joffrey, the Mountain, Vargo Hoat – grade A psychopaths one and all – meet exceedingly sticky, humiliating, and painful deaths.
Eddard Stark. Even this pillar of “white” morality in a sea of “gray” and “black” ultimately fell to karmic blowback. He got executed on a misunderstanding. Where did we see that before? In the prologue, where he disbelieved Gared’s stories and summarily executed him as a deserter. Recall that he did not even attempt to verify his story with the Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch. Both were ultimately undone for being unable to handle a dark secret – and both died by the same blade, Eddard’s Ice.
Tywin. The man who regards guaranteeing the survival and future prosperity of his House as his ultimate goal in life, and lets no ethical concerns get in the way of it, ends up getting murdered by his own son and leaving no clear successor to Casterley Rock. He won many battles, but lost the war of his life – a “war” at which the vast majority of people succeed at without giving it much thought at all.
Even those characters who survive (for now), surprisingly frequently, get appropriate comeuppances.
Tyrion murders Tywin. In the process, he confirms himself as a kinslayer beyond any lingering shadow of a doubt – but it is all the more ironic that it’s quite possible he saved the father he hated so much from a much more agonizing death, if the popular theory that the Red Viper had poisoned him before his duel with The Mountain is correct. In the process, to add to the irony, he “rescued” Tywin from the consequences of his own cruelty and brutality many years ago.
Jorah trafficked in slaves. He becomes a slave. And all because of oneitis.
Theon was in a difficult situation, between a rock and a hard place, an unwilling Third Culture Kid in a world of savage tribal loyalties. But he could have perhaps managed to navigate himself out of it if it were not for his overweening ego and superiority/inferiority complex. His fate is to have his personality, his ego, erased – and at the hands of Ramsay Snow no less, who like Theon is also a self-obsessed “outsider” – if an immeasurably crueler and more malignant one.
Sansa was giddy for a man she didn’t know, overlooking the numerous signs he was a grade A psychopath. Her award was to get to know him entirely too well.
Jaime defined himself, in large part, through his skill with the sword. He lost his right hand – the same hand he had used to push Bran Stark out of a window while a guest at Winterfell. Cersei, among other pathologies, had a ridiculously inflated sense of self. She got paraded naked around King’s Landing.
Jon Snow. As with Ned Stark, this may elicit howls of outrage downvotes, but that doesn’t mean it’s irrelevant. He executed Janos Slynt for treason and insubordination. Slynt, of course, was an excessively nasty man, and there were no tears shed for him; in any case, it was an entirely legal and indeed the correct thing to do. But then he wanted to get involved in political squabbles that were, strictly speaking, not of the Night’s Watch business. But too bad for him, the Night’s Watch is an exceedingly strict organization, and unlike his first attempt to return to politics south of the Wall, this time he didn’t limit that involvement just to himself, but invited all who would follow along with him. And for this he got a half dozen daggers in his guts. Of course, we know the caveats, we still sympathize with him… but even here, at some level, what happened to him was not really “unjust.”
At least by what passes for justice in Westeros.
tl;dr: A Song of Ice and Fire is commonly viewed as a deeply cynical series in which heroes die, the innocent suffer, and evil prospers. To the contrary, in a remarkably large number of cases – more, even, than in many much more “optimistic” works – people do get what they “deserve.” Or if not, then at least the principle of “what goes round, comes around,” is frequently demonstrated.
GRRM is a sort of Jigsaw.