A seriously intense scene ended last week’s episode of Game of Thrones. If you haven’t watched, I’ll give you a chance to leave. Anything below is mostly reference and minor spoilers at best, but I don’t want to get punched in the neck.
Today I was reading a few interviews and articles about “The Rains of Castamere” episode and its necessity to the overall narrative. There are many interviews with George R. R. Martin where he explains the motivations behind what happened with the Red Wedding. There are also a lot of comments on these articles by silly fans saying things like “I am so done with Game of Thrones now” or, my favorite, one that went on to talk about how Mr. Martin is an “angry, depressed man who destroys any character with a modicum of humility or good spirit because he can’t stand happiness.”
Guys, I know we all get pretty attached to characters in stories. I cry like a complete jackass at TV all the time. My wife and I sat with our mouths open like a couple orgasmic bullfrogs last weekend as we absorbed what went down in Walder Frey’s castle. It’s no secret that throughout the course of the Game of Thrones tale, most of the “good guys” have ended up dead – at least, many more of them than the “bad guys.” But because of that, George Martin is a horrible man who hates happiness and loves sorrow? Get a life.
Westeros is not Mickey’s Magic Kingdom. The gates of King’s Landing aren’t covered with pinwheels and pink streamers and there aren’t men on unicycles handing out lemon cakes in the streets. It’s a world where everyone with power will lie, cheat, murder, rape and steal from anyone and anything to make their mark. Having control, slaves, land, territory and the ability to command fear and have others fall to your whims is the goal of nearly every important figure in the story. Those one level below are loyal only as long as the spoils are available, but are keen to betray their leaders when the next best deal comes along. Everyone is in constant flux, constant paranoia, constant defense. You play, you win, or you’re dead.
That’s why the Starks suffer. Though they have their flaws, they’re more honorable than most. They’re kind-hearted. They care about family, loyalty and dignity. They don’t fit in. And as such, they lose.
This isn’t because George R. R. Martin hates happiness. It’s because he’s respectful and truthful to the world he’s created. The Starks are outnumbered by almost the entire population of people who have the ability to do anything about them. And, like, that’s sort of challenging odds for survival.
It’s also a bad plan to think the tone of an author’s work gives any indication to who they are as a person, and if that’s something you do, I suggest putting an end to it immediately. I mean I don’t know the guy and he might be absolutely terrible, but making that inference about any real human from acts in a work of fiction is pretty goofy. It’s called Game of Thrones, not George R. R. Martin’s Manifesto of Human Suckage. It’s A Song of Ice and Fire, not Tyler Perry’s Diary of a Mad Fat Man.
More than anything, the unpredictable calamity ever-present in the world makes for intriguing storytelling. You can’t root for the good guys if they’re always on top – there’s no point to that. People have to be beaten down to rise again. The Starks just get beat harder and more consistently than most.
As a culture, we’ve grown to love stories where the narrative is fueled by people that aren’t likable. Look at some of the other most popular recent shows on television – House, Dexter, Boardwalk Empire, Breaking Bad – all stories centered around people who are essentially douchebags. (In the cases of Dexter, Nucky and Walter, they’ve grown more and more unlikable as their stories have complicated.) It’s why we have an addiction to Law and Order, CSI and lifetime movies about serial killers and rapists and Rob Lowe in a creepy mustache. Evil is interesting.
Some may say “but those characters often change in the end! In Game of Thrones, everyone stays evil!” And they’re right about the first part. But we don’t know the end of Game of Thrones yet. Nobody does, not in literature or TV. Goodness may prevail in the end, but not before a whole lot of terrible has a whole lot of triumph. I hate to draw a Hitler comparison because it’s almost trite at this point, but think about that. Hitler was a pretty not-awesome dude, and he spent a long time being really successful at being not awesome, ruining all sorts of shit with true Tywin Lannister style. “Good” beat “evil” in the end, but not before evil had a really strong run. And that actually happened in the real world.
Martin said the Red Wedding scene is actually based on a real-life event from Scottish History. Real life always provides more than sufficient inspiration for horrific works of fiction. Old George doesn’t need to be all that screwed up in the head to come up with this stuff. Humanity provides. He adapts.
Who knows? Maybe in the end we’ll get a super cheery ending to wrap this game of thrones up. Maybe it will be like The Village, and Arya will run through the woods, climb over a fence and find out it’s actually 2013 and the whole world is a farce and the White Walkers are just Sigourney Weaver and Brendan Gleeson in robes. But honestly, a completely happy ending would not befit this tale. It’s not the land of Hyrule or Albion. It’s Westeros. It’s awful. It’s full of monstrous people and literal monsters. Everyone fights to survive, and most don’t. And it’s great. For me, this episode was my favorite to date, and the one that has made Season 3 stand out above the other two.
So please, enjoy the story we’re all a part of and appreciate the way it is unflinchingly true to itself. Appreciate the way Martin keeps you guessing. Appreciate a cast and crew so dedicated to maintaining the integrity of the story that you can live the tale with relative accuracy and never have to pick up a book if you don’t want (though you should.) And appreciate the fact we get to take this insanely unpredictable ride through an even more volatile world with such explosive characters.
Or don’t. If you still want to be “done” with the show, go for it. The Lannisters send their regards.