Sunday, September 14, 2014

Exploring character: G.R.R. Martin and Game of Thrones

GoT is great at using character to drive story, and does so better than certain other currently hot cable shows (I'm looking at you, Walking Dead).

A great trick G.R.R. Martin uses: he takes inner struggles and turns them into living avatars. You can't see character's inner feelings in a TV show, so this is a great work around. And it's one way to tell who's going to be sticking around, and who's disposable fodder.

Take Stannis, for example. He's the definition of conflicted. Couldn't be more obvious if it were written on his forehead with indelible marker. He desires power, but is burdened by a conscience.

His advisors represent the battle going on inside his own noggin. The Red Lady tempts him with lust and power, while The Onion Knight appeals to his sense of duty and decency.

Desire versus conscience.

That conflict is what pulls Stannis into the third dimension. The Red Lady says his journey to the throne will require betraying everything he holds dear: family, friends, allies, honour. And as he chucks them under the wagon in his quest for the throne, he becomes more conflicted. Not something you see very often in a fantasy novel. Sauron is just a prick from the get-go. There's no nuance to be found, just flat-out evil. Which can be a lot of fun.

But Stannis? Will to Power compels him to commit horrible crimes, yet eats away at his soul. Not enough to stop, but perhaps enough to drive him mad. There have been mad kings before…

That's where The Onion Knight fits in. Stannis brings him in to save his soul.

Stannis is rigid and self-righteous to the point of being insufferable. If he becomes King, he'll spend all his time brooding over the horrors he committed to get there. Can you see Stannis frolicking about, holding mass orgies and letting go? Me either. It's gonna be Dour Kingdom Time, 24/7.

While Stannis barrels downward, Jamie stumbles up.

For him, the light is Brienne, who offers hope, honour, and redemption.

Holding him back is Cersei, the dark temptress, who's amoral, debauched, and utterly ruthless.

Their father Tywin is even worse, but his monstrous nature is shackled (you might even say it's harnessed) by his sense of duty. It's his only redeeming feature. He dictates like a demented Father Knows Best. Without his sense of duty, left to his own desires, he'd have had Tyrion throttled as a baby, just as his not-so-loving sister Cersei would have wanted.

Tyrion starts out as an amoral hedonist, a self-indulgent dwarf who desperately tries to stay out of the serious business of power. He fails, and his moral code is blown into sharp relief by waves of unwanted crises. Horrors and injustice compel him to act, again and again.

Shae represents turning inward: she's selfishness at the expense of the external world, urging Tyrion to run away with her for love.

Bron is mercenary indifference enabled by deadly ability. He can do what Tyrion cannot, but he has no sense of right and wrong. Bron's a weapon, one that could be used for good or ill. Self-interest is paramount.

Much as Tyrion tries to deny it, and run away from it, he's a moral actor, and so his reflections are not. Morality does not drive them: money, love, and revenge do. Base urges, untempered by conscience.

Danny, too, is on a downward journey, from Utopian clouds into dust coated realism. She liberates the slaves only to find her pet dragons eating hapless children. Revolts plague her rule. She can't choose between easy rights and wrongs, only between the greater and lesser evil. One way or another, ruling a kingdom sullies her. It's a humbling experience for a character driven by noble motives.

Honestly, the show is amazingly well done.

Chaos (Littlefinger) vs. Varys (order) is another awesome angle he's got going. Fire vs. Ice. So many layers.

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