Wednesday, June 1, 2011
Why I Approve of Game of Thrones
One of the reasons why I like Game of Thrones is that it is almost wholly divorced of preconceived notions of right and wrong as informed by Judeo-Christianity. It's a testament to human nature and how it functions when under all sorts of pressure be they political, familial, filial, and military in nature.
I like Game of Thrones because the truly good characters really know who they are and what they are all about. And the truly well-developed characters ooze much comfort in that knowledge. I like that a whole lot. As a viewer, I do like it a whole lot. As a scholar, I respect it.
Game of Thrones lives in the gray. It thrives in the gray. It doesn't seem to get hung up on definitions that supposedly reside in utterly black and/or utterly white poles. Life is messy, life is gray for the most part, and in the gray is where it, life, happens, in all of its gore and glory.
I have two favorite characters in this superbly executed series: Arya Stark - and by association Ned Stark - and Tyrion Lannister. Arya is the 'tomboy' daughter of Lord Stark. Lord Stark, Ned as he is called, has a strong core. He knows what he's about and he's comfortable with his core values. Ned claims to be a simple fighting man but he is far from 'simple.' First, he is a noble and few things spell 'simple' when nobility is involved, especially in pre-medieval Europe.
Ned is politically astute, a man of principle but also a man of reason. Ned has a number of children with Lady Catelyn, the most gripping of which is Arya. Arya despises sewing and typical activities of ladies. She couldn't care less for traditionally female roles and feels the most alive when playing outside with boys or learning how to use the sword. Lord Stark, sees Arya's nature and potential from the very beginning and in a kindness-informed fashion arranges for a sward-fighting tutor for her. She should be allowed to do what she chooses. And this is yet another reason to see him as a likable hero. Naturally, such tolerance is not ahistorical as examples of sword-loving females abound in pre-Christian myths. A quick example comes to mind, Brunhild from the Land of Ice as seen in the Song of the Nibelungs.
Another character I am absolutely taken by is Tyrion Lannister. Tyrion is marked as 'different.' As he puts is, he might as well be a bastard child as his father seems to reserve much resentment for him on account of him being the reason for his mother's premature death (she died at childbirth.) In addition, his 'mark' refers to him suffering from dwarfism. He is derogatorily referred to as the 'imp.' As he tells Jon Snow who is too young to use his own mark - i.e., that of being a bastard son to Ned Stark - to self-protect. Tyrion says to Jon with regards to his situation: “Wear it like armor and it can never be used to hurt you.” Words of wisdmon, Jon Snow. I'd take heed.
Tyrion's wisdom does not come purely out of suffering and experiential knowledge, however. Although, sadness seems to be inherent to him he also has an uncanny ability to read people well and fully. He reads voraciously, is highly learned, and, as a result, had access to all sorts of information and feedback which he is very quick to retrieve and use when he needs to.
Tyrion knows he is not loved. He knows this and he fully accepts it. See, acceptance is key here. Acceptance is what makes his truly great. He operates in reality and not in some idealism-tainted world where warm and fuzzy feelings abound. But he also knows his worth, or rather the worth of his family. "A Lannister always pays his debt", he is often heard saying. And that they do. Not only he, apparently, but all Lannisters. Tyrion is born into a wealthy family but of all of them he is the only one who has a shred of reality-informed kindness in him. The lack of kindness he's been exposed to his whole life as a result of his unfortunate condition is what seems to fuel his unique modus vivendi.
He uses his so-called vices and hedonism as a way of self-shielding. He knows he can rely on two things for survival: his father's coins and his own wisdom/talent for survival. He is rarely seen scheming and alliance-forging. He only tries to rely on others when his immediate life is in danger or when he's about to bestow an act of kindness on fellow 'marked' characters, like the newly paralized Bram, son of Lord Stark.
In sum, I like Game of Thrones for a number of reasons. I'm keen on it as a medievalist, no doubt. However, the reason why I am taken by it is that it portrays human nature for how it is: circumstance-informed, mostly denuded of idealism when reality is not forced into the shadows of the margins, and last but so definitely not least, self-mythologizing. Most exquisitely so.