Maybe Tyrion has been watching too much Game of Thrones. Never a light-hearted series (more a horse-hearted series), the show has come under attack this season for visiting some of its worst horrors on some of its most-beloved characters: we saw Sansa Stark raped by new husband Ramsay Bolton (or rather saw Theon see it) and saw Shireen Baratheon burned as a sacrifice by her father to the Lord of Light (or rather heard her chilling screams). An ugly battle became a draining siege; the victories were few, the misery fell like snow on The Wall.
Pretty much hits the nail on the head. This was a narrative choice that the writers made, not something Stannis did. They have chosen to show us a world where depraved, immoral people are put on high, where the rapes/deaths of women are mostly meant to show us how men feel, and anyone, including children, who represents anything positive is destroyed.
And they refuse to demonstrate any sort of actual moral choice anyone makes that would inform us of anything different.
Power is the end and any means necessary to accomplish that are right. Any means, and there is nothing that any one of virtue can do to prevent this.
What is the point? What else does Game of Thrones have to tell me in order to justify my time and efforts?
“Life sucks” is not something we have to spend years watching a TV program to understand. Tyrion sure has that right. Leisure time does not have to spent learning that lesson.
And we have had many other narratives and stories that have examined this question, one that GoT seems to not really be interested in examining.
I had thought it would be to get to a deeper or more subtle understanding of power and how the game of thrones is played. But, as I discuss below, the writers are simply not interested in that, in providing us any choice of solutions for the problems being faced by the characters.
“Supreme power is only gained and maintained by force” is not a very valuable lesson. Especially as it is something – thanks to the last 400 years since the Age of Enlightenment – we know is no longer the case.
A Simpleton’s Narrative
I find that the writers have created a show that only has a shallow and quite narrow understanding – physical power is all and anything that is done using physical force to maintain power is justified, even incest, rape, castration, human sacrifice, sexual torture and depravity.
The ends justify the means.
The writers of GoT tell us, after 5 seasons, that there is only one way to play – use physical force to not only kill but to horribly degrade your enemies. Society must be destroyed in order to rule it.
No hint that any other choice even exists. After 5 years.
Well, that is a narrative choice that I now find lacking. This simplistic approach is not only disgusting. It has become boring.
They have created a world where I no longer care about the inhabitants. I now want the White Walkers to win.
Without some hint of anything else to tell us, I simply do not find myself wanting to hear anything more.
The Sword in the Stone
Another tale did provide such a hint, a tale written during the darkest days of WW2, when it seemed that power – depraved, immoral power – would win the world we actually do live in.
That only the most powerful survive.
It is a narrative that had a huge impact on my life, that taught me very important lessons. Lessons that the writers of GoT do not seem at all interested in even examining, much less teach.
What became the Once and Future King, much of it written before the US entered the war, examines many of the same themes as seen in GoT. It imagines a brutish, hard world similar to Westeros where the powerful vie for authority while trampling those with less power underneath.
And its protagonist has to develop his own morality and decide the question: Does might make right or does right make might?
The Queen of Air and Darkness
Arthur is a king who would seem to fit right in to the GoT world. Because he does horrible things too in order to gain power. Incest. The slaughter of innocent babies. Eventually killing his own son.
But he spends his whole life trying to seek the answer to that question, eventually seeing that power does not simply come from the most powerful. That this power must be tempered and supported by a morality that sustains the society, not only the powerful.
Arthur eventually sees the destruction of Camelot due mainly to his own inability to fully realize the answer White preaches. But the idea that there are other routes to power than just force has been borne and will take fruit in the democracies that eventually beat Germany and Japan.
It is an idea of the Enlightenment. That power derives not from the willingness of those on top to destroy through fear and depravity.
Power derives from the willingness of people below to allow individuals to lead in ways that benefit all. That is the world we do inhabit, even if we often fail, just as Arthur did.
It is the striving that makes us all better. That is the lesson White wished to teach. One that makes narrative sense but also teaches each of us lessons about the world we inhabit.
That is what narrative stories do at their best. Teach us how to live.
The Ill-Made Knight
What the writers of GoT appear to focus on are lessons that make little sense today and show a surprising lack of depth or thought.
The Once and Future King poses a question and provides a useful answer: power derives from social good not from brutish physical force.
This is an answer that the last 400 years has shown is actually the correct one. The societies that have tried to follow the answer White proposes, even as those societies may have come up short – as Arthur did – have been those that have been most successful.
This last week, the writers of GoT posed a puzzle for Stannis to solve – needing to change the weather, save his men and win the war, he must burn alive someone through whose body runs the blood of kings.
The writers present him with no choice, that he must – for the greater good and his own destiny – burn alive, without her consent, his only daughter. A young girl in her early teens that he spent so much time saving from a deadly disease.
He feels bad about doing this but, according to the writers, he has no other choice.
The last sounds of her he hears are her screams as she dies horribly. He does a monstrous thing because he has no other choice.
A Candle in the Wind
But the writers show their lack of nuance by not even providing another solution, one that would be as important and interesting as the one posed by White.
The blood of kings flows through Stannis’ body also. He has a choice: he can burn his own daughter and maintain his own road to power, losing his only heir to the throne.
And become a monster we hope dies soon.
Or he could sacrifice himself, using his own blood to save his men. The same magic that saves them could also save his kingdom, ensuring that his daughter now would rule.
Now that would have been an interesting thing to do. It would have shown some depth to the characters and what we could learn from them.
It would have been surprising.
And it would have provided an interesting narrative choice to go forward.
Stupid and Boring
One of the possibilities that Stannis has been presented with is that he is Azor Ahai reborn. This would be a chance to verify that. The writers could reward his sacrifice by revealing that he actually is this fabled leader.
Or reveal that he surely is not by having him die.All sorts of interesting laces to go with a story based on the option Stannis picked – my child or me.
But the writers for GoT chose not to have any of this, to provide an interesting lesson that we could all empathize with.
They went with the easy shock value narrative that really has nothing to teach us. They gave us a girl with no power screaming as she died in order to sustain a man who never even had a choice.
I agree with Tyrion: “There has always been more than enough death in the world for my taste. I can do without it in my leisure time.”
Especially with a show that so obviously retreats from interesting questions to make us simply idiot rubberneckers watching a horrible accident.
We are all voyeurs when we watch TV. But sometimes we learn something relevant. GoT, in my opinion, has even less to teach us about life than the Bachelorette.