DISCLAIMER: If you haven't watched the latest episode of Game of Thrones, this post contains HUGE spoilers. Steer clear at all costs!
We all have our favorite characters when it comes to books/movies/TV/video games. There is always someone we're rooting for and someone we hope dies a horrible, painful death (I mean, at least I feel that way most of the time). For every hero or protagonist, there's usually a slew of characters who don't deserve the air they breathe. The creators of such characters have accomplished a difficult task by evoking such strong emotions in us, especially when they are reactions to fictional situations. It takes a lot to develop a character that can bring out those kinds of emotions in us.
Nobody likes flat or boring characters. The world has enough Qui-Gon Jinns and Rand al'Thors. We want our protagonists to have substance of some sort, rather than being poor emulations of cardboard cut-outs. Unfortunately, often these underdeveloped individuals populate the fictional worlds we enjoy far too much.
Every once in a while a character comes along that we cannot help rooting for. On the other hand, we also encounter a character who we love to hate. A perfect example of this would be Joaquin Phoenix's character in Gladiator, Commodus. He's cruel, arrogant, sadistic, uncaring, etc. - all the traits a person who deserves our spite should possess. As far as I can remember, he was the first character I absolutely loathed. I hoped that he would get what he deserved by the end of the film. Spoiler alert, he did.
Oh, how I hated you.
Then we have characters like Upham, the hapless translator in Saving Private Ryan. The dude's an absolute simpering pansy in the film's constant combat situations, which causes us to be sympathetic towards him but at the same time frustrates us because of his inability to overcome his fears. Spoiler alert, he does.
You're not a bad guy, you just cry too much.
The greatest accomplishment for any writer creating a character - whatever the medium may be - is crafting an entity that we can connect with. As in, achieving the monumental task of making the viewer/reader actually care about that character. Why should we care whether or not Luke defeats Darth Vader? We do because we are sympathetic to his plight, and we can't help but cheer him on. We feel his anguish the moment he finds out who sired him. From that point on, we want him to win. That's good character development (Mark Hamill's acting skills are debatable, but that's besides the point).
Hate to tell you this, but...
Justice occurs on screen all the time, and it's sweet when it does. The bad guys usually get what's coming to them in the end whilst the heroes walk away from an explosion in the background with an emotionless expression on their faces. Yeah, that's exciting, right? Other times, we have to suffer through seeing our favorite characters die. Maximus may have killed Commodus in Gladiator, but not without losing his life (it was a cheap shot). The squad led by Captain Miller (Tom Hanks) in Saving Private Ryan gets weeded out one by one throughout the film, until the climactic end battle where most of the surviving members die, including Hanks' character. William Wallace in Braveheart. V in V For Vendetta. Rue in The Hunger Games. That one red-headed kid in Harry Potter. The list goes on.
SHE'S JUST A KID!
As most of you know, I am a huge fan of George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series and the HBO television adaptation, Game of Thrones (named after the first book). I picked the first volume up on a whim in a used book store back in 2009, not knowing what I was getting myself into. Since then, I've read all of the books that have been published (five of them) twice, while also deeply enjoying the TV series as it approaches the end of its third season.
It was very apparent early on that Martin has no intentions of following the tried and true method when it comes to crafting a story. As in, the good guys get screwed just as often (if not more) than the bad guys. Honestly, I didn't believe that Eddard Stark was really dead in the book when it happened. I kept reading on in innocent curiosity, hoping he'd turn up a few chapters later, allowing me to exclaim, "Ha! Oh George, you had me going there for a second!"
Yeah, that didn't happen. He was really dead.
Half the time you don't even know who is good or evil. Everybody just seems human, if not a little messed up. Some of them are sick bastards (Joffrey), some of them are deeply naive in their understanding of the world (Sansa), and some of them possess noble qualities, but to a fault (Eddard). But the best part about these characters is that they are so well developed that I quickly found myself attached to to them. Sadly, I was hardly ever accurate in my predictions of who would live. It's a huge drawback that the characters are all so well developed because once one of them is killed off, it hurts a heck of a lot more than if it were some underdeveloped mannequin. Put bluntly, no one is ever safe in this series. No one.
Last night's Game of Thrones episode contained one of the most controversial, shocking, and unexpected scenes in recent television history. I mean, I had read the book twice. I knew what was coming. Unlike a lot of readers, I didn't throw the book across the room or into the fire once I read that chapter. Honestly, when I read the events of what is now infamously known as "The Red Wedding", I was in a state of shock more than anything else. I didn't want to believe it, but by that point I had grown accustomed to Martin's evil ways. So I read on.
Upon learning that The Red Wedding was going to occur in last night's episode, I maintained a smug know-it-all attitude. I knew that my friends would be horrified to see several main characters killed off all at once. The Red Wedding has jokingly been referred to as the deciding factor for readers. As in, if you get through it and continue to read, congratulations. In the words of Greatjon Umber, your meat is bloody tough and you've become a true fan. If you give up on the series, then we don't blame you.
I was eager to watch last night's episode. Remember, I knew exactly what was going to happen. Of course, seeing it on screen would be a completely different experience than reading it. Perhaps I underestimated how big of a difference it truly was.
I've got to be honest, the episode horrified me. It was right up there with The Passion Of The Christ as far as one of the hardest things I've ever watched on-screen. It literally made me sick to my stomach. I was haunted all night with the images of Lady Talisa getting stabbed multiple times in her pregnant belly. Robb Stark being filled with crossbow bolts and then getting stabbed in the heart. Robb's direwolf Grey Wind getting shot to death in front of Arya's helpless eyes. Catelyn Stark losing her mind after watching her son die, only to have her throat slit, moments after she slit the throat of Walder Frey's young wife.
I've made posts here and here about films that affected me in powerful ways. Both of those entries were reflections on the circumstances that I face every day as a result of my mental illness, making it a very realistic viewing experience. Last night's events are in a whole new ball park. Sure, I knew it was coming...but did they have to stab her that many times? Oh God why..
Oh, and if you think I'm being ridiculous, watch this compilation of people's reactions to the show:
If you've been on Twitter/Tumblr/Facebook today, chances are that you've heard about this infamous "Red Wedding". Do yourself a favor and stay naive. Don't come over into the dark. There's nothing but broken souls nursing shattered dreams, while rocking back and forth in the fetal position.
At this very moment, I'm still recovering from what happened. I'll probably watch it again, because I hate myself. And I'll feel horror all over again, no doubt. But even after all the madness, I can't help but love Martin in a very confusing way. Only he could have achieved making me feel such intense emotions about fictional characters. As I said, we all have the characters we root for and the ones we hope get killed off, but I have never cared so much for a cast of imaginary people as I have until I started this book/TV series. In my opinion, that's the penultimate achievement for a writer. The moment I start caring is the moment that the writer has done their job. And in this case, the job was done very well.
You are one sick man, Martin. And I can't help but love you for it.
I'll be where the rest of you are this week, sitting in the corner humming "The Rains of Castamere" while chanting Arya Stark's hit-list over and over in a Gollum-like voice.
And then come Sunday night, I'll be right back on the couch for the season finale. Hopefully you're all brave enough to be doing the same.
The North Remembers.
PS: for some fantastic further reading, check out some of these articles. INCLUDES SPOILERS.
George R. R. Martin on writing The Red Wedding chapter - http://insidetv.ew.com/2013/06/02/game-of-thrones-author-george-r-r-martin-why-he-wrote-the-red-wedding/
An analysis of character development as it pertains to the show - http://blogs.smithsonianmag.com/smartnews/2013/06/why-its-okay-to-be-so-upset-over-yesterdays-game-of-thrones/?utm_source=facebook.com&utm_medium=socialmedia&utm_campaign=20130603&utm_content=smartnewsgameofthrones
What The Red Wedding accomplished in the television world - http://www.esquire.com/blogs/culture/red-wedding-triumph