A few years ago, a little show called Game of Thrones took over the world. I couldn’t go anywhere on Facebook or Tumblr without hearing about it. I didn’t even know what the show was about, but I knew there was a lot of nudity, and a lot of fighting. Since violence isn’t really my jam, I wasn’t too intrigued.
Somewhere along the way, I found out that it had been a book series, too.
Queue the intrigue. Because I’m that person who needs to read the book, AND watch the movie, if time allows (I’m not trying to be a snob when I say that, either. I just really suck at seeing movies, as anyone who knows me at all can confirm).
As I heard more about the show, the book series climbed higher and higher on my to-read list. But what truly caught my interest was when my cousin Heather told me about a certain quote from Tyrion Lannister:
“Never forget what you are, for surely the world will not. Make it your strength. Then it can never be your weakness. Armor yourself in it, and it will never be used to hurt you.”
I think that’s how my love for the series began. What finally grabbed my attention wasn’t the sex, the epic battles, or even the medieval fantasy setting: it was Tyrion, the dwarf who had always felt like an outcast (he’s still my favorite, by the way).
I purchased the first book as soon as I could, and I was addicted. Every free moment I had was spent reading. I hadn’t loved a series like that in a very long time.
After reading the books, I started the show. Admittedly, it took me forever to catch up (meaning Drew and I finished watching the fifth season a few weeks ago–I suck at watching things, remember?), but the show is just as addicting. The actors are perfectly cast; the sets are gorgeous–and sometimes, you see more of a character than you do in the novels.
Even though I believe George R.R Martin is a brilliant writer, and that his novels inspired an excellent television show, I found myself reflecting on my love for the series. Last season did not come without criticism, namely for changing various plot points and including scenes with sexual violence. It’s a thrilling story, but it’s not particularly easy to watch. How did I–and millions of others–fall in love with such a brutal series?
Take the Red Wedding, for instance. That scene is absolutely heartbreaking, and for good reason. Even Cersei’s atonement walk is hard to watch, and there aren’t many fans I know who have love for Cersei Lannister. I realize that many fans have a stronger stomach than I do when it comes to blood and gore, but I don’t know anyone who relishes the thought of seeing yet another beloved character killed. In fact, many fans stopped watching last season because of unneeded sexual violence.
Westeros is a fictional universe that I do not care to visit. In some ways, it’s so much more terrifying than reality–but it’s also like looking into a mirror. Certain scenes are based on our own history; other plot points, such as radical religious leaders, are so relevant to today that the story stops feeling like fantasy.
In the middle of it all are some of the most fascinating characters in recent culture. With the exception of Joffrey, I don’t think there is one character that is fully good or fully evil. But our heroes have one thing in common: they are all outcasts.
Game of Thrones is the ultimate underdog story. And who doesn’t love to root for the underdog?
Daenerys Targaryen goes from exiled princess to Mother of Dragons. Tyrion Lannister is accused of crimes he did not commit. Jon Snow is only known as Ned Stark’s bastard son until he joins the Night’s Watch. The list goes on and on; if they didn’t start out as misfits, their circumstances have made them that way.
“I have a tender spot in my heart for cripples, bastards and broken things.”
-Tyrion Lannister, A Game of Thrones
The real story is not about violence: it is about triumph. We don’t love the characters who already have power–we love those who are beaten and abused by power, the ones who fight to survive. Game of Thrones is not successful because of its controversial nature, but because it appeals to the tender spots in our own hearts. And until the last book is written and the last episode airs, we will continue to cheer for the characters who never thought they’d win.