My last piece on my first impressions of Game of Thrones was somewhat cynical. I still stand by many of my comments and feel more strongly against the disgusting sexual abuse by men – what I read of season 2 and poor Ros the Pros made my blood boil! But I have been wondering about my final premise – to read it like a myth. Whether intended or not, it makes a story into something meaningful and empowering, and rather topical.
The watchword of season 1 is “Winter is Coming”– a phrase meant to frighten those younger characters who had never known what real hardship is. Just as I watch this, Britain has brought in a new round of austerity measures. The media are making their own ‘winter is coming’ clarion call, adding a bass note to the government warnings about cuts as savage as the Dothraki. We are encouraged that there are threats from fearful outsiders, just like those from over the Wall and across the Narrow Sea.
Winter is Coming means get ready – as those wise disability benefit claimants who have renewed before the new harsher rules came in. It doesn’t mean just brace yourself, but to prepare. In metaphorical winter, it is not a case of endure it and see if you come through: unlike a season, we can affect whether winter comes and do not have to accept it.
I am encouraged that so many characters in Game of Thrones are disadvantaged, yet no-one gives in. They turn disaster into opportunity instead of cowering and resigning themselves.
Tyrion the dwarf advises to wear one’s disadvantage like armour. He doesn’t languish saying: my family don’t love me, my father is ashamed of me, I’ve only ever been with women I’ve paid…. I will be lonely and an easy target so I mayaswell just die. He twice states his love of life. He knows he is not a strong fighter, so he trains his mind instead by constant reading and uses his wit to help save him. He has a soft spot for others whom society rejects; he designs a saddle so “cripple” boy Bran can ride a horse. Although he cannot play as he did, Bran relishes that he can still look at the world and enjoy that.
When Daenerys is sold to a violent warlord by her controlling brother, she could have felt her world was over. But she not only ends up with a loving marriage, but a loving people, and she becomes the leader her brother dreamt of being, learning her powers and realising her potential. She is empowered through loss, transformed through tragedy and treason.
Arya names her wolf for a queen she admires and takes after. When her father is killed before her and she’s rounded up by a rough man, Arya must have also feared for her life. But by disguising her as a boy and taking her to the Wall, Arya is made safe from Queen Cersei and avoids the arranged submissive marriage she dreads. Her ‘dance’ teacher Syrio taught her to tell death “not today;” even bravely when he realised it may call for him, he saves her and imbues courage and a buoyancy in her that will keep her going. Arya tells her father that Syrio said, “every hurt teaches us a lesson, every lesson makes us stronger.” I think I might make that my sigil and motto.
Jon Snow is so fed up of being the half acknowledged bastard son that he goes to the Wall to join the Night Watch of brothers. As a nobleman with sword training, he looks forward to military duties – only to be relegated to manservant. But his friend Sam points out that being a steward to the chief commander has huge advantages and opportunities.
This is what Game of Thrones.net says of Sandor, the Hound:
Once Sansa has lost everything, he tries to show her the lessons he had to learn alone: how to survive, how to keep going when dreams are dead. He tries to protect her and help her to protect herself.
Even a slimy character (Ser Petyr) has something worth hearing: “Only by admitting what we are do we get what we want.” It seemed to refract some spiritual manifestation and growth books I read recently.
I realised that life in Westeros can feel more akin to our current world, especially in the countries with so much violence in them at present. Many countries have leaders who want power for its own sake, not to lead for the good of the people. Houses may not be about blood families, but about other alliances which means you help your own, at cost to others and regardless of ethics. As Cersei tells her son, when you are in power, you can create the realities that will be circulated and believed. But the truth will be revealed and karma has a way of dealing out justice.
What follows winter is coming in Game of Thrones…? The fight back*, not simply being crushed by undemocratic tyrants with dubious justice systems. And those who seize their power and treat their people cruelly never keep their seat.
*I am not suggesting for a moment it ought be a violent one; I am against taking up arms