June 30, 2014

Game of Thrones: The Behind the Scenes for the Traditional Fantasy Journey

Posted in Pop Culture at 11:55 pm by chavalah

Three years ago on Game of Thrones, Ned Stark was thwarted in his noble attempts to both show mercy to his enemies and stand behind his political convictions. Once he was killed, his son set off to avenge him, only to be murdered himself after a series of personal and political setbacks. The Starks are dead, most fans proclaim, meaning the adult Starks, the ones with the most agency to pull their family back together. With the three adult Starks dead, we are left with the dispossessed children–Sansa, a hostage in King’s Landing; Arya, a fugitive in the Riverlands; and Bran, chasing a prophetic future beyond the bounds of Westeros. (And Rickon, the baby who has hopefully found some sort of safety). Their half brother, Jon Snow, is a man grown, but is bound by oath to a family-less Order.

In my last entry, I talked about how Game of Thrones/ASOIAF relates to real-world social issues. From a different point of view (and thanks to tumblr fandom for this idea,) I can divide the six remaining original POVs from book one into two camps. Tyrion, Daenerys and Jon are viewpoints into the larger story, this impending war between ice and fire. Sansa, Arya and Bran are on more character-driven journeys; to find purpose when the heads of their family, and all those Stark ideals about honor and duty have all but dissipated. It’s undoubtedly my favorite part of this sprawling saga–sticking with the journeys and character development of these kids, who in other fantasy (and more mainstream) novels might just be background characters. With this arrangement, GRRM–and also the show–gives us something new.

I’m tentatively calling this clip my new favorite scene in the series, supplanting Sansa begging Joffrey for Ned’s life. It’s a slight divergence from the book, where Sansa is directly guided by Littlefinger to lie about Lysa’s death, though in her head she justifies it the way she later does on the show; “better to trust the man you know than the strangers you don’t.”

But with the tv medium demanding more external action and Sansa being aged up from her canon counterpart, it’s a change I can buy (helps that Sophie Turner played it off beautifully, too). It’s a development that’s been long in the making for this character, and I mean for longer than season four. Sansa Stark is the type of character who is easily dismissed because she’s not aggressive, and she certainly had no place to be in Joffrey’s court. Like with almost everyone on the show, her life was dictated by powers greater than herself, and in Joffrey’s court, all the king and Queen regent wanted was a receptacle for physical and emotional torture. What she learned there was how best to steel herself against the abuse, so that even in season two, as she seamlessly composed herself after Meryn’s beating, Tyrion remarks “you may survive us yet.”

Season four provided a greater range for the character, largely because outside of King’s Landing, she was able to use her skills in different ways because Littlefinger wanted something far different from her. Under his tutelage, she learned to ask questions of the world around her, and unraveled the mystery of Joffrey’s murder conspirators.

Sansa and Arya were more linked this season than any before, in what i dub the subplot of The Stark Sisters Under the Tutelage of Questionable Men. The Hound teaches Arya to be unquestioningly self-serving and nihilistic in the face of a cruel world (a simplistic viewpoint that I don’t buy, but rings very true for the characters,) and Littlefinger teaches Sansa how to manipulate people for her own ends. Both girls end up surpassing the teacher in the end, with Sansa one-upping Littleginger in her testimony (though it’s worth noting that canon Littlefinger likely wouldn’t be so unprepared to explain Lysa’s murder, but then again, even in the books he sometimes slips up around Sansa,) and Arya leaving the Hound to die. In these acts, the girls also expunge the selfless teachings of their father; Sansa lies and connives simply to save her own skin, and Arya forgoes showing mercy to someone who is now helpless.

Each of them also deny new protectors who are more closely aligned with their parents. Arya refuses Brienne, who was her mother’s guard and is now trying to fulfill an oath by keeping the girl safe, and Sansa lies to Lord Royce, a man who grew up with her father, and maaaaaybe would’ve helped her out of honor. In neither case are the girls 100% sure of this new person’s motives, but what they do know is that their parents’ ideology contributed to their own deaths. So the girls adapt, change and survive.

Bran meeting "The Three-Eyed Raven" in "The Children"

Bran meeting “The Three-Eyed Raven” in “The Children”

Bran’s journey is a little more mainstream for fantasy; a boy awakes from a tragedy to a supernatural calling, and goes on a quest for answers. But, from what little more has been written of his story in the books thus far, I don’t see this as a religious parable. Bran isn’t on his way to become a god, or a devil. He’s there to become a part of the esoteric fantastical fabric of this world, and gain, in memory, far more than he lost with his legs. It’s not religious (though characters like Melissandre put their own spin on matters like this,) but it’s deeply spiritual in a high fantasy way. And yet Bran also subverts one fantasy trope by not taking on the mantle that was left to him, as lord/king of Winterfell.

In Game of Thrones/ASOIAF, the question of who rules isn’t really all that important. The Stark rulers (and most others) are all dead. But how their heirs endure, on both realist and fantastical levels, is far more intriguing.

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1 Comment »

  1. […] wrote a few months ago about how Sansa’s decision to side with Littlefinger became more autonomous to her. I […]


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