Today, I’d like to take a break from our regularly scheduled program to talk about a wildly inappropriate TV show.
(Because 8 PM is when the kids go to bed and all the zombies come out.)
See, one of my blogging buddies writes great posts about Game of Thrones at I Can’t Possibly be Wrong All the Time,
He analyzes the show in such great detail, in fact, that I often walk away realizing I didn’t pay nearly enough attention when I was watching it (though in all fairness, Patrick did read the books too).
And he’s inspired me to not only watch the show again, but to share the bizarre insight I had while seeing it a second time:
Male characters in GoT get a lot nicer after having something chopped off.
I’m not judging here, just reporting what I’m seeing.
Because it’s happened several times…
Jaime Lannister started out such a despicable character that he initially made me give up watching the show.
I already wasn’t thrilled with the kidsicle opener and then the pilot episode… the PILOT… closes with Jamie tossing a child out of a tower because he’d seen Jaime knowing his sister. In the biblical sense.
So, he casually tosses a little kid out a tower window while making an offhand joke about it.
And I was just DONE after seeing that nonsense. It took me several months and many glowing reviews from people whose opinions I trust to come back to the show…
When I did, Jaime was busy paying off assassins to kill that kid he crippled in his sickbed and then framing his own brother for the murder (which, luckily, doesn’t work out).
Jaime keeps up this douchey behavior for some time: trying to kill Ned Stark in an ambush, brutally murdering a squire who worshipped him just to create a diversion, and harassing Lady Brienne like any cocky, rich jock in an 80’s flick would…
Until he gets his hand chopped off.
Sure, he’d been hinting at human decency right before that (by talking his captors out of violating Lady Brienne), but it was only after the hand-chopping incident that Jaime truly emerges as one of the “good” guys of GoT’s extremely morally-relative world.
Then, Jaime risks his own life by jumping into a bear pit to help Brienne. He helps the brother he previously tried to frame for murder escape from prison after being unjustly accused. He tries to talk his sister into retiring someplace nice instead of continuing her mass murder spree. All of which is truly noble by, you know… Lannister standards.
I’d almost forgotten what an incredible jerk Theon used to be.
I mean, he actually starts the show of in full sociopath mode by jumping at the chance to slaughter puppies (the dire wolves who eventually became the Stark’s pets). He ironically makes fun of Jon for being a bastard and generally spends his time being a violent, arrogant, pervert.
Theon grew up with the Starks, who are essentially his immediate family. But while Robb Stark (to whom Theon pledged his loyalty) is busy waging his military campaign, Theon takes advantage of the opportunity to betray them. He takes over their house and starts executing anyone who disagrees with him, including loyal servants whom he’s known since childhood.
This includes his adoptive brothers, who are kids. When he’s unable to find them (because they escape while he’s… distracted), he murders two innocent farm boys in their stead and adorns Winterfell with their burned corpses, just to make a point.
Pretty horrible person, right? Well, he then gets captured by Ramsey Bolten and Ramsey is enough of a monster to actually make us start feeling sorry for Theon because Ramsey redefines all our goalposts for crapiness.
That’s when Theon gets… well, we all know what he gets chopped off.
But it apparently did him some good, because it’s only after his time with Ramsey that Theon is ever motivated beyond his own immediate self-interest: he risks himself to help Sansa escape (after finally showing some empathy for his adoptive family), he supports his sister Yara’s bid for leadership of the Ironborn instead of pushing his own (more traditional) claim, and lets himself get beaten to a pulp while rallying the Ironborn to help him rescue his sister.
(Sure, there was that whole unfortunate incident where Theon jumps off the ship instead of rescuing Yara from Euron himself, but being Ramsey Bolton’s prisoner is bound to cause a little PTSD. It’s still an improvement over murdering innocent farm boys.)
Varys was an especially interesting character to watch for a second time because at first, it was impossible to guess his moral alignment.
Like his counterpart Littlefinger, Varys has to carefully navigate GoT’s treacherous world to keep on breathing. He must, like Littlefinger, show skillful diplomacy while working behind the scenes… effectively playing different sides against each other. So, you never knew whether Varys’ brilliant manipulations were ultimately self-serving or not.
But eventually, we figure out that Varys is a good guy. There was evidence for this fact all along, which became more obvious when watching the show the second time around. Though he can’t openly fight the Lannisters, for example, you can see him subtly disapprove whenever Joffrey cruelly harasses someone (like Sansa or Tyrion).
Though he won’t pointlessly sacrifice himself for a lost cause (by helping Ned Stark escape), he will risk himself for a good one (by helping Tyrion escape). Unlike many of the Starks, he has a good sense of when keeping his mouth shut will allow him to fight another day… a long game that ultimately makes him a much more effective player.
When challenged by Daenerys, we get a better sense of Varys’ inner moral code. He describes his loyalty for the common people against brutal despots. He also won’t harm the innocent (revealed when he says he would never hurt children, since they are “blameless”), which puts him squarely on the good team according to murky GoT metrics.
And how did he come by this altruistic perspective? From being castrated by a sorcerer after growing up a slave… again, another relatively-good male character who’s had an important body part hacked off.
Sir Davos Seaworthy
Sir Davos is undoubtedly one of the kindest characters, which is rare within the older set because you have to be pretty Machiavellian to survive long in Westeros.
More humble than most of the players who have drastically risen in rank, Davos still speaks plainly, yet convincingly… moving the Iron Bank or Daenerys or Stannis even after his more aristocratic counterparts could not.
Sir Davos puts himself at great risk to do what is right: standing up to the Red Woman, questioning Stannis the “king,” helping Gendry escape… Davos was sent away before Shireen was horrifically killed because, well, Stannis and Melisandre knew he wouldn’t put up with it.
And, again… Sir Davos had been mutilated. Stannis had cut four fingertips off Davos’ right hand as punishment for his smuggling past. Because Davos was a criminal before getting his fingers chopped off.
Definitely a pattern, right?
I’m not sure of its significance, except maybe GoT characters start identifying more with the underdog after getting mutilated in some way, or maybe it just keeps their hubris in check.
And I can’t think of any female characters who were mutilated to make comparisons.