Monday, 3 June 2013

What The Red Wedding Taught Me


Last night, George R.R. Martin (and show creators David Benioff and D.B. Weiss) tore out the hearts and souls of millions of Game of Thrones fans all over the world with the pivotal scene titled The Red Wedding. Of course, if you've read the books already, your heart and soul were trampled on for this very same reason sometime in the last thirteen years. But the sting is as fresh as ever. The North remembers. 

Beloved characters are dead. Not just dead, but slaughtered. It's not fair! We all cry. They didn't deserve this! Of course they didn't. I'll never get over this! I won't either, trust me. I will never watch Game of Thrones ever again! Well, that's a bit uncalled for... F*ck George R.R. Martin! I'm cancelling my HBO subscription! Okay REALLY? 

Twitter is a vast ocean of emotions today. Viewers are outraged. They feel cheated and used. Robb Stark will never get the vengeance he so desperately sought after his father was murdered. The reaction has been visceral and dramatic. I sincerely believe those who say they are done with the show because they can't take anymore death and misery for the Starks.

I also think they're completely ridiculous.

Newsflash to the world: People die. It's a sad fact, I know, but it's a universal truth. May I remind you of Arya Stark's response when asked if her brother Robb could be killed? 

Characters are not infallible and people make mistakes. Mistakes often lead to consequences, at least they do in the real world. When I find myself unable to enjoy a book, a lot of the time my distaste is due to the fact that characters seemingly aren't based in reality. There are no believable or measurable consequences for their actions or misdeeds. 

When you reneg on a pact with Walder Frey to marry one of his daughters in exchange for the use of his utterly vital bridge in your battle plans, his pride will be hurt and (at least in Westeros) a man is nothing without his pride. He will very likely join up with the family that wants you dead and hatch a plan to have you killed. And you will fall into his trap easily, because you put honour above all else, much like your dead father. Everyone around you will warn you against this, like they warned you when you chose to marry for love and not duty, but you will ignore them because you are human and humans make grievous errors every day.

Angry readers and show-watchers are right though, George R.R. Martin does owe us something, but it's not a rosy future in which all the Starks are reunited under a cloudless, rainbow-filled sky in Winterfell, embracing over the severed heads of all Lannisters, however much we may desire it. He owes us characters written with depth and honesty. Characters who are complex and difficult to place in a box. Characters who suffer and characters who rejoice. George is writing an epic saga that reads like our history books (albeit a bit more rooted in fantasy than our world). History is bloody and our world was built by those who ultimately conquered over and spilled the blood of their enemies. He could be writing from the perspective of the Lannisters and all of our beloved characters would truly be the antagonists. 

So what has the Red Wedding taught me? A number of things, like "George R.R. Martin is not anyone's b*tch," and that "kill your darlings" is probably the most important piece of writing advice out there. But it has also taught me that my writing will be hollow if my characters don't make mistakes. That death happens every day and it is almost never just. That my characters are my heroes, but they are also someone else's villains. In life, everyone will at times be a victim and at other times a perpetrator. 

But most of all, the Red Wedding has taught me that my readers (if I ever have any) will very likely take arms up against me one day, and I look forward to it.

Here's a relevant quote from our favourite heart-crusher, GRRM himself:

"No matter how much I make up, there’s stuff in history that’s just as bad, or worse."