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Recovering backpacker, Cornwallite at heart, political enthusiast, catalyst, writer, husband, father, community volunteer, unabashedly proud Canadian. Every hyperlink connects to something related directly or thematically to that which is highlighted.

Monday, 15 June 2015

Deus ex Nix: Snow Falls in Winter

Time will tell what the real story is, but for the moment, I'm firmly in the "Jon Snow ain't dead dead" camp.

Yes, Kit Harrington has come out to say "my character is dead, I'm moving on to other things" and yes the producers have said "dead is dead."  Should Snow return, looking very much like Kit Harrington, it would hardly be the first time entertainment-makers have lied to us so as to preserve or enhance the impact of a story.

People have really invested in Game of Thrones - I mean, really invested, really cared about their favourite characters - in a way that simply doesn't happen if peril isn't part of the picture.  

Remember that time Superman died?  Remember that time he came back to life?  Remember that time Wolverine died?  He's kinda back already, too. These are characters we love, but we never really worried about them dying - therefore, there's no real sense of loss or potential loss, no peril.  We're comfortable that they will always come back.  

We can like these characters without really needing to invest in them, because they're not going anywhere.

Most TV - most fiction - is like this.  You never really worry about James Bond dying, because - well, James Bond doesn't die.  You never worry about the hero in a Disney movie dying, because that's not the vibe they're going for.  Parents don't want their kids actually being afraid that their heroes might die - if the world was truly that cruel, what would be the point of investing in anything else, in trusting anyone?

Game of Thrones isn't a kid's show.  It runs against the grain of most adult-focused fiction, too; there's no clear-cut good guys to root for and no one - no matter how insignificant, powerful or fan-fav they are - is safe.

Hate the way GoT pulls at your emotions and wilfully devastates you again and again - those are the qualities that keep us coming back for more.

In this way, GoT is much more like real life; there are no cut-and-dry heroes, and as often as not, those who we choose to idolize have nasty dark sides that aren't all that well hid.  In Westeros, those who seem to be truly good aren't long for the world.

Yet we love our heroes, don't we?  We will pro-actively ignore the things we dislike about an individual and focus narrowly on what we perceive as their positives, because we want there to be heroes.   Until they get caught, that is, because then it's undeniably clear that they broke the pact we imposed on them to be perfect.

In real life, we'd almost prefer our heroes to stubbornly die, never wavering from their values (and sometimes because of them, like Ned Stark for instance).  The irony is that, when we recognize that they will never waver - that we can, truly have faith in them - it's too late.  They're gone.

Which probably has something to do with the popularity of resurrection myths throughout human history.  Like a child who throws away a beloved toy in a moment of anger but then desperately wants it back, we want to know our heroes, our social anchors, will always be there.

It's the absence of this safety blanket and the real peril that faces everyone on GoT that makes it so compelling.  We can't always count on our heroes being there, or to not become villains.  We can't assume that justice awaits those who deserve it, nor that good, ultimately, will prevail.

Game of Thrones has bled snow over the conventions we expect of fiction, but has remained faithful to its own internal rules.  It's a harsh world where justice is absent, hope is false and if you think there's a happy ending, it's pretty clear you haven't been paying attention.

The night is dark, and full of terror.  Sometimes, you don't want to know the end, because how could the end be happy?

D&D are, first and foremost, storytellers.  They want to retain their audience, clearly, which isn't necessarily the same thing as pleasing them; they also recognize the need to hold true to their internal logic, for the moment they don't, expectations change and the magic is gone.

What is it Weiss said?

"In a show, everybody sees it for what it is.  It's that rule: 'If I don't see the body then they're not really dead.'"  If they're not really dead, then the peril was never real, and our need to invest - to really have faith in those heroes - was never real, either.

If, however, Jon Snow is really dead, then what hope is there for Westeros?

All good stories must have an ending, however, and as much as we like to fear the apocalypse, stories that end with Ragnarok aren't particularly satisfying.  After we've invested so much of ourselves in a story, in characters, we long for a payoff.  And in the finest tradition of storytelling, the less likely a payoff seems, the more satisfying it is when our devotion is rewarded.

D&D are, unquestionably, great story tellers. 
They haven't given us what we wanted, but by doing so, they have teased us into caring more, investing more and spending more time with the characters and woes of Westeros.  

I love looking at the Twitter feed around #GameOfThrones, especially on show-night.  Despite the supposedly polarized, self-centred nature of our society, people from all over the world come together for a community of experience, sharing their shock, hope, fears and satisfactions in unison. The sellers try to cash in; the Twitter thread is filled with tie-ins, hooks and related content.  

Were it not for the community of GoT, though, there would be no one to sell to.

Of course, the makers of Game of Thrones aren't trying to win in a four-year election cycle, or are they focused strictly on low-hanging fruit and quick wins.  Unlike The Death of Superman, they aren't cheating us with mortal peril, quickly resolved - they're in it for the long haul and clearly have a lot of faith in the story they're trying to tell - and the lessons they're sharing with us.  It's not about them - they, too, are servants to something greater.

Which is why it's so damned important, I think, that they not give us a wink about the fate of Lord Snow just as winter is beginning to fall.  If we don't really and truly believe he's gone, we can convince ourselves that there's a Deus ex Machina in the wings, that the peril isn't real.  There's always been a safety net - someone else has always kept a candle alight in the dark for us.

Only when all hope of deliverance is removed, when we are fully and truly left in darkness is our faith truly tested.

Do we believe it's all been for naught - a parade of selfish deeds and inhuman horrors ultimately consumed by winter, signifying nothing?  Or, even when all light is gone, do we believe the story has been building towards something - that even darkness will pass, that Spring will always follow winter?  

That, when we need them most, our heroes will rise again?

I have no doubt that Jon Snow is dead, like OMG dead - he's dead.  

Which doesn't mean we've seen the last of him.  Some heroes, after all, are more than flesh and blood.

And the difference between a story and a legend is that, with the former, death is often just the beginning.

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