June 3, 2011

Who Loses in Two Girls, One Cup?

What is the nature of a fight between good and evil (or if you prefer, Good and Evil)?
That’s right, bitches; it’s gonna be one of them talks.
Let’s get this out of the way: there has never been a real fight between Good and Evil. Not one that has been recognized by both fighters, at least. There is not someone who thinks “I am the real evil bastard here. I am doing this because fuck that other guy, and his stupid kids.” And this is usually mirrored in fiction, especially fantasy and science fiction (horror can go either way; in IT, the monster is an evil from beyond time and space, but that’s not really fair to it, no one’s going to even give a shit about it’s side of the story. On the other hand, in Bite, by Richard Laymon, the good guys are a couple of murderers trying to get away from a slightly worse murderer. Really, in horror, it all depends on where you’re standing, and blocking out the possibility of the other guy’s story is important. Crazy ghost Japanese lady in the Grudge is scary right up until we learn her momma put some hoodoo on her. Then it’s retarded).
A Song of Ice and Fire is my main example that, although we may sympathize with some characters more than others, everyone can be a real fucker. Spoilers for the first two books ahead, beware ye.
Ned Stark is the recipient of my sympathy in A Game of Thrones. This despite the first act I see him perform is chopping off someone else’s head. The Lannisters are the villains. At least they’re supposed to be; don’t get me wrong, they can be crazy. Joffrey is a thirteen year-old psychopath, but he was raised by psychopaths. It’s hard to blame a kid for being a crazy little shit when he was raised to be a crazy little shit. But how much better is Ned? He’s a cold, brutal man, by necessity, given where he lives. He is offered a bitch job as the King’s Hand, which he doesn’t want. Catelyn, his wife, insists that he take it, because she is afraid it will bring their loyalty into question if he doesn’t (kinda like turning down a promotion at work, except your boss decapitates you). Then a letter comes that points at some dirty dealings by the Lannisters, who are next in line to the throne, and uh-oh! It’s time to fuck shit up.
Which is exactly what happens.
Book two is all about the war that ensues after Ned is killed by Joffrey (read the book, willya? It’s too long to explain). The hostilities begin because Catelyn, displaying an overabundance of “what the fuck is wrong with her?!” kidnaps a Lannister brother, whom she believes tried to have her son killed. Granted, the Lannisters began it by tossing her son out a window (read psychopaths, above), but no one had any evidence for it beyond the word of one asshole who is, if anything, more sleazy than the Lannisters.
A Song of Ice and Fire goes out of its way to remind us, throughout Thrones, that though we may sympathize with the royals and nobles, the people really getting fucked are the ordinary people; their homes are destroyed, their lands burned, their sons killed, their daughters raped, and then killed. Ned Stark could have let it go at any point; he even tried to, by warning the Lannister queen that he knows a bit about her evilness (which prompts her to trap and kill him). He does this because he understands the lengths to which a person will go to protect their children. If he could let it go that far, why not all the way? I get that they’re assholes, but the lives of a bunch of common people who have no stake in the outcome of the throne weigh more heavily than Ned’s sense of honor.
Tyrion Lannister, a dwarf, is hated by most of the cast. Jon Snow, a bastard, who similarly has no place in this society, is the only one to empathize with him (seriously, Tyrion’s family, with one exception, all hate him). Tyrion is actually a good guy, at least as good as Ned, though considerably smarter about how he achieves justice as the King‘s Hand; for instance, he is not beheaded by the end of book two, whereas Ned  doesn’t make it through book one. Despite this, Tyrion is universally reviled, because: Everyone sees themselves as the good guy; the bad guy is the other, the boogeyman. Tyrion is, on sight, recognizable as the other. And everyone else?
That’s for next time, in a talk about why they see themselves as the good guys, what it means when we don’t see both sides, and how this plays in videogames.

“… why is it always innocents who suffer most, when you high lords play your game of thrones?”
Varys, A Game of Thrones