Having been beguiled (finally) into watching Game of Thrones and discovering that I've either grown up enough to want to watch it, or that being in a different place makes it more appealing, I am currently bounding through the series, late to the party, and find myself at the start of season 6. This post is a set of thoughts and feelings about some of what's going on, really just conjecture on my part, so if this has been addressed later on in the series, please don’t spoil it for me. Having got in trouble with my partner for looking up when Ramsey Bolton dies, I’m not going Googling about anything else… well except maybe a map because the way the world's displayed in the opening titles confuses me at to where a lot of things are.
Before I begin...
Warning: I may be overthinking this.
Warning: this is pretty much full frontal nerdity
Warning: I may be working for the department of the bleeding obvious.
One thing I like about Game of Thrones is that it’s attempting to be the nerds’ fantasy series. By that I don’t mean that it is fantasy, because duh, of course it is. No, I mean that Martin, and the people handling the translation of his books into TV, has crafted a narrative that relies on the reader/viewer being a nerd. There are Easter eggs galore in the world he’s crafted, ranging from the names Joffrey almost gives his swords (I mean Stormbringer... come on - though Stormbringer probably would have wolfed down Joffrey's soul and gone for his parents for desert) to the house motto to the Greyjoys' sigil, which is a clear reference to Cthulhu from H.P. Lovecraft’s stories (that is not dead, which can eternal lie, and in strange aeons even death may die). It’s a very literate, self-aware series as a consequence, one that wears its geek affiliations as carefully as its historical ones.
It's obvious too that this sort of referencing goes beyond nerdy genres and into general fiction. Surely I'm not the only one to watch the mutiny among the Night's Watch and think of Lord of the Flies? Sam's pretty much Piggy as it is, albeit a version of Piggy mixed with Samwise Gamgee from Lord of the Rings.
As the TV show has progressed I’ve found myself pondering what Martin’s created more and more, picking at his world building, marvelling at the wizard behind the curtain, rather than the things that are out front. That’s not to say I’m not enjoying the battles, the fights and so on (and I’d almost certainly prefer to watch than to read them – hell I skipped over entire chapters of the Shadows of the Apt series because war’s so boring to read for me these days). But, I find authors interesting not only because of what they write, but because I like picking out the undercurrents, looking for the 'why' of it all. And as a result, I'm starting to find the composition and world building of the series very interesting.
Increasingly, the world of Westeros and, um, Easteros? I think I'll just call it Valeria, seems to be built on a sort of dualism, the polar opposites of light and dark, winter and summer, ice and fire (gee, harking back to the first book’s title… well I never). The White Walkers are clearly the people of ice and death, ones I hope have a better reason for their actions than ‘because’ and I suspect the Valerians were the people of fire. Which means Westeros is the continent of ice and winter, and Valeria the continent of summer and fire, of course. Presumably at the last war’s height the Narrow Sea was nothing but a bank of rolling steam as the two forces clashed. The Valerians’ status as the Fire People, if you like, is suggested by their having dragons, the quality of their steel, their building, their civilisation and so on. It suggests they were masters of flame, and they harnessed that power to build better, bigger, and brighter, than the rest of the continents’ inhabitants. Add in the effect that Jon Snow’s sword Long Claw had on a White Walker and it seems likely to me that the Valerians aren’t simply a lost Empire, but were, in fact, the balancing force to their kin in the distant north (and yes I do think they’re likely to be kin because that’s how things work in most Fantasy stories).
I believe the Red Faith can be linked back to Valeria as well. If the ‘rite’, to use the word loosely, that Danaerys endured at the end of Season One awakened her true nature as a Valerian, it would make sense to me that the idea of purification through burning perhaps began as a way to sort the wheat from the chaff, to take children who perhaps weren’t of pure Valerian descent and establish which ones were truly part of the blood. This, in turn, might explain why the Targyrian family obsessively married within their own bloodline. As the last of the Valerians, they must have been desperate to keep their true power intact, even if that meant risking their sanity and skirting the issue of inbreeding in order to maintain it. What the Red Faith do, in its Gnostic grounding, is undoubtedly a perversion of the original rites intent, based on the idea that death is a better thing than life (which in an odd way means they work for the very force they despise). This perhaps is the split between the masters of fire and those who merely worship it. What one group maybe used as a tool to make sure of its lineage, the other treats as an attempt to offer escape, while never actually allowing that to happen. Perhaps at one point the was a control mechanism, one that's long outlasted its use.
In this wise, Valeria reminds me of Melnibone, from the Elric stories from Michael Moorcock. That place too fell, albeit with the help of Elric, it’s Emperor, and was the most advanced place in the world. They had dragons and warriors, and built taller and higher and all the rest of it. They had battled the forces of Chaos too, harnessing that power in the form of the rune swords that Elric and Yrkoon would come to wield centuries, or is it millennia?, later. There’s just something about that story and the story of the Valerians that seems to slot together into a nice parallel. What’s different, of course, is that Melnibone’s doom came in the form of Elric’s betrayal, while the Doom(!) of Valeria came in a far more mysterious fashion, and with almost Tolkienian overtones. They may have reached too far, delved too deeply and brought their end upon themselves, after all. Perhaps its’ for the best that we don’t know.
I also think that, ultimately, all the characters except Jon Snow and Danaerys are superfluous… or at least they’re secondary protagonists. The plot seems to hang on those two because… How can I put this? In a world of storybook characters they seem the most storybook. Both of them seem to accrue legends about themselves, in a manner that really befits protagonists. Dany is Mother of Dragons, Breaker of Chains, etc, etc. Her legend is proclaimed because she’s a Queen. Jon, on the other hand, seems woefully underqualified but at the same time, he’s the master of the white wolf and the wielder of Long Claw (which unlike all the other swords actually seems to merit a name), he’s the youngest Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch, so far as I know, he has Ghost – which perhaps isn’t such an accolade until you consider the dire wolf’s appearance and the fact that out of the litter whelped in the first episode there’s now only two left, and both seem to be attached to magical characters. Even his love of a Free Folk woman gives Jon that protagonist edge somehow (it reminds me of Aditu the Sithi woman in Tad Williams' Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn and the way she spread the story of Seoman Snowlock and his Sithi wife).
I’m not dismissing the other characters as unimportant by the way, it’s just that in the grand scheme of things, I think it comes down to these two, one of whom is so obviously the main female protagonist you’d have to be blind to miss it, and the other, Jon, may as well have ‘plucky underdog’ stamped on his arse. Both seem to be waxing in strength as the story advances, and frankly I wouldn’t be surprised if Dany develops the Queen’s Touch at some point and starts healing Grey Scale sufferers because of the magic in her blood. Similarly, I wouldn’t at this point be surprised if Jon ends up summoning the ghosts of the Night’s Watch to aid him in battle… It just seems to fit the characters.
The other potential central protagonist in the narrative sense, for me, is Tyrion. Not just because of his legend, which is growing in a vastly different way to the others’ but because of his dwarfism, so often a sign of inbreeding which makes me wonder if he’s not what he seems. Could he have Valerian blood?
You see, the thing is… In Season One the Targyrians were evil and wicked people, they shouldn’t have been ruling Westeros at all, let alone being in charge for 300 years. Everything was fine, thank you very much, with the exception of the occasional odd duck like Varris who thought they’d unify the land (at that point they probably would have done, albeit against them). Now, well, we’re told that one of the Targyrian princes went out to sing in the streets and often gave away the money he earned… That seems like something out of a story to me, not a historical thing at all. And the characters I've mentioned are nobler than pretty much all the others (the late, lamented Ned Stark maybe comes close but only maybe). They're less attached to the world, motivated by love, duty, honour, and fairness far more than any of the others. Even the High Sparrow, which is one of those titles I can't take particularly seriously since it sounds like a stoned songbird, has less compassion in his characterisation than the other three. In a world where almost every other character seems more concerned with how to get ahead, they're the ones that stand up for the unwanted, be that in the form of slaves, 'savages', or whores. I can't help but feel that that's somehow significant. Perhaps, rather than saying the world is ultimately flawed and full of evil, Martin is actually saying that something is out of balance and that if balance were restored it would be a better, nobler, place. Might Game of Thrones be a very subtle call to arms for us in the real world, and not 'Hello magazine does Fantasy', which I thought it was before I started to watch the series?
So, I can’t help but wonder if somehow the Valerians, generally, but more specifically the Targyrians were a more poetic, mystical people, more like characters from story, and if somehow the three characters I’ve mentioned actually have Valerian blood that’s pure enough for them to be considered a part of the Valerian race. I wonder if the trials and tribulations that subject the characters are somehow the parts that burn away either their other blood, or the imperfections of inbreeding. Despite my talking about dualism, I wonder if there are three dragon riders waiting to be united with their steeds.
Lastly, there's something about this that reminds me of Hide Me Among the Graves by Tim Powers. There, two great vampiric intelligences, so great they're part of the land are hatching a plan that if it comes to fruition will cause a terrifying earthquake. I find myself wondering if the forces at work in the Game of Thrones, the elements of Ice and Fire are like that, not things that are understandable by humans but elemental intelligences that only care about warring on each other. What that means for the rest of the series, I really don't know.
To finish, I'm going to throw out some questions.
Are the Old Gods the White Walkers?
If so, who the chuff are the New Gods - fictions or the presence of other powers in the land (and does this mean there a Djinn on the eastern continent?
Who is the Many Faced God, if the main event is between the powers of ice and fire? He/she doesn't seem to fit into what I've written above.
Is Grey Scale somehow related to the fall of the Valerians, is it somehow related to dragons?
Who are the people Bran found - fairies?
This may all be rubbish of course, I don’t know (and don’t spoil it for me! No spoilers!) I’ll just have to keep watching to find out…