How to Ruin Character Arcs A La Game of Thrones

Note: This post is dark and full of spoilers from S8E5.

Sunday treated us to the fifth episode of season 8 of Game of Thrones, and it left watchers and readers raging. Between Dany activating “Mad King” mode and burning King’s Landing to the ground, Jamie going back to Cersei, and Cersei getting the fastest, easiest death of most characters of the show, it left people wanting. And lighting pitchforks.

Now, let it be clear, it’s not that the episode didn’t go the way I wanted that has me upset, it’s the destruction of the character arcs that has my blood boiling as much as Dany…or any of her victims for that matter. This episode–frankly the last two–have shown a gross break away from the character arcs that we’ve grown to love over the past 8 seasons. In one episode, these fleshed out characters get a 180 makeover leaving us all feeling a bit whip lashed.

So let’s go through and talk about just how our beloved characters were ruined.

Daenerys Targaryen

Yes, ladies and gents, we’re going to pounce on the Mother of Dragon(s) herself first. To begin, I’d like to say that I’ve read an incredible article about how Dany’s fall into madness makes sense, and I suggest you take a look at it. Check out “Game of Thrones”: Don’t be shocked by Daenerys– her King’s Landing turn was very much earned written by Amanda Marcotte.

In summary, in the article, Marcotte explains how Dany’s descent shouldn’t be a surprise to us as George R.R. Martin, and the show writers, have hinted at her fits of rage more than once in the series. From killing the “masters” to free the slaves to frying Sam’s father and brother, Dany has shown she doesn’t handle people disagreeing with her ideology very well.

But, here’s the caveat. Dany started out the series basically as a brood mare for her brother to help him gain power. She was married off to Khal Drogo where she was subsequently raped and taken advantage of until she learned how to bend him to her will instead. She started from the ground up, learning how to find a foot hole in a situation that would otherwise see her as a captive.

Throughout the series, Dany’s main focus has been going to Westeros and claiming the Iron Throne which is her birthright–up until we learn that Jon Snow is a Targaryen of course. She works on building her army through taking command of the Dothraki, freeing the Unsullied by killing the masters, raising her three dragons, and swaying people to her side, all the while fighting to convince everyone that she’s not like her deranged father. Robert Baratheon sends assassins after her when she’s just a girl because of the threat she poses (what if she truly is like the mad king)? And yet she survives it.

Varys makes a point to say that when a Targaryen is born, the gods toss a coin to see on which side it lands. Dany could have become a powerful queen or an evil dictator, and unfortunately, the latter came into play. And it’s maddening. It makes sense that with the loss of Jorah, two of her children, and her best friend, Missandei, that she would go into a spiral of rage, but that doesn’t mean she had to go all Mad King. While she–along with many characters– has demonstrated violence towards those against her, she’s also shown mercy, love, and caring.

The thing that angers me the most is that the writers set it up that the fact that Jon doesn’t want to boink her is what sends her over the edge. Can we please stop the themes of women going crazy because they’re scorned by a guy?

When the Lannisters surrendered at King’s Landing, that should have been it. I would have understood her wanting to go after the Lannister army, and Cersei of course, but to destroy the entirety of King’s Landing along with all the innocent people within? It seems contrary to her character. She’s fought all this time not to be her father. She has one dragon, one child, left, and she puts him completely at risk to take King’s Landing and destroy all of the people. It doesn’t do her character justice. She basically destroys the very thing she’s come to claim. If the city is burnt to the ground, who’s going to serve her? Never once in the series (that I can recall) has she intentionally caused the deaths of children or mothers. And yet here, she destroys every single one of them, and without any remorse.

This isn’t the Dany that we were presented with.

Jamie Lannister

Where to begin? We all hated Jamie at the beginning when we were introduced to him banging his sister followed by him shoving a kid out the window to protect their secret. Great moral compass there, Jamie.

But, as the seasons progress, we get to see him and Brienne together and learn that he killed the Mad King to save King’s Landing. He didn’t want to see people burn to death, so he stuck a sword in the man and became the loved and hated King Slayer. Through their relationship, we see a softer side of Jamie. He loses his hand protecting her. He swears to fight by her side during the battle against the Night King. He abandons Cersei (granted, she gave him a death threat) because he doesn’t believe in what she’s doing and how she’s hurting the people. He meets Bran again and tells him that he’s not the same man he once was. And then Jamie shows even more growth by being with Brienne and bedding her, treating her like a woman rather than some object. He even says he’ll stay with her while the battle at King’s Landing happens.

And then…he finds out Dany is going to kill Cersei, and he does a 180 and runs back  to Cersei.

Wait, what?

Didn’t he just get a death threat from Bron that he’s been hired by Cersei to kill Jamie and Tyrion?

Oh, but no, your sister and bed buddy is in danger, so let’s forget the woman that you fell in love with, and new moral compass, and race your butt right back to King’s Landing. Right before Dany massacres everyone.

Nice.

The debauchery of Jamie’s character continues when he sees the devastation that’s happening at King’s Landing and he does nothing to stop it. Jamie, the King Slayer, the man who murdered the Mad King to save the people, just shoves his way through the crowd to get to Cersei. He fights, and almost dies by, Euron to get to her. And in his final moments, he holds her, comforts her, and confesses his love for her as they’re crushed by rocks.

BY ROCKS.

So much for not being the “same man.”

This is not how you end a character’s arc. He literally had everything going for him at Winterfell, and even after Bron threatened him, he had no intentions of going back. But the moment he hears Cersei is in danger, he throws all his morals aside and rushes to her. Hell, he’s demonstrated more loyalty to Tyrion by helping his brother escape the cells than he has to Cersei, and he still chooses to be with her rather than to fight at his brother’s side.

Bad call, writers. Bad call.

Tyrion Lannister

I was rooting for you, sir, I really was.

First off, what happened to the “I drink and know things” Tyrion that we were treated to in the first few seasons of the show? A man of witty words, fascinating quips, and enough intelligence to lead an army into war at the Battle of Blackwater Bay. He became Hand to Dany and seemed to remain the same Tyrion for awhile.

And then season 8 happened.

Suddenly, Tyrion has turned into a bumbling fool who can’t anticipate what’s going to happen in battle. He’s constantly apologizing for his mistakes to Dany, underestimating his sister and her supposed good will, letting his brother go and run back to Cersei (thus betraying Dany), and selling out Varys which he’s never once done before.

Varys has been one of his closest companions and a fellow adviser through this all, and yet when Varys demonstrates his hopes of Jon being the one on the throne, Tyrion rushes to Dany to let her know and Varys pays the price. Granted, it’s treason. It makes sense. But since when has Tyrion had an issue with treason (ie. killing his father on the toilet, freeing his brother, turning against the Lannisters, etc).

No, we’re left with a man half the character he once was (no pun intended), and with little intrigue and all hot air. Tyrion’s character hasn’t been done justice whatsoever, and while I do appreciate that he did try to save the people of King’s Landing, if he’s so smart, he probably should have realized his queen wasn’t going to listen to him and go bat-shit crazy, destroying everything he knows and loves.

Tyrion, my friend, you know nothing.

Jon Snow

First off, pet the damn dire wolf, Jon Snow.

There, I said it.

Okay, I think we can all agree that Jon is very much Mr. Broodypants who doesn’t have the best battle tactics, and craves to be the hero. Even if he doesn’t want the Iron Throne.

We’ve spent all of Game of Thrones getting to learn the honorable Jon Snow. Friend to Wildlings. Killer of white walkers. The mighty warrior of the Battle of the Bastards.

The knower of nothing!

Okay, scratch that last part, at least until season 8.

I’ve cheered for Jon up until this point. He’s demonstrated leadership in his fight against Ramsey, and his quest to capture a white walker to convince Cersei to follow them into war (even though he was probably a fool to believe she’d actually do it). And despite his poor battle tactics in the fight against the Night King, he’s at least stayed true to his character. He wants to defend his people and the North. He wants to protect all of Westeros from these demons.

And then he finds out his lineage, and suddenly Jon is just incapable of reason. He blindly follows Dany to fight at King’s Landing, pushing men who are already exhausted from the fight against the Night King. He doesn’t necessarily agree with her tactics, but she’s “his queen” and he’ll do what she says. In the fight against King’s Landing, he at least gets back some of his honor and tries to stop his people from killing the civilians, but it’s like he’s lost any sort of power or sway that he actually has over the situation. No one is listening to him (unless they’re running from the fire-breathing dragon). And despite warnings, he just blindly follows along. Like a sheep led to slaughter.

I don’t want his character to end this way, not as a puppet to Dany or to his own ignorance.

Maybe he should have stayed with Ghost and Tormund in the North.

This is what you get for not saying goodbye to your dire wolf, Jon.

 

The Calm Before the Storm (A Game of Thrones Discussion)

Game of Thrones season 8 demonstrated a common theme of the “calm before the storm” of battle. Before everything goes to hell, the characters get their final moments together.

Note: Be warned, for this post is long and full of minor spoilers.

Readers and watchers have waited in anticipation, counting down the days when Game of Thrones would return to the screen. Theories and speculations bombard Twitter, Tumblr, and other social media outlets, some reasonable, others extremely far fetched but still fun. It’s hard not to see some advertisement or merchandise about GOT when you get online.

Finally, on April 14th, we returned to the iced-over world of Westeros.

And responses to the show were lackluster.

In fact, many people have complained that the first two episodes were merely full of dialogue and nothing actually happened. There was no fighting, no epic dragon battles, nothing that entirely felt like GOT except for the random sex scenes and witty banter. With the trailers promising epic fights, it’s not surprising that people would feel a little disappointed that they didn’t get that action immediately.

However, I think people fail to see what GOT did do for us.

The show demonstrated a common theme of the “calm before the storm” of battle. Before everything goes to hell, the characters get their final moments together. For anyone who has seen the show or read the books, we know that George R. R. Martin is pretty merciless. No one is safe, so this may be the last time we get to see our beloved characters that we’ve followed over the years.

Episode 1 does a wonderful job of bringing characters together again who haven’t seen each other since the first season. All the still-living Starks are finally back at Winterfell. Arya and Jon reconnect for the first time since the tender moment in season one when he gave her Needle. Jon gets to see Sansa and Bran. It’s heartwarming and something many people have wanted to happen. At the same time, we get a lot of call backs to season one:

  • Arya leaping in Jon’s arms to hug him
  • The Starks greeting a ruler (Robert/Dany) at the front gate
  • Jamie and Bran sharing a moment at the end of the episode, an echo of when Jamie shoved Bran out the window
  • A boy climbing the walls/tree of Winterfell to see the approaching royalty

It’s a nice reminder of something we haven’t seen for so long.

Episode two goes deeper into character development, giving them a chance to share one last moment together before the coming battle. For the first time, enemies-turned-allies  break bread together. Think of the scene around the hearth with Tyrion and Jamie (Lanisters), Tormund (Wildling), Brienne of Tarth (once a knight for the Baratheons then a protector of the Starks), etc. This is a profound moment, especially when Tyrion jokes to Jamie about how he’d love to see the look on their father’s face if he knew they were willing to fight and die at Winterfell. There are no Houses at this point, just people coming together to fight for the living.

You also get many special moments for individual characters:

  • Brienne is officially knighted by Jamie
  • Arya has sex for the first time with Gendry
  • Arya and the Hound reunite after she left him for dead (which is just a funny scene)
  • Jon, and then Dany, learn about his true heritage
  • Theon returns after leaving Winterfell in shame and pledges to fight for them and protect Bran.
  • Sansa shines as the Lady of Winterfell and a defender of the north, despite Dany’s claim to the throne.
  • Brienne and Jamie share a tender moment when he promises to fight for her.
  • Podrick sings a song to pull the episode together (wonder if Ed Sheeran will cover that one too)
  • Missandei and Grey Worm pledge their love and a future with one another

Yes, the episode is filled with dialogue. No, there aren’t action scenes or daring quests for us to talk about. But the depth in what we do receive with the characters can’t be ignored.

Books and movies are known for this “calm before the storm” so writers can make the readers/watchers feel and care about the characters before the inevitable battle. In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows, Harry talks with his deceased loved ones before his fight with Voldemort. It’s a slow, quiet moment where he has to face his fear and he knows he has his family to back him. Likewise, he talks with a ghostly Dumbledore to understand his purpose in the battle, and in the world, before the final fight at Hogwarts. In Lord of the Rings, we get moments with the characters preparing for battle and saying final goodbyes or offering encouragement. In the Hunger Game series, more than once Katniss gets quiet time with her family or Gale or Peeta before everything goes to hell. Think about Katniss and Peeta kissing in the cave before they threaten to both eat the poisonous berries. These scenes are what helps us connect with the characters and makes us care what happens to them. Game of Thrones has done this many times like when Rob and Talisa sweetly agree to name their unborn child after Eddard Stark just before the horrible Red Wedding scene.

So why such a negative reaction to GOT season eight? Could it be because fans had to wait over 500 days to see a brand new episode? Is it because we’ve just gotten so use to the blood, guts, and death that we’re not used to character development anymore? Who knows. I personally enjoyed the episodes because I know when the battle comes, and the characters fall, I’ll at least have had some closure in their relationships with each other. I’ll care what happens. And I’ll mourn deeply for them.

I do this in my own writing, not just for my readers, but for myself. I know who isn’t going to make it, and I want to make sure they have a chance to say what they need to say before they die. It’s closure for me as the writer as well. Here’s a character I’ve spent months writing about who’s no longer going to be with me. Of course I’d want to find a way to say goodbye, and I do that through the “calm.” In the same way, I want the chance to say goodbye to the characters I’ve watched for several years before they pass (and before the show ends).

You’ll get your battle next week, I’m sure. And I think, in the end, we’ll appreciate the two episodes we got with our characters before the series comes to a close.

The Writer’s Relationship With Characters

Image(Images of a few of my characters and a friend’s characters from a previous story, drawn by me)

In light of my blog entry from last week about how to create characters, I would like to discuss the relationship a writer has with her characters. It’s going to be different for everyone, but I’d like to touch on my personal experience while writing. Someone once said to me that he can’t understand how I can grow so attached to TV/movie characters, nor can he comprehend how much my own characters really mean to me. So, I’m going to let you explore my mind a little bit.

First off, I think most people who watch movies or read books end up building a connection with the characters. You have the ones you like and the ones you hate. The writer isn’t doing her job if she doesn’t make her readers care about the people she creates. So yes, when characters died during the Red Wedding in Season 3 of Game of Thrones, I cried, threw pillows, and plastered facebook with my rage. When some of my favorite characters in the Redwall books were killed, I cried and mourned for them. Heck, when Sir Arthur Conan Doyle killed off Sherlock in one of his books, people were so devastated by the loss that Doyle had to bring Sherlock back.

The money probably didn’t hurt either.

What this amounts to is that people learn to care for characters as if they were friends or family. If a character I love betrays another, I get mad. If a character I adore dies, I cry and feel miserable for a while. It took me years to get over how K.A. Applegate finished her series Animorphs because of what she did to the characters, and I won’t even go into how the series itself ended. Readers care and feel, and that’s how an author becomes successful. If readers don’t feel invested in the characters, why would they continue reading the author’s books?

This leads to the questions, how does the author create the characters and make them so likeable? How does one build a relationship with fictional characters? As I said, everyone has a different experience, so I’m just going to focus on mine, and hopefully this will clear some of the questions up for people or at least help to better explain my mind.

My characters are like children to me. Some of them are the golden children that do everything I want them to do. They’re easy to write about, make me happy, and behave. Others, I would like nothing more than to lock in a closet and never have to write about because they never do what I want them to do. I try to write a scene with expectations of what the character will do, and instead of fighting a battle, my character might be off gambling on the sidelines. Some characters I have to nurture, coax them to come out of their shells and show me what they’re really like. Others I feel empathy towards, and I have to hold them and guide them through the story because they’re so lost or broken.

I’m sure this sounds strange to some people. They may think, “You’re the author. How can it be hard to make a character do what you want it to do? You’re the one writing about them, and they’re just fictional figures.”

Yes, it’s true, I’m in control of the pen and keyboard, and I’m the one who creates the character from scratch, but as I write, the character takes on her own persona. As I mentioned before, sometimes the character just writes herself. I can create her background, her appearance, and everything important about her, but what she does is up to her sometimes. I have to follow her guidance and just let my fingers run across the keys and see what she’s going to do. Sometimes the story is just as much of a surprise for the writer as it is for the readers.

On top of that, and more humorously, sometimes a character can become so stubborn that I actually get mad at her for messing with me. For example, I have a new character in my book that went through multiple name changes. I didn’t get frustrated with myself each time a new name arose (some more ridiculous than others), I got mad at her, blamed her for not being a good character and just sticking with one name.

Geeze…no wonder people think I sound loony.

There are days where I cannot write about certain characters. I will sit and argue with that character, struggle to get out his dialogue or even his actions. But if I switch to another character, suddenly the ideas flow and she talks to me and tells me what to do in the scene. No, it’s not like the devil and angel sitting on my shoulders. It’s just a feeling I get, a warmth deep inside of me that helps me connect with the book and my characters.

I grow attached to some and completely forget others amidst the story (sorry, Oswin). When bad things happen to characters, I feel sad, especially if I truly like the characters. Yes, I’m the one causing the bad situation, but that doesn’t mean I feel good about it. My favorite characters…I feel for them. I have empathy for them, and it’s important to have some sort of emotion towards the character so you can properly write about how they feel. You want to pull the readers into the book, to help them feel what you feel as you write about the character. I’m not going to lie, when a character has grown emotional or impassioned, I’ve cried or grown just as empowered. There have been times where a character has been so angry with another that I’ve actually felt my heart pound in my chest, my hands shake, and my face flush with similar rage.

On the flipside, when I have characters that I don’t like, I get angry with them. It’s so much harder to write about them because I want to try to make them likeable for my readers, even though I know all of the horrible things that they’re going to do. It makes me sick to my stomach sometimes, until I can allow myself to feel the “darkness” that surrounds that evil character.

Writers lose themselves sometimes in the emotions of their characters to help to properly covey their feelings. It’s an interesting sensation, though I will say that this is making me sound like I cry a lot when I write, which I don’t. I build a bond with my characters. I worry about what will happen with them and how they’ll react to different situations. That’s why it’s always a good idea to just write scenes between several characters to get a feel for what they’ll be like when certain events occur.

When I first create someone, I feel so much joy and excitement. It’s always so much fun to just make someone new, figure out the character’s history, his friends, his enemies, and so on and so forth. As I write, I grow more familiar with him, and hopefully, I grow attached. Forming that bond helps me remember that character and understand how he works. If the character should happen to die, and I’ve formed a strong bond with him, it’s so hard to do. It’s like I’m killing off a friend that has been there with me for such a long journey.

In a book series I wrote (I won’t say what), I spent about three books with a single character. I loved this person very much, and I always enjoyed writing about her. But I knew from the very first chapter that she wasn’t going to survive until the end of the book. I tried not to grow attached, but I couldn’t help it. I felt her grow on me, and I worked with her, watched her grow and live out her life. But as the final pages arrived, and the death happened, I broke down during the entire scene and had to put the final book away for a few days because it was so hard to say goodbye to her. When I returned to the book, I didn’t have much of a sense of closure until my other characters properly mourned for her as well.

It’s strange and unusual for some people to hear writers talk about this, but honestly, I don’t understand the point of writing if I can’t find such interest and joy in my characters. Granted, there are a couple that I hate very much and can’t stand writing about, but the rest…they’re friends to me, and that makes me never feel quite so alone. They’re always there, just kind of roaming around my head, waiting to come down onto paper and enter the story. Frankly, I don’t know what I would do without the ideas. Could I even still call myself a writer?

I think that’s enough reflection for now. As always, if you have any ideas for future blogs, leave a comment down below.