Last year in June I made some sketches of my favorite Game of Thrones characters and intended to write a piece about them. But since writing is not my favorite activity, and that PhD drains all the creative writing energy that exists within and without me, this task has been delayed up until now. This delay may be not bad after all, given that there is almost only a week left to the premier of the Season 7 of the show.
I began watching the series in 2014, if I am not mistaking. I had resisted doing so for the longest time and for very convincing reasons; most of Western series, regardless of how clever the overall plot is, seem unrelatable to me. Characters, male and female, do not make it to represent anything close to what I see in real life.
On the one hand, growing up in the 80s and the 90s in Iran, I have read a significant amount of history and geography in my primary education. I have also watched numerous epic Iranian productions about ancient eras, historical facts and myths. Biggest Persian Sagas, Shahnameh, where my name comes from, is a great example of the complexity and the richness of what can impress me when it comes to historical and even general story telling.
On the other hand, whenever I encountered a Western historical epic I was disappointed. Even if the technicality of the film is great, the fact checking is often off, especially when there is a link to real history. I am Iranian, and I understand that my long-ass history has evolved through wars, trades, losses and glorious victories. So for instance I understand in the end of Greco-Persian wars that went on for 500 years, Persians lost the war to the Greeks and there has been an actual fact behind 300 very courageous warriors who were a crucial part of the Greek’s final victory. But, the depiction of Persians, or Iranians or even the country as an entity, a space and a place for living , is often not just offensive – is simply laughable and objectifying. This is not an issue only in 300 movie, but in any other production that I know has used Iran as an element for moving the story forward (including Homeland Security, NCIS, even Suicide Squad - check the scene where the possessed “Enchantress” brings a binder with what appears to be Iran’s supposedly state secrets to pentagon with magic!). My point is, I can accept loss, I can admit sometimes we do need to portray the other side as villain, I can accept that humiliation can happen within the context of war and conflict, and that politics are cruel nonetheless. But I do take issues when power balance and relations are totally disregarded. As the audience, I require to be respected for the knowledge I have of the context of each show or, of human psychology by simply being human.
Long story short, despite all my skepticism, I began watching Game of Thrones. Now, there is not much about actual Iran in Game of Thrones, in fact, the first thing I noticed was the Iranian influence in the famous theme song of the series. It doesn’t take much to do a google and figure out that Ramin Djawadi the genius composer is German-Iranian.
I got hooked, with a sense of mesmerisation. After decades of not having found a TV harbinger for obsessing over, I now had a bunch;
Arya, reminded me of my young age (my story is fortunately not that dramatic); a kid interested in what the society says is for boys to do. Once she sets foot on her journey to Braavos, she reminded me of when I left home (the direction of the move was quiet opposite however). She is a master in the making who absorbs too much and has seen too much for her age, and is too clever – enough that admits most girls are idiots.
Despite my lack of enthusiasm for Jon Snow, out of all people Ygritte reminded me that living in a cold environment does not require me to tame my temper! Not to mention encouraging me to pick up archery after while again!
And then it was Brienne, who had mastered all the artisanship these former women have been trying to, is stronger than the hound, yet is a hopeless romantic, is even for the D major aura of the North, too serious. She is too good, too honorable for whomever she loves – that include Sansa.
It took a while before I realized the reason I liked the series were these women. Warriors. Vagrants. They were me. Different sides of me. With different level of morale, they all were restless, wicked, emotional, and openly desperate to connect. The way I understood them at the time, I understood no other. These were people who I knew better than some of the actual people who I walked by and even hanged out with. The joy of watching them was better than a form of hypocrisy ran through the scope of many things “cool and hip” I was surrounded with.
George R.R. Martin says himself that the reason many female fans like GOT, is his realistic depiction of women in the books and in the series. What he refers to as a realization that what motivates female characters needs not to be any different from those of male characters; respect, honor, love and power is all that there is. Even if we look at Cersi, Lady Stark or Dany, it is not much differnet in their case eventhough they do not pick up swords themselves, they still have the same motives. What changes is their context and the way in which they manipulate their social capital. Their desire does not exist outside of them. What bites them might be outside of them, but they keep their desire genuine. To themselves and to their acting.
My favorite GOT characters all have lost dear things and loved people and they all want them back - or revenge at the least; to the point they will fight them themselves in Castle Black if that was the only way to take them, and memories associated with them, out of their way. Certain loopholes, checking certain boxes, attending certain meaning-making processes and so on is not what they do. They morph through the world as they wish, if it brings them trouble, be it. More importantly, they do not seem to feel the need to brag about it. There is enough muddy pools and combats that they have to participate in that does not allow for much over posting. They do not even assess themselves based on social “norms” because in that case even rebellion against these social norms is a “type” they do not seem wishing to fulfill.
These people, never bothered “learning” what it is required of them, to be a girl, a warrior, a woman or anything else. Being what they are, if reduced to a title, is not what they are subject to. Rather, it is their femininity, mastery of swordsmanship etc. that is subject to their intellect, abilities and disabilities. It does not seem interesting to them to look at roles, and to memorize lines, because they are constantly refining, building, destroying and mending stuff, including emotions, and a lot of them from the inside.
In GOT there are characters too who, at least up until a certain point, have internalized societal or religious orders, (e.g. Sansa and the Red Woman). But their lives is not easier or less painful than the others, which is the element that makes this take on societal compliance much different from almost all the contemporary productions I see – if not different from the mimicking of modern film industry in real life too. They are not (unlike the perfect housewife or on duty fam detectives in all American series) praised for fulfilling a role they are given; even the Red Woman is bitter, sad and depressed by the end of season 6. In GOT no one is encouraged to put on a fake mask of success to survive. That, I identify with. Taking in defeat, and being hammered, even as a villain is what progressing through life and ageing is essentially about. These “strong females” are not fam fatales that the Western film industry lusts over, like Wonder Woman is for example. Their motivations, as mythical as they might seem, the throne or ruling the world, killing those who have damaged their family or serving those who they are loyal to, is more or less recognizable in sizable contexts in any given society.
George R.R. Martin has had to explain to the reporters several times that “women are more like me than they are unlike me” and well, he gets applauded for it all the time. Knowing these psychological aspects of human society is not subject to geography and time; the author, as he declares himself, is a baby boomer, a product of the suburbs of the U.S in the rise of neoliberalism. And that is exactly the reason I should pay homage to George R.R. Martin for writing this, and to Ramin Djawadi for bringing some epic influences in the series just to match what has made a great escapade from the pressure of learning roles in my 30s.
Most people probably think of GOT as a myth and look at it as entertainment, which in itself is ironic; a creation this strong cannot have come to being without the backing of actual history – and histories, those that George R.R. Martin has spent years familiarizing himself with. There are, I bet, people whose historical memory has been shaped around worldviews pretty similar to the show’s narrators. Then, their lives can pretty much look like Jon Snow in this episode of Seth Meyers. It is a subtle agreement that his identity, even for the sake of comedy has to be reduced to some object, a costume, a role for the people around the table to accept him. It is not that we do not know or understand the yearning he has is beyond a role, it is just that we have learnt to comply with things that possibly present themselves as less painful than the actual subjectivity to a story.
I refuse. GOT strikes hard and true. One needs to be deep and smart to get it, however.