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Tuesday, June 11, 2013

misery and guests at weddings

Massive spoilers for game of thrones






So the red wedding, yeah that happened. For about four minutes there was carnage, there was blood, there was betrayal and people felt things they shouldn’t have to for fictional characters. I remember reading this scene 2 years ago. It was at a time when I had gotten plunged into the world created by George RR Martin. Westeros really was my first foreign destination after finishing university. I can still remember sitting in front of a computer screen and scrolling down and down and down and down for hours. I would sit there from 10 in the am to 3 in the am and then get to sleep and repeat over and over again. I had dreams about those books. It was quite simply the most addictive reading experience I have ever gone through in my life.

Somewhere in the middle of this the Red Wedding happened. In the books they made a big deal of guest right, much more than they did in the show. It’s basically a rule of honour that says once someone eats your food and drinks your wine or water you have extended the protection of your house over them and so I was sure nothing would happen to Robb. In the book you are inside Catelyn Stark’s mind as she sees her last surviving son being killed, she kills her hostage and goes crazy. She laughs as she claws herself with her nails and as blood as red as death finds its way down her cheeks one of the Frey banner men kills her like you would put down a wounded horse. In the book you later find out that they cut the head off of Robb’s direwolf and sew it on his neck. But in the show everything starts with stabs to the stomach of a pregnant woman. I thought I was ready for this thing to happen but that minor alteration took me back into that world and reminded me exactly what that betrayal was.

It’s been on my mind all week. I feel like that season ended because there is no topping that, I haven’t watched the last episode yet but even if the Man of Steel battled the Dark Knight for the Iron Throne it could not match up.

I remember reading that scene and not knowing anyone else who had, walking around like someone I knew had died and then having to keep the secret for 2 years now. I, like everyone who had read them, tried to convince our friends to read just until the third book. Just get that far we would telegraph into their minds. The day anyone did you would know. Are you in the third book? And if they had gotten there you would see this haunted look come into their faces. Lost. Destroyed. Then finally there would be someone you could talk to about this death.

Why do we care about fictional characters?

I wonder about this a lot. A lot. It makes no sense why we care about characters that we know not to be real. Why does the love of Romeo and Juliet move us when we know that neither of them died because neither of them lived? Why has every one of us being moved to tears by the death on screen, page or stage of someone who never was? How can we feel so strongly in our imaginings that these things matter? How can we make a connection with a place that came out of somebody’s mind? How can it feel so much more real to you than the place you actually are. There are different theories about parallel universes floating around in the theoretical and murky depths of science but we experience them all the time when art does its job well, when it takes us to a place that we have never seen. A place that didn’t exist until right then, to meet people who were never born before we read that first word and never died until we came to the point that they did. People who are living their lives in words.

Then those lives stop. This episode of the show got me thinking about how misery loves company. Every single person who had already read those books knew what was happening in episode 9 of season 3. They knew it before episode 9 of season 2 aired. There was a vast conspiracy of silence, a web so thick the fact that these books have sold millions and millions in an increasingly virtual and connected world where people don’t have to think before they say anything because of anonymity, a web so thick that despite that you would have to try in order to find spoilers. You would beg the friend of yours who knew to tell you and they would refuse.

It’s because people wanted this. All these reaction videos were taken by people who knew what was going to happen. People who months, years, some even over a decade ago had come across this passage in the squiggly lines on a dead tree or the blinking lights of a glass screen. People who bided their time because they wanted to see this happen. They wanted the reaction. They wanted to see the shock, the horror, the sadness, and the feelings of futility play on a much larger audience.


So we waited. To be honest I went around looking for reactions. Quizzing people about how they felt. Giving them that one thing I didn’t have all those years ago. A listening ear. To be honest I enjoyed it. I loved seeing those YouTube videos. I loved hearing how destroyed people were by what happened. I loved how the deaths affected them. I loved that finally I was not alone in this misery. I liked that other people were sad. In fact I loved it, their looks of devastation, their hopelessness in that other world, their visceral reactions. Literature apparently makes us moreempathetic. Apparently.