How Westeros and A Galaxy Far, Far Away Can Help Heal Our Nation
It ended. In a tragic, righteous moment of tender murder and melting iron, it ended. I am grateful for it. I am grateful for its mastery of storytelling, for the patience and maturity it demanded of its audience. I hope we are worthy of it. I hope we use it well. Epic storytelling has changed, moving towards complexity while we, as a society, have regressed to crippling simplicity.
In the 70s, Star Wars played out our deepest fears, reflecting an evil imagery of Nazism and Communism: unthinking, unfeeling soldiers marching towards universal totalitarianism, threatening our democracy. (The stormtroopers’ legendary inability to aim leaves the word at “threatening.”) We knew the enemy. They were easily identified. They were ‘them.’ But Star Wars’ newest villain is the weird teenager who lives down the street, the one who can’t make friends and plays with guns, whose desperate need for approval makes us all vulnerable. Kylo Ren is, at his core, a school shooter. Our deepest fears have changed. They might be ‘us.’
And the good/evil dynamic has shifted. Unlike classic Vader, Kylo feels. Yes, he feels a sometimes eye-rolling teenage angst worthy of an 80’s hair-band ballad. But, he feels. And he feels drawn to the light. While our hero, Rey, feels in herself a darkness that terrifies her. The line between good and evil is blurring. The “balance’” the Force, and many of us, seek is expressed in neither complete “dark” nor complete “light’, pure “good” nor pure “evil”. Balance is equity. Balance requires there be both darkness and light: in the same universe, in the same person. Balance, by definition, can not be obtained by the “good” side winning. The simplicity of good and evil has long been challenged in our storytelling. It’s time for society to catch up.
Westeros builds on this complexity of character. In Westeros, even in the repulsion of incest, there lies true love. Who can deny that Jamie was noble and honorable and brave? He understood that loving Cersei meant no action, even a glorious ride on a blood-stained beach perched on a thundering steed challenging a dragon with a spear, would make him the honorable knight he was born to be. He knowingly forsake that life for her. He understood deeply what she was. He didn’t love her in spite of it; he loved her BECAUSE of it. Is that not the ultimate unconditional love? In Westeros, we had to see Theon’s arrogance and humiliation and cowardice to understand the enormity of his redemption. In Westeros, we had to love Daenerys’ triumphant rise, be captivated by her mystique, to be betrayed by her heartbreaking decent into madness. We had to love what she was to hate what she would become. A fine line indeed.
There are no scenes in Games of Thrones more complex, more caressed, than the battle scenes. Entire episodes were devoted to capturing the chaos: the dramatic pageantry of battle juxtapositioned against the emptiness of an anticlimactic death; the unexpected brutality of thinking men against the unexpected thinking of brutal men; the indomitable human spirit against the fragility of its body; the high bravery of Lady Mormont’s sacrifice against its flat uselessness. The beauty derives from changing the tempo in the midst of carnage, from playing the pause to feel the impact. Not just the impact on the body, on the battle, on the city, on the earth, but on the soul. We needed every second of Ayra's slow caress of that blood-stained white horse to understand that tenderness need not depart with innocence. We need the pause. To understand deeply not just what was going on in that moment, but to feel how that moment will inform the future decisions of a girl standing by a pillar, who we have never before seen and never will see again. The pause lets us imagine her story, her future. She is not an extra. In that pause, she is the central character.
And therein lies our healing. Westeros demands the pause. Westeros would not be Westeros if we gave it less time, if we were less devote. Westeros could not be built in emojis. In our world, we are also not a single action. We are not a single viewpoint. We are not a sound bite. We are not a political party. We are not a single sentence posted on a backlit screen. In our world, we have become accustomed to the quickest, easiest form of communication, making judgement and assumptions without the texture of our story woven as the backdrop. IKR? BRB. SMH.
What if we only saw Twitter-snipets of Game of Thrones? What if we only saw Ayra kill an endangered species? What if we only saw Jon murder his Queen? Or Tyrion kill his father? And, in a galaxy far, far away, what if we only saw Luke drop a bomb, destroying a multi-billion dollar tax-payer-funded project? What complexity, what beauty, what story are we missing, especially in the midst of our perceived battles against our perceived enemies, if we don’t play the pause. If we hold just a few seconds of space, how quickly can a stranger become a main character?
Our storytelling has matured. It has come to demand we slow the tempo, that we play the pause, that we understand characters are both hero and villain, humiliated and victorious, brave and cowardly, gifted with brilliance and burdened with madness. Might we deem each other, here in our world, interesting enough, worthy enough, valuable enough to play the pause? This is our story. This is our world. We get to choose the ending.