Sunday, November 23, 2014

Why "A Song of Ice and Fire" has Ruined Traditional Fantasy for Me

So most people have heard of HBO's "Game of Thrones" series based upon George R.R. Martin's epic fantasy series "A Song of Ice and Fire". ASoIaF is based around the conflict engulfing the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros. It involves Intrigue, Murder, War, Sex, all mixed in with magic and dragons. All this has been combined masterfully into a sweeping epic of vast proportions, spanning hundreds of characters and viewpoints.

Now I was late to the party, discovering a Game of Thrones after the end of Season 2. I began watching the show and was immediately drawn into the world. I fell in love with the gritty realism of the world and how it showed "real" characters each with flaws and desires. Nothing was as it seemed. No one is safe.  In the words of Cersei Lannister, "When you play the game of thrones you win or you die... There is no middle ground."
Now before you say "Oh the books are so much better than the show". I still am in the process of reading the books, I am on "A Feast for Crows". Also, shut up. The show has exposed more people to the world of Westeros than if they had remained books. And if they really wanted to have the full experience I would encourage them to pick up the books and read them.

Being a history buff, the rich mythology and histories that make up the world of Westeros and Essos, gave me immense joy. Having loved reading Tolkien and his wonderful mythos woven for Middle Earth,  discovering the past of Westeros has been wonderful experience.

Now, onto my point. In the world of Westeros, there is NO good or evil (Not including the Others). Only varying shades of grey. Life or Death... Survival. Now I have been playing D&D, and other various RPGs for about six years now and a well known staple of D&D is the Alignment Chart. The Alignment Chart places every character into a strict, well... Alignment. The Character has no ability to act outside of their Alignment under threat of being turned evil, in which causes them to be hunted down and killed. Because Evil is bad.

Now, while reading aSoIaF and other various genres, I have become disenfranchised with the strict alignment system. Being forced to choose "Chaotic Neutral" Alignment, to allow my character to make choices that can be perceived as good or evil depending on the situation.  Having a character that choses based on their experiences and emotions, makes for a more interesting character to play and read. Even an Evil person does not think he/she is doing evil.

Example: I'm playing a character who constantly is seeking the answer to a question posed to him by a colleague who disappeared. The question, "What is the Truth?". My character wants to better the world by finding out the Truth. He genuinely wants to help, though he does so his own way. So I assigned him the example of Chaotic Good.  Now my character is a Wizard of the Divination School. He has spent numerous years of his life staring into the stars asking himself what is out there? He as spent so much time trying to learn "The Truth" from "The Stars" (a mystical force who he believes provides him with his visions and glimpses), that he has forgotten his own age, saying, "Somewhere between 100 and 500." Now this line of thought has driven him to believing in Chaos. He has become in awe of the vastness of the cosmos and the unpredictable surf of reality. Because of this, he thinks in grand terms while still holding on the the smaller things. He just made "friends" with a miserable little urchin on a dismal isle.

Now this character would rather uncover a great mystery, even if it meant the destruction of a civilization. To him this would be even more great of a gift because to him, that brings him one more step closer to the Truth which he plans to use to bring the world into an "Age of Light". Is this wrong in his eyes? No. He thinks he is helping the people of Faerun.

But this is generally considered a Chaotic act and would fall under the Chaotic Neutral Alignment.

In the words of George R.R. Martin,

"I love fantasy and I’ve been reading it all my life, but I’m also very conscious of its flaws. One of the things that drives me crazy is the externalization of evil, where evil comes from the “Dark Lord” who sits in his dark palace with his dark minions who all wear black and are very ugly. I’ve deliberately played with that, where you have the Night’s Watch who even though they are filled with thieves and poachers and rapers are heroic people — but they all wear black. And then there are the Lannisters who are tall and fair but aren’t the nicest people."

This. This is why traditional fantasy has become so dull to me. I know who the BBEG is. He's that asshole sitting up in his spiky black tower or fortress, surrounded by hordes of Orcs, demons and other nasty beasts. That's no fun. It's more interesting to not know who the bad guy is. In our world, there is no BBEG. Just people. People trying to survive.

This is why George R.R. Martin's "A Song of Ice and Fire" has ruined fantasy for me. It has made me wish for something more real. Which has in turn influenced my own writing style.

Remember, Valar Morghulis, "All men must die".