Perspective and Misunderstanding at the Core of A Song of Ice and Fire
Who someone is depends on who sees them, what they know or think they know. A powerful theme to keep in mind, to show. To write about too is a very difficult but crucial part of the human experience, and while the elements of sex, politics and the ignorance or unity against a greater environmental threat elevate the popularity of A Song of Ice and Fire, a critical heartstring of the series and its setting is the effective use of different points-of-view with entirely different worldviews, showcasing the selective opinions and tragedy that come from the impossibility of wholly knowing a person’s mind. Factionalism, temperament, alcohol, many things and more irrevocably shift the judgement of an individual, drawing enmity, consequences, even doom for a lie. A war made due to falsehood. The seeds of passion, hate, rejection and denial derived from innocent truths.
The muttering of “tansy”, such a small word, a nonsensical thing Catlyn ponders to our general muted interest, in essence being a mark of dark guilt understood by none as no information is properly conveyed. The cancer ridden lord is akin to Alexandre Dumas’s Noirtier, trapped within the prison of his own body. Such struggle, tragic misunderstanding is the moving horror and heart of much classical literature, much like the Plantagenet history provides a great deal of GRRM’s fantasy material. Another classic closer to home no doubt inspired this central theme of the ensemble’s narrative, The Great Gatsby as read through a non-idealised and true to the book lens portraying Littlefinger. Callous, redefined but with heraldry more prominent and particular in feudalism than the Jazz age, the cunning of a man who dominates much of his mastery of persona, crime and high society while being little more than obsessive and infantile in his actual nature and true wants. I reflect on personally a great deal, yet only these books and portions of gaming media focusing on companionship shows it to my knowledge in the same way, conversational disaster to coin a term.
For example, among her many slips in terms of rule Cercei is a goldmine of youthful good intentions, or passionate ones that mislead many supposedly great and wiser men, Aerys moved by genuine curiosity rather than spite to appoint Jamie as Kingsguard, Robert Baratheon to believe religiously that his death was karmic punishment for attempting to harm a youth.
The noble lie is not only prominent, but dominates the series. The irony that Stark of all people judges Jamie so quickly, when almost karmically in a scant few months he will sacrifice his own honour, live for years with guilt over the misconceptions of others to protect the truth. In a society prioritising horizontal honour, it may well be good for Ned (which is a large reason why he dies and his chapters are a demonstration of failure politically being a descent when fighting a mental/political battle), but the Lannisters and Littlefinger’s have not mutual respect.
It is not simply granted even by arbitrary criteria, the poor, rich, strong, weak are ostracised so easily. Something as well intended as love, left to fester leads to the economic destruction of a kingdom (Littlefinger), and to an entire dynasty (Cercei). Just as the noble, old Arryn who took on a girl tricked into taking an abortive and lacking the aspect of chivalry that would comfort or help her deteriorating mind and damaged body, Eddard’s honour and loved or hated identity largely stems from him rather than the Stark archetypes, something passed on to the foster son bearing this mentors name, Jon Snow struggling with identity and class despite not even being of the North technically and entirely shouldering the burden from choice. The small lie and the forgotten birthed the war, it literally birthed some of the characters, and the shifting of perspective time and again is the true enemy or struggle of for example Rhaegar Targaryen, his interpretation, or even nature as an individual is wholly shrouded with wholesale mythologising a man who died as demigod or demon. It is greatly ironic, even highlighted within the show how much the probably most ethereal and beautiful character Rhaegar, like the lowly mercantile Littlefinger both directly shaped the most of the setting due to their dreams and for lack of a better word, their sense of ‘wyrd’, cumulative and magically potent destiny.
It’s as simple as ease, emotion and a selfish perspective altering interpretation of another. My favourite is Eddard cursing Aegon’s ‘arrogance’, making a rare quote of the King saying ‘a king should never sit easy’. His pain, temper, and selfhood interprets the wish to keep a king from comfort, much as he commits his own executions as simple arrogance, which others see in turn with him being icy, foolish and stubborn.
The truth is not so much somewhere in the middle, but a matter of our own principles. With knowledge of a decision, and why it was made a person naturally admires or detests the judgement, perhaps the character or person. But more than dragons, or smut, the actually exiting and different draw of this series comes from highlighting something we witness all the time; moral judgement. Did something you say by accident with a gesture, a well intended question offend a colleague? Were your casual words taken with more meaning than you intended, and conversely, perhaps your halting speech was loved because it accidentally drew out the best of what people wanted to hear?
What makes a person whom they are is not their form, their memories even. An echo of the past, deliberately as a bit of comedy and speculative fiction essentially actors in older costumes. But ‘real’, is willingness to sacrifice themselves as explorers and fighters against the enslavement of tyranny.
As Jamie loses his hand, the characteristic and source of his potency and skill we realise a person is not their strengths, nor their limbs. We see eventually that misplaced passion caused a scheming Littlefinger to utilise his fantastic economic acumen to ruin a continent, for want of a woman he thought he owned and was mistaken and confused into aspiring for true reciprocation. A narrative unravels the possibility not of a ‘realistic’ fantasy, but the real fact in war, history, and society; that sides change. A person is not what their enemies define them to be, nor their allies. Not even their loves. And the power they use to affect the world brings terrible heights of prowess, and equal opportunity to rise and dominate the environment. So which opinions direct who rises and falls? What do we think? And does being mindful do more than play a puzzle from fiction, but ask whom and how we judge and how they judge us?