There’s a simple rule a writer must follow when it comes to the business of storytelling, and that is to create a protagonist who gets his or her audience on board with the journey they are taking. Disney understood this formula perfectly; from the kind-hearted generosity of a homeless boy to a teen mermaid’s battle for independence from an over-protective father, Disney gave us heroes and heroines we couldn’t help but like and more importantly empathise with. So, when these characters came up against the inevitable big bad waiting around the corner (or seabed), we the audience were actually invested in a successful outcome for our hero or heroine.
This formula is something George R. R. Martin seems happy to dispense with however, as he serves up one grisly death after another at the expense of many of his most likable characters. The latest offering, The Mountain and The Viper, proved once again that no pawn in Martin’s Game of Thrones is safe. Because they are in fact just that, pawns on his medieval chessboard of brutality. I do understand where Martin went with this particular storyline, as Prince Oberyn dwelt too greatly on his need for retribution than on the task in hand and Tyrion discovered that while he backed the victor for his first trial by combat at the Eyrie, the same luck would not befall him for a second time.
While we cheered at King Joffrey’s all too kind death by poisoning (though accurate for the fact that he was himself the living incarnate of poison) and enjoyed Viserys receiving his molten gold comeuppance at the hands of Khal Drogo; the same cannot be said of the grim fate of the Starks, Ros, Theon Greyjoy and Prince Oberyn. The heightened contrast between those on the side of good and their foes upholding the evil certainly highlights the former, and without the toxic players in this game the victories of the ones we like would seem flimsy and unimportant. But, seriously, the more good that is killed off, the more certain that bad will prevail.
If Jafar had succeeded in slaying Aladdin and turning Agrabah into his own personal sorcerer’s wonderland, and if Ursula had eternally imprisoned Ariel along with the rest of her poor unfortunate souls; well, they wouldn’t be the classics that they are today. Put plainly, ultimately we want to see good triumph over evil. It is what the world is built on, it’s why we have a justice system, a legal system, a police state… though the truth is, a murderer will only serve a portion of his sentence, a rapist will be out in less than three years and children taken from an abusive home will more than likely be returned to those parents after some time.
Maybe the reason we find it so abhorrent to see our favourite characters beheaded, tortured and tormented is because it is simply a reflection of our society and our real grievance lies with the fact that we know bad things happen to good people and there’s little we can do about it. George R. R. Martin presents us with the fact that every person is capable of both good and evil, but it is our personal motivations that determine on which side of the coin we will fall.
There may be room for Happy Ever After, but only once we have battled adversity, and then it may only last until the next force of evil is put in play.