Kol (abomvubuso) wrote in talk_politics,

Of broken men

I know, I know. Game of Thrones can be either loved, or hated, or just "meh". No middle ground? Fine. Granted, all the super-hype about it around the Interwebz and fandom circles may've turned you into either a squeeing devotee, or an eternal GRRM-basher. Fine, it's no more than another fictional story, ganking lots of elements from prior, greater works, no problem. And the TV adaptation? Boobs and cum and blood for the sake of TV ratings, you say? Fine, I agree. Oh, and some elaborate political plots just to spice it up, oh my. Love it or hate it, or just be "meh", but I think it does have some merits after all. Such as some fundamental issues being raised that are worth the debate IMO. So what are those?

It's not just about all the sex and shallow jokes, to begin with. Now obviously, everyone (viewer/watcher/whatever) would read/watch it in a different way. The way *I* am reading it, the story is about little people being but mere pawns in the hands of the big guys who toss them around at their whim as if they're some kind of tools. Which, one might argue, was pretty much what Medieval "international relations" were about. Or if we're to extend that to our present time, it's what politics has always been about. Some powerful guy fucked another powerful guy's wife, so thousands of the first guy's peasants now have to go ahead and slaughter the other guy's peasants for no reason but to please their lord and forward his ambitions of power. Because it's never been about his wife, actually. If he wanted to settle that, he'd have called a duel. But no, he must take the other guy's castle, his lands, and his peasants along with that, with their crops and -of course!- their taxes. All the while, the real threat to the integrity of this entire system silently lurking somewhere far beyond the scope of people-caring-about, biding its time and preparing for a strike, until it's too late to do anything about it. Take your pick of your external enemy as you please:

Heroes don't exist, as it turns out (or don't they?) - just the right dudes and dudettes appearing at the right time at the right place, having the right mind to do the right thing. Or not. Somehow it always happens, probably, maybe. Obviously we don't know the end of the story yet to say that for sure in this particular case (since 2 books still remain to be written), but if I were the author, I'd rather have everyone die a painful, albeit heroic death to the hands of the unknown, unnamed menace from beyond the Wall of civilisation. Because, if we're to have it as realistic as it can possibly be, then that's what happens in the real world. You fuck up a society beyond repair - it crumbles down. There's seldom a middle solution to such an equation.

There's also the theme of slavery sprinkled around: of slavery as a social institution holding societies of a certain type together, and the appealing messianic moral power of fighting against it, and of its sudden abolition, and the consequences of that for the liberated ex-slaves, once reality kicks back in. Turns out many of them prefer to be slaves again, even if in another form different from the classic one. The same slaves who've had their master's sigil tattooed on their cheek forever, and who used to carry Master X on a litter so that he didn't have to soil his precious feet, are now voluntarily carrying their Boss X on a litter, and are being paid for it - using that coin to buy their food and shelter from Boss X, the same way it was being provided to them for free by the same Master X before they had been "liberated". Because, as it turns out, that's an easier life to live. No tough choices hanging like a burden over your head. Master X, now turned Boss X, being "responsible" for you, your life and your security, and being paid for that with your sweat and blood in return. Etc.

But if you prefer to just see the incest and intrigue in the story, so be it. There's that too - a lot of it indeed. Oh, and all those boobies and dick jokes too (there's a clever dwarf guy who's by far the most intriguing character, after all). But that's just on the surface. Don't care about that, frankly. If you're willing to go a bit deeper down, I'd recommend you pay attention to this bit:


Arguably the most boring section of the entire book series, actually contains the core message. And the message, should you not care to read a huge essay on some nerd forum, in a nutshell, is as follows.

A priest summarises the whole point of political control, servitude, and warfare like no other: http://www.tumblr.com/tagged/septon-meribald

"There are many sorts of outlaws, just as there are many sorts of birds. A sandpiper and a sea eagle both have wings, but they are not the same. The singers love to sing of good men forced to go outside the law to fight some wicked lord, but most outlaws are more like this ravening Hound than they are the lightning lord. They are evil men, driven by greed, soured by malice, despising the gods and caring only for themselves. Broken men are more deserving of our pity, though they may be just as dangerous. Almost all are common-born, simple folk who had never been more than a mile from the house where they were born until the day some lord came round to take them off to war. Poorly shod and poorly clad, they march away beneath his banners, ofttimes with no better arms than a sickle or a sharpened hoe, or a maul they made themselves by lashing a stone to a stick with strips of hide. Brothers march with brothers, sons with fathers, friends with friends. They’ve heard the songs and stories, so they go off with eager hearts, dreaming of the wonders they will see, of the wealth and glory they will win. War seems a fine adventure, the greatest most of them will ever know.

Then they get a taste of battle. For some, that one taste is enough to break them. Others go on for years, until they lose count of all the battles they have fought in, but even a man who has survived a hundred fights can break in his hundred-and-first. Brothers watch their brothers die, fathers lose their sons, friends see their friends trying to hold their entrails in after they’ve been gutted by an axe.

They see the lord who led them there cut down, and some other lord shouts that they are his now. They take a wound, and when that’s still half-healed they take another. There is never enough to eat, their shoes fall to pieces from the marching, their clothes are torn and rotting, and half of them are shitting in their breeches from drinking bad water.

If they want new boots or a warmer cloak or maybe a rusted iron halfhelm, they need to take them from a corpse, and before long they are stealing from the living too, from the smallfolk whose lands they’re fighting in, men very like the men they used to be. They slaughter their sheep and steal their chickens, and from there it’s just a short step to carrying off their daughters too. And one day they look around and realize all their friends and kin are gone, that they are fighting beside strangers beneath a banner that they hardly recognize. They don’t know where they are or how to get back home and the lord they’re fighting for does not know their names, yet here he comes, shouting for them to form up, to make a line with their spears and scythes and sharpened hoes, to stand their ground. And the knights come down on them, faceless men clad all in steel, and the iron thunder of their charge seems to fill the world…

And the man breaks. He turns and runs, or crawls off afterward over the corpses of the slain, or steals away in the black of night, and he finds someplace to hide. All thought of home is gone by then, and kings and lords and gods mean less to him than a haunch of spoiled meat that will let him live another day, or a skin of bad wine that might drown his fear for a few hours. The broken man lives from day to day, from meal to meal, more beast than man. Lady Brienne is not wrong. In times like these, the traveler must beware of broken men, and fear them…but he should pity them as well.

[When I was marched off to war I was] no older than your boy. Too young for such, in truth, but my brothers were all going, and I would not be left behind. Willam said I could be his squire, though Will was no knight, only a potboy armed with a kitchen knife he’d stolen from the inn. He died upon the Stepstones, and never struck a blow. It was fever did for him, and for my brother Robin. Owen died from a mace that split his head apart, and his friend Jon Pox was hanged for rape.

The War of the Ninepenny Kings?

So they called it, though I never saw a king, nor earned a penny. It was a war, though. That it was.

So, yeah. Call it what you will, this story. A cheap shot at fantasy-writing intended to become yet another TV-series script, an excessively large dystopian daydreaming scenario of an unabashed plagiarist, whatever. This one passage sums it all up in my book. And it extends to our, the real world. Whenever a politician talks in pompous terms about patriotism, and what you can do for their your country, and war being a just cause - no matter if we agree whether it's necessary or not, we'd do good to at least remember what Septon Meribald said at the Saltpans to his traveling company.

Ps. Oh, and btw could we keep the spoilers to a minimum plz? :)
Tags: books, opinion, slavery, society, war
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