It is Game of Thrones season right now and is the time when I reflect on what it is that makes George R R Martin’s work so fascinating.
The lazy answer would be the sex and violence on display. Sure, HBO has done a good job using all that to good effect. But, while HBO’s show producers have done a fantastic job with the casting and cinematography, GRRM’s work is a great work of fiction for 3 reasons – morally grey characters instead of a traditional bad vs. good story, point-of-view storytelling and, thus, the lack of an omniscient narrator, and the complete lack of adherence to the normal hero’s journey.
To expand on that last idea, GRRM seems to be a big fan of a bittersweet story arc. He’s repeatedly stuck to that idea when talking about the end of the books.
People ask me how Game of Thrones is gonna end, and I’m not gonna tell them … but I always say to expect something bittersweet in the end,” he said. “You can’t just fulfill a quest and then pretend life is perfect.”
I think this choice points to something very powerful about what draws many of us to the story. We know how most normal movies end – the bad guy loses and the good guy wins. But, how often are the narratives that unfold in our real lives similar to that?
There is a case to be made that most real world story arcs are bittersweet and that the reason there is a lot of unhappiness in the world is because we expect the “end” to be perfect. But, of course, there is no perfect.
Maybe we’d all be a bit happier if we embraced bittersweet just a little bit more…