Brace yourself: spoilers are coming.
This blog post discusses the television show to date, and some details from the books during the same period that did not make it into the show. You'll be okay if you don't mind hearing about tangential plotlines from the books that would have already passed in the show, but didn't actually wind up in it.
I solemnly swear that, to the best of my knowledge, I will not reveal any TV show spoilers... As is my sworn duty as a book-reader who diligently bit her tongue about the Red Wedding for years and then grinned like a maniac when the scene finally happened and she didn't have to keep it a secret anymore.
It's becoming that time of year again, the one where the broadcasting season of Game of Thrones is slowly edging towards a finale that will undoubtedly be magnificent, but is symbolic of its the viewer's tragedy. It's going to be a damn long time before we can dive headfirst into another season.
I've told myself time and time again that I need to restrain my rabid fandom of A Song of Ice and Fire when it comes to this blog. There's seldom a post that doesn't include some obtuse reference to my favourite book series and television program. I geek out worse than most for the Seven Kingdoms and every nasty little human in it. I have the damn boardgame, still shrink-wrapped because I don't have any friends with the time and patience to commit to a 4 hour battle for the Iron Throne with me.
My adulation for the series is so potent that for a recent costume party, I made a dress that depicts the map of Westeros and Esseros... and have worn it out in public on several other occasions because I'm a giant dork.
I trawl a lot of Game of Thrones fan forums. The resounding consensus is that people really don't mind bad guys, as long as they're charismatic. There's something to that school of thought. I hope I wasn't the only person who was nauseously thrilled when Joffrey finally turned the crossbow that he so phalically massaged for half a season on a human being for the first time. There is an adrenaline kick in hating the Boy King, and so we feel indulgently satisfied when he experiences as gruesome a death as any. But let's be honest... in the quiet moments of Season Four, with our homeboy Tyrion not so much outsmarted as outgunned by prison bars, his wit is spoiling away in a dungeon with nobody to do battle against, don't we kind of miss the sparring matches he had with his detestable nephew? Just a little?
Someone posted a glorious series of gifs on the Game of Thrones subreddit, entitled "Out of context Ramsay. So polite and caring." where he and Reek's unsettling scenes are carefully cut to reveal only moments where the psychopathic Bastard of Bolton is grinning amiably, the fuddy duddy Sam to Reek's Frodo. What interests me more is the discussion in the comments section of this post, wherein fans across the world discussed their genuine attachment to Ramsay. Not the actor who portrays him, but the character himself.
Ruminate on that. This is a man who gelds his prisoners, flays those who surrender to him in contravention of all forms of military sportsmanship, literally hunts humans for fun, and gets a psychosexual thrill out of playing mindgames with a Prince of the Iron Islands, rendering him a gibbering mess with a serious case of Stockholm Syndrome.
I want to say "objectively", but this is the internet after all, so I'll frame it as otherwise so as not to tread on toes: Ramsay Snow is subjectively a more evil, vicious, disgusting person than Joffrey Baratheon.
Seriously, Joffrey at his worst was still basically what you expect of a spoilt kid from an incestuous genepool who has never been told "no." If the game of thrones was a literal sport, those characteristics would see Joffrey queue up at the starting line with a moderate handicap, which is further debilitated by some shoddy parenting. Ramsay, conceived of rape, is probably the best-suited character in the Seven Kingdoms to match Joffrey's starting handicap. I admit, my reading of the books has potentially tinted this perspective, but his complete mania for anything blood-and-guts related is more overt, more sadistic, and far closer to inherent evil than Joffrey on even his worst day.
Which brings me back to fan adulation, a subjective and fickle thing if ever there was a clear-cut example. The question is: "If people can root for someone like Ramsay, is there any character in Game of Thrones who schemes, plots, and commits depraved and cruel acts that we can't find a way to love?"
It's with great reluctance that our first thought always flicks to one of the original baddies: Cersei Lannister.
All in all, she's not a great chick. She tries to kill her brother, Tyrion, who is basically the posterchild of wicked and wonderful protagonists with a hedonistic streak and a serious case of "Smartest Kid in Any Room." She bangs her other brother, and is kind of mean to him when they're reunited after his stint as a prisoner of war. She hates her husband, King Robert Baratheon, and, by virtue of a well-placed squire and an enormous flagon of wine, contributes to his premature demise. Sort of. On their face, yeah, these things make her the kind of woman you probably don't want to trust.
Hate her, if that's how you're so inclined, but to prevent a cognitive dissonance, we must refuse to differentiate her scheming from those of the aforementioned characters, whom we love from the get-go, or grow to throughout the series.
Forget the fact that in the books, Tyrion literally arranges for a singer to be killed and served in a tavern that sells "bowls of brown" in Flea Bottom, the medieval version of a ghetto. What did the man do to slight him so badly that having him cannibalised seemed the only reasonable option? He tried to blackmail his way into performing at Joffrey's wedding by singing to Tyrion about his secret lover. Yup. His asking price was one gig. But all the better to feed him to the poor, right?
Forget that Jaime pushed a child out of a window with the intention of killing him, murdered the King he swore to protect with a literal stab in the back, and then raped his sister/lover when she broke up with him.
Forget that Robert ritually humiliated Cersei in front of the court, made it no secret that he loved another woman, and declared she that would perpetually fail in her efforts to enchant him. All whilst he bedded down merrily with prostitutes in their marital bed to put on a show that would hurt his wife. What did she do to slight him so badly that he took pleasure in her humiliation? She was "cold".
But if you don't want to forget those factors to draw the lines in the sand that determine "good guys" versus "bad guys", consider this: is anything that Cersei does really so wicked as any other character whom we know, and love?
Cersei plays the Game of Thrones in a manner not unlike Tyrion's: with cautious thought, utilisation of her best skills, and hefting a massive chip on her shoulder.
The Queen Regent is a born leader with an intellect that certainly outweighed that of the King to whom she was married. She may not have ever been smarter than someone like Tyrion, but given the perpetual nature of their rivalry, it's not as if he ever did manage to best her, either. All things considered, perhaps the rivalling siblings have more in common than either would admit. She is the one who utters the most famous line in the entire Song of Ice and Fire collection: "In the Game of Thrones, you win or you die." She knows the stakes of her involvement, but never once does she balk at entering the fray.
Cersei is fiercely loyal, but on a small scale. Whilst a simple notion, this quality is frequently bartered away throughout the series by more "noble" characters (more on that, later), so it is not something to be sniffed at. She places her family first and foremost in every choice she makes. Tywin Lannister even acknowledges that of all his children, his daughter is the strongest fighter for the family name. However, given her gender, she is severely restricted in how she can best contribute to the familial needs - by being wed for strategy and holding down the fort, rather than being granted a leadership position befitting her skills.
The Lannister name is literally everything to Cersei. She fights for it, she kills for it, and she's not afraid to put her neck on the line to defend it. Some fan theories have even suggested that the reason she so dearly adores her children, even Joffrey, whom she acknowledges was a monster, is not solely attributed to natural maternal instinct (because let's face it, she's ruthless towards almost all but her progeny), but because they are the living, breathing embodiment of the love she and Jaime share.
Consider the painstaking efforts she went to in order to prevent Robert from siring a true heir with her. He had illegitimate children left and right, but not once did his fertility ever win out when pitted against the cunning of his wife. Though she could have easily relented to all manner of "wifely duties" in the pursuit of power, including having Robert's children, Cersei's fights instead to protect the Lannister name, and avoid perpetuating the Baratheon line by her hand at all costs.
There is a reason that despite her marital status, Cersei is seldom, if ever, referred to as "Cersei Baratheon." The woman is a Lannister to the core. Whilst Jaime is prepared to sacrifice his family name at the altar of career ambition, and Tyrion is similarly inclined, but for love, is it any wonder that she is perpetually frustrated that her gender is the only thing holding her back from the privilege she deserves, and that both her brothers discard so casually? For all her callous pragmatism, Cersei seems to be the only Lannister who is concerned about what happens to the family name after Daddy-O croaks.
Cersei has ugly qualities, much like any other character. She's jealous, she's sly, she's insecure and she's pissed the fuck off that she is not getting her due. But aren't these qualities arbitrary in a narrative where, in all actuality, Cersei is just playing the game in the same manner as all the other men - with ruthless ambition?
The women of the Song of Ice and Fire universe are fascinating, and discussions about "strong female characters" have been done to death, so I won't subject you to it now. But if we can fleetingly toss each of these brilliant characters under the microscope, and establish why we can justify liking them but not Cersei, we might have a little better insight as to why her personality is so grating for the readership at large.
Game of Thrones is, at its core, about the pursuit of conviction, strength and mettle to rule. Femininity is quite the disadvantage in these stakes, and so personality is everything.
Daenerys Targaryen has the birthright, the diversity of experience (from King's Landing, to the Khalasar, to laying waste on Slaver's Bay), and commands the respect of her posse. But she has proven herself to be an idealistic leader, which is why she's still pissing around on the wrong side of the Narrow Sea and will be easily gutted if she keeps showing her soft underbelly so carelessly.
Margaery Tyrell is a siren, luring men to crash on the rocks, but her notoriety is for fickle camp-changing everytime the wind blows in a different direction. We like her gumption, and the fact that she uses a restrained sexual charisma to get what she wants. Plus, she's got a fun little tussle with Cersei brewing which, more so than a "catfight", is, at the core, about a fundamental misalignment over perception of loyalty. Cersei doesn't trust Margaery not to undo the family name, and to be fair, the precedent Margaery has set is aligned with that narrative.
Sansa Stark cops flak for several seasons for being a weak-willed little kid, and she seems to bear the brunt of the hatred the fans felt when her Dad got his head lopped off due to her inadvertent tattling. Her poker face is a joke and she spends several seasons appearing to be one nasty barb away from throwing herself from the Red Keep. It takes a change in prison warden (from Joffrey to Littlefinger) for her to realise that if she's going to be forever caged by some man, she might as well use her attractiveness to her advantage. It's manipulative, but can we blame her? The strange dynamics between she and Littlefinger are heinously uncomfortable, but after 4.87 seasons, at least she's finally entered the game.
Arya Stark is "grit" incarnate. She has a very rudimentary education, but a ton of oomph. She's flighty, obnoxious, unapologetic and obsessed with nothing but revenge. She isn't squeamish, and is fully prepared, even eager, to kill based on her own self-righteous sense of right and wrong. Her tempestuous road trippin' with the Hound shows her lack of reluctance when it comes to hunkering down with someone she loathes in the interests of longitudinal self-preservation. The question is, if she ever finally winds her way through the list of people she plans to kill, what will keep this storm in a teacup moving? Arya has lost literally everything in her life throughout the series. When she is no longer propelled by vengeance alone, will she crumple into the lost little girl that her character has refused, time and time again, to be?
Then there's Brienne, and the Queen of Thorns, and Shae, and the many other women who are working to some end to protect themselves and succeed in whatever their scurrilous missions may be.
These characters, all of them uniquely flawed and morally ambiguous, capitalise on some disingenuous, cruel, or outright loathsome traits. Cersei is not the only one to kill, not the only one to lie, not the only one to tug on the puppet strings of somebody else's life, and smirk when they break.
My opinion, unpopular though it may be, is that Cersei is one of the best characters. I am unilaterally rooting for her to ride the rise and fall that we see with so many of the greatest heroes in the series. She has the capacity to thrive in the cesspool of King's Landing. Her biggest failing is her gender, which restrains her from grasping any inkling of power that she truly deserves... unless, of course, such power is obtained via the casting couch or a sneaky back-room political dealing.
Cersei is my Frank Underwood, my Mellie Grant, my wolf in wolves' clothing. I hope the time finally comes for her to acquire political capital in a manner befitting her abilities. And then I hope she brings down the Rains of Castamere on her enemies. I would expect no less of her. After all, a Lannister always pays their debts.
Those who know me appreciate how much I like a challenge. I decided to double-major at university because giving myself a bit of flexibility and breathing room throughout my degree felt too slack. It's why as soon as I graduated, I applied for full-time work in an industry in which I had no experience, and began at the office within a few days of being offered the job. But this persistence to get my responsibilities out of the way before allowing myself any fun often means that once my duties are done, I'm grouchy from the knowledge that I have been working too hard, whilst simultaneously hankering for some new way to burn through my days because I'm bored.
Naturally, the challenge to write 50,000 words of a new novel in November through National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) seemed a perfectly sane idea for me to do within the same four weeks that I was already slated to both move house, and jet interstate for five days. I approached the challenge with military precision, dutifully packing up my laptop to tap away on the train to work each day, befriending the perky English girl that worked at the cafe near my offices so I could have a chai and a type in peace (although, miser that I am, I never returned after she overcharged me that one time), and ensuring that I was awake an hour earlier than I needed to be every single day so that I could hit the word count before 8.30am... and if I decided to write on the train home as well, so much the better.
To clarify: normal people do not do NaNoWriMo. Every person I met at the first social event of the season was lovely, switched on, and desperate to get started. That night, I stared at a sea of people in bunny ears, oversized band t-shirts and overalls, and saw, vainglorious creature that I am, my own emo-loving, pubescent awkwardness reflected back at me, ad infinitum. But the people I met that night didn't need to be normal. No good writer is. After an hour of chatting about our stories, and becoming increasingly excited by the diversity of minds around us, my friend and I departed from the meeting feeling genuinely bolstered for the month ahead. The countdown from then to November 1 was an arduous one. I couldn't wait to begin.
I didn't stay up to partake the midnight write-in. Heck, I didn't make it to another NaNoWriMo event, social or work-related, for the entire month. But the invaluable company of my fellow writers for one evening motivated me to push on when I felt my feet dragging in the dirt for every one of those thirty days.
My commitment to NaNoWriMo did not cease for anything short of calamity. I allowed myself one day off, and that was to move house. By the next day, I was writing furiously from the early hours of the morning with atonement on my mind, spurring myself as if I had something to prove for the absence. I wrote on the plane interstate, and tapped away furiously on my creaky hostel bed at 10pm on a Saturday night when seemingly everyone else in Sydney was partying at the nightclub just downstairs, making out with adorably-accented foreigners. But I had taken this trip with a very particular agenda, and I wanted my weekend's quota out of the way before the main event on the Monday evening.
I had gone to see the King of Fiction, himself, speak. He answered questions from the audience about the religions and minutiae of his world, and bantered merrily with the actresses from the television adaption about whether winter was truly coming. He held the entire Opera House in the palm of his hand, and we barely dared breathe, so desperate were we to catch his every word.
After the panel discussion, those who had paid six hundred dollars for the privilege of receiving autographs, having a chat, and being photographed with he and the actresses were instructed to line up on one side of the building. The cheaper-ticket holders were told that they could line up along the other side of the great Opera House for an autograph... if they wished to try their luck, and if the man himself felt so inclined as to hang around. It was evident that any autograph-dispersing on his behalf was utterly subject to whim, and not to duty. I contemplated not lining up for all of thirty seconds. Only when I recalled that I had nowhere better to be did I search for, and find, my friend in the line. By the time I reached the tail, it was already over a hundred people deep.
The people in the queue churned ahead of me silently, silent with a deferential awe as they approached the little table of the most renowned living fantasy writer on the planet. He signed each book placed before him with frenetic energy and within moments, the expectant fan would make for the front door, clutching their oh-so-cherished, autographed merchandise in shaking hands. As my book was handed over by an Opera House employee, I instinctively thanked the man himself for his time. He actually raised his gaze to look at me and my brain went crazy, urging me to be cool. I was so excited that I almost missed our entire conversation. He asked me if I had had a nice night, to which I replied: "Absolutely, it was amazing. I'm an aspiring author, and hearing you speak has made me want to go home and write like mad."
And George R.R. Martin said to me, "Then write! Never stop writing. Persevere, persevere!"
From then on, the challenge was not to simply "win" NaNoWriMo, but to write as much as I could and with as much energy as I could possibly muster. After all, George R.R. Martin himself had charged me with the duty.
The bare bones for my second novel, Love, Inc., was finished within a week of that moment. Though I harbour a subconscious terror that I am encountering a sophomore slump, I granted myself the permission to edit at a reasonable pace, one conducive to my time-poor lifestyle. I am no longer in a desperate hurry to prove that I can "finish", though by no means is that something to turn one's nose up at. Because the few throwaway words of advice from my favourite author reflect the equal blessing and curse of the writer: there is no finish line, no point whereupon we really feel that we have said enough. We write because the story is clawing at our insides, desperate to spring from the confines of our mind onto paper. And we want to be rid of it as if it were a parasite sucking us dry, because to hold onto it too long evokes the same dread as if we were squeezing an infant too tight. We love the story desperately, but until it is rendered in ink, it is not permanent, or fixed, or safe. To simply hope that we will remember its nuances is to guarantee forgotten details, or lost insight into the characters. When we are so cripplingly scared of putting our baby into words and rendering it vulnerable to criticism, we have already failed. The alternative is agony but it's the sweetest struggle there is.
Now that NaNoWriMo is over, I'm exhausted. Looking at my manuscript, which required an additional 7,000 words to pass my benchmark, I felt no desperation to churn the final, filler pages out. It is not the satisfaction of completion that motivates me, though it is an amazing sensation to see page upon page materialise by your hand. The process itself is magic. There is no feeling in the entire world quite like when the right words appear onscreen unconsciously, as if your fingers have been hijacked by a third party, and your characters are reacting to the world around them in ways that surprise even you. It's the writing that I hunger for, not the completed project. No matter how many books I write, there will only ever be one story: the one I am writing now.
So yeah, I guess I did conquer NaNoWriMo... but in many ways, NaNoWriMo conquered me, too. Because it slaughtered the pedant inside of me, allowing me to disregard deadlines or expectations of myself, and simply write. And given that the first tome of A Song of Ice and Fire was released the year that I was born, and the series shows no sign of being completed soon, I think my hero would approve.
You know when you're knee-deep in work, and you feel like despite ratcheting up the "crazy scale"* more and more everyday, you're just failing all over the place at being a normal human being? I'm talking about that feeling that the minute you achieve something small, you realise your achievement was a globule of spit in the great roaring bushfire of your workload.
In my world, it goes: you get your readings for classes under control (whoops, speaking of which...), you have to rush off to one of your two paid jobs; or pop into a Google Hangout/meeting for one of your two volunteer jobs; or your father accurately describes your bedroom as a "brothel", (which, fun fact, is a legitimate synonym for "messy"); you have a class presentation to make in the same week as three lengthy essays are due; your gym membership is going to waste because you went and fell down the stairs and messed up your foot so you limp like a cross between a bad pirate impersonator and Bigfoot stuck in a bear trap; and you haven't washed your clothes (or yourself) for a suspiciously long time... and, most unforgivable of all, it's taken you five days to watch the latest episode of Game of Thrones.
Well, that's the level of pandemoniac I rock on a regular basis. I know it all may be manageable if I were to drop maybe one or two of my four external time commitments that fall loosely beneath the category of "paid/unpaid work", but in truth, I am in my element. It probably has something to do with the adrenaline rush that comes with teetering on the precipice of madness. I enjoy knowing that I've got more commitments than I should be able to handle, but the wheels are refusing to fall off. I'm the little engine that could, motherfucker. Toot toot.
Many of you probably know the amazing pop anthem of energetic apathy, "I Love It." You know, the one about driving bridges into cars or some such business. It is the victory song that I wish I could have written myself, if I'd had more than three years of recorder lessons... and before you get into it: yes, I am aware that the minimum primary school requirement for recorder lessons was one year. For some misguided reason I thought that I had picked the one musical instrument would never fade into obscurity.
The thing that I love so much about this song is that it has maybe all of six different lines, which I simply can't seem to recall when I'm enthusiastically rocking out. I riff the lyrics without a self-consciousness or capability, and ten out of ten times, the words mangle badly. But I don't let that stop me, because I'm stubborn as a mule, and "I Love It" is my victory song!
And sing it I did upon the moment wherein I tapped the final sentence of my novel, and pressed the image of the floppy disk that signifies a bygone era.
Yes, dear friends, readers, acquaintances, stalkers, and that one random family member who might accidentally stumble across this post whilst practice-Googling my name to make sure that my cyber-footprint is concealed to protect me from baddies:
I have finished "Softly Screamed the Devil".
Upon raw completion, it clocked in at a solid 345 pages in length, but its girth has shifted frequently with each of its, thus far, six full edits. Writing a book is hard, no doubt about it, but editing is work. The time-vacuum kind. The "can't multitask doing this" kind. Therefore, I'm all about it.
Despite my life being fifty shades of cray on the time-management front, I'm loving nigh on everything. Admittedly, I'm not shameless in the way an author should be when it comes to pitching my own work, so the next insurmountable obstacle will be to let people who aren't my Nonno or my agent actually read it. But that can be "tomorrow Scarlett"'s job. Today Scarlett is busy.
*Not crazy-hot, just crazy. Because if you saw the split-ended, curtains-wide-open fringed, pimply yet dry-skinned mess I have become, your first thought would be "Damn, girl", but for all the wrong reasons.
Scarlett Hawkins writes novels... But in her spare time, she writes rants.