I’ve been circling around something for a while now, posts almost made, but then pulled back, decided on, then undecided on. The post was initially supposed to be about characterization and Game of Thrones
, using the fate of Ned Stark as a basis, but I kept backing off. Now, inspired in part by Bonnee’s review of on her blog last week
and by my own viewing of Disney’s Frozen
, I’ve decided to go with this. BE WARNED: Spoilers abound, so if you haven’t read GoT or seen Frozen (and plan to), you should probably go somewhere else.
Early on in Game of Thrones, we see Ned Stark, Lord of the North, beheading a man for abandoning the Night’s Watch, a collection of misfits, outcasts and criminals who guard the kingdom’s northern boundary against…all sorts of things. Ned makes a point of telling his youngest son that the one who passes judgment should be the one to dole out the punishment as well. Later, when Ned assumes the duties of Hand of the King, we see that he as honest, a man of integrity and principle, and a man who is overmatched by the complexities of the politics of King’s Landing. After uncovering a rather tawdry secret about the Queen, Ned gets outmaneuvered (largely because of his sense of honor), betrayed, and thrown in the dungeon. He’s given a choice: admit to treason and he’ll be exiled to the Night’s Watch. Hold to the truth and he’ll be executed.
At this point, I was highly conflicted. Ned was my favorite character in this book, and I wanted him to remain true. There’s no way, I thought, that Ned would lie. And then he did the unthinkable: he lied. He confessed to a crime he didn’t commit. He traded his honor for his life, and I was ready to throw the book across the room.
Now, allow me to jump a few steps to the right, to Disney’s Frozen. In Frozen, two princesses grow up isolated from each other and the world because one of them (Elsa) has powers she can’t control. When Elsa is of age to take the throne, the castle gates are opened for the first time in years. Townspeople and foreign dignitaries pour in, and it’s party time.
One foreign dignitary is Hans, a prince from the Southern Islands. Anna, the younger princess, meets him and is instantly smitten. So is he. They dance and talk all night; it’s like Cinderella all over again. As for Hans, he’s one hell of a nice guy, and he asks Anna to marry him.
When Elsa’s powers get out of control (largely because Anna and Hans come to her with news of their betrothal), she runs off, and Anna follows. Elsa has left the town in a deep freeze, kind of like the one that’s settled over my house this week. The problem is, it’s July. Ann runs off and leaves Hans in charge while she tries to track down Elsa and break the spell. Hans is a star. He personally passes out blankets to freezing people. He provides food. He’s dedicated to saving every man, woman and child in the kingdom if he can. When Princess Elsa is on the verge of killing two men in self-defense, it’s Hans who stays her hand—”Don’t become the monster they say you are!” he implores. What a guy!
And then he executes perhaps the most unexpected heel turn since Andre the Giant in 1987.
He leaves Anna to die, lies to everyone, and stands aside so that Elsa can be executed. It turns out, he was lying to Anna all along. The whole thing was a scheme to gain power and prestige. And I was ready to throw my popcorn at the screen.
Two stories. Two unexpected events. But one of them was right, and one of them was wrong. In Game of Thrones, what I didn’t tell you is, aside from being principled and honest, Ned Stark was also dedicated to his family and his children. While not exactly warm and cuddly, he is shown throughout as being a good father who loves his children. The reason Ned ultimately admits to a lie is because the Queen has his daughter, and it’s implied that things will not go well for her at all if he insists on telling the truth. My hand was stayed—I did not throw the book. As I commented on Bonnee’s post on the book, Martin did an absolutely brilliant job of pitting Stark against himself. As much as lying was OUT of character for Ned, protecting his children was totally IN character.
And what of Hans? His heel turn came out nowhere. While we may have thought the romance between Anna and Hans was too good to be true, there was never ANY indication at any time that he was anything but what he appeared to be. Yes, the moment was shocking, but there was no foundation for it at all. When I think about some of the books I’ve read recently that have had surprising plot twists (see anything by Gillian Flynn, for example), if you look back you can always see hints throughout. There was nothing of the sort with Hans. The Magpie has seen the film twice, and she couldn’t even see it coming the second time!
Keep this in mind when building up for the plot twist. “Never saw it coming” plot twists are fine, provided there’s a reason
for it, and the reason should be visible in the story. It doesn’t have to be obvious, but it should be something you can see in hindsight. And it has make sense. And that’s what you have to do—make it make sense. Give us Ned Stark, not Hans. Spoiler over, have a nice weekend!
Oh, and yes, that IS former governor of Minnesota Jesse “The Body” Ventura in that video (with the hat and glasses), thank you very much.