It is easy to think that a complex story like “Game of Thrones” will be told in a complex way. But in truth it is an exact opposite. Because of the vast numbers of characters, locations and story lines each theme has leaned heavily onto a basic fundamental of storytelling. It would be an understatement to say that people get attached to the characters of Game of Thrones. So how does a show which presumably has nothing new except tried and tested Sex, Politics, Battles, Dragons and medieval kingdoms bring audiences from around the world in and evoke such strong emotions?
Well for starters we are not just in love with this characters we are obsessive about them. But how on earth did George did it? Because I think he understands the most important part you need in storytelling “EMPATHY”.
Making your audience empathize to your characters is absolutely crucial but it’s a step that often forgotten. I mean how many times while watching a TV show or a movie you have thought to yourself that you don’t care about any of those characters. You do not care what happens to them. That is because the writers forgot to make you to be empathetic to them. And that can maybe hold your attention by distracting you with action but not for long.
The Very first episode ends with Ser Jaime saying “Things I do for Love” and that infamous metaphorical and literal push (or pushes :p). But the dialogue for me has set the tone for a series quite well. George R. R. Martin knows how to write characters in a way that almost every major character in GoT has a disability, and I don’t just mean visible disabilities but literally anything that puts that character at a seemingly permanent disadvantage in the world. Jon Snow is the bastard , Tyrion is a dwarf, most women in the series face a ton of obstacles because of their gender. Their problems are a product of their own identities, things that can not be changed. And because of that you root for them. We want to see them overcome themselves. Even Ned Stark who does not have any visible disability he was continuously put at situations where he was in serious disadvantage. He is an honorable soldier who has to navigate the politics of King’s Landing. All of the strengths like Loyalty , Decency , Honour are character flaws in this arena. That’s why root for him to succeed and weep when he falls.
Westeros is filled with loads of reprehensible and horrible people. But every once in a while George manages to turn on of them into a character we care passionately about. And that is achieved through Loss. Midway through the series he takes away from characters whatever they held most dear before that moment. Ser Jaime prided himself on the abilities of an swordsman , so off course he looses his fighting hand.
“We get to hear his fightings, his temptations and justifications and all of that helps to humanize him” – George R.R.Martin on Jaime’s Character development
When we meet Theon Greyjoy , all he wants is cheap sex and to be seen as a strong man. But we all know how he looses his ego and all his masculinity. But what happens when you do that to the character we already like and empathize with. Well they die. When Ned is arrested he is forced to give up what he values most his honor, and admit that he is a traitor. That is a form of character suicide. He dies the moment he says his words. When King Joffrey executes him is rudely just a formality.
And lastly most characters in Game of Thrones are not one dimensional. They are not pure good or bad , not everyone is after power. But the fact of the matter is we ,the audience do not just judge the characters Good or Bad objectively. We Judge them by comparing them to the other characters of the story.
This is Darla from “Finding Nemo”.Chances are even by just showing you the image it made you cringe. The audience hates her with the passion of a thousand suns and why because she killed a few fish ?But she did not know any better , she is just a kid after all. No we hate her not because she is the worst person in the world but the worst character in Finding Nemo. Objectively speaking then most of the characters in Game of Thrones are far more worse human beings than Darla is. But we can like Jaime or Arya because we are not comparing them to Darla or any other normal standard set for those characters, but we are comparing them to Prince Joffrey, Walder Frey , Ramsey Bolton , people who have no redeeming qualities.
Death and Destruction , Sex ,Action pieces or witty monologues are not just thrown there for their shock value. Each act of violence or intimate scene is handled with extreme care.Violence , Sex ,Action or monologues are just a tool to manipulate audience emotions and never are overemphasized beyond their need.
George R.R. Martin is one of the Most Successful and Acclaimed writers right now around the world , not because he is the master of killing characters or inappropriate relationships but because he is an master of Empathy.