A Song of Ice and Fire/Analysis
Viewpoint, Power and The Central-Character Equation - by slvstrChung
One of A Song of Ice and Fires most notorious aspects is its Switching POV and almost absurd preponderance of narrators; A Dance with Dragons alone has 18, which is just barely short of the number of stars in the credits of Game of Throness first season. (God, imagine the credits if they get that far.) What most of us don't realize is just how author George R. R. Martin uses these facts to transmit information and inform expectations.
Simply put: there is a division in A Song of Ice and Fire between Movers & Shakers and narrators, and very infrequently is a character ever both.
The thing about fiction is that it typically concerns itself with the struggle between Good and Evil, or at least Order Versus Chaos. This is how we can have good guys and bad guys, heroes and villains, The Cape (trope) against the Complete Monster: one protects others, or at least tries to do no harm, whilst the other advances a personal agenda regardless of others (or even to the direct detriment of others). This ups the ante for our heroic types, who are now involved in Saving the World from the Big Bad's depredations; but the point is that some characters are sympathetic, and others not.
The thing about Real Life is that, more often than not, it has nothing to do with good and evil. Sure, we have to decide whether to be selfish or good... but sometimes not even that. Sometimes it's not a choice we make. Sometimes it's a choice someone else makes, which then affects us. The continuum we live on is not (or at least is less) about Good vs. Evil. It's about Weak versus Strong. With great power Comes Great Responsibility, sure, to use it for good and not for evil... but do we have that "great" power? Are we in charge of our own lives, or is somebody else deciding these things for us? Stories typically tend to be about the decision-makers—they're more dynamic, more interesting, have more plot possibilities to them; everybody wants to be the guy with power. But that, in itself, just underscores the point: guys with power make good Escapist Characters precisely because most Real Life people aren't "guys with power".
And this distinction is preserved in A Song of Ice and Fire.
Let's just take the first book, since the audience is most familiar with it at this point. It has eight narrators: Bran, Catelyn, Eddard, Jon, Arya, Tyrion, Daenerys and Sansa. A number of these people, particularly Ned and Tyrion, have some power to call on, but none of them are at the top of the heap. In the meanwhile, there are other characters who really, really have power and are making most of the big decisions: King Robert Baratheon, his son Crown Prince Joffrey Baratheon, his wife Cersei Lannister, and Prince Viserys Targaryen, with people like Littlefinger and Varys lurking in the wings. These are the people making the actual decisions, calling the tune to which our narrators dance. As the story progresses, one narrator joins the Popular Crowd: Ned. For this reason, we immediately start assuming that he's a main character: in our experience, main characters are not just Good, they're also Strong. Ned not only shows a moral code, he shows agency; add to this the fact that he's a narrator, and our minds are made up.
Ladies and Gentlemen, I'd like to introduce you to our other main character: George R. R. Martin, master of the Subverted Trope.
First off, Ned is quite obviously not the main character; being Killed Off for Real will do that to ya. Second, while he has power, he doesn't have much of it (it's basically a loan from the king), he doesn't know how to use it, and a number of other people (particularly Cersei and Littlefinger) are able to circumvent what little he does have. Third: the trope being deconstructed in the first place is the idea that main characters have to be Strong, that only Strong characters can affect the outcome of the story. All our narrators are the Hero of Another Story, The Greatest Story Never Told; the big names are going to be remembered by Westerosi historians, but the real movers and shakers—our narrators—will be left in the dust.
As the series continues, this line gets blurrier and blurrier—mostly because the big Movers and Shakers have a tendency to attract fatal attention in Westeros, allowing some Ishmaels to themselves move into the spotlight. But notice that, during The War of Five Kings, not a single one of those five kings is a narrator. Instead, we always have an Ishmael nearby to watch them. The King in the North? Catelyn. Renly? ...Same narrator, actually. Stannis has the brave Ser Davos to spy on him; Balon Greyjoy his son Theon; and Joffrey, Cersei, Varys, Littlefinger and Lord Tywin are all attended by both Tyrion and Sansa. The pattern continues as the story does: we have no Frey narrator, the Boltons remain inscrutable, Mance Rayder is viewed from the outside; Doran Martell and Euron Greyjoy and Beric Dondarrion and Lady Stoneheart have to be talked about. A Dance with Dragons gives us someone who is clearly going to be a major player in the game of thrones, Aegon VI Targaryen, but he isn't a narrator either. Whoever turns out to be at the heart of the Oldtown conspiracy to quash magic (if such a thing exists), I guarantee you he won't narrate; Sam will viewpoint for him. Even Jeor Mormant, the Old Bear who is Lord Commander of the Night's Watch, doesn't narrate.
Perhaps most damning, though, is GRRM's announcement that certain characters will never be narrators because they know too much about what's going on. I won't tell you who they are, though you can find out yourself if you so desire (thanks, deathpigeon, for hunting this So Spake Martin entry down for me! ~slvstr Chung), but the mere fact that such characters exist tells you a lot about how Martin plans to tell the story.
What I'm trying to get at is this: you can tell who's going to be important to the story by asking two questions: Who's the narrator?, and who are they Ishmaeling for?
This brings us to some of the few exceptions to the rule. On occasion, we'll have characters who are narrators and Movers & Shakers. One was Ned; obviously, he didn't stay that way for long. Another is Cersei, who comes into the dawn of her regency at the same time she becomes a narrator. The solution there is that Cersei loses her agency right quick; being a Small Name, Big Ego will do that to ya. But the last two are by far the most questionable, because either they're going to toss our theory on its head or be upended themselves. There are two Movers & Shakers, two characters with power, two Strong characters, who are also narrators, and have been from the beginning. One is the Bastard of Winterfell, the 998th Lord Commander of the Night's Watch: Jon Snow. The other is the Stormborn, the Unburnt, Rightful Queen of Westeros, Breaker of Chains and Mother of Dragons: Daenerys Targaryen.
First off: what's the first thing the fandom did? Elect them as Main Characters. There are a lot of people who believe that, if A Song of Ice and Fire HAS a single central character, it's Daenerys; if it has two, the second is Jon. (If there's a third, it gets muddier; my money's on Tyrion, but it could be Sansa or Bran or Arya or, in light of the events of Dance, the new character, or even Davos.) Second: how does this jive with GRRM's ongoing habit of not letting us see what's going on in the minds of the Movers and Shakers, so as to keep them inscrutable and interesting? Well, part of it is that we (the readership) are expecting Jon and Dany to learn how to wield their power and authority properly, which is basically the one thing every other Mover & Shaker has not figured out at this point; Daenerys certainly has that goal in mind, and Jon (who is rocking the boat up north) is taking the long view, and the right view too, though a lot of his associated characters won't admit it. These two Strong characters who are learning (or at least trying) to wield their power With Great Responsibility. These two Strong characters are trying to do what Ned did—be both Strong and Good.
Third: What if they aren't movers and shakers? What if they're Decoy Protagonists just like Ned Stark was?
I have to say that, personally, I don't think so. First off, the readership would murder GRRM in his bed if he did that, and he knows it. Second, it goes against the narrative direction of the story; there's a reason fans have also accused both Jon and Dany of being Mary Sues and having the author's favor. Third, there is personal correspondence from GRRM (more So Spake Martin) that Jon's parentage will come out over the course of the story. Since it hasn't yet, it seems to me that Jon's arc isn't finished. (Though it might be posthumous, as much of other characters' development has.) And fourth: who else would feel The Chains of Commanding? Because if there's An Aesop to the series at all, it's this: no one wins the game of thrones. At least, not in a Crapsack World like Westeros. That's why the narrator/Mover divide is set up the way it is. Through our Ishmaels, we not only see how the pieces in the game suffer, but how the players are undone as well; in that sense, Jon and Dany are only the cherries on top. But the fact that they are feeling those chains is the one thing that sets them apart from every other character; the Movers have power, the narrators feel responsibility, but only Jon and Dany deal with both. Again, they are both Strong and Good. And that's why the fandom, who still can't get past the old ways of doing things, have nominated them as main characters.
There's still two books to go and my entire analysis may be undone by their events. But that's is my read on the story. This is slvstr Chung, signing off.
The Bear And The Maiden Fair- Arc Song
This song is continually referenced in the series and mirrors a number of plot threads. Spoilers ahead:
Perhaps most obviously, the song parallels Sansa's odd UST with Sandor Glegane, especially since the song has Victim Falls For Rapist undertones, and Sansa misremembers her Near-Rape Experience from Sandor as a romantic kiss. Additionally, while she has no romantic feelings toward him at all, the song is also pretty fitting in terms of her wedding to the ugly but good-hearted Tyrion. It's also worth noting that the song was used to cover up Sansa confessing that despite his handsome appearance, Joffrey was pure evil. This might be stretching it, but the song refers to honey in the maiden's hair, and Sansa unknowingly killed Joffrey with a poison placed in her hairnet.
Another important mirror of the song are in the romantic pursuits of Jorah Mormont, who not coincidentally is known as the Young Bear because of his family's coat of arms. Jorah, who is a somewhat physically unattractive and hairy guy has romances with Lynesse Hightower and Daenerys Targaryen, both of which (unlike the song) end badly. The connection with the song is noted in A Dance With Dragons, as in a scene where Tyrion is in a performing troupe with Jorah and Penny, and Terry tells the crowd, "This one is part of our act. The bear and the maiden fair. Jorah is the bear, Penny is the maiden, I am the brave knight who rescues her. I dance about and hit him in the balls."
Jaime Lannister can't help but think of the song when he rescues Brienne from a bear pit- and part of the joke is that while she's a maiden, she's hardly fair in appearance.ns While not really connected to the song, there's also probably something in the fact that Arya considered it just when the bear ate Lorch- Lorch had murdered Yoren, who was black and hairy (and reported to Jeor Mormont, the "Old Bear").
In part, the song relates to the series tending to subvert Beauty Equals Goodness, but as the examples show, it's a bit more complicated than that.