Like millions of viewers around the world, I find myself glued to my television set whenever “Game of Thrones” (GoT) or “The Walking Dead” (TWD) air. I love these two shows. In fact, I sometimes feel my interest lies on the border of obsession. If that is true, at least I can take comfort in knowing that I am far from being alone in that matter. Both shows have loyal followers that few other shows in history have garnered.
Like most things, certainly most popular things, GoT and TWD have found their fair share of critics. Detractors of the shows point out that both contain a plethora (Oh, how I love that word. Thank you “Three Amigos“) of gratuitous violence and (in the case of GoT) nudity. To that I say… Ok. I will not deny that both shows are violent and GoT does have copious amounts of boobs and butts and even naughtier parts. (What a great time to have large screen HD TV screens, right?) Both show what must be gallons of blood, gore, severed limbs, internal organs and a host of other icky things. But is it gratuitous? I say no.
Westeros and Essos, the two fictional continents that provide the setting for GoT are wild and dangerous places. Here one lives and dies by the sword. The struggle for power is very real and everyone is invited to play. Life in this fantasy realm is hard and death can be harder still. I suspect not many citizens of this world die of old age. Oh yeah, I almost forgot. This world has dragons. Is violence so out of place then? If we compare it to our world in a similar setting (let’s say the Dark Ages or the Crusades) can we honestly say humankind did not also create and survive great violent periods?
What about TWD? Is the violence in this show gratuitous? I answer with a question: What part of zombie apocalypse do you (the critic) not understand? The “civilized” world as we know it is gone in this fantasy story. It has literally become a “Kill or be killed (and eaten)” way of life. Handfuls of humans must survive in a world overrun with mindless hordes of killing machines that want only one thing: To feast on your brains (and pretty much all of your other body parts. Waste not, want not). There is no law and order here (C’mon, admit it. As soon as you read “law and order” that dum-dum sound went off in your head, didn’t it?). Guns and ammunition are a very limited resource in this world. Humans will mostly defend themselves using sharpened or blunt weapons and let’s face it, those get very messy. Violence is at the very heart of this story.
I could essentially make the same argument for the sex and nudity in GoT as I did for the violence. It fits. It’s real. Just because so many other storytellers gloss over these very basic human behaviors doesn’t mean that illustrating them as a method of setting the tone for a show is gratuitous. Sex is a big part of life in both the real world and in GoT. (Ok, it’s a part of TWD too, but honestly, does anyone really want to see naked zombies?)
Now, on the real subject of this article. What have these shows taught me?
Real life can be hard. Life in the two fictional settings is even harder. No one handed Rick Grimes an easy way out. No one dumped food and shelter in his lap. He and his companions fought for and took what they needed. It was dirty, it was bloody and it was the only way. Daenerys Targaryen started out as an exile from her home, with little to show for herself other than a name and terribly good looks. Several years later, she’s a queen (or Khaleesi if you will) with a pack of misbehaving dragons. She worked her way from nothing to great power.
The world in which we live can be kind, but it can also be cruel. We are presented with many opportunities but survival and ultimately success depend mostly on how much one is willing to work for something. Natural talent, privilege and luck can play a part, but there is no substitute for determination, perseverance and hard work. If you want something, go get it. Don’t expect that life owes you anything. You’ve already been blessed with life’s only gift. It is up to you to decide what you’ll do with it.
2. Allies are good, friends are better, trust no one
I’m not sure I could think of even one example of a true success story that did not involve multiple persons. The drive to succeed is powerful and necessary, but most everyone needs some help along the way. Allies are useful. Friendship may not be required, it may not be necessary to even like your ally, but if two or more people have similar goals and can assist each other in obtaining those goals, success may be easier to reach. I don’t expect anyone to help me out of the sheer goodness of their heart (oh, if only that were true) but if I can get help from another by helping them get what they want, then we have the foundations of a partnership. Two victories are better than none. Lord Varys and Tyrion Lannister have formed an alliance that may prove to benefit them both. Rick’s group and the Alexandrians formed a tentative alliance that might have worked and may still have a chance of success.
Occasionally, we meet certain souls along the path of life that we find attractive (not necessarily in the physical sense). We find things within them that resonate with us. We want to have them around us. Our attraction is more than just shared ideas, goals or personality traits. We feel stronger, smarter and better in their presence. These rare finds become our friends. I count my friends as some of my greatest possessions in life. Helen Keller once said, “Walking with a friend in the dark is better than walking alone in the light”. True friends will walk with us when allies walk away. Rick Grimes and Daryl Dixon started as strangers fighting together against zombie hordes. They are now true friends and their trust and loyalty run deep. Jaime Lannister and Brienne of Tarth began their relationship as prisoner and keeper respectively and they last parted as what I would call friends. They share respect and admiration and perhaps even a touch of love.
Allies, friends… As long as we have them by our side, we cannot fail, right? If you answered “yes” you certainly have a rosy disposition about life. My experience tells me the answer is “no”. Allies will stay only as long as it suits their interest. Friends may be loyal but they are human and humans have weaknesses and make mistakes. Whether intentionally or not, even the best of our friends can and usually will let us down at some point in our relationship. While betrayal can hurt, it is a fact of life. Walder Frey and Roose Bolton have become hated men by millions of GoT fans for their betrayal of the Starks, but is it such a wonder that it happened? Bolton wanted power and the Lannisters provided that. Frey wanted power and was denied that when Robb Stark married a woman who was not his daughter. Shane was Rick’s best friend, but he wanted Lori. In the end, never ever forget one truth. When it comes to unquestioning trust, give it to no one.
3. Life is good in this modern world, be thankful
My cable went out for a few hours the other day. When I realized this you might have thought someone had killed one of my cats by my reaction (I wuv my kitties). I let loose a number of choice expletives in the general direction of my cable company. The fact is, we misplace our car keys, arrive late to work, get caught running a red light, stub our toe on the foot of the bed and all sorts of other unpleasant things. These events are what I like to call “Shit That Happens”. Every day is made up of little things. Some of those are pleasant (I found a $10 bill in the pocket of a pair of jeans) and some are not pleasant (dropped my cell phone in the toilet… again). In the microcosm of our own personal world, the STH’s can seem pretty aggravating and if we let it, the cumulation of those things can really wear us down. However, my son, who is a US Marine helps me to keep my perspective. He reminded me that no matter how bad my day gets, there is a Marine (or soldier or sailor or airmen, etc) that is having a far worse day than me. No one is shooting at me. I’m not lying in a hospital bed with missing limbs. Life for me is, by and large, pretty damn good.
Got and TWD remind me of this too every time I watch an episode. I did not grow up in Fleabottom eating bowls of brown. I am not eating roasted rat as zombies wander the woods around me. I am not sitting in a dank cell waiting for my execution for a crime that I did not commit. I am not fighting for my life against cannibals in a place aptly named “Terminus”. No, I am doing none of those things. Instead, I am reclined lazily with a remote in my hand watching others do this on a large television in the comfort of my home. And when the show is over, all the bad stuff I was watching goes away and I will slumber comfortably and peacefully in my cozy bed. No one likes having “one of those days”. But our normal “bad” days are still great compared to what some people live with. Gain perspective. Appreciate what you have.
4. All men can and must die
Valar Morghulis. All Men Must Die. George RR Martin, author of the series of books “A Song of Ice and Fire” upon which GoT is based has made this mantra in integral part of his stories. I think this is a telling bit of wisdom. Life is short. Or to quote a T-shirt I once owned “It’s not that life is too short. It’s just that we’re dead for so long”.
Among GoT fans, it’s is a truism now that one must not start to like a character too much because it seems that once that happens, Martin or the shows producers David Benioff and D.B. Weiss will kill that character off. The Red Wedding shocked, horrified and angered millions of fans. As for TWD, there are T-shirts that read “If Daryl Dies We Riot!”. Sure we love our characters. That’s the best part of both of these shows. We love them or we love to hate them, but they make us feel. I think we should live our lives as though we were someone’s favorite character on a TV show. What could we do to make someone who watches us identify and love us? Wouldn’t it make us a better person?
Given that we don’t know how much time each of us has (or when our favorite characters might die) should we not make better use of the time that we have? Can anyone reading this truly say they milk the most of life out of every minute that passes? I doubt it. All men must die. So ask yourself, “What character do you want to play?” Will you be Rick or Daryl or Michonne? Will you be Tyrion or Jon Snow? Or are you going to play some mild background character that shows up for a single episode and dies without anyone caring? Live your life, play your role, and be someone of worth.
And that, kiddies, is how television CAN be a good thing. Happy viewing and happy living my friends.