David, Mary, Jacob and Abigail were Monday and Friday regulars. I met them twice a week — on the pages of a school textbook that Sister Cephas read from. The Fabulous Four were held up as examples of what everyone in the classroom — and outside of it — should be like. They were pious, compassionate, frugal and forever fearful of invoking the Almighty’s wrath. These qualities had little appeal to an irreverent soul like me, so my interest in David, Mary, Jacob and Abigail’s good deeds were as scant as rainfall in the Atacama Desert.
Sister Cephas’s ‘value education’ lessons returned to me in the summer of 2011, more than 25 years after I had last seen or heard of the teacher. The context of this memory blast — an episode of the first season of Game of Thrones ( GoT ) — would have dismayed her.
What unfolded on the large TV screen at a friend’s living room was savage and unchristian — an abusive brother (Viserys Targaryen) disrobed his younger sister (Daenerys) before trading her off in marriage to a violent warrior prince; a knight (Jaime Lannister) pushed a boy (Bran Stark) off a tower for having seen him have sex with his twin sister (Cersei), and a high and mighty man of the North (Ned Stark) beheaded a soldier for having deserted his post. In between were glimpses of brothels, lustful soldiers, philandering kings and plotting queens.
Depravity was writ large upon each frame, and there was no redemption in sight. Would Sister Cephas’s Fabulous Four have survived a day in this fantasy world? The answer is a firm no, and I have my reasons for it. GoT makes no bones about being all blood and gore, with incest, deception, misogyny, body shaming and racism thrown in for good measure. Either you love it or you hate it.
I love to love the bad and the unpredictable. And GoT has been made to order for that bent of mind.
Among the first myths the show busts is that of happy endings and ever afters. There are no happy endings in the story or the perfect world. The war for the Iron Throne has slashed the population of the GoT universe by half and whoever finally takes the hot seat — as will be clear on May 20 (in India) — may have little reason to celebrate. And there won’t be many to rule over.
There are also no out-and-out heroes or villains (barring, maybe, Cersei, who seems to be plunging new depths of treachery with every season). Just as you start loathing Jaime for crippling Bran, you are forced to acknowledge his role in saving Brienne of Tarth, his captor at the time, from being raped by soldiers and then from the clutches of a bear in a gladiator pit. When you start admiring Catelyn, Ned’s widow, for her struggle to keep her children safe from the Lannisters, you are reminded of her indifference towards Jon Snow (who was first introduced in the show as Ned’s bastard son). And the hateful Littlefinger (Lord Petyr Baelish) responds to Sansa Stark’s plea for help in the Battle of the Bastards, thus saving Jon Snow from imminent defeat and death. I can’t say I didn’t know this before GoT , but life is unreal without the shades of grey.
The bile that makes you melancholic and negative is black in colour. And when put to good use, à la Tyrion Lannister or the Dwarf, it can also brighten up lives. The sozzled imp of the first few seasons is now the chief adviser to Daenerys the Dragon Queen. One cannot judge Tyrion for counselling his sister’s adversary, having been ridiculed and body shamed by her all his life. The deep scar on his face is a constant reminder of Cersei’s plan to kill him. It is also a solid statement against the old adage “forgive and forget”. Forgiveness and forgetfulness do not agree with strategists. Or with GoT . (But I am trying to pardon the writer for making a warrior like Brienne weep in a nightgown for a man.)
While on the topic of advisers, there is much to learn from Cersei’s ability to choose the right ones. In the shape of a bodyguard, she has the unassailable Mountain. Her chief adviser or Hand is Qyburn, the man who devised gigantic crossbows that kill dragons. And her military ally — also, lover — is the ruthless Euron Greyjoy. Ringed by these three, she looks invincible as she surveys Daenerys’s depleted troops from the safety of her castle at King’s Landing.
Interestingly, the blood-and-gore show draws my attention to an unlikely component: Books. The portly Samwell Tarly devotes hours to reading in the great library at The Citadel. This habit endows him with the rare knowledge of curing greyscale, a disease that causes human skin to become like stone. The books also help Tarly unearth Jon Snow’s real identity. Reading never hurts.
Last but not the least, GoT has taught me that weddings — if not marriages — are deadly affairs. From poisoning of the groom to the slaughter of guests, the possibilities are endless. Keep your ears open to the music the hosts are playing. If you hear the Lannister song — The Rains of Castamere — take to your heels before you become mince pie.