Irrationally Irate: Haters gonna hate


hulk-lego

“Nothing defines humans better than their willingness to do irrational things in the pursuit of phenomenally unlikely payoffs”. Know who said that? Scott Adams, creator of the cartoon strip Dilbert.

I hate Dilbert

The ancient Greeks believed that universal truths could only be discovered by humans through disciplined logic, and anything else was merely opinion moulded by emotion or sensorial experience. It was the likes of Plato who drew the line in the cultural sands that separated science and art, diverging humankind’s avenues of self-discovery into two lanes running opposite directions: rational and irrational. Art, it was believed, existed to express emotion, the mortal flaw that impeded pure science. For millennia philosophers posited that each of us was eternally engaged in internal civil wars between our two hemispheres, and the struggle influenced your personality, intelligence and behaviour. To act rationally or irrationally was dictated by whichever side at that moment had the upper hand in the battle for dominion over you.

Modern philosophy and psychology has refuted the simplicity of this divide, and say that it is impossible to remove emotion from our understanding of the world. All information we take in must enter through our senses and be processed by our minds. This immediately creates a new, unique version of the same ‘truth’, a version that will always be exclusive to us because of our individual cognitive bias. At this point, we don’t understand why or how or the extent to which emotion influences our every thought – but it could be that irrationality is not illogical, but a force of reasoning we don’t yet understand. The 17th century French philosopher and mathematician Blaise Pascal explained it with typically beautiful Enlightenment-era lyricism: “The heart has its reasons which reason does not know”.

So like it or not, irrational moods will invade our thoughts at every turn, as if malevolent gremlins were short-circuiting our brain’s fuses and stirring up trouble in the dark, void of sensibility. It happens to us all, with different triggers and different consequences. The better adjusted of us tend to be able to mask our inner raging, but it doesn’t erase it – we are at the mercy of the chemical emissions of our brains.

British author A N Wilson, who has written biographies on Hitler, Tolstoy and Jesus, could probably describe irrationality with some authority. He said, “the fact that logic cannot satisfy us awakens an almost insatiable hunger for the irrational”. To me, that suggests irrationality is the only thing left standing when tempestuous surges of emotion whip up a violent storm in your mind; when conventional logic is too weak to calm the fury – but irrationality offers an alternative course of action, perhaps one more satisfying and irresistible, but forbidden under normal circumstances. Only the mightiest emotions can spark such drama. Love and hate, the inextricably linked polar extremes of emotion, constantly send waves of fear, or altruism, or anger to test the strength of our logic. Under such pressure, rationality can crumble to the ground and momentarily alter how we think, act and re-act.

Love’s enduring mystique owes its existence to irrationality. It was the inspiration that pushed Oscar Wilde’s pen to paper and Van Gogh’s brush to canvas (and later a pair of scissors to his ear), There wouldn’t be such a thing as a music industry if it weren’t for the strange powers wielded by love. Nobody sang the blues because they missed a bus… Hate and anger are different; they at least appear to follow a brusque logic of cause and effect. Every one of us has an exhaustive list of pet peeves, which we feel are justified when it’s someone else’s actions that pulls the trigger and provokes an emotional, ‘irrational’ response.

Well, not always. We don’t love and hate exclusively people. We can, illogically, get disproportionately angry at things like the weather, traffic, insects, TV ads, or jammed printers. But, even when we’re in a calmer state of mind and know this anger is wayward and futile; it doesn’t prevent the same emotional impulses from regrouping and launching another offensive to once again make the irrational seem rational. Shouting at the clouds for raining won’t stop it raining, but it feels good to it.

But, it’s not a bad thing. In fact, it’s a great thing. We aren’t robots yet, not as long as we there exists this element within us that challenges cold logic and gifts us individuality, passions, awareness and an experience we can only describe as ‘human’.

Seven Things I Love Irrationally Hating

"Please go away from me, I don't know either of you."

“Please go away from me, I don’t know either of you.”

Strangers walking alongside me

It seems every time I hit the streets, say for a stroll to the park, or a brisk walk to the shops, or even a languid strut to the local malt bar and pool hall – at some point someone will suddenly appear out of nowhere and walk alongside me at precisely the same speed, like the sidekick I never wanted. It’s a fist-clenchingly infuriating situation that only ever occurs when I’m at full stride, going where I need to go. Someone will exit a shop, step off a bus, or simply materialise next to me, and then match me step for step as we both walk along like some sort of estranged couple.

It imposes a very unwanted dilemma: do the unthinkable and break my (SONG) stride to slow down and find some personal space; or accelerate my already-lightning quick walking pace and charge ahead. Obviously my pride vetos option one, so I end up power-walking too quickly for comfort, trying pathetically to make my awkward getaway look completely natural.

Even slow-moving walkers, nuisances they are, can at least be navigated with my superior agility and skilful eye for emerging foot-traffic patterns. It’s actually fun sometimes. But I absolute hate when I’m made to engage in some weird, unspoken walking footrace with some stranger – and it’s usually someone intrinsically weird, like a rambling hobo. It’s so infuriating sometimes that I have to breathe deeply to rein in my urge to shoulder-barge my unwanted walking companion into oncoming traffic.

'Locking for something...?'

‘Locking for something…?’

Elusive keys

Keys are like cellular organisms, you begin with one, which becomes two, and then three, four and more and more. Try as you might, you cannot prevent the gradual evolution of your keychain into a huge, jangly cluster of stainless steel. Nor can you prevent the inevitable frustration that comes with each attempt to find the one key you need in amongst the ball-o-plenty.

On principle, I dislike the concept of keys. Think about it, if the world was full of good people, we wouldn’t need to lock up our belongings and install bank-vault security systems in our homes and cars. But no, people are disrespectful, pilfering, selfish jerks and because of them I need to carry and guard a collection of jaggedy metal things to access my own belongings. Fine, but as time ticks away when I stand in the dark outside my door, rifling through 27,000 identical jaggedy metal things to find the correct jaggedy metal thing to open the fucking thing, crankiness rises exponentially. I’m there, I’m home… yet, I’m not. Because my house, my home – the domicile I pay for and dwell in – doesn’t believe it’s really me until I produce the one magical jaggedy metal thing, which looks and feels like all the other jaggedy metal things. It’s next-level frustration. The digital revolution is coming way too slowly here; where are the robot doormen already!? Unacceptable.

"I have no idea what I'm doing."

“I have no idea what I’m doing.”

Crappy sandwich ‘artists’

Ah yes, the esteemed Royal College of Sandwich Artistry, the famous RCSA, where pupils learn the intricate artful skills associated with stuffing ingredients between two slices of bread, and occasionally toasting it. Unfortunately, the RSCA’s quality learning standards have slipped lately, because there are too many Subway ‘sandwich artists’ who simply can’t (or won’t) do what I want. They never tessellate cheese for maximum coverage; and they interpret my order of ‘extra’ chipotle sauce to be equivalent to the annual rainfall of the Atacama Desert .This is undeniably annoying for anyone, but to me, this is a blood sin. If I pay $12 for a sandwich, I damned well better get a sandwich with a geometrically-efficient covering of cheese and so much chipotle sauce that I’ll need scuba gear to eat it. Anything less and the ‘sandwich artist’ responsible deserves to be personally wedged between two unevenly sliced pieces of bread, covered with one miserly piece of cheese and put into an oven for too long.

"Ok, let's begin our first monthly meeting of the Racially Diverse Stock Photo Model's Union."

“Ok, let’s begin our first monthly meeting of the Racially Diverse Stock Photo Model’s Union.”

Meetings

Whenever I find myself slumped in a seat, surrounded by work colleagues for one of those unique rituals of modern torture known as ‘meetings’, the only feeling that overpowers the urge to doze off, is pure dread. Dread for the inevitable cringe that I can’t escape. A moment I know is nigh when John Jones*, Junior Vice Assistant Regional Accounts Manager, draws a breath and raises a finger. When that happens, I literally** feel my internal organs wincing as if to brace for a thumping body blow, because I know that very soon I’ll be subjected to the verbal sewage that I absolutely cannot bear; the language they call ‘Managementspeak’.

I get so incensed by words like ‘synergy’ and ‘actionable’ and ‘liaise’, that whenever I hear them I want to stand up and fling myself out the nearest window to freedom. But seeing as careers and employment are kind of an important things, I instead sink, defeated, into my chair and twist my rage silently inward. So, now my strategy to cope in meetings is to fantasise about the productive synergy that is actioned when John Jones’ face liaises with a heavy sticky-tape dispenser.

* fictional name. This in no way represents any actual John Joneses of the world. Except the ones who are jerks. In that case – screw you Joneses. You jerks.
** figuratively.
 
"Need... more... sugar!"

“Need… more… sugar!”

People sucking lollies

I’ve seen a lot of things on public transport. I’ve seen fistfights break out between cadaverously thin junkies in bizarre love triangles; I’ve seen a grown man picking his toes and flicking the crusty yellow nails willy-nilly; I’ve seen human shit smeared over seats like a po-mo art exhibition that is way-too-po-mo. I’ve even seen a bare-breasted elderly woman attempt to get on the train against the wishes of the rather embarrassed station staff. But nothing, and I honestly mean NOTHING puts me right off public transport more than being stuck sitting in front of someone and be subjected to the disconcerting, disgusting sounds of their saliva, sucking and slurping away on a lolly of some sort.

Trains are nothing more than prison cells on wheels. Comfort is an afterthought to cramming the maximum amount of sweaty bodies inside a metal tube, and shooting it along rails from point to point while the sardine-people inside stand impassive with blank stares etched on the faces, surrounded by the breath of strangers circulating like a stifling, ghostly presence. I can juuuuust cope with that.

Ironically, my worst experiences arise on the less-crowded occasions, where I have a seat to myself, the journey is silent, and I optimistically believe I might actually have an enjoyable trip reading my book or doing my crossword. Of course I’m never so lucky. Before long, some horrible, knuckle-dragging simpleton will appear, and, when presented with a carriage full of empty seats, plonk themselves in the one directly behind mine. It’s as if they can’t be confortable unless they have my seat to wedge their knees into or my neck to breathe on. That’s bad enough, but then out comes a lolly and the torture begins. Like a starving piglet on a Starburst teat, they destroy my serenity with the unnerving sound of suckling and slurping and squeaking spittle. By all rights, I can’t be mad at them for choosing that seat or eating a lolly… but then again, sometimes I wish they’d choke. Just a little bit.

"... ... ..."

“… … …”

Anyone entering the bathroom while I’m poopin’

Unless you’re a 90s British pop icon with two first names, public toilets are not usually a place you want to spend much time in. When nature calls and it’s your bowel on the line, a public toilet is the last begrudging resort. With luck, you’ll walk right in and find the place magnificently deserted; naught but a dripping tap and a broken hand-drier. In the solace of soulless silence, you can complete your mission and make your escape without anyone knowing. The good old-fashioned ninja poo. Such fortune is unfortunately rare and most likely you’ll hear the disheartening sound of a door opening, followed by someone else trudging in.

You can’t see them, but my god with every twitching fibre in the organic assembly of living cells you call a body, you bloody well loathe them. At home you have full privacy and can poop with stress-free abandon, but here, from your flimsy little stall you become acutely conscious of someone else’s presence. It’s an uncomfortable experience exacerbated by the knowledge that they themselves are acutely conscious of you, too. For that reason you hate them. It’s obviously quite unfair and hypocritical to hate someone for walking into a public bathroom, but when your pants are around your ankles and you’re engaged in the most vulnerable of human acts (no, not that one, jitterbug), rationality such as this does not factor into the equation.

And so you play… the waiting game…

"This is the most practical scarf I ever had."

“This is the most practical scarf I ever had.”

Affectations

This is probably more about the symptoms of my early onset grumpy-old-manism than being irrational, but I have a special contempt for attention-seekers – particularly those people who believe their identity is all about the look. I don’t mean being fashion-conscious, or having offbeat taste; I’m talking exclusively about motive here. As in, why would a 22-year-old man carry a Dora the Explorer backpack around? Or why would anyone wear a cape anywhere outside of a comic book or a Phantom of the Opera production? It’s those who deliberately invent some superficial affectation to try and stand out from the crowd – not because they are bold individuals, but because they want people to think that they are. They completely miss the point that quirks and eccentricities are only charming or interesting when they are the by-product of personality, not some eye-catching centrepiece. And it’s never ironic, it’s always gauche.

The same goes for getting tattooed for fashion, or to look tough and menacing – the motive is so self-serving that even if there was some thoughtful meaning behind the ink, it’s spoiled by the owner’s vanity. As the most good-looking and consummately super-excellent person on the planet, I deplore ego and vanity. It’s disappointing to see that the river which swallowed Narcissus is now choked with soggy tiger onesies, lensless glasses, fake British accents and casual bow ties. It surely isn’t too hard to just be who you are and let the rest take care of itself. That isn’t irrational. Wishing a flaming meteor would plummet to earth and flatten the dude who wears a cape, though, might be a little.

Haters gonna hate…


The beardeth maketh the man


Dapper beard

My face has hair growing out of it. Like, heaps of hair… and I’m allow it. I welcome it. Why? I don’t know. Why does any man do it? No-one really knows…

For the entire existence of civilised man, the question of what to do with all that facial hair has been answered in as many dynamic and changeable ways as fashion itself. Some cultures encouraged it, some mandated it, some strictly forbade it and others didn’t really give a crap one way or the other. The facial hirsute pursuit has represented many things over time – wisdom; strength; savagery; reindeer-riding gift-giving, piracy; eccentricity; rock’n’roll; authority; free love; geography teaching; vagrancy; outlawdom; indestructibility… Yet, at the end of the day, as it was at the start of the day (albeit a teeny bit longer), it’s literally just hair that grows out of your face, which is really weird when you think about it.

Gilgamesh

Gilgamesh rocked a kingly beard.

Ancient Egyptian and Mesopotamian men were famously fussy over their facial follicles. They decorated their beards with jewels, dyed them and even used heated tongs as rudimentary curling irons to really get it looking high-street reem. Similarly the Greeks, Celts, ancient Indians and Chinese also bestowed beards with pride and honour. It wasn’t until the Macedonians and Imperial Romans rose to power that the clean shave was popularised; Alexander the Great didn’t want to present enemy soldiers with something to yank on in battle, while the Romans were plain sick of getting unruly strands snagged in their toga clips.

For most of the middle and renaissance ages, beards were pretty much exclusive chic for pirates, conquistadors and village idiots. But in the late 1800s, the Western world went mental with beards again. It was an experimental age, when beards, moustaches and sideburns of all shapes, sizes, colours and combinations sprouted on the faces of men in a starkly flamboyant contrast to their drab, same-same clothing. Abe Lincoln, Karl Marx, Johann Strauss II, Charles Dickens… these dudes dedicated their lives to pushing political and cultural frontiers, and their faces to pushing beardly boundaries.

Beauty is beard-deep.

Beauty is beard-deep.

But, it didn’t last very long and by the 1950s, squeaky clean faces, tucked-in shirts and armpit-chaffing beige slacks were the norm. An errand follicle on the chin would certainly scupper your chances to take Suzy down to the malt bar and ask her to go steady. But of course, this suppression of will bottled up until the 60s, when rock’n’roll, peace and a preference for hallucinogens over hygiene influenced many a young man to bin the Bic razor and pick up a headband instead. But once again, another wave of social sensibilities intervened and the popularity of the beard was trimmed back, taking lava lamps and sitar music with it.

The post-millennium years have been an ongoing experiment with minimalist beardom, inspiring countless variations of goatees, chinstraps, soul-patches and the like. (Some idiot coined it as ‘manscaping’ and the ‘metrosexual’ movement, but I maintain it was the hidden effect of Y2K that led to some genuinely shit facial hairstyles). More recently, hipsters have borrowed from their late 19th century forefathers with terrible po-mo mo’s and bushranger beards. And then there’s a perennial favourite of the decade – the manageably manly; the comfortable fashionable; the studly stubble.

So, as the ebbing and flowing tides of history have washed up ever-evolving trends and fashions, so too has it shaped endless interpretations of the beard. But for all the time we’ve spent cultivating, cropping and shaving the hair on our faces, we’re still yet to come up with an answer as to why human men grow them at all.

On the face of it (ha), there is no discernible reason or evolutionary advantage to a beard. If anything, I’d assume that natural selection would’ve figured out that thousands of long, extremely flammable stands of kindling attached to your face wasn’t ideal for a species whose burgeoning existence was heavily dependent on fire.

But, we survived – beards lovingly intact.

<female approval>

The popular theory follows a general rule in the animal kingdom: that any physical feature not key to survival is more or less to attract a mate. Facial hair growth begins at puberty, so it probably is a mammalian signal of sexual maturity – but one completely outmoded now. I’ve read plenty of those specious ‘according to a recent study…‘ articles in the content-starved sections of newspapers that suggest beards are a primal display of virility – a kind of lion’s mane. But never have I seen a gorgeous woman sitting across the dinner table from Professor Dumbledore… so perhaps that theory isn’t so relevant today, especially not now when there are flat-brimmed caps, iPhones, mirrors and Instagram accounts to boast reproductive prowess.

</female approval>

Whatever its original purpose, a beard is now just another aspect of our bodies that assists us in self-expression. Quite a significant one, as Marion Dowd (someone smarter than I) points out, “The decision to wear a beard is often deliberate and may denote a man’s religious, political, cultural, social or sexual affiliation. Beards—or their removal—can serve to conceal or reveal and thus in the past may have been linked to concepts of transformation, disguise, metamorphosis or exposure.”

Simply because it’s there, a fact of our biology, we impose our manipulative will upon it and invent meaning for it. We are quite adept at that. Humans rarely see a tree and know it merely as large, leafy vegetation. We may see it as a sacred place, or a bountiful gift from mother earth, or even an elegant symbolism of the phenomenon of life itself. It has to be more than meets the eye. That’s human intelligence doing what it does best: overthinking. Because, it’s a tree. A tree. A life-form slowly travelling a path of evolution that has led it to be what it is now, a big solar-powered organism filled with chlorophyll. Similarly, we’ve assigned too much meaning and importance to the beard – which is, after all, a cluster of hair that grows out of your face, something that was probably once meant to trap flies for dinner.

This is actually a cat, not a beard. Thanks, internet.

This is actually a cat, not a beard. Thanks, internet.

Even so, facial hair is least pretty nifty even if they it’s essentially useless to us and ultimately meaningless. In all iterations, be it a dense forest of dangly hair-vines; a patchy smattering of fluffy whisps; or the neck-straddling facial moss of that guy who works in every single company’s IT department – a beard is a strange thing, and therefore a wonderful thing. It’s an odd inheritance from our ancestors, a thing that we have no idea what we’re supposed to do with. We’ve just winged it and made it up as we’ve gone along the past few millennia. And that has worked out pretty well, I think. If the beard offers me the opportunity, should I wish to make the effort, to look like a wise philosopher, or a daring pirate, or a desperately avoidable crazy vagabond – then it’s pretty awesome and not so useless after all.

I’m still yet to decide what to do with my little fledgling beard. I haven’t noticed any increased attention from the opposite sex, and no more than the usual number of pilgrims haven’t sought me out for sage counsel… so I look no sexier nor wiser with a beard. Just lazier I suppose. I could chop it back to its default stubbly setting, or I could really let it go and impress my friends and colleagues with a fierce, tri-pronged, platted forkbeard. I could go clean cut and shaven (and subsequently take advantage of 15-years-and-younger train ticket discounts), or I could even hark back to my high-school days and attempt to rock some embarrassingly abysmal patchy sideburns. Who knows?

Or maybe Ill invent my own interpretation… corn-row beard anyone? Why not – gotta do something with it!


If you thought this has a happy ending, you haven’t been paying attention


The pen is mightier than the sword.

The pen is mightier than the sword.

In my last post I talked about the power of fandom in television, and how every so often something hits the small screen that just strikes that perfect chemistry to ignite a passionate relationship between viewer and show. HBO’s Game of Thrones, the epically popular adaptation of George R.R. Martin’s still-continuing fantasy saga A Song of Ice and Fire, is currently that show. It’s loved dearly by millions of devoted viewers worldwide, but after last night’s ‘shit-got-real’ episode: ‘The Rains of Castamere’ aired, that relationship hit upon some hard times. Some hard times indeed.

Game of Thrones is a unique beast. Fantasy was never everyone’s cup of mead, but Game of Thrones, like the Lord of the Rings before it, is proof that there is love for fantasy-lit, so long as it’s done well. Obviously there is a geek inside every man, and it stirs when you place a well-penned high-budget production before his eyes. Just look at George R.R – he’s either an old-timey fisherman or a medieval fantasy nerdlord. You wouldn’t pick him as the most loved/hated man in the world right now.

Spoilers ahead – what Mr Martin has here is two groups of fans of the same story finely balanced between two vastly different mediums, many years apart. When Robb, Catelyn, Talisa and doubly-unlucky Ned Stark were brutally slain by super jerk Walder and his traitorous buddy Roose ‘fuckhead’ Bolton – the reaction was huge. For the show watchers it was pure shock and for the book readers its was the culmination of long-held tense anticipation, for they knew this day would come, having had a 12-year heads-up on the story. And those courteous enough not to blurt out the titanic spoilers before it went to air were both eager to see the infamous scene played out and amused to see their non-book-reading friends’ reactions to the horror.

As is customary these days whenever something big on TV happens, Twitter nearly had a meltdown. For hours, Twitter’s birds became Westeros ravens, sending endless messages of exasperation, sorrow and rage from distraught viewers. It was no doubt the same tidal wave of emotions that would have engulfed the book-readers when they first read that particular scene; albeit a far more introspective and personal moment of grief. But the disbelief and betrayal felt by the Starks was mirrored by those of us watching them – those gut-piercing sharp, icy pangs you feel when any relationship that takes a unexpected and dramatic turn for the worse. You develop a love for the characters, endure with them their hardships and then as soon as things seem somewhat rosy – BAM! they all end up on the cold stone floor with blood oozing from their betrayal-wounds.

At my place, my roommate and I sat silent, eyes like dinnerplates, only able to grunt ‘c’oh’ and ‘shit’ back and forth. But for many it seems it was just too much to bear. Social media was flooded with: “That’s it, I’m done with Game of Thrones. That was too much! #Why?!” and “I can’t believe they’d do that – I hate you George RR Martin! I’m never watching again!!!1!1!! #devastated #RIPstarks” etc etc. There was such a glut of tweeted anguish that someone even found the time to create an account to document it all. It was like a natural disaster. Even Buzzfeed posted a bizarre set of loosely GoT-related memes “to help you get over your Game of Thrones depression” . [Personally, it was also a particularly bizarre case of déjà vu].

Tears and jeers aside, the other interesting aspect to this is the way Game of Thrones / A Song of Ice and Fire has taken engagement to a different level. I can’t think of any other literary trope that has ever offered such a diverse and unique range of experience for its followers, helped by a confluence of the internet, generation gaps and a genre defined by its fostering of fandom. The whole ‘the books are better’ is age-old, but the sheer quality, popularity and deft retuning of the HBO adaption has offered a special purpose for the book readers beyond simply comparing and critiquing the source material to the television adaptation. Billy Connolly once remarked that there is nothing more satisfying to some than knowing something that others don’t. It’s true – being more informed than someone else carries a certain smug gratification, and it seems to have played out here in interesting ways.

Videos sprang up alarmingly fast on Youtube: ‘Red Wedding reactions’ , hundreds of them, by book readers secretly filming their non-book reading friends watching the show – knowing that some heavy shit was about go down. The readers indulged in a second-hand thrill by watching  others handle the revelation. Take for example this comment posted on Reddit.

“When they cut from Dany to the wedding my roommate (who hasn’t read the book) made a comment that nearly caused me to spoil it for him.

Why do they keep showing us the wedding? I want to see some blood.

I was tense the entire episode. Awaiting the inevitable. I managed to keep my cool and didn’t spoil anything. But that comment nearly did it for me…. I wanted to warn him…”

ReactionThere were many similar accounts, readers feeling like they’ve been holding their breath for so long – trying not to smirk when their non-reader friends tried to make predictions or expressed their feelings of hope for the reunification of the Stark family. Oh the innocence of ignorance. No doubt there will be more of this (though there’s a sense that this particular plot twist was the most jarring of all so far as it is written), which only means more shell-shock and more reaction videos. It’s like the battle-hardened veterans of the book watching on as the green rookies taking hit after hit, just as they had done years ago – when the war was still young, though no less violent. The bloodied and bruised non-readers will look to those who have lived it before, desperate to know if there is hope after all… but the grizzled vets can only look down to them and say: ‘Don’t let go of your steel, soldier, you must learn this for yourself before we explore new lands together.’

I mean, seriously people this is Game of Thrones. Surely we learned our lesson when we saw Ned Stark’s body relieved of its head. Surely someone heeds the regular foreshadowing of sinister developments weaved in at every opportunity. This isn’t conventional storytelling and George R.R. Martin is brilliant at eschewing conventional storytelling for perpetual tension and unease. He’s actually bold enough to say that anything can happen and we’re the gullible fools who assume that spells victory for the good guy underdogs. Wired’s Erik Henriskson explains it well: “It’s in Game of Thrones‘ key moments–like Ned’s death, like the Red Wedding–that the series’ vicious and unsentimental pragmatism shines through with brutal, bloody clarity: This isn’t a story that’s going to end like its characters want it to. And it isn’t a story that’s going to end like the books’ readers or the show’s viewers want it to, either… All the characters–well, all the Starks–are basically Charlie Browns who are really excited to kick that football that Lucy’s got all set up for them. Which means all of us readers and viewers are Charlie Browns, too. George R.R. Martin is a really good Lucy.”

Ultimately, it should only be taken as the highest compliment by Martin and the GoT producers that when they throw in a gruesomely unexpected knife-twist, their fans vow to leave. Because it’s not that they’re bored of it, nor disinterested by it – but because they’re so emotionally invested that when something goes awry there’s nothing to do but flip out in a fit of impassioned desperation. If I were a fiction writer, that is exactly the reaction I’d hope for. If you can write so well that killing off a couple of characters leads to books being thrown, thousands of spite-filled messages and photos of shattered souls curled up in tear-flooded foetal positions on couches – then you’ve done it, and done it like a boss.

It all feeds into the fascinating world George R.R. Martin created, which exists beyond pages and screen and lives in the hearts and minds of all its followers. It helps too that the entire story is not over, so the ultimate resolution is still a tantalising prospect for everyone – even George himself. He has no idea yet how he plans to end it (so he says, anyway) – but says he imagines it to be ‘bittersweet’ – a Shakespearean prospect if I ever heard one. And who’s to say there will even be a resolution? Remember what this is again… if you thought this has a happy ending, you haven’t been paying attention.

Valar Morghalis…

… and go Stannis!


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