Poor Little Rich Boy

What do Jaime Lannister and Sirius Black have in common? A lot, it turns out. They’re both very rich, from proud, aristocratic families (which are very powerful in their respective worlds), firstborn sons with great talent and wit, and, of course, wonderfully handsome. They also turn out to be parental disappointments, trust the wrong people and suffer terrible trials that cause them to question the very foundation of their worth. And yes, they have ‘sons’ who know nothing about them for a very, very long time.

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Jaime and Sirius are shining examples of that up and coming trope, the Poor Little Rich Boy (or PLRB, for short). Shae defines the trope better than I ever could; in Episode 10 of Season 2 of Game of Thrones, she snaps at Tyrion: ‘I’m a poor little rich boy and no one loves me so I say funny things and pay people to laugh at my jokes’, she mocks. Tyrion looks appropriately chastened.*

The PLRB, in my opinion, is popular culture’s response to the Manic Pixie Dream Girl, painting a picture that few ‘real’ men could ever hope to live up to. Movies, books, TV shows are rife with this character- just sit in thought for a few moments and you’ll be reeling off a string of names: Chuck Bass, Christian Grey, Gawyn Trakand, Evan Chambers … While the details of their insecurity and weakness might differ, they share some traits including the notion that they have and will always continue to disappoint someone in the course of their (seemingly) empty, worthless lives.

Of course, this is remedied in the case of Chuck and Christian, but poor Gawyn damns himself and Egwene because (spoiler) he can’t get over his Rand-inflected inferiority complex. As for Evan, he was left alone at the end of GREEK, the only character who had nothing specific to look forward to.

In this post, I will examine what makes the PLRB such a compelling character, especially its manifestation in the form of Jaime and Sirius. Certainly a great deal of their allure comes from the fact that they have all that is normally associated with a ‘successful’ person: they’re rich, handsome, smart and very good at what they do, whether it’s swinging a sword or firing spells and planning pranks. At the same time, they are enormously vulnerable, whether because of love, lack of it, or their spotted, not entirely deserved reputations.

Sticks and Stones May Break my Bones, but Words Will Sorely Wound Me

Let’s begin with Jaime. When we meet him in A Game of Thrones, there seems little to like about him. He’s ‘golden’ and handsome, true, but he’s also the treacherous ‘Kingslayer’, the man who slew the ruler he was sworn to defend. A few pages after he rides onto the scene, he throws a six year old boy out of a tower and cripples him for life. After this he disappears, returns to wound honourable Ned Stark, and then is only seen again when in chains before the righteous Young Wolf.

If you came to A Song of Ice and Fire as I did, fresh from a world where characters in fantasy books were good or evil, no doubt your head spun when you reached A Storm of Swords and found yourself listening to a man you had decided to hate two books ago. When I first read ASoIaF, the TV series wasn’t even a whisper on the horizon, and so my experience of Jaime (in those first two books) was in no way as well-rounded as that of readers who came to him through the show. In A Game of Thrones , producers and scriptwriters don’t stay inside a few chosen characters the way Martin does—they present a more omniscient perspective, and so we get to see a less than wholly evil Jaime right from the start.

Instead, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau plays a man who wears his spotted reputation with a mixture of pride, resignation and a careful layering of carelessness. He ends the famous declaration ‘There are no men like me. Only me.’ with a half-grimace, underlining the character’s peculiar solitude and consequent loneliness. Coster-Waldeau presents a Jaime never entirely certain of his father’s regard for him, the scene in Tywin’s tent is Season 1, episode 7 (‘You Win or You Die’) being a great example. This scene does not take place in the books (at least, we are never witness to it), but serves, in the show, to begin building the figure of a man who is not entirely inhuman, even if he does do some monstrous ‘things’ for ‘love’.

It’s this lingering sense of honour, of idealism that sets Jaime apart from his twin and his father and makes him similar to Tyrion. For all his devil-may-care swagger, Jaime does set some store by what others think of him—how else does one explain the bitterness that coats his words every time he speaks of ‘honourable’ Eddard Stark and his quicksilver judgments? The strange ‘honor’ that Jaime possesses, that he slowly builds upon in the course of the books, emerges when he is divorced from his family and forced to confront the seamier, less than gilded side of Westeros. Once he is disowned by his father and heads into the riverlands and back to the warfront, the transformation of Ser Jaime is nearly complete.

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Post-capture, Jaime begins to lose some of his swagger and thus begin his journey to ‘likeable’ character in the books.

Black as He’s Bred

Just like Jaime, Sirius too is brought up as the firstborn son and heir of a rich and powerful house, one that holds certain beliefs that often seem to put it at odds (at least, in the years the Potter books are set in and make extensive reference to) with the rest of the wizarding world. To the Blacks, duty to family and bloodline is above all, as enshrined in their motto, ‘Toujours Pur’. Sirius’s breaking of Black family tradition via Sorting into Gryffindor house only marks the beginning of his stated (and canon-supported) rebellion. At the age of fifteen, he famously runs away to join another family (though he never formally changes his name), marking his clear emergence on the ‘right’ side.

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Fan art representation of Sirius Black

Like Jaime, however, the stain of Sirius’ blood/actions never quite leaves him in the text. Misapprehended as the Secret Keeper for the Potters, Sirius is jailed for twelve long, harrowing years and publicly maligned as a traitor of the worst kind. He is never exonerated during his lifetime, forced to hide and ‘escape justice’ for three years on the run for a crime he never committed. The chief reasons for the easy tarnishing of Sirius’s reputation lie, I believe, both in his family’s reputation and his own actions in Hogwarts. As Severus Snape bites out, ‘Sirius Black proved he was capable of murder at sixteen’. Though it’s never stated in the books outright, I believe this was a reason, however slight, for Dumbledore, McGonagall, indeed, most clear-thinking characters’ easy acceptance of his ‘guilt’.

O Brother, Where Art thou?

Another factor that constitutes a large part of both characters’ portrayals  is their relationship with their younger brothers. Both Jaime and Sirius ‘abandon’ their forebears’ definition of family duty to pursue their own goals: Jaime as a member of the Kingsguard and Sirius as a fighter for the ‘blood-traitors’’ side. As stated earlier, at the start of the books, Jaime does not come across as anything other than a dutiful son (chiefly because we do not actually get to look into his head in this section of Martin’s saga). He loves his brother, his worry for him driving him to recklessness and sparking off violence in the heart of King’s Landing. Tyrion himself often thinks of Jaime fondly in the first three books. The regard comes crashing down only when Jaime reveals his own part in the tragic tale of Tysha. At this point, Jaime has already broken from Tywin; this act leads to a schism in his relationship with his brother, one that I am not sure they will ever be able to repair.

Though barely glanced at in the text, it is implied that Sirius too failed Regulus, abandoning him to the manipulations and overbearing nature of his parents. Sirius speaks of his brother with bitterness in The Order of the Phoenix, implying that he was a low-ranking coward who didn’t even have the sort of twisted bravery that would carry him through his chosen service with the Dark Lord. We have no way of knowing whether he ever tried to persuade his brother to abandon the Black beliefs after he ran away from home, but given the Marauders’ general attitude to Slytherins and Sirius’s overwhelming bitterness towards his family, we can assume that whatever attempts he might have made were feeble and, above all, unsuccessful. At least as far as Sirius knew.

‘There are no men like me, only me’

Yes, I’ve already referenced this quote earlier, but I think it’s a perfect summation of the presentation of both Jaime and Sirius in their respective universes. Is there anyone quite as handsome, as well-bred, as good with a weapon or as misunderstood? James Potter may have stood in close competition with Sirius, but the former’s early removal from the series ensures that all we have of him is hearsay (and the occasional jaunt down Pensieve-lane). Besides, the ‘Potter’ name doesn’t seem to have quite the power and dark magic that ‘Black’ has attached to it, the same way ‘Lannister’ sounds a deal more heavyweight than ‘Tyrell’ in Westeros.

Jaime and Sirius’s life choices ensure that they do not follow the ‘conventional’ paths, i.e., marry and settle down to produce equally wonderful children. However, they both do have ‘sons’ (and in Jaime’s case, a daughter as well): Joffrey, Tommen and Myrcella for Jaime, and a godson, Harry, for Sirius. Neither of them is there for their children for much of their lives. For Jaime, this is a safety issue, where his very life, his sister’s and the children’s depends on the continued belief of the masses (and the king) that the children are Robert’s. For Sirius, this is because of his being locked away in Azkaban. Even later, however, Harry reflects rather ungratefully (in a throwaway line in Deathly Hallows) upon how ‘reckless’ a godfather Sirius was, hoping that he himself will not be such to Teddy Lupin. Personally, I found this reflection rather astonishing, given Harry’s immediate reaction to Sirius’s death was to blame himself for his own hastiness and willingness to succumb to Voldemort’s trap. The reading of his death as a result of his own recklessness was something I would have assumed Dumbledore would make, not Sirius’s beloved and adoring godson.

Speaking of recklessness, can we forget Jaime’s impetuous wounding of Ned Stark? Or indeed his shoving of Bran out the window? Both are the result of his ‘unthinking’ quickness, a characteristic that Cersei laments and Tyrion cannot afford. Jaime is ‘reckless’, he stabs first and thinks about it later, he cannot be ‘serious’ about anything precisely because, up until his maiming, things come so easy to him. In the world he inhabits, he does not have to wonder about his ability to succeed. Neither does Sirius. This is why they are able to treat combat and perilous situations the way they do: with a laugh, a jest and a casual grace that others cannot hope to achieve.

And yet, we still love them

They have everything, as I’ve no doubt underlined multiple times. They have everything that would make for unparalleled success in any context. And yet, they don’t find it. And that’s why they work.

I had the misfortune to brush through a terrible ‘fantasy’ novel some months ago, where the protagonist was a well-toned, intelligent, handsome man who ‘fought’ to find release. Within a few sentences, I hated him. He was too self-confident (even while being presented very obviously as a flawed and under-confident being), too successful, too together. No one wants a hero you can’t sympathize with, especially in a fantasy novel, where everything else is supposed to be sort of alien anyway.

So what makes these particular near-perfect characters, Jaime and Sirius, work? One reason, I think, is because they are not the main characters. Though Jaime is a viewpoint in A Storm of Swords and the books that come after, he is one among many voices and, he is not one we have been with from the start, as in the case of Jon Snow, Danaerys, or Tyrion. The Harry Potter books, of course, are written primarily from Harry’s point of view, and Sirius ranks far below characters like Ron and Hermione and Neville in terms of screen-time. We don’t see too much of either of these figures, a fact which, I think, makes them more attractive and less jealousy/cringe-inducing as was the case with the earlier mentioned character.

Besides, Martin and Rowling are far better writers than that guy was.

Second, I believe the manner of their introduction has a huge part to play. Both Jaime and Sirius are presented first as ‘bad guys’, and it’s only later that we learn the stories behind their supposed crimes. The readers’ initial dislike or negative impression of them is slowly corrected only after surprising and thought-provoking revelations, which raise complicated questions about duty and loyalty. It turns out, surprisingly, that these guys were placed in hellish situations (especially in Jaime’s case) and tried to make the best of what they were offered. I think our surprise at their ‘good guy-ness’ and the revelation that we, the judging readers, have also condemned them without hearing the whole story, does a lot to help us forgive them their Rich Boy angst. We are now eager to make them understand that we are different from their dense, unmoved peers. We hear them, we see their ordeals, we appreciate what they’ve been through. We are now there for them, heart and soul.

This finally, is what makes characters like Darcy, Christian Gray, Jaime and Sirius tick—the readers’ desire to be forgiving and benevolent, to hand out comfort to those who are otherwise misunderstood by their own society. We are all a little bit like Sansa Stark in that way—these ‘monsters’ won’t hurt us because we know their weaknesses and unlike the rest of the mileu, we understand them.  We know the real Jaime Lannister, we see past the glamorous exterior of Sirius Black, we really have the power to forgive them their stupidities and mistakes.

I think it’s that, really, that makes these characters so seductive. The idea that, no matter how perfect they are, they have weaknesses that only we as readers are privy to and can forgive. It’s hard, if not impossible, to exert the same kind of power in real life—all the glamorous, powerful people are not waiting for you to come to them and assure them that everything is okay. Neither would they be supremely grateful for it. But these guys—they’re all ours to forgive and love. And everyone knows that in fantasy, it’s the forgiver who’s the real hero at the end of the day.

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Frodo taught us well.

* I haven’t included Tyrion in this definition because he does not have the same physical and social advantages that these Rich Boys have. He’s a Poor Little Rich Boy with a lot more problems than these guys could ever dream of.

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Welcome back to Westeros: ‘Valar Dohaeris’

So I finally managed to watch Episode 1 of Season 3 of GOT yesterday. I trekked across the city to a friend’s house, where we dimmed the lights, pulled out the peppermint (yes, for some absurd reason, I wanted to watch Game of Thrones with PEPPERMINT by my side) and hurled a beautiful print onto a big TV screen. Such a change from watching it on a laptop, which, though bigger than many laptop screens I’ve seen, still does not give the kind of awe-inspiring experience that a TV screen can generate.
Now that I’ve built the atmosphere, allow me to share my thoughts on the episode:
I liked it. I wouldn’t say I LOVED it, mostly because nothing much really HAPPENED and the music was definitely not at its peak (I am partial to Theon’s theme), and the end seemed a little ‘eh’, okay. But it was good to see some of my favourite characters back on screen after what feels like ages.
‘Valar Dohaeris’ starts with a puffing Samwell Tarly running through a light blizzard, no doubt trying to get as far as he can from (what we presume) to be the aftermath of the battle we saw about to take place at the end of the season finale (White Walkers vs The Night’s Watch). Speaking of this battle, I was a little disappointed that they took the practical way out and left it to our imaginations. Sam rather fortuitously finds Mormont and the rest of the band, only to confess to them that he failed at his ‘one job’- the send out ravens to the lords of Westeros, telling them that peril draws nearer as the winds turn colder. Mormont caps off this conversation (and bit of the episode) with the melodramatic but nonetheless true statement that unless the Night’s Watch warns the world of what is coming, ‘everyone you know will be dead!’
Lovely beginning, wouldn’t you say?

Peter Dinklage plays up Tyrion's vulernable, lonely side.

Peter Dinklage plays up Tyrion’s vulernable, lonely side.

We then move on to Tyrion, who is still in his lonely, dark chamber (he has been ousted from his Hand position), checking himself out in a mirror. Cersei pays him a none-too-friendly visit, where the brother and sister barely manage to conceal their mutual antipathy and distrust. Cersei is nervous about Tyrion talking to their father and demands to know why on earth he would want to. Is he planning to tell Tywin any ‘lies’ that might damage her? Tyrion helpfully points out that it ‘isn’t slander if it’s true’ and is then left in peace. Parallel to and companion to this interaction is a scene with Bronn the sellsword, ‘the upjumped cut throat’ who has developed a taste for the ‘finer things in life’ and gives us a chance for some frontal female nudity. It wouldn’t be GOT without a whorehouse scene after all, would it?
Then there are Davos and Robb Stark scenes–the former being rescued and deposited (against his friend Salladhor Saan’s will) on Dragonstone, where a beaten Stannis huddles and ‘licks his wounds’ in the company of Melisandre. Davos speaks up against her when she delivers one barb too many (‘death by fire is the purest death’, she croons to him–this after Davos has seen his son burn before his eyes on the Blackwater) and is thrown into prison for his pains. Not the best welcome home.
Robb and his minions, for whom Roose Bolton has unaccountably become spokesperson, turn up at a deserted Harrenhal, where scores of Northmen have been slaughtered for no apparent reason. To remind us that Catelyn is still in his bad graces, he demands that guards escort her to a ‘room that may serve as a cell’. Talisa the Volantene finds a living man among the heaps of dead and revives him with her ever-handy water pouch. He gasps out that his name is Qybrun.
Not what I was expecting, but it should be interesting to see how they spin this.</p>
<p> Now come two of the best scenes in the episode–Sansa and Shae play an ‘imagining game’ on the pier, guessing where various ships are going and why. When Shae attempts to insert some truth into the game, Sansa stops her, saying that the ‘truth is either terrible or boring’. That’s a great line, and a view of Sansa’s face shows us how she’s changed- she’s sullen looking and there’s a growing light of cynicism in her eyes. As she tells Lord Baelish later, when he offers her help, ‘I’m a terrible liar’. Is she though, really? Somehow with the new face I can’t believe it. She’s all grown up.
Shae and Ros have a bit of a chat while Baelish is crooning to Sansa about her mother (this reminded me so much of School of Thrones. The actor got Baelish spot on.). Ros remarks that ‘it’s not easy for girls like us’, pointing out how well they’ve done for themselves. Ros then asks Shae to look out for Sansa, which was quite touching. These women who have nothing, or have started with nothing, seem to care more genuinely for the girl than anyone in her social station does. Ros has always been portrayed as the wholesome, good-hearted woman, the ‘prostitute with a heart of gold’, so I guess it doesn’t come as a surprise that she’s probably one of the few in the entire series with her heart in the right place. Shae however…I’m not so sure.
While on the subject of Sansa, I should mention Margaery Tyrell, a woman who knows just how to play the masses. Lady Tyrell visits an orphanage in the filthy lanes of Fleabottom, the very area where the royal entourage was attacked and Sansa nearly raped last season. Here, Margaery plays the politician to the hilt, winning the hearts and smiles of young children via GOT merchandise (you can bet those soldier dolls are going to be hitting the shelves soon) and stories about the importance of their fathers in the defence of the city (these are the kids whose dads fell defending King Joffrey’s claim). It is very sweet, but one can’t help but think that Margaery is just being a smart politician. Coming after Ros’s simple request to Shae, this appears fake and contrived. The point, I suppose.
There is one person at least who is leery of Margaery’s ‘niceness’, and that’s Cersei. She warns the pretty young thing that she may need to start putting some ‘metalwork’ on her dresses once she gets more familiar with King’s Landing. Margaery acts sweet and optimistic and generally a little nauseating, but Cersei is ‘put in her place’ by her son who, it’s obvious, is spiraling far out of her lioness’ claws. Not too long before the mysterious prophecy comes into play for the Queen, then.

No, Margaery wasn’t the other ‘best’ scene that I mentioned. That honour goes to Tyrion’s conversation with Tywin, where the latter hurls his request for his ‘rights’ to Casterly Rock in his slashed face and tells him that ‘every day’ he sees him ‘waddling about’ is a punishment from the gods. Tyrion’s face loses the customary cockiness and brazenness he usually wears, in fact, the whole episode sees him scrounging for some semblance of the whip-smart attitude he normally displays. Tyrion is a man still reeling from the shock of battle, ingratitude from his family and his close shave with death. He suddenly seems to realize how very, very alone he is.

 

For the first time, I saw what others find so compelling in him. There is no DOUBT that Dinklage does a great job playing this multi-layered character. The changes that flit across his face in this one scene alone are sure to touch you. We see a man scrambling to reassemble his dignity, his bravado and seeming, for the first time, utterly utterly vulnerable.

 

The last scenes go to the Dragon Queen. Daenerys is stocking up on an army in Astapor and considering the ethical implications of buying eight thousand slaves to fight for her cause. On the up-side, the dragons are growing. On the down-side, they’re growing far too slowly for her liking. Hence the stopover in Slaver’s Bay and an interlude with the Unsullied, whose ability to bear pain is graphically demonstrated in a cringe-worthy scene.

 

Trouble never leaves the Dragon Queen alone for long, and she is soon prey to an assassination attempt while strolling in the marketplace (you’d think she would have learned to avoid these things by now). Luckily, the attempt is foiled by one Ser Barristan, who has finally emerged after a full season, this time with a beard. Jorah looks distinctly uncomfortable with this addition to the ‘Queen’s Guard’, but has the wisdom not to say anything. How long will ‘the Bold’ stay mum about his treachery? I’m guessing until the end of the season, at least.

 

All in all, a decent episode, if not the best. A good return to the land of Westeros. I’m looking forward to seeing  Arya, Jaime (oooh), Bran and Brienne next week (or is it this one?). And there’s always room for new faces at the feast–people do move aside so obligingly after all.

I got 25 minutes

Sorry, I should keep to house style and turn that into twenty five minutes.

I got twenty five minutes with the first episode of Season 3 of Game of Thrones. That’s it. But in that twenty five minutes I saw five different locations, thirteen recognizable characters (one new) and heard various strains of familiar melodies. In short, it was a jaunt into Westeros that left me stranded outside the walls of a keep (not telling you which), wondering what I had done to piss off the gods of technology.

I’m sure Neil Gaiman could come up with something. I will claim Muse credits for that novel. ‘Cyberspace Gods’, the third part of his deities-in-modern-life series.

What I saw was, of course, promising. There seemed to be a lot more talking than I’m used to in a TV show (um, given that I have filled my time between GOT seasons with a lot of Gossip Girl and reruns of the OC, this is not a surprise). There was, of course, the obligatory sexposition (which I very knowledgeably pointed out to my co-watcher), some screeching which could have come from either of the CGI-born (dragons or White Walkers), and pouty Jon Snow spouting profound and utterly spoofable lines.

I was home.

Now to just get through the hours until I can return my room, brew some Earl Grey in my trademark ‘Winter is Coming’ mug and hope the cyberspace gods have gotten over it, whatever ‘it’ was.

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Game of Thrones season 3: trailer

By now I’m pretty sure most of the youtube-viewing and GOT anticipating world has seen the trailer for the third season. It’s a melange of images and characters, and some intriguing glimpses of what is to come. Also, it’s got a heady soundtrack accompaniment in the form of Ms Mr’s ‘Bones’, which I’ve been listening to on repeat for the past two days.

The trailer throws up a hell of a lot of questions, even for someone who’s read the books and has a fair idea of what to expect.

-Who is the ‘old friend’ Varys is speaking to in the opening? Tyrion? Master Illyrio? Littlefinger? The second and third seem rather doubtful–it’s in now way been a ‘long time’ since he spoke to them, since we have Littlefinger’s and Varys’s infamous repartee in Season 2 and the eunuch is the one who stows Tyrion away in a room after the Battle of Blackwater Bay. So who is it?

-Is it Melisandre who speaks of ‘death’ coming for ‘everyone and everything’? It’s been a year since I watched Season 2 (eeks, the horror), so I’ve sort of forgotten what her voice sounds like. I mean to go through both previous seasons before the third one premieres, so maybe I’ll have an answer to this speaker by then. Unless, of course, it’s a new character. In that case I’ll hazard a guess at Meera Reed.

-Where was Theon? Oh, right. We didn’t get him in this book. But, but, they had so much to tie up from the previous one! Are they going to premiere the hell-made-flesh Bastard of Bolton in this season? I’m not sure I’ll want to watch those scenes, anyway.

-Of course we had a sneak peek of more Catelyn chasing Robb scenes. It’s a trademark. As is Bran’s shooting an arrow.

-Where were Sansa and Arya? I can’t believe I got to point 4 before I realized they had been missing. Not to mention Shae, Rickon, Osha and DAVOS.

Hell, at least we got a glimpse of a growing dragon. And Dany has SHIPS! Not too long before she meets Barristan and Strong Belwas then.

Cersei looks as lovely as ever. And yay! Brienne is going to kick some ass very, very soon!

For the record, I am not one of those who ships Brienne/Jaime. I like them as platonic partners in crime. Let’s not look for romance everywhere. We saw where that got us with a strong female character in Harry Potter (coughTonkscough).

Over all, I think HBO has been very parsimonious with revealing the new characters. Way to build up the anticipation.

Winter had better get here SOON.