Miscellaneous heroes in GAME OF THRONES
Miscellaneous heroes in GAME OF THRONES
being Part Four of the Outright Geekery series
GAME OF THRONES and The Hero’s Journey
AT A GLANCE
Previous entries in the series looked at the children of the Stark household, particularly Arya and Bran, in terms of The Hero’s Journey. I close by looking at the “miscellaneous heroes,” the other characters raised at Winterfell : Robb, Sansa, Jon Snow, and Theon Greyjoy.
REVIEW IN DEPTH
In the very first episode of GAME OF THRONES, most of the children in the Stark household assert their life goals, and each gets their wish. In Part One of this series, I analyzed the pursuit of these goals as wish fulfillment – and as the characters achieve their goals, the reader can experience a vicarious sense of heroic triumph. Moreover, those same stories are also examples of The Hero’s Journey, popularized by Joseph Campbell and others (q.v.).
In the Hero’s Journey, a young, inexperienced protagonist sets out for adventure and becomes a hero, bringing back a great boon that will restore his people. The narrative structure of The Hero’s Journey is so ubiquitous across eras and cultures that Campbell dubbed it ‘the monomyth.’ In Parts Two and Three of this series, I showed how the travels of Arya and Bran conform to The Hero’s Journey. This time around, I will look at the stories of the other children that grew up in the Stark household.
Robb Stark is heroic in the conventional, generic sense, but he is not a monomyth hero. As the eldest son of a great lord, Robb’s destiny was assigned to him at birth : to become just like his father and, eventually, to take his father’s place. Oddly enough, this is in some sense exactly what happened, as Robb winds up living an abbreviated version of his father’s life. Like his father, Robb wages war against a deranged king, and both kings are probably mad as a result of incest. Both Robb and his father fought these wars to free their sisters, and both were betrayed by men they thought they could trust. While Robb is in many ways an admirable sort of fictional character, he undergoes no transformations within or without, and his journey is not that of a monomyth hero.
Neither can we see Rickon Stark as a monomyth hero, simply because he died before he was old enough to make a difference in the historic events happening all around him. Would he have undertaken a journey of his own, had he lived ? Who can say ? GAME OF THRONES presents Rickon as a non-entity, but A SONG OF ICE AND FIRE fleshes out Rickon’s character a little better.
Like Robb, Theon Greyjoy states no life goals because it’s understood that he will be a great lord someday. However, when presented with an honorable choice (warning Robb about the military action planned by the Ironborn) or the rapine and murder of piracy, Theon chooses badly, refusing the call of his own conscience. As mentioned previously, Theon Greyjoy is an example of the Call Refuser, a secondary character in monomyth tales. These characters heard the call to adventure in their youth, but they refused to follow that calling, forever after living with regret over What Might Have Been. These characters’ stories are usually presented as cautionary tales, showing the young hero what will happen to him if he refuses the call to adventure. He does redeem himself somewhat by laying down his life, however.
Sansa Stark’s story is an interesting variation on the monomyth tale. In the very first episode, she tells her father that all she’s ever wanted is to marry a royal so she can be a queen. In the final episode, she has become a queen in her own right, ruling a free and independent North. Her story shows that not every monomyth tale will have all or even most of the steps in The Hero’s Journey. For example, her transformation has nothing heroic about it, nor is it in any way spiritual or mystical. In fact, Sansa’s story focuses on a single step in the Journey, i.e., The Road of Trials. Nonetheless, she is transformed, gaining a deeper understanding of the world and the people in it, as well as a certain queenly hauteur.
Jon Snow is revealed as the rightful king of Westeros, but he instead becomes King Beyond The Wall, spiritual father of the Free Folk, bringer of the boon called civilization to a ‘Wildling’ group of traditional societies. Looking at the last three stages of Campbell’s schematic below, I note that Crossing the Return Threshold is Jon’s final journey through the Wall, which often symbolizes a threshold between worlds – or between life and death – in both the books and TV. He has become Master of Two Worlds, rightful king of Westeros and the Free Folk’s choice for leader, allowing him the Freedom To Live that was denied him as a bastard. Jon’s story has many other elements of The Hero’s Journey, e.g., his death and resurrection are literal.
In fact, Jon Snow’s resurrection story suggests a type of monomyth tale described in J.G. Frazer’s magnum opus, THE GOLDEN BOUGH. This is the journey to sacred kingship, involving the symbolic death and resurrection of a hero who is the embodiment of a solar deity, sometimes involving human sacrifice and ritual combat for the right to be king. These stories are often centered around sacred trees – or even entire forests of special trees. The sacred trees of the godswoods are just such trees. However, I haven’t pieced together all of the attributions, and Frazer’s work deserves better treatment than I can give it here.
And with that discussion of the miscellaneous heroes of GAME OF THRONES, I come to the close of this series. Thanks for reading, and stay safe.
You can find earlier entries in this series here, at my Outright Geekery page.
I’d like to thank the Seattle Public Library, for providing internet service to my family through their SPL Hotspot Program.
miscellaneous heroes, Robb Stark, Sansa Stark, Jon Snow, Theon Greyjoy, Joseph Campbell, monomyth, sacred king, Hero’s Journey, TV series, GAME OF THRONES,