George R. R. Martin Gets Religion, Forswears Grimdark


Ever since the Red Wedding, I have seen George R. R. Martin as the God-killer. Allow me to explain... and beware! Spoilers will follow.

God is integrally linked to the part of our brain that perceives holistic meaning from the chaos of life. God is, in some sense, this meaning-making part of our brain either projected upon or ensouling the cosmos. And the hero is the individual who makes order from chaos, creating an order that proves divine blessing by the order that it creates. God is the narrator of the cosmos. But when heroes die, divine blessing is lost and a story becomes meaningless. Or rather, a story takes on a new meaning—a meaning in which the lives of heroes are squandered and chaos triumphs over good. This is grimdark: amoral and violent. This novel is a hero-killing machine.

And in GOT, it seems that henotheistic chieftain God, the Lord of Light, is as amoral, violent, and hero-killing as, say, Circe. His order is chaos. Remember how the Red Woman predicted Stannis Baratheon was to be the King of the Seven Kingdoms? He was slain by Brienne of Tarth for his use of black magic. Another leech-king boiled in its own blood. Another moral lesson in the meaninglessness of meaning-worship.

Yes, in George R. R. Martin's world, God is an amoral failure, unable to infuse the world with meaning other than meaninglessness. The God of meaning is a failed narrator who gives us point of view characters only to part their heads, ignominiously, from their bodies. A contract with the credulous reader is broken. "Faith" is folly—if your faith is in the triumph of good over evil, of order over chaos.

From George R. R. Martin, I learned that sometimes the best way to love your heroes is to kill them. That sometimes the best narrators are the least trustworthy. That the mere fact of a hero hefting a sacred sword and mustering an army of beta heroes does not give her "hero privilege." That all the threads of the story will not weave around her, carrying the reader with her toward a climactic clash between good and evil where good characters die but the hero wins and the sacred sword or talisman or whatever is placed in its special spot in the throne room on a velvet pillow. No Star Wars throne medal scene for grimdark.

Lassie, God, and Ghost Save the Day

But hark? What's that? A kind of scratching, whining sound at the door. Is that Lassie? Here girl!

Is it meaning, begging to be let in?

Is it dog, spelled backward: God?

Or is it just Jon Snow's direwolf, Ghost?

No, it's... Game of Thrones Season Seven Episode One!

Here is a list of meaningful justice-driven good-guy things that seem to be happening in GOT s07e01:

  • The Hound gets religion and sees the purpose for which the Lord of Light resurrected Dondarrion
  • Daenerys Targaryen returns to Dragonstone
  • Arya Stark kills all the Freys
  • Jon Snow unites the North
  • The Hound buries friends, movingly
  • Brandon Stark returns to the wall
  • Arya Stark has a touching evening of rabbit and song, learning a little bit about friends and a lot about life
  • Sansa Stark finally realizes that Peter Baelish's words are like the rattling of coins in a tin can

George R. R. Martin = The New MLK?

It would seem that George R. R. Martin is more like Martin Luther King than we'd previously thought:
"The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice."

I am expecting that the main characters will forswear violence and practice nonviolent resistance against the onslaught of the army of the dead.

(Watching this fail, in fact, might be quite meaningful. After all, the Children of the Forest created the White Walkers to protect them and their forests from the axes of the First Men. What if the White Walkers overran the world? It would be the triumph of environmentalism. Death would be banished: everyone would become White Walkers. Peace would rein. Sounds a bit like the post-rapture resurrection.)

I'm seeing some light in this grimdark. George R. R. Martin isn't quite the nihilistic hero-killer we'd all taken him for. Those who have previously abstained on the basis of excessive violence or darkness can now resume watching for the happy ending. You heard it here first, folks.

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About the Author

Hi. My name is Jeremiah John. I'm a sf/f writer and activist.

I just completed a dystopian science fiction novel. I run a website which I created that connects farms with churches, mosques, and synagogues to buy fresh vegetables directly and distribute them on a sliding scale to those in need.

In 2003, I spent six months in prison for civil disobedience while working to close the School of the Americas, converting to Christianity, as one does, while I was in the clink.