Who is your favorite villain ever? I could name a few, but then I’d turn this blog into a novella and take up far too much of your time. Rather, today, we’ll look at villains through the example of George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire fantasy series, which is now also an HBO series. (Warning. Spoilers ahead.)
Usually a book or movie has one primary villain that’s easy to identify and obviously opposes the protagonist. But Mr. Martin’s series is so complex and draws such inspiration from the harshness and messiness of real life and history that a single villain is hard to pinpoint. There are few characters we could call protagonists. Even some of the “good guys” do antagonistic things. Daenerys Targaryen is building to be an antagonist to all of Westeros, yet she is one of the main “heroes” of the series. Major antagonists such as Jamie and Tyrion Lannister garner sympathy and affection from many readers despite their tendency to perform monstrous deeds. A Song of Ice and Fire is a tale as complex and human as it is wonderfully epic and capturing.
There are too many storylines and characters for one villain or antagonist to rise to the fore; though, I suspect Mr. Martin intends to eventually turn The White Walkers into a threat no one can ignore. As a result of this, unlike most epic fantasy series such as Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time, posthumously continued by Brandon Sanderson, or even series that are more episodic like Patricia Briggs’s Mercy Thompson series or Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files, A Song of Ice and Fire possesses antagonists for different aspects of the series. The Lannisters are the political antagonists. The White Walkers or The Others represent the dark, supernatural threat that sends some of the toughest in the world scared witless.
But the antagonist that most intrigues me is the what we’ll call relationship antagonist. In my opinion, this is Robert Baratheon. Robert harms his wife, Cersei, by loving another woman; the other woman, Lyanna, eventually comes to a devastating end when Robert starts a war over her; Daenerys loses her husband in the quest to take back what Robert has taken from her; Eddard Stark and Catelyn Tully’s relationship meets a tragic and brutal end in large part because of Robert’s demands and past actions; the list goes on and on: Jon Arryn and Lysa Tully, Arya Stark and anyone. Robert’s destructive hand reaches over the long course of a fifteen year reign and even beyond the grave as Westeros implodes as a result of his legacy. And when you really get down to it, it’s all because of Robert’s possessive, blind love of one woman who wasn’t even his.
It’s amazing in literature and history how one thing can have such far reaching and profound consequences. It makes me think about how even little things in my life might have consequences I never see or understand. How much one word or one lack of a word, one small action or inaction can alter someone else’s life? Let us remember that as we meet those around us today and always.