by Merryana Salem
The last piece I wrote for Pseudo Mag was about heroes and, with the latest series of Game of Thrones looming over our heads, I’ve found myself pondering heroes once again and I’m not the only one. I have seen a plethora of articles with comment sections teaming with hopes, fears and theories of what is coming for the protagonists of Westeros and people sniping at one another’s allegiances to characters on a screen. Then, there are those people who comment, words dripping with smugness, that they don’t watch the show at all, calling out how problematic the show is and how glad they are to be free of its impure clutches.
I understand. Especially with the social political landscape being what it is, I understand people wanting to escape the horrors of sexism, violence, rape, abuse and racism when they turn on the TV, but I don’t agree that a show isn’t enjoyable because of its ideological impurity. This idea that narratives must be unencumbered by prejudice and conflict is bizarre to me, but I’ll get to that. Let’s go back to talking about heroes for now.
There is a quote that asks you to, “name a hero who was happy,” assuming you cannot. Well, I want you to name a hero whose “heroic goodness” didn’t grow out of an impure ideology, or self. The thing is that most heroes worth a damn aren’t free from mistake, or sin, or unjust deeds, and nor should they be.
My hero since I was 4 years old, Luke Skywalker, is no angel. His decisions almost constantly endanger others, he manipulates people into joining his causes by making promises he doesn’t keep and he has made out with his twin sister! Said simplistically, these qualities don’t exactly paint Luke Skywalker as the hero we know and love, yet they do describe his actions accurately. Described in this way, Luke Skywalker could be mistaken for my favourite character in Game of Thrones. Hell, even as I’m writing this I realise, both men only have one hand.
My favourite character in Game of Thrones is Jamie Lannister. Don’t get me wrong, I love Jon Snow as much as the next person and I have precisely zero delusions pertaining to Jamie’s moral compass, and the altruism of his actions at certain points in the story, and I can tell you with no reservations that I don’t always like Jamie, but I have always loved him as a character.
“Ew, doesn’t it bother you that he f**ks his sister!” people cry when I tell them my favourite character is Jamie.
“Luke Skywalker wanted to screw his sister too,” Is almost always my response and it usually makes people back track.
It has always fascinated me that most people will excuse Luke’s incest with Leia for ignorance and because he is a “good guy”. Meanwhile, Jamie is granted no such consideration (disclaimer: I am not in anyway or form saying that incest is excusable, only that there are people who excuse it in characters). I am not qualified to discuss the psychological effects of incest in any kind of omniscient surety. This essay is not about the impact of incest on the hero. It aims to dismantle the idea that being “problematic” doesn’t necessarily impact the “goodness” of your actions.
Luke Skywalker is a hero who happens to be a person who once had, shall we say, inappropriate inclinations toward his sister. This does not make his defeat of the empire, or his inner demons into achievements that are unclean. In fact, we rejoice that he is reunited with his loved ones. We want him to get back to Leia, even now in 2017. By Return of The Jedi, his love for Leia as his sibling is the foundation he clings to when he feels all hope is lost. In Star Wars, Luke is lucky to have a sister who is his ally and not his enemy.
On the other hand (a gold one perhaps?), Jamie Lannister finds no such strength in his love for Cersei. While his desire to be with Cersei has helped him survive, it is something that is rarely rewarded, or even reciprocated. In the books, when Jamie returns to King’s Landing lacking a hand, Cersei refuses to even speak with him and he grovels after her affections with little success (and no, he did not rape Cersei in the books). In pursuit of Cersei’s wishes, Jamie has done terrible things to good people (see: The Starks). But in all other aspects of his life, Jamie is an honourable man of his word whose first thought is almost always the protection of others.
Of the members of his family, Jamie is the only one who genuinely loves and respects Tyrion, and it is Jamie who helps to break Tyrion out of unlawful imprisonment and Jamie who defends Tyrion in his absence. Despite the occasional snark, he, unlike many characters in this world, respects women’s choices, articulating his admiration for the convictions of Brienne and Lady Catelyn throughout the narrative. Finally, a fundamental part of Jamie’s character is that he only broke an oath, allowing his honour to be tarnished forever, to protect his insane murderous king because he wanted to save his family, friends and fellow citizens.
Despite all this, however, Jamie is rarely pinned as a hero. At best, he is begrudgingly redeemed for other character’s perceptions of him during certain moments, rather than his own qualities. All because these qualities co-exist with, well…incest.
Unlike Luke Skywalker, Jamie doesn’t have the luxury of shrugging off his incestuous inclinations and moving on with things. At least, not while Cersei convinces him, as she has done from birth, that she is the only person who loves him. Thus, Jamie’s greatest fear, losing those he loves to corruption and evil, is now embodied in the only person (he believes) he loves: Cersei.
Luke Skywalker only had to kill the empower to save his sister and the galaxy, but for Jamie, very soon, killing his sister will be the only way to save Westeros. His love for Cersei vs. his honour and duty to others is a type rope he has had to tread his whole life and yes, it hasn’t always held him on high moral ground. But that doesn’t mean that his “good” actions haven’t been good. The people of King’s Landing lived because Jamie saved them, regardless of his feelings for Cersei. He saved Brienne from being eaten by a bear and her life is no less saved because of Jamie’s feelings for his sister, nor any of his other deeds, good or bad.
With all the horrors of the world, I understand the desire for heroes who embody a utopian moral ideal of the self, but I don’t think that representing this idealisation of “pure” heroism is inspiring. It is impossible to inspire people to be free of wrong doings because we cannot change our past, only the present. It is impossible for such a person to exist in our times, and so encouraging it would be a waste of time.
Stories should show people that, regardless of their previous misdeeds, or mistakes, they can step up where they are able and when they can. For me, Jamie Lannister and Luke Skywalker are not heroes because they are always “good,” but because they chose to be where it is possible for them to be so and, really, isn’t that all any of us can do?
Written by Merryana Salem. Illustration by Mavni.
Merryana Salem is a 22 year old Lebanese/Australian with a PHD in procrastination, contently daydreaming at the edge of the world. She writes stories about the worlds in her head and the fears in her heart and probably should be studying right now. But most of all, she is thankful that you came here to read something she wrote.
Sawani Chaudhary looks for art in places large and small. She can fangirl about travelling, Monet, Game of Thrones and cats in the same breath. She easily passes off as a Mumbaikar when in Mumbai but Pune runs in her blood.
2 thoughts on “Issue 13, Creative Nonfic: On “Problematic” Heroes: Luke Skywalker’s Defence of Jamie Lannister”
Very thoughtful and well written.