I consider myself to be a skeptic and a cynic (along with holding the lofty title of Shameful Narcissist), but I still secretly carry an ember of gullibility in my heart. The former means it is quite hard to surprise me, where the latter can still light my way to delightful shock. In real life I abhor surprises, as I always wish to be prepared for any contingency, but in the world of fantasy and fiction I revel in it.
Here I give you the times I was surprised by a story in the various types of media I have consumed. I’m just going to use the one paragon example in each medium I present. Obviously as I am showcasing times I was shocked by a narrative, there are spoilers galore for everything mentioned/tagged in this post. I’ll still throw up an official warning and give anyone who needs it time to skedaddle.
***UNMARKED SPOILERS FOR FROZEN, ASOIAF/GOT, FFVII AND HARRY POTTER***
I had no idea how they were going to resolve the fact that the heroine had two love interests (more on how you take care of that particular paradigm in the next entry. At least Hans gets to live…even if he might not deserve it.) Throughout the entire movie he gave no overt displays of devious ambition, but like any well told story, they were most certainly there. The fact that he always wears gloves (conceal don’t feel…) and only takes them off once after he reveals his true nature to Anna in the heartbreaking scene used above, and them almost immediately puts them back on while declaring “I’m the hero that’s going to save Arendelle” to once again don the mask and hide his true nature, but the movie had been giving hints to it all along.
In the opening song “Frozen Heart,” it is arguably not Elsa’s or Anna’s hearts the ice cutters are singing about (or not only, Frozen is very layered), but Hans’s.
The final line “split the ice apart/beware the frozen heart,” foretells exactly what happens in the climax of the film where Hans goes to kill Elsa and Anna stands in his way. He fails to “split the ice apart” with his sword. Only the power of love is able to do that. “Beware the frozen heart” is really a warning about Hans that is mirrored in Anna’s heart being frozen by her sister, and when she seeks out her supposed one true love to break the spell or course he can’t. You can’t thaw one frozen heart with another.
Han’s betrayal was beautifully done. It was the perfect way to resolve the two love interests and reveal the true villain of the story. What else is impressive is they managed to keep that under wraps until the third act. Prior to that point, circumstances provided the story’s conflict, but those circumstances were more than enough to carry its weight.
Final Fantasy VII
Warning: Some discussions of symbolic/metaphorical rape.
Did you really think we were going to get through an analytical discussion without me using my favorite story of all time? Silly mortals…
When I first saw Aeris’s death scene at the end of the first act/disk of FFVII, I nearly went through the five stages of grief, which was a bit unfortunate as I had gone through them in earnest only two years before, but that’s a story for another time. I truly thought that it was all a farce, that she wasn’t really dead, or that there would be some legitimate way to bring her back, but no, there was nothing. She was truly dead by Sephiroth’s hand, and another tale had taken care of a second love interest in a far more brutal way than my first example.
The Final Fantasy Series has never had a dearth of symbolism and FFVII is rife with it. Sephiroth literally falls from the sky in order to murder the flower girl and does it with an extraordinarily long sword. Need I mention the meaning behind flowers and swords or would that be too lascivious? It most certainly falls under murder by symbolic rape. The falling perfectly parallels the idea of “the fall” as in the fall of an angel, which is more than fitting for a Satan Archetype. He was the most beautiful and the best but he tried to become a god based on the lies he’d been told (Jenova is your mother for one. His whole “mother” thing is one of the best examples of and cruelest dramatic ironies I have ever seen in any narrative. There will be much more of that in latter blog posts as it’s the basis of my current writing project), and bad things tend to happen to angels that try to become like god (see Lucifer and the bible).
Flowers have always been a good way to show that something or someone is both beautiful and ephemeral. *spoiler* Hunger Games’ Rue and Prim(rose) are both named after blooms and both face the reaper before their time. *end spoiler* Shakespeare’s Ophelia gives everyone rue (…) before she kills herself. There was also an episode of Doctor Who where the poor flower girl gets it, and even Family Guy throws in a scene on the uncensored DVDs in the episode “We Love You Conrad” where the two flower girls at Jillian’s wedding both get stabbed through the back by Jason from Friday the 13th who’s presiding over the ceremony (it’s Family Guy…don’t ask). Flowers and dying young have always been intertwined. The ones Aeris peddles in the slums look closest to modern lilies, which are associated with death.
Replaying the game I immediately saw instances where we were warned what was going to happen. Cloud receives a fortune in the Gold Saucer saying he’s going to lose something close to him. The murder of President Shinra mirrors Aeris’s death only the protagonists find him slumped over his desk with the Masamune sticking out of his back instead of witnessing the incident occur. There are some people who believe that Aeris knew she was going to such a fate when she entered the Sleeping Forest, while others think she had no idea. I am of the former. I believe our little flower girl always knew what her life was for. She either concluded that only blood could pay for power or realized where she would have to be in order to summon Holy and stop the forces of darkness. If you ignore the physical, which only truly shows the veneer, Aeris, the last Cetra, was the most powerful person in that story and the only one who could vie with Jenova, an eldritch abomination from beyond the veil of stars.
A Game of Thrones (A Song of Ice and Fire Series)
I realize a used a clip from the TV show when I’m talking about the book. Rest assured I mean the medium of books/literature, but since there is a visual representation of the event, I fully intend to utilize it. Since I read the book first, I consider the medium to be that instead of television.
GRRM killed of his main character. Not a side character, not a love interest, but the (arguably) main damn character of the entire story, the person we had been following throughout the narrative. I would tip my hat to you sir, but I am afraid you’d think I was offering you my head. I have never read a story where the main character is murdered before the end of the book (maybe my horizons aren’t broad enough). Martin has warned readers and watchers alike that no one in his stories is safe. No one is protected. Neither youth nor goodness will shield you from the icy slide of steel between your bones. Playing the game of thrones is a treacherous business, and if you’re not good at it, you will end up dead.
Queen Cersei does warn Ned Stark that “If you play the game of thrones, you win or you die,” and she is (or at least was at that point) an expert player. Once she “got what she wanted” she became quite a bit sloppy and complacent. Ned Stark’s problem is that he believed that everyone was as honorable as he was, and that’s just not the case. The Lannisters have no problem doing what they need in order to satisfy their ambitions or simply survive. Jaime Lannister, who was a kings guard for four kings, three of whom are dead (not…very good at your job are you Jaime?), murdered Aerys (it’s a very unlucky name phonetically) by (at least on the show) stabbing him through the back (!!!).
Granted, there were a host of reasons for this supposed betrayal that make Jaime such an in depth and complicated character, but his actions help show what the Lannisters are like. Chances are if a Stark were in a similar situation, they would look to their honor and stand by their king no matter how murderous, insane, and wrong he was. Who is more wrong, the fool or the fool who follows him?
Taking Eddard out of the picture also left his two daughters Sansa and Arya without a protector and forced each of them to find a way to survive. Though GRRM is writing a fantasy, he infuses it with real world issues never or rarely used prior in other fantastic narratives. The Stark girls have no one to shield them from the harpies now and must either maintain themselves through daring and violence (Arya) or courtesy and grace (Sansa). There are many who praise Arya and condemn Sansa for how they go about living in the cruel world, and I think that’s wildly unfair. Yes, Sansa did allow Joffrey to lie against her sister, but how many girls of her age have done that to impress a boy they like? She didn’t know the consequences. How could she? She is also the catalyst for Eddard’s arrest, but again, she’s an eleven year old girl who was very sheltered and had no idea what guile and intrigue were. She most certainly learned that “life is not a song,” as told to her by Tyrion, but prior to the utter destruction of her family, she could never have known. She was literally stuck in the snake pit after everything happened, and I feel nothing but pity for a child who performed childish folly, but now has to live with adult consequences.
Eddard (like Sansa) trusted the wrong people and put far too much stock in his position and the truth to keep him safe. Truth rarely matters in political intrigue. What matter is what you can prove. His death is brilliantly paralleled with the decapitation of the Night’s Watch deserter in the very beginning of the book. Killed by Eddard himself to exemplify justice and honor, Eddard is then killed in the same way to foreshadow the cruelty and injustice of Joffrey’s rule. Joffrey is not even the rightful king due to his incestuous bastardy, but again, that doesn’t matter because there is no universally accepted proof. However, Martin does show us that being too evil is just as bad as being too good when the boy king is murdered at his own wedding (purple to contrast red) by his bride’s grandmother and Petyr “Littlefinger” Baelish. In the world of ice and fire, you walk a very thin line between death and enthronement, and being too extreme on either end could very well seal your demise.
The Starks ruled in the north for thousands of years with their honor and their dignity intact, but coming south melted longevity’s armor, because the rules they’d lived by no longer applied. They were ancient creatures that couldn’t adapt to a new environment and were killed off by those who could.
Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince
I did want to mention Harry Potter, but am not using it as a concrete example My lack of surprise at Dumbledore’s demise did nothing to diminish my enjoyment. It made perfect sense that Harry’s mentor and the most powerful wizard, well, ever would have to be removed from the equation if Harry were to face Voldemort. If Dumbledore were still alive, why would a seventeen year old wizard need to defeat the wizarding world’s equivalent of Satan when God/Jesus is always around? It would’ve left a large plot hole and rendered the prophecy an extraneous plot device. Yes, that’s what was foretold, but logically why wouldn’t they pit the greatest good wizard ever against the greatest evil? Harry also needed to lose his mentor in order to begin using the lessons he had learned from him. If he could always run back to Dumbledore whenever he was in trouble, how would he ever learn to stand on his own (oh Christ…I’m starting to see this as a parallel between God and man…)?
Rowling has always been very bold in the genre of YA fiction, stating that she wanted her characters to face and deal with death, because it’s a part of life. Harry’s losses made him realize that he would have to be the one to stand up and fulfill the destiny that he might not want but that was set for him. I initially really disliked the 5th book because I felt like he was such a whiny emo baby, but he was acting like a typical teenager…if that typical teenager had had both his parents murdered by the a ruthless megalomaniac who’s trying to take over the world and is directly coming after you because it was prophesied that only you could stop him. Looking at it through that dark hue, I gave HP a bit of a pass, because he was coming to terms with his destiny, and leeching the poison out of his soul in order to do so.
Death is transformative (it’s what the tarot card normally means) to both the deceased and the ones they leave behind. Betrayal is a type of death as it shows the death of trust and how all of your ideals and beliefs must now come crashing down to either lay there in ashes or reform to a substance sharper than sorrow. These are the moments that show the true mettle of character. It incinerates the veneer that hides what we truly are and allows what we will become to taste the light.