Despite being a fantasy show, ‘Game of Thrones’ provides a strikingly realistic portrayal of humanity and human nature. All characters on the show, even those reputed for their goodness and honor, are imperfect beings.
They all have flaws and weaknesses and all have made some crucial mistakes.
Yet it isn’t in humanity’s nature to be purely evil.
Most men have redeeming qualities and are capable of doing both good and bad. Even the most honorable man on the show, Lord Eddard Stark, is blinded by his absolute sense of right and wrong and his rather simplistic code of honor.
“Stark? You think the honorable Ned Stark wanted to hear my side? He judged me guilty the moment he set eyes on me. By what right does the wolf judge the lion? By what right!?” –Jaimie Lannister (Season 3, Episode 5).
Even seemingly positive traits like honesty can have strong negative consequences and can adversely affect people. Honesty, though it is generally thought of positively, can also be used for spite and revenge.
“Now when- when good old Ned came home with some whore’s baby, did you pretend to love it? No. You’re not very good at pretending. You’re an honest woman. You hated that boy, didn’t you? How could you not hate him? The walking, talking reminder that the honorable Lord Eddard Stark fucked another woman.” –Jamie Lannister (Season 2, Episode 7).
As evidenced by the characters actions on ‘Game of Thrones’ it is obvious that very few men are motivated solely by pure spite or malice. Very few people just want to ‘watch the world burn.’ Instead mankind is driven largely by their survival instincts and their ambitions. These qualities, though morally neutral, can breed the darker ones of distrust and ruthlessness.
“Anyone who isn’t us is our enemy.” –Cersei Lannister (Season 1, Episode 3).
“Chaos isn’t a pit. Chaos is a ladder. Many who try to climb it fail, and never get to try again. The fall breaks them. And some are given a chance to climb, but refuse. They cling to the realm, or love, or the gods, illusions. Only the ladder is real. The climb is all there is. But they’ll never know this. Not until it’s too late.” –Petry ‘Littlefinger’ Baelish (Season 3, Episode 6).
“A Lannister always pays their debts.”
Whenever either literal or metaphorical survival is at stake, individuals will minimize their vulnerabilities and weaknesses. This can include sacrificing their innocence, stomping out their idealism, and toughening the ‘softer’ characteristics. Growth, ambition, and survival favor those with flexible moralities.
“Let me give you some advice bastard. Never forget what you are. The rest of the world will not. Wear it like armor, and it can never be used to hurt you.” –Tyrion Lannister (Season 1, Episode 1).
“The more people you love, the weaker you are… Love no one but your children.” Cersei Lannister (Season 2, Episode 7).
As a result, it will always seem like more men fall on the side of the spectrum closer to ‘evil’ than on the side of ‘good.’ In both reality and in the fictional world of Westeros it appears that lies, deceit, and corruption will always truth, honor, and justice.
“The worst ones always live.” –Sansa Stark (Season 2, Episode 9).
“Look at me! Stannis is a killer. The Lannisters are killers. Your father was a killer. Your brother is a killer. Your sons will be killers someday. The world is built by killers… so you better get used to looking at them.” –Sandor Clegane (Season 2, Episode 9).
Human nature is messy and yet it really isn’t good or bad. It’s resilient. Mankind, despite even the bleakest circumstances, can find a way to survive and even to thrive. ‘Game of Thrones’ does an excellent job of depicting human nature with all of its contradictions and all of its complexities.