A Storm of Swords – When bad things happen to favorite characters

By Jason McClain (@JTorreyMcClain)


Ok, maybe not “spoilers” but just a spoiler, still, you don’t want to know.  It will spoil the surprise.

At some point in the last third of A Storm of Swords these exact words hit the page, “His axe took her in the back of the head.”  The Dog, Sandor Clegane, hits Arya Stark in the back of the head with his axe.

I immediately put down the book.  Then I picked it right back up and leafed through it until I saw one simple word heading up a chapter over 100 pages away.


Then, I knew I could continue reading.

I’m not sure if there has been a character that I’ve read about quite like Arya.  George R.R. Martin creates quite a few interesting narrators, fills them with traits that make them interesting to the reader and at times makes them frustrating.  I love to hear all of their sides of the story, except for maybe Cersei, but I’m sure there will be a payoff for her in A Feast for Crows.  However, Arya is different.  I don’t know why, but she is the character that I care about most.  We can see that she’s scared, but we also see how she screws up her courage and presses on.  Maybe it’s how she treats others with honor – she’s her father’s daughter and before he died, Eddard was pretty damn cool.  However, 11-year-old Arya is learning more about the world than he ever knew and how duplicitous it can be.

What makes a character a favorite?  Think about it.  Who are your favorite characters from literature, from television, from movies?  Off the top of my head, let’s go with Butch Cassidy, Yossarian, Sam Gamgee, Hermione Granger, Mr. Incredible, Yorick Brown, Inigo Montoya and The Dude.  I’m sure you could come up with some different people.  (I bet the folks of borg.com could each come up with their own list and they’d be pretty different.)  Just looking at the list, it’s not like there’s a common quality, but follow me as I jot down what I consider to be the overriding characteristic of each character:

Butch Cassidy: Adventurous
Yossarian: Hatred of bureaucracy
Sam Gamgee: Faithful
Hermione Granger: Intelligent
Mr. Incredible: Familial love
Yorick Brown: Dreamer
Inigo Montoya: Vengeful
The Dude: Easy-going

I’m sure you could probably find different characteristics for each of them and I could agree with you.  Still, I bet that even if you did come up with a different description, it would have something in common with this list.

They are traits we all aspire to have.

We want to jump off a cliff, even if the fall will probably kill us.  We want to fight against stupidity in all its forms, though it is much like tilting against windmills.  If our friend is going through a tough time, we want to be right there with them, giving them all the help they need.  We want to be the first in our class.  We want to know that deep down, no matter what obstacles we face, if our family faces danger we can rise up and face any danger.  We want to chase our dreams.  We want to be sure that there is justice in the world for those that are evil.  We want all of that and then roll with a clear head on league night because what has happened has happened and there’s nothing we can do but bowl.

I look at Arya and see someone I would aspire to be.  Yes, there is danger ahead and winter is coming, but I will figure out a plan and no matter the obstacles, I will try to see it to its end. If something gets in my way, I’ll adjust. I’ll keep trying even as I’m scared to death.

So, you can understand why I freaked out a bit when I read those words about Arya and the axe.  If she couldn’t succeed, it would sadden me.  Heroes die in the real world. I don’t like to see them die in fiction as well.

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