What Game of Thrones Can Teach Us About Terrorism


"I felt a great disturbance in the Force, as if millions of voices suddenly cried out in terror …”

Last night’s airing of Game of Thrones season 3 episode 9, The Rains of Castamere, was in many ways the culmination of the “A Song of Ice and Fire” experience.  In the books by G.R.R. Martin, the Red Wedding occurs half way through the third book (there are currently five).  The RW is the primary reason people get their friends to read the book.  According to the producers of the HBO series, it is the episode they felt they had to get to.

In going through the social media related to the Red Wedding, there seemed to be mainly two reactions.  One was the sense of shock, grief and eventually numbness from people who didn’t know it was coming. I well recognize this mental state from the time I read the RW scene almost ten years ago.  The second was the strange elation of people who had already read the books in response to the reaction of the people who hadn’t.


I wish I could find a word for this second, reflective emotion.  It isn’t exactly schadenfreude, that amazing German word for the the pleasure we take in other people’s misfortune.  Schadenfreude always has an element of ressentiment in it and seems generally directed to people who are better off than us.  The object of our schadenfreude thinks he is an innocent while in our minds, the misfortune is in some way deserved — though perhaps excessive.  Schadenfreude is the emotion Walder Frey feels as he watches the Starks and their bannermen being cut down.

In my bedroom wall, there is a hole made by a very heavy paperback tome. It marks the place where my wife threw her copy of A Storm of Swords against the wall after the Red Wedding scene – and for those more in the know, specifically the scene involving Arya and the Hound’s axe. I hadn’t read it yet and it was at that point my wife made me start with the first book, A Game of Thrones, so I could catch up and find out why there was a hole in our bedroom wall.


There was a serious angst (‘nother awesome German word but still not the one we want) to her mood and it wouldn’t go away until I’d gotten to the emotional place she wanted me. I wanted to throw the book at the wall, too, but it seemed pointless by then.  The important thing though was she would finally talk to me again and we were on the same page, so to speak.  Oddly enough, we talked about what a great movie these books would make. 

The reflective emotion online was partly a weird glee but also a solicitousness towards those who were experiencing the RW psychic shock for the first time.  It’s as if for those who had already gone through this trauma, the trauma itself presented a barrier between themselves and everyone who was going about their lives in ignorance of the fact that a horrible thing happens in the middle of the third book of this series of books they probably are never going to read because adults don’t read Proust-length fantasy novels.  And then, thanks to the HBO series, now that trauma has been shared with the rest of the world.


I think the emotional word I’m looking for might be terrorism.  Isn’t this what terrorists do to people who don’t understand or sympathize with their plight?  They find a way to share their trauma with others in order to externalize their angst?

With terrorism, though, we never get to the point where people say, hey, thanks for the bombing, now I see where you’re coming from and everything’s going to be okay.


Following the airing of The Rains of Castamere, on the other hand, all of us are now on the same page emotionally, are ready for healing, and can move on to the next thing, whether that next thing is the new season of True Blood or possibly a new Gene Wolfe novel.  On the other hand, if you are just interested in connecting with more people who have gone through what you just went through, you can try the online Song of Ice and Fire community at http://asoiaf.westeros.org/

It can be thought of as the largest and longest lasting group therapy session ever created. While I haven’t been back for a while, my wife and I joined it shortly after we created that hole in our bedroom wall and it was the source of much comfort and consolation to us.  It was the place, strangely enough, where some of the casting for the HBO series occurred as well as the best place to learn how to decipher one of the great hidden secret of the series: R+L=J.

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