Society tends to shape the way people perceive things and consequently how they react to them. For instance, the act of taking something that belongs to another person without his or her permission is known as stealing and in society’s eyes, it is wrong and by extension illegal. This perception applies to other various aspects and life experiences. Society instills these perceptions in people from a very tender age, thus creating norms that form part of unique cultures that establish the differences within various communities. Of concern to this paper is society’s perception of imperfection and the treatment that comes with it, particularly with regard to people that bear such ‘imperfection’. Society may regard various elements in people as imperfections. For instance, people with physical features that are normally present or absent in the majority of other people are imperfect in society’s view. Such people include individuals with mental disorders, physical handicaps, or differences in physical form.
Imperfections can also take the form of financial status or social class. People with more wealth are in society’s eyes perfect compared to people in financial poverty. Consequently, people with financial wealth wield more power and have a higher social standing or class, regardless of whether they are intellectually qualified to wield such power. These people end up in leadership and thus rule over imperfect individuals. However, such stereotypes cause people to misconstrue the real value of a person that they consider imperfect. In elaborating this concept, this paper looks at the television series Game of Thrones. The focus of this discussion is on cripples, bastards, and broken things, which is the title of the fourth episode. Some of the selected characters chosen for this discussion include Jon Snow, Tyrion Lannister, Gendry, Joffrey Baratheon, Bran Stark, Sander Clegane, Lord Varys, Wylla, Shae, Daenerys Targaryen, and Micah.
The storyline of the fourth episode of the series revolves around three plots, one intertwined with the other in different ways. The plots include a story on a civil war that arises involving several noble houses in a battle for an ‘Iron Throne’, which is the sovereign authority that governs all the noble houses in Westeros. It also includes a separate story of an impending winter that the people in Westeros expect to last for a long time. However, the winter is expected to bring with it mythical creatures from the north, referred to as ‘wildlings’, that supposedly kill human beings. Therefore, the people establish an order of men known as the Night’s Watch to guard the northern wall and prevent the wildlings from invading. The third plot revolves around the life of an exiled princess from the Targaryen dynasty, who after fleeing from Essos with her brother after the reigning heir to the dynasty, encounters deposition following a rebellion. The two hope to return to their home someday and claim their rightful place as heirs to the dynasty. The two siblings encounter the other noble houses in their journey back home, thus linking their story to the other plots to make one complete storyline. Some of the main themes in the story include power, greed, corruption, and contrast between the noblemen and ordinary people, which form the basis of the discussion on society’s view on imperfection. Although there are many characters in the story, of importance to this paper are the mentioned characters, the roles they play, and their contribution to the storyline.
Game of Thrones uses the phrase cripples, bastards, and broken things as a euphemism for people that society in the story considers imperfect. Society treats these people with disdain, underestimation, and ridicule on top of bullying and taking them for granted. It considers them less important and to a certain extent disposable. For instance, the term bastard usually applies to a child whose father is either unknown or disowns the child. The latter is the main case in the television series, with the twist being the reason that warrants a child’s declaration of being a bastard. In R. Martin’s plot, a child born of a father from a noble family and a mother from an ordinary family does not get the right to inherit nobility unless the father approves of it. Society deems a child who does not acquire such approval a bastard, with the fault placed entirely on the mother. Societies in different noble houses view the mother and child as part of the society’s imperfection and as such, treat them with disdain, regardless of the fact that they are not solely to blame.
An example of this scenario is Jon Snow, the bastard son of Eddard Stark, Lord of Winterfell, and Lord of the entire Northern region of the seven kingdoms. Although Eddard treats Jon as he treats his five legitimate children and allows him to stay at his house, his wife, Catelyn Stark, treats him differently. She is not comfortable with Jon’s presence in her house and this aspect causes such friction until Jon decides to leave and join the Night’s Watch. Jon’s mother, whom Eddard mentions in passing by the name Wylla, was a serving girl and so Jon did not earn the right to inherit his father’s nobility. However, he is loyal to his family and serves honorably in the Night’s Watch by protecting the seven kingdoms from wildlings. However, his father does not stop him from joining the order, even though he bears the knowledge that it is a lifetime commitment that leads only to death, which is a clear indication of how disposable Jon is in society.
Similarly, Gendry, the bastard son of King Robert Baratheon, misses the chance to inherit nobility due to his mother’s lack of nobility. However, Gendry is unaware of his lineage and thus he does not suffer as much humiliation as Jon. He works as an apprentice for a blacksmith thus forging swords and armor for the noblemen. King Robert refuses to acknowledge his existence, thus denying him any inheritance in case of his death. Although the title of a bastard is humiliating in society, acknowledgment is deemed important for purposes of inheritance and the preservation of the family lineage and hierarchy. For instance, Joffrey is not fit to inherit the throne, as he does not bear King Robert’s noble blood, thus leaving Gendry as the only legitimate son of the King and therefore the only true heir to the throne.
Bran Stark is the youngest son of Lord Eddard. He is skillful at scaling walls, a skill that one day sees Jaime Lannister throw him off a towering wall for having accidentally witnessed an act of incest between Jaime and his sister Cersei, the queen of the seven kingdoms. The two hope and plot for Bran’s death by sending an assassin to finish him off after he falls into a comma. However, Bran pulls through against all odds, albeit with memory loss of the incident and crippled. Bran feels like people do not appreciate him as they used to and that they treat him as an invalid. For instance, they think that he is unable to ride a horse and thus cannot go hunting like other boys. Robb Stark, his elder brother, has a special saddle made for him so that he can ride, but after they go riding, they encounter a gang of thieves who ridicule him for being a cripple and brand him as ‘helpless’, a term that he thinks to be as bad as useless. Robb later rescues him from the gang and takes him home.
‘Broken things’ is the general term that is used in the story to represent people that do not fit into the Westeros society’s criteria of perfection and are thus outcasts of sorts. Tyrion Lannister is a dwarf born to Tywin Lannister, Lord of the west and former hand of a king. He is the youngest brother to Jaime and Cersei Lannister. Tyrion bears the nickname ‘the imp’ due to his physical features. In a scene from the second episode, Tyrion says to Jon, “If I had been born a peasant, they might have left me out in the woods to die. Alas, I was born a Lannister of Casterly Rock. Things are expected of me” (Game of Thrones). Although Tyrion is not physically capable of being a soldier like his brother Jaime, he is intelligent and displays a lot of wit in the story. An example is a scene where Catelyn captures him for supposedly killing Ned Stark. During his trial, he requests death by combat even though he is aware of his size and lack of strength. However, he wins the fight through his hired swordsman and bodyguard, Bronn, and gets his freedom.
Another character that does not fit society’s image of perfection is Sandor Clegane who bears the nickname ‘the hound’ due to his vicious looks, his obedience to orders, and the three dogs embedded in the family crest of House Clegane. Sandor bears scars on his face, obtained in his childhood. Although from a noble family, Sandor refuses to become a knight as he considers it hypocritical. In his view, noble knights kill innocent people during battle and justify it using war, which is not very different from what he does. As an esteemed warrior under the command of the Lannisters, he also serves as Joffrey’s bodyguard. However, Joffrey treats him as though he is disposable; referring to him severally as his ‘dog’, inference of which means that he is there for Joffrey’s amusement.
Mycah, the butcher’s son, is not a major character and only appears in a few scenes in the plot. However, the main scene is one whereby the two children play with wooden swords by a river and Joffrey interrupts them. Joffrey bullies the boy and in defending her friend, Arya fights him and throws Joffrey’s sword in the river thus causing him to cry for help. Scared that he might get in trouble, Mycah runs off into the woods. Joffrey twists the story while reporting the incident to his parents, causes them to send Sandor after the boy, and thus condemns the boy to death. Sandor kills the boy and brings him back on horseback. The families make a fuss out of the proposal that Arya should apologize to Joffrey, but not so much about the butcher’s boy, which shows that he was not as important as Arya due to his lack of nobility.
Varys is the king’s spook, but he bears no nobility and the title Lord is only a matter of courtesy, as he serves in a council with noblemen who bear the same title. Varys encounters a sorcerer who cuts off his manhood for use in magic and leaves him for dead in the streets. However, Varys’ resolve to live is unparalleled, and he does whatever he can to survive including trafficking information. This trade earns him a place in a council working for the king as a spy, which is a job that no nobleman would willingly accept. The members of the council treat him more like a servant to the king than a fellow council member.
Shae is a prostitute with whom Tyrion falls in love. However, he is ashamed of her profession. In order to hider her from his father; he gets her a job as Sansa Stark’s handmaiden, to whom Sansa confides in on matters regarding the Lannisters. Although featured in the television series, this character does not appear in the book. Wylla, Jon Snow’s mother, is absent in the plot and is only included by Eddard’s mention of her while talking to Jon. Not much is said of her except that she was a serving girl with whom Eddard had Jon. She is the probable reason that Catelyn does not like or treat Jon as one of Eddard’s children.
Daenerys Targaryen is a princess, who is exiled from her home with her brother during King Robert’s rebellion. Although she is of noble blood, she is ‘broken’ due to the way her brother treats and uses her in their quest to regain their dynasty. Although Viserys Targaryen, her brother, takes care of her during the seventeen years that they are away in Essos, he only does so out of greed and the zeal to have the throne for him once they get back to their rightful place as heirs of the Targaryen dynasty. He is violent towards her and forces her to do as he wishes including getting married to Khal Drogo, the fearsome leader of a barbaric tribe, the Dothraki. However, she gains some power and subsequently her footing once Drogo marries her, thus making her a Dothraki queen and giving her the courage to stand up against her brother. In all these examples, society has had a part in dictating the treatment that the less-than-perfect members mentioned above get.
The treatment that Westeros awards these ‘misfits’ also dictates the way that these people define themselves and consequently how they cope with their lack of nobility. For instance, even though Tyrion is witty and intelligent, he considers himself as a disgrace to his father and an outcast and thus can relate to Jon Snow’s situation when Snow decides to leave and join the Night’s Watch. However, as opposed to Jon Snow, Tyrion’s stature does not cause him embarrassment. Jon gets offended when Tyrion calls him the bastard son of Eddard. Tyrion makes the statement that “A bastard boy with nothing to inherit off to join the ancient order of the Night’s Watch” (Martin 65). Although Jon is kind, honorable, and noble at heart, he also treats himself as an outcast, a good example being the scene at the beginning when, in the company of his father and brothers on their way home from execution, they encounter a litter of dire wolf puppies. Jon asks Eddard to let the Stark children keep them, as the dire wolf is a symbol of the House Stark. Initially, they only spot five puppies and Jon categorically states that the puppies are enough for each of the Stark children, thus counting him out as one of those children. However, as they are about to leave they notice a sixth puppy, an albino that he names Ghost, and he decides to keep it as his own.
It is also worth noting that he picks the outcast among the litter, which is an indication that either he thinks he is not worthy of any other or that he can relate to it as an outcast. He decides to join the Night’s Watch as a coping mechanism in order to get away from the contempt and ridicule that he faces as a bastard child. Tyrion’s advice to Jon is that he should wear the title of a bastard with honor, as it would prevent others from hurting him with it. In the order, Jon realizes that outcasts comprise most of the people in the order, and although he initially looks down on his new brothers, he learns to put aside his prejudice and feels like an equal among them, something he never felt at his father’s home. Bran Stark is in denial of his state as a cripple for the most part of the film mainly because he chooses to focus on what he cannot do instead of what is possible. He states that he is not a cripple when Tyrion jests about his condition. Gendry is more in tune with his status and seems to embrace it, as he is not aware of his lineage, a similar situation with Sandor Clegane, who does not complain about his position as a bodyguard to Joffrey, a rude and entitled teenager. Sandor loves to kill people and his position allows him to do so legally, thus he appears content. Although Daenerys is distraught at first, she gains courage and stands up to her brother against his violence, which leads him to his death at the hand of Khal Drogo.
However, Varys and Joffrey choose a different turn by battling for power instead of being content with their status. Varys works his way into a king’s council through spying while Joffrey ascends to power as king of the seven kingdoms through his mother, Cersei. He arrogantly and cruelly uses his power as evidenced by his choice to execute Eddard Stark against his mother’s advice. In conclusion, society plays a major role in determining norms as seen through its treatment of perceived imperfections, as evidenced in the series Game of Thrones.
Game of Thrones: Cripples, bastards, and broken things. Prod. David Benioff. New York: Home Box Office. Film.
Martin, George. Game of Thrones. (A Song of Ice and Fire, Series), New York: Bantam Books, 1996. Print.