Remember the saying, nice guys finish last? Well, in George RR Martin’s case, they finish dead. GRRM has been systematically killing off all the ‘nice’ guys in his epic fantasy series, so much so that we are now left to choose between a bunch of morally gray characters to root for. And guess what? We love it.
Once upon a time, the audience was all for the goody-two-shoes hero, the men of principle who defended the weak and sacrificed themselves for the girl and fought tirelessly against evil. The heroes were perfect and emblematic of all the good and noble qualities we hoped to have, but their flawlessness became their biggest flaw. I mean, come on, didn’t you find all the characters in LOTR just a little too sanctimonious (forgive me for committing the blasphemy of criticizing LOTR)? I found Boromir’s succumbing to the temptation of the Ring far more interesting than Aragorn’s continuous denial of it.
Most of us watched with a sort of perverse glee the path Walter White took in Breaking Bad, from being a meek chemistry teacher to a murderous druglord, because it was a sort of wish fulfillment, in a certain sense. No, we don’t want to become murderous druglords, but we do enjoy a dance with the dark side, and we have all wondered to some extent how it would be to leave these boring lives of ours and do something a little more dangerous. Hero-tales slot people into good and bad, but humans are way more complicated than that. In a way, the recent popularity of antiheroes is people realizing that they are more nuanced, more real and more relatable than any of the heroes.
While I love Tyrion and Dexter and all those other gray characters who are the flavor of the season, one of my personal favorites is Inquisitor Glotka from Joe Abercrombie’s Blade trilogy. Here is a guy who is a torturer, who feels no qualms about cutting someone’s fingers off because that’s what his job demands. He is totally badass, and you definitely don’t want to meet him in a dark alley, but you like his unabashed badassedness and his cynical sense of humor. Which brings me to my next point: antiheroes always get the best lines. The hero may get the girl and the glory, but the antihero walks away with all the snippy quotes. And that, in my book, is a big plus point: pontification about the need to vanquish evil gets annoying after a while.
Heroes are not going to go away completely; they are like dal-chawal for story writers. But I’m hoping to see them become more relatable, to struggle with moral issues, to slip up once in a while and do something morally reprehensible, to see them go dark side once in a while.
Arundhati is a member of LSD. She thinks that LOTR would have been more fun had Tolkien let Gandalf remain dead in the Mines of Moria.