The Writing On the Wall: Violence Is a Disease

game-thrones-season-6-episode-7

“Violence is a disease. You don’t cure a disease by spreading it to more people.”
“You don’t cure it by dying, either.”

The world of Game of Thrones is a brutal one, there is no denying. It is a consequence of George R. R. Martin’s portrayal of a fantasy world that is more realistic than the one often found in fantastical literature. That reality certainly resonates with audiences, for as many people can tell you, there is often no white male protagonist who will swoop in to save the day. Sometimes the wrong people win, a wedding turns into a horrifying massacre, and an idyllic society is destroyed before it even has the opportunity to begin.

The question of violence is an inherent one to the series and it has existed ever since young Bran Stark (Isaac Hempstead Wright) was pushed out of a Winterfell tower window. Countless debates have been waged as to what the series wants to say about violence, how it depicts violent acts and against whom, and whether or not the depiction in question is actually saying something about violence and its role in our society. How the series overall handles the complexities of violence is another article for another time, but there is a key thoroughfare in “The Broken Man” that asks the question of how one can go about building a nonviolent society in a world that seems to be breaking apart at all seams.

Brother Ray (Ian McShane) is a combination of the Elder Brother and Septon Meribald from A Feast for Crows. He provides a curious case study in what Game of Thrones is perhaps trying to say about the violence it depicts and how it impacts its characters. In his past, Ray was what one would consider to be a consummate sellsword. He did everything he was told in the War of the Ninepenny Kings, be it murdering peasants or setting village homes on fire. He was thought to be a brave mercenary, but he admitted that he was little more than “a coward who followed orders.”

One day he committed a crime that he could no longer justify as having committed under the auspices of it being an order. He cut the throat of a young boy in front of his screaming mother. She was being held back but her screams of terror, grief, and helplessness transcended that physical barrier. Her screams continued to haunt Ray, his sleep seemingly forever ensconced within an unrelenting guilt. He searches for a pathway towards redemption and he finds one in the Faith of the Seven.

He openly admits to the Hound (Rory McCann) that he has absolutely no idea as to who the real gods are – millions could be worshipping the wrong ones for all he knew. What he believes, however, is that the precise organized religion one believes in and whose deity(ies) one worships are the less relevant question. What is more important is the principles of said religion that someone stands for. The principles he believes in are the principles of peace and he recognizes that as long as one is committed to those principles, the methodology of committing to them is not as important.

When the audience meets Brother Ray, he is building what appears to be an idyllic commune amongst the green valleys of the Riverlands. He has a band of followers, each of whom has their own story as to how they found themselves in that commune. It is likely that several of the individuals in Brother Ray’s community decided to eschew the violence engulfing the rest of Westeros and find a home for themselves that was not embroiled in the dynastic wars of wealthy aristocrats. As is often the case with Game of Thrones, that idyllic sense of being only lasts for a brief amount of time.

cq5dam.web.1200.675

Three riders from the Brotherhood Without Banners arrived with an intent to demand the horses, gold, and or weapons Ray and his community did not have. Sensing an imminent threat of violence, Ray refuses to fight the intruders in spite of the Hound’s insistence, noting that violence is a disease and that spreading it only creates a more violent society in turn. The Hound, embittered by an unarguably difficult life, disagrees.

With the ending to the Hound’s journey with Ray, Game of Thrones offers a much more nuanced story than what may appear at initial viewing. The Hound may leave the destroyed commune with a fervent desire for vengeance, but he is critically wanting vengeance for someone he is calling a friend. He may not let go of the bitterness life has given him nor may he ever adopt Brother Ray’s manifesto of peace wholesale, but there is a part of him that has undoubtedly been changed by the words and deeds of a man whose relationship with violence transformed so radically.

The destruction of the sept and the mass murder of Ray and his community would seem to definitively validate the Hound’s point of view. If they had fought back before the intruders had a chance to regroup, then the commune members perhaps could have saved themselves from their fate. The obvious question of obtaining weaponry and logistics aside, there is another takeaway from this scene that is about more than whether or not the Hound or Ray was right about the implementation and nature of violence.

The larger, arguably more important question, is whether or not it is worth creating a society built on the principles of peace in a world that is chaotic and seems to be unrelentingly evil. Is it worth creating a society, small as it may be, based on the principles of breaking the never ending cycle of violence? Is it worth embracing the principles of peace if butchers seem to be on every path you cross? If the story of Ray is a tragedy, it is also a story of finding redemption through the renunciation of violence. His journey indicates that as far as “The Broken Man” is concerned, in spite of all the obstacles and cruelty in your way, building that society is crucial. However long it may last, it is a break in the cycle of violence and if enough of those breaks come together, then perhaps that cyclical nature of violence can indeed be broken.

Valar Dohaeris,

Akash Of the Andals

27 responses

Jump to (and Always Support) the Bottom

    1. Perfect article after this weekend’s protests. I love the Broken Man’s speech in the book, and even the edited version in the show. Such an idyllic society which is not violent is certainly what we should strive for. Whether or not its possible for it to survive is another question. You have pure evil like the shooter in Vegas and Parkland. You have horrible suicide bombings in the middle east and elsewhere, you have mass bombing destroying entire cities and making thousands flee. Where does one even start? Perhaps the children have the answer i just don’t know

      I agree with you about the story of redemption that runs through this series. It is possible for someone to change. But how does one when all around is nothing but violence?

      Oh and hodor

        Quote  Reply

    2. “All I can do with time I’ve got left is bring a little goodness into the world. That’s all any of us can do, isn’t it? Never too late to stop robbing people, to stop killing people. Start helping people.
      It’s never too late to come back.”

      “You can still help a lot more than you’ve harmed, Clegane. It’s not too late for you.”

      Never too late to save the world, Sandor Clegane.

        Quote  Reply

    3. Akash:

      Very well-written, thought-provoking article. Thank you!

      Also…

      “The larger, arguably more important question, is whether or not it is worth creating a society built on the principles of peace in a world that is chaotic and seems to be unrelentingly evil.”

      I would suggest the answer is that it’s always worth using your life to try to bring some goodness into the world, “however long it may last.”

      Strangely enough, although Ray did not know it, “the time I’ve got left” was one day, so he was facing the choice of (a) living his final day in peace, or (b) resorting to violence to keep living.

      Had he known, he’d probably still choose (a).

        Quote  Reply

    4. The idea of a cycle of violence or violence as a thing into itself is just not supported.

      Violence is very often the only way to counter political oppression, slavery, invasion etc.

      As far as Bran being pushed form the tower setting off cycles of violence I completely disagree. The peaceful veneer of Game of Thrones world is already a violent oppression of a feudal society. it is a world of warlords, pirates, raping hordes of violent destructive horsemen, etc.

        Quote  Reply

    5. ash
      I suggest reading some of Steven Pinker’s (at Harvard) work.

      Violence has never been lower. In the US homicide rate is down 55%, gun homicide down near 60% and homicide of student age cohort (5-22 years old) down about 65% in the past 25 years. A generation ago student age people were being murdered in the US at near 300% the rate they are today. Kids today have never been safer. Never been safer from gun homicide, gun crime, overall homicide, food safety issues, war, disease, etc.

      Despite this a majority of Americas think murder is up the past 25 years, a flat earth inversion of a objective and core metric as people seek to reduce Forth, Fifth, Second and Sixth Amendment rights.

      I was in France a couple of years ago when a single individual killed 150 people. They did not change laws affecting rights of all French. Here in the US there are moves to attack freedoms. A terrorist attack and we get Patriot and then 2011 extension of Patriot act to monitoring Americans. A gun murder in a environment of ever decreasing gun murder and an attack on Second Amendment rights. A killing by an disturbed person and attack on the fact that the US makes it hardest for the government to remand and force treatment.

      Violence is properly addressed by NOT thinking of it as the thing, but rather thinking of the criminally violent PERSON as the casual agent.

        Quote  Reply

    6. “However long it may last, it is a break in the cycle of violence and if enough of those breaks come together, then perhaps that cyclical nature of violence can indeed be broken.”

      these words, just a day after i watched a live stream of MFOL for two hours and was thrown around between crying and feeling encouraged! these words are so right!

      you are not necessarily tough or strong when you are violent. but you have to be when you want to go on with your life after suffering the violence, the pain, the fear and the grief. and it’s up to anyone to stop the circle by not passing the violence, giving a shit about revenge or compensation.

      these smallfolks entering the streets on march 24th got reactions from powerful White Walkers around the earth and the web, and guess what: those have shaken their cold dead #clenchedfistofgunmasturbation at those who just asked to be safe.

      hell, i never thought reality could be more cynic and brutal than GoT…

        Quote  Reply

    7. “I was in France a couple of years ago when a single individual killed 150 people. They did not change laws affecting rights of all French. Here in the US there are moves to attack freedoms. A terrorist attack and we get Patriot and then 2011 extension of Patriot act to monitoring Americans. A gun murder in a environment of ever decreasing gun murder and an attack on Second Amendment rights. A killing by an disturbed person and attack on the fact that the US makes it hardest for the government to remand and force treatment.”

      i fucking hate to reply on this, but i have to.

      first of all, if you write about the bataclan attacks in france: that was not one single person!!!

      then, you write a lot about attacks on rights. in a thread mentioning attacks on persons. how dare you using the word “attack”? did these rights die and leave grieving family members or friends?

      then, i wonder how many more school shootings you need to see that EVERY dead student is one too much. every dead person is one too much. each and everyone of them could be alive if… ah fuck, this makes me angry!

      here’s some math for you and all of the law abiding citizens protecting their dumb rights: you say guns don’t kill people, people with guns do. right! so, do more people with guns tend to kill more or less people? and, how many guns does each person have to own until no one kills any one anymore?

      also: how many years before snapping and shooting themselves into the dark pages of the history books did EVERY fucking mass murderer spend being a fucking responsible and law abiding gun owner?

      maybe people without guns don’t shoot so many people, could this be?

        Quote  Reply

    8. DN,

      Demands for an end to the sale of assault-style weapons to civilians, more stringent oversight of gun shows, more thorough background checks of would-be buyers, better tracking of secondhand gun sales, prohibition of bump stocks and legal means for families to petition courts to confiscate weapons from their loved ones who are deemed dangerous to themselves or others do NOT constitute an attack on Second Amendment rights, no matter how loudly the NRA tries to get us to drink that poisoned Kool-Aid. These are sensible restrictions that, in any other “civilized” country in the world, would be considered a baseline for firearms regulation (which is largely why no other country has the high number of firearms fatalities that America has). NO ONE is coming to take away the hunting rifle that you use to help feed your family, the sport weapon that you use on the skeet-shooting range or the handgun that you imagine is necessary to keep in your nightstand drawer because you are fearful of intruders.

      The Second Amendment was expressly meant to provide a “well-regulated militia,” not “any American can have as many/any kind of guns as they want.” What part of “well-regulated” is so hard to understand?

        Quote  Reply

    9. Great essay.

      There is something here that speaks to a larger story theme because there are echoes to what Jon says in 707 about lies and if enough people lie words stop meaning anything and that is not how they are going to win. If they really want peace they need to be honest with each other.

        Quote  Reply

    10. Firannion:
      DN,

      Demands for an end to the sale of assault-style weapons to civilians, more stringent oversight of gun shows, more thorough background checks of would-be buyers, better tracking of secondhand gun sales, prohibition of bump stocks and legal means for families to petition courts to confiscate weapons from their loved ones who are deemed dangerous to themselves or others do NOT constitutean attack on Second Amendment rights, no matter how loudly the NRA tries to get us to drink that poisoned Kool-Aid. These are sensible restrictions that, in any other “civilized” country in the world, would be considered a baseline for firearms regulation (which is largely why no other country has the high number of firearms fatalities that America has). NO ONE is coming to take away the hunting rifle that you use to help feed your family, the sport weapon that you use on the skeet-shooting range or the handgun that you imagine is necessary to keep in your nightstand drawer because you are fearful of intruders.

      The Second Amendment was expressly meant to provide a “well-regulated militia,” not “any American can have as many/any kind of guns as they want.” What part of “well-regulated” is so hard to understand?

      Firannion, you have read my mind. These steps are necessary to ensure a peaceful society where everyone’s entitled to Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. There are obviously too many instances, especially in the age of available automatic weapons, where people were deprived of life for no good reason at all but enabled by specious reasoning regarding the wording and the intent of the Second Amendment. Even most STrict Constructionists aren’t so strict regarding that clause. Knobs!

      Sorry, Akash–you wrote a splendid article. I fear Brother Ray is doomed to failure for the wars are always with us, but we must try. Consciences are rising in Season 7. Sandor reconciled himself by acknowledging the farmer and Sally and burying them, Arya gave up her long-term plan when near its realisation, Jon doesn’t like doing what he’s so good at. Recently Patrick posited the idea that Cersei should be exiled and met with good response here. Perhaps following the successful completion of two wholly necessary and justified wars, the survivors picking up the pieces will not only see a dream of spring, but a dream of peace. And they shall beat their swords into ploughshares…

        Quote  Reply

    11. Yup. No civilian needs an assault rifle. If someone out there feels that an assault rifle is necessary to defend their family then they must be into some pretty shady stuff or are one majorly paranoid person who needs to seek mental help.

      One argument that I constantly hear from the pro-gun side is that “well, people get killed with cars, so why not ban cars too”?. It’s simple. Cars were not created for the purpose of killing. There are millions of things out there that can kill if put in the wrong hands (plastic bags, knives, cars, baseball bats, vaccum cleaners, axes, food, etc.., but that isn’t their purpose. There is only 1 purpose that a gun has and that purpose is to kill.

      Having said that, I don’t think that banning guns will entirely solve the problem of gun violence. Criminals don’t abide by the law and neither do the mentally unstable, so I think ENFORCING the law is one area where our system has failed. It’s also important to review our society as a whole to determine why so many people are snapping and causing mass shootings/killings. It happens everywhere, but it definitely happens with greater frequency in the U.S. Why is that? Is it because people have more access or is it because people have a greater desire to use them?

      It’s a complicated issue that does not have one clear-cut answer, but I do think that common sense needs to ultimately prevail at the very least in banning assault rifles. IMO, if you feel the need to own one then you are already grounds for a mental evaluation.

        Quote  Reply

    12. To quote everyone’s favorite elegant imp: “The world you want to build can’t be built all at once, probably not in a single lifetime.” Lets make steps towards stricter gun regulation, and once a better system is in place, take it from there. I am certain that making stricter gun laws won’t create immediate, or even significant, change. But something this drastic needs time. A large part of the problem is dangerous/unstable people having access to guns, whether it be through legal or illegal means. Lets focus on restricting the legal means in which people acquire guns, and once we have a handle on that then we can look at the bigger picture.

      So many people think that gun regulation will undoubtedly be a bad thing. The thing is, we’ve never tried it, so we don’t know. Again, to cite Tyrion: Why don’t we see if stricter gun regulation isn’t just as sweet as what came before it.

        Quote  Reply

    13. Wonderful article, and I agree a timely one.

      The cycle of violence (and vengeance) is one that I find an interesting thread running through Thrones and ASOIAF.

      Cersei kills Tyene as vengeance for Ellaria’s murder of Myrcella. Ellaria killed Myrcella to avenge Oberyn, who had himself fought to avenge his sister Elia and her children. Tywin had ordered the execution of Elia’s children in what was both a power grab and vengeance for the slights he felt Aerys had visited upon him.

      It all goes back and back, Tyrion thought, to our mothers and fathers and theirs before them. We are puppets dancing on the strings of those who came before us, and one day our own children will take up our strings and dance on in our steads. (Tyrion X in A Storm of Swords)

      and

      Book!Ellaria’s pronouncement:

      “Oberyn wanted vengeance for Elia. Now the three of you want vengeance for him. I have four daughters, I remind you. Your sisters. My Elia is fourteen, almost a woman. Obella is twelve, on the brink of maidenhood. They worship you, as Dorea and Loreza worship them. If you should die, must El and Obella seek vengeance for you, then Dorea and Loree for them? Is that how it goes, round and round forever? I ask again, where does it end?” (The Watcher in A Dance with Dragons)

      And then there is the Blackwood/Bracken feud in the Riverlands that Hoster Blackwood tells us about…….

      “We’ve had a hundred peaces with the Brackens, many sealed with marriages. There’s Blackwood blood in every Bracken, and Bracken blood in every Blackwood. The Old King’s Peace lasted half a century. But then some fresh quarrel broke out, and the old wounds opened and began to bleed again. That’s how it always happens, my father says. So long as men remember the wrongs done to their forebears, no peace will ever last. So we go on century after century, with us hating the Brackens and them hating us. My father says there will never be an end to it.” (Jaime I in A Dance with Dragons)

      Ancient feuds dragging on and on through generations. Violence begets violence and a search for justice ends up becoming vengeance.

      But, as Jon reminded us in season five in Hardhome, there is something coming for them that doesn’t care if a person is free folk or crow. The Army of the Dead don’t care if you are a Lannister or a Martell, a Blackwood or a Bracken. They don’t care who you supported in the War of the Five Kings. And for me that is something I look forward to seeing explored in the final season and books – as was questioned at the Dragonpit, can the living set aside their petty differences and feuds that are oft centuries old and fight together against their common enemy, the Night King?

        Quote  Reply

    14. Mr Derp,

      Well said Mr Derp. TBH, I find it just incredible that people can go into a gun shop in the US, fill out a few forms and purchase a military assault rifle! I’ve never handled any type of gun be it a pistol, revolver, rifle, shotgun, etc – Let alone fired one!

      The only guns I see are those carried by the cops over here in Spain. When I lived in the UK, the police were never armed and just carried a truncheon! Ok, perhaps not so much these days what with terrorist attacks and with more armed police patrolling sensitive areas in the cities or in airports and some with automatic weapons.

      TBH, I find the US 2nd amendment (the right to bear arms?) still in force in the 21st century is crazy? When that amendment was written after the American War of Independence, you yanks were using muskets and other flint-lock hand pistols… Not AR-15’s 😮

        Quote  Reply

    15. Black Raven,

      Yup, the 2nd amendment is a remnant from the Revolutionary days and has no relevance to the modern world. The 2nd amendment was written well before the colonies had a set police force or military in place for protection, so it’s much more understandable why so many people felt the need to guarantee the right to arm themselves back then. You were pretty much a one man army if you wanted protection.

      I do believe that everyone has the right to protect themselves and their family, but within reason.

        Quote  Reply

    16. Firannion,

      Wanna talk about rights? How about the unalienable rights of Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness? You can’t have any of them if you’re dead, or your kids get gunned down at school.

        Quote  Reply

    17. Mr Derp,

      Yep, I see your point re people wanting to be able to protect themselves and their family… But with a firearm?

      I recall a case many years ago in England when a farmer opened up with his double barreled shotgun on a couple of burglars he came across robbing his house. One I think he may have killed and the other was seriously injured – I can’t remember the details. He was protecting his house an family, but ended up with a heavy jail sentence!

      Whether the surviving robber ever ended up doing time in prison – I have no idea.

        Quote  Reply

    18. Hey folks – take a look at GRRMs blog page. Something cryptic over there about the dragon has 3 heads. I know what I hope it means!

        Quote  Reply

    19. Cersei’s Brain:
      Hey folks – take a look at GRRMs blog page. Something cryptic over there about the dragon has 3 heads.I know what I hope it means!

      i know what it almost certainly is not and that i hope i am wrong about that

        Quote  Reply

    20. Cersei’s Brain:
      Hey folks – take a look at GRRMs blog page. Something cryptic over there about the dragon has 3 heads.I know what I hope it means!

      The only tag he put on it was ‘television,’ so it’s not a TWoW reference.

        Quote  Reply

    21. “I Choose Violence”
      – Cersei Lannister

      “Shes a disease.
      I regret my role in spreading it”
      – Olenna Tyrell

        Quote  Reply

    Jump to the Top

    Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *