A Song of Chaos and Power 3

Posted in 1971, action, books, Drama, TV by jrahman on April 25, 2019

From Bollywood to Hogwarts, plot twists involving separated, long lost families, mistaken or concealed identities, new revelations, or much less satisfactorily, some deus ex machina are common.  Sometime they genuinely come as a shock, and profoundly alter our understanding of the story.  I don’t remember a time when I did not know Darth Vader’s true identity, and yet get goosebumps watching Luke Skywalker hearing I am your father.  Typically, these plot twists hone in on the key individuals, protagonists and antagonists of the tale, even if there are larger, macro consequences.  For example, rise, fall, and apotheosis of the Skywalkers may matter for the entire far, far away galaxy, but the fate of the galaxy is not our primary focus, is it?

Game of Thrones has plenty of plot twists, relying on all the common tropes, and more.  Things are not what they seem like.  Royal children turn out to be not so.  Men of honour turn out to be not so dissimilar to men without honour.  Even death might not be the finality in this story.  The interesting thing about this saga, both in the show and the books, is that not only is there a focus on the relevant characters — you had a knife through your heart, you died, and now you’re back — but that there is no shying away from the fact that these twists are integral to the fate of the entire Seven Kingdoms.

The wars for the Iron Throne are also, as is the case in Bangladeshi politics, history wars.

Consider the recent history of the Seven Kingdoms, as it is understood when the series begins.  Rhaegar Targaryen, heir to  Aerys II, abducted and raped Lyanna Stark of Winterfell, who was betrothed to Robert Baratheon of Storm’s End.  When they sought justice, Aerys burnt Lyanna’s father and brother.  Her other brother and Robert rebelled against the Mad King’s tyranny, which eventually ended the Targaryen rule.  That’s the macro history.

Tied to this is the individual story of Jon Snow.  When the war ended, Ned Stark, Lyanna’s brother, returned to Winterfell with a baby — apparently he was unfaithful to his wife during the year long fighting.

Except, neither is true.  Rhaegar and Lyanna were in love.  They eloped, married, and had a son.  As she lay dying, after her husband had fallen in battle, Lyanna asked Ned to raise the boy safely.  Jon Snow is not the Bastard of Winterfell, but Aegon Targaryen VI, the rightful heir to the Iron Throne.

Of course, we care about the impact of the revelation on Jon, just as we did about Luke’s discovery.  But we also care about the impact on politics.  Daenerys no longer has the strongest birthright to the throne.  Of course, the series makes it clear that birthright need not be the only, let alone the best, determinant of who gets to sit on the throne.  After all, Robert Baratheon became king not out of birthright, but because he rebelled against the Targaryen tyranny.

Or so he claimed.  It now appears that while Mad King was indeed a tyrant, Rhaegar was a popular prince who might have made a great king.  That is, Robert perhaps was truly the Usurper.  No wonder that the new order replacing the Targaryens agreed to tell each other the stories about Rhaegar.  From Sheikh Kamal trying to rob the Bangladesh Bank to Tarique Rahman single-handedly controlling every nook and cranny of Bangladesh — have we too not heard many stories that turned out to be not true?

As Petyr Baelish — a perfidious plotter and political schemer — observes: The realm. Do you know what the realm is? It’s the thousand blades of Aegon’s enemies — a story we agree to tell each other over and over, until we forget that it’s a lie.  

And yet, that’s not all there is.  Varys — the spymaster and a consummate player of the game himself — replies: But what do we have left once we abandon the lie? Chaos, a gaping pit, waiting to swallow us all.

In Westeros, they used to tell a story about Dragons uniting the seven kingdoms.  Once that story ceased to be credible, chaos ensued.  In Bangladesh, there are stories about 1971 — who did what where and how in that year is still at the heart of political debates, even when they prove to be ultimately irrelevant.  For example, it is now clear that Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir’s video messages were ultimately immaterial to the outcome on 30 December 2019.  But his role in 1971 was a matter of intense debate precisely because the 1971 stories keep us from chaos.

Until a better story is found, the gaping pit awaits to swallow all, in Westeros and in Bangladesh.

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