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Narrative Identity

Which Game of Thrones characters will have revenge?

in Film & TV Psychology by

Game-of-Thrones-Update2-

The Game of Thrones characters have been through many ups and downs (mostly downs). Many of their stories fit a particular narrative identity. A narrative identity summarises the trajectory of our life stories. In particular, we often tell ourselves stories that explain how we overcome adversity.

Redemption Stories

Redemption narratives involve people overcoming obstacles so they can reassess their life. Characters like Daenerys Targaryen experience hardships, such as  being sold into slavery, and learn to appreciate freedom.

Contamination Stories

Contamination stories involve a person spiraling down after misfortunes and failure. So many characters fit this story but it’s the Starks who are always betrayed and persecuted.

Connection Stories

Where characters form bonds after some trauma, they are participating in a ‘connection’ narrative. Arya, for example, forms a connection with the Hound after her frequent series of misfortunes.

Fighter Story

Many of the characters in Game of Thrones push through obstacles and difficulties with blunt force or their wits, taking control of their destiny. Tyrion spends much of the first two seasons fighting through his obstacles, which is perhaps why he’s so popular.

Game of Thrones Season 6?

Jon and Sansa have each been experiencing their own contamination stories. Jon’s ended with literally being killed. Sansa was tortured for five seasons. Surely, in Season 6, we are now witnessing their fighter stories emerging?

Daenerys Targaryen is once again being forced to fight for her freedom after two seasons of contamination stories.

Meanwhile Theon has returned home to support the future rule of his sister. Theon spent many seasons in contamination arcs but redeemed himself in Season 5. His redemption story appears to continue.

Similarly, Tyrion is finally back on the road to the Iron Throne, sitting comfortably and playing politics.

These stories might all be a ruse, of course. Knowing George RR Martin, now that we feel all these characters are safe, they might end up all being flayed by Ramsay Bolton who appears to be on his own contamination story in Season 6.

What’s going to happen to our Game of Thrones characters?

in Editor Pick/Film & TV Psychology by

The Game of Thrones characters have been through many ups and downs (mostly downs). Many of these stories fit a particular narrative identity.Narrative identities involve stories that we tell ourselves that explain our life stories. In particular, we often tell ourselves stories that explain how we overcome adversity.

Redemption Stories

Narrative identities around redemption involve stories where people overcome obstacles to help them reassess their life. Characters like Daenerys Targaryen experience hardships, such as her life being sold into slavery, and learn to appreciate freedom.

Contamination Stories

Contamination stories involve a person experiencing an endless spiraling down. So many characters fit this story but it’s the Starks who are endlessly discovering misfortune and corruption.

Connection Stories

Where characters form bonds after some trauma, they are participating in a ‘connection’ narrative. Arya, for example, forms a connection with the Hound after her frequent series of misfortunes.

Fighter Story

Many of the characters in Game of Thrones push through obstacles and difficulties with blunt force or their wits, taking control of their destiny. Tyrion spends much of the first two seasons fighting through his obstacles, which is perhaps why he’s so popular.

Where to next?

Perhaps narrative stories can tell us where our characters will end up, at least in the short term.Daenerys continues to be manipulated and is starting to demonstrate the mad rage of her father. Jon Snow has prioritised the needs of the realm over the needs of his comrades at the wall.  These characters are likely on a downward ‘contamination spiral’.Meanwhile, Sansa is showing signs of fighting back with the help of Theon, who is crying out for someone to reconnect with his humanity (a connection arc).

These narrative stories and predictions are presented in the graphic above.

If your life was a story, what kind of story would it be?

in Work Psychology by

We are all stars in our own story. The early days were misadventures. That career was a series of triumphs. In some cases the story takes sharp turns in unexpected directions. Other times we hit obstacles and tragedies.These stories are referred to as our narrative identities and they help us to make sense of our past and anticipate our possible future.

Many of the stories we use to construct our narrative identities are reinforced by our upbringing, society and culture. Cultural stories are one way we pass on wisdom. Research also shows that the narratives we adopt to describe our lives can predict how well we subsequently respond to significant life events.Do any of the following stories ring true for you?

The Redeemer

My life is about learning from all the hardships and mistakes

Redemption narratives involve overcoming significant hardships, leading to greater awareness and appreciation. They involve life lessons and challenges that helped shape the person today.

The Connector

I learned to lean on others 

Communion narratives underscore building social connections and relating more to those around them as a means of overcoming difficulties. For example, a disconnected workaholic may learn to lean on family and friends when his or her life turns upside down and realises that social connections are more meaningful than money.

The Fighter

I saw the challenges in front of me and dived straight in

Agency narratives involve the individual taking full control of their destiny through sheer force and determination. They may, for example, persevere and overcome injustice and fight their way to the top in an organisation or triumph over a major physical obstacle, like climbing a mountain.

The Unlucky

The good days are behind me

A contamination identity follows the opposite path to the first three themes. The person who has a contamination narrative starts their story in a good state but is plagued by misfortune. They may, for example, keep seeing opportunities pass them by at work, struggle with endless physical complaints. The good days are well and truly behind them.

Narrative Identity and Resilience

These four themes were examined by researchers to work out whether they helped individuals navigate through hardships. Researchers identified individuals who adopted one of these four themes and then traced the trajectory of their lives at six month intervals over two years. They were also interested in whether the narrative identities would help them better respond to a negative significant life event. So they recorded any instances where participants experienced a significant physical illness.

Those who viewed their life through a contamination lens, were less resilient when confronted by this illness. The illness was just yet another misfortune on the journey toward degradation.In contrast, the other three identities seemed to improve resilience. That is, individuals who viewed their lives through the lens of redemption, communion or agency were better able to cope with the hardships of the physical illness, both mentally and physically.

Using this information, we could possibly re-write our life stories to have a more meaningful and positive journey.

Leaders could motivate others during times of significant change and upheaval by anchoring the changes to a story that resonates. Perhaps the difficulties will form part of learning (redemption narrative) or an opportunity to lean on colleagues and build their connections (communion narrative)?

Star Wars 7 trailer and its character archetypes

in Film & TV Psychology by

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Although it be a bit premature, it’s often easy to work out the character archetypes from a trailer. Archetypes are universal characters we see over and over again in stories (see my analysis of archetypes in Game of Thrones here). What universal characters can we expect from the new Star Wars based on the trailer that was launched on Friday? Here are some predictions.

The Regular Guy: Guy in stormtrooper armour

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The Stormtroopers are the working class or ‘regular guys’ of the Star Wars universe so it wouldn’t be surprising to see one thrown into a more complicated world like with this guy. The one thing the regular guy hates is to stand out and be different. What happens when a Stormtrooper loses contact with his buddies? Looks pretty uncomfortable, right?

The Hero: Female Luke Skywalker

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Like Luke, this character lives on a desert planet (Tatoonie again?), has her own speeder and generally looks like the most heroic. If she follows the hero archetype like Luke, she’ll end up seeking out a wise mentor (Luke? Han Solo? Princess Leia?) to guide her on her way. Or maybe she’ll be more of the rogue ‘Han Solo’ type?

My bet is that after six Star Wars films with a male ‘hero’ in the lead, this new trilogy will have a female hero.

The Rebel: X-Wing pilot

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This guy could be anyone but I’m assuming from the bruised chin, he’s got himself into a fist fight, just like the ‘rebel’ archetype. The rebel archetype breaks the rules, avoids conforming and takes risks. He’s also wearing the traditional ‘rebel’ pilot outfit from the original Star Wars trilogy. I could be wrong. He could also be the ‘regular guy’. Just a pilot doing his job.

The Jester: Weird ball droid

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Star Wars often has droids in a ‘Jester’ type role, providing light comic relief. The Jester archetype is usually providing a light commentary on the dark proceedings of a drama. I’m not so sure if this fellow is providing commentary (we’re having a ball of a time?) but no doubt appears to be offering some light relief.

The villain: Dark hooded character with inconvenient lightsaber

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Although not a traditional archetype, the dark hooded villain with red lightsaber is a Star Wars staple. No doubt this is the primary secondary villain of the series. Wouldn’t it be a twist if this turned out to be Luke Skywalker? Speaking of which, this new series is crying out for Luke to be the ‘Magician’ archetype, replacing Obi-Wan and Yoda as the primary wise mentor.

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Although, there are other interesting rumours (possible spoilers), which sound too interesting to be fake but, then again, could be a clever bit of misdirection.

Why Game of Thrones surprises us – Part 2

in Film & TV Psychology by

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Previously on Game of Thrones…
I discussed the common archetype of the hero and how George RR Martin uses our familiarity with this archetype as a form of misdirection.

Part 2 looks at the archetype of the ‘Lover’ and the ‘Innocent’ and how Martin dangles hope for one character to tease the audience.

The Lover is motivated by finding true love (see pretty much every Disney princess). They are also easily influenced by the approvals of others and fear being abandoned or alone.

The Innocent is ignorant of the evil in the world. They always want to do the right thing and fear being punished for misdeeds (see a summary here but beware the fine line between psychology and the mystical).

Anyway, which character fits the archetype of the Lover and Innocent best? Is it Sir Gregor Glegane or Tywin Lannister? Spoilers ahead.

The Lover/Innocent – Sansa Stark

At the start of the series, Sansa is innocent. She’s easily shocked by the true horrors of Westeros and is fixated with marrying Prince Joffrey. She’s both the Innocent and the Lover.

How does Martin manipulate these archetypes? Time and time again, he dangles true love in front of Sansa and yanks it away to shock us.

Twist #1. Sansa’s sweet prince is a psychopath

The story is in place for the Lover. She’s met her sweet prince, Joffrey. He will one day be king and admires Sansa from afar. Everything is set for Sansa to fall in love and be his queen.

But then, Martin reveals Joffrey to be the psychopath he really is. He removes poor Ned’s head and then Martin consistently places Sansa into awkward encounters. You know, being humiliated and tortured in front of crowds. That sort of thing.

Twist #2. Sansa’s handsome rescuer is a drunk, scarred dwarf

But maybe it’ll all work out? After all, perhaps the Lover/Innocent overcomes her obstacles to find her one true prince charming? That’s the angle Martin is going for in this new twist (note. slightly different in the book).

Sansa will be wed to the knight she fell in love with, Loras Tyrell, and live far away from Joffrey. It’s all a happy ending, right?

Unfortunately for Sansa, the Lannisters interfere again and she ends up marrying Tyrion Lannister, the dwarf known as the Imp. Martin doesn’t allow the Lover to marry the man of her dreams at all. He dangles hope and then pulls it away.

Twist #3. Sansa is finally rescued by a real knight

But maybe it’ll all work out for her…again? A knight she once saved from execution has returned to save her but once again, her saviour is not the man of her dreams. Continuing with the ironic twists of past, Martin has Sansa rescued by a drunk fool. But, hey, at least he’s sincere and turns out to be a real hero…sort of.

Twist #4. Sansa is finally rescued by the most evil man in Westeros

And it even turns out this fool isn’t really all that heroic. He’s working for the most evil dude in Westeros, Littlefinger. After the murder of Joffrey, Martin has Sansa rescued from the (Lannister) lion den and straight into Littlefinger’s fingers..

Twist #5. Sansa finally plays the Game of Thrones

After her crazy aunt tries to kill her, Sansa covers for Littlefinger, demonstrating that she is now a player. After endlessly being abused and used as a pawn, the real twist is that Sansa is no longer the Innocent or the Lover. 

Why Game of Thrones surprises us – Part 1

in Film & TV Psychology by

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What’s in a plot twist? Part of it’s surprise. In the case of Game of Thrones, it’s usually in the form of a sudden and brutal shock. Just when you thought you knew what was going to happen, writer George RR Martin throws a curve ball.

To surprise a modern, savvy audience, you essentially need to be a master at misdirection. That is, get them to anticipate the direction of a story, set up all the pieces and clues, and then catapult the plot into a completely different direction.

One way to play with an audience is to present them with familiar story archetypes.

Game of Thrones and Story Archetypes

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The Lover

 

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The Caregiver

 

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The Everyman

 

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The Explorer

 

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The Father The Hero

 

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The Ruler

 

According to Carl Yung, archetypes are universal ‘thought-forms’ that are innate to all people. Put simply, there are familiar characters and stories throughout history and across cultures that continually re-emerge in the form of archetypes.

The ‘hero’ archetype is depicted in countless popular films. This archetype involves the hero going on a journey where they fall, confront their inner demons, and then rise again to fight another day. These themes underpin films like Star Wars, Rocky, and pretty much every superhero movie.

Martin uses these common archetypes to prime the audience and then often does the complete opposite. That is, the hero may fall but then doesn’t rise again. Or maybe he becomes the villain?

What are some examples? Spoilers ahead!

The Hero

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Ned Stark

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Robb Stark

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The Red Viper

Hero Twist #1. Ned is beaten and cornered but there’s an escape plan

Ned Stark is the main protagonist in the first series and played by A-List actor, Sean Bean. He’s honourable, loyal, and strong. And, like all heroes, he takes on the primary villains: The Lannisters.

Ned ends up beaten and delirious in a black cell. This isn’t an odd situation for a hero. Surely he will escape? We are given plenty of evidence to support the notion that Ned is simply on a hero’s journey and will eventually rise again.

First, he’s played by Sean Bean, the main star and protagonist of the series! Second, he’s given a terrible choice: die or beg for mercy. Mercy will lead him to his son, Jon Snow, at a cold and merciless purgatory with the ‘Night’s Watch’.

It just so happens the Night’s Watch look like they are about to face a larger, supernatural evil too. So, we are led to think Ned will escape death and make his way to his son to help him fight this evil. All he has to do is sacrifice his honour.

Which he does.

Hero Twist #2. The son avenges the father

Now we want revenge! Robb, Ned’s son, is mounting an attack. He’s unstoppable. He has his father’s characteristics of loyalty and bravery. But even though the ‘young wolf’ never lost a battle, he’s losing the war.

Again, we are led to believe Robb is beaten but not defeated. His hero’s journey is to rise up and win the war and avenge his father.

He’s even got a back-up plan. An ally in the war is ready to lend his support. Robb’s just got one obstacle in his way. Robb promised to marry the daughter of this ally, Walder Frey, but instead chooses to marry another. He ultimately needs to rely on Walder who arranges another wedding…

 

Hero Twist #3. Red Viper to the rescue

The Red Viper (Oberyn Martell) is introduced well into the series with his own hero arc. We learn that one of the chief villains of the series, Gregor Clegane (aka the Mountain), murdered the Red Viper’s sister and her children.

Glegane is begging for a comeuppance. He tortures, rapes and murders with fury. He’s also partial to animal cruelty.

When the Red Viper agrees to fight Glegane to the death to save Tyrion Lannister’s life, George RR Martin has us in his crosshairs again. Everything makes sense. Oberyn will rescue Tyrion, who will otherwise face the executioner. The Red Viper gets his revenge and the Mountain is toppled by the much smaller Viper in a classic David and Goliath battle.

Of course, this happens…(check out the reactions from the audience)

In part 2, I’ll look at how Martin uses the Lover archetype as misdirection.

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