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"characters who are perfectly nice"

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George RR Martin: "The other, of course, interesting thing is the negative reactions that you get to some characters who, to my mind, don't necessarily deserve such a strong negative reaction, particularly characters who are themselves perfectly nice. But I think if they're a threat to one of the characters that the people have already decided is their favorite, I don't know, you get some interesting reactions." (x)

So who do you think he's talking about here? 

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The second part makes it pretty clear, I think: he's referring to Catelyn Stark, whom a number of readers greatly dislike because they don't accept or understand her relationship (or, rather, lack of one) with Jon Snow. 

Edited by Ran

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Catelyn is an obvious possibility, as Ran noted.

Sansa does not get along with Arya, and her choices threaten the Starks, though that was not her intent.

Any character who does not get along with Tyrion may be judged more harshly than he should be.  Many fans have yet to forgive Sweetrobin for his perfectly understandable desire to make the bad man fly.  But he was only 6.  And Tyrion is, indeed, a bad man, as every subsequent book makes more clear.

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4 hours ago, Rose of Red Lake said:

George RR Martin: "The other, of course, interesting thing is the negative reactions that you get to some characters who, to my mind, don't necessarily deserve such a strong negative reaction, particularly characters who are themselves perfectly nice. But I think if they're a threat to one of the characters that the people have already decided is their favorite, I don't know, you get some interesting reactions." (x)

So who do you think he's talking about here? 

Let's see:

  • Catelyn is one option. A lot of people like Jon, and Catelyn's conduct towards him leaves a lot to be desired. I mean, how many people say to another person's face that they should be shoved out of a tower by an incestuous Kingslayer? To many, that's a moral event horizon.
  • Sansa's bullying of Arya (she does say that Arya's head should be on a spike) and being naive about Joffrey and Cersei well after they had showed their true colors is another one.
  • GRRM has said that Melisandre is his "most misunderstood" character.
  • Jaime might be an in-universe example. Something I've wondered about is that he kills Aerys and that's why he's disliked by most people in-universe, but what was he supposed to do, kill his own father? Is it worse to kill a King or kill your father?

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My first reaction is that it was referring to Sansa.  She is widely disliked, is regarded as a rival to Arya, who is quite popular, and, especially in later books, is a very nice person.

Jon is the second one I think of.  He gets a lot of hate, mostly from Daenerys fans it seems.  They probably feel threatened by his Targaryen blood.

 

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Catelyn and Sansa come to mind first for me. 

Jon and Ayra are introduced before Sansa f.e. . So we get to know Sansa first through Jon's and Arya's eyes. Jon doesn't tell us a lot about her, but mentions, that she only calls him her half-brother and Arya tells us, that she's an asshole to her. And on top of that she seems to be quickly infatuated with an enormous jerk, who Jon and Arya figure out quickly.  So that doesn't really give us a good first impression. And Jon and Arya are both characters, who most ppl can easily identify with at the beginning of the story and they both seem to be really good ppl., so anyone, who is an asshole to them must be as a result a horrible person. The reader impression is already biased before they even read Sansa's first chapter. 

I have two friends, who actually read Sansa's povs in AGOT before Jon's and Arya's and they both liked her a lot more, than I think most other ppl do in AGOT.

And when it comes to Cat, we see, how strongly Jon is affected by not being accepted as a Stark in his pov. And it is really hard not to empathize with him over that. So we need someone, who is guilty for his pain. Jon makes it easy for us, by pointing the finger (indirectly) at Cat himself. 

Also a lot of ppl can't help, but apply modern logic, when it comes to judging her. Which is weird, because that's mostly not done to Ned, when he demands his seven year old son must watch an execution or when he demands his wife must just accept, that he comes home with a baby from another woman (while she has just given birth herself), is not allowed to ask any questions or has any way to do something about it. Imo Cat could possibly project a lot of anger she has for Ned over this whole situation onto Jon, which is of course not fair. But I think it's subconscious. Because what is Cat to do? Her husband is by law allowed to do whatever he wants in that regard and she has to obey him. How would it benefit her, if she did hate him for it, this is just what men do, a lot have many more bastards- Cat knows that, and she is stuck with Ned anyway. So her subconscious mind knows, that hating Ned won't help her, won't change anything, because Ned has the authority over her. It would just make her being stuck with someone she resents. But that doesn't make the pain go away, so it's projected onto Jon.

And I feel like ppl always have extremely high expectations of mothers. Nothing makes ppl quite as angry and emotional as a bad mother. In my language there is an own expression for a bad mother "Rabenmutter"("raven's mother" directly translated into english, would have been funny, if it meant crow's mother) , while there isn't an equivalent for a bad father. 

Imo it's hard for a lot of reader to take a step back and remember, that Cat is not a modern woman and there are no patchwork families in Westeros at least not ones, that include illegitimate children.

But then again who is truly perfectly nice?  Selmy, Pod, Brienne? Meera and Jojen? But nobody seems to be biased against them :) 

Edited by Nagini's Neville

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On 11/17/2019 at 6:09 PM, Rose of Red Lake said:

George RR Martin: "The other, of course, interesting thing is the negative reactions that you get to some characters who, to my mind, don't necessarily deserve such a strong negative reaction, particularly characters who are themselves perfectly nice. But I think if they're a threat to one of the characters that the people have already decided is their favorite, I don't know, you get some interesting reactions." (x)

So who do you think he's talking about here? 

I think we can exclude protagonists he intend to be controversial. We can therefore exclude response to Sansa as far as aGoT goes. He always wrote her in aGoT to be the one who would go against her family, and he didn't write her being "perfectly nice" in aGoT. He might though have expected people to warm up to her in later books. That said, I don't think Sansa gets "such a strong reaction" from people in later books, except for those who feel she should have been over her head in love with Tyrion, and grateful that he didn't want to rape her (meh, whateva)... and of course mostly show-watchers who saw Sansa as rival against Dany. And while Sansa was supposed to provoke a strong response in aGoT, I'm sure he also expects people to warm to her, the way he warmed to her as well over time and books, and thus might be surprised when readers do not.

The Jon hate is genormous, and this is typically a hatred coming from people who are Dany fans. The inane reasoning people have to argue in favor of Slynt and Ramsay (characters who have been from the outset written to be villains with no redeeming quality whatsoever, as much as most slavers have been) to villify Jon is just laughable. Bowen is written slightly more sympathetic, because he's not selfish and not sadistic, but just plain mediocre and dumb. Anyway, these three are written to be the villains and are indeed villains or morally wrong. And using them to dump on Jon is the clearest sign the strong negative reaction to a character who weighs his options every time and never really decides anything rash (even if he may pretend to make it look like that) shows it's not because Slynt, Ramsay and Bowen are such sympathetic characters, but to mask they hate Jon because they fear his story potential against Dany's. It's not convincing anyone though. Since he recently mentioned Jon several times in interviews as someone he hopes people might admire for his morality and values, I'm sure George is thinking of Jon here foremostly as "perfectly nice".

Catelyn can provoke a visceral response from readers. And with her I can see that George ended up writing someone controversial whom he didn't mean to be controversial. It seems to me he wrote her to feel empathy for, or to feel empathic rage along with her for all the callous murderous behaviour. I don't think he ever meant to write Catelyn as being a controversial character. A part of it are her issues with Jon, but then there's her taking Tyrion as well. And yet, both stem from a motivation to protect her children. With Tyrion she intended to have a fair trial happen to learn the truth, nothing as unfair as Lysa. Lysa and Tywin are the villains who either fuck it up or use it as an opportunity to ravage the Riverlands and weaken his former allies. I think he intended to write a sympathetic character who has the role of a catalyst. With Ned stuck in KL, it was left to Catelyn to walk into LF's and Lysa's trap, by arresting Tyrion and then freeing Jaime. It's rather evident with the plot: anyone who has ever done any timeline stuff on Catelyn's trip back North and Tyrion traveling southwards will face speeds that are quite impossible. There's the fact that suddenly Catelyn agrees to travel by the much slower road to spare Rodrik feeling seasick, whereas safety and speed and not being detected was important on her way south. She's supposed to leave KL the day after meeting Ned, but then she must have stayed in KL for at least several days longer without meeting Ned and her daughters before setting off to make it to the Crossroads Inn while the tourney is about to start. Meanwhile Tyrion stays a long while at the Wall and makes a stop over at Winterfell (as evidence that he didn't have anything to do with Bran's assassination, since he designed him a saddle), to then use a jetpack to reach the Crossroads Inn just as Catelyn is having her meal there. It having to happen made Cat do stuff that upon deeper thought just don't add up. So, in a way Catelyn ends up being not as consistent in her motivations and rationales, and this slight inconsistency and having to be all over the map (literally) while being used a catalyst harmed her characterization in the eyes of many readers. And as Lady Stoneheart she's hated even more.

Arya gets put away as psychopath and serial killer, but nowhere near as much attention as other characters. Those who dump on Arya, used to be either Sansa fans who hate Arya for being written as the sister getting far more sympathy from the reader in aGoT, and then jump up and down claiming that Arya MUST be ugly, and ship Sansa with Gendry or something along those lines, or the Stark haters in general. However, Arya was written to be controversial since aFfC and aDwD. He wrote a dark path for her on purpose and wants the reader to put question marks behind that. So, just as with Sansa in aGoT, I don't think George would consider it a surprise that some readers have a negative reaction to her.

That leaves us with Bran. He has one or two chapters in aCoK where he acts a bit of a brat. But most readers seem to understand that a boy of eight having to learn to accept he cannot walk would take a toll of his good naturedness. Bran doesn't seem to be much of a fan favourite, nor much hated. But some people just keep inserting this idea that Bran will end up being the main villain, because trees are creepy and a know-it-all-kid is also creepy. The argument that Bran is evul has been a fringe tinfoil for many years since aDwD came out, but did not gain some traction due to the abomination on TV, since Branbot of S7, and it has been the theory some cling to now in order to live with the abomination's resolution. Bloodraven though, despite being a minor character, gets a lot of hate and distrust. George does portray this bias against Bloodraven in his Dunk & Egg novella, but also makes a point of portraying Bloodraven himself as a thoughtful, careful and actually perfectly nice guy. He knows Bloodraven is not well liked and distrusted by most readers, but there is little evidence for this, aside from smallfolk gossip and clap-trap from villains.

So, I think that while even minor characters such as Bloodraven fall into George's category of characters having a negative response despite them being perfectly nice, I think he himself is mostly surprised by the negative response to Jon and Catelyn.

Edited by sweetsunray

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19 hours ago, Ran said:

The second part makes it pretty clear, I think: he's referring to Catelyn Stark, whom a number of readers greatly dislike because they don't accept or understand her relationship (or, rather, lack of one) with Jon Snow. 

If it’s AGOT GRRM is referring to, I agree it’s probably Catelyn. Cat’s “it should have been you” didn’t help the character any, especially coming after the introductory Bran chapter where both Bran and Ned think how selfless Jon is. Cat after that comment got a ‘cruel stepmother’ tag stuck on her. Never mind the fact that in subsequent chapters Cat is shown as kind, compassionate and with a strong sense of justice. However, I can’t believe that GRRM didn’t expect such a visceral reaction from readers after Cat uttered that line, despite the fact that she did it at a point in time when she was desperate and in a lot of pain.

In subsequent books however, I think it has to be Jon. He is “perfectly nice” and according to a recent quote by Martin, someone kids, who want to be future leaders, should emulate. But even the author’s own words will not dissuade the Jon haters from the vitriol they direct this character’s way or how they sympathize with absolutely vile characters like Janos Slynt just because they hate Jon so much. This hate, I suspect, is not due to anything Jon did in the books but because a lot of them root for another character (in most cases I should say Dany) and they fear that their favorite character’s spotlight or centrality will be diminished somehow by Jon.

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8 minutes ago, teej6 said:

However, I can’t believe that GRRM didn’t expect such a visceral reaction from readers after Cat uttered that line, despite the fact that she did it at a point in time when she was desperate and in a lot of pain.

From a conversation with GRRM about it, he didn't actually expect such an unalloyed hatred of her because he tried to place all the context around it to shade it and make it more complicated. He didn't realize a lot of people just ignore all of it and saw red and basically refused to contextualize it.

The Jon thing always baffles me. Jon haters are coming at the story from an absurd direction unsupportable by the text or the author's intentions. Again, he was complicating Jon and his situation, not trying to turn him into a villain.

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1 hour ago, Ran said:

From a conversation with GRRM about it, he didn't actually expect such an unalloyed hatred of her because he tried to place all the context around it to shade it and make it more complicated. He didn't realize a lot of people just ignore all of it and saw red and basically refused to contextualize it.

The Jon thing always baffles me. Jon haters are coming at the story from an absurd direction unsupportable by the text or the author's intentions. Again, he was complicating Jon and his situation, not trying to turn him into a villain.

Still, saying someone should be pushed out of a tower is not something grieved people typically say to one another in that tone of voice. And it feels like she baited him into hearing that since that is the only time she called him by his name.

Edited by Angel Eyes

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On 11/17/2019 at 12:09 PM, Rose of Red Lake said:

George RR Martin: "The other, of course, interesting thing is the negative reactions that you get to some characters who, to my mind, don't necessarily deserve such a strong negative reaction, particularly characters who are themselves perfectly nice. But I think if they're a threat to one of the characters that the people have already decided is their favorite, I don't know, you get some interesting reactions." (x)

So who do you think he's talking about here? 

GRRM was probably referring to the undue negative reactions to Daenerys Targaryen.  

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16 hours ago, Ran said:

From a conversation with GRRM about it, he didn't actually expect such an unalloyed hatred of her because he tried to place all the context around it to shade it and make it more complicated. He didn't realize a lot of people just ignore all of it and saw red and basically refused to contextualize it.

The Jon thing always baffles me. Jon haters are coming at the story from an absurd direction unsupportable by the text or the author's intentions. Again, he was complicating Jon and his situation, not trying to turn him into a villain.

You did not by chance ever talk to him about Sansa? And if you did, was she intended to be a non-sympahatic character in AGOT? Does GRRM view her as a character with little to no empathy in book 1? I never really seem to find interviews, where he talks about her (could be my fault)

Edited by Nagini's Neville

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We did talk to him about Catelyn and Sansa and reader reactions to them  here, specifically how he took issue with those who felt Sansa and Catelyn were "whiny" characters. My recollection from that conversation is that it was pretty clear that it annoyed him that some readers reduced the characters to this kind of stereotype and that he had hoped for more complex understandings of the characters. 

Edited by Ran

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8 minutes ago, Ran said:

We did talk to him about Catelyn and Sansa and reader reactions to them  here, specifically how he took issue with those who felt Sansa and Catelyn were "whiny" characters. My recollection from that conversation is that it was pretty clear that it annoyed him that some readers reduced the characters to this kind of stereotype and that he had hoped for more complex understandings of the characters. 

Thank you so much! I loved them from the start, particularly because they always felt so incredibly realistic to me and I was really surprised to learn, that other readers didn't share that sentiment 

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On 11/17/2019 at 1:54 PM, Ran said:

The second part makes it pretty clear, I think: he's referring to Catelyn Stark, whom a number of readers greatly dislike because they don't accept or understand her relationship (or, rather, lack of one) with Jon Snow. 

Catelyn is only one of those characters.  I will say Dany is as well.  After all, she is the hero who helped free 8000 plus slave soldiers and millions of household slaves.  And it pains me to include the third one because I don't like her, Sansa.

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I never understood the reason why people should hate Catelyn. She has a very nuanced character and is actually the smartest Stark out there. Arresting Tyrion and freeing Jaime are not bad decisions if view them in context - in fact, it is Robb who should be despised for clinging to the Kingslayer and allowing his sister(s) to rot in the Red Keep. But pretty much nobody ever does that.

I think that one of the newer characters could be actually be Aegon. Many people didn't like him at first, and a lot of that has to do with him basically stealing Jon Snow's thunder in the political sphere. The chances that we are going to get two (alleged) sons of Rhaegar who are going to make a bid for the throne in some fashion are very low - if Jon was doing the same as Aegon does now much later it would just be the same plot all over again. And people know/suspect that and there are quite a few who don't like that.

I recall that Ran and Linda actually thought he might be killed at Storm's End - which, in my opinion, was never a particular likely outcome. Original discussion about that character mostly revolved around who he is and what that means, not so much what his story will be about in the future.

Then there would be Penny, who is also not particular popular despite being just a nice person (although I'm not sure if she is hated).

Arya doesn't qualify as just a nice character, and while I think she is pretty far gone I don't say she is too accustomed to see murder as a means to resolve problems and had definitely a psychopath's approach to the use of violence (it doesn't affect her emotionally at all) because 'I hate her' - I find it an accurate description of her present state of mind. And George takes a lot of effort to create this feeling. Arya's present state makes her a great character because she is at this dark place - her latest chapter ranks amongs the best ASoIaF prose to date. But she is not a very pleasant person anymore.

Melisandre is indeed the most misunderstood person in the books. People had been wanting to paint her as a variation of the evil Corpse Queen aside the Night's King since, well, that story was first mentioned in ASoS. And she simply isn't that kind of person. She is, as a person, actually surprisingly nice (just think of her preventing Davos's son from accompanying Stannis, possibly because she foresaw the death of the other squire) and actually pretty funny in her religious devotion. One can clearly say that George created her as a femme fatale who is demonized by the men who described her first (Cressen, Davos), Jon), and it was always clear that, if we would ever get her own POV (or only the POV of woman knowing her well, say, Selyse's) that she would not be this monstrously evil person.

She does have an agenda - but that agenda actually is to save the world (within the context of her religious framework). That is not a bad girl. And in fact - the people she kills with her sorcery are people she kills on Stannis's behest. He wants the Iron Throne and she, Mel, thinks she needs Stannis - so she helps him with that even if she doesn't really cares about any of that.

Also, I recall how many people didn't want to believe Stannis and she actually had an affair before ADwD - when in fact it was clear they were sleeping together since ACoK considering that Stannis' own life force was used to create the shadow assassins. And it was always clear that shadow monsters that were literally born by Melisandre were not conceived by her dripping Stannis's blood in her vagina or something of that sort...

One could, perhaps, also talk about Quentyn in this context. Although I'm not sure is he is all that hated a character.

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1 hour ago, Lord Varys said:

I never understood the reason why people should hate Catelyn. She has a very nuanced character and is actually the smartest Stark out there. Arresting Tyrion and freeing Jaime are not bad decisions if view them in context - in fact, it is Robb who should be despised for clinging to the Kingslayer and allowing his sister(s) to rot in the Red Keep. But pretty much nobody ever does that.

I don't despise Robb for doing that, but it was a stupid move, he forgot what he fought his war for, and allowing Sansa to rot in the Red Keep is the catalyst for his downfall because Catelyn was desperate enough to free Jaime, and most likely Tywin would not have done the Red Wedding out of fear for Jaime's life. When a man loses sight of what he's fighting for, it leads to disaster; Robert Baratheon liked war because it gave him a purpose, and without a purpose, he self-destructed.

Edited by Angel Eyes

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On 11/18/2019 at 7:09 AM, sweetsunray said:

Arya gets put away as psychopath and serial killer, but nowhere near as much attention as other characters. Those who dump on Arya, used to be either Sansa fans who hate Arya for being written as the sister getting far more sympathy from the reader in aGoT, and then jump up and down claiming that Arya MUST be ugly, and ship Sansa with Gendry or something along those lines, or the Stark haters in general. However, Arya was written to be controversial since aFfC and aDwD. He wrote a dark path for her on purpose and wants the reader to put question marks behind that. So, just as with Sansa in aGoT, I don't think George would consider it a surprise that some readers have a negative reaction to her.
 

It's looking like virtually ALL of the main characters will be reasonably dark by the end of TWOW. Arya is obvious, Sansa will have negligently contributed to the death of a small child, Bran is mind-raping a loyal servant (possibly to the point of his death), Jon will probably come back from the dead with a lot less sympathy for many people's issues, Daenerys is embracing "Fire and Blood", Tyrion is on a streak of vengeance, etc. It remains to be seen how many will turn back towards the light in ADOS.

I think Catelyn does get some hate (beyond the Jon issue) because she seems to be set up to be the go-to character for GRRM to kick-start the plot in certain points. She's one of the smartest Starks who always seems to have faulty information and trusts the wrong people, to her misfortune. And her misfortune seems to drive her plotline, because if you view LSH as a destination point for her character arc, then a requirement is for her to feel helpless rage and anguish due to failure after failure and loss after loss due to writer fiat.

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