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Central theme(s) of ASoIaF and actual text

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The central theme of ASoIaF is this: Choice and consequence: it is difficult to honor conflicting promises in the face of life events happening. It is all over the books, central to almost all of conflicts, both large scale and interpersonal. Below are two passages that encapsulate this theme succinctly and elegantly.


The old man seemed to sense his doubts. "Tell me, Jon, if the day should ever come when your lord father must needs choose between honor on the one hand and those he loves on the other, what would he do?"
Jon hesitated. He wanted to say that Lord Eddard would never dishonor himself, not even for love, yet inside a small sly voice whispered, He fathered a bastard, where was the honor in that? And your mother, what of his duty to her, he will not even say her name. "He would do whatever was right," he said … ringingly, to make up for his hesitation. "No matter what."
"Then Lord Eddard is a man in ten thousand. Most of us are not so strong. What is honor compared to a woman's love? What is duty against the feel of a newborn son in your arms … or the memory of a brother's smile? Wind and words. Wind and words. We are only human, and the gods have fashioned us for love. That is our great glory, and our great tragedy. - AGoT Jon VIII


"How can you still count yourself a knight, when you have forsaken every vow you ever swore?"
Jaime reached for the flagon to refill his cup. "So many vows . . . they make you swear and swear. Defend the king. Obey the king. Keep his secrets. Do his bidding. Your life for his. But obey your father. Love your sister. Protect the innocent. Defend the weak. Respect the gods. Obey the laws. It's too much. No matter what you do, you're forsaking one vow or the other." He took a healthy swallow of wine and closed his eyes for an instant, leaning his head back against the patch of nitre on the wall. "I was the youngest man ever to wear the white cloak."  - ACoK Catlyn VII

There are endless theories about grand conspiracies be they lords plotting against Aerys, a hundred years or more years of maesters conspiring to end the Targs, ageless magicians skin-changing/glamoring as everyone or Faceless Men being nearly everyone at the same time manipulating all events for the last 400 years. These almost all have fundamental flaw in that they take choice away from the characters in the story. They ignore the theme of choice/consequence and the inherent difficulties that come from that.

What some other notable passages that explore this theme??

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46 minutes ago, Ser Leftwich said:

The central theme of ASoIaF is this: Choice and consequence: it is difficult to honor conflicting promises in the face of life events happening. It is all over the books, central to almost all of conflicts, both large scale and interpersonal. Below are two passages that encapsulate this theme succinctly and elegantly.


The old man seemed to sense his doubts. "Tell me, Jon, if the day should ever come when your lord father must needs choose between honor on the one hand and those he loves on the other, what would he do?"
Jon hesitated. He wanted to say that Lord Eddard would never dishonor himself, not even for love, yet inside a small sly voice whispered, He fathered a bastard, where was the honor in that? And your mother, what of his duty to her, he will not even say her name. "He would do whatever was right," he said … ringingly, to make up for his hesitation. "No matter what."
"Then Lord Eddard is a man in ten thousand. Most of us are not so strong. What is honor compared to a woman's love? What is duty against the feel of a newborn son in your arms … or the memory of a brother's smile? Wind and words. Wind and words. We are only human, and the gods have fashioned us for love. That is our great glory, and our great tragedy. - AGoT Jon VIII


"How can you still count yourself a knight, when you have forsaken every vow you ever swore?"
Jaime reached for the flagon to refill his cup. "So many vows . . . they make you swear and swear. Defend the king. Obey the king. Keep his secrets. Do his bidding. Your life for his. But obey your father. Love your sister. Protect the innocent. Defend the weak. Respect the gods. Obey the laws. It's too much. No matter what you do, you're forsaking one vow or the other." He took a healthy swallow of wine and closed his eyes for an instant, leaning his head back against the patch of nitre on the wall. "I was the youngest man ever to wear the white cloak."  - ACoK Catlyn VII

There are endless theories about grand conspiracies be they lords plotting against Aerys, a hundred years or more years of maesters conspiring to end the Targs, ageless magicians skin-changing/glamoring as everyone or Faceless Men being nearly everyone at the same time manipulating all events for the last 400 years. These almost all have fundamental flaw in that they take choice away from the characters in the story. They ignore the theme of choice/consequence and the inherent difficulties that come from that.

What some other notable passages that explore this theme??

That’s like making excuses for Jon, Robb, and Jaime.  There is a correct choice each time. They just made the wrong ones, led astray by their feelings. They are not people to be admired for making those choices.  

The central theme is the conflict between what one should do versus what one feels and wants to do. Duty and obligation against desire and love.  A lot of people follow feelings and makes the wrong choice. 

Edited by Widowmaker 811

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19 minutes ago, Widowmaker 811 said:

That’s making excuses for Jon, Robb, and Jaime.  There is a correct choice each time. They just made the wrong ones, led astray by their feelings.

The central theme is the conflict between what one should do versus what that person wants to do. Duty and obligation against desire and love.  A lot of people follow feelings and makes the wrong choice. 

I don't know, I think one could reasonably make an argument for moral relativity in the world of asoiaf given the plethora of seemingly real and conflicting deities presented. If moral structures derive from religious or pseudo religious structures, and if such is the case in this world, is there such thing as a wrong choice? or are there just competing values?

I do actually agree with your claim that a central theme is duty vs desire, especially when considering the Great War with the Others vs the machinations of the War of the FiveKings (and now Queens I guess). But what is life without love, without desire? is a world of cruelty and treachery worth being dutiful for? In that way I think choice is an apt enough central theme.

 

Having said all that, the nature of violence and hate (othering) may as well be another/stronger central theme.

Edited by Targaryeninkingslanding
added that last sentence

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That the world is complicated and it is difficult to determine what is the right action is something ASOIAF tries to establish, but the central theme is more in answer to this conundrum. And the general answer is the series title, where fire is motives of humane passion and ice is dispassionate calculation. The series is an argument for both in moderation and neither in absolute, the two combined make a song, they're in harmony. Basically the right course depends on the situation, sometimes the heart, other times the brain, with an addendum, it is never ok to directly harm children yourself. Ned is the champion of the series and by the time we're done the text will have enforced his decisions as correct when his example leads to saving the world.

The OP is correct in dismissing theories that take agency from the protagonists. Continue down this path of thinking and you'll get to the question of what are the choices our protagonists will face that make good on the theme of the series, and in answer you will have what is going to happen.

Quote

"I know the cost! Last night, gazing into that hearth, I saw things in the flames as well. I saw a king, a crown of fire on his brows, burning . . . burning, Davos. His own crown consumed his flesh and turned him into ash. Do you think I need Melisandre to tell me what that means? Or you?" The king moved, so his shadow fell upon King's Landing. "If Joffrey should die . . . what is the life of one bastard boy against a kingdom?"

This is the most pertinent bit of text in the series. Is it ok to directly sacrifice one child's life for the good/survival of the realm? The question will be posed to the protagonists by the following circumstances.

Dany's dragons will be lost (killed/injured/stolen/turned to stone actually). Dany will seek to regain/replace a dragon to fight the Others to save the world. To do so she will need another child to sacrifice, another Rhaego. She will get pregnant by Jon. And so comes the character's choices, will Dany sacrifice her child to save the world? Will Jon step in and stop her, possibly stopping her from saving the whole world, to save his own bastard child?

To relate it back to the series title would be to answer the questions and spoil the series, but know that Dany will be acting out of passion, fire, her emotions tell her she must save everyone. And if Jon were not to intervene he would be acting out of calculation, ice, what good is saving the child if the world is going to end anyway?

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8 hours ago, Widowmaker 811 said:

That’s like making excuses for Jon, Robb, and Jaime.  There is a correct choice each time. They just made the wrong ones, led astray by their feelings. They are not people to be admired for making those choices.  

The central theme is the conflict between what one should do versus what one feels and wants to do. Duty and obligation against desire and love.  A lot of people follow feelings and makes the wrong choice. 

Frankly, on this forum everyone has made almost all excuses, defending almost all actions, which only proves the point. That is the cost of living in a community with other people. It is about the malleability of empathy in a narrative.

Either there is the assumption that there is a correct decision, with hindsight, which is not something anyone has, either in-universe or in the real world, so we are just going to dismiss that.

Or there is the assumption of absolute right (correct) and wrong (incorrect), which frankly only exists in as much as GRRM wants there to be poetic justice in the created world. So there is no 'correct' choice, there is only the created narrative choice that the author made for characters for narrative purposes. Assuming that characters have free will makes no sense, they don't they are only telling a story.

This also makes the assumption of a dichotomy between duty/obligation and desire/love, which is a false dichotomy. How is Jaime's duty to 1) 'Obey the King' and 2) 'Protect the innocent' about his duty versus his desire.  (Answer: It is not, both about his choice of which to act on, both are a duty/obligations.) The real dichotomy is only Choice A or Choice B, in any given situation.

We can dismiss in-universe legalistic arguments of "First duty is to the king," because this is an argument from a narrative analysis, about theme, not in-universe law, which is 1) inexact, 2) malleable (later sovereigns can retroactively change laws), and 3.) Incomplete (we don't actually know it).)

What dictates what one "should" do? Duty, obligation, desire, and love are all factors in interpersonal relationships. To say that one or two are in opposition to the other(s) is over-simplifying. The who, why, what, where, and why of the given circumstance is the importance. For instance, many readers hate Jaime for throwing Bran of the tower (though Jaime had conflicting reasons for doing it (keeping himself, Cersei, and his children alive)); many readers love Jaime for killing Aerys (but Jaime had conflicting reasons for doing it, petty vengeance and saving 1,000s from dying in KL, and others ).

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Does ASOIAF have a central theme?

I don't think GRRM set out to to write a story with a Message.  He just wanted to write a really great story, with relatable characters dealing with real-life issues of love and hate, loyalty and betrayal, honesty and deception. In the course of 5000 pages, the story covers a lot of different themes and ideas.  A reader may percieve one of these themes as being The Real Message; but that may say more about the reader than the book.

When I read (or re-read, or re-re-read) the story, the thing that jumps out for me is ... well, it's hard to think of one word for it, so I'll go with "stupidity." Winter is coming. The Long Night is coming. The Others are coming, with their undead minions. But the kings and lords are ignoring the threats, and wasting their resources on petty political squabbles.

If I thought that ASOIAF had a central theme, that would be it. "Wake up, human race! Hard times are coming,and your leaders are ignoring the threats, and wasting our resources on petty political squabbles."

But that's just me.  Maybe I shouldn't listen to so many newscasts.

 

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2 hours ago, chrisdaw said:

That the world is complicated and it is difficult to determine what is the right action is something ASOIAF tries to establish, but the central theme is more in answer to this conundrum. And the general answer is the series title, where fire is motives of humane passion and ice is dispassionate calculation. The series is an argument for both in moderation and neither in absolute, the two combined make a song, they're in harmony. Basically the right course depends on the situation, sometimes the heart, other times the brain, with an addendum, it is never ok to directly harm children yourself. Ned is the champion of the series and by the time we're done the text will have enforced his decisions as correct when his example leads to saving the world.

The OP is correct in dismissing theories that take agency from the protagonists. Continue down this path of thinking and you'll get to the question of what are the choices our protagonists will face that make good on the theme of the series, and in answer you will have what is going to happen.

This is the most pertinent bit of text in the series. Is it ok to directly sacrifice one child's life for the good/survival of the realm? The question will be posed to the protagonists by the following circumstances.

Dany's dragons will be lost (killed/injured/stolen/turned to stone actually). Dany will seek to regain/replace a dragon to fight the Others to save the world. To do so she will need another child to sacrifice, another Rhaego. She will get pregnant by Jon. And so comes the character's choices, will Dany sacrifice her child to save the world? Will Jon step in and stop her, possibly stopping her from saving the whole world, to save his own bastard child?

To relate it back to the series title would be to answer the questions and spoil the series, but know that Dany will be acting out of passion, fire, her emotions tell her she must save everyone. And if Jon were not to intervene he would be acting out of calculation, ice, what good is saving the child if the world is going to end anyway?

That is a good quote. It also shifts from the "Heroic Sacrifice" trope, to the slightly less used trope of "what if we sacrifice someone else for the greater good." There are numerous examples of the possibility of sacrificing a child or an innocent, for the 'greater good'.  That being said, how do we know who Stannis was seeing anything to do with Joff?

Should Ned have killed Jon? Should Jaime have killed Bran? Should Ned have killed Cersei's children? Should Stannis have killed Joffrey? Should Rickard Karstark murder prisoners for vengeance? There are many more not listed, they range from the mundane to the world-altering and from certain points of view, all of these were the correct thing to do at the time.

There in lies my point, it won't necessarily be the literal 'end of the world' if it comes down to Dany vs. Jon over sacrificing their child, because it is the end of the world for anyone in the books over similar decisions. The poetic justice comes later.

Any specific examples in text pertaining to Dany that could lead to this course of the narrative? (I can't think of any off-hand. They aren't as blatant as Jon's various calls to duty/love/'right action' from: Ned's speech; Benjen's; Aemon's; Half-Hand's ; LC Mormont's; Samwell's, etc.) She asks Selmy and Jorah about Rhaegar.

Dany and Jon share the same narrative path of 'child to leader,' though in a kind of opposition, in that he is 'bastard' (but privileged) and she is 'regal' (but impoverished). (Dany also has to act as a woman in power, as opposed to a man, which is not insignificant in-universe and is really part of the opposition factor above.) We also have strictly more information about Jon from the the books, with more POVs around him, as well as Jon having many more chapters than Dany.

Going back to another (IMHO) strong theme, a line from a Tom Stoppard play that holds true to almost all characters in ASoIaF, “The bad end unhappily; the good, unluckily. That is what tragedy means.” It is not some existing morality system that dictates 'bad' and 'good' is the the motivation to action, which, far too often, we as readers don't know.

I wonder if another factor is "determining for yourself." Dany is always worried about her family, heritage, and Rhaegar, but is still developing her sense of self. Jon is always concerned about his identity in terms of what Ned taught him and his curiosity about who his mother is. Maybe they need to forget the past and figure out who they are themselves?

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7 minutes ago, Aebram said:

Does ASOIAF have a central theme?

I don't think GRRM set out to to write a story with a Message.  He just wanted to write a really great story, with relatable characters dealing with real-life issues of love and hate, loyalty and betrayal, honesty and deception. In the course of 5000 pages, the story covers a lot of different themes and ideas.  A reader may percieve one of these themes as being The Real Message; but that may say more about the reader than the book.

When I read (or re-read, or re-re-read) the story, the thing that jumps out for me is ... well, it's hard to think of one word for it, so I'll go with "stupidity." Winter is coming. The Long Night is coming. The Others are coming, with their undead minions. But the kings and lords are ignoring the threats, and wasting their resources on petty political squabbles.

If I thought that ASOIAF had a central theme, that would be it. "Wake up, human race! Hard times are coming,and your leaders are ignoring the threats, and wasting our resources on petty political squabbles."

But that's just me.  Maybe I shouldn't listen to so many newscasts.

 

The actions of leaders ignoring or acting on "Winter is Coming" is itself a choice within the story, and adheres to the original premise of this thread. It is the choice that matters, not the specific reasons that created the need to make a choice.

"Stupidity" is relative to what knowledge/information that one has, balanced against responsibility. Why did Tyrion do what he did at point A? Why did Jon do what he did at point B?

When Tyrion ignores the rotted hand in the jar, he is weighing 'the realm' vs. 'the threat of the jar' (and the dubious emissary), based on what he knows and believes at the time. We readers know considerably more than any character in the book (except maybe Bloodraven).

When Jon lets in the Wildings, he makes the choice about "Winter is Coming" based on different information than what Tyrion had when he made his decision. Both decisions are based on 'duty/love/honor/obligations,' to realm/humanity/dynasty, based on what they each knew and believed at the time when they made the decisions.

Judging characters (and/or any given action by them) summarily is exactly what we are not supposed to do as readers. We have vastly more knowledge than any character making any given decision at a given time. (see the different way that readers viewed them after having the POV of Jaime, Cersei, Brienne, Quentyn, etc.)

Even without having the POV of the Hound, we can empathize with him after learning his motivations (fear of fire, realization of the futility of vows, etc.), in that is is not just a murderer, but a damaged person.

Literally no one in the books knows what happened in the Prologue of AGoT, only the readers do. Should we judge all the characters and all of their actions as 'stupid' because they are not acting with that in mind, even though we know there to be a 'threat'? No, that would be, frankly, idiotic to do.

Why did the Others make the choice to do what they did? We don't know the motivations behind the actions of the Others, so it seems harsh to qualify it as a 'threat to humanity.' (I find the vague, existential threat of the Others kind boring, since we have no motivation.)

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I think the real question of the story (and what it actually intends to answer as well) is if giant ice spiders the Others are riding are real or not. Because if they are, then humanity is so dumb it deserves extinction, since they were tryna keep away SPIDERS with a WALL!

Edited by Daeron the Daring

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19 hours ago, Ser Leftwich said:

Any specific examples in text pertaining to Dany that could lead to this course of the narrative? (I can't think of any off-hand. They aren't as blatant as Jon's various calls to duty/love/'right action' from: Ned's speech; Benjen's; Aemon's; Half-Hand's ; LC Mormont's; Samwell's, etc.) She asks Selmy and Jorah about Rhaegar.

The narrative with Dany is going to relate to saving the world being her duty by way of her being the one. She birthed the only fire breathing dragons into a world at threat of destruction at the hands of ice zombies. The situation by simple logic says it is her destiny to save the world, and all the prophecies, dreams and visions, and the priests of R'hllor have already and will continue to reinforce this idea (I won't quote text to make this point as I think it's rather apparent, think the end of the waking the dragon dream where she is Rhaegar, or her dream burning the usurper's ice army on the trident). Saving the world she is going to feel is her responsibility. So when she loses these dragons by way of errors in judgement, warring for the throne instead of saving the world, turning allied dragon riders against her in her "mad" stage and what not, she's going to come to the conclusion she's fucked it all up and the world is going to end because of her mistakes.

To fix it, she's going to have to redo what she did, make another dragon, and dragons come at the price of innocent children, literally and symbolically. There was Rhaego and Hazzea in Dany's story. This is a fact Dany stays in denial of but that she will have to face at the pinnacle of the series. To spell it out in quotes.

Quote

Ser Jorah had killed her son, Dany knew. He had done what he did for love and loyalty, yet he had carried her into a place no living man should go and fed her baby to the darkness. He knew it too; the grey face, the hollow eyes, the limp. "The shadows have touched you too, Ser Jorah," she told him. The knight made no reply. Dany turned to the godswife. "You warned me that only death could pay for life. I thought you meant the horse."

"No," Mirri Maz Duur said. "That was a lie you told yourself. You knew the price."

Had she? Had she? If I look back I am lost. "The price was paid," Dany said. "The horse, my child, Quaro and Qotho, Haggo and Cohollo. The price was paid and paid and paid." She rose from her cushions. "Where is Khal Drogo? Show him to me, godswife, maegi, bloodmage, whatever you are. Show me Khal Drogo. Show me what I bought with my son's life."

And with Hazzea.

Quote

Once, the grass whispered back, until you chained your dragons in the dark.

"Drogon killed a little girl. Her name was … her name …" Dany could not recall the child's name. That made her so sad that she would have cried if all her tears had not been burned away. "I will never have a little girl. I was the Mother of Dragons."

Aye, the grass said, but you turned against your children.

If you word search "Hazzea" you should see the narrative developing, to quote one of the more naked examples -

Quote

Dany pushed her food about her plate. She dare not glance over to where Grazhar and Qezza stood, for fear that she might cry. The Shavepate has a harder heart than mine. They had fought about the hostages half a dozen times. "The Sons of the Harpy are laughing in their pyramids," Skahaz said, just this morning. "What good are hostages if you will not take their heads?" In his eyes, she was only a weak woman. Hazzea was enough. What good is peace if it must be purchased with the blood of little children? "These murders are not their doing," Dany told the Green Grace, feebly. "I am no butcher queen."

And to really tie it off and bring it full circle. Dany was hunted by king Robert and he did no justice for the murdered royal children. For this, Dany calls him no true king.

Quote

 

"I was alone for a long time, Jorah. All alone but for my brother. I was such a small scared thing. Viserys should have protected me, but instead he hurt me and scared me worse. He shouldn't have done that. He wasn't just my brother, he was my king. Why do the gods make kings and queens, if not to protect the ones who can't protect themselves?"

"Some kings make themselves. Robert did."

"He was no true king," Dany said scornfully. "He did no justice. Justice . . . that's what kings are for."

 

So the argument obviously goes, if Dany would willingly sacrifice her own child, then by her own logic she's no true queen.

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18 hours ago, Ser Leftwich said:

The actions of leaders ignoring or acting on "Winter is Coming" is itself a choice within the story, and adheres to the original premise of this thread. It is the choice that matters, not the specific reasons that created the need to make a choice.

Well, maybe I misunderstood your first post. You gave two examples from the story.  The first is clearly about love vs. honor. Jon must choose between keeping his oath and helping people he loves. 

The second example is about Jaime choosing between two (or more) oaths, when he's in a situation that forces him to break one of them. That's a little more abstract. Some people might have a guiding principle to resolve the conflict, such as, "my oath to the king overrides my oath to anyone else."  But not Jaime.  He makes his own decicions about which oath to obey in each siruation.

What these two excerpts have in common is that they both involve the same dilemma: should I keep a promise I made in the past, or should I do what seems right to me in the present moment?   There are numerous other examples of characters making this specific type of choice. So I can see how readers might think that love vs. honor is the central theme of the whole story.

I think that "choice and consequences," without any qualifiers, is too broad to be considered the theme.  Every story ever written has moments where a character must make a choice, and the choice has a big  impact on the character and his world. 

 
 

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On 9/9/2021 at 3:32 PM, Ser Leftwich said:

What some other notable passages that explore this theme??

The story is not much of one if the characters do not have the power of free will.  Whether it exists in real life or not it is present inside the story.

The main idea in the story is the need to cooperate for survival.  This is the lesson for the reader to learn.  George is not going to preach but instead allow the consequences of decisions within the story get his point across.  A harsh lesson is a lesson learned.  Expect tragedy and sadness because some humans are hard headed and lack emotional control. 

George makes it hard because there are deep seated hate between the houses.  All of them are in some way justified.  The families who can let go of the past and work in cooperation with past enemies for the betterment of all will be the ones to survive.  Daenerys is the best person to unite all people into the common cause of survival.  Jon was given a chance at the wall but he could not put aside his bias for the Starks and hatred towards the people who were political enemies of Ned.  Aegon might show a bit more maturity and wisdom but not if he falls under the spell of Arrianne and the Martells. 

One ending I see involves Daenerys bringing together a divided Westeros through marriage.  Aegon and his supporters will win and dispatch the Lannisters and Euron's gang.  He leads the South.  Jon and the wildlings will beat the Boltons and the northmen.  Daenerys will agree to marry both men in order to unite Westeros into one land.  She will be Aegon the Conqueror all over again but this time, through marriage.  Aegon (who isn't really Aegon) and Jon will play the parts of Visenya and Rhaenys.  Jon need not be the son of Rhaegar,or even Ned, in this line because the wildlings do not care about things like that.   There will an obstacle to this peace.  One will be the hate between Stark and Frey.  Arya will be an obstacle to this peace but hopefully she will not last long in the last book. 

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On 9/9/2021 at 3:32 PM, Ser Leftwich said:

The central theme of ASoIaF is this: Choice and consequence: it is difficult to honor conflicting promises in the face of life events happening.

GRRM has called this exploring the heart in conflict with itself. Making hard choices, and living with the results are absolutely core themes of the series.

Although I would also include the futility of choice also sometimes being explored.

As always it’s important to think about the quotes and not take them at face value.

For instance Aemon seems to be saying one should always choose duty over love… but that clearly isn’t right. And Jon’s response, that Ned would do what was right, is incredibly telling, since we know Ned choose love over duty with Jon himself.

Likewise, Jaime seems to be saying that vows are meaningless because you swear so many you are always violating one. This is a horrible lesson and clearly not the actual message of the series. Vows are not meaningless because sometimes they are hard to keep, or you have to choose between them, in fact one could argue that is the only time they truly have value. 

I think this Tyrion segment is particularly relevant:

She was not all wrong. Yezzan's slaves ate better than many peasants back in the Seven Kingdoms and were less like to starve to death come winter. Slaves were chattels, aye. They could be bought and sold, whipped and branded, used for the carnal pleasure of their owners, bred to make more slaves. In that sense they were no more than dogs or horses. But most lords treated their dogs and horses well enough. Proud men might shout that they would sooner die free than live as slaves, but pride was cheap. When the steel struck the flint, such men were rare as dragon's teeth; elsewise the world would not have been so full of slaves. There has never been a slave who did not choose to be a slave, the dwarf reflected. Their choice may be between bondage and death, but the choice is always there. -Dance, Tyrion 12

This is very clearly a horrible ethos reflecting the idea of free choice being stretched too far. Obviously, there are absolutely slaves who did not choose to be slaves, and calling death a choice is frankly insulting even if it’s not entirely untrue.

But, what we do see is this idea that people who are willing to sacrifice everything for what they believe is right are rare, and like Aemon said Ned was rare, there is clearly a sense of admiration there.

These quotes also form a conscription of morality that isn’t completely relative. Even if values can come in conflict, there is something inherently good about love, about duty, about honor, about keeping vows, about freedom.

Life may be messy and full of hard choices, but don’t confuse that for thinking it’s all relative or meaningless, it’s these choices that truly give the story and life meaning.

Edited by Mourning Star

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On 9/9/2021 at 4:17 PM, Widowmaker 811 said:

The central theme is the conflict between what one should do versus what one feels and wants to do. Duty and obligation against desire and love.  A lot of people follow feelings and makes the wrong choice. 

I completely disagree. Love isn't the wrong choice, it’s a different one. Each character has to make their own choices, and those choices define them. There can be as much fault in always choosing duty as with always choosing love.

On 9/9/2021 at 4:36 PM, Targaryeninkingslanding said:

I don't know, I think one could reasonably make an argument for moral relativity in the world of asoiaf given the plethora of seemingly real and conflicting deities presented. If moral structures derive from religious or pseudo religious structures, and if such is the case in this world, is there such thing as a wrong choice? or are there just competing values?

I disagree, I think the message of the series is very clearly not one of moral relativity. Choices do matter, they might be hard, they might be messy, but it isn’t all meaningless gray, and there are clear examples of right and wrong.

Morality does not come from religion, in ASoIaF or IRL. George is an atheist and it shows. In addition, I would argue that there is no reason to think there are “real” gods in ASoIaF, and there is certainly no reason to think morality derives from them.
 

On 9/9/2021 at 10:17 PM, chrisdaw said:

And the general answer is the series title, where fire is motives of humane passion and ice is dispassionate calculation.

This is just wrong, and based on a wild misunderstanding of the literary references from which the series gets its name (Frost and Dante in particular). Both fire and ice represent emotions, desire and hate specifically. Dragons and fire are as much a threat to the world of men as Others and ice.

Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I’ve tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.
-Robert Frost
Edited by Mourning Star

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1 minute ago, Mourning Star said:

I disagree, I think the message of the series is very clearly not one of moral relativity. Choices do matter, they might be hard, they might be messy, but it isn’t all meaningless gray, and there are clear examples of right and wrong.

Morality does not come from religion, in ASoIaF or IRL. George is an atheist and it shows. In addition, I would argue that there is no reason to think there are “real” gods in ASoIaF, and there is certainly no reason to think morality derives from them.

That's a fair opinion. to me it seems you view moral relativity under the umbrella of nihilism or some similar philosophical school. This does not mean those who preach moral relativity are against moral values, and the sub-school of optimistic nihilism encourages and empowers people to actively shape the work around them for the subjective better. in that way choices do matter in a way that can actively make the world a better place. people disagree on most things and most/all people will find at least one thing they disagree on. outside the will of a creator deity, which may or may not exist and is not the focal of this argument, I see little reason to accept there exists any unified morality. in fact the view of moral relativity is very prevalent in Atheists, agnostic, and historians who make a study of the vastly varying cultures throughout the world. that George would believe similar does not see to me so far fetched.

the morals of Westeros are derived from the church of the seven and the old gods. the morals of the red god by R'hllor. The morals of the Dothraki by the Dothraki gods. it does not matter of they exist or not, this is the legitimacy from which the morality is derived, just as the ten commandments derive their authority from the abrahamic YHWH.  people fight for what they believe and all believe they are in the right. every character in asoiaf thinks they are the good guy, and most people on this forum even will disagree which characters are good and which bad. if their are real gods or just vastly powerful super beings, or just magic misinterpreted as deity, that such would be fought for supremacy of the cosmos is one of the oldest stories of gods that exist. history, like laws, are written by the victor. what are morals in a omniscient god's world but gods laws? that's why I hope neither side wins. Better that man has a choice.

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24 minutes ago, Targaryeninkingslanding said:

That's a fair opinion. to me it seems you view moral relativity under the umbrella of nihilism or some similar philosophical school. This does not mean those who preach moral relativity are against moral values, and the sub-school of optimistic nihilism encourages and empowers people to actively shape the work around them for the subjective better. in that way choices do matter in a way that can actively make the world a better place. people disagree on most things and most/all people will find at least one thing they disagree on. outside the will of a creator deity, which may or may not exist and is not the focal of this argument, I see little reason to accept there exists any unified morality. in fact the view of moral relativity is very prevalent in Atheists, agnostic, and historians who make a study of the vastly varying cultures throughout the world. that George would believe similar does not see to me so far fetched.

the morals of Westeros are derived from the church of the seven and the old gods. the morals of the red god by R'hllor. The morals of the Dothraki by the Dothraki gods. it does not matter of they exist or not, this is the legitimacy from which the morality is derived, just as the ten commandments derive their authority from the abrahamic YHWH.  people fight for what they believe and all believe they are in the right. every character in asoiaf thinks they are the good guy, and most people on this forum even will disagree which characters are good and which bad. if their are real gods or just vastly powerful super beings, or just magic misinterpreted as deity, that such would be fought for supremacy of the cosmos is one of the oldest stories of gods that exist. history, like laws, are written by the victor. what are morals in a omniscient god's world but gods laws? that's why I hope neither side wins. Better that man has a choice.

What are morals? Is a great question, and one explored heavily by the series. And I don’t think the answer is moral relativism or any sort of nihilism.

And while I value your opinion here, I do think you are still stuck in the classic misconception that somehow morality is tied to religion.

The obvious counterpoint is that if you believe something because you believe some deity proscribes it, that is inherently a flawed a basis for morality. 

I would argue that George actually is putting forward a coherent opinion about morality that is not entirely subjective.

That there is inherent good in love, family, keeping your word, sacrificing for the benefit of others, justice and even in doubt. The fact that these ideals may come into conflict, or be taken to woeful extremes, doesn’t lessen their inherent good. There simply shouldn’t be an expectation of a simple answer, and the choices one makes regarding these morals defines them.

I also think that often people confuse the results of an action with the morality of an action, a related topic highlighted by the series, and often brought up in these discussions. It seems pretty clear that the case being made is that the ends do not always justify the means from a moral perspective.

Edited by Mourning Star

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1 hour ago, Mourning Star said:

What are morals? Is a great question, and one explored heavily by the series. And I don’t think the answer is moral relativism or any sort of nihilism.

And while I value your opinion here, I do think you are still stuck in the classic misconception that somehow morality is tied to religion.

The obvious counterpoint is that if you believe something because you believe some deity proscribes it, that is inherently a flawed a basis for morality. 

I would argue that George actually is putting forward a coherent opinion about morality that is not entirely subjective.

That there is inherent good in love, family, keeping your word, sacrificing for the benefit of others, justice and even in doubt. The fact that these ideals may come into conflict, or be taken to woeful extremes, doesn’t lessen their inherent good. There simply shouldn’t be an expectation of a simple answer, and the choices one makes regarding these morals defines them.

I also think that often people confuse the results of an action with the morality of an action, a related topic highlighted by the series, and often brought up in these discussions. It seems pretty clear that the case being made is that the ends do not always justify the means from a moral perspective.

No, I understand that there exists systems of thought outside of divine prescription. Nihilism if just one such school of thought, as is Utilitarianism, as is Confucianism. that any one is universally true is just a conceit however. Many such systems exist and they do so outside of deity, and while some may be influenced by the varying world religions, not all these religions can be correct, for many are contradictory, so we can assume most if not all are derived of human philosophy for lack of a better word to describe these archaic proto-values. And the further back in history we go the more gods and contradictory systems and stories exist. as groups are wiped out or absorbed it is the conquer who choses what is right because they won. moral relativity is often the backbone in accepting this before deciding on ones own moral predilections. for me obviously, optimistic nihilism.

Obviously though if this world or the world of asoiaf is subject to some sort of omni-god, including some afterlife, then a single true morality could exist in that way. if there are gods or god like forces however, competing for control of the cosmos, which very well could be the case is asoiaf, than we have plenty of examples of moral structures derived from such stories as well. Uranos ruled the cosmos until Kronos castrated him. Kronos ruled until Zeus cast him down. a red god and an cold god may be fighting for the same and they may not be. if one wins they may decide was is moral in "Their" world. 

if not then all that exists purely is the morals of the character's George has given us, and to the winner, the king, to deiced what is justice. are the values you listed always reinforce? ned was kind and good and loyal, and he still lost. will all the evil be punished? im not so sure George is that interested in something so... clean, but I would enjoy it nonetheless. I wont argue that there could be some central morality, because if anyone is the god of asoiaf it's George. any morality professed will be his beliefs that as you say are not derived from religion expressly, which are true to him and maybe not everyone. it is his attempt to encourage and share what he feels is right, if such is his intent, and all the power to him. that we have so many character pov's with conflict morals who all think they are right to me is a sign that maybe a single morality is not what we should be looking for. that we may choose what we value and what we fight for feels powerful enough to me. Honor (keeping your word) and love are often the very things at odds. Jamie tried to kill bran for love. Ned saved Jon for love. Aemon stayed on the wall for honor. Rickard was burned alive for honor. Ned admitted treason for his family. cersie committed treason for her family. what is important is that a person must make that choice for themself. What is actually worth dying for?

Edited by Targaryeninkingslanding
added last sentence.

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1 hour ago, Targaryeninkingslanding said:

ned was kind and good and loyal, and he still lost. will all the evil be punished? im not so sure George is that interested in something so... clean, but I would enjoy it nonetheless.

Ned lost his head, and the life he held less precious than his honor, and sacrificed his honor for the sake of his child, whom he loves.

Maybe the issue is the attachment to “winning” and “losing”.

There is absolutely no reason irl to think being morally good will be result in practical rewards. In fact the case is usually the opposite, making a morally good choice often requires sacrifice.

In a story, however, we often do see literary justice. And Ned is a great example, especially when contrasted with Tywin. Tywin “wins” in practice, he marries his daughter to a king and sees his grandson take the throne. However, we see the ruthless pragmatism resulting in catastrophe now that he is dead. Ned meanwhile tried to do what was “right”, regardless of the practical repercussions. And now we are seeing the benefit of this in the series as well, voiced perhaps best by Little Lady Mormont and Big Bucket Wull. The North Remebers.

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8 hours ago, Mourning Star said:

This is just wrong,

No while passion and desire are not too far removed ice is not hate. Ice is emotionless or acting contrary to emotion, most often portrayed as putting duty first before more immediate humane concerns. It is Jon's armour, all warmth fleeing from him as he prioritises his duty to the NW over his family.

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14 hours ago, chrisdaw said:

No while passion and desire are not too far removed ice is not hate. Ice is emotionless or acting contrary to emotion, most often portrayed as putting duty first before more immediate humane concerns. It is Jon's armour, all warmth fleeing from him as he prioritises his duty to the NW over his family.

So while obviously you can have your own personal interpretations for stuff, there is an actual literary tradition here.

Fire and Ice representing the passions of desire and hate isn't something I'm inventing, it is defined explicitly by the source from which the series gets its name.

Now if you want to say there is an added connotation of "cold" logic to Ice, as opposed to the "hotter" more emotional burning passion of desire that's certainly a possibility, but I think there is a fundamental idea that while these are "opposites" there is a common element of self destruction to them both.

The nine lines of the poem, narrowing towards the end are reminiscent of Dante's Inferno, and the rhyme scheme is reminiscent of the one he invented for the Divine Comedy. The worst sinners are frozen in ice at the bottom of a fiery hell.

In both cases, fire and ice, represent the self destructive passions of mankind and the fates these passions bring down on us.

However, I do think it is a massive mistake to conflate desire with love here (or hate with duty for that matter).

Edited by Mourning Star

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