I’m casting a new TV show. Here are the two main characters:
Pete is the noblest man you will ever meet. He fights injustice at every step. He protects people. His end goal is peace and fairness. He will use force to achieve these goals, but only if he is provoked and will always exercise the upmost caution while using them.
Andy is a lunatic. He preys on the lives of innocent people. He has no reason. No motivation. No code. He just enjoys chaos.
Pete and Andy will be at odds. Good will face off against evil. Good will win.
Actually, I’m going to add in a third character, Chris.
Chris is a criminal. While he wished for a better life for his family, he found the “American Dream” a little harder to achieve than we are led to believe. Instead of working a dead-end job and going to bed hungry every night, he earns a lucrative living for his family by ruling the underworld. He is surprisingly good at using excessive force to achieve his specific goals, but chaos isn’t his end goal.
Chances are you are probably more intrigued by Chris than Pete or Andy, right?
Welcome to the golden age of anti-heroes.
Tune in to the most buzz worthy TV shows today and they probably star anti-heroes. We root for anti-heroes because we find it easier to root for flawed characters with a hint of morality. Their complex motivations make for more interesting characters. Arguments have been made that almost every popular anti-hero character today is influenced by Tony Saprano, even though the concept of an anti-hero existed before him (Michael Corleone, for example).
The Sapranos was such an influential show that we’ve seen a rise in these anti-heroes and a decline in the classic hero and villain. The lines are started to get blurred to the point that it is almost impossible to tell who is “good” and “bad” anymore.
Game of Thrones takes this concept to the extreme.
The show has its share of anti-heroes, as well as traditionally defined heroes and villains that end up being anything but.
Moving forward, I must warn you of semi-spoilers. I don’t reveal any plot details, but there is the possibility you could insinuate details from what follows.
Game of Thrones starts with a seemingly easily identifiable set of heroes and villains. We’re rooting for one family and against another. It’s not all that different from any other fantasy story. Just when you start to get into the groove of the story, Game of Thrones decides to throw every genera trope you’ve ever known out the window.
Heroes die and Villains thrive. Villains die before our mighty heroes have a chance to enact just revenge. Some of the villains slowly morph into anti-heroes. Some of the heroes slowly morph into villains. After a few books or seasons, it becomes increasingly difficult to decide who to root for.
If anti-hero shows like Breaking Bad or the Sapranos blurred the lines between good and bad, Game of Thrones has obliterated them. It’s almost breathtaking.
When these lines get torn down, and our heroes and villains cease to exist in the easily-definable terms of our past stories, all we really have left is a compelling narrative with now way to knowing how it will end.
Isn’t that what makes for the best TV?