Ah, the old dilemma: when you’re making up characters to propel or occupy your story, you want the audience to like them. Otherwise no one’s going to care enough to read or watch it. But how does one generate affection for people that aren’t real? Writers and scholars the world over have puzzled at this since the craft began. Of course, some of them just didn’t care and gave us outrageously unlikeable characters, some managed to strike the seam of gold between their words and the audience’s empathy, and some found a way towards both. Maybe the trick is not to worry about it too much.
I consider this after seeing a blog post floating around the ol’ Tumblr, discussing A Song of Ice and Fire/Game of Thrones’ Cersei, specifically her book characterisation vs her TV characterisation and how the fluctuations in them were going to make one of the biggest moments in the upcoming story fall flat. Book Cersei is much more volcanic, they argued, and much more of a sexual being than the TV series shows, which is going to make it awkward when she’s (minor spoilers) called out, shamed and generally stripped of her manipulative powers. What have they got to strip her of if they haven’t demonstrated these traits in the first place, leaving the show’s version of Cersei as a much softer and more likeable person? A commenter suggested that the head writers (affectionately called ‘D & D’) didn’t know how to make a character likeable without begging the audience for sympathy.
It certainly worked in the case of Daenerys, who quite plainly suffered through most of the first season, making it all the more uplifting when she rose to power and is now having a jolly time setting fire to people who try and oppose or abuse her. Pre-dragons, Daenerys is a teenaged girl sold into wifehood/slavery in an unfamiliar race, with a douchebag brother and a sense of resilience her only companions. Despite Cersei’s own qualms with her arranged marriage, penchant for revenge and other parallels you might scratch out between the two queens, there’s a clear difference that makes one immediately more ‘likeable’ than the other. Daenerys is an underdog, the stomped-on that we are all hardwired to support because we’d hate to see ourselves in that position. Cersei is the one who stomps on people (daintily and seductively), so naturally we’re less inclined to like her.
Yet the world overflows with Cersei fans, and fans of villains and terrible characters in general. Do writers really need to beg for sympathy to make people fall in love with bad guys? Continue reading