check out the Goodreads page here. I'm also going to try to make this post as spoiler-free as possible, because nothing sucks more than spoilers and there are so many good spoilers from SOS (plus I want Luke to read this review and tell me how awesome it is, but he hasn't finished the book yet), but I can't write it without giving a few things away. I'll post those in white and note them, so highlight over them if you want to see the spoiler I'm referencing. There ARE spoilers in the comments, and I WILL be discussing them there, so if you haven't finished the book, don't read the comments!
I wanted to use a quote from the author himself about the moral ambiguity in the books and show, but I couldn't find it. Instead, here's a non-spoilery quote from SOS that really sums up the quote I wanted to use:
"Rheagar fought valiantly, Rheagar fought nobly, Rheagar fought bravely. And Rheagar died."
In this series, we aren't meant to sympathize with the "good" characters, where "goodness" is based on morality. Characters who put morality or honor first about all else are shown to be weak from the first book. You may like the character and even care about them, but in the game of thrones, where "you win or your die", they're going to die. The characters we truly root for are the smart ones. The ones who are cunning and willing to do dishonorable things, even immoral things, to stay alive and to save those they love. In the end, you aren't going to stay alive by being an honorable, moral, rule-follower. You can only stay alive if you are willing to break any rule, any vow, and any limit that's been set before you (Spoiler: Even our most successful "good" character, Jon Snow has broken vows that he believed were sacred to stay alive).
One of the most interesting aspects of the book to me is how the characters evolve and also the way our feelings about the characters evolve alongside the issue of morality. In the first book we see Jamie Lannister as evil (Spoiler: In Game of Thrones he pushes a young child out of window in an attempt to kill the child because the child saw him having adulterous sex with the queen, who just so happens to be Jamie's sister - yes, the siblings are having an ongoing sexual affair and have been since childhood.) However, we are introduced to Jamie as a narrator in Storm of Swords and see what's happening in his mind. We learn about his relationship with his father, Tyrion, and why family honor is so important to him (Spoiler: In particular, we learn why he earned the title "Kingslayer" and how that has haunted him throughout his life. We also learn that the decision wasn't made based on his own advancement, but because he was averting the slaughter of innocents.) By the time he (Spoiler: saves Brienne from Vargo Holt) I was head over heels for him. But what is interesting about this is that his character hasn't really changed from Game of Thrones. He isn't sorry for what he did in the first book. He doesn't have a revelation that he was wrong and try to redeem himself. In fact, given the opportunity, he would most likely do the exact same thing. But once you see his motivation he becomes an incredibly sympathetic character.
You can really take almost every sympathetic character in the book and use them as an example of ambivalent morality. Tyrion, Arya, Jamie, Brienne, Davos, Danaerys, Jorrah Mormont, and even Jon Snow make decisions not based on right and wrong, good or evil, but based on survival and, at times, the good of the nation as opposed to personal integrity or honor. Children are killed, people are tortured, vows are broken, lies are told, but they are "justified" in each case. And at times "good" characters make terrible decisions based on personal biases. We often are led to feel that these decisions, however "wrong" they may be, are acceptable because of what the character has endured or how the character has been treated. (Major end of the book spoiler: A great example of this is how Tyrion kills Shae and his father at the end of the book. Normally, I'd be pretty quick to condemn someone who kills a prostitute in bed and then murders his own father. But in this case, I wanted to cheer.)
So, how does this affect us as readers, and in particular, how does it affect me as a Christian reader? I have to start off by telling you that I believe the Bible is the complete and literal word of God. I believe that the entire book is God's Word to humanity and that it is the guideline we should live our lives by. I am a literalist in my interpretation of scripture, which means I have some unpopular ideas (I don't believe in evolution, I believe if the Bible says something is sin, then it is sin, etc). So when Gurm tells us in an interview that "In real life, the hardest aspect of the battle of good and evil is determining which is which" I have to disagree. I believe we can know right from wrong and that there are not gray areas in morality. I believe each person is required by God and will be held accountable for morality on an individual basis. In any situation I can use the Bible as a guide to determine if my actions are good or evil and should act accordingly. One example of this is that I do not support the use of fetal stem cells in research. I strongly oppose abortion and the use of fetal stem cells from aborted embryos is something I cannot ever support, regardless of what benefits the death of that one child may hold for the population as a whole. In other words, if this were the game of thrones, where "you win or you die", I'd be on the chopping block with Ned Stark. In this series, the "good guys" don't win - the "smart guys" do - and at any cost.
So as a Christian, am I able to justify reading a series in which moral ambiguity is arguably the greatest theme of the series? Obviously I say yes. Now, I want to say up front that the following arguments, while true and applicable, aren't my reason for reading the books. I'm reading the books because I like them and they are engrossing and I can't put them down and I love them. But my logic behind this is still true: I'm reading a book about a world where Judeo-Christianity does not exist. It's a world where there is no Bible and no moral compass other than tradition and law. Various nations worship various gods, but none of these gods seem to have provided any instruction to the people on how they should be living. In a sense, I think large portions of the book provide a pretty accurate insight into how our secular world functions today. Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that if you're not a Christian, I expect you to be murdering children for your own advantage, but I do think that Gurm is unintentionally revealing where our society, in which moral ambiguity is the norm, is headed. Society wants us to believe that something (let's say abortion since I already opened that can of worms) can be wrong for me but right for another person. There is no overall right and wrong, it's all a matter of personal opinion and the individual situation. The same is true in Westeros and we see the results of that (to an amplified degree) in these books.
I hope you guys will comment and tell me how you interpret and justify the morality (or actually the amorality) of the characters in A Song of Ice and Fire. And I'd especially like to hear from those of you who don't share my opinions - please feel free to comment with your own point of view! I like to hear where other people are coming from, even if I disagree. I'd also love to discuss any ideas or predictions you have about the series. One thing I'm going to ask is that you keep any comments to discussion of morality in literature or the books. I know I expressed some unpopular political/moral opinions in this post, but I really would prefer to limit conversation to morality as it exists in the books and the books as a whole, since that's what the post is really about.