What Game of Thrones Teaches Us About Hope & Despair

The power of despair… and hope

I’ve been reflecting on “truth,” and it has led me down an interesting path in considering how hope and despair reveal truth. Why have I been reflecting on this? Probably because I’ve been watching too many episodes of Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead. Heh. Both those shows reveal a great deal about truth, though they often do so through despair.

And this, to me, is where the rubber meets the road on truth. If you take a moment to look around, do you see more despair or more hope? And how does that impact what you believe to be true?

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What does hope look like?

Hope and despair can take many forms. Despair, in my mind, is easier to identify and showcase, because it is a near constant in the world around us. Peruse the news for more than ten seconds and you’ll probably feel some degree of despair. It’s ubiquitous. The world is up to its eyeballs in shit (if you haven’t noticed).

Stories are built on some level of despair. “Winter is coming.” Flesh-eating zombies are eating our friends and families. Villains have come from another world to take over ours. Broken friendships (e.g., Marvel’s Civil War) leave gaps in our security.

All stories deal with despair in one way or another. Often times, that despair is accompanied by hope as well. At the end of the story, our hope is either dashed or fulfilled (to some degree).

Why do storytellers deal in despair? Because it reflects truth. Which then begs another question: with so much despair surrounding us and assailing us, how in the world do we find hope? What does hope even look like? And what are storytellers telling us to place our hope in?

Just like despair, hope comes in many different shapes and sizes. We might hope our shoeless character finds a pair of boots. Or, we might hope that the universe would be rescued from a super villain.

However, when we’re looking at stories, and we’re exploring them to try and find nuggets of truth, I would propose that hope is even trickier than despair to discover. Why? Well… I hate to ruin your day here… but… you’re probably going to die at some point. Yeah. Sorry about that. If it makes you feel any better, I will, too. Which means that your life (and mine) will end in despair–the loss of life itself. This is what gives despair it’s punch. This is why we cringe when our favorite characters are threatened. Because we know that death means something.

Which begs the immediate question: what in the world can we place our hope in?

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The quest for truth must consider despair and hope.

If we’re seeking truth, I believe that we must consider hope and despair, because those two levers are the essence of our worldview (i.e., the way in which we view the world around us), and our worldview is based on what we choose to believe to be true.

Just think of the impact your worldview has on both your life and the life of your community around you (if not the world at large). Take, for example, the following elements that shape our worldviews. How does your hope and/or despair change when you believe in the following things:

  • Reincarnation
  • Karma
  • The afterlife (or the lack thereof)
  • Heaven and hell (in their many forms), Purgatory, Valhalla, etc.
  • A multiplicity of gods vs. one god vs. no god

I’ll stop there, but take a moment to consider each worldview and the impact that way of seeing the world has on your own sense of hope or despair. Depending on your perspective(s) on what is true, you will place your hope in something different. Which means that many of you will put your hope in something different than I will.

By the way, that’s okay. We (i.e., the Reclamation Society) believe in exploring truth by asking questions and seeking answers by diving deeper in to the stories that we love. Do we have our own worldview? Of course. Everyone does. You can’t help it. Granted, we should all be “open” to learning from others, regardless of our worldview, but every human being has an established worldview (that can change!) based on his or her collective experience, value system, and beliefs.

Define hope.

Let’s get back to the subject at hand, though. Here’s what I would suggest. Take a moment, amidst all the despair that exists around you, to define what you are hopeful for. Throw in some small things, like: “I hope my upcoming summer vacation is awesome!” But, take a moment to consider deeper things as well and ask yourself this question: “In what am I placing my hope?”

Now, when you watch Game of Thrones or The Walking Dead or Captain America: Civil War, ask yourself what each of the characters in those stories is experiencing. When they experience despair, why do they experience it? When they’re hopeful, what are they placing their hope in? And finally, ask yourself this question: What is the storyteller telling me is true about hope and despair?

Stories have the power to help us understand the world around us. Storytelling enables our brain to consider hope and despair. We put ourselves inside the minds of the characters in order to explore the world around us (through their eyes) more thoroughly. What do you see when you explore the world through your favorite characters?

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  1. To address your last question:
    When a hero (super or not) wins in the end, hope is given that good will overcome evil and everything will eventually turn out right if I just keep believing. Despair follows when reality does not conform to the story I wished was true.
    What, then, are we left with? Where do we place our confidence when reality and wishful thinking do not coincide? Is there a hope that is based on a sure thing? Which of the 5 elements listed above is true and can be counted on to provide a basis for living, believing, and trust?
    Without confidence in a factual worldview, life and the prospect of a pleasant hereafter is a crap shoot at best and leads to anxiety and a "hope for the best" attitude. I can dismiss any faith in a higher power and lead my life in a totally self-centered fashion, or. I can hope that my good deeds outweigh the bad and will generate a positive outcome in the end. Hope, then, as you say, is intermingled with despair unless we can KNOW, for sure, that our hope is not in vain.

    1. Thanks for the comment, Steve! I agree that the more confidence we can have in where we’re placing our hope, the stronger the hope can become. I think one place many people find themselves is that "knowing" can be a challenge. Nobody truly, 100% knows what happens after death. Sure, we have people who have experienced near-death, and we’ve had people claim to die and return, but those claims can be difficult to believe. But, your point is a good one. We should approach the quest for truth with a desire to increase our confidence in our hope.

      I also think it’s good to understand "what" we are placing our hope in. That allows us to better define truth and then attempt to shape the world in such a way that we can see that hope exemplified. I think we should also analyze the different aspects of our belief systems and hope. What belief system gives me the greatest sense of hope? Why?

      I think those questions can be pretty challenging. Thanks for reading and commenting!

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