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Game of Thrones as Myth: Hero’s Journey in Season 6

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HJ Update S6

Last summer, we took a look at four major Game of Thrones characters to see if their experiences fit into the classic Hero’s Journey model developed by Joseph Campbell: Jon Snow, Daenerys Targaryen, Tyrion Lannister, and Brandon Stark. We discovered that all four of their journeys fit into Campbell’s paradigm. But with Season 6 over and done with, where are our heroes now? Are they farther along in their journeys now?

What is the Hero’s Journey? It is a basic narrative pattern common across all cultures and time that seems to be shared by all heroic characters. With this in mind, mythologist Joseph Campbell designed a paradigm, also known as the monomyth, to identify the universal stages of the Hero’s Journey.

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You can brush up on the structure and stages of Joseph Campbell’s famous 17-stage Hero’s Journey paradigm and Christopher Vogler’s more modern 12-stage version here. It is important to remember that the Campbellian Hero’s Journey paradigm is highly flexible, so not all stages need appear in order or appear at all. Joseph Campbell sums up the monomyth concept below:

A hero ventures forth from the world of the common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from his mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons upon his fellow man.

What have the events of Season 6 done to the journeys of Jon, Daenerys, Tyrion, and Bran? At the end of Season 5, everyone but Bran was close to the transition between Campbell’s Stage 2 (Initiation) and Stage 3 (Return). Have our heroes progressed through Campbell’s next stages, stayed in place, or gone off the monomyth rails? And if each hero is still advancing through the expected stages, what can we expect for them in Season 7? Let’s take a look.

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13 Comments

  • Seven Hells. Gotta disagree with much of this.
    Jon-
    He is nowhere near his return phase. He hasn’t achieved an Atonement with the Father, since he still doesn’t know who his father really is. He hasn’t even figured out he needs a boon (knowledge of how to beat the Others, as you pointed out). His post-resurrection sulking indicated he was still firmly in the Temptation step. He worked past that. Now he needs to learn about his father, and start looking for his boon. The Return phase is often abbreviated, with many of the steps skipped. That will likely be true for Jon in S08.

    Bran is even further behind. His true Hero’s Journey started late. He just got through with his Mentor. He will have to internally process the Grand InfoDump he received, and that may allow him to progress rapidly. His Atonement with the Father will be an important step. Now that he has powers, he has to ask himself, “How would my father Eddard expect me to use them?”

    Dany seems to be on track, having mastered her dragon and started back to Westeros. She really didn’t work through the steps, though. The dragon control issue got hand-waved. She hasn’t examined her past errors, and so hasn’t learned from them. Perhaps she is on a Flawed Hero’s Journey.

    I frankly don’t think the Monomyth applies to Tyrion.

    I think you are trying to shoehorn the characters into the pattern, instead of evaluating where they really are, or if the Monomyth still applies.

    • The Hero’s Journey is a highly subjective platform, Ibbison, so interpretations of stages, etc., of course can vary wildly. I’ll stick by my analysis, tho. Thanks for reading!

  • I’m curious to see which Campbellian archetype you’d use to describe Varys character arc. That particular characters stated intent of ‘serving the realm’ and the dubious means used to achieve this make me wonder. Does Varys character assume the role of Ally? Mentor? Trickster? Or a weird amalgam of multiple archetypes?

    • Hi Coldhands! Varys isn’t on my immediate list, but I’ll add him for later in the summer. He is one of my favorite characters. Most characters, if they are complex, and GRRM’s surely are, function as many archetypes, sometimes several at once. What I do in my archetype series is select one major archetype expressed by a character and explore it from that angle. Varys is very complicated and thus runs a gamut of archetypes, but my first instinct would be to look at him in his Shapeshifter mode (I’ll be looking at Littlefinger as a Shapeshifter later on–it seems like a good modus operandi for those involved in the dangerous politics of the original small council.)

  • I think near death scene in the Battle of Bastards, gave Jon a new POV on being a hero. Jon asked the Red woman not to resurrect him if he died in battle. He was spared when his cousin Sansa brought in House of Vale army. Now that he died twice, he has to rally every support he can to fight the White Walkers. Still don’t belive Dany uncle is his father.

    • It’s not dany’s uncle it’s her brother. Making her jons aunt. Get used to it bud, it’s fact at this point.

  • I think you got this wrong. Jon does have a boon it is not mythical but instead absurd. His boon is the realisation that there is no meaning beyond life and that life needs to be embraced knowingly and not squandered on the hope of an afterlife or salvation.
    In short life is his boon and that is what the Nighs King wants but cannot have, as he is forever caught in a cycle of frozen half life /death. Even his army of the dead speaks to this need. The NK forever raise those he has killed and makes more white walkers from the living. Yes he does this to fulfill his initial purpose but to me anyway it seems he is also grasping at what was taken from him, a proper death. Unable to have life or death the Nights King has come to hate life, and works to destroy it. The gift Jon has to give to help humanity therefore is the power to release the Nights King from his bondage and give him death.

    • It’s also worth remembering that this is a group protagonist narrative so while individuals have suffered and been reborn this gas not yet occurred on a universal level. This will come when the wall falls and it seems all possibility of victory is extinguished, perhaps when winter fell falls and the humans scramble south trying to out run death.

    • I think some sort of boon is still going to emerge from Jon’s visit to the realm of death but I hadn’t thought of the mere restoration of his life being his boon and that is a cool angle.

      • There was an interview with Kit’ published shortly after Jon’s resurrection, during which he was asked how the experience had changed Jon. Kit replied that Jon now knew fear, that he feared death, after previously being fearless. It seemed to be a bit of a bland answer at the time, i was hyped for some fantastical element of the story to be revealed, but I’m now wondering if it was more of a subtle yet profound insight into what lies ahead. I’m in the middle of reading ASOS2 and read the tale of the Night’s King, in which Bran retells Old Nan’s version of him being a Stark, and LC of the Watch, and succumbing to the Others due to his fatal flaw being that of fearlessness. So I’m inclined to agree with Simon that Jon’s new appreciation of life is a boon, but it won’t become salient until he confronts the Night King.

      • Agreed but what is distinct about Jon is that he doesn’t want to conquer or win a kingdom . His priority is saving peoples lives. Yes he will fight if he has to but it is with great reluctance. I’m just hoping he doesn’t have to give up his life, and perhaps his boon to save the world.

  • I’ve always felt that Sandor Clegane, the Hound, was on a Hero’s Journey. Any chance that his arc might be explored in a subsequent article? (If this has already been done, then point me to it!!)

  • I’m inspired to use the phrase Ultimate Boon as often as I can, now. Also, I think Danerys is going towards her return phase– and will have to come to terms with her role in the Westeros that is, not the one she imagines. I think Tyrion is going to be instrumental there. To me what is interesting about ASOIAF and GOT is seeing how many different types of heroes serve as other roles to each other– helper, enemy, boon, etc. It’s multilayered and each characters arc can be seen in so many ways. I’d love to see a Brienne journey, The Hound — but definitely Theon!