Bloodraven’s Leadership

You have to give the cognoscenti of Tumblr credit. When you want them to violate George R. R. Martin’s fundamental principle of characters who are “shades of gray”, they have no problem condemning leaders as terrible with no merit whatsoever. Consider the attack on Bloodraven as Hand of the King. Bloodraven ensures that the greatest threat to the realm, the Blackfyres, are nullified. Despite a series of catastrophes for which he bore no responsibility – a prolonged summer leading to draught and the Spring Sickness, Westeros, with the exception of Ironborn raids, remained peaceful, ordered, and intact.


But this is Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire”, so there are going to be negatives. Bloodraven used all of the mechanisms at his disposal to ensure this peace. He instituted a surveillance state, forced peasants into a form of serfdom, temporary but nasty, and enforced horrific punishments on those who spoke out against him. If one believes, as one should, in Bloodraven’s manipulations to bring back dragons to fight the Others, he is certainly guilty of some pretty terrible crimes as well including, but not limited to, sending greendreams to Daeron and Aerion Brightflame to drive them to suicide, arranging for Maekar to unknowingly kill Baelor Breakspear in the Tournament at Ashford (“The Hedge Knight”), and convincing Aerys I to not consummate his marriage with his wife to prevent unwanted heirs. In some respects, Bloodraven is operating very much in the vein of a Richelieu. He is violating human rights right and left in order to serve what he believes is in the best interest of the regime, the best servant of the realm in the face of larger threats.


Of course this nuanced, complex view of Bloodraven’s tenure as Hand does not find favor with the social justice warriors of Tumblr. They assert that Bloodraven’s policies worsened the realm, contributed to further Blackfyre rebellions, and was a contributing factor in the lead-up to Robert’s Rebellion – the breaking of the “social contract” theory. ( None of these assertions are justifiable. First, the nature of the Targaryen state remained almost entirely the same both before and after Bloodraven’s tenure as Hand. Once more, as one fan wrote, one can conceive of Martin’s rendering of semi-feudal, medieval monarchy as a “love letter to democracy”. The rule of the Targaryens was simply a larger scale tyranny than the warring states patchwork it superimposed itself upon.


Second, even if Bloodraven had placated everyone, the Blackfyre threat would have persisted. It is entirely possible that Aegon “Bittersteel” Rivers’ led Golden Company and its allies would have been emboldened by this perceived softness. Martin is constantly posing leadership dilemmas. Too hard, you will foment revolt. Too soft, you will foment revolt from perceived weakness. That is why leadership is hard. Condemning one choice without considering the effect of the other is avoiding the consideration of the real quandary Martin is posing.


Third, Aerys II’s reign would have been a continuation of Targaryen rule, but for Rhaegar and Lyanna, and, more importantly, Aerys the Mad King’s beyond the pale reaction. Without his unjust and arbitrary execution of the innocent Lord Paramount, Rickard Stark, and his heir, Brandon Stark, there would have been no support for Robert’s rebellion. Aerys went on to demand Jon Arryn’s forfeiture of his wards, Eddard, now Lord Stark, and Robert, Lord of the Stormlands, fomenting an alliance of three of the seven kingdoms with a fourth, the Riverlands, soon to come in on the side of the rebels with the consummation of the marriage alliance between the Tullys, Starks, and Arryns. Though Aerys still had the Reach, the most populous area of Westeros, and the reluctant Dorne and crownlands levies, this was still a losing proposition particularly in light of the unreliability of the Lannisters and their Westerlands due to Aerys’ ongoing feud with Tywin Lannister. The rebellion, thus, and its ultimate success had little to do with what had happened roughly a hundred years before, but stemmed almost entirely from its immediate context. Aerys II broke what there had been of the social contract, if any, not Bloodraven.


However, the overall significance of some on Tumblr condemning Bloodraven’s leadership unequivocally is the more important observation. It is twofold. First, it is a reflection of the youth and background of those doing the criticizing. Many young people have very strident, moral absolutist, rebellious attitudes towards governance as well as other issues. There are no shades of gray, no moral quandaries that do not admit of cut and dry solutions, and no countenance of worthy differing views. This is not true of all young people, but certainly the most vocal. Second, the millennials that predominate online fora like ASOIAF University are the 9/11 generation. The prevailing narrative of 9/11 is the clash of civilizations/us v. them/civilization v. barbarism line of describing a conflict that ripped apart the USA’s post-Cold War self-satisfaction. Though many now reject the moral absolutism of that narrative, the shocking nature of the demise of the Twin Towers still lingers in their zeitgeist. Particularly when it comes to discussing how fantasy novels should work out, this way of thinking comes out in force.


In summary, Bloodraven’s leadership is typical of “A Song of Ice and Fire”’s harsh realities. Damned if you, damned if you do not, does not make for good sloganeering, but that is pretty much the point. Leadership is choices. Choices always have consequences. It is the judgment of history whether they were right or wrong. Anyone who tells you life is a song is trying to sell you something. Do not buy it.



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