So the latest season of Game of Thrones ended like most of the other seasons have ended: A seemingly essential character who everyone really liked was hideously murdered. Of course, we won't know if Jon Snow is really dead until next season. But if he survives getting run through with several broadswords, it will probably have to involve dark magick or be revealed as a dream sequence or some other screenwriting chestnut.
Aside from massive battles, there are really only two types of deaths in Game of Thrones (and in most fiction, truth be told): the really satisfying ones, where a loathsome, evil creep finally gets what's coming to him, and the "Oh, no, not HER!!" deaths that just tick you off. And since GOT is set in a medieval, pre-gunpowder world, most deaths come via sword, knife, arrow, or spear — not a pleasant way to go, one assumes.
Anyway, all this bloody entertainment got me thinking about how human weaponry has shaped human culture, fictional and nonfictional. We've gone from knives and spears and arrows to muzzle-loaders and small cannons to machine guns and bazookas. We "progressed" to fighter planes, bombers, nuclear missiles, and, most recently, to drones and robotic weapons. And, of course, we can't overlook chemical and biological warfare. Very efficient.
Through history, our art, literature, film, and even music have reflected our weapons: what we use to wage warfare, to enforce the law — and to just generally kill each other off. Movies and books set in the future usually feature some sort of glitzy advanced weaponry — lasers or such — but we're still just basically shooting at each other with one thing or another.
But increasingly, modern warfare has evolved into a video-game scenario, with "soldiers" in front of computer screens carrying out deadly drone attacks on the other side of the world. For the side sending in the drones (us), this seems like a good deal, a much safer and sanitary version of warfare, with little danger to our combatants. For the people in Yemen, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and elsewhere in the Middle East where death comes out of the sky with no warning, it's not such a good deal.
When we read in the morning paper that a U.S. drone attack has killed yet another al-Qaeda "second in command" or ISIS leader, we can only hope they got it right and killed a murderous creep who deserved it and avoided killing "Oh, no, not HER" innocents. But if we were honest, we'd admit that that real death on the other side of the world affects us less than the fictional death of Jon Snow. We don't see the rubble, the blood, the body parts; we don't demand proof that our country has killed righteously. We just hope they did. Then turn to the sports page.
Maybe that's why ISIS atrocities — the stabbings, the beheadings, the mass killings with old-school weapons — horrify us so. It's a kind of warfare that seems uncalled for, ancient and medieval, reflective of a brutal, fundamental inhumanity we can't get our heads around — one that we prefer to restrict to HBO. Hopefully, Game of Drones won't have a surprise ending.
In the 14 years I've been the Flyer editor, I've gotten lots of hate mail. It mostly used to come in envelopes filled with pages of scrawled handwriting. I read them and put them in the wastebasket, chalking it up as a natural by-product of writing for a liberal paper in the conservative South. Lately, the angry folks have switched to email, and it comes in waves ...
The rain is coming down, slow and persistent from a low gray sky. It soaks the grass, fills the gutters, and falls hard on the flowers left on the Beale Street sidewalk outside of B.B. King's club ...