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Wicked Nerdery

Where psychology, pop culture, and true crime collide

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villain

The Most Dangerous Man In Westeros Did Not Deserve That Death

As many cheered and sang praises for the end of Petyr “Littlefinger” Baelish on Game of Thrones, I sat in forlorn silence. Yes, I liked him. He wasn’t a hero, he wasn’t a strapping lord fighting for honor, but he was interesting. A character who always kept those around him, those watching him, on their toes. He was conniving, manipulative and ambitious. He kicked off nearly every major event on the show and triggered the War of the Five Kings around which most seasons were based. That’s someone who should have lived to win the Iron Throne, not bled out on the cold floor of the Great Hall in Winterfell.

Lord Baelish may have deserved to die, but not as he did. A man who had been scheming since before the story began deserved a far better end.

Where Was The Shock?

Everyone saw Baelish’s death coming except him, and that’s a problem. For a show that’s predicated itself on the idea that anyone’s fair game and characters can die at any time, having a death easily predicted episodes beforehand isn’t a good thing. It makes a once-shocking show more of a standard, plodding one. The audience no longer watches to be surprised, but merely see how foregone conclusions will play out on screen. When even the unravelling of events stops being surprising, the show grows dull and disappointing, especially when it comes to events surrounding key characters whose arcs have always contained remarkable twists, like the Starks and Lord Baelish. Sure, people will still watch, but as hackers release spoilers early and plots become more basic, the fervor of the fandom diminishes.

Lord Baelish Was Too Clever For That Death

Dragons and the undead aside, Game of Thrones had been a political drama for most of its run. As a politician, Littlefinger was practically unmatched. He easily saw countless moves ahead and had little qualms in switching allegiances when it suited him. It’s why so many hated him, but it’s also why he should have earned that throne. In a series that still bases itself in reality, a man willing to do anything to get what he wanted (a man said to be the cleverest in the country!) should be able to work himself up the ranks to the top.

Someone with the mind of Lord Baelish should not have fallen for Sansa and Arya’s trap — someone with his level of cunning would have left the moment Bran parroted “chaos is a ladder” to him. Killing him then in such way, is more about giving the audience what they want than giving realism to the story.

Great Characters Deserve Greater Ends

Once, there was a small boy from an unimportant family who was fostered and raised by others. He played with their children, he fell in love with one of their daughters, and would fight for her hand after hearing she was betrothed to another. He believed in the stories where brave men challenged those twice their size and won because they had true love on their side. Because of those stories, the young man believed he would win. Instead, he was nearly killed before the girl he loved stepped in, then went on to choose his rival. He was ultimately banished from the only home he’d really known and left to his own defenses. Sounds like the origins story of a hero, of someone you’d root for, but it’s the one so many cheered the pitiful death of: Littlefinger.

He wasn’t born a sadist or someone without conscience like Joffrey and Ramsay. This doesn’t diminish the terrible things he did, but it does bring up key questions.

If Sansa can reach her goal of being a land-ruling Lady in a castle (with his help no less), then why is it so abhorrent a thought that Petyr reach his? Why, if minor players in the game of thrones get remarkable and shocking deaths, doesn’t someone who kicked off the entire series of events get the same respect?

Petyr’s Death Should Have Cut Deeper

It’d be foolish to argue that anyone should live until the end of show itself; winter is here and all men must die. I’m expecting the majority of characters to be wiped out before the end of the show, so Baelish’s death itself isn’t the issue, it’s the circumstances. It’s the fact that it was no surprise to audience, that it’s based on the premise of Littlefinger being so foolish that, despite an amazing performance by Aidan Gillen, it didn’t pack the punch it deserved.

Littlefinger Ought To Have Died By His Creation

It was poetic that Sansa turned on him in the end, but it’d have been more so if she did it alone. Having an omniscient brother and assassin sister do much of the work, including the actual killing, diminishes her triumph. It also diminishes the complexities of the relationship between her and Petyr. It’d have been a fascinating twist for her to have lured, baited, and killed Lord Baelish all on her own.

What a lovely shock it’d have been to see Lord Baelish get everything he wanted — the throne, the girl, everything in that pretty picture in his head — only to be cut down at the hands of the young woman he’d groomed to think like he does. That’s a death worthy of the most dangerous man in Westeros and the fans who’ve followed him for so many years.

What did you think of Littlefinger’s death? Comment down below!

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Flipism: Of Villains & Their Love of the Coin Toss

The latest season of House of Cards had a cold open in which Frank Underwood briefly explained the concept of flipism: the belief that all decisions can, and should, be made with the simple flip of a coin. Frank discussed the birth of the ideology and suggested it be used to clear up the chaos he created in the latest presidential election. He’s not the first villain to speak in favor of flipping a coin, of using chance, as a way to make a final decision…in fact there’s a history of antagonists both promoting and using such tactics throughout pop culture.

Flipping The Bird

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Frank discussed the concept of flipism as it relates to the Disney comic from 1953 involving Donald Duck called “Flip Decision”. In the comic the duck comes across a con artist, Professor Batty, who pushes the idea that the flip of a coin can aid Donald in making all the decisions in his life.

Life is but a gamble! Let flipism chart your ramble!

For a dollar Batty offers up a book on the ideology and lifetime membership in “the great society of flippists”. After Batty’s own coin flip decides Donald must make the purchase the duck reads the book, takes it to heart, and quickly begins making every decision, big and small, with a flip of a coin.

Unsurprisingly this leads Donald to a great number of misfortunes that include getting stuck in mud, lost on highways, and court proceedings that result in a fifty dollar fine by a judge for letting a dime do his thinking. Towards the comic’s end Donald has been thoroughly put off flipism and goes in search of the man who’d sold him a bill of rotten goods, but of course Batty has disappeared. After tracking the charlatan down to one of two apartments Donald tosses the coin one last time to decide which to check and, as if to underline his foolishness in leaving his life to chance, it leads him to being accused of two-timing by Daisy. Donald Duck found flipism caused more problems, more chaos, than it ever could have solved and gave it up both to his own relief and that of everyone around him.

Two Sides Of The Same Coin

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The first true character to introduce flipism to the world is none other than its most famous user…Batman’s Harvey “Two-Face” Dent. Even in his initial appearance in August 1942’s Detective Comics #66 Harvey (whose initial last name was Kent) is flipping his coin to decide the fate of Batman and numerous others.

After the mobster, Moretti, throws acid in his face during a trial Kent is left with disfiguring scars and the key evidence in the case – a two-headed coin favored by the mobster. Slipping into a crisis of both identity and conscience Harvey questions who is he, if not the remarkably handsome district attorney he once was, and why such a terrible thing had to happen to him. His ultimate conclusion is that it is all because of Moretti’s coin and, after gashing one side, it will be this coin that decides the fate of both himself and everyone around him. With the flip of a coin Harvey goes from victim to perpetrator, from keeper of the peace to causer of chaos.

Fate And The Coin

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No Country for Old Men antagonist, Anton Chigurh, is almost the personification of Fate: cold, indifferent, with a chaotic randomness to him. While much of the time Anton kills using his own twisted sense of morality, when he grows conflicted he leaves it to a coin toss. While the basic concept is the same – a flip of the coin makes the decision – Anton’s method seems to deviate slightly from the other two discussed.

Both Donald and Harvey designate the meaning of the two sides, both of them make the call, while Chigurh is more removed. In true Fate form, the meaning of the two sides is known only to him, but the call is made by those it will affect most. He forces others to choose their fate, sometimes without hint of what it could be, and follows the decision of the coin without further deliberation.

Chaos Beyond The Coin

Dice

In 1971 The Dice Man was published in which the main character, a psychiatrist named Luke Rhinehart, grows bored and disenchanted with his life and begins to allow chance make all his decisions…this time in the form of a roll of the dice with each number designating an action to take. What starts as an experiment, a search for freedom and excitement, quickly turn into a chaotic life of sex, murder, rape, and a seeming cult following in Rhinehart’s dice-wielding footsteps. A man who starts off an academic everyman becomes a manipulative criminal by letting chance bring utter chaos into his life and the lives of those around him.

While the other antagonistic characters discussed spread their chaos throughout their own world, Rhinehart was able to carry it into ours. Over the years since its publishing The Dice Man has inspired more than a few real world people to use dice in their decision-making. Mogul Richard Branson confessed to using the book’s “teachings” when selecting bands to sign to Virgin Records, entrepreneur Jeremy King opened a series of restaurants due to his use of dice, and a number of other writers (including Danny Wallace, whose memoir, Yes Man, became a film by the same title starring Jim Carrey) recorded their ordeals in letting the roll of the dice decide their fates after reading this book.

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Given many villains are agents of chaos it makes sense they might gravitate towards flipism and similar forms of decision making – rolls of the dice, spins of the wheel, spins of a gun chamber. These methods are all, in their ideology, based on fate, on chance, on nothing more than luck and, more often than not, their results cause more harm and havoc than they solve.

Sources: The GuardianRichard BransonThe Evening StandardThe Guardian (biography)

Is ‘Westworld’ Hero, Maeve, Actually A Villain?

It would be easy to define Westworld’s wonderfully strong madame, Maeve Millay, as a hero, but could she actually be a villain? In his book, I Wear the Black Hat, Chuck Klosterman defines a villain as someone who “knows the most, but cares the least.” Makes sense. The hero often knows only a fraction of what the villain does and one already assumes the hero cares the most while the villain cares little, if at all.

As a story progresses the hero may learn more, but that usually only pushes him or her to care all the more. What if, by the end, the hero is the one that knows the most, but cares the least though? This appears to be what occurs with Maeve so, is she still a hero or has she now become a villain?

Continue reading “Is ‘Westworld’ Hero, Maeve, Actually A Villain?”

Hero to Villain: The Journey of Rick Grimes Continues

Last August, before the start of the sixth season, I wrote a piece concerning whether or not Rick Grimes had become a villain using the definition created by Chuck Klosterman in his book, I Wear the Black Hat.  According to Klosterman a villain is someone who knows the most, but cares the least.  Using that interpretation I went with yes.  Or, at least, “yeah, kinda”.  He had gone from a man who knew little of what was happening in the world, but was deeply disturbed by it, to a man who’d seen way too much and no longer cared about those around him (outside his core group, but even then he would disregard their feelings and thoughts in favor of his own).  I ended on a note of hope that Rick could change, go back to the more heroic guy he once was.

So, with a season passed, has anything changed?  Has Rick been redeemed in the arms of Alexandria?  A little, perhaps, but not really.  While he’s certainly getting along better with others, managed to see the Alexandrians as his people, it took some extreme events to have that happen and he’s generally not any kinder or gentler to those he still considers not “his people”.  The biggest difference, really, is that those around him have (mostly) stopped opposing him.  The original Alexandria citizens have stopped questioning him; when he says “this is how it has to be”, that is how it has to be.  Nowadays Rick might not be considered a villain only because everyone else is just as bad…or there’s someone who’s worse, who knows more and cares even less, like Negan and his Saviors.

Continue reading “Hero to Villain: The Journey of Rick Grimes Continues”

The Trial of Kylo Ren: Hero or Villain?

First and foremost this post will contain spoilers concerning Star Wars: The Force Awakens.  A lot of spoilers.  MAJOR spoilers.  If you’ve not yet seen the film and wish to remain spoiler-free then I suggest you just save this page and come back to it later.  If you’ve seen the film or simply don’t care about knowing everything keep on reading…

Seriously though, from now on there will be spoilers!

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When Characters Get Real, Audiences Get Mad

Certain characters achieve a level of venom from audiences that can be surprising.  Even when they aren’t the main antagonist, trying to take over the world, or even all that villainous, people loathe them…but why?  Why is it that certain characters garner more hatred than others?  Is it that they aren’t as clever, physically attractive, or entertaining as their more tolerated counterparts?  …Sometimes, but not always.  Usually there is a deeper reason behind the audience’s intense dislike.  It would seem that those characters on TV, film, and in comics who really get our blood boiling are those we’ve met – in one way or another – in real life before.

Continue reading “When Characters Get Real, Audiences Get Mad”

Secret Psychopath: The Dark Knight’s Joker

Psychopaths are not easy to spot; in no small part because they are masters of disguise, skilled at fitting in even when they stand out.  With the ability to read a room and the expectations of those within it they can follow social norms to fly under the radar or openly defy them to whatever advantages there might be.  Whichever they choose though rarely are psychopaths spotted for what they are.  It’s only if you look closely, dissect with a rational mind, that you can see beyond the surface behaviors to the true person beneath.  It holds in real life and it holds in the fictional world…there are a number of characters in TV, film, and comics that hide themselves behind either subdued or over-the-top behavior so that you don’t notice who, what, they really are.

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Sinister is Sexy

Onscreen sinister is sexy, whether we care to admit it or not.  Villains in TV and movies are fascinating to watch; you can’t take your eyes off them.  (Casting may help, true, but Hannibal Lector is entrancing played by Mads Mikkelsen, Anthony Hopkins, Brian Cox, or Gaspard Ulliel.)  But why?  Why do so many of us fall for the villain even when he or she is so…well…villainous?

Please note: I’m not talking about the villains in slasher films like Jason Voorhees or Freddie Kruger, but the ones that lean towards sane, sober, and sociopathic; the ones that could actually exist, in one form or another, in the real world.

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Hero to Villain: The Journey of Rick Grimes?

In his book I Wear the Black Hat Chuck Klosterman defines a villain as someone who “knows the most, but cares the least”.  Makes sense.  The hero often knows only a fraction of what the villain does and one already assumes the hero cares the most while the villain cares little if at all.  As a story progresses the hero may learn more, but usually that only pushes him or her to care all the more.  This definition can also become rather dynamic if, by the end, it is the hero that knows the most, but cares the least.  Has hero become villain?  For example: Could Walking Dead’s Rick Grimes be considered a villain at the end of Season 5??  …Perhaps…

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Continue reading “Hero to Villain: The Journey of Rick Grimes?”

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