Like a whole heap of people, I watch Game Of Thrones. I’ve been a big fan of one character arc in particular, which I will try to describe without spoiling it for anyone who’s still behind.
Basically, one character has recently been becoming an assassin, which I greatly approved of and has had second thoughts about this career choice, which I didn’t approve of.
This made me step back and consider: why was I so supportive of murdering for money? (In fictional settings, I stress. It’s not cool or fun in real life!)
Long story short, I blame Hollywood and video games. Tinseltown has innumerable examples of cool action heroes and villains whose day job is ending lives for cash and video games are almost all about killing for rewards.
How about some examples?
For movies, I’m going to talk about 2014’s John Wick (I’m still not researching anything, I have a surprisingly good memory for film dates). In this, Keanu Reeves plays a retired hitman who has to return to the life when he is wronged by a mob boss’s son, the actor for which is also in Game of Thrones. This is a very tied together post so far! It’s a very stylish fim and most of that style comes from the incredibly well choreographed and shot fight scenes. Keanu plays John Wick as a reserved man but an unstoppable force of nature. He is, for want of a better phrase, a huge badass and you’re very much on his side. It helps that although his job is given as hitman, in the film he only kills people who are heavily implied to deserve it.
So, let’s take a more grounded portrayal. 1994’s Leon stars Jean Reno as a much more believable killer for hire. Unlike Wick’s fancy mansionette, Leon lives in a shabby apartment and charges only a few thousand per hit. He’s also a lot less “clean”, while Wick could easily have only ever killed mobsters, it’s stated that Leon can and has killed anyone for the right price with the caveat “No women, no children” a personal code that motivates him to help Natalie Portman at the start. However, once again during the film he only kills people who deserve it (if I remember right even the cops at the end are said to be crooked?). Again, he’s unquestionably the hero trying to do the right thing, even when that “right thing” is teaching a 12 year old girl how to be a sniper. Not exactly normal, but hey, normality isn’t cool.
Even film villains who are assassins are usually menacing in a thrilling way; witness Tom Cruise in 2006’s Collateral. It doesn’t even have to be a good looking actor either, the fixer Mike from Breaking Bad is a fan favourite characters from the series and that’s a balding guy in late middle age.
A point common to all of these -as well as “cool” – is independence. All of the examples here are in charge of their own destinies. They may do jobs for other people, but they get to choose how and when and – quite often in fiction- at which point they reach their moral limit and turn on the ones pushing too far.
I mentioned games earlier which also heavily trade on these twin themes, but this post grows long so maybe I’ll go into that subject some other time.
For now, I’m pretty sure I’ve established my point: everyone wants to be cool and independent (including GoT characters!) and in the land of fiction, very few hitmen don’t have that glamour.