Will McDavid wrote the definitive summary, critical review and reflection on last Sunday’s episode of Game of Thrones, “The Door.” If you haven’t read it go directly there now. Do not pass go. Do not collect 200 hundred dollars. The short reflection that follows on the revelation of Hodor’s raison d’ etre is indebted to and dependent on Will’s insights. He did most of the heavy lifting already.
In his Poetics Aristotle observes that we will forgive a good story told badly, but never a bad story wrapped up in even the best of prose. For Aristotle plot is everything. The story comes first and shapes the characters. Central to any good story are reversals of fortunes and discoveries. “The finest form of discovery is attended by peripety,” he insists.
Aristotle points out something that every engaged reader or viewer of film or serial dramas knows intuitively: in a really good story you couldn’t anticipate what just happened and yet when it does you realize it couldn’t have happened any other way. Consequently when frustrated with a story, whether in print or visual media, the negative criticism is often easy to predict. Either the next turn of events was so predictable it ceased to captivate us, or we were surprised by a turn of events because it was out of character with the rest of the story that it seems like an utterly alien insertion. Basically, if you think you could have told it better, it’s not a great story. If you couldn’t see the next twist coming and yet you realize it’s the only thing that could have come, the story delivers and will likely continue to do so. Hodor, Bran Stark’s gigantic caretaker who only mumbles one phrase which becomes his namesake, is perhaps the quintessential example of Aristotelian screen writing brilliance.
Assuming that two days after the episode came out is safe to throw spoiler alert caution to the wind, we saw Hodor’s demise at the end of “The Door.” While Hodor wasn’t a central character in the overall story, he certainly was an endearing and beloved one. His death was an emotional scene. He stuck with Bran until the bitter end, giving his life in exchange for that of his crippled Lord. It’s the kind of companion or friend we all long for, which is why betrayal is such a painful experience, one that is made possible by our vulnerability, fragility and need for human connection if we are to have a life worth living.
Hodor’s entire life was leading up to a singular task. Bran’s life threatened, he needed to hold the White Walkers at bay. The half-giant had simply to “hold the door.” Hodor fulfilled his calling, dying as the White Walkers clawed at him and pounded on the door, all the while repeating his lifelong utterance in its unabbreviated form, now like a mantra: “Hold the door, hold the door.” Bran is almost blissfully unaware as he’s lost in a flashback in Winterfell of old at the time, witnessing a young Wyllis going into what seems like a seizure, seemingly caused by a premonition of this future moment which would reach back from the past and shape his life forever. He keeps repeating the phrase “hold the door,” which abbreviates to Hodor. And in that moment Willis is gone and now his identity is synonymous with a mysterious future event. Now there is only “Hodor.”
There is a debate in the history of the church that has gone on for centuries about whether there would have been an Incarnation if humanity didn’t fall tragically into the clutches of sin. If it seems like a hopeless abstraction maybe that’s because it is. When one looks at a passage like Revelation 13:8, which sees the victorious Redeemer as a Lamb slain, “before the foundation of the world,” it seems like we’re forced to draw the conclusion that God’s desire to be our Redeemer preceded his identity as our Creator. Or in the words of Paul Zahl, “we’re born into this world to be saved from it” (or perhaps through it).
In his Systematic Theology Robert Jenson says the following concerning the nature of the Incarnation and the way it shapes God’s identity in the time before time:
The consequences of deciding that the Incarnation is neither an emergency measure nor construable apart from sin, that precisely the gospel of forgiveness is not an afterthought, are, of course, extreme. Usual assumptions about the content of God’s eternal will, about his relation to sin and evil, and about the relation between creaturehood and death must be rethought. Nevertheless, there has been a persistent strain of theology that has not been content to see redemption as an emergency measure and has been willing to undergo the spiritual struggles consequent on an alternate view. Perhaps Martin Luther stated the position most simply: “God created us just in order to redeem us….” The famous line from the Exultet of the Easter Vigil proclaims it most drastically: “Oh fortunate sin (felix culpa) that occasioned such great redemption!”…
So also a mystery of suffering, of an interplay between created regularities and evil, must belong to the plot of God’s history with us and to the character of its crisis and fulfillment. One of the last prophets of Israel spoke in God’s first person: “Awake, Ο sword, against my shepherd…that the sheep may be scattered. I will turn my hand against the little ones…. I will…refine them as one refines silver…. [Then] I will say, ‘They are my people’; and they will say, ‘The Lord is our God.'” Also such terrible prophecy must somehow become true and good in the last fulfillment. And the identity of God must somehow be told also by it (73, 74).
And the identity of God must somehow also be told by it. Perhaps the mystery of sin and suffering occasions the consideration of an even greater (and more scandalous?) one. That God would not just address sin, but become it in and as the Crucified one, so the ungodly could become his righteousness. That, like Hodor, God’s identity from eternity would be shaped by the events of His future Passion and that even in the New Jerusalem his identity as the slain Lamb remains, although in victory not abasement. But unlike Hodor, God elects to be Himself in no other way from and for all eternity than as the God for us, the slain Son of Mary. He chooses it and in his choice chooses us. Or in the words of P. T. Forsyth: “There’s a cross at the heart of God.”
The revelation of God as the Crucified One is something that couldn’t be and wasn’t anticipated by those who read the Law and the prophets with due diligence, nor does it rise intuitively from human experience or the realm of religious psychology. But when by grace the scales fall off the sinners’ eyes and this revelation makes itself known, with it comes the realization that neither God’s story nor ours could climax in any other way.