Like many people, when times get stressful I tend to lose myself in TV. Lately this has been how I’m feeling given the end of my last semester of graduate school, not to mention work and an episode of my chronic illness. I’ve definitely been watching more TV than usual, which is saying something since I am somewhat of a TV junkie. Today I want to focus not on just one show or character but note some of the psychology-related observations I’ve made from watching TV. These are questions I don’t always have answers to but welcome comments from readers to find out their take.
(Warning: These observations may contain spoilers. I’ve tried to identify them all wish a [Spoiler alert] but beware.)
Game of Thrones: Arya Stark and the Many-Faced God
- Game of Thrones ranks high up in my favorite shows of all time. No surprise, since I named my cat “Jon Snow” after the character on the show and in the A Song of Ice and Fire books.
- One of the psych notes I have is about Arya Stark. [Spoiler alert] Throughout the series Arya has many identities, from Arya to Harry to Weasel to Arya to the Nameless Girl in the House of Black and White on Braavos where she is taught about the Many-Faced God. Arya’s friend and later employer-and-mentor of sorts, Jaqen H’ghar, invites her to a chamber of the faces of dead people, the Hall of Faces, and teaches her about taking the face of another person to do her bidding. This idea of being able to switch between personalities and identities makes me think of borderline personality disorder and the feeling of a core emptiness that is temporarily filled by trying on different traits, interests, and pursuits. Arya clearly does not have borderline traits, but A Song of Ice and Fire novelist George R. R. Martin seems to be playing with that idea.
- There’s some suggestion at the end of Season 5 that Arya loses her identity entirely. This plays with the idea of personality change and changes in identity. Do we have a core that stays consistent in all our incarnations? For example, if someone is a brain surgeon by day and a late-night heavy metal radio program host by night, does this person’s core identity remain the same throughout the day as he shifts gears?
- Furthermore, it seems that this could be seen as an analogy for acting in the dramatic arts. The young actress who plays Arya, Maisie Williams, will play many characters throughout her acting career. Will she remain the same person as she transforms into different roles? At the end of the show, will she hang up Arya Stark in the Hall of Faces?
Doctor Who: Regeneration and New Doctors
- Maisie Williams also appears as a guest star in Season Nine of Doctor Who, one of my favorite shows. I’m still making my way through the reboot for the first time. Season Nine features the Twelfth Doctor, or Twelve, portrayed by Peter Capaldi. For those new to the series, some context: The Doctor (real name unknown) is a traveling Time Lord who regenerates every few years. So far there have been thirteen incarnations of the doctor, twelve main ones (so not including the War Doctor).
- This sci-fi show raises similar questions to the ones raised above about Arya Stark and regeneration. Speaking about the modern reboot of Doctor Who, the Doctor usually travels with a companion, and there is often overlap with a companion to bridge the Doctor’s incarnation. This character, the companion, offers an interesting perspective by holding a position of consistency among the changing identity (and actor) who plays the lead. Thinking specifically of Rose Tyler, when the Ninth Doctor was reborn as the Tenth Doctor, played by David Tennant, Rose was distraught and didn’t trust him. Eventually she fell in love with him. This shows that even though the Doctor is still “The Doctor” he has different personalities throughout the reincarnations. For example, Nine was not interested in his companion, Rose, in a romantic sense and might have been asexual. In contrast, Ten fell in love with Rose.
- Fans have to deal with the changing Doctor while sticking with the show. This involves getting over your attachment to the last Doctor and being open to a new one who has a distinct personality and appearance separate from the one before, with new quirks and eccentricities. This process is known as fan regeneration.
- My friend (and many fans) was not always a fan of Eleven, played by Matt Smith, mainly because of current but soon departed showrunner Steven Moffat and the direction he took the show. No fan will love all of the Doctors equally, but the Doctor’s general sense of pluck and adventure, courage and intelligence, resourcefulness and creativity, and capacity for compassion remain more or less the same. Even if you have to “sit this one out” and come back for a new Doctor, that Doctor will same similar characteristics to other Doctors who you’ve loved over the seasons.
In conclusion, the Doctor and his reincarnations and Arya Stark and the Many-Faced God/Hall of Faces share similar characteristics. Characters die or regenerate and assume new identities. In Doctor Who the Doctor’s main core beliefs remain the same. Will they for Arya Stark? Does your personality stay consistent throughout the day, the week, the year? Are you the same person you were even if you wear a different face on different occasions? Leave a comment below.