If you tuned in to Game of Thrones this year, you may remember a scene in the Season Four finale when Arya Stark meets her would-be guardian, Brienne of Tarth, on a dank mountainside. Brienne tells Arya she’s sworn to save her, but when the youngest of Ned Stark’s offspring learns that her rescuer is associated with the House of Lannister, the child’s face hardens. “I don’t care what you swore,” she spits out. (Attagirl, Maisie Williams.) Arya is determined to go it alone.
For folks who regularly peruse the greater pop culture landscape, however, this will be only one of two notable 2014 fail-moments in which savior figures come up short. Halfway through The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 1, Katniss Everdeen is standing on a pile of white roses and rubble, realizing that what she has been persuaded to do — become the photogenic face of rebel propaganda — will not save her beloved Peeta Mallark. In fact, it’s resulting in his torture and probable death. Something in her shuts off. “He’s going to kill Peeta,” Jennifer Lawrence’s unwilling Joan of Arc keeps repeating. And though surrounded by people, she’s suddenly on her own again, just like Arya.
The situation for each character is horrible beyond measure — yet audiences drink up Katniss and Arya’s sci-fi/sword-and-sorcery suffering by the thousands. Some people would see an irony in people retreating into fantasy, simply more proof that it’s easier for people to obsess over a fictional world than deal with this one. But you could argue that Arya and Katniss are both mirrors for a certain type of real-world survivalism. Authority is viewed with skepticism and/or deservedly feared. Parents are either absent or useless, and those protective figures that would appear to be potential replacements — your Sandor Cleganes, your Haymitch Abernathys — are broken and unreliable. On both page and screen, these young-woman warriors have come through operatic levels of trauma. Arya recites a list of enemies to herself nightly; Katniss can’t even trust the people who “rescued” her from the arena. The population of those folks who could genuinely comfort them is perilously small: Katniss really only has Peeta, and Arya her wish to find Jon Snow.