Warning many spoilers ahead in many different categories (Got, Eragon, Avengers).
Today I wanted to talk about antagonists, the most recent in my mind are The Night King in Game of Thrones and Thanos in the Avengers. Now, as you noticed above, I also mentioned Eragon and for those of you who know the main antagonist in Eragon it is a dragon rider named Galbatorix. These are the three antagonist I want to go through today in detail, and I also want to explain why Thanos is probably my favorite villain of all time and one of the best antagonists I have ever come across from a literary and author standpoint.
First, as readers, we want to connect with our characters. Sure, we love connecting with protagonists, and in my series, Guardian of the Core, I find many readers connecting with Eirek. Some connect with Zain, but I especially like when people connect with Hydro as well. See, there is such a thing as “rounded” characters and “flat” characters. Rounded characters, as you can probably guess by the name, have angles and contours and there is so much more to them than their flattened counterparts. Rounded characters are why we read books, and it’s important to note that rounded characters shouldn’t just be protagonists but antagonists as well. If the author can produce a visceral effect in us that makes us sympathize with the antagonist of the story, then he has created an awesome storyline and a rounded and dynamic character. If he cannot do this, then it falls flat so to speak and pun most definitely intended.
This blog post will juxtapose the three villains mentioned above. In my opinion, Thanos is the most dynamic and rounded villain I have ever come across. He is absolutely fascinating. The why of that I’ll answer in a little bit, so bear with me and continue reading on, but, first, let’s explain some of these other villains, starting with the least familiar: Galbatorix.
Galbatorix is a dragon rider who had lost his own dragon during battle and now controls a different bigger and black dragon. We learn about him in the first book by Christopher Paolini Eragon and we also learn of the boy Eragon who acquires, through luck, another dragon egg that hatches Saphira who is the last female dragon in existence. In order to procreate, Galbatorix needs to keep Saphira alive so that dragons can once again roam the land. That is his goal, procreation and to be the dominant king. Now, this goal in itself is fine. However, where we run into issues with this is how he is portrayed in the first Eragon book to be extremely powerful. This power is shown through the fact he is the ONLY dragon rider left in existence and who also has a big black dragon who he has warped with his mind to be his, through his ability to enter people’s minds even from a distance (never having to leave his castle), and that he is the undisputed king of Alagaësia. All in all, this guy is an absolute beast. But, while this is great to have such a character, when it came time to actually killing him off, the book fell short. It was a really lame last battle that ended without the black dragon ever being used and when our protagonist, Eragon, said Galbatorix’s true name. In essence, it was anti-climatic.
The problem we come into with Galbatorix’s character is the “why doesn’t this just happen?” scenario. Many many many books and movies suffer from this, and this is definitely something I try to avoid in my own writing and hopefully I’ve done it rather successfully. Anyway, if this guy is so powerful and he wants to procreate the dragons which is his ultimate goal, and he has one of the strongest minds of anyone, then why doesn’t he just go to Eragon (for he knows where he is) and just force him to join sides? This was the biggest issue I had with the story and I believe others who have read the series feel the same sentiments. This doesn’t ultimately make Galbatorix a flat character, but he is someone who I couldn’t respect, nor had any sympathy for when he died. The plot was all too predictable. And, again, predictability is something I’ll touch on in a little bit as well and how it adds or detracts from the strength of an antagonist.
Next, we have the Night King. The Night King has a long and complicated history that I won’t really go into, but what I want to get into is, again, his character. We know that he has the power to resurrect those people who fall to him and make them join his army. Besides bringing darkness to the land, however, I don’t see any of his true motivation. He was created when he was stabbed by the Children of the Forest and that is why he needs Bran to complete this goal of his as Bran is now fused with their being. Once he kills Bran then “The Long Night” will happen and he will win. That is his goal. He cannot complete his goal because of The Wall that separates the north from the south, so there is no “well, why doesn’t that just happen?” moments we ask ourselves. This is great! When the wall finally does come down, he takes his army of whitewalkers south in order to complete his purpose. For most of Season 8, Episode 3 it seems that he will win. His army has taken over Winterfell and he is about to kill Bran and finally achieve his goal.
Then, Arya happens.
This is completely unexpected and anyone who thought that she would be the one to kill the Night King is lying. But, as we look back on it, it makes sense for her to kill him. (1) Melisandra’s prophecy said that she would shut many eyes forever, blue eyes, green eyes, brown eyes. Vague prophecies like this that we just disregard now have so much more significance and we find out that this killing isn’t just a cop-out (as was in Eragon vs. Galbatorix battle). (2) The others DID try to kill him. Daenerys had her dragon breath fire onto the Night King but he was immune. Jon Snow tried to get to him in order to fight him but was stopped by the hoard of whitewalkers that the Night King resurrected. Even past that, though, Jon was diligent in tracking down the Night King but never fully making it there. Because these two main characters try, but fail, we are more satisfied that the Night King died. (3) Arya has been training for years. She has learned how to combat death and has learned how to fight not only in Westeros but in Essos as well. She is “no one” as she said to her trainers before. And just when we think no one can kill the Night King, she does. There are a bunch of memes going on with that right now, so that is why I mention it.
Anyway, it adds a whole new dimension to the plot and shows why Game of Thrones is so fantastic, but the Night King is more respected as a villain in my eye than Galbatorix because he has a purpose and goes tries to fulfill that purpose when necessary. Galbatorix didn’t come out of his castle due to pride and that is something I cannot get behind. The Night King couldn’t achieve his goal until the Wall came down, but when the Wall came down, he went. He summoned his whitewalkers to ward off Jon and Daenerys because, again, he isn’t after them, his goal is Bran. So, why waste time on Jon and Daenerys when he has a different purpose to take care of. That is why he doesn’t just kill those two individuals. There was a degree of unpredictability with the Night King as well, especially when both Daenerys and Jon Snow failed at beating him. That makes him an even more bad-ass of a villain and someone who we are drawn to as a reader/watcher of the series.
Now, while the Night King may be a good villain who has a purpose and sticks to his purpose when he can, it is ultimately his mystery (as we don’t know much about him), that I cannot connect with. To me, he is a great villain, but I think his intention, his purpose, is rather just flat. He wants to just rule. That’s all. He wants there to be the Long Night. But there isn’t really anything else that goes into that. He is death and the embodiment of death and that is all he wants.
All of what made the Night King an excellent villain, Thanos has. Everything that I didn’t like about the portrayal of Galbatorix in Eragon, Thanos doesn’t have. First, we have to start with Thanos’s goal: “to bring order to the universe by eliminating half of the population because the universe has finite resources.” Instead of living in poverty, if half of the universe was eliminated, everyone could live like kings. The logic behind that exists, and I actually think Thanos is great for recognizing this. Imagine our world here on Earth if the wealth was equally distributed among everyone. It would cause a few problems, sure, but I think many of the issues we face today would cease to exist and that is what Thanos wants to bring about—an equilibrium. He wants to bring about balance through disorder, not total destruction (like the Night King).
Now, how does he plan on doing that? By gathering the Infinity Stones. Why can’t he just gather the Stones himself? Well, he does try and gather the Stones himself. We see in Avengers: Endgame that he has had plans on stealing the Power Stone from Morag. He eventually takes the stone from Xander (in Infinity Wars and this happens off-screen). Because there are five more of them, and they are spread out all over the universe, he needs help. In this way, it makes sense that he sends some of his sons and daughters out to hunt for the Stones on Earth in Infinity Wars. He wants to gather them as quickly as possible, and not delay the process anymore, especially now that he knows where all of them are (almost). To solve his problem of not knowing where the Soul Stone is, he leads Gamora to him by extracting the Reality Stone from Knowhere. With Gamora there he now can be lead to the Soul Stone and becoming closer to his goal. So, again, the great thing about Thanos is that he has a goal (to wipe out half the population for the betterment of all those remaining) and he has an idea of how to achieve it (to gather those Infinity Stones) and he, himself, takes the necessary actions (gets the Power Stone from Xander, grabs the Space stone from Loki and Thor, takes the Reality Stone from the Collector, and kills his own daughter to obtain the Soul Stone). This is a villain who is DETERMINED to get what he desires. And, as viewers of the Avengers we have to give Thanos props for that.
Another thing that makes Thanos spectacular is that he isn’t all powerful. Yes, he is powerful, but unlike Galbatorix in Eragon, the Avengers found a way to stop his power so it isn’t infinite—don’t let him use the glove. They very nearly succeeded in beating Thanos and taking off his glove when he came to Titan except for Quill losing his cool. This is more realistic. One of my complaints in the superhero universe are people like Superman and Captain Marvel—superheroes who have WAAAYYYYY too much power. What is the point of the other members of the Justice League when Superman can literally do it all? Can Captain Marvel actually ever be stopped? To me, both characters are cop-outs and used as props to create a more dramatic scene at the end when it seems like all hope is lost. And that is their EXACT function in both movies they play a role in. Even when he does gather the Infinity Stones, Thor throws his hammer at him and significantly wounds him. In Infinity War, he wasn’t portrayed as all-powerful. The final battle in Endgame was a let-down for me because Thanos didn’t have the glove or the Stones, yet still was as powerful (or even more powerful) as he took on Iron Man, Thor (with Stormbreaker) and Captain America all at once. Endgame let me down there, but again, this blog post is focusing on what makes Thanos so good by juxtaposing him against other villains, not the problems with Endgame.
The next thing that makes Thanos so spectacular as a villain is that he COMPLETES his purpose. That’s right. He actually gather’s all of the Infinity Stones, snaps his fingers, and kills off half of the population. His retirement plan, “To watch the sun rise on a thankful planet,” is fulfilled at the end of the Infinity War movie. Now, this was a big shock to all of us who watched the movie because, in essence, the bad guy won. Not only that, but he actually used his Infinity Stones (unlike Galbatorix who didn’t even use his dragon in the last battle). He didn’t just talk, he acted upon what he was going to do. This unpredictability is what made Inifinty Wars so good and also adds quite a great deal to Thanos being a fantastic villain.
Finally, the most significant thing that makes Thanos so great, though, is the opening scene in Avengers: Endgame. Thanos destroys the Stones. Just like he snapped his fingers to wipe out half of the population and complete his purpose, he snapped his fingers again to destroy the Stones completely because they would “only serve as temptation.” The line is great for a few reasons. (1) It adds character to Thanos because we don’t see him as power-hungry. In fact, he has destroyed his most powerful weapon and he did so on his own free-will. No one forced him to destroy the jewels. We are forced to look at him in a more complex manner now because he isn’t completely bad. He just has a purpose. (2) He destroys the jewels even knowing the price (that he almost would die) in doing so. (3) He is cognizant about the fact that with all the power he held in his gauntlet, he would eventually succumb to the temptation if he didn’t destroy them, so he did.
Along his quest, Thanos lost the ones closest to him, his children. In fact, he even says that it cost him “everything.” He does obtain his goal, but it does cost him the life of his children and of Gamora whom he loved deeply. When the Avengers kill him in Endgame, and the plot that follows after, I was saddened because it was a cheap death and a cheap ending. The only silver lining in the Endgame movie that followed was the look on Thanos’s face as Iron Man snapped his fingers and Thanos’s army is wiped from existence in the same manner. He’s sad. He’s realizing that his plan would never come to fruition. He has the face of a man who lost his purpose. That is something that resonates with us because having a purpose in life, I think, is something that we all strive for and it’s so rewarding when we actually achieve that purpose and goal.
What do you think of my character analysis of Thanos? Or even of the other characters that I mentioned? Let me know in the comments below.