I still remember sitting on my living room couch and watching this scene from the HBO show, “Game of Thrones”: Old Nan, wearing a woven hat, mittens and several layers of warm clothing, sits with her back to the fireplace. Knitting hastily, Old Nan speaks to the young lord, Bran: “Oh, my sweet summer child. What do you know of fear? Fear is for the winter, when the snows fall a hundred feet deep and the ice wind comes howling out of the north. Fear is for the long night, when the sun hides its face for years at a time … Thousands of years ago, there came a night that lasted a generation. Kings froze to death in their castles, same as the shepherds in their huts, and women smothered their babies rather than see them starve, and wept and felt the tears freeze on their cheeks. So is this the kind of story that you like?” Like all other human beings, Bran nods, indicating that he wants to be scared.
Fear is a feeling; it’s not something tangible, yet when we experience it, it seems so real — so concrete. It’s a very powerful emotion, and when we consider it, darkness, death, the night, sadness (and, perhaps, crows?) come to mind. Generally, we try to avoid fear because it weakens us. However, in controlled environments, fear is kind of fun. As a matter of fact, sometimes we crave the feeling of “getting scared” like we crave a bar of chocolate.
As a woman who has seen much more than Bran, a mere 10-year-old child, Old Nan knows what true fear is like, and that’s precisely why she is able to provide such a clear and discrete description of fear. However, Bran only understands the sensation of fear. What he doesn’t see is that he would find no pleasure in fear if he could experience it in its raw form. He only craves the sensation. His reaction to a controlled fearful situation is mindless because he’s reacting to something that’s nothing more than an illusion.
Here’s something to think about: How can we be fearful of something that we have never feared? Is it fear that we feel when we take a rollercoaster ride or walk into a haunted house? How can it be if every little thing around us is intentionally created to make sure that we don’t actually experience fear?
Roller coaster designers spend years building their newest rides using sophisticated computer programs long before the first piece of track is ordered. Engineers calculate the exact amount of force a rider would experience every foot of the way. Other factors, including angles and speed, are taken into consideration before a design is approved. If one turn or hill is too sharp, steep or dangerous, the designer must go back onto the drawing table to modify his original blueprint of the roller coaster. Restraints are tested to ensure that they can accommodate the rider and second braking systems are crucial to incorporate as well. As a matter of fact, a computer tracking system is always monitoring every roller coaster car as it moves on the track. The slightest sign of trouble activates emergency brakes until the problem can be resolved. With all of these safety measures in place, how it is possible for us to feel fear? Instead, we can only react to it and sense it.
Fear follows a very common rule of nature: Purity isn’t always good. No one likes pure evil, and perfection isn’t always admirable. Thus, Bran can only appreciate the sensation of fear, while Old Nan has experienced it and knows that it’s best to avoid. As a natural part of life, pure fear is like poison. We don’t avoid the sensation of fear; we avoid true fear. It’s the sensation of it that we ask for because this sensation allows us to distance ourselves from reality and lose ourselves in a world of illusions.