BETWEEN MOURNING AND RIDICULE: MEMES REACTING TO THE DEATH OF THE GAME OF THRONES CHARACTER HODOR

Susanne Ylönen & Heidi Kosonen

University of Jyväskylä

In the fifth episode of the latest season of the popular fantasy series Game of Thrones, May 2016, the grand audiences were confronted with the death of the character Hodor, the “gentle giant” who had meekly, mutely accompanied the crippled Bran Stark on his mission ever since the show’s first episode in 2011. Hodor’s faith was sealed in the outcry, which left him stalling the enemy while his masters escaped into the snow: “Hold the door,” he was told, and hold the door he did. It was at this moment that the audiences witnessed his death forming into the determining factor of his life in disability – through a time loop they saw the approaching death break Hodor’s mind in his youth. The outcry “Hold the door” was blurred and shortened, and it tapered down into the moniker “Hodor” by which the audience knew the character by.

To the followers of the show this shocking yet valiant death of Hodor was a tragedy, an event to mourn. Yet not a day went past for the media to report a kickstarter campaign for the production of memorial, wood-engraved “Hodor” -door stops. Moreover, the kickstarter campaign was not on a solitary mission: fan practices had already spawned various kinds of memes and DIY -door stops, which immortalized the tragic fate of the character in photoshopped images, YouTube pranks and on blocks of wood.

The reactions to the memes were varied. To some, these carnivalistic virtual and material objects appeared “too soon” and therein breached the western conventions of mourning, which tend to cover death in solemnity if not in silence. To others, the door stoppers seemed like trolling, acts rendering laughable the audience’s grief as well as the moment of valour of the mentally disabled character. The question of whether the memes were instances of mockery or homages to a character and series well-liked was thus raised from different aspects.

In our paper we wish to investigate this instant of ambivalent internet mourning, which oscillates between grief and ridicule. The case of Hodor will serve as a starting point for a theoretical discussion that combines investigating the “normal” and “aberrant” mourning of a fictive character in its kitsch and camp aspects with a philosophical focus on the carnivalization of death, and the aesthetic mechanism of sublation, a willful lowering of a sublime or overwhelming experience such as death.