By Mike McMahan, LPC
Let me just say right off the bat: if you haven’t seen this past Sunday’s Game of Thrones (Season 6, Episode 5), stop right here. This post is full of *SPOILERS*.
Still here? Good. I assume this means you have already seen the episode. I, like every other Game of Thrones fan, was on the edge of my seat as the hour built to its rousing climax. As if the origins of the White Walkers was not a big enough reveal, we also learned why the only phrase that Hodor utters is “Hodor” and it was heartbreaking, to say the least. This post is not a full recap of this great episode, but there are plenty of good ones out there.
As it turns out, when Bran used his incredible powers to visit Hodor’s youth (when he was able to speak and apparently not suffering from neurological impairment), the present-day command to “Hold the door!” seeped into the past, causing the trauma that rendered Hodor in the condition in which we’re accustomed to seeing him, only able to (mis)speak the phrase “hold the door” as “Hodor.”
Now, I am not qualified to speak on cognitive damage caused by warging as I am not licensed in Westeros (::eye roll::). I am qualified to address trauma here in this world, however. And "trauma!" was my immediate thought when I viewed this scene. There are many things we don’t yet know or understand about the brain, and one of them is the reason that the brain holds on to trauma so deeply. It may be that it is an ancient survival instinct, left over from a time when not learning a dangerous lesson could easily mean death next time. This type of brain activity can easily lead to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), which is frequently seen in combat veterans, sexual assault survivors, and other people who have survived potentially deadly or life-shattering encounters.
However, what most intrigued me about is the way that Hodor’s brain latched onto the phrase “hold the door” after the warging (or whatever) occurred, as it seemed to parallel the way our own brain may latch onto something. For survivors, it is not uncommon for smells or sights to cause triggering reactions due to the brain’s alarm system being tripped. This can be especially pronounced in people with a PTSD diagnosis and is often the basis for the diagnosis.
Continuing our examination into Hodor’s situation, trauma can obviously be a life-changing experience. In my work with sexual assault survivors, I have discussed the opportunities that trauma may be bring. It’s a cliché in Lifetime movies, but look how many women in these films are assaulted, lose a child, or survive something similarly difficult and painful. Many of these stories have basis in truth or are “inspired by true events.” Regular followers of the news know this to be true. Often the story ends with them urging legislators to pass a new law or otherwise achieving something that they would not even have considered before. Many of us know people in our own lives who have completely remade themselves post-trauma. I will sometimes tell clients “life has opened a door and you can choose to walk through it.” Now, people are ready to hear this sort of input at different points. This is not obviously something a counselor would tell someone who was assaulted mere hours before, when they are scared and still trying to come to terms with what has occurred. However, once some trauma work has been completed, it might be appropriate to discuss this matter. After all, trauma does allow people a chance to rise above.
Is this what happened to Hodor? Well, Westeros is a very different place from our world. It’s a safe bet to say that most of these characters have been through more trauma than most of us can conceive of. Frankly, they would probably benefit from therapy--I feel traumatized every time I see a scene with Ramsey or Joffrey. But I do know that when Hodor held off the White Walkers, saving Bran's life, I did wonder if he could have risen to the occasion so bravely without a challenging life, speaking only the phrase “Hodor” for years. RIP Hodor. We'll always miss you.
Mike McMahan, LPC is a psychotherapist based in San Antonio, Tx.
Therapy Goes POP
Perspectives on therapy and mental health as viewed through the lens of popular culture