The Lawful Good: A Defense

Think characters have to be dark to be interesting? Think again. All hail the Lawful Good.

Is the Golden Age of Television really over? Andy Greenwald at Grantland seems to think so, as do some of Breaking Bad’s mourners. It’s true that some of our favorite prestige dramas have given way to less-good copycats: instead of The Shield, we now have Low Winter Sun; Deadwood and The Sopranos have turned into Boardwalk Empire. Mad Men is ending, so Masters of Sex began; Game of Thrones is on hiatus, so we’re stuck with the CW’s Reign.

Now if you ask me, reports of TV’s demise have been overstated. This year alone has given us Orange Is The New Black, The Americans, and Rectify, one of the most different programs I’ve ever seen on the picture box. I do, however, agree with Greenwald on one point: more diversity on the boob tube is always appreciated. I’m not just talking about racial diversity, though that always gets a thumbs-up from yours truly. I’m talking more about diversity of personality.

Basically, I’m experiencing asshole fatigue.

It's hard suffering from asshole fatigue.

It’s hard, suffering from asshole fatigue.

I’m not the first person to express this opinion. Entertainment Weekly recently called TV’s newest antiheroes “anti-entertaining,” while The New York Post claims antiheroes have “jumped the shark.”

But what other choice do we have? Villains and morally-gray folk are simply more interesting than heroes. Look no further than The Vampire Diaries to remind yourself that Good Is Boring and Evil Is Sexy. Even John Milton knew that everyone prefers a bad boy. Batman’s cooler than Superman, Logan beats Piz any day of the week, Katara should have hooked up with Zuko, and Jess was superior to Dean. This line of thought applies equally to female characters: Why pick Betty when you’ve got Veronica waiting in the wings?

I bet you’ve heard these arguments before. I’ve definitely made all of them myself. But you know what? I am done with all that shizz. Here’s my new motto:


I. Lawful Good:  A Definition, A Defense

If you’ve never had the pleasure of playing Dungeons & Dragons, know that it operates on what’s known as the Alignment System. Players build characters around two axes: their morality and willingness to follow rules. Characters can be Good, Neutral, or Evil on the moral scale, and they can be Lawful, Neutral, or Chaotic on the rule-following spectrum. You can read more about D&D alignments here, but the following image illustrates the concept well:

I didn't make this.

I didn’t make this.

And if Star Wars doesn’t do it for you, here are some Muppets:

I didn't make this either.

I didn’t make this either.

If you have had the pleasure of playing Dungeons & Dragons, you probably know that few want to be Lawful Good. In my experience, most players want to be a loner rebel long on coat and short on scruples. Chaotic Neutral seems popular—that’s the Han Solo in A New Hope type. But there are some Neutral and Chaotic Good guys, too. That’s the Han Solo in Return of the Jedi type.

Nothing wrong with these characters. I love me some Han Solo. I just want to point out that they can be as dull as the dullest Lawful Good paladin. You want to play a rogue with a five o’clock shadow who shoots first and asks questions later? Sure, go for it! But we’ve all seen that guy before:


My point is this: A character’s alignment does not determine how interesting the character is.


I don’t fault you if you don’t believe me. There’s this idea floating though the pop culture ether that Lawful Good characters are necessarily bores. You know, like Superman. QED. To which I say:

1. Who says Superman has to be boring?

2. Agent Cooper Agent Cooper Agent Cooper

II. Agent Cooper?

Indeed! If you’ve been following me on Twitter, you know I’ve spent the past month live-tweeting Twin Peaks 23 years after the fact. Its first half is one of the best and weirdest shows ever to grace the TV screen, and I continue to be shocked by its popularity back in the day. We talk about our current era as the Golden Age of Television, but I can’t imagine seeing something so oddball in 2013, let alone on ABC, of all places. David Lynch was on network television, people! You know: the Mulholland Drive guy? The director of Dune? And mainstream audiences loved it. The mind boggles. Forget the murder of Laura Palmer. This is the great mystery of Twin Peaks.

Anyway, Twin Peaks is a show loaded with wonderfully weird characters, most of whom are what we might call “morally gray.” There’s the Homecoming Queen with dark secrets, the kind mechanic who’s cheating on his wife, the biker rebel who is really just a big softie, the sheriff’s sweet girlfriend who is plotting to do… something. (Yeah, still not sure what Josie’s deal was.) Almost everyone in town is a morally-complex antihero, so naturally the most compelling character is the one with no moral complexity at all:

DAMN fine. Now who said good wasn't sexy?

DAMN fine. Now who said good wasn’t sexy?

Oh, yes. Twin Peaks’ protagonist, Agent Cooper, is the big draw of the show and currently in the running for my favorite TV character ever. And right now, he is going to teach us how to write a Lawful Good character who is worth paying attention to.

III. How To Write the Lawful Good

1. Give ’em personality.

As I said above, there’s this idea that a lack of moral complexity means a lack of complexity, period. This isn’t necessarily the case. There is more to a person than whether or not he poisons innocent children. For example:

  • Likes and dislikes. Make ’em unique. Our Agent Cooper dislikes birds and unreasonably-priced hotels. He likes black coffee, whittling, and the taste sensation when maple syrup collides with ham. Oh, and Douglas firs. Also he likes pie. He really, really likes pie.
  • Life philosophy. Cooper is a Tibetan Buddhist… ish. When mindfulness fails to help him solve crimes, he’s not above resorting to magic. (Yup. Magic.) He also believes you should randomly give yourself a present every day, which is a brilliant life philosophy if I’ve ever heard one.
  • Outlook. Just because you’re a hero who believes the forces of good should win, it doesn’t mean you always think good will win. Cooper, for example, is a fascinating mix of optimist and pessimist. He’s so idealistic he thinks Twin Peaks is, boy golly, the best place in the world (it isn’t), but he’s so cynical that he immediately assumes the fresh-faced Homecoming Queen was a cokehead. Twin Peaks’ Albert is an even better example. Though Lawful Good, he’s witheringly sarcastic and spends most of his time snarking at everyone he meets. But while he admits a “certain cynicism” (his words), he’s also a true pacifist who wants to change the world with love, à la Martin Luther King. Cynicism and Lawful Goodness, you see, are not mutually exclusive.

2. Make ’em funny.

I think people’s main problem with Lawful Good characters is that they can be humorless. Villains get to wear a smirk or crazed grin, but when we think of Superman we think of square-jawed determination. Big snooze.

It doesn’t need to be this way. Like I said, sarcasm and Lawful Goodness aren’t oil and water; there’s no law on the books that bans verbal irony. Nor are there laws that prevent heroes from cracking jokes of other kinds—Leslie Knope is Lawful Good and loves to laugh her delightful laugh.

A character can also be funny without trying to be funny. We imagine Lawful Good characters to be incredibly idealistic, polite, driven, rule-abiding, and earnest. Exaggerate any of these traits even slightly, and you have a hilarious character. First I will prove this point with a picture:


And now I will prove this point with a video:

And look, worst case scenario, just bring in a llama. Llamas: Never not funny.

3. Don’t make things easy.

Stories about Lawful Good characters shouldn’t be simple. In real life, good doesn’t handily beat evil like in a Saturday morning cartoon. It’s rough out there for a good guy (or gal), and so should it be in our fiction.

You’ve heard this tip before: Conflict can be the engine of a good story. As our own John Perich noted in his excellent piece on Man of Steel, even the Lawful Good can have internal conflicts. Their conflicts aren’t of the “Should I poison this child?” variety. Rather, they must choose between two or more competing values. In Dungeons & Dragons, the typical Lawful Good conflict is, “Should I break the law to do good?” Other conflicts can stem from questions like, “Should I save my loved one, even if it plays into the villain’s plan?” or “Should I do the right thing even if it will hurt my friends?”

In Twin Peaks, however, Agent Cooper has few internal conflicts. He’s not an internal guy; his entire train of thought is constantly being spewed out onto a cassette tape. But the show works, because the external conflict is a doozy. The heroes are going up against a super-complex mystery and the kind of evil that might not be possible to beat. At one point the Lawful Good Major Briggs says his greatest fear is the possibility that love is not enough. Twin Peaks works despite its impossibly pure protagonist, because it’s about how the purest love and goodness may not be enough to defeat humanity’s basest instincts.

In short, a Lawful Good hero has to lose—not all the time, but sometimes. Maybe even most of the time. (See also: To Kill A Mockingbird.)

4. Cool clothes and weapons don’t hurt.

I don’t know about you, but I’m a sucker for a good suit and skinny tie. And, as Atticus Finch taught us, you don’t have to be evil to be a badass with a gun.

Biggest badass in fiction.

Biggest badass in fiction.

5. The rule I decided to delete.

My last guideline for writing Lawful Good characters was going to be, “Give your character flaws.” You know I’m all about flawed characters. I wrote all about them in my piece on Strong Female Characters.

Then I realized, Twin Peaks completely destroys this rule. Agent Cooper literally has no flaws. One of the characters actually says to him, “You know, there’s only one problem with you: you’re perfect,” and he doesn’t disagree. It’s not him being boastful. The statement is objectively true.

The funny thing is, in the crappy, later parts of the second season, the writers (sans Lynch) awkwardly tried to give Cooper flaws and retcon in a dark backstory, and this somehow made him a less compelling character. To avoid spoilers I’m not going to go into detail, so suffice it to say that the writers gave him the Obvious Lawful Good Flaw: a savior complex. Because of his Obvious, Clichéd Cop Backstory, he developed the flaw of having to save young, troubled damsels. Tell me if you’ve heard that one before.

So, after some thought, I guess my new guideline is this: Give your Lawful Good characters flaws, or don’t, but try to avoid the obvious ones. If you feel you must use a cliché, at least playfully wink about it, Lynch-style. But promise not to wink backwards like Laura Palmer does. You’ll give us all night terrors.

IV. Why Lawful Good?

Now that we’ve talked about how to write Lawful Good characters, I’d like to end by talking about why we might write them. It’s not just so you can entertain me, the one fatigued by assholes.

This might be my secret idealism talking, but I think most people in the world are trying to be lawful and trying to be good most of the time. Most people will never kill someone, even if they’re police officers or in a war. Despite what Mad Men would have you believe, most married people do not cheat. And statistics show that the majority of weddings do not end in epic massacres.

People aren’t always good, obviously, but it seems like we usually try to be. And I think (and most dearly hope) that most people would prefer to be Agent Cooper or Leslie Knope than Walter White. Most people’s daily struggles are not about how to keep their international drug empire from crumbling but how to survive and keep one’s moral compass in a dog-eat-dog society. Is this struggle not the stuff of high art? Is it only worthy if a character makes the “evil” choice? And by saying the Lawful Good are boring, are we implying normal people are not worth paying attention to?

I am not, of course, saying that we should give up our villain protagonists and antiheroes. What I am asking is that we consider shows with Lawful Good protagonists as potential additions to the Golden Age canon. If films like To Kill a Mockingbird, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, and It’s a Wonderful Life can be as acclaimed as The Godfather and Bonnie & Clyde, why is it that shows like Friday Night Lights and Gilmore Girls are often ignored in discussions of great 21st century TV? Is it because the shows aren’t horrifying? Is it because their characters are too decent?

So, last question: Is the Golden Age of Television really, truly over? Maybe, if it means shows about jerks and criminals. But one might consider for our Best Of lists Broadchurch, Parks & Recreation, and even Adventure Time, all current shows with (mostly) Lawful Good protagonists. And maybe Lawful Good is the best way forward for prestige television. In our current glut of TV antiheroes, a real paladin could be a revelation.

47 Comments on “The Lawful Good: A Defense”

  1. Lavanya #

    Plus, Lawful Good characters can make great villains.

    Miko Miyazaki from “The Order of the Stick” is one of the comic’s most popular characters. She’s Lawful Good, but antagonistic to the Lawful Good hero and his co-stars, who are a mixture of Neutral Good and Chaotic Good… plus one halfling who hides behind a lead shield whenever Miko casts Detect Evil.


  2. Wenyip #

    The Star Wars graphic is interesting, because I’d never put Luke anywhere else but Lawful Good. Certainly, he’s the archetype of Lawful Good in the EU (recently being played off against Jacen’s Neutral Good (sliding down to Neutral Evil)), and he’s far and away the greatest proponent of a Light-Dark dichotomy in the Force.

    But even in the films, all his decisions are awfully Lawful: “My friends are in danger on Bespin. I must abandon my training here, even though it is incomplete, and rescue them.” (Note that while ‘finishing training properly’ might seem to be following the rules, they’re not Luke’s rules, they’re Yoda’s. His own personal code mandates helping his friends.) He gives himself up and attempts to redeem Vader in the same way, rather than simply killing him or whatever. He even goes through all the motions to give Jabba a chance to cooperate.


  3. Tulse #

    Great piece, Shana! I think it’s interesting that, while “Golden Age” TV has been populated with assholes, in terms of popular/populist TV, shows focused on Lawful Good characters have always been at the top of the ratings. Cop shows have always played well, especially cop shows with generally morally upright characters: CSI, CSI: Miami (once the most popular show on the planet), NCIS, NCIS: LA, Criminal Minds, the entire L&O franchise, Castle, etc. etc. etc.). Most medical dramas (with the notable exception of House) feature(d) characters who were at least Neutral Good, if not actually Lawful. Even at the height of their critical acclaim, most of the Golden Age garnered only a fraction of the ratings of of these shows.

    So while Neutral/Chaotic Evil characters may be the centrepiece of prestige cable shows, they really haven’t penetrated the actual “popular” culture, as opposed to the critical culture. The majority of the TV-watching public still seems to like straightforward heroes.


    • Shana Mlawski OTI Staff #

      Thanks, and good point! I’m not well-versed in the NCISes or CSIs, but I’ve noticed that even on mainstream TV law enforcement has been a little too willing to break the law lately. They’ll break into someone’s apartment without a warrant and say, “Oops, the door was open!” and they break the chain of command just ’cause. Not to mention 24’s weekly torture parade was only a few years ago. And I seem to recall lots of police brutality on SVU. So it depends on the show/character, I think.


      • Margo #

        So what does this make Jack Bauer? VERY Chaotic Good?


        • Tulse #

          It’s tough to conceive of a torturer as any kind of “good” in any reasonable sense of the word, unless one is a radical utilitarian. “Chaotic ruthless realpolitik pragmatist” is perhaps the best description of Bauer, but I suppose that’s too many dimensions.


  4. Redem #

    On a Sci-fi web board, I’ve suggest that the opposite of the “Evil Overlord checklist” should be a list for Lawful Good character that don’t want to die a miserable death in crapsack setting because of how thing inevitably never turn out their way.


  5. Ben Adams OTI Staff #

    Great article Shana! You hit the nail on the head – Breaking Bad, The Wire and the Sopranos are all amazing television shows with morally ambiguous (-ish) protagonists, and that has led too many to conclude that amazing shows MUST HAVE a morally ambiguous protagonist. I noticed that the other day in this AV Club review of the new Hunger Games:

    “The bigger issue, however, is that once Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence), the iron-willed archer from District 12, rose into that arena for battle, moral ambiguity basically fell by the wayside.”

    The article assumes without proving that moral ambiguity is a must-have for compelling drama. And there’s plenty of evidence that this isn’t true! Is there any moral ambiguity in Indiana Jones? In Star Wars? In It’s a Wonderful Life?


  6. Dimwit #

    One of the issues that should be discussed, particularly with the standard network shows is conforming to the S&P outlines. Starting from the Hayes Code on up it’s been the morality police that have instilled the tropes that we take for granted today. Even non-network programmes like The Sopranos or Breaking Bad have the same morality arc that the Hayes office demanded 80 years ago.
    Villainy must pay which makes the protagonist’s job easier. It’s resolved in the script. It makes for laziness from the writers POV because the character hasn’t had to justify their existence by being interesting enough to be there.
    It’s only after the code and no S&P (or much reduced one) has it allowed a much more interesting arc where the antagonist may not get everything they so richly deserve and the protagonist may become uncertain and therefore interesting.


  7. Felipe Dex #

    Also think it’s a great post! But the lawful good is not lost… not even in the shows you talked about.

    In Game of Thrones, Robb seems to me like a Lawful Good (i’ve only been reading the book, so I don’t know if he feels the same on video). Davos is another one! And they’re both great and compelling characters.

    But there’s one thing I must add. If you think it’s hard to play as a Lawful Good character, try beeing a Lawful Neutral!
    (And probably kids must love me: I’m a brown haired 30 something white guy! lol)


    • Shana Mlawski OTI Staff #

      Davos is a great example I didn’t think of. Love that guy. He’s a needed antidote to Ned, whom we can justifiably call Lawful Stupid. Davos may be illiterate, but he’s got street smarts. And a finger bag!

      Robb I’m not so sure about. He does start a rebellion, so “lawful” probably doesn’t apply, and we know he doesn’t always keep his promises (see: Red Wedding).


      • Wenyip #

        I wouldn’t necessarily say Robb is Lawful Good, but starting his rebellion doesn’t have to be a Neutral or Chaotic act. Lawful just means the character follows a set of rules, which can easily differ from those commonly held by society or, indeed, the law. Otherwise it would be impossible to have Lawful Evil (except when they’re in an Evil Empire). And yeah, we see Lawful Good heroes breaking ‘the law’ all the time – Superman, for instance, is often not an authorised police officer, so he actually commits rather a lot of assaults, wrongful imprisonments, destruction of property, trespass, not obeying flight laws, and so on.

        For Robb, starting his rebellion can quite easily be seen as the obvious first step in bringing a murderer-cum-tyrant to justice. Since Joffrey is King, he makes the law of Westeros, which he will use to uphold his power. There is no legal way for Robb to challenge him, so he must resort to arms. While proclaiming himself King is not so Lawful, starting a rebellion could easily fit within Lawful Good.


        • Felipe Dex #

          Robb is a great lawful good precisely because of these things. Yet:

          He didn’t proclaim himself king, he was called out by the northern lords to do so (his people).

          The Red Wedding happens because he gets seduced. He could’ve done as his father (raised his bastard), but he chooses getting married to the girl.


          • Shana Mlawski OTI Staff #

            Yeah, I still think Robb’s Neutral Good. I forget what happened in the show, but in the book he and whatshername decided to get married because they felt like it. There was no baby in the mix. Even in the show, didn’t the baby happen after they decided to get married? I thought Robb was just like, “Eh, whatev. F U, Walder. I’m keeping my hottie.” And I hardly think it’s fair to say Robb was seduced. It takes two to tango, my friend!

            With respect to the whole rebellion thing, I’d argue the lawful thing to do would have been to ally with Stannis, who has the best legal claim to the throne, from the very start, instead of rebelling and then asking his mom to beg for help later. But that’s all moot, because frankly, I don’t see Robb having a strict moral code that he follows. (Compare him to Ned, and I think it becomes clearer.) It just seems like Robb does whatever seems expedient at any given time. That doesn’t mean he’s not good, however.

            But we could quibble over alignments all day :)

        • PotatoKnight #

          To respond to a completely offhand and minor apart of your post, the issue of Superman and flight regulation was taken up by Law and the Multiverse in a series beginning here:

          The upshot is that Superman probably isn’t breaking any laws by flying because the FAA regulates “contrivances” for flight and Superman doesn’t use one. The Batplane, on the other hand, better be filing flight plans unless Mr. Wayne wants a lot of visits from friendly folks in F-16s.


  8. Gab #

    Buzz Lightyear. BOOM!


  9. Richard #

    Another instance from TV: On the Doctor Who Alignment Chart, Peter Davison (Doctor #5) occupies the Lawful Good corner. Hampered by that “alignment”, he has often been criticized for being (in essence) the “wimpiest” Doctor, unable to act decisively because of his personal ethics (e.g. “Resurrection of the Daleks”). The story “Warriors of the Deep” is often listed as one of the worst stories. I feel this is undeserved. I see it as a case where the Doctor simply arrived too late to influence events already set in motion no matter how hard he tries. That could be another example of how to make compelling drama with a Lawful Good protagonist: he doesn’t know his efforts are going to fail. Or, as in “Earthshock”, he must make a personally painful decision in order to serve a greater good.

    And from literature, there are Isaac Asimov’s robot stories. His robots are hard-wired to follow Three Laws – they have no choice _but_ to be Lawful Good. And yet Asimov manages to wring dozens of stories out of them by setting up logical conundrums or asking questions like “What constitutes ‘harm’?”


  10. Someguy #

    If you’re going to post images (especially creative ones) that you didn’t make, just drop the image into Google Image Search and try to give credit where credit is due. Your muppet one came from here:

    The other appears to have come from the Nostalgia Rush forums:

    Even Tumblr bloggers are capable of sourcing ‘teh funnay’ when they want to share it. Please try and do the same in future.


    • Seminymous Coward #

      I’m all for sourcing. I would note the mismatch inherent in such a complaint regarding those specific images. They use other people’s images without sourcing. Even if those sources are obvious to virtually everyone steeped in the Western popular culture canon, that’s not actually everyone or a full defense.


        • Seminymous Coward #

          Fair use is a doctrine in US copyright law. Derivative works and flat-out reproductions are, as far I am aware, equal in the eyes of the fair use doctrine. I think you were trying for the carefully distinguished term “transformative work” instead; I don’t think anything mentioned here qualifies, though.

          Attribution is, in fact, a (non-deciding) factor in determining if a use is a fair. More importantly, it’s also a factor in the morality of reproducing others’ work. I, for one, care more about the morality of things than their legality.

          I still find it odd to object that the author of a derivative work that doesn’t credit the original work is due credit upon reproduction. Did you make comments about a lack of attribution at Mightygodking or Nostalgia Rush?


    • Shana Mlawski OTI Staff #

      Noted, and thanks for the links. In my defense, when I found the images, it was not clear that the blogs I found them on were the original sources. It seemed very likely that those blogs had grabbed the images from other websites. This is a big problem with our web 2.0 or 3.0 or whatever web we’re on now. That’s why I always like when people put their names and websites on the images they make. That way, if someone wants to steal it, they have to go through the extra step of futzing with it in Photoshop or something, which isn’t worth the effort.


  11. logan #

    I really like this!

    I don’t disagree with anything you said, though I guess I have an addendum? which is simply that: not all categorically “lawful good” characters are necessarily good *people*.

    for me, a lot of what determines a character’s lawful goodness has to do with how strictly they adhere to some sense that there is a law or a natural order to the world that is external to themselves. their morality derives from the idea that there are objective absolute rights and wrongs in the world that are irrevocable, rather than their moral compass being determined by their own selfishness or their own sense that there are no moral absolutes in the world (in essence, they believe that there are rules–or, wouldn’t you know it, laws–that they must follow in order to do and to be good). and, for me, characters who are committed to strict rules aren’t necessarily always very nice or kind (or…just pick a positive adjective).

    for example, I think Stannis Baratheon of ASOIAF/Game of Thrones fame is a typically lawful good character (at least by my standards)–and he’s also one of the most interesting characters in the story, to me! he’s also just…not very nice. similarly, the High Septon that we encounter in books four and five is also a lawful good character, in my eyes. the commonality between both of these figures is that they believe very strongly that there is a right way and a wrong way to be in the world, and they act accordingly.

    I don’t say all this to mean that we should…grittify every alignment on the alignment matrix–I’m all for Superman’s brand of goodness, too! I think that kindness, and mercy, and idealism all make for very interesting and complicated character traits, and I’d love to see more of them in fiction. I guess, really, I’m just trying to get at the idea that kindness and idealism don’t necessarily predicate lawful goodness and vice versa?

    if you (or anyone else) agrees or disagrees, I’d love to hear your thoughts!


    • Shana Mlawski OTI Staff #

      Your comment reminds me (as everything reminds me) of a TV Trope:

      That said, I can’t personally call Stannis good when he’s letting Melisandre birth demon babies all over the place. He strikes me as Lawful Neutral, honestly. I also really like Stannis.

      I think as far as fiction goes, “good” and “evil” should be judged by the audience, not the character. A Lawful Evil character may think his laws or moral code are good, but it’s usually clear to the audience that they are anything but. Tywin Lannister, for example, strikes me as Lawful Evil even though he thinks he’s doing good according to his personal code (which is “whatever it takes for the good of my family”).


      • logan #

        I love TV Tropes!

        I think you make a really good point about the audience judging a character’s moral quality–I’ll have to turn it over in my mind a little more, though, before I can say for sure what I think of it. what you’re suggesting though does remind me of the ancient Greeks’ approach to morality (which I just learned about! and about which I’m still pretty severely undereducated–so if the thing I’m about to say is really a gross misunderstanding of the morality of Sophocles, someone jump on the wagon and tell me); in short, the moral significance of the acts of characters in the plays and epics out of ancient Greece was determined on the grounds of the acts themselves, as opposed to the characters’ intent when carrying out said acts (so, like, Oedipus is guilty of incest and patricide even though he didn’t know it/didn’t intend to commit either crime at the time). similarly, Stannis (if I’m understanding your argument correctly) *can’t* be slotted into the Lawful Good alignment because the acts he’s committing in the name of justice are, by their nature, not good, regardless of Stannis’s intent. (I’m kind of assuming that, in this view of things, we’re taking “good” to mean “that which soothes or produces prosperity” and “evil” to mean “that which disrupts, causes pain, or is rooted in some interest in subjugating others”. does that seem apt?)

        the more I think about this, the more I think it’s a really interesting take! like I said, I don’t know if I agree–but not because I think there’s like an obvious right way or wrong way to approach the moral quality of fictional characters. I just have to chew on it some more, I think.

        (I also have a lot to say about Tywin and why I think he’s actually Neutral Evil and not Lawful Evil, but…that’s an essay for another day.)


        • Tulse #

          To me Stannis is the epitome of Lawful Neutral — his acts are motivated solely by the Law as he sees it, and not out of any Good that the Law might produce. That is, the Law is an end in itself, and not a way of organizing society (or, in more metaphysical terms, organizing the universe) in order to accomplish Good. He doesn’t follow the Law because it is Good, but merely because it is the Law.

          I’d agree as well that Tywin is Neutral Evil — he doesn’t care about obeying the Law, but is quite willing to violate it in order to better his family.


  12. BastionofLight #

    What is it about Melisandres’s demon babies that causes that Stannis’s sanction of them to mean that he cannot be called good?


    • Shana Mlawski OTI Staff #

      Yeah, I guess I’m showing my anti-demon baby prejudice there. It’s hard to know since the show/book series isn’t done yet, so I’m just assuming GRRM meant the super-creepy-shadow-demon-baby-assassin to be read as evil. Maybe it’s actually the big hero of the whole thing.


      After what GRRM did with Theon, maybe that wouldn’t be so shocking.


      • Tulse #

        Assassination, especially supernatural assassination, is most definitely not honourable. At best such actions are a “lesser evil for greater good” kind of deal.


      • BastionofLight #

        Unless I’m mistaken, the shadows are one-time-use-only, act on Melisandre’s will, and do not act autonomously afterward.
        In such a case, they are simply one way of killing someone.

        If you’re going to kill someone, I do not believe that the method of execution affects the morality of it, except insofar as you cause additional suffering, either in the victim or in spectators.

        If killing Renly was not a good act, then it affects Stannis’s alignment appropriately, but if we do not have a problem with the law saying that false claimants to the throne are subject to execution, then we should not have a problem with how that execution was carried out.


  13. TimO #

    I always thought the Lawful Neutral was the most fun to play, trying to remain morally constant in the face of the battle (usually) between good and evil. You could do what you wanted, as long as there was an arc of justification (saving the world, etc.) Chaos and law are tough ends of the spectrum. Some people treat Chaos as random, others draw a different line. We always saw law as the full belief that the rules apply to everyone, while Chaos finds individuality and person success as the goal. Thus you find a group that is morally consistent for everyone (think Buddhist or Jain), vs. someone who is good, yet solely focused on their own group’s success (Think a Teacher’s union). In GOT, I was interested most by the Watch, who take the Black, an oath to protect, despite their own internal differences. Find the group arguing about who they will be, should they be “neutral” in the D&D sense, indifferent to others? Are they really law-bound, with the frequent characters who break oaths? I liked that they had “Rangers” who in Tolkein and D&D, went to the more “Chaotic” sides. Alignment in individual actions is interesting, but I think it takes a new level, when you think about the impactions fro groups or societies. Are ultra-religious groups Lawful or Chaotic? Are they good or evil? Tough often to say. Depends on perspective. In the Tolkein, D&D sense, or even the graphs you show of pictures, ask whether the Orcs, or the Chaotic evil will recognize that they are such. In GOT, The people beyond the wall represent evil to the watch, but are morally consistent to a belief that looks chaotic, but I would call Lawful Neutral. They enforce laws, and have a set of beliefs broadly applied over the group. They interact with others with a consistent approach. They are not Choas, they are law, or at least neutral, and the GOT world lets you build a case that they are good and their slaughter is a function of the Westeros corruptions. Writ large, the view can be taken that they are the good slaughtered by an evil society (even chaotic evil) society that only respects power. This is the chaotic evil that I see, even in the Starks, the supposed heroes. They are driven to try to stand above the game of thrones, but join in as they can.

    Sorry, I can get off on a real tear when we try to overlay D&D alignment, I spent too many years having these arguments. I’d support the discussions I’ve read that even the cartoon Superman is Neutral and not Lawful Good. He’s conflicted, but has a distance that doesn’t prevent suffering, it just prevents domination by evil. And don’t get me started on the last Movie. MOS is the most destructive curveball to the Superman canon. Period.


  14. Gab #

    GoT chart, based off the show (I’d assume, at least), not the books, so maybe more backstory would change the positioning and such? Here:

    Also, there are a few ones showing just Batman, like the 10th Doctor one you linked, Shana. Here’s the most famous/oldest one (although maybe not the original source, snap):

    Also, a general DC-Universe one:

    And, as a bonus, an updated one from the Nolan-verse:

    There are Spider-Man and X-Men ones, too, but I’ve prolly link-spammed enough by now.


  15. Lexicon #

    I have no desire to be Walter White, but I wouldn’t mind being in the shoes of Gustavo Fring. The epitome of Lawful Evil. Well, maybe not all the time.


  16. Count Spatula #

    Does anyone else consider Sam Vimes from Discworld to be one of the more interesting “Lawful Good” type characters? Boy is he flawed, and massively cynical, but he’s also straight as a ruler and as moral as they come. Perhaps he’s not quite as blatantly “Lawful Good” as, say, Captain Carrot, who is openly portrayed to be a “boring”, run-of-the-mill Good Guy, but he does still fit the bill.

    He’s also one of my favourite characters of all time and this is from someone who is guilty of thinking Lawful Good types were boring. To shame!


    • BastionofLight #

      As an access character for a novel, Carrot might be boring. There would not be much interesting commentary in his internal monologue.

      However, for a visual media, one that does not use any device to show internal monologue, Carrot could star in a very entertaining story.


    • Tulse #

      Vimes is an excellent example of rich Lawful Good character.


  17. Opellulo #

    I think the problem is bigger: there’s the need not only of lawful good character, but of lawful good fiction.

    The Hero’s journey and its most deeper internal meaning: “Change to find the strenght to overcome your flaws and traumas” is dramatically out of fashion. Right now the most viewed TV shows follow a Batman-like moral: “I got traumas so I am allowed to do what I want, Screw You!”.

    From Games of Thrones to Dexter, from Breaking Bad to The Walking Dead there’s a total disrepect for characters that shows understanding or, worse of all, compassion. If they do, it’s only to reinforce their inner traumas and anti-eroic behaviours in a silly, and quite juvenile, run for audience where every show try to be more “edgy” and “conflicted”.


    • Count Spatula #

      I agree to an extent, though I would say that it’s pretty easy to feel a certain amount of resentment towards things when we’re exposed to the same tropes over and over with no decent alternatives to break the monotony. We seem to be looking back on the days of lawful good types with a nostalgic eye, whilst people still herald the anti-hero as, like you say, “edgy” and interesting and new, if you can believe it. But at the same time, the reason we were bored of the “lawful good” stuff is same reason we’re getting bored of the morally ambiguous stuff now – television or (insert media here) gets saturated with it to the point where it can be nothing but boring because we’ve seen it before, and usually better executed. That doesn’t mean it’s always going to be that way.

      I don’t want anti-heroes to disappear, because I think it can be interesting to explore more morally ambiguous themes, but let’s have some variety, please!


      • Opellulo #

        It’s a problem of TV trends: when one show works you got a whole load of copies and rip-offs. The rush is so quick that often these whole “new” series totally lack purpose other than be “Like (insert famous title serie here) but…”

        Too bad the current trend is “Anti-heroes and morally ambiguos”, but often these themes aren’t explored in their meanings and ramification. Most of the time these shows simply continue to trow bad things at the characters (and audiences) hiding behind paper-thin justifications (when they remember to do that).

        What’s the point of The Walking Dead? Survival no matter the cost? “From whom the bell tolls”? Life is S#!t?
        IMHO it’s simply a boring torture porn where ugly characters do ugly things to other ugly characters because reason…

        I put in the same league even a internet favourite like Breaking Bad: zombie there, cancer here but still only scapegoats to go evil and feel fine about that.
        I understand the power fantasies they generate in the audience but i still think that storytelling is responsible for the story it tells: you want to go that route? Fine, but stick to that: to all the ramifications, feelings, destruction and pointlessness who arise when you choose to “defend the family no matter the cost”. Instead we got continuous tonal shits, switching of morals, abrupt change of focus and deus ex-machinas (“i hate new-mexico nazis”) as long as characters can continue to endulge in their “anti-heroism” and feel fine about that.


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