Surprising Character Moments in Media

I like to read books before bed. I have for nearly as long as I can remember. It’s a habit my mom got me into at an early age and I’m grateful she did. It’s helped me get back into reading after a period of not making time for it. But last night I came across a quote that resonated with me a lot and I wasn’t quite expecting it.

I’m currently reading Book 3 of the Stormlight Archives. There’s a character named Kaladin Stormblessed who, for lack of better words, has had a pretty rough card dealt to him in life. And the following is a quote from one of his chapters:

…but ever since he’d found his parents alive and well he’d been feeling better.
That wasn’t so uncommon a feeling for him. He felt good lots of days. Trouble was, on the bad days, that was hard to remember. At those times, for some reason, he felt like he had always been in darkness, and always would be.
Why was it so hard to remember? Did he have to keep slipping back down? Why couldn’t he stay up here in the sunlight, where everyone else lived?

And that’s just a small passage in the midst of one of his chapters. But it really resonated with me in a way I wasn’t expecting. I’ve struggled with Depression in my life and I’d never quite come across a phrase or description of it that I felt really captured how I felt about it. But here, in the middle of a rather important part of the book, Kaladin is self-reflective enough to have this thought about it all, and I finally felt like I found the perfect description for how it felt. It really seemed to be a core part to his character and yet, I had never realized Kaladin had Depression until this passage. It’s really obvious looking back through the other books. Lots of characters describe him as grumpy and that his smile is scary because it so rarely happens and even being in his internal monologue, I just saw him as a pessimistic man struggling to live in a harsh world. But him laying it out in his own mind was made it clear to me.

I can’t recall a character that surprised me like this in any sort of way. There’s certainly been twists and reveals and the like, but I suppose it stood out to me more to have such a core part of him be unseen to me still after two whole huge books.I think it’s the first time in a book that an Invisible Illness really snuck by me. Since books have so much in terms of observing the world from the character’s point of view and a lot of internal monologues, it always seems to come out really well. I guess it also took me by surprise as Kaladin often felt like he was always working towards a goal and rarely made any time for himself and his own thoughts, focusing on his duty as a soldier and the like.

So I pass the question onto all of you: Have you had a character surprise you with anything a fair ways into a series? Or even just a character moment that resonated with you, perhaps from a character you didn’t like or from one you already liked that made you love them instead. Be it a standalone book, game, movie or anything, I’d love to hear if anyone else has found something that took them back a moment seemingly out of the blue.

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Thank you so much for sharing this example. You’ve probably heard me say this many times but moments like this, in which you find a moment in a story that you can point to and say “that’s me, that’s how I feel” perhaps better than you could say in your own words… That’s why I started GT so many years ago.

To answer your question, this happened to me with The Doctor during the 50th anniversary special “The Day of the Doctor.” Since the reboot in 2005 the character seemed to get younger and younger. In the special I realized he had a moment in his life that he was trying to deny and separate himself from. At this point, we didn’t know he had lived for years as the “War Doctor.” He was so ashamed of that time that not only did he never talk about it, he tried to embody the opposite of that time in his life. We continue to see this with 13th regeneration into Twelve, in which he’s willing to embrace his old self because he’s forgiven himself.

Sure, maybe some of that is just brilliant retconning but it really surprised me that I didn’t understand what he was going through until that moment, and then so much made sense about his character and his behavior.

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Another version of this for me is in Scott Snyder’s Batman run titled “Death of the Family” in which we see the Joker’s relationship with Batman in a new way. At least it was new to me. The Joker doesn’t hate Batman, he loves in. In a twisted, obsessed way. The LEGO Batman movie plays with this idea but I never thought of their relationship in that way. In Death of the Family the Joker is torturing Batman “for his own good,” to help him, because he can’t stand to see him like this. I started feeling bad for the Joker after this and I think that in the back of his mind Batman is his favorite person and it’s so sad.

The Joker-Batman relationship in Death of the Family is one of my favorite moments in comics just in general. It’s why I can never dislike Batman the way some folk do. Batman’s villains are all such great mirrors of the sides of himself that he worries about. To have Joker be this outwardly impossible to predict villain and that all of the “you need me and I need you” phrasing come from a place not of malice or attempted manipulation, but just from a place that is core to Joker and is the only “true” bit of him that we constantly see. It reminds me of the Killing Joke movie (which had flaws but this scene was nice) where Joker tells a joke to Batman and they both laugh together. Without any context, you’d almost think they were friends sharing a genuine laugh with one another.