The Best Character Arcs

Character Arcs
Reading Time ~ 5 minutes

 

I’ve talked often about my love of a good narrative, it’s just one example of where good writing can elevate a story being told, another is with its characters. The key to a good character is all in their development. I have had numerous issues with shows where characters never change, they’re fine to a point but there’s no natural progression so ultimately interest dwindles.

With that in mind, I wanted to discuss some of my favourite character arcs, there may be some spoilers but I’ll keep it broad and not give away anything too specific.

 

Jaime Lannister – Game of Thrones

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Full disclosure I’ve only watched the series and not read all the books, though I’m aware of some plot differences and also the fact that there’s more to come so it could all go wrong. With that being said Jaime is an absolute nasty when you first meet him, arrogant, smug and lacking any real redeeming features. However after one key incident which strips away a key aspect of his character and you learn more about him and how an act that he’s reviled for may actually be his finest moment, and what you see after that is a character who is more rounded, though that’s not to say he isn’t still a bit of an arse at times.

Garrus Vakarian – Mass Effect

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There are a few Mass Effect characters that I could have written about but Garrus will always be my favourite due to the level of sarcasm on offer. I’ve talked about Garrus before but his story feels earned, in the first game he’s a cop who is continuously frustrated at home.

Criminals constantly get away with things due to all the red tape so when he appears in the sequel as a vigilante who’s systematically killing gang members it’s entirely believable. And when he’s re-introduced in the third game he’s a military advisor to his people based on his experiences in the first two games and this feels like a very natural progression too, which to us makes an already likeable character that much more amazing.

Perrin Aybara – Wheel of Time

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The Wheel of Time series has a lot of characters that develop significantly over the course of the 15 books for me though it is Perrin that has the most compelling journey. Perrin starts as a shy blacksmiths apprentice who is constantly worried about his own strength but over the course of the story, you see him develop into a confident leader and also a wolf brother – a man that can communicate with wolves.

What makes Perrin such a great character is that you seem him wrestle with very human dilemmas, and some not so human, and you seem him become something of the moral compass of the series.

Zuko – Avatar

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Zuko spends the first season and a half of Avatar as the chief antagonist however he begins to question himself and consider the notion of whether it’s his honour that he’s looking for or whether there’s something more. He’s helped along the way by his Uncle Iroh (an amazing character in his own right) who tries to help him find some measure of peace. It comes to a head with one particularly poor judgement call and he then makes changes and becomes an asset to Team Avatar. And the beauty of this is that you continue to see this development in the follow-up comics and you even get to meet Zuko as an old man with shares of Iroh about him in the Legend of Korra.

Commander Sam Vimes – Discworld

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Sam Vimes is a Captain in the Nightwatch and a drunk when we first meet him. Over the course of the books we see him get promoted and transform the city watch, see him get married, become a duke and have a son.

The beauty of this progression is the inherent comedy to be had as Vimes adapts to these changes in his status quo while also remaining the same policeman he was trained to be. The fascinating thing about him as a character is how he fears losing control and becoming a criminal so much that there’s almost a second persona in his head.

Wesley Wyndam-Pryce – Buffy / Angel

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Now we get to one of the two reasons I had for writing this, possibly the most fascinating and raw transformation of any character. I’ve not seen all of Buffy to see the starting point but he arrives on Angel a geeky, clumsy man and over the course of the series he matures significantly becoming more assured in himself and a very effective leader, prioritising the greater good regardless of the consequences.

He experiences a lot during the 5 seasons of the series and at no point is it anything less than compelling, in fact it’s my favourite character arc of any TV show ever.

Dick Grayson – Batman

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Dick has a similar story to Bruce Wayne in that he witnessed his parents murder when their trapeze wires were cut, Bruce made him his ward (and later adopted him). He became Robin, helped Batman, subsequently outgrew Robin and struck out on his own as the hero Nightwing. Later he even became Batman when Bruce wasn’t able to do it anymore, the perfect heir to the mantle.

It’s clear that the growth caused problems at first but, as Bruce points out at one point, it was something he was prepared for as Dick was to born to be centre ring (a reference to his circus past). It’s the natural growth of character and needs to become his own person that makes Dick Grayson such a fascinating character, well that and being considerably more light-hearted than his mentor.

 

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