There is no tragedy in Game of Thrones like Hodor. Nothing comes close. Universally beloved, this sweet and simple giant graced the lives of viewers everywhere, only to become the cause of millions of broken hearts when he met his grisly end.
Empathy isn’t about feeling sorry for a character. It’s about feeling for a character, about standing in their shoes and understanding what it’s like to be them. It’s about comprehending their challenges, and then cheering when those challenges are overcome—this reminds us that our own difficulties are not insurmountable.
Hodor faced the greatest of challenges in the form of a mental handicap. Only able to say his own name, Hodor possessed the intelligence of a very young child. He was also intentionally kind, nonviolent, and loved those he considered his family.
Of all the characters we get to know in Westeros, he was undoubtedly the purest, and that’s why we loved him so.
But when we found out why Hodor is Hodor, the pain of his death multiplied. When Bran and his companions are pursued by a horde of undead wights, Bran uses his powers to take control of Hodor, using his strength to hold a door against the creatures.
But because Bran reaches back through time to control Hodor through the man’s childhood self, it causes the past version of Hodor to experiences his own death as he is torn apart by the undead in the future, as his companions scream for him to “hold the door.”
The young, past Hodor falls to the ground, convulsing as he experiences his future death, “Hold the door” slowly becoming all that he would ever be able to say: Hodor.
And with this, the audience realizes that each time Hodor says “Hodor,” he’s reliving his own death.
If that doesn’t create empathy, nothing will.