A tale of the sole survivor
I am starting this post with a quote from S3.09 because in this dialogue there is something that could be easily connected to Eric in S7, sick and dying with a terminal illness and his complex state of mind.
Pam: A hundred years I’ve been with you. Why did you never say anything about Russell or your family?
Eric: You didn’t need to know. What good would it do to share my pain with you?
Pam: You didn’t need to carry it all by yourself.
Eric: I am not weak. I was the sole survivor. The burden is mine alone.
Pam: We’ve lived through so much for so long. It can’t end this quickly.
Eric: Everything ends. Even the immortals.
The importance of honour, shame and revenge for injury (drengskapr, níðr, gyrnwræce) as the concepts in the Viking society deserves a separate post and we have to account that Eric (always a Viking) would be definitely inclined to follow the Viking guidelines, for such was their influence in the lives of the Vikings that they transcended life and death.
In this post I would like to focus on psychology; there is a pattern here which is too difficult to dismiss; a tragic loss leading to guilt, more specifically the type which in psychology is known as a ‘survivor’s guilt’ and in Eric’s case the pattern also contains isolation as a defence mechanism and revenge as a reaction. Additionally, Eric is in bereavement (again), a multifaceted response to loss; while primarily emotional suffering, it also has physical, cognitive, behavioural, social, spiritual and philosophical dimensions. The sense of bereavement usually includes components of pain, loneliness and anger. These feelings often give rise to troubling questions about person’s own life thus far and cast a shadow over his/her view of the future. Lastly, Eric is dying of a terminal illness which itself carries severe psychological consequences. Contrary to the popular opinion, I believe that Sylvie is very much an essential component of Eric’s trauma.
It is interesting to understand why Eric mentions Godric, Nora and Sylvie specifically:
They were important to him (he cared and loved them), he was present at the time of their death (or with Godric, his most beloved father, he was sent away but Godric’s death was imminent and it shortly followed Eric’s and Godric’s last words), he could not prevent their death and he survived them. These four parameters can be easily applied to Eric and the loss of his human family. The cycle with human family has been completed but this cycle (Godric, Nora, Sylvie) hasn’t. We have to remember that even if Eric nobly stated that he was done with revenge, he did not miss the opportunity to settle that ancient debt. Russell died at Eric’s hand.
From the above quote it is evident that Eric has dealt previously with being a sole survivor and he has chosen to carry that burden alone, pretty much what he was choosing to do as he left Bon Temps. He may view that his inner strength comes from coping with trauma on his own more so if he thinks that he has been successful once before. Not sharing pain with Pam may be a part of his defence mechanism. There has always been an Eric to which Pam was not privy to, a man that is not a maker. A person is a sum of the many roles he/she assumes.
Guilt is, first and foremost, an emotion. It’s more accurate to think of guilt as an internal state. From a cognitive point of view, guilt is an emotion that people experience because they’re convinced they’ve caused harm (the tendency is to often misinterpret the events and one’s role in it). Five types of guilt are: Guilt for something you did; Guilt for something you didn’t do, but wanted to; Guilt for something you think you did; Guilt that you didn’t do enough to help; Guilt that you’re doing better than someone else (where we find survivor’s guilt).
Survivor guilt (also called survivor’s syndrome) is a mental condition that occurs when a person perceives themselves to have done wrong by surviving a traumatic event when others did not. It may be found among survivors of combat, natural disasters, epidemics, among the friends and family of those who have committed suicide. Sufferers often blame themselves for the deaths of others, including those who died while rescuing the survivor or whom the survivor tried unsuccessfully to save. Survivor syndrome is also known as concentration camp syndrome (or KZ syndrome on account of the German term Konzentrationslager) a term which has been used to describe the reactions and behaviours of people who have survived massive and adverse events; a pattern of characteristic symptoms including anxiety and depression, social withdrawal, sleep disturbance and nightmares, physical complaints and mood swings with loss of drive. To simply be alive, in the face of so much death, can arouse guilt feelings, as well as feelings of relief at having been spared, that are often denied and thereby become intensified. The sufferers may describe or regard their own survival as insignificant. Survivors who feel guilty sometimes suffer self blame and clinical depression.
Some notable film references: The 1979 novel Sophie’s Choice and the subsequent movie about a Polish Holocaust survivor who had to choose which one of her two young children was allowed to survive.
In the 1980 film, Ordinary People, based on the novel of the same name, Conrad Jarrett is a young man who struggles with surviving a sailing accident which killed his older brother. As Jarrett realises that he is angry at his brother’s recklessness, he confronts the very cause of his problems and begins to accept his own survival had nothing to do with his brother’s death.
The intrusion of death into Eric’s life has defined the way in which he tolerates intimacy, forms durable relationships, plans for the future and maintains feelings of efficacy and self worth. I feel that Eric is very much repeating the old pattern; he responded to the trauma with revenge once before and he responds to it again with the same pattern. The survivor guilt may explain his careless attitude in contracting the deadly virus as well as refusal to feed.
Guilt and its handmaiden, shame can paralyse––or catalyse one into action. We should be able to recognise the moment in ep. 3 when paralysis becomes a catalyst (7.03 Eric: Well, let’s go find her. Shall we?)
It was discussed elsewhere that Eric in S4 addressed the issue of revenge; it would never bring peace (4.12 “And when I die”). We have to remember that at that moment Eric’s most profound trauma has not been triggered. Eric has just had a most amazing experience with Sookie and was hoping for a chance to have a future with her (this time love could really win), his sister was alive, he was beginning to understand Godric. However, after everything that transpired from this moment forward, Sookie’s rejection moments after, Nora’s death, events in TA HQ, epidemic decimating all, Eric is in a completely different state, emotionally and mentally. We must also question whether this dying Eric wants to be in peace; bringing in the issue of survivor guilt and bereavement the answer may not be simple. Everything ends, even the immortals, this is the time of reckoning for the dying Viking.
What of Sarah Newlin, why is she a trigger or a common denominator? In the case of Godric, Eric would harbour intense anger that FOTS, run by the Newlins, was implicated in Godric’s death, Godric’s own home was obliterated by a FOTS terrorist. Nora died in the vamp camp, run by Burrell and Sarah Newlin. We may discover a bit more as the season progresses about the consequences of that moment back in 1986 France. Adding to this Eric’s own illness which is of course the dreaded Hepatitis V, Eric faces the battle of his life.
In the next post, we will address some of those important concepts as the Vikings saw them: honour, shame, revenge, family and fate; this may reveal further who Eric is.
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