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Diriliş Ertuğrul: Reasons why Tuğtekin and Gökçe are the characters with the greatest potential

MAJOR SPOILERS FOR SEASON 2 BELOW!

Disclaimer: this review is for fun and not intended to break hearts. (Mostly.)

So the title you just clicked on is not the true essence of this piece. Its real title is “Reasons why Tuğtekin and Gökçe were A+ characters and could have grown to be even better.”

Let’s get into it.

It has come to my attention that there are a lot of Tuğtekin haters in the world. This simply will not do. I see you all lurking in the comments on Ertuğrul videos on YouTube and on Ertuğrul meme pages. I have arrived to set all of you straight.

Tuğtekin is a very, very, very imperfect character. In fact, in a lot of ways, he’s downright unlikable. He punches out Hamza and Abdurrahman for the mere suspicion that they are traitors. He is absolutely terrible in his treatment of Samsa Alp — stop pouring chicken on your Alps’ heads and beating them over trivial matters, sir, this is not how you gain loyalty or love. He knocks down the Kayi tribe flag and stomps on it (though admittedly, he was baited by Ertuğrul into doing this). He has a raging temper and struggles with self-control. He shoots off at the mouth, sometimes with a great deal of spit.

But he also has his golden moments.

I credit Uğur Güneş and his mastery of the Soft Facial Expression for achieving this. It is hard to make a character with as many flaws as Tuğtekin seem so multi-layered and sympathetic — and yet that’s exactly what he ends up portraying. As much as Tuğtekin is shown to be immature and impulsive, the show also explores these traits as stemming from his insecurities — as well as his deep capacity for love.

He loves his late mother, Duru Hatun, and visits her grave often. He loves his father, Korkut Bey, and is determined to make him proud. He loves Dodurga and wants to see his people succeed (even if, early on, he’s ruthless in going about it). And, of course, he loves the new Kayi girl in town, Gökçe — a romance that is built up quite nicely, while (more importantly) still feeling realistic.

Because Tuğtekin is no instant heartthrob, unlike the romantic heroes we’re used to seeing onscreen. At the start of the season, he seems to believe that it’s his strength and rank that should win people over, not his treatment of them. The man has an outburst at Gökçe during his first private conversation with her (because she brings up Ertuğrul — which reminds us how conventional wisdom dictates that when a guy is interested in you, you don’t try to talk about his more popular jock cousin). He is painfully imperfect in pursuing the woman he loves, trying to prove himself as being as much of a man as his cousins — and failing multiple times along the way.

It makes sense that a lot of his actions are characterized by jealousy, too. Gündoğdu is pretty well respected, and Ertuğrul is basically a legend, and both are suddenly plunked in Tuğtekin’s own tribe, stealing his thunder even in the presence of his own father. It’s as if the teacher’s pets from the local Sunday school set up camp in your backyard, bringing their legendary goodness with them.

Here’s the catch, though — throughout the season, Tuğtekin becomes more and more aware of the fact that he’s not perfect. And while YouTube commenters all over Season 2 videos might argue otherwise, I maintain that Tuğtekin isn’t stupid — especially when you consider that he’s being manipulated by the show’s main three villains for pretty much the entire first two thirds of the season. It doesn’t help that Ertuğrul keeps secrets that would, logically, make any person suspicious, especially when the safety of two tribes is in question.

(No, Ertuğrul does not get a pass just because he’s the hero. In Season 2, he can quite often come across as a bit of a jerk. There, I said it.)

By the middle of the season, Tuğtekin begins asks questions where questions would logically arise. (And usually gets scolded for it with a loud “TUǦTEKIIIIIIIIN!!!!!”, which I find quite unfair.) He does defer to his elders when he’s required. And he grows into his role as the bey of Dodurga, something that Hayme Ana basically predicts when she tells him that he reminds her of a younger Ertuğrul.

True, he can be a huge diva — especially in that one scene in Episode 43, when he’s being carted around in a portable fur bed, dramatically making it seem (for three suspenseful seconds) that Ertuğrul is the one who tried to stab him to death. But he also learns not to be as much of a diva once he learns the truth of his evil stepfamily, and he begins slowly learning control over his own temper, as well as the delicate art of humility.

Now, in terms of romance. You might argue that when it comes to relationships, no one tops Ertuğrul and Halime. But I would say that while Ertuğrul’s love for Halime is treated as a tender subplot, Tuğtekin’s love for Gökçe is actually pivotal in defining — and growing — him as a character. It’s not just a love story for them. It’s a story of loss, growth, and slowly gaining maturity.

All this to say…

My theory is that if Tuğtekin and Gökçe were allowed more screentime, they would’ve become simply too powerful and therefore steal some of Ertuğrul’s spotlight, which simply will not do because Ertuğrul is the hero and should always be the coolest.

(The proof in the pudding: Sungurtekin, the great double agent in the army of Ogeday, who fooled Noyan for years, was dumbed down on purpose so that Ertuğrul could have yet another heroic I’m-right-because-I’m-Ertuğrul-and-you’re-wrong-because-you’re-not-Ertuğrul moment. As if the show really needs another one of those.)

Here are some things I would’ve loved to see from the dynamic duo of Göktekin:

1. Tuğtekin and Gökçe growing into their roles as Bey and Hatun of the Dodurga tribe.

While most of the time, we are treated to scenes of Tuğtekin learning humility and leadership, we also see Gökçe learning what it means to be the wife of a Bey. Once Aytolun’s dead (that snake), it’s Gökçe’s show to run, making her the equivalent of a First Lady — and giving her a position that even Halime doesn’t have (yet). And in the few scenes we get of her running that show, Gökçe delivers.

She’s shown to be a capable orator on Nawruz as well as a skilled craftswoman. She’s able to put aside her own sorrows for the sake of rallying the women of both tribes. And she’s also got her own ferocity that, if properly channeled, could have shaped her into a great leader.

I would’ve loved to see Gökçe growing from a naive young woman into a hatun who is wise, brave, and loving in equal measure. She had the capacity for it. She had the personality for it: equal parts sweet, caring, and fiery. Heck, she was already on her way there.

What a waste of a great character arc.

As for Tuğtekin, he has clearly gone through a lot of growth already, but there’s still room for improvement. I was hoping for a character arc of the likes of Zuko from Avatar: The Last Airbender, where he goes from Fiery Boy to Wise Leader. I’m not quite sure what that would entail, since (once again) the show rarely allows for heroism that isn’t performed on Ertuğrul’s orders. But, as with Gökçe, the potential was there, and it was strong.

I repeat: what a waste.

2. Gökçe and Tuğtekin stand on fairly equal footing in this relationship, in a way that other couples seem to lack.

“But,” I hear you saying, “Ertuğrul considers Halime an equal!”

I felt like he did in Season 1. I can’t speak yet about Season 3 and beyond. But in Season 2, Ertuğrul’s respect for Halime feels conditional on her submission to him. When she speaks her mind or keeps a secret, his response is to scold her by saying her name in a loud and grouchy way.

On the other hand, Gökçe wrestles with Tuğtekin, yells at him that she won’t listen to him, and then pushes him away from her sister. (She fails to save Selcan from being chased out of her tent by Tuğtekin two minutes later, but that’s irrelevant right now.)

Point being, Gökçe won the wrestling match with Tuğtekin — not because she was stronger, but because he allowed her to win. He lets Gökçe put him in his place, even when he’s at peak-level angry. And throughout the show, he continually takes advice from her (even the trashy advice), showing how he clearly holds his wife’s opinion in high regard.

This is an interesting dynamic that I wish had been explored further. It’s another display of Gökçe’s budding power, as well as Tuğtekin’s respect for her. What would it have been like to see them balance each other out through several years of marriage — with Gökçe absorbing more of Tuğtekin’s fire, and Tuğtekin taking on more of Gökçe’s softness?

It’s a question we will sadly never know the answer to.

Boo.

3. Gökçe discovering that she’s worth more than just her ability to have children.

One scene I found truly beautiful was when Tuğtekin tells Gökçe, “Even if you cannot give me a child, you will always give me life.”

For a man and woman in the 13th-ish century, this is a big deal. No other couple in the show both a) deals with infertility and b) also accepts it in a healthy way. Ertuğrul’s proposal to Halime had him saying, “Be the mother of my children,” in line with the marital expectations of the time. Gündoğdu repeatedly shames Selcan for not being able to have children, and ends up nearly marrying another wife in his period-typical desperation for his lineage to continue.

Tuğtekin’s acceptance of Gökçe’s maybe-infertility (BECAUSE WE’LL NEVER REALLY KNOW, WILL WE, SINCE THEY BOTH DIED) is probably my favorite scene in the whole season for this reason. He clearly does want a child — but his love for Gökçe is strong enough to overcome that. He doesn’t see her as “damaged goods,” but as the woman who makes him happy, and whom he wants to make happy in turn.

…Meaning that the series robbed us of a chance to see how Gökçe and Tuğtekin continue to overcome that very real roadblock in their relationship. Would they have adopted any orphans? Or would Gökçe have a surprise child, having been assured that Tuğtekin already loves her no matter what?

Maybe in thirty years, they can put this in the Ertuğrul reboot. >:) Here’s hoping.

4. Tuğtekin and Gökçe having more lovely and happy Göktekin moments.

If there was ever well-earned true love, Tuğtekin and Gökçe have it.

Tuğtekin might be immature and naive in many cases, but there’s no doubting the fact that his feelings for Gökçe border on adoration. When he has an outburst against her, he apologizes to her. He invites her to ride horses with him to escape her grief. He attempts to comfort her when she’s sad. He listens to her when she gives him advice (even if sometimes, that advice really stinks). He tells her that he likes it when she smiles. He goes out of his way to show her that he has feelings for her — which, when you think about how Gökçe’s affections were spurned by Ertuğrul, is no small thing.

And he cries for her — boy, does he cry for her. I can’t believe I’m quoting the YouTube comments, but as one user so elegantly posted: “No matter how strong of a person you’re (sic), there’s always someone who can make you weak.”

Deep stuff, bro.

It’s his weakness for Gökçe that makes Tuğtekin teary-eyed when he realizes that he might have been the one Gökçe settled for, as a way for her to move on from an unattainable love. He cries when he hugs her again after they reconcile. He cries openly when he believes he’s lost her. Can you tell that I’m obsessed with the crying scenes? I cannot emphasize how great they are. They provide a much-needed message to global audiences: a guy should show how much he loves his wife. Both in front of her, and in front of his cool older cousins.

No, really. I could get into a whole tangent about how Tuğtekin’s vulnerability around Gökçe is something that plenty of men could learn from. But I’ll leave you with this slightly lamely worded, but nonetheless solid, conclusion instead:

Conclusion

Tuğtekin and Gökçe had the potential, as demonstrated by the above, to walk the audience through a unique kind of story: one where the people we sort of roll our eyes at grow into heroes in their own right. You don’t need to start out perfect to end up a great person. You only need to be willing to grow.

I wish they’d kept both of them around long enough to see that kind of a story unfold. (Or maybe I’ll just have to rewrite that whole season ending on my own.)

Thank you for coming to my TED Talk.

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