Why are we so irresistibly drawn to “Game of Thrones” (“GOT”, as we affectionately call it) in these times of real wars, violent upheavals, and treacherous alliances plaguing the factual, fragile earth itself?
I write these lines in the exhilarating few days and hours just before the seventh season of the fantasy drama television series “Game of Thrones” is set to premiere on HBO on 16 July 2017 and (what a horror) to conclude six weeks later on 27 August 2017.
Like millions of other fans of GOT, I have followed the adventures, mishaps, cruelties, and treacheries of and done to the Houses of Stark, Lannister, Tyrell, Targaryen, and the rest of them as if they were members of my own extended family.
Before the season has even started I am deeply saddened that unlike previous seasons that consisted of 10 episodes each this season will offer us only seven. Why?
Of all seasons, in this season of Donald Trump and his family’s daily dangerous antics, we need more not less of the Starks, the Lannisters, and the Targaryens – and especially of those magnificent dragons. I much prefer their ferocious fiery nostrils to those of Steve Bannon, Kellyanne Conway, and Stephen Miller.
What’s the draw?
Filmed primarily in Northern Ireland, Spain and Iceland, GOT features a cast we now know and love or loathe far more intimately than we do our own friends, foes, neighbours, and colleagues: Emilia Clarke as Mother of Dragons Daenerys Targaryen who thinks she was born to rule the Seven Kingdoms, Kit Harington as “you know nothing” Jon Snow, Peter Dinklage as Tyrion Lannister the drunkard conscience of his corrupt family, Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister, the deeply troubled incestuous Queen of Seven Kingdoms, Sophie Turner as the weak, frightened, vulnerable, and deeply abused Sansa Stark … and, of course, my own absolute favourite characters (with whom I most identify), John Bradley as the learned scholar, Samwell Tarly, and the love of his life, Hannah Murray as Gilly.
|I will watch every shot and every scene and every episode, more than once, bear with the murderous, ambitious, incestuous twists in anticipation of that possible scene when Sam, Gilly, and Little Sam might reappear so I can make sense of it all – not just of the Houses of Lannister and Targaryen and the rest of them, but even and in particular of the House of Trump and Clinton and Bush and the rest of them.|
But what is the big deal, why this irresistible attraction to GOT, this mesmerised global audience?
We are, I daresay, drawn to GOT in this particular time in our contemporary “post-truth” world because its fiction is truthful. It stages our own living history, catapulted into a fictional time immemorial, in swifter, faster, bolder, more urgent, more tangible, more meaningful, and above all more honest and trustworthy strokes.
We are in it by the sheer force and folly of the life itself: the evildoers do their evil in our full view. They don’t have an army of lawyers and spin doctors like Kellyanne Conway or Sean Spicer to come and tell us what we saw and what we heard and what we read, we did not see or hear or read.
Petyr ‘Littlefinger’ Baelish is conniving. He conspired with the Lannisters against Eddard Stark and got him executed, and now flirts with his daughter Sansa. There is no question of “legality” versus “morality” here. He would not come and say, “I did not do anything illegal,” or “It was my First Amendment Right to conspire with Lannisters.” He is just an opportunistic careerist like Donald Trump Jr and he would conspire with the Russians to get his father elected, or like Jared Kushner, he would get involved in the GCC crisis just because he could not get $500m from Qatar.
But, and here is the point, unlike Trump Junior and Kushner, Petyr Baelish does not turn around to pretend he is an honest respectable man. He runs a bordello house for a cover. This is how honest he is with who he is.
The fiction of the Westeros is factual. There are no “alternative facts” to its fiction. None of these fictional characters, the worst of them – Joffrey Baratheon, Ramsay Bolton, Cersei Lannister, Theon Greyjoy, take your pick – are charlatans. They are who and what they are, and entirely honest in their terror-stricken souls. We love every last one of them, good or evil, even their most devious opportunists like Littlefinger for they are real in what they do.
We are not just the full witness to their deeds. We are their omniscient narrator. We are the participant observers in their stories. They never do anything behind our back. George R R Martin may have written the fantasy, but we are living it. We are the self-imagined narrators of their saga. We bring these characters into the sanctity of our souls and they reassure us of the truth beyond the lie running through the corrupt politics of our daily headlines. We finish every episode going to bed reassured of the fair balance of the world, before we get up the next morning and read the tweet Donald Trump has vomited upon our bad fortune.
The mummy, baby, daddy
As we have followed the series over the years, we all have our favourite characters. Among all the rambunctious, colourful, and full-bodied characters of GOT, for me, the perfect picture of earthly truth, the measure of everything truthful and meaningful, in the middle of this entire murderous mayhem are Sam, Gilly, and the Baby Sam!
Sam, short for Samwell Tarly, is a scholar, a learned man, a student of history, a close and most trusted friend of Jon Snow. Gilly is one of the Free Folk, the daughter of her abusive father Craster, who raped her and she is now the mother of a young baby whom she names Little Sam, out of her quiet love for Sam.
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Sam, Gilly, and Little Sam are the core of normative gravity at the centre of all the delusional, murderous, incestuous fantasies of power and terror. Sam is true, principled, a real comrade, hiding the monument of his courage and imagination under the guise of an endearing cowardice to make up for the love he was denied when abused as a child. Equally abused, and yet miraculously innocent, Gilly is the definition of fearful trust, against all odds, a ray of light and love defying her frightful fate.
The two of them are the walking embodiments of trustworthy veracity in a soaring sea of corruption and crime stretching from King’s Landing to the north and south of Westeros. Behold, I always say to fellow GOT fans: They are the Joseph, Mary, and their Baby of a noble, real, mythic faith – beyond all religious denominations, sects, or beliefs.
I see them as central to the story because they are morally upright and materially modest and above all physically inconspicuous. They gently appear and as gently disappear from the plot. They are noble but not because they are from the royalty. They are not power hungry. Sam could not care less who his dearest friend Jon Snow’s father is – or were he to find out would he love Jon any less or could any more. It does not matter to Sam and Gilly who sits on the Iron Throne. They are the measure of its mettle.
I love this trinity of Sam, Gilly, and Little Sam for their Christology is not Biblical. It is earthly. They are the blank page on which the rest of the story is written. Their history is ahistorical. They could be and they are our contemporaries – for they are atemporal. To me, Sam is the alter ego of George R R Martin himself – and as all other a bit chubby scholars I see myself in him, too.
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You scarcely see Sam and Gilly and their baby because they are so solid, so necessary, so indispensable. They are the living artistry at the heart of a glorious passage in Rumi’s Masnavi when he teaches us:
“Have you ever seen anyone write something on a written page?
Or plant a seedling where a young tree is already planted?
He will look for a blank piece of paper,
Plant a sapling where nothing is planted
Oh brother, be a soil where nothing is planted
Be a blank piece of paper.”
That would be Sam and Gilly – the true enlightened Sufis of this dark and twisted tale. Last we saw them, Sam had brought Gilly and Little Sam to his racist abusive father Randyll’s castle where they are both berated by that horrid hateful man. They leave his father and head towards Oldtown, where Sam wants to continue his education to become a maester to the Night’s Watch.
Will they return in this seventh season or not? I have no clue. I avoid all spoilers and find most of the speculative amateurish theories surrounding GOT characters childish and boring.
I will watch every shot and every scene and every episode, more than once, bear with the murderous, ambitious, incestuous twists in anticipation of that possible scene when Sam, Gilly, and Little Sam might reappear so I can make sense of it all – not just of the Houses of Lannister and Targaryen and the rest of them, but even, and in particular, of the Houses of Trump and Clinton and Bush and the rest of them. On that possible moment, sight unseen, I can already hear Sam saying, sporting his disarming smile:
“Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,