Exploring the sayings of Game Of Thrones

Is winter actually coming? Do the Lannisters really always pay their debts? Den Of Geek dons its fedora to investigate…

Having already exploded truth bombs at one much-repeated (and now-proven erroneous) Game Of Thrones saying, Den Of Geek has set its sights on the rest of them. We’re about to scrutinise the proverbs of the Seven Kingdoms to the max, blow Westerosi aphorisms wide open and prise apart the clenched jaws of Ice And Fire idiom using the crowbar of truth, mostly because it’s nearly Friday and half of you are probably too busy watching the World Cup to pay us any mind.

So then, do Lannisters always pay their debts? Do different roads sometimes lead to the same castle? Is power power, or is power just a flimsy pretender to power’s throne? Den Of Geek finds out…


A Lannister always pays his debts

Who said it? Just about everyone in Westeros, even if the Lannister motto is actually “Hear me roar” making it the only family creed in Game Of Thrones to enjoy significant overlap with the words of a Katy Perry song. (At least since House Tully’s switched to “Family, duty, honour” from the more exciting but admittedly ambiguous “Baby you’re a fiiiiiiiiiirework”.)

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What does it mean? It’s either a threat, a boast, or a promise coming from a Lannister – multiply the angle of the curled lip by the number of goldcloaks pointing swords at your neck to find out which. A rough translation would be “we’re richer than Croesus and if you piss us off, we won’t forget it”.

True or false? We’d need Tywin’s Experian Credit Score to know with any accuracy, and the Iron Bank of Braavos is notoriously tricky with off-shore requests. Taking the major Lannisters one by one though: Jaime repaid Brienne’s debt by pulling her out of that bear pit and giving her that Valaryian steel sword; Tyrion paid off Mord the gaoler and then Bronn handsomely for being his champion in the Eyrie (though it was dad and big sis who gave the sellsword his knighthood and rich wife). Revenge-wise, Cersei spent most of season four trying to ‘repay’ Tyrion for – she thinks – killing their mother and poisoning Joff; and Tywin royally paid Robb Stark back for kicking his troops’ arses from the North to the South by masterminding the Red Wedding.

Even if they’re technically up to their armpits in unpaid loans to Mark Gatiss, we say true.


Winter is coming

Who said it? It’s the motto of hard-as-nails Northerners, House Stark.

What does it mean? Taken literally, it’s one of those Gremlins “But it’s always after midnight” shoulder-shrug sayings. Winter is always coming House Stark you numpties, as are summer, spring and autumn. Didn’t you get a calendar this Christmas?

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The Seven Kingdoms’ extraordinarily long winters obviously make its arrival a time of extreme physical duress for the North, but the motto means more than “thermals on lads, it’s nippy out there”. It’s an essentially pessimistic world view, a metaphor warning its listeners that bad times, and the inevitability of death are a comin’, so vigilance and furry cloaks are required.

True or false? Undeniably true, in both the literal and figurative sense.


In life, the monsters win

Who said it? Sansa Stark, to herself, after Joffrey takes her to a private viewing of his latest avant-garde art installation entitled ‘Your dad’s head on a stick’.

What does it mean? Speaking of pessimistic world views… In the books, this is the turning point for Sansa, who was the medieval fantasy equivalent of a celeb-obsessed Valley Girl before the monsters started winning. Back when Ned Stark still wore his head atop his shoulders, daughter Sansa was a giggling, boy-mad, fashion-conscious innocent with a head full of chivalric songs about white knights and fair maidens. Like a rampaging toddler in a Build-a-Bear-Workshop though, life ripped all the stuffing out of her, leaving Sansa with the world view that there are no heroes and the monsters always win.

True or false? It’s certainly justifiable from Sansa’s perspective. The girl has endured bereavement after cruelty after bereavement after cruelty. Is it more broadly applicable in Game Of Thrones though? Let’s see what fates befell the series’ most monstrous monsters so far? Viserys Targaryen, Joffrey Baratheon, Ramsay Bolton (né Snow), The Mad King, Walder Frey, Craester, Gregor Clegane, Locke… the list goes on. All but a couple on that list have wound up being stuck with the pointy end, so to speak, but then, almost as many white hats have met a similar end. Perhaps Sansa’s revelation would more accurately be that in Game Of Thrones, nobody wins?

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Power is power

Who said it? Cersei Lannister, after Littlefinger threatened her with his “knowledge of a brother and sister secretly rubbing each other’s sexy places is power” jibe.

What does it mean? In this context, it’s another Lannister boast. Cersei is demonstrating her immunity to blackmail because, as Queen Regent, she could buy, sell and disembowel Littlefinger before his knowledge  could do her a jot of harm.

True or false? Semantically speaking, it’s true of course, though Cersei’s egomaniacal approach to ruling won’t be winning her any Investors In People awards. Going deeper, being in power and having power are two very different things in the world of Game Of Thrones. Is sitting the Iron Throne enough to invest you with true power? Not on your nelly. Which leads us to…


Sitting a throne is a thousand times harder than winning one

Who said it? King Robert Baratheon, to Ned Stark right back at the beginning.

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What does it mean? There’s no subtext here. It’s the Ronseal of Game Of Thrones sayings. The King’s basically presaging all of Dany’s season three and four storylines by admitting that conquering and ruling are two very different things.

True or false? Undeniably true. It’s partly that old adage about those who seek power being the least qualified to wield it. When it comes to the nitty gritty of ruling the Seven Kingdoms (council tax, parking regulations, recycling collections…), bloodthirsty conquerors are often ill-equipped to rule, hence all those strikes under Thatcher.


Different roads sometimes lead to the same castle

Who said it? Jon Snow to his little half-sister Arya, after she wished he would come with the Starks to King’s Landing instead of going with Uncle Benjen to the Wall.

What does it mean? It’s a key quote for A Song Of Ice And Fire, which is all about the race to the Iron Throne and the various routes characters take to get to, or near it. When Ofqual inevitably approves a GCSE in Game Of Thrones studies (sample module: Grumpkins, Snarks, and Intermediate Westerosi folklore) Jon’s words can be set as a coursework title: “Different roads sometimes lead to the same castle, discuss, with particular relevance to Danaerys Targaryen’s leadership struggle”.

True or false? True both geographically and metaphorically. Double bubble.

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Love is the bane of honour, the death of duty

Who said it? Maester Aemon at The Wall, to Jon Snow.

What does it mean? That freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose, or something like it. Essentially, the Night’s Watch requires its men not to take wives or bear children because the minute you love someone, their well-being will trump any order you’ve been given. The slave masters of Essos, incidentally, have a more er, direct way of restricting their Unsullied soldiers from taking wives.

True or false? It bears out. Ned Stark is a case in point. Not to save himself, but in order to save the life of his daughter, Sansa, Ned falsely confessed to treason and dishonoured the Stark name. Catelyn Stark set Jaime Lannister free and unleashed a world of upset and violence because of her love for her daughters. In the season four finale, Cersei also proved herself willing to dishonour her family name because of her love for her children (which, along with her cheekbones, Tyrion points out is her one redeeming quality). We could go on…


War makes monsters of us all

Who said it? Thoros of Myr, to Brienne of Tarth.

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What does it mean? It’s another self-explanatory maxim, this one. The history of the Iron Throne is a history of war and rebellion, and from child-skull crushing to rape, boiling in oil and plain old everyday murder, features monstrosity aplenty.

Thoros is saying that in times of war, humankind is corruptible, people can be driven to monstrous acts – sewing wolf heads onto human corpses for instance – and death’s shadow reigns.

True or false? Depressingly true. Not many of Game Of Thrones’ villains need the justification of war to behave monstrously, but George R.R. Martin and you know, the six o clock news, proves time and again what an ugly thing war is.


The things we love destroy us

Who said it? Ser Jeor Mormont to Jon Snow after remarking of Robert Baratheon, “They say the king loved to hunt”.

What does it mean? Simply that. Say someone really loved cake for instance, in the Old Bear’s view that person might end up choking to death on a madeleine or slumped Se7en-like over a bowl of Victoria sponge batter.

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True or false? A tricky one, this. It’s certainly borne out by some cases, such as that of Prince Oberyn Martell, whose love for his sister and obsession with drawing a confession from her murderer and rapist ultimately led to his Cadburys crème egg-like destruction. Keeping it in the family, Lord Mormont’s son, Ser Jorah, loved Danaerys Targaryen and was banished by him for betrayal, though that hasn’t technically destroyed him. Did Shae love Tyrion? If so, then he destroyed her. But Gilly hasn’t destroyed Sam, and Ygritte didn’t destroy Jon or vice versa. So overall we’re edging towards false.


The night is dark and full of terrors

Who said it? Worshippers of R’hllor, the Lord of Light and Red God, chief among them Lady smoke-knickers Melisandre.

What does it mean? Well, apart from the first half being a work of startling observation (sheesh, who writes the Lord of Light’s copy?) it’s another metaphor wherein the night, like winter for House Stark, stands in for death and Godlessness and the like.

True or false? Unless you live in a built-up area, the night is undeniably dark. There are also all manner of ghosties and ghoulies and long-legged beasties waiting for citizens of the Seven Kingdoms beyond the Wall, so this one’s true too.


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When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die

Who said it? Cersei Lannister, to Ned Stark, back in the day.

What does it mean? Just more showboating from the Lannisters. Cersei’s got more pithy threats up her voluminous sleeves than Hot Pie’s made hot pies.

True or false? False. We read inside the box lid that if they don’t fancy the winning or dying options, players of the game of thrones are technically allowed to cash in their points before the boss level in exchange for a novelty bobbing-head Elvis doll.

Read more about Game Of Thrones and A Song Of Ice And Fire on Den Of Geek.

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