As you might expect, this contains season four spoilers.
Earlier this month it was announced that an employee of Facebook had donated $20,000 to the Wild Spirit Wolf Sanctuary in return for George R.R. Martin including him in the next A Song Of Ice And Fire novel, and then killing him with extreme brutality. In the novel, that is.
That lucky Dave Goldblatt’s cameo should end in his bloody death is hardly surprising, given the frequency and violence with which characters of Martin’s creation meet their doom. Indeed, such is Westeros’ mortality rate that it’s difficult to keep up and, at the end of any given series of Game Of Thrones, it can be tricky to remember which characters have found themselves staring helplessly at the pointy end. And so, as we mourn the end of season four, we make like the Oscars and offer you a sombre reminder of all those we lost this year. Cue plaintive piano…
If ever there was a popular candidate for a tap on the shoulder from The Stranger, then it was Westeros’ pathologically brattish boy-king Joffrey Baratheon, a young man whose reputation for absolutist brutality incurred the ire of people on and off screen. It was almost heartbreaking to see (and not just because his poisoned choking frustrated a great many people who would have happily seen him torn apart by wolves) but in his final moments, wept over by his agonised mother, he was still a young man whose upbringing and rapid ascent meant that he never stood a chance.
Perhaps the defining characteristic of pre-modern societies is their lack of well-funded social services infrastructures. Which is a good enough explanation as any for understanding how the oddly dysfunctional relationship between Lysa and her son Robin had continued for so long in the way that it had. Well, that and their home in an utterly impregnable mountain fortress. In the end, it was a combination of both features that did for poor Lysa. Her genuine love for her son resembled that of Cersei for her children and, like her fellow widow, provided scant comfort to her sense of paranoia. As we all know, just because you’re paranoid, doesn’t mean that they’re not after you and that goes double if ‘they’ are a master exploiter like Petyr Baelish. The bizarre bridegroom disposed of Lysa before her wedding ring had time to absorb the warmth of her finger, making her plunge through the Moon Door a fatal misunderstanding of her environment and her new husband, who, to his falling bride’s surprise, didn’t love her at all. Only Cat.
Coming over like a priapic cross between Inigo Montoya and Puss in Boots out of Shrek, Oberyn ‘The Red Viper’ Martell was one of the most immediately likeable and charismatic of season four’s newcomers, indeed of the show in its entirety. Arriving ostensibly for the diplomatic purpose of representing the royal House Martell at Joffrey’s wedding, Oberyn had the higher (and darker) purpose of seeking revenge on Tywin Lannister and his enforcer Gregor ‘The Mountain’ Clegane, at whose feet the Dornishman lay the blame for the killing of his sister and her children.
The sort of man who never missed an opportunity to double-up, he seized his moment by standing as Tyrion’s champion and facing the Mountain in single combat. If he won, he’d humiliate and annoy Tywin, earn public confirmation of their crimes and kill the man that murdered his sister. If he lost, he’d redecorate part of Kings Landing with blood and viscera. Despite giving a solid performance in the ring, out-performing his colossal opponent with style and verve, Oberyn’s desire to punish the Mountain and the Hand left him open to a vicious final assault that ended when Clegane bust his head open like a ripe melon. A show-off to the end, Oberyn at least secured probably the most gruesomely memorable death that Game Of Thrones has yet provided. We’re still struggling to forget it at any rate.
Grenn and Pyp
We first met Grenn and Pyp as raw, unwilling recruits to the Night’s Watch back in the first season. Unwanted back home and ill-prepared for the demands of the Wall, they suffered and grumbled as Ser Alliser Thorne drilled them and Dolorous Edd Tolett regaled them with bitterly cynical stories from his put-upon life. Despite this, under the combined influence of Jon Snow and Sam Tarly, the pair of them found depth enough to bond with their sworn brothers and were able to die bravely, (or as bravely as they could manage) as men of the Night’s Watch, honouring their vows to the letter.
Pyp acted like any reasonable man in combat, with extreme terror. He nevertheless managed to take out at least one willing before succumbing to Ygritte’s trusty arrow. Grenn’s last stand facing an angry giant was the stuff of fairytales, even if the outcome wasn’t. The giant was stopped, but there was no Happy Ever After for the brave, bearded bloke that led the fight against him. Grenn, Pyp, they lived together, they served together, they mocked Sam together And now, together, their watch is ended.
As the human face of the northern insurgency, Ygritte carried a lot of responsibility. Not only did she bear the not entirely unpleasant burden of relieving the naive Jon Snow of his virginity, she also gave us an insight into the lives and motivations of the Free Folk, when most of our other examples were straightforward tough guys like Tormund Giantsbane. Good name, by the way.
A tough and seasoned warrior herself, Ygritte was also recognisably flawed and human. Her relationship with the brooding Lord Snow never lost its ambiguity, and, by prompting her to let him survive the three arrows she loosed into him, suggest that she doomed herself for love, no matter how cynical and world-weary her protestations. Jon’s touching cremation of her body was done for pragmatic reasons (even he didn’t want to see her again, not like that anyway) but with apparent genuine affection suggesting that things could have been so different, had it not been for a certain 800 foot slab of stone and ice.
Tywin Lannister was, from the very beginning of the saga, one of the most competent and powerful leaders in the whole messy shebang. As time passed and bodies strategically piled up, Tywin amassed more and more power-by-proxy, and to the very end, saw much more of the bigger picture than those who surrounded him. A ruler in deed if not in name, Tywin was, like Elvis, never actually a king and, like Elvis, he died on the bog. It was an appropriately ignominious end for a man who had a worldwide reputation for ‘shitting gold’, but who, it was suggested, was rather less well off than he’d have the world believe. Still, as a patrician badass ruthless enough to have his own theme song, Tywin’s passing leaves a sizeable power vacuum at the heart of the realm.
Shae’s troubled relationship with Tyrion was doomed from the start. A man with as many enemies as the Imp must take care of his loved ones, even if it means pretending to hate them. Tyrion’s gambit was a disaster and it is likely (though other interpretations are available) that this is what drove Shae to betray him in public and in private. The erstwhile couple’s shock upon seeing one another in Tywin’s chamber fell to violence and the youngest Lannister strangles her with the chain he gave her, still, in his own sad way, loving her, or his memory of her to the last.
Jojen Reed, a young Crannogman and heir to House Reed Greywater Watch was one of the show’s more overtly mystical characters. Blessed with clairvoyant ‘greensight’ he appeared as Bran Stark’s literal and figurative guide, aiding the crippled boy in following the three-eyed crow to meet his destiny north of the Wall. Quiet, but firmly insistent when he needed to be, his end at the bony hands of some very Harryhausenesque skeleton warriors was heartbreaking, or at least it would have been, had young Jojen not faced it with the wise equanimity that we came to expect from him. Handing Bran over to the Children of the Forest meant that his mission had been a successful one and that he could face his end in peace. And that, I think, is good enough for anyone.
He was a warrior in a world of warfare; he despaired in an environment robbed of hope; he remained an outsider in a kingdom where trust can be fatal. For many reasons, Sandor Clegane was the most Game Of Thrones character of the lot. His attitude of snippy aggression was born of an understanding that the world is a dangerous and violent place and that the only safe response is to reply in kind. A man who, were he to be offered redemption, would spit in its face, nevertheless found a kind of reconciliation in his care for the orphaned Stark girls. His protection of Sansa was well-meant and while he saw in Arya a rather lucrative meal ticket, their shared tromp about the country fostered something that almost came to resemble love. Ultimately though, he never lost the bitterness that was seared into his very face by his own brother and when the time came to plea for mercy, he was unable to do so. His attempt to goad Arya into delivering the coup de grace misfired as all he had to fall back on were the very memories of violence that reminded her of who is was when they met. In the end, she left him to suffer and – as far as we know – die in an act of deliberate cruelty, which is something, for all his savagery, the Hound never did.
Sadly, in a world as bloody as Westeros, there’s never quite enough time to remember every single corpse. All the lesser stiffs, Locke, Rast, Karl Tanner, Polliver, Styr, Ser Dontos Hollard, that Samuel Beckett-esque chap mercy-killed by the Hound and a bunch of the Mountain’s hapless ‘practice’ peasants, we salute you. Valar Morghulis, one and all.
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