Game of Thrones is Back: A Song List

TyrionA few weeks back I admitted (ok, reiterated) my own geekiness when I was hyperbolically excited about the fact that Night Riots has a song named “Berelain” after a character from Robert Jordan’s recently (and posthumously) completed Wheel of Time series. I must add, however, that my geek credentials are the real-thing: I get paid to teach about mythology and to write about ancient poetry.

(Well, the credentials are spotty. I mentioned earlier that I actually played a bard to the 21st or 22nd level in a role-playing game. At one point, I actually tried to write music for the fictional character to perform. I am so ever grateful that I don’t remember it and that the internet did really exist to record my follies back then.)

This week? I have been eagerly awaiting the return of HBO’s Game of Thrones. Now, as readers of this blog know, my brother and I occasionally get excited about television, but not too often. We both like The Walking Dead. He gets into things like Doomsday Preppers while I love Buffy the Vampire Slayer (which he will not watch). But Game of Thrones is something that we share. And there is an important reason.

Before our dad died, in fact years before he died, he always made it clear that he wanted to have his ashes spread on top of a famous mountain in our home state. Since he died in the winter and my brother and I had not been on skis in years, we waited until the summer to take care of his final wish. I flew alone to Maine for three days (leaving a one-year old, a pregnant wife, and lingering in-laws behind). We drove north, stayed in a friend’s cabin, and hiked our way to the top of the mountain.

The entire experience was emotional, but a fit beginning of closure to our mourning period for our father. During the spare time between my arrival at the airport and our departure for the wooded north, however, the task we had to perform hung in the air between us. As a way to spend the time, my brother suggested watching the first season of Game of Thrones (available on HBO onDemand).

Now, I knew about the show because, of course, I had read about it in The New Yorker. I hadn’t read the books and, as in many things before my father’s death, was living in denial of my geeky past. Yet, in what couldn’t have been much more than a 16 hour period, we watched the whole first season (and it was my brother’s second viewing).

The show is entertaining and well-done. The books are infuriating and compelling at the same time. My brother and I read all the books over the next two years. I covered the most recent three with two students whose interests became independently inflamed. I used to

It may be spring, but winter is HERE

It may be spring, but winter is HERE

call my brother at 6 AM to discuss the latest turns in the series. I hooked my wife on the show (she was pregnant and defenseless. I am an evil, evil man).

This season threatens to be the best. The third book of the series, A Storm of Swords, is not just the longest and most controversial, but it is, I submit (for those who have read it or might), the most literary and artistic of the entire series. George R. R. Martin’s world is completely fleshed out here—he uses song traditions within the world in inventive and exciting ways and he toys (mercilessly) with audience affections for characters never yielding to a desire to win them over.

So, in honor of the season, my shared passion with my brother (and students) and the visualization of one of the cruelest books I have ever read, here’s a song list for the return of Game of Thrones.

(Fair acknowledgement: My student, the Austrian, got me started on this idea)

Catelyn Tully, “Only Women Bleed”, Alice Cooper

I really don’t want to break too many hearts or spoil too many surprises with this post, but let’s make it clear: I am not quite sure that Catelyn Tully has any function but to suffer in this series (well, next season or later we might have to amend that comment). And, in a real world where we have to hear from Ted Nugent all the time, why can’t we get a little more Alice Cooper?

Robb Stark, “Only the Good Die Young,” Billy Joel

I know, I know. This commits two sins. First, it may betray too much plot. Second, it follows Alice Cooper with Billy Joel. Anyone who knows Martin’s two novels should see the truth about Robb. He is too simple of a character. He has neither the depth of a Tyrion, the capacity to change of a Jaime (yes, Jaime!) nor the loving touch dedicated to Arya. We all know what that means.

Sansa Stark, “You Belong With Me”, Taylor Swift

My brother hates Taylor Swift. My wife hates her. I should hate her (and her music really is rather saccharine) but she seems so tragically earnest and romantic. This is why her music is perfect for Sansa. Sansa is always daydreaming about her perfect future, about the chivalrous romance promised by songs. Once she gets over that, she gets interesting. Will the same thing happen for Taylor?

Arya Stark, “Howlin’ Wolf”, Muddy Waters

Arya is one of the best characters in the book and one of the best on the show as well. Her spirit and fight really evoke her lupine nature. I had a lot of trouble coming up with a song for her, so this is a bit of a cop out. Any better suggestions?

Theon Greyjoy, “Run to the Hills”, Iron Maiden

Oh Theon, you have terrible things in your future. This is what happens to turncoats. My question is this: Will the show be true to the books’ brutality? I picked this song at my brother’s suggestion. Iron Maiden for the Iron Islands. Theon should run for the hills as fast as possible. There are fates worse than death.

Jon Snow “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother”, The Hollies

Jon Snow is one of the beating hearts of this series. Martin really does have a softspot for bastards and broken things (hence the focus on both Tyrion and Jon). Snow is really loyal to his brother. His brother wants to be loyal to him. But Jon is also an idealist. His ideals will both make and break him as the show develops. My brother and I have both thought of this song for each other.

Cersei Lannister, “Killer Queen”, Queen

This song may be too light and fun for one of the more evenly loathsome characters in the series. All I can say is this: even Cersei will get some depth. Like the other mother in the series (Catelyn), her pain, pride and hope are bound up in her children. Their fates will echo and shape hers. In the 3rd and 4th books, she becomes an agent of her own. What she does with this agency is another thing altogether.

Tywin Lannister , Theme from Goldfinger Shirley Bassey

This is a facile choice. I love this song. I hate Tywin Lannister. So, I cancel out one feeling with another.

Jaime Lannister, “Change”, Blind Melon

From the first two seasons, we are basically trained to hate Jaime Lannister. Can you guess what will happen in the third? The transformation of Jaime is one of the great feats of this series. My brother and I both love this song.

Tyrion Lannister: “Little Lion Man”, Mumford & Sons

The Austrian suggested this song and got me going on this whole songlist to begin with. In all honesty, Tyrion is one of the best characters in the book and the actor who plays him (Peter Dinklage) was robbed of the Golden Globe. His portrayal is not just spot-on, but it is the performance that keeps the show together.

I used to be convinced that Tyrion was a stand-in for the author. Then I read the fifth book.

Sandor “the Hound” Clegane, “Black-eyed Dog,” Nick Drake

Another facile choice. Everyone loves to love Sandor. He’s the good bad guy. Let’s see if we can guess what Martin will do with him.

Lord Petyr “Littlefinger” Baelish: “Court of the Crimson King,” King Crimson

Petyr Baelish only seems like he’s not a conniving evil SOB. He really is a conniving evil SOB. King Crimson’s courtly lyrics on puppets and schemes almost perfectly fit this secretive figure. If you like “Little Finger”, you are a bad, bad man (or woman).

Varys: “Spider”, They Might Be Giants

This is also too easy of a decision. But, what can I do? I can’t make a song list without They Might Be Giants. It isn’t clear from this book (and won’t be clear from Season 3) but Varys is way, way more important than you think he is.

Daenerys Targaryen , “Dig for Fire”, The Pixies

When I read the books and watch the show I want to skip the Targaryen sections. I think they are more tolerable on the show. Daenerys, if the show is true to form, really makes some interesting changes, but not until the fourth book (season 5?). So, who knows if we will find her or not.

For those of you who have read the books or get tortured by the show, here’s a public service announcement that won’t make you feel better:

21 comments on “Game of Thrones is Back: A Song List

  1. theyoungerj says:

    As crazy as it sounds, that three day bout of watching Game of Thrones and hiking to make sure our Dad got where he needed to go was a very positive experience. I look back on it fondly. So many moments when I totally felt the old man laughing at the extremes we were going to make sure he got up on that loaf. It will be a great few scenes when they make a movie of our lives in thirty years. Maybe I will write about it some time since it’s been a few years.
    As for Game of Thrones, my plan for this morning is to finishing writing a blog and watch the last two episodes of season 2 to amp up for tomorrow. I am eagerly anticipating the next book in the series so the only thing that holds me off is this show. I think it may rival The Wire as my favorite show ever and I am sure I will be texting you throughout. Sweet post Brother!

    • theelderj says:

      I can’t quite put the show in context yet–mostly because I think it is still young and because it is not quite the same thing as the book. But if I had to make a list of the television shows I have enjoyed the most it would probably look something like this:

      1. Buffy the Vampire Slayer (I roll Angel into this entry as well. Suck it)
      2. Battlestar Galactica
      3. Six Feet Under
      4. The Wire
      5. Sopranos
      6. Band of Brothers
      7. Game of Thrones
      8. Arrested Development (We’ll see if the new version keeps it up)
      9. The X-Files (Probably should be higher, but the last season was awful)
      10. Eureka (Shouldn’t be on the list, but the first two seasons were so good)
      * Homeland (Don’t know where it fits: it could be top three or drop out of the top ten depending on next season)

      The top three are really close. The top five were all shows that I eagerly awaited each week. All 10 on the list have in common the fact that they are no longer airing except for Game of Thrones.

      Shows that almost made the list and deserve mention:

      11. The Walking Dead (Still a bit too inconsistent)
      12. Twin Peaks (I didn’t watch this when it aired)
      13. Warehouse 13 (The latest season was not so good)
      14. Stargate Universe (this show didn’t have long enough to develop)
      15. Freaks and Geeks (should be higher, much higher; but it didn’t even have a full season
      16. Firefly (see on number 15)
      17. Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles (a good show, abandoned too soon)
      18. Heroes (a great first two seasons, then, crap. crap crap.)
      19. Jericho (should be higher; I rewatched it more than anything but BSG and Buffy. But there is something politically off about it)
      20. Lost (a great ride that got a little stupid at the end.

      So, I guess this list tells me that I value the show, but I don’t know if I value it for its merit alone. If not for the memory of watching it with my brother and the importance of the books, would I like it as much? Does it match up to the other entries on the list?

  2. […] my brother mentioned this idea, another cover sprang instantly into my head from reading his amazing post about our obsession with Game of Thrones. He wrote about “In the Court of Crimson King” […]

  3. professormortis says:

    I can’t read this post.

    Why? After years of being determined to not get into this stuff, the Baroness went and read all of the books. That being done, she wanted to see the series. So JUST TODAY I got in the first DVD from the library. It begins.

    Did you like or ever try either Babylon 5 or Farscape? Both got screwed up by behind the scenes network troubles, but B5 was insanely ambitious for its time and budget and Farscape is just plain fun. You ever try Doctor Who, at least the new stuff? I prefer the old, but the old is probably just too, well, old and cheap for your tastes.

    • theelderj says:

      Man, I didn’t ever get in to Babylon 5 or Farscape. The shows seemed a little too kitschy. I like my syfy steeped in its own self-importance.

      (Sometimes).

      The books are good. You would probably enjoy them. Try the show–you’ll like some scenes, I promise it.

      • professormortis says:

        B5 is *SO* steeped in its own self-importance. So much so, it hurts it, ultimately. I think it only seemed kitschy to you because it had a low budget and not the best cast. Farscape, it has a sense of fun, but that’s why I liked it so much. Oh well.

        I’ll start with the show; if I like it, I’ll probably end up trying to read those books.

      • theelderj says:

        the truth for both Babylon 5 and farscape is that I was not in TV watching mode then. If they came on today for the first time, I would probably try them out. (Hence my love for the SyFy channel’s Haven or Stargate Universe).

        Sometimes liking something (even someone!) is so much more a feature of context and serendipity than actual taste or choice.

        Right? Maybe?

        But, on the books, I was hostile at first but was quickly overcome. Martin writes well, challenges the reader, and has some fun too. It is worth trying it out.

      • professormortis says:

        I actually rejected B5 because, like so many serial properties, behind the scenes wrangling forced it to tell its story too fast, then to back track and kill time for a last season full of idiotic twists and reveals. Honestly, I don’t think serial shows not based on pre-existing properties should last more than a few seasons; with few exceptions (The Wire, except for that last, terrible season) they always disappoint me. Mysteries that have intrigued us for ages turn out to have mundane, cliched, or outright stupid explanations; characters slowly warp and become parodies of themselves; menaces become a joke when they are over exposed or defeated too many times.

        I only watched Farscape because of BVH and Netflix Instant; as you say, context and serendipity can mean a lot, and that’s perfect evidence. I didn’t watch it when it was on because it reminded me too much of another show with a living ship full of strange aliens, at least one of whom was “sexy”, and that was Lexx, a truly terrible piece of trash that Sci-Fi used to run (I think it was actually Canadian). When BVH started to watch it, I sat in with her and gradually came to love the show and it’s off kilter sense of humor and ensemble cast (though I, true to form, prefer the earlier, weirder, more episodic early seasons than the later ones brimming with plots and role reversals).

        To go back to that idea, when I was young I had no patience for the PBS/BBC Poirot and Sherlock Holmes series, both of which I now watch regularly on Netflix and love.

  4. […] being home in time for band practice at six which will hopefully end by nine so I can see the new Game of Thrones episode or at least finish watching the episode from last week that I still haven’t finished. […]

  5. […] 4. Audiobooks: Recently, I finished listening to Delillo’s Underworld, a fascinating novel that uses as one of its conceits the story of the life of baseball hit by Bobby Thompson in 1951 to defeat the Brooklyn Dodgers with a walk-off homerun after that game. The story is far more complex and finely written than that summary implies and it is one of the finer novels I have ‘read’ in a while. Of course, maybe this is because before I was obsessed with the Game of Thrones books….  […]

  6. professormortis says:

    Having watched the first two seasons, I thought I could read this post finally…and suddenly…spoilers! Damn it!

  7. professormortis says:

    Also, reread this, and that’s barely a spoiler, I think. I don’t know. I guess I should have seen it coming. 🙂

  8. […] really has reached it’s high tide. How can it get any better than this show? Game of Thrones is sweet, The Wire is no more and every day there are two new reality shows that don’t seem […]

  9. […] actually started this process a few months back in the comments discussing the HBO series Game of Thrones. Here’s my first attempt to list my favorite television shows of all […]

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