Last year around this time I confessed (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 used to like The Walking Dead. We both really loved Breaking Bad. 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
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 fourth season which will complete the telling of A Storm of Swords, 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
Catelyn Tully has not really had 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? Oh, you think that because she perished in the Red Wedding that her suffering is done? Have you forgotten the saying of the Iron Islands: “What is dead may never die”?
Robb Stark, “Only the Good Die Young,” Billy Joel
I know, I know. This commits two sins. First, it opens old wounds. He’s dead. (And deader than his mother!). Second, it follows Alice Cooper with Billy Joel. Anyone who knows Martin’s two novels should have seen 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 that he had to die. Martin likes “cripples, bastards and broken things” (as Tyrion declares in the first season/book). Rob was none of these, so he had to go.
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?
Can you imagine of Taylor Swift had to suffer the indignities that Sansa did/does/will? I cannot promise many things, but I can promise that by the end of this season everyone will like Sansa more. That’s just the way Martin rolls. He makes you hate someone and then spends an entire novelor two recuperating the character. When he goes the other way (making you hate someone you loved) it is even more cruel.
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 suffered so much. You’re not even a man any more. This is what happens to turncoats. 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. But the question is this: will Martin make us like him again?
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. And for all of us who hate Tywin? Just wait. Just wait. Just wait.
Jaime Lannister, “Change”, Blind Melon
From the first two seasons, we are basically trained to hate Jaime Lannister. Can you guess what happened in the third? The transformation of Jaime is one of the great feats of this series. My brother and I both love this song. By the end of this season, you may not love Jaime, but you will certainly start to like him.
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) is phenomenal. 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. Guess what happens?
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). Guess what happens to him?
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 4 will integrate these changes. I dare you to like her as much by the end of this season.
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: