SPOILER WARNING – the following article contains numerous spoilers for Game of Thrones
Game of Thrones made fantasy cool. The Lords of the Rings films may have brought fantasy firmly into the mainstream but it was the HBO series that made it cool. The show, especially the first four seasons, were astonishing in writing and the development of characters. It was a show that shocked fans with its ruthless plot turns – in the first season three of the main characters die. It also had unforgettable action scenes, from the Battle of the Bastards to Bronn throwing a knight through the Moon Door.
There are two central themes to Game of Thrones: power and love. How characters dealt with power has at times defined them: Robert Baratheon who usurped the throne from a mad king, Eddard Stark who wouldn’t take power for himself, Daenerys Targaryen and the crash course in power politics she got in a few short years. Love is there in Eddard Stark protecting Jon Snow, Jorah Mormont standing beside Daenerys, in the first episode Jamie Lannister throws Bran Stark from a tower and says, “The things we do for love.” The Night’s Watch is predicated on renouncing power and love, they will have no titles and bear no children. The two scenes discussed below show the contrast in furious action and grand dialogue of political schemes as well as the motivations of power and love.
The Mountain and The Viper
Oberyn Martell is only in one season of the show but became a very popular character. Set on avenging the murder of his sister and her children everything he does is working towards that goal. This takes Oberyn to volunteer to fight as champion in a trial by combat for Tyrion Lannister, just so he can get a chance to fight the man who murdered his sister, Gregor Clegane aka The Mountain. Clegane is well-deserving of the name, a huge man and seemingly unbeatable in combat, Oberyn is tiny in comparison. But whereas The Mountain is strong, Martell is quick, with Oberyn dodging the brutal sword swings and making attacks of his own. The duel is one of the high-point actions scenes in the whole show and Oberyn’s repeated accusations, yelled while fighting, ramp up the tension. Despite what everyone watching the battle expects Oberyn wins…almost, giving the Mountain a fatal wound his focus moves to Tywin Lannister, the person who gave the Mountain his orders. And at that moment, The Mountain trips Martell and literally crushes his head. The Mountain is dying but as his opponent is dead already – he’s won. I love this scene for the brilliant action and choreography of the fight scene but also the themes from Game of Thrones it brings in. Oberyn wants revenge, he wants justice for those that he loved, Tywin Lannister is dealing with the consequences of things he did, the whole realm being turned upside down not for politics or power but personal relationships.
The reactions of those watching the battle are priceless. Tyrion’s life is on the line, Jamie Lannister wanting his brother to win but not expecting it, Cersei desperately wanting Tyrion dead, Tywin impassively watching it, ignoring Martell’s direct accusations. Ellaria Sand, Martell’s paramour, watches as well, suitably shocked by the Mountain and nervously awaits the outcome.
It shouldn’t have come as too much of a surprise that The Mountain would win. The show revelled in dealing out vicious deaths and with The Mountain’s victory, they nearly had two: Oberyn Martell and then, potentially, Tyrion.
Chaos Isn’t A Pit…
Perhaps my favourite aspect of Game of Thrones is the political scheming. This is best exemplified in two characters, Varys, essentially the spymaster for the Seven Kingdoms and Petyr Baelish, aka Littlefinger, another important figure in the government and politics. The perception of Varys changes dramatically over the show, originally seeming like a traitor he is revealed to be a person who cares for the realm, the people, rather than an individual king. Littlefinger is the opposite, everything he does is for him – betrayal, murder and unspeakable cruelty all to advance his plans. Both are experts at this game as shown by the fact that Varys is a peasant foreigner who has risen to the heights of government and Littlefinger an insignificant noble as there is in Westeros who now holds many titles and lands. The two have a seemingly friendly sparring relationship most of the time but occasionally it is revealed that Varys hates Littlefinger and Littlefinger will happily crush Varys.
In this scene they are along together in the throne room, staring at the legendary Iron Throne. Much is made of whether Littlefinger wants the throne for himself and how such a figure could get it. Littlefinger’s study of the actual chair, noting the legendary aspects of it are entirely made up, but everyone goes along with the lie. Varys warns that all grasping for power will only lead to chaos, which he describes as a pit that will consume everything. Littlefinger responds with one of the most famous lines from the show, “Chaos isn’t a pit. Chaos is a ladder.” Varys despairs at the suffering and destruction that chaos will bring whereas Littlefinger only sees opportunity. Along with this rather chilling speech is the knowledge that Littlefinger has arranged for one of Varys’ spies to be killed, giving us a further insight into the current occupant of the throne, who would murder someone purely for the thrill of it.