Last year, George R.R. Martin revealed that he wouldn’t be writing an episode for Season 5 of Game of Thrones, despite having written one episode during each previous season. He wanted to concentrate on writing The Winds of Winter, he said, and fans who had been waiting years for that book generally approved of his decision to take the extra time.
“Words are wind” is a common phrase in A Song of Ice and Fire, usually used to say “talk is cheap.” But that’s a view that underestimates both the power of words and wind themselves. In this “Words Are Wind” column, contributor Scott Andrews discusses some of the more important words in the world of Game of Thrones.
I never met my mother. My father wouldn’t even tell me her name. I don’t know if she’s living or dead. I don’t know if she’s a noblewoman or a fisherman’s wife… or a whore. So I sat there in the brothel as Ros took off her clothes. But I couldn’t do it. Because all I could think was what if I got her pregnant and she had a child, another bastard named Snow? –Jon Snow, Episode 1.4, “Cripples, Bastards, and Broken Things”
Everything about Jon Snow’s life has reminded him that he is a bastard: Cat’s cold regard. Exiled from dinner with the king. No right to inherit Winterfell or its lands. And most of all, his name. He is no Stark. Ned takes pains to console him, during their last talk, that he may not have the Stark name, but he has Stark blood.
But if that’s true, why is he a Snow rather than a Stark? Why does Ramsay have the same last name as Jon? Why are Oberyn’s daughters called the Sand Snakes? Let’s explore the concept of bastardy in Westeros and the many words and names related to it.
The wrong side of the sheets
In Westeros, bastard is something of a legal definition that means a child born out of wedlock. Beyond that, there is an entire lexicon of slang for the concept of bastardy. “Natural child” is the polite way to say it. “Baseborn” is the word you use if your intention is to insult or provoke. A saucier way to put it is “born on the wrong side of the sheets.”
The social stigmas that Jon has to deal with, both inside and outside the Night’s Watch, are very real. There’s a reason why the noble and legitimate Ser Alliser Thorne calls Jon Snow a bastard every chance he can get. The one exception is Dorne, where bastards face no discrimination. In the Season 4 episode The Lion and the Rose, Prince Oberyn introduces his paramour Ellaria Sand to Cersei Lannister. “Can’t say I’ve ever met a Sand before,” Cersei says in her most passive-aggressive tone, pointing out Ellaria’s bastard name. “We are everywhere in Dorne,” Ellaria replies, “I have ten thousand brothers and sisters.” Oberyn defends his paramour: “Bastards are born of passion, aren’t they? We don’t despise them in Dorne.” “No?” Cersei says. “How tolerant of you.”
In Westeros, legitimate children are the key to maintaining power through generations via inheritance. Thus, keeping track of who’s legit and who’s not is critical. The system of naming bastards by their region arose from this necessity. It has the added benefit, for the sires of such children, that the names don’t reveal their actual parentage.
While lords are expected to father bastards, their noble wives have no obligation to embrace those children or indeed tolerate their lord’s infidelity. A Stark is a Stark, but a Snow could be anyone’s child. The name Snow provides deniability for the bastard’s father.
A bastard’s name matches the region of his or her birth: a Snow hails from the North, Flowers from the Reach, Hill from the Westerlands, Pyke from the Iron Islands, Rivers from the Riverlands, Sand from Dorne, Stone from the Vale, Storm from the Stormlands, and Waters from the Crownlands around King’s Landing.
Despite the social stigma, bastards still have opportunities. They can become maesters and knights, and even serve on the Kingsguard. They may not use their father’s coat of arms. However, they can use a similar version with reversed colors or with a “bend sinister” — a line of color running across the symbol.
And of course they can also volunteer for the Night’s Watch, but who would be crazy enough to do that?
Those European bastards
As he does for many concepts in Game of Thrones, Martin drew the concept of bastard names from medieval history. In England, royal bastards often took the surname “FitzRoy,” which means “son of a king.” Such bastards used a “bend sinister” coat of arms. Rumors abound that Henry VIII had several illegitimate children (despite his proliferation of wives), but he only acknowledged one: Henry FitzRoy. Charles II sired at least 20 bastards and acknowledged 14 of them, including several named FitzRoy and two dubbed FitzCharles.
Bastards carried a similar stigma in the real world as they do in Martin’s. France’s Louis XIV, despite fathering many bastards and even finding matches for them, once said, “No issue should come from such species.”
Many words considered uncouth have survived virtually intact across both ages and languages. Bastard is one such. It derives from the Latin bastardus, and it has been intact as bastard since as far back as Old French. A related phrase from Old French is fils de bast, meaning “packsaddle son.” Given that packsaddles were often used as beds while traveling, the term means a son conceived on the road.
The word today still carries a negative connotation, though now in modern English it is most often used to mean “an unpleasant or despicable person.”
“Baseborn” and “natural child” are real-world terms. The latter can mean any child born of his or her parents, rather than an adopted one, in addition to an illegitimate child.
Bastards of Westeros
Game of Thrones has given us a number of bastard characters. Jon and Ramsay Snow are bastards of Northern lords and are so named. Ramsay, however, is now a Bolton. A royal decree legitimized him in return for the Boltons’ service in destroying the rebellious Starks. Only a decree from the king can do so, and such decrees are extremely rare.
This reluctance stems from Westerosi history. Aegon IV Targaryen, styled “The Unworthy,” sired a number of bastards and legitimized them all on his deathbed. That unfortunate act led to the bloody Blackfyre Rebellions, in which Aegon’s bastards crowned themselves kings and attempted to conquer Westeros with armies of sellswords.
Gendry claims to have no last name, but as the bastard of Robert Baratheon, he is technically a Waters. While masquerading as Littlefinger’s bastard daughter, Sansa takes on the name Alayne Stone because her false persona would have been born in the Vale. In Season 4 we met Ellaria Sand, the bastard daughter of Lord Harmen Uller of Dorne. In Season 5, we will encounter the Sand Snakes of Dorne, so named because they are Oberyn “The Red Viper” Martell’s bastard daughters.
“Have you ever seen the Iron Throne? The barbs along the back, the ribbons of twisted steel, the jagged ends of swords and knives all tangled up and melted? It is not a comfortable seat, ser. Aerys cut himself so often men took to calling him King Scab, and Maegor the Cruel was murdered in that chair. By that chair, to hear some tell it. It is not a seat where a man can rest at ease.”
Allies are hard to find in Westeros. In a world where everyone plays the game of thrones, altruism is a means to an end, and the only person really looking out for your best interests is you. Telltale drives this point home with episode 3 of their ongoing Game of Thrones series, “The Sword in the Darkness.” From the icy Wall to the fiery cavern of Drogon (!) to the fateful wedding of Joffrey and Margaery, House Forrester is desperately searching for friends to save their besieged family.
A lot of the conversations and decisions in this episode revolve around this theme: Asher tries to broker peace between Malcolm and Breskha; Mira is trapped in the den of vipers that is King’s Landing and its politically-motivated residents; Rodrik finds an unexpected friend in the Whitehill home; and even Gared must make peace with Finn and Cotter if he is to survive the far north’s endless chills. All the while, the Whitehills bear down on the weakened Forresters, confident that their support of Roose Bolton secures them the freedom and safety to do as they please.
Interestingly, Mira’s story continues to be the most fascinating part of the game. There are two main reasons why…
Last week, Game of Thrones showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss confirmed a few things a lot of fans had been fearing for a while: 1) Unless George R.R. Martin completes the final books in the Song of Ice and Fire series far sooner than expected, it’s all but guaranteed that the show will wrap up before the book series does; 2) While the show will arrive at the same basic endpoint as the book series, a lot of little things will be changed along the way; and 3) the show won’t be able to help spoiling the ending of the book series.
With the forthcoming fifth season of the show expected to diverge from the books to a greater extent than ever before, the issue of adaptation is on many fans’ minds. This week, the Small Council will tackle that issue by considering whether it matters that the Game of Thrones TV show will likely outpace the A Song of Ice and Fire book series.
Following his star turn in the poorly reviewed Pompeii (aka Jon Snow versus the Volcano), Kit Harington will take another swing at movie stardom with a leading role in Spooks: The Greater Good, a movie continuation of Spooks (called MI-5 in some countries), a long-running British TV series.
With only a matter of days between now and the premiere of Season 5, all of the main cast of Game of Thrones are rushing through a flurry of interviews about their upcoming roles, as well as their various other projects. That’s where the trouble starts.
One of the “big” stories of this season has been, “The death you won’t see coming.” It’s been hyped in various ways through various actors and outlets since January, mentioned by everybody from Richard Madden on his Cinderella tour to Martin himself to the WiC staff in this speculative post. Entertainment Weekly compounded the question by reporting that a longtime actor who thought he would survive the season would be offed, but that’s not necessarily the shocking death that’s promised.
A couple of Game of Thrones cast members have inadvertently taken themselves off the death watch by casually mentioning that they’re scheduled to film Season 6. Who is definitely not on the chopping block for Season 5? So far….
Emilia Clarke admitted in her one of her red carpet interviews this week that she’s still able to fly under the radar, and doesn’t get recognized by fans the way you might think. The subject came up again during her cover story interview for The Hollywood Reporter this month, but that doesn’t make her any less of an A-Lister among the 20-something set. “Being A-List, it still feels like an alien to me,” she says in that interview. “[But] I get to play other roles without the comparison of being Daenerys, which I think is so lucky.”
Check out behind-the-scenes video at her photoshoot, where Clarke reveals one of her most embarrassing moments on set, below. And which A-list level role did Game of Thrones afford her to be able to turn down?
It’s Always Sunny In King’s Landing? Well, I suppose when it’s not snowing, that is.
But all jokes aside, it looks like Benioff and Weiss have taken the Lannister creed of always paying one’s debts (in Hollywood) to heart. A couple of years ago (2013 to be exact) the showrunners got a chance to take a break from the marathon that is Game of Thrones and try their hand at something a little more contemporary, and with far fewer British accents: the comedy It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. The Season 9 episode they penned, “Flowers for Charlie,” was a standalone story based on the classic story Flowers for Algernon (the movie version of which was simply called Charly.) It was a decent hit at the time, and is now considered something of a classic episode.
At the time it aired, Charlie Day, who was the star of the episode, said he and fellow cast member Rob McElhenney would have to return the favor and appear on Game of Thrones. David Benioff and Dan Weiss apparently haven’t forgetten that. Check out what they had to say below.
The Walking Dead will have its season finale this Sunday, and of course, everyone seems to be chiming in on how Rick and the group of survivors will make it through the Season 5 finale. Game of Thrones creator and author of A Song of Ice and Fire, George R.R. Martin, has some thoughts on how to survive a zombie outbreak.
See what George has to say, after the break.
As the fifth season premiere of Game of Thrones edges ever closer, fans can expect to see a barrage of Thrones-related viral content invade the Internet. Here at WinterIsComing, we see our fair share. Game of Thrones-themed postcards. An elaborate reference on The Simpsons. Hodor rapping (he says ‘Hodor’ a lot). There’s such a high volume of this stuff out there at the moment that much of it must struggle be heard above the noise, but every once in a while a voice breaks through.
Pakistani news network Ary News has just reported that an Indian version of Game of Thrones is in production. According to Ary, Sony Entertainment TV will broadcast the show, titled Rani Mahal, and it will follow the A Song of Ice and Fire books by George R.R. Martin.
One of the biggest hurdles Sony will have to overcome is the huge budget that HBO has allotted for Game of Thrones, plus the strict censors in India. Still, the show is off to a running start, and has even hired actresses to portray Daenerys Targaryen and Cersei Lannister.
Find out more about the Indian version of Game of Thrones, after the jump.