Small Council: What’s the best gift given on Game of Thrones?

The holidays are here, and as we speak, millions of people the world over are enjoying their freshly-opened gifts. Characters on Game of Thrones are fond of giving gifts, too, although sometimes they’re unasked for. Which ones stand out? Any you wish you could have received? Any you would avoid at all costs? What’s the nature of gift-giving in Westeros?

Free associate about gifts on Game of Thrones here!

DAN: Gift-giving is an important part of the Song of Ice and Fire universe, something I only fully realized when cataloging some of the more important ones given away the show. Of course, very few of these gifts are given out of pure generosity. It’s usually about winning alliances or showing favor or just because it’s expected. Do you think Tyrion wanted to give Joffrey that bitching copy of Lives of the Four Kings? And then watch while the little stain chopped it to pieces? I think not.

With that in mind, I appreciate the crooked selflessness of the Faceless Men giving the down and out of Braavos the gift of death. Merry Christmas.

But seriously, in the novels, the Faceless Men routinely refer to killing people as giving them “the gift.” Because life is horrible and all, and killing them is a kindness. It’s creepy.

To this day, I still don’t completely understand the economics of the House and Black and White. I imagine that the Faceless Men give the gift to some people — maybe even most people — in exchange for money. After all, that giant stone brick of a building isn’t going to maintain itself; the cost of water damage alone must be astronomical. But they work pro bono, too, as when Arya eases the passing of the sick girl in “Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken.” The Faceless Men operate on a deeply twisted philosophy, but they at least seem willing to give “the gift” to people who ask for it, rather than because they have something to gain. That’s…nice, I guess.

Still, don’t get this for any of your friends this Christmas.

SEBASTIAN: I feel like Needle is the obvious choice here. Not only is Needle an awesome gift – there are other awesome ones in Game of Thrones, like Dany’s dragon eggs – but Needle is also the most Christmassy, if you will. Much like diplomatic gifts in our world today, the vast majority of gifts on Game of Thrones is not of a private, personal or even emotional nature. Giving gifts in a feudal society is first and foremost about status. A lord invited to a noble wedding – or actually more likely his lady wife – would, for example, usually not concern himself – or herself, respectively – so much with what the bride and groom would enjoy as a present, what their interests are or anything like that. The most important thing in such a situation would simply be to show off how precious of a gift the giver can afford to part with – as gifts would often not be bought or commissioned for the occasion but instead come out of the belongings of the giving party.

This, of course, is not special to wedding gifts but would also apply to a lot of different situations. It’s a shame we don’t have an elaborate calendar for Westeros. Surely, there must be some kind of annual religious events that structure the year. I can see that, with years not being made of four repeating seasons, things are different, but there must be more than we hear about. Anyway, we get nothing comparable to Christmas and so we can’t draw much of a comparison here. If there were some analog to Christmas in Westeros, we would expect it to be less about presents and the quiet, private joy to be found at home with one’s family – at least in theory – and more about representation.

Jon’s gift to Arya is a nice exception. Yes, it is a sword, a rather typical thing to give, since swords are very capable of representing status. However, a sword is usually a gift a liege lord gives his liege and certainly not an appropriate gift for a young girl. In that, Jon’s gift is very personal, which is also emphasized by Arya hiding Needle instead of openly showing it. It is one of the few gifts in the series that I can think of that fit what we usually aim for with gifts today.

RICHARD: Lots of options, but I’m choosing Tyrion Lannister’s gift of a special saddle design for the handicapped Bran. Not only was it a lovely gesture on Tyrion’s part (it certainly surprised the Starks), but the act served a number of important story and character functions.

In a spiritual sense, the giving of presents reflects the qualities of the gift-giver more than it tells us about the recipient. It took motivation, time, intelligence and empathy to design Bran’s unique saddle. Tyrion’s diminutive condition has haunted him all his life, and his generosity illuminates his protectiveness for all “cripples, bastards, and broken things,” of which he considers himself one.

Tyrion’s wit is on full display in the lovely presentation scene in the Winterfell great hall:

Tyrion: “With the right horse and saddle, even a cripple can ride.”

Bran: “I’m not a cripple.”

Tyrion: “Then I’m not a dwarf. I father will rejoice to hear it.”

For Bran, the the gift of the saddle represents freedom. It opens up the world for him and allows him to realize that his handicap need not leave him bedridden and hopeless. If giving a medieval-ish era paraplegic the opportunity to ‘walk’ again can be measured in terms of value, then this may be one of the most priceless gifts ever bestowed on Game of Thrones.

Story-wise, Tyrion’s constructed saddle allows Bran to enter the godswood forest alone (or at least to momentarily wander away from his family members) and opens the door for more elaborate journeys down the line.

That’s one helluva gift.

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays and Happy Festivus!

COREY: Damn, nice choice there Richard. I’d completely forgotten about Tyrion’s saddle gift to Bran.

Gifts in Westeros range in importance from Dany’s dragons, all the way down to the thimble Sam gifts to Gilly before leaving Craster’s. For a show built on betrayal and murder, there is an awful lot of gift-giving going on in the Seven Kingdoms. Littlefinger is one of the realm’s most prolific gift-givers, even if they aren’t always gifts you want to receive.

But perhaps my favorite gift is Jeor Mormont’s gift of Longclaw to Jon Snow in season 1. Sure, it turned out to be rather handy in the war against the White Walkers, but Mormont didn’t know that at the time. At face value, it was given to Jon for saving Mormont’s life, but that’s an awfully big thank you.

Mormont felt a fatherly bond towards Jon that extended beyond his recognition of Jon’s leadership skills. That bond was the real reason the gift of Longclaw. Like Jon’s gift of Needle to Arya, familial instincts are at the heart of the exchange. That familial love fuels our modern day gift-giving, and seeing it on Game of Thrones is a treat.

With only one season left, hopefully we see one or two more such gifts. Either way, whichever holiday you celebrate, enjoy your time with friends and family. Even if they don’t give you swords.

What’s your take on this? Choose up to three options on the poll below.


What’s the best gift given on Game of Thrones?