This post will be talking about elements from HBO’s television show, Game of Thrones. Will this article be spoilery? I guess. I’ll probably be shying away from any solid plot points and I won’t be talking about anything concrete that hasn’t been revealed already. I’ll be talking music, yo!
There have been 4 seasons of Game of Thrones (just under two months until Season Five kicks off) and if I have to hear The Rains of Castamere one more time, I’ll lose my mind.
Okay, probably not. But it is a song that gets played a bunch. It’s almost an in-joke for book readers, The Rains of Castamere got played over and over at Joffrey’s wedding reception, since every minstrel and musician wanted to curry favor with the Definitive Lannister Victory Song.
Second in popularity is the Bear and the Maiden Fair, favored by the Bolton soldiers. On the show while traveling with a trussed up Brienne and Jaime, Locke’s men sing a rousing version of the bear and the girl with honey in her hair. They also sing the song at Harrenhal, when Brienne is briefly locked in arena-style combat with their resident pit-bear.
The Bear and the Maiden Fair is second in popularity, only because the number of songs on the show is so small.
In the most recent season of Game of Thrones, in a brothel in Molestown, one of the ladies is entertaining the clients by burping out a concert.
Classy Chanteuse: *burp* *burp* *burp*
Client: The Rains of Castamere!
Classy Chanteuse: No you [stream of expletives]! Listen! *burp* *burp* *burp*
Other Client: The Bear and the Maiden Fair!
Classy Chanteuse: Yay!
The first guy only had a 50/50 chance of getting it right, pretty much giving it to the second guy.
Okay, I shouldn’t imply that there are only 2 songs in Westeros. In fact, we’ve actually heard a third song on the show, and a reference to a fourth.
When Catelyn Stark and Ser Rodrick Cassel are travelling north from King’s Landing, they stop at the Inn at the Crossroads. Because everyone does. There’s a musician named Marillion loitering about. As unlucky fate would have it, Tyrion stops at the Inn on his travel south, heading back to King’s Landing.
Marillion: My Lord of Lannister! Shall I entertain you while you eat? I can sing your father’s victory at King’s Landing.
Tyrion: Nothing would more likely ruin my supper.
Fair enough. Since Lord Tywin’s victory consisted of showing up with an army at King’s Landing, saying “we’re here to help” and when the gates opened, the army rushed in, going crazy. Looting and raping and all manners of new and confusing interpretations of “here to help.” So any song about that victory would have to be brutally honest about the Lannister host or a bunch of lies. Neither would be entertaining to Tyrion.
One of Marillion’s original compositions is showcased on the last episode of Season One, when giving a command performance to Joffrey. Apparently he had been rounded up for singing a satirical song about King Robert being killed not only by a boar but by the murderous lion in his bed.
Marillion ended up having to choose between his fingers or his tongue.
And, that’s it for songs. (Feel free to correct me if I’m wrong.)
[EDIT: I was wrong. I completely forgot about Shireen Baratheon’s creepy song about things under the sea. Thanks Sucheta for reminding me!]
We need more songs on the show. The books feature references to over 50 songs, although usually just a title to add context to a scene. (I’m really hoping that I’ll hear the tune of The Day They Hung Black Robin in the next season.)
The Rains of Castamere and the Bear and the Maiden Fair (A Bear! A Bear! All Covered in Hair!) are songs that are the exception to just-the-title-references, since their full lyrics appear in the books. I’m glad that they have made their way into the show, but to match the richness of the world’s look, languages, cultures, a few more songs would be appropriate.
Luckily, there are other songs given the full lyric treatment, and one in particular would be timely for next season.
The Dornishman’s Wife
The Dornishman’s wife was as fair as the sun,
and her kisses were warmer than spring.
But the Dornishman’s blade was made of black steel,
and its kiss was a terrible thing.
The Dornishman’s wife would sing as she bathed,
in a voice that was sweet as a peach,
But the Dornishman’s blade had a song of its own,
and a bite sharp and cold as a leech.
As he lay on the ground with the darkness around,
and the taste of his blood on his tongue,
His brothers knelt by him and prayed him a prayer,
and he smiled and he laughed and he sung,
“Brothers, oh brothers, my days here are done,
the Dornishman’s taken my life,
But what does it matter, for all men must die,
and I’ve tasted the Dornishman’s wife!”
The Dornish were introduced in memorable fashion in Season Four, with the appearance of Prince Oberyn Martell of Dorne. The Red Viper was a fantastic addition to the political shenanigans in King’s Landing, an aggressive and angry noble with a somewhat untouchable status. After all, he is a prince. Finally there was someone who could match scowls and jibes with Lord Tywin, and the Old Lion of Casterly Rock would have to take it.
There had been mentions of Dorne throughout the series, usually revolving around their excellent wines. It was the far off location that Myrcella Baratheon had been sent off to, partly to shore up the diplomatic status between Dorne and the crown family but also as a refuge for the princess should Stannis Baratheon take the throne by force.
After all, they don’t hurt little girls in Dorne.
Season Four started to define an attribute of the Dornish, with Bronn cracking jokes while Tyrion Lannister awaited the Dornish entourage.
How many Dornishmen does it take to start a war? One.
I’m a fan of the song The Dornishman’s Wife because it’s a song sung gleefully by a dying man, reminiscing on a beautiful woman of Dorne, and how getting a kiss from her was worth losing his life. There’s a lot going on in the song, and it smoothly reveals the fact that at least in song, Dornish warriors are deadly and Dornish women are beautiful. (To be perfectly clear, I am NOT saying that those attributes are mutually exclusive.)
The Rains of Castamere is a straightforward reference to Tywin Lannister destroying rebel House Reyne, root and stem, and there really isn’t that much extra interpretation needed. But the Dornishman’s Wife can be viewed in many ways.
Since Dorne is in the furthest south of Westeros, I’ll refer to the unnamed dying narrator of the song as “the Northerner.” Craster can disagree with me if he wants to.
(What’s that Craster? Still dead? Well I guess you don’t get a say.)
Anyway, I’ve said that the Northerner is gleefully reminiscing as he’s dying, but that’s my interpretation. He might have a more regretful attitude and might be trying to be brave for his attending brothers’ sake. This can be interpreted as a sarcastic moment. “Yeah, at least I kissed his wife. That’s totally worth it…”
- What was the wife’s role in all this? Was she having an affair with the Northerner, or was it more sinister? It certainly casts a different light on the song if he’s a jealous husband or an avenging one.
- Where’s the Dornishman? The Northerner has his brothers with him, but there’s no reference to the Dornishman being dead as well. Did they fight an honorable duel? Is the Dornishman dead? Killed in tandem by the Northerner or his brothers? Will the brothers avenge their fallen?
- Or was the Dornishman so badass, they just stood back?
- Were those in attendance actually the Northerner’s siblings? Or just brothers in a fraternal organization, like the Night’s Watch, or the Kingsguard? And both orders are kind of monastic, in that they’re not supposed to fool around, which makes the whole wife-kissing all the more interesting. Speaking of monastic, the brothers might be religious brothers, since there was the emphasis on their saying a prayer for the Northerner.
And that’s why I like the song so much. It’s not long, but a lot of stories can be coaxed out of it.
And since part of the upcoming season will be taking place in Dorne, I’d love to hear that song sung on the show. By Bronn, preferably. (Since the actor Jerome Flynn can sing just fine.)
And he’d be happy to sing the song in the middle of Dorne with a slightly insulting interpretation, and not care what anyone thought.
Some Observations on the Rains of Castamere
(Oh, if you’ve not seen the show, the following will be spoilery. Stop reading.)
To wrap up, I don’t want to be too dismissive of the Castamere song, which is often used as the Lannister theme incidental background music when one or more inhabitants of Casterly Rock are on-screen.
The show runners did a great job introducing the song into the show, with Lannister soldiers (and Bronn) singing it in a tavern before Blackwater, and Cersei explaining the significance of the song to Margaery at Tyrion and Sansa’s wedding, to the performance of the song at Edmure and Roslin’s wedding reception.
Book readers were all excited about hearing the song. Rains of Castamere! Knowing that it would be played at the Red Wedding gave me chills whenever there was a reference to it.
Show watchers were perhaps not as up to date on what was going on with the song, which is understandable but also noteworthy. After Joffrey died at the beginning of Season Four, I had several conversations online and in person with friends who had not read the books. Basically, there was a fundamental misunderstanding about the song.
Them: How come they were playing the Rains of Castamere at Joffrey’s wedding? Shouldn’t those musicians have been arrested when Joffrey died, because of that song?
Them: Or stopped during the performance? When the band Sigur Ros was playing that dirgelike version with that bizarre accordion, how come the Kingsguard didn’t jump on them? That song is bad luck! Was no one listening?
What happened was this: after the Red Wedding episode, Catelyn’s worried look upon hearing the Rains of Castamere was interpreted by some viewers as that song being unlucky or not fit for weddings. That is kind of true, I guess. If the wedding is being held by Lannister enemies.
The Rains of Castamere is like the equivalent of a college football fight song. It’s aggressive to be played at a rival’s sporting event.
Anyway, despite the song being bad luck for the Starks at the Twins, it probably won’t get a reputation as unlucky for Lannisters, even if Joffrey died after hearing it played a dozen times at his reception.
When your college team loses big, you don’t blame the band.
(Comments are always welcome. Super welcome! But if you want to talk spoilery Game of Thrones talk with me (also welcome) I’d invite you to visit my Safe Spoilers page on my backup blog. That way my non-book-reading friends won’t be shocked with foreknowledge.)
Images from HBO’s Game of Thrones (obviously.)
I make no claims to the artwork, but some claims to the text. So there.
If you liked this article, thank you! I have all of my Game of Thrones related articles on my handy-dandy Game of Thrones page should you want to read more but don’t want to navigate around my site.
© Patrick Sponaugle 2015 Some Rights Reserved