This is part four of a five-part series defending Olly, the scrawny farmboy who played a major part in the fifth season’s finale on Game of Thrones. If you’re not up to date on the show and have no idea who Olly is or what he’s done, then you don’t want to be here. You want to be binge-watching Game of Thrones.
You want to!
Quick disclaimer: I’ll be talking about some minor differences from the books and the show, nothing super-spoilery, but I know some show watchers want to read the books one day, and try to avoid any book details. (Good luck.)
Previously, I’ve covered some of the reasons why show fans dislike Olly.
I’m not saying there is a huge population audience members who fall into a third category, but there are some people who just dislike Olly entirely because he’s not canonically from the books, but is entirely a show invention.
Olly is a Potato.
Yeah, let me explain.
When Olly was first introduced on the show, he was just a nameless lad walking with his father in their northern village, not that far from Castle Black. He and his dad were making dinner plans.
Olly: Mother says it’s time to eat.
Dad: What she got boiling? Wait, wait, let me guess.
Olly and Dad: POTATOES!
Dad: No one boils a potato better than your mum. She [THUNK! An arrow flies into Dad’s head]
Ygritte: POTATOES ARE NOT IN THE BOOKS!!!
Ygritte’s correct, there are no mentions of potatoes in George RR Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire books. (I’ve checked.)
Potatoes seem anachronistic for Westeros, since in our real world, potatoes were native only to the Andes in South America before being introduced to the Old World ~400 years ago.
No one’s saying that Westeros absolutely has to have followed the same botanical evolution of Europe and the Americas, its just feels like it should have. It seems weird that the show runners introduced potatoes into the Seven Kingdoms when any root vegetable would have done for that line of dialogue. Turnips, carrots, whatever. The script could have said “dirt apples” and people wouldn’t have blinked.
When Olly was introduced as a nameless young boy, he was part of a storyline that wasn’t in the books. The Wildlings didn’t wage a terror campaign south of the Wall, but book readers had kind of gotten used to storylines being tweaked.
Olly was sent by the Wildlings to warn Castle Black (in hopes of drawing them out in advance of Mance’s big push) and had his story ended there, no one would have thought badly of the little urchin.
But then Olly hung around, and actually became a character on the show. A character who was not in the books.
Just like, oh, a potato.
Ros, Olyvar, and Other Potatoes
Olly’s not the first character who has been introduced on the show as a non-canonical character and ended up with a lot of screen time.
Season 1 saw the introduction of Ros, the red-headed sex worker from Winterfell, who made her way from being the local northern favorite of Theon’s to one of Littlefinger’s prostitutes in King’s Landing. At the time, she met a luke-warm reception (at best) from book readers. There were so many characters from the novels being left out, why introduce new ones?
During the first season, I was briefly worried that Ros would end up replacing Shae as Tyrion’s mistress from the books. If that happened, then why wouldn’t they have just named her Shae? (I’m glad I was wrong.)
We can debate her effectiveness, but Ros did serve to facilitate exposition, and more importantly was our witness into the shadowy war between Littlefinger and Varys. Hearts softened towards Ros at the end of season 3 when she was monstrously murdered by the mad mini-monarch. (I promise to back off on the alliteration for awhile.)
Season 2 introduced Alton Lannister, a cousin to Ser Jaime and used as a diplomatic envoy between King’s Landing and Robb Stark’s camp.
Alton replaced Ser Cleos Frey from the books (sort of) in the role of messenger. I don’t know if anyone had a problem per se with Alton. Since the Freys were allies to the Starks, it might have been hard for the casual show watcher to understand how Lannister-cousin Cleos Frey fit into things.
Show watchers might have had a hard time keeping Alton and King Robert’s bastard Gendry separate in their minds.
Although it quickly became easy to tell them apart. Gendry was the one that Jaime didn’t murder as part of his escape attempt. Book readers probably had more of an issue with that, since it turned Jaime into a kinslayer, which is kind of a big deal (and wasn’t from the books.)
Jaime encountered another potato-like (as in not canonical) character while traveling with Brienne of Tarth. Roose Bolton’s villainous right hand (chopping) man Locke was a stand-in for the flamboyant lisping mercenary leader, Vargo Hoat, an excellent book character.
At this point, book readers really didn’t complain. Jaime’s story beats were all strong and otherwise mostly faithful to the books, and Locke was so well played that I don’t think anyone minded when he accompanied Jon Snow on a totally-off-the-rails non-canon mission to Craster’s Keep (where Locke gets a chiropractic intervention from Hodor’s ham-sized hands.)
Ros, Alton, Locke… there’s a high mortality rate among characters George RR Martin hadn’t created. (Which is really par for the course. I mean, he’s hell on his own characters.)
Someone still alive, who is not from the books but has materialized as a secondary/tertiary character is Olyvar, one of Lord Baelish’s operatives.
Littlefinger sacrificing Ros to Joffrey allowed his employee Olyvar to get a promotion from rent-boy to being in charge of Littlefinger’s affairs (while Petyr was off a-roaming with Tyrion’s wife, the fugitive Sansa.)
Like the others, Olyvar was invented for the show but wasn’t a direct replacement for any one character. He more or less replaced a handful of pawns from the books who were involved in Cersei’s plot to frame Margaery and have the young queen fall into the judgmental hands of the Faith Militant.
(I’ve heard people claim that he is an actual book character, Olyvar Frey, but that’s crazy talk. Crazy. Talk.)
Olyvar didn’t seem to generate the same original antipathy that Ros did, and certainly not the hate that Olly gets. But he’s not dead yet, so there’s still time.
People began to complain in earnest about Olly early in season 5, when he was attached to Jon Snow as the Lord Commander’s steward.
At the time, the excuse of Ygritte’s death was used, but also that Olly just wasn’t from the books. That seemed like a pretty thin reason for the existence of the F*ck Olly subreddit forum (which at the time of this writing has over 11,000 Olly Haters.)
My guess is that the charges against Olly were smokescreens in anticipation of the more serious crime, that Olly would stab Jon Snow. Which Olly did. (As part of a cabal, organized by Alliser Thorne. I totally covered this last article.)
In the books, Jon Snow is betrayed by a handful of his Night’s Watch brothers, notably the Head Steward and fellow Night’s Watch Board of Directors member Bowen Marsh.
We’ve seen Bowen Marsh throughout the seasons, but in general he was just another pasty fur-wearing old white guy up at the Wall. I’m pretty sure that the actor who plays Marsh is one of the stabbers (they all look alike to me), but it’s Olly that matters as the final stabber (and Thorne, who gets the first stab.)
Olly’s participation was a bit telegraphed… even non-book readers were uneasy about all the dark looks Olly was giving Jon, or how Sam’s speech to Olly was not “hey, don’t kill Jon, alright?” as it could have been.
I guess my issue with the Olly hate is this: I really don’t think that there would have been a better execution of the scene with Jon.
We’ve seen these potato-characters on the show and in general they work well. Either in being a witness to events that we don’t have a point of view for but are instructive (like Ros and Olyvar), as a dialog partner for bring out character thoughts or motives (like Alton), or are a reasonable replacement of a character from the books or a merger of characters.
Olly’s journey is not incoherent. He’s orphaned by Wildlings and sent to the Wall as a bad news messenger. He’d stay at the Wall, because where else could he go? Killing Ygritte was not a bad use of him as a character (feel free to argue, I said more on this a few posts ago), and attaching him to Jon provides a familiar face for the stabbing.
Bowen Marsh’s role could have been beefed up to be more like the books, but really he and Alliser Thorne would then be nearly indistinguishable as narrative elements. (Yes, we’d be able to tell them apart. They’re not like the twins: Alton and Gendry.)
Embrace the Potato
It seems like a waste to get so worked up over Olly as an invented character, like getting worked up over if potatoes could be found in Westeros.
It’s pretty reasonable to assume that some of the members of the Night’s Watch were orphans whose parents had been killed, either by Wildlings or just the usual million ways to die in Westeros. For all we know, the anonymous archer who killed Ygritte in the books was one of these faceless hapless recruits. One of them very well might have stabbed Jon in the books, following the directives of their older and influential superiors.
For that matter, some swallows (or other migratory birds) might have carried a potato from a mythical even-further western land and dropped it in the north of Westeros, to eventually provide tasty stews for Olly’s mom. (There’s an Iron Island family that really believes in some western continent. Go read book four.)
How could a swallow carry a potato to Westeros? The same way a swallow carried a coconut to the kingdom of Mercia in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, obviously.
Okay, I might not have successfully defended Olly against the three category of charges, but at least I addressed them.
Next post: let’s wrap this up.
(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. (Well, only to the stuff that I wrote. Not to any of the quotes, obviously.)
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