Game of Thrones: You Win Or You Die. Unless You Die And Still You Win.

Posted: June 6, 2017 by patricksponaugle in Game of Thrones, TV
Tags: , , , , , ,

This post will be talking about Game of Thrones. If you’ve not heard about it, it’s this pretty cool show based on an amazing (and sadly, unfinished) book series.

When you play the Game of Thrones, you win or you die. There is no middle ground.
But if we dead things kill you, then you’re on our team and when we win, you win.
So, when you play the Game of Thrones, it’s Win-Win! #TeamUndead

In the very first episode of Game of Thrones, a party of rangers from the Night’s Watch fall prey to the Others, the legendary White Walkers who figuratively dwell in myth and literally dwell in some frozen land far north of the Wall.

This set the stage for a conflict that has been slowly developing over the seasons, promising a large battle between humanity and an army of the dead.

I’m not here to talk about that.

Instead I’m here to talk about how nearly all of the major families, those who are busy squabbling over thrones and titles, already have undead champions in play. (Some of these undead champions blur the line into symbolism, but I hope you’ll forgive me for a little bit of dramatic license.)

Let’s start.

You Starks are hard to kill…

The direwolf-loving Starks are an obvious example, with Jon Snow murdered by his traitorous brothers in the Night’s Watch (they may have had good reasons to do so) and then resurrected following a ritual by Melisandre, the red witch who served the foreign deity R’hllor.

Jon didn’t necessarily come back with supernatural powers (that we know of) but Tormund Giantsbane has made claims that some wildlings now consider Jon a god. Jon has asserted (so far, successfully to everyone but /r/asoiaf redditors) that his death absolves him from his Night’s Watch oath (which would otherwise make his newly bestowed position of King in the North problematic.)

So the only immediate benefit in a second shot at life is getting (arguably) a free pass from his vows.

Unlike Jon, there is a Stark who holds faithfully to his Night’s Watch prime directive, despite his watch possibly ending with his death. If he’s even dead.

We don’t really know how to classify Benjen Stark. Is he mostly dead? Slightly alive? We just know that he was unwilling to return with Bran Stark to the Wall, because the Wall has anti-wight wards, and in Benjen’s cold-handed state those defenses would apply against him as well.


So Benjen continues a commando war against the Others, with a sweet flaming sickle-chain-flail weapon. What a guy! No one really knows about this death-defying Stark, kicking ass up north-of-North. Except for Bran and Meera, of course.

Speaking of Bran, his return to the kingdom of the North might be considered a symbolic return from the dead, since many in the North might still believe the fake news that Bran was killed by Theon Greyjoy.

Symbolically returning from the dead isn’t nearly as impressive as Jon or Uncle Benjen: Bran isn’t a solid example as an undead champion (at all), but Bran does bring a certain supernatural cachet to the team, being the new Three-Eyed Raven and all. He quite possibly could be the surprise champion of the series.

(Oh, I guess Jon Snow could also count as an undead champion for House Targaryen. But they already have that covered.)

Dragons and a Phoenix

Team Targaryen features someone who was written off as dead, but was born anew supernaturally. And with a newfound mythic aspect. Specifically, dragons.

Doreah: Hey, can we have your stuff?
Dany: NO.

Daenerys Targaryen entered a flaming pyre, a suicidal act as far as Ser Jorah Mormont was concerned. But like a phoenix she arose from the ashes.

We can debate if Daenerys literally died in the conflagration of Drogo’s funeral bonfire, but she certainly is further on the scale of death and resurrection than Bran is. The phoenix imagery helps since the fabulous magical bird of legend unambiguously dies and is reborn from its charred remains.

The Dothraki in attendance were certainly impressed by Dany’s fiery “rebirths”. It was even a more impressive trick the second time around.

Dany: You got any more khals for me to roast?
Khals: No, we’re good.
Dany: Because I can keep doing this-
Khals: You’ve totes made your point.

Surviving such an inferno is a reasonable basis for legitimacy of power. That gets directly translated into military might with the addition of the awe-inspired Dothraki. (I wonder how they’ll feel about fighting wights, though.)

I have the Mountain…

Speaking of beautiful blonde queens who gained post-pyrotechnic political power, Cersei Lannister is currently atop the Iron Throne because she survived a firestorm of her own making.

Okay, unlike Daenerys, Cersei was not in danger of being burnt but I would not be surprised if she’d let a rumor grow claiming she’d actually been in the Sept to stand trial before the gods as expected, and the gods judged her innocent. By dramatically destroying her accusers.

Cersei: And after the gods smote all the sinners in the sept, sparing me in my consummate innocence, they transported me mysteriously back to my chambers.
Qyburn: I saw the whole thing happen. I’m her eye witness.

(I have heard crazier stories of biblical destructions.)

Regardless if Cersei wants to claim divine or miraculous approval, she has as her right hand monster the mighty Gregor Clegane, who may or may not be undead.

I’m not interested in getting close enough to find out.

Curious George: Don’t mind me, I just want to check that you have a pulse. *sploosh*

No matter how we classify Ser Gregor, it seems fair to say that just by walking around after getting a gut-full of envenomed spear by the Red Viper of Dorne, Clegane has cheated death.

What is dead may never die…

The hardcore Ironborn who ritually undergo literal drowning wouldn’t say that they’ve cheated death, but rather are devoutly sharing in the great victory of their deity, the Drowned God who defeated death.

We see this process explicitly with King Euron Greyjoy, another head-of-household who symbolically died and returned. (Not so symbolically, actually. They drowned his fratricidal ass.)

Euron: My first decree as king will be to get some heated pools installed. This is ridiculous.

This might be the least supernatural of resurrections, or at least it is in the books where the Drowned God’s holy men are well-trained in CPR.

I’m not exactly sure what the show was trying to communicate with Euron first being held underwater, then his lifeless body laid out, and then the drowned priest in attendance (don’t call that guy Aeron Damphair, Aeron would never have supported a godless man like Euron to be king) just staring at Euron until the evil pirate spontaneously revived himself.

Apparently, drowning can be reversed with the strength of an observer’s regard? I can’t explain what the show was trying for.

Regardless, the Ironborn will probably be not that impressed with stories of Jon Snow’s resurrection or Dany’s flaming rebirths. Because many of them have already risen from the dead, reputedly harder and stronger than before.

Hanged Men and Ghosts

Speaking of crazy stuff, it’s time to round this out with House Baratheon.

The first raised-from-the-dead character (that wasn’t a mindless wight) in the story of A Song of Ice and Fire would probably be Lord Beric Dondarrion, the leader of the Brotherhood without Banners. Beric was granted royal authority to hunt down and stop the depredations of Gregor Clegane, who rampaged along the Riverlands as a smokescreen for Tywin’s preparation of breaking the King’s Peace.

While this task force was out in the field, King Robert died and Dondarrion’s men found themselves suddenly branded outlaws to be hunted down by Lannister forces. Arya eventually became a “guest” of these men, who told her that they were still king’s men. Just not King Joffrey’s men.

“We’d been sent out by the King’s Hand to deal with outlaws, you see, but now we were the outlaws, and Lord Tywin was the Hand of the King. There was some wanted to yield then, but Lord Beric wouldn’t hear of it. We were still king’s men, he said, and these were the king’s people the lions were savaging. If we could not fight for Robert, we would fight for them, until every man of us was dead.” — ASOS, Arya III

Lord Beric and the Brotherhood, just hanging around the Riverlands.

They were continuing to operate (from their point of view) under the auspices of King Robert (even if Ned was the one who gave them the task.) So I’m considering the Brotherhood without Banners #TeamBaratheon.

Lord Beric died fighting against the Mountain’s forces. And Lord Beric’s ally, the famous Thoros of Myr, miraculously brought Beric back to life. (Thoros was as surprised as any of them the first time this happened.) Through the course of the brotherhood’s guerrilla warfare against the Lannisters, Lord Beric has been killed and resurrected by Thoros well over a half-dozen times.

This hasn’t been a necessarily good experience for Dondarrion. Each time he returned, he was less of the man that he had been, which sounds correct since resurrection just seems like something that should have a cost. Especially in light of all the ways Beric died: horrible wounds of all sorts, and a hanging.

A hanged man who goes on to organize the hanging of men: it has a certain thematic resonance.

Lord Beric is from the Stormlands but he isn’t a Baratheon, so some might cast some side-eye on my reasoning for having him represent a supernatural champion of House Baratheon. Fine.

But there’s definitely a Baratheon who came back from the dead to win a great victory over treacherous enemies. I’m talking of course about Renly Baratheon.

C’est moi!

What? I hear you ask. I appreciate your confusion.

This is pretty much a book detail, but if you went and interviewed some of the Stormlanders who retreated from the Battle of the Blackwater, they would swear to you that murdered Renly’s ghost led the Highgarden cavalry who’d joined with Tywin Lannister’s men to repel Stannis’ siege assault.

My hirelings betray me, my friends are scourged and shamed, and I lie here rotting, Tyrion thought. I thought I won the bloody battle. Is this what triumph tastes like? “Is it true that Stannis was put to rout by Renly’s ghost?”

Renly Baratheon had famously distinctive armor (replete with an antlered helm) – and that suit of armor definitely showed up for the battle, obviously animated by Renly’s specter, looking to even the score with his treacherous brother. (Or maybe someone else was wearing it. That’s equally crazy, right?)

Hey! It’s me! GHOST RENLY, bitches!

Even if Renly’s ghost didn’t literally come back from the beyond to strike back at his brother, people believed that Renly had, weakening Stormland support for Stannis.

Belief is a big deal. Not everyone has first hand experience in Jon Snow coming back from the dead, but they’ve heard stories. Some believe it.

Relatively speaking, only a few people saw Dany survive the bonfire that hatched her dragons, but it’s hard not to believe that she’s something special when she has dragons on her side.

Maybe belief is the element that will rouse the kingdoms to unite in reaction to reports of the army of the dead moving beyond the Wall. It’s easier to accept the reality of walking dead men when nearly every one of the great houses in Westeros has some family members or retainers who’ve died (possibly symbolically or fraudulently) and returned from the dead.

(To be fair, I’ve not even covered all of the undead who are in the books but didn’t make it to the show. But I don’t want to talk about that here, in case there are show watchers who one day want to read the books and be surprised.)

With the return of Game of Thrones this summer, maybe we’ll see how well the dead who lead the living deal with the Other-led living dead.

Just like the army of the White Walkers, Season Seven seems to be getting closer and closer, but sooooo slowly. Like it should have been here a long time ago.

You waiting on us? Sorry.


(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 claim to the images, 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 2017 Some Rights Reserved

  1. joanna says:

    *chuckle – Benjen ‘slightly alive’

    I never thought about that – the major families with this in common.

    – sometimes we’re dead, and sometimes we’re vaguely dead
    – we have a club
    – on Sundays we go out for tea

    It is an interesting point though. What’s more interesting is that no-one bats an eyelid. Yes they’re suitably shocked, surprised, awe inspired at the time. But then it’s business as usual.

    Sansa: Sooo .. how many times were you stabbed?
    Jon: Oh I don’t know, a billion?
    Melisandre: My invisible friend brought him back
    Sansa: Cool. What’s for lunch?

    In a utterly credible parallel universe, fantastical and supernatural are subtly woven into day to day life so as to become the norm. That’s why it’s so believable. Perfect.

    Liked by 1 person

    • 🙂

      Thank you, especially for getting what I was going for with the article.

      Liked by 1 person

      • joanna says:

        I always enjoy reading your posts Pat. And the opportunity to be a bit silly.

        Liked by 1 person

        • I appreciated the fun dialog with Jon, Sansa, and Mel.


          Liked by 1 person

          • joanna says:

            You’re welcome 🙂

            Jon’s resurrection was impressive because it was so quiet. An intimate mystical ritual behind closed doors. If it’d had been fireworks and things exploding it would’ve been less believable.The lighting in that scene was extraordinary.

            I love the use of water in GoT. The detail and the sound – the camera moving in on a sodden rag methodically cleansing flesh, the drip drip in the ceramic bowl below. The snip snip of scissors on nails and hair. It’s incredibly soothing even in the uncomfortable moments: Myranda bathing Sansa, Arya washing corpses in the House of Black and White. Whenever I reach those kind of scenes I always end up replaying them over and over again.

            Liked by 1 person

          • joanna says:

            I keep making typos 😦
            *In aN utterly credible
            *it’d been – OR – it had been – not had had 🙂 damn

            Liked by 1 person

  2. Haylee says:

    Oh no! It’s WIGHT behind you…! 😉
    Do you think there’s any chance of the most talked about book character undead manifestation, manifesting?? I don’t know the details in the book (as you know I’ve only gone as far as book 3) and have stayed away from online talk in case they show up – but have they swapped the character plot line already for another?

    Liked by 1 person

  3. hopelessblog says:

    I am so glad i found this blog i bloody love GOT!!!!!

    Liked by 1 person

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