Dead Men of Westeros and The Stringer Bell Paradox

Note: The following contains aggressive spoilers for both the first three seasons of The Wire, and for the five existing seasons of Game of Thrones.

You remember when Omar Little and Brother Mouzone teamed up to take down Stringer Bell.  For each of them, it was an act of retribution.  Stringer had first murdered Omar’s boyfriend Brandon in Season One, and had, in Season Two, manipulated Omar into attempting to murder Brother Mouzone.  They eventually teamed up and killed him, quickly but violently, during the penultimate episode of the third season.

Just as important as their quest to kill him was Stringer’s quest to become a new man.  This included community college courses, reading Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations, buying property, bribing congressmen, and ultimately informing on his best friend and business partner, Avon Barksdale.  He was on a path toward redemption, or at least toward his own vision of it.  And just as he found himself on the cusp of success, his past caught up with him, in the form of a shotgun and a bowtie.

Stringer is, without a doubt, one of the greatest characters on The Wire.  He’s arguably one of the greatest characters in television’s history.  The only solace that one could take seeing him gunned down was “at least it was Omar who killed him.”  Which has lead me to create what I refer to as The Stinger Bell Paradox (SBP), which is when one of your favorite characters kills another of your favorites.

The Stringer Bell Paradox Test:

  1. Did one major character kill another major character?  
  2. Did the world they live in prevent any possibility of both of them remaining alive? (Thus, the paradox)
  3. Did you like the character who did the killing?
  4. Did you like the character who died?
  5. Was the character who died on a path toward redemption?
  6. Bonus: Did it occur during the penultimate episode of a season?

That’s the test.  Is it perfect?  Well, I don’t know if the test itself is perfect, but I think that killing a character through The Stinger Bell Paradox probably is perfect.  What better way to eliminate a major character than to put them on a path, nearly get them there, then let their past catch up to them and kill them through the agency of another character you love?

Now, let’s apply this test to the dead folk of Westeros, and see how often it applies.

Ned StarkBeheaded by Ser Ilyn Payne, on the order of King Joffrey Baratheon.  Season One, Episode Nine.

Don't look, Arya.
Don’t look, Arya.
  1. Did one major character kill another major character?  Sort of.  His death was ordered by Joffrey Baratheon, but it was the largely irrelevant Ser Ilyn Payne who actually swung the sword.  
  2. Did the world they live in prevent any possibility of both of them remaining alive?  Yes, although Ned didn’t realize it was like that.
  3. Did you like the character who did the killing?  Joffrey?  Only in a love-to-hate way.  Ser Payne.  Pretty indifferent.
  4. Did you like the character who died?  It was Ned Stark.  
  5. Was the character who died on a path toward redemption?  Ned needed no redemption.

Ned Stark SPB Rating: 1/5.  Not really a Stringer Bell Paradox situation, but the first major death on Game of Thrones.

Renly Baratheon.  Killed by a Shadow-with-the-face-of-Stannis.  Season Two, Episode Five

Poor guy.
Poor guy.
  1. Did one major character kill another major character?  Well, a shadow with the face of a major character killed another major character.  So, yes.
  2. Did the world they live in prevent any possibility of both of them remaining alive?  Unfortunately, yes.  Both claimed the throne, but not both could have it.
  3. Did you like the character who did the killing?  At that point, absolutely not.  Stannis was boring, intense, and humorless.  Hard to root for him.
  4. Did you like the character who died?  Yeah.  Renly was fun.  
  5. Was the character who died on a path toward redemption?  He didn’t really need it. 
  6. Bonus: Did it occur during the penultimate episode of a season?  No.  Pretty early in the season, actually.

Renly Baratheon SBP Rating: 2/5.  Not really.  Lacked the gravity.    

Robb and Catelyn Stark.  Killed at Catelyn’s brother’s wedding by a host of Freys and Boltons.  Season Three, Episode Nine.

  1. Did one major character kill another major character?  Sort of. Roose Bolton wasn’t a big deal at that point, so it’s hard to say he was a major character.  Walder Frey has always been pretty in-the-background too. But, of course, it was at the request of the Lannisters.
  2. Did the world they live in prevent any possibility of both of them remaining alive?  Their killers decided to see it that way, yes.
  3. Did you like the character who did the killing?  No.
  4. Did you like the character who died?  Robb, yes.  Catelyn, indifference.
  5. Was the character who died on a path toward redemption?  No redemption needed.
  6. Bonus: Did it occur during the penultimate episode of a season?  That, it did.

Robb and Catelyn Stark SBP Rating: 1/5.  No.  A tragic death, but not of the Stringer Bell variety.

Joffrey Baratheon.  Poisoned by conspirators at his own wedding, including Littlefinger and the Queen of Thorns.  Season Four, Episode One.

Poor little guy.
Poor little guy.
  1. Did one major character kill another major character?  Well… yes.  But it was hard to tell who did the killing, in the moment, the way it went down.
  2. Did the world they live in prevent any possibility of both of them remaining alive?  Hard to say.  
  3. Did you like the character who did the killing? Meh.
  4. Did you like the character who died?  He was a great character, but it was great to see him finally die.
  5. Was the character who died on a path toward redemption?  No way.
  6. Bonus: Did it occur during the penultimate episode of a season?  Far from.  

Joffrey Baratheon SBP Rating: 0/5.  Not an SBP, for the opposite of Ned Stark.  He was a bad guy.

Sandor “The Hound” Clegane.  Mortally wounded by Brienne of Tarth.  Season Four, Episode Ten.

I got nervous the moment this fight started.
I got nervous the moment this fight started.
  1. Did one major character kill another major character?  Probably.  Both were certainly major.  The only question is whether The Hound made it out alive, as there are no offscreen deaths in Westeros.
  2. Did the world they live in prevent any possibility of both of them remaining alive?  Based on who they were, and the situation they found themselves in, there was no way they were both walking away form that one.
  3. Did you like the character who did the killing?  Yes.
  4. Did you like the character who died? Yes.
  5. Was the character who died on a path toward redemption? Yes.
  6. Bonus: Did it occur during the penultimate episode of a season?  Even better.  Ultimate.

The Hound SBP Rating: 4.5/5  The only thing that prevents this from being a 100% SBP is that The Hound might not be dead.  #cleganebowl #gethype

Tywin Lannister.  Crossbowed by his son, Tyrion Lannister.  Season Four, Episode Ten.

Lannister v. Lannister
Lannister v. Lannister
  1. Did one major character kill another major character?  Yes.  
  2. Did the world they live in prevent any possibility of both of them remaining alive?  Yes.
  3. Did you like the character who did the killing? Yes.
  4. Did you like the character who died? Yes.  At least, in a certain way.  He was no hero, but he was a good character.  
  5. Was the character who died on a path toward redemption?  Hmm.  No.  
  6. Bonus: Did it occur during the penultimate episode of a season?  The ultimate.  Same as The Hound.

Tywin Lannister SBP Rating: 4/5.  No redemption path for Tywin, but, other than that, it was another Stringer Bell showdown.  His crimes against his son got him killed, by his son.  And I was very sorry to see him go.  What a character.

Stannis Baratheon.  Executed by Brienne of Tarth, following a major defeat in battle.  Season Five, Episode Ten.

Stannis Bell.
Stannis Bell.
  1. Did one major character kill another major character?  Yes.
  2. Did the world they live in prevent any possibility of both of them remaining alive?  Yes.
  3. Did you like the character who did the killing? Yes.
  4. Did you like the character who died?  Hmm.  I used to.  For a season or two.
  5. Was the character who died on a path toward redemption?  He could have been, but he chose not to be.  Killed his own daughter.  Nah, that’s not a redemption move.
  6. Bonus: Did it occur during the penultimate episode of a season?  Once again, ultimate.

Stannis Baratheon SBP Rating: 4/5.  Two questions linger.  The first is, why did it cut away when Brienne swung the sword?  The second: was there a redemptive future in store for Stannis, had he not been killed?  What could it possibly consist of?

But he did have one very Stringer Bell moment.  You may remember Stringer Bell’s last words?  “Get on with it, motherfuckers.”  No coincidence, in my opinion, that Stannis mutters “Go on.  Do your duty.”

Jon Snow.  Julius Caesared, in the snow.  “For the watch.”  Season Five, Episode Ten.

Crows before Snows.
Crows before Snows.
  1. Did one major character kill another major character?  Not really.  The killers weren’t that major.
  2. Did the world they live in prevent any possibility of both of them remaining alive?  No.  
  3. Did you like the character who did the killing?  No.
  4. Did you like the character who died?  It was Jon Snow.  
  5. Was the character who died on a path toward redemption?  He needed no redemption.
  6. Bonus: Did it occur during the penultimate episode of a season?  Ultimate, again.

Jon Snow SPB Rating: 1/5.  Jon Snow was as much of a Stringer Bell as his father/uncle Ned.  Let’s just hope that he’s still alive, whether through the intervention of Ghost or Melisandre.

Enjoy this post? Check out The Snow Also Rises: Thoughts Regarding Ned Stark, Jon Snow, and Jake Barnes.

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5 thoughts on “Dead Men of Westeros and The Stringer Bell Paradox

  1. This is absolutely brilliant. I’ve never seen the Wire, want to watch it, obviously don’t mind the spoiling since I read this. Would you mind terribly if I used the SBP on some of my other favorite narratives and blog about it? I would obviously give you credit! The instant I saw it I thought of another example elsewhere.

  2. Pingback: The State of the Writer: 9/3/16 | The Shameful Narcissist Speaks

  3. Pingback: The Stringer Bell Paradox Test | The Shameful Narcissist Speaks

  4. Loved this post, going to check out more of your GoT related articles! While I’m at it, would you be interested in sharing some of your work with our audiences on moviepilot.com? We’re always looking for enthusiastic, knowledgeable contributors, and you fit the bill!

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