In a previous blog post, I investigated the possibility that George R.R. Martin took inspiration for Arya Stark’s storyline from the song “Dire Wolf,” by the Grateful Dead. I’m far from the first person to make connections between Martin’s words and the Dead’s lyrics, as this has been a topic of speculation and deduction for years.
But there is one song that I have never seen discussed, despite it having some very Westerosi imagery: “Uncle John’s Band,” the first track on the 1970 album Workingman’s Dead.
Exploring the connections between the Grateful Dead and A Song of Ice and Fire
It’s no secret that the Grateful Dead’s music has influenced George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire books. He first acknowledged it during a 2014 interview with 927 Plus, including indirectly admitting that the spiritual Weirwoods in the world of Westeros are named after Bobby Weir. (update: it’s worth noting that he didn’t confirm it quite as much as the conversation goes – there will be more about this in the future.)
A number of listicles, variousreddit threads, and blog posts have been written about connections between Martin’s books and the Dead’s songs, including the Weirwoods, The Mountains of the Moon, and Gerold “Darkstar” Dayne.
And of course, the wolf. Yes, the Grateful Dead has a song called “Dire Wolf,” the same beast that serves as the Stark sigil. We know that connection. But is this where the connection ends? Or is there something more linking the Grateful Dead song and the Starks of Winterfell?
“Please Don’t Murder Me”
Listening to the song “Dire Wolf” while contemplating the Stark family, the lyrics initially don’t seem very relevant to Ned Stark and his offspring. While the setting seems Winterfell-esque—the winter was so hard and cold, froze ten feet neath the ground—it’s hard to view the Starks as resembling the wolves of the song, as the song consists of the narrator repeatedly pleading “don’t murder me” to the dire wolf.
Murder is not a crime committed by the honorable Starks. They execute. They kill in war. But they do not murder. Ned, Robb, and Jon Snow each execute criminals and kill enemies in battle. Rickon, Bran, and Sansa never kill at all (at least, not yet).
Note: this blog post is written assuming that you have seen Seasons One through Four of Game of Thrones. If you have not read the books, I avoid any significant spoilers.
We all know that people die unexpectedly in Game of Thrones, and we all know that no one is safe. Not protagonists, not women, not children. Especially not Starks or their friends.
And it is also no secret that, in Season Five, we are going to see people start to die who have not died in the books. I previously wrote about this, and how excited I am about it, in Why All the Bad News About Game of Thrones is Actually Good News. The storylines in GOT have become crowded, muddled, confusing. Too many aspiring royals with too many backstabbing sycophants in too many locations.
But there is one character that I hope dies this season, and that character is Daenerys Targaryen, aka Khaleesi, aka Mother of Dragons, aka Mrs. Khal Drogo, aka etc.
Before you read: I assume you have seen the first four seasons of Game of Thrones, but have not necessarily read the books. I have carefully written this to not give anything major away about upcoming plotlines that may or may not be in the show. (But note: book readers, this is written for you as well. I just tried to keep it vague enough for the non-readers.)
But here’s the thing: all of this is actually good news.
And here are the reasons why:
1. The fourth and fifth books of A Song of Ice and Fire are not as good as the first three books. If you aren’t aware, the show has thus been adapted with Book One (A Game of Thrones) inspiring Season One, Book Two (A Clash of Kings) inspiring Season Two, and Book Three (A Storm of Swords) inspiring Seasons Three and Four. The confusing thing is that Books Four and Five are actually parallel storylines, because Martin’s story and characters got so bloated, epic, and unfocused that he had to say “I’m not even including Jon Snow, Tyrion, or Daenerys in Book Four.”
Everyone agrees that A Feast for Crows is, without a doubt, the worst book in the series. He introduces many new storylines, settings, and characters, while ignoring established ones, but, more importantly, these new storylines are not as compelling as the established ones. In A Dance with Dragons, he returns to many of those characters, but it basically feels like he is not very focused and that no one helped him edit any of it. Yes, some amazing things happen, and a lot of it is beautiful, poetic writing, but there are also other parts that are basically just kinda boring, and lots of other parts where you just aren’t sure what is going on.
2. There is a 150-page section of A Feast for Crows dedicated to pirates electing a new Pirate King, and it will not be in Season Five. The worst portion of the ASOIAF storyline is, almost indisputably in my opinion, the half dozen chapters in which the Greyjoys (Theon’s sister and four uncles) all decide to have something called a “kingsmoot,” during which they figure out who will be the new King of the Iron Islands, i.e. the new Pirate King. It’s long, boring, confusing, and becomes predictable about halfway through. How we know that we won’t have to suffer through this endless kingsmooting in Season Five? Because not a single new Greyjoy has been cast, and we should all be very thankful for that. Continue reading “Why All the Bad News About Game of Thrones is Actually Good News”→
Note: This is a follow-up to The Snow Also Rises, the previous post on this blog. Read that before you read this.
During a recent Q&A, one of the two producers of HBO’s Game of Thrones stated that they set out to make the television show with “no prophecies, dreams, or flashbacks.” It’s hard to believe they ever thought the first possible, considering that the books are ripe with prophecies. Most amount to be false leads, red herrings, etc., but there are flashbacks throughout, most involving Daenarys and those she loves.
Most, if not all, of the prophecies in A Song of Ice and Fire are opaque, dishonest, or lead to dead ends. But most readers still hold hope for things such as Jon Snow being either The Prince Who Was Promised or the reborn Azor Ahai. Brian, a friend and reader of this blog, pointed out that, in addition to A Song of Ice and Fire losing literary merit if Jon Snow’s parentage is revealed, Jon’s own path to being a hero loses merit as well. He should not have his lineage exposed, but, as Brian says, there should be “no known external source… that gave him his power.”
Jon’s path, his journey, his own path along the flat circle that is a monomyth, these things are only weakened if the story falls back into the classic (and cheap) narrative of what can only be properly called “magic hero king blood.” Jon’s story is that of a bastard boy who rose to the top of the Night’s Watch, so far, and will achieve greater things in the future. Only we as readers should know that he is achieving the fate he could have been born into.