The Aam Aadmi of Westeros

Pop Culture

The Aam Aadmi of Westeros

Illustration: Sushant Ahire

*Spoiler alert*

Halfway through the latest episode of Game of Thrones, Arya Stark happens to stumble upon an old friend, Hot Pie, at the Inn at the Crossroads, where he works as a baker. The last time they had met was years ago (Season 3, to be precise). Hot Pie had given her a loaf of bread shaped like a Direwolf before she set off on her journey. During the conversation, Hot Pie had maintained that a life of travel and excitement wasn’t for him. He was happy kneading bread and baking pies for weary travellers.

A lot has happened in the Game of Thrones world since. Little does Hot Pie know that his friend is not the same kid she once was. Arya has crossed the Narrow Sea, travelled to the free city of Braavos, and met poets, thespians and assassins. She has seen death and despair. She has learnt and lived, tasted both blood and wine. Hot Pie, meanwhile, has remained the same: A baker of delicious pies and purveyor of important information (and indeed, when they reunite, Arya gets both). When the two say their goodbyes once again, there’s an interesting exchange of words. “Try not to get killed,” Arya tells him. The affable baker replies: “Oh, I won’t. I’m like you, Arry. I’m a survivor.”

Hot Pie’s words hold a larger meaning. In the treacherous Game of Thrones world, surviving is just about the best one can do. The show has more than a fair share of heroes and villains; kings and kingslayers; conquerors and oppressors. Some ride dragons and some look into the past and shape the future. Some carry the burden of prophecies, others want to rule at any cost. All of these characters play the game of thrones.

But what about the guys who don’t care about the game – the side characters? All they do is follow the heroes and give them valuable information. They are the common folk who’re just doing their jobs. Sandor “The Hound” Clegane, Ser Davos Seaworth, Samwell Tarly, Eddison Tollett, Lord Varys, Jorah Mormont, Brienne of Tarth, Podrick Payne, Bronn, Hot Pie: They’re all more fascinating than queens and kings. As Hot Pie said, they’re all survivors. Take a moment to ponder over how huge an achievement that is in a show like Game of Thrones.

The Starks, Lannisters, Tyrells, Targaryens and Baratheons set the rules of the game, and decide between life and death in Westeros. But it’s the aam aadmi that makes the show believable. If dragons, ice-monsters, giants, three-eyed ravens, faceless assassins, and promised princes represent the myth of the medieval land in Game of Thrones, the common folk represent us.

Their motivations are simpler. They do not want to rule the Seven Kingdoms, they just want to do good by themselves and others. Take for example a moment from yesterday’s episode where two such people, Jorah and Sam, interact. Jorah, once a spy in Daenerys’ fold, has fallen in love with the Dragon Queen. He wants to go fight by her side. Sam is basically the nicest guy on the show. His actions are guided by a simple rule: Be good to people. So he helps Jorah out.

It is hardly a coincidence that all these characters are played by some of the finest actors on the show.

“I knew your father. I was with him when he died,” Sam tells Jorah as he prepares a cure for greyscale. “You’re not dying today, Ser Jorah.” It was that simple for Sam. He was ready to help Jorah, even though curing him would serve no self interest. For Sam, doing the right thing matters the most. Look closely and you’ll find that other side characters are driven by similar motivations.

Brienne’s actions are guided by an oath she will keep till her dying breath. Bronn does what he must for survival, but has a strong moral compass. The Hound is death-dealing cynic with a tough exterior and a world-class bullshit detector. If he hurts someone, they’ve had it coming. It is hardly a coincidence that all these characters are played by some of the finest actors on the show. If they are expected to insert ground-level reality into high-fantasy, they need to be believable. Emilia Clarke, Kit Harrington, Lena Headley and Peter Dinklage might get top billing, but D B Weiss and David Benioff understand that sidekicks are the salt of the show. They have thus assembled an excellent support cast – Liam Cunningham (Ser Davos), Ian McShane (Septon Ray), or Jonathan Pryce (High Sparrow) – to play small but pivotal roles.

The side characters’ importance is further apparent when you look at the story arc. Most “stars” would not be where they are today had it not been for their sidekicks. Jon Snow 2.0 would still be dead had Ser Davos not convinced the Red Witch to bring him back. The time Arya spent with the Hound taught her a lot about combat, and indeed, life. Brienne brought out the best in Jaime Lannister. Jorah gave all he could to serve his queen (he’s still trying to do it again). In a way, these characters have shaped the “game” into what it is today.

Most Game of Thrones fans eagerly await the next big action sequence. “Who’s going to die this time?” is usually always the first question on most minds. But lately I find myself becoming less concerned about the fate of these heroes and villains, and more about the commoners. They have survived so far, but for how much longer? We have already lost the finest of them all: Hodor. How long before Hot Pie is sent to the ovens himself? How long before Bronn utters his last witticism? The sidekicks might not breathe fire, but they sure as hell breathe life into this show.