The current season of Game of Thrones is really putting us through the emotional ringer, and we’re pretty sure everyone else feels the same way. As a coping mechanism we’ve been reminding ourselves that we’re not new to ASoIaF-induced Feelings—George R. R. Martin has been torturing his readers with tragedy for 20 years. The patented FireandLunch cure for the Sads is to wallow in the muck, so here’s a list of some of the most tragic character origins we can remember. We’re absolutely positive that we’ll be able to add to this list as the seasons and books progress. Yay. *cries*
Major spoilers for all published books and through the current season of HBO’s Game of Thrones after the cut.
Tragedy Score: Living in a paradoxical time-loop of never ending Tragedy
The Tragic Tale: Hodor is a very large stablehand at Winterfell. Everyone calls him Hodor because that is the only word he can say. His real name is Walder (on the show they changed it to Wylis probably so viewers didn’t associate him with the Freys. Double name change. +2 for tragedy). After Bran’s push from the tower, Maester Luwin designs a special basket that Bran can sit in and designates Hodor to be Bran’s dedicated means of transportation. He goes from stable hand that takes care of the animals to actual human-wheelbarrow. Hodor is then conscripted into Bran’s flight beyond the Wall where in addition to Bran using Hodor as a non-consenting fighting puppet whenever the need arises, they get to mess around with Children of the Forest, 3-Eyed Ravens, magical Trees and oh yea.. armies of the undead where, if you’re on show time, Hodor is killed horribly by zombies.
“But this isn’t Hodor’s origin story,” you’re saying. Ah but it is! Hodor’s death IS his origin story! As you have learned via Elevator Memes, the reason Hodor can only say “Hodor” is because he’s slurring together the phrase “Hold the Door” a command Bran issued to him during the moments of Hodor’s death via time traveling Tree possession. He received the order in the last moments of his life AND during his youth. A mind-warp so complete, so terrifying, that Walder is, perhaps, continually reliving the experience of being torn apart by zombies in order to give Bran the time to escape. We’re talking decades of a split reality between the “Now” – mucking stalls, carrying selfish little boys around and the final “Then” – holding a door shut so selfish little boys can get carried to safety while you yourself are mutilated, chewed on, ripped apart and turned into a Wight. That’s Hodor’s reality. That is why all he can say is “Hodor”. Because his future and his past are his never-ending present.
For more on why we’re supposed to be Okay with a good boy like Walder having his mind blended for the sole purpose of holding a door shut, see our post on Bran Stark – the Last Hero of Westeros.
Tragedy Score: Bottom of the Sea Tragic
The Tragic Tale: ASoIaF is full of fools. No, we’re not talking about Ned Stark. We mean actual Fools. Jesters. Motley. The whole bit. Most of the Great Houses have their own Fool and House Baratheon’s is probably the best. And maybe the saddest. Patchface’s sad tale begins in Volantis where he was a young jester slave with a face of patchwork tattoos, as the slaves of Volantis are known to sport (another character without a true name. Sad.) Steffon Baratheon (father of Robert, Stannis and Renly) “purchased” Patchface while touring the Free Cities on a diplomatic mission for King Aerys II. He sent a letter back home to Storm’s End describing the boy as quick-witted, capable of impressive acrobatics like juggling and he could even “sing prettily in four tongues”. Steffon had hoped to bring Patchface back to Westeros to teach Stannis to laugh. Ha! (Note: slavery is illegal in Westeros so Steffon says that he purchased Patchface’s freedom. Okay.)
Patchface was then put on a ship with Lord Steffon, Steffon’s wife and the rest of their retinue and sent back to Westeros destined for a future of providing entertainment and prestige for the family that bought him and shipped him to a foreign continent. Sadly, the ship they were on sank within sight of Storm’s End (Robert and Stannis actually watched the sinking). There were no survivors.
Oh but hang on, days later a boy washes up. The lone survivor of the sinking of Windproud in Shipbreaker Bay (why do they sail there?). It’s Patchface! But, sadly, he’s not what he once was. Those that discovered his body swore he was dead at first, and Patchface is no longer the nimble and clever Jester that Steffon reported in his letter. Patchface stays on with the Baratheons living with Stannis and his family on Dragonstone, eventually becoming the companion of Shireen. He’s a portly man with a tendency to speak in riddles about what he learned at the bottom of the sea. The Lady Melisandre believes she has seen dark omens about Patchface in her fires.
It seems to us that Patchface is just trying to tell people what is up, being from Volantis and surviving 3 days in the ocean, Patchface might have some magical abilities no one is acknowledging. The saddest part is, no one will ever take Patchface seriously until it’s too late. How foolish.
“Under the sea, smoke rises in bubbles, and flames burn green and blue and black. I know, I know, oh, oh, oh.”
Character: Samwell Tarly
Tragedy Score: I have daddy issues for a reason Tragic.
The Tragic Tale: In the latest episode of Game of Thrones, we caught a first hand glimpse into Sam’s tragic past. When little Samwell Tarly was first born, his father, Randyll Tarly, was thrilled to have a son, until that son turned out to be, well… the Samwell Tarly we know and love, a soft boy with his nose always in a book. Randyll did everything he could to try and make Sam into the son he always wanted, into a knight, into a man. Sam was beaten to get him to obey, starved to try and make him thinner, forced to sleep in his chainmail to make him more of a soldier, and paraded around in his mother’s dresses to shame him. His father even brought in warlocks from Qarth who performed a blood ritual. None of these extreme methods had the desired effect, instead, turning him into the frightened self-proclaimed craven who shows up at the Wall. In the end his father gave him no choice and told him he would renounce his claims as heir in favor of his younger brother, Dickon, and announce that he was taking the black—either that or his father would hunt him down and murder him. Not much of a choice there.
We were excited to finally get to see the Tarlys on screen this week as we get glimpses into Randyll through Brienne chapters in the books. Randyll was every bit as horrible as we imagined, berating his son and his wildling (free-folk) girlfriend at another amazing dinner scene. We loved Gilly standing up for Sam, even if his issues with his father prevented him from doing so, because despite his tragic backstory, Sam has done well for himself. Whatever Dickon Tarly, White Walkers do exist and yes, Sam killed one of them. We hope that Sam taking it upon himself to abscond with Heartsbane, the ancestral Valyrian sword he was denied, and escape with Gilly and the baby in tow leads to good things for Sam in both the show and the books—should we ever get to read those elusive pages. Also, Sam, FYI: that Valyrian steel sword could be SUPER helpful in the wars to come!
Character: Lysa Arryn
Tragedy Score: Would’ve thrown herself out of the Moon Door eventually Tragic
The Tragic Tale: By the end of her life, Lysa Arryn had become an embittered, unstable woman. It’d be easy to dismiss her as being evil or insane, but if you look at her past history, she is a much more complicated character.
Lysa was the younger sister to Catelyn Tully. She was the more delicate of the two sisters, living her life waiting for her handsome lord to come take her away. She idolized Cat for what she thought was a fantasy engagement to Brandon Stark, a noted warrior. She began her attachment to Petyr Baelish when they were children together at River Run. While Petyr grew fond of Catelyn as they grew older, he had no qualms about accepting (and encouraging) Lysa’s attention. This led to two notable instances of Lysa and Petyr sleeping together. Lysa became pregnant with Petyr’s child and in an attempt to force a marriage between herself and Petry, Lysa revealed her pregnancy to her father. Rather than wed his daughter to a penniless son of no House of note, Hoster forced Lysa to abort her baby. Lysa then endures several failed marriage arrangements throughout her youth eventually marrying Jon Arryn, already an old man at the time of their wedding.
When we enter her story, Lysa is starved for love and attention. She would (and did) do anything to feel the smallest connection to another living being.
Character: Tyrion Lannister
Tragedy Score: I’m so messed up I’m “responsible” for both my parents’ deaths Tragic.
The Tragic Tale: Where to begin with Tyrion? His mother died giving birth to him, effectively leaving Tyrion without a mother, father, and sister since Tywin and Cersei blame him for Joanna’s death. His childhood was lonely and full of false guilt as well as mockery for his stature. Tyrion’s quick wit was honed from childhood. Actually, it may have been better if Tyrion had been an only child AND an orphan, since his sister and his father were both abusive towards Tyrion throughout his childhood (and let’s be real, his adulthood as well). Lonely And Abused Tyrion.
To cap it off, and get ready this one is a doozy, Tywin lied about Tyrion’s first wife, Tysha, being a whore, and forced his youngest son to rape her and then watch Lannister guards rape her, an event that haunts Tyrion throughout his adulthood. Yeah… we’re not really sure what could have made his upbringing even worse. The only bright spot seems to have been Jaime, but even Jaime perpetuated the lie about Tysha (until the end of A Storm of Swords).
Character: Sandor “The Hound” Clegane
Tragedy Score: I just wanted to play with my big brother’s toy Tragic
The Tragic Tale: Growing up in the shadow of the Mountain must have been rough for little Sandor. Even as a boy, Gregor was “near six foot tall and muscled like an ox”, with the brutality to go along with his size. A woodcarver had made both of them toys to curry favor with their father and Sandor coveted his big brother’s toy, a splendidly painted knight. When Gregor found him playing with it, a toy that was nothing to him as he was already a squire, he picked his younger brother up and shoved his face into the burning coals, leaving him permanently scarred. In the books, he recounts this tragic tale to Sansa and you can see the years of pain that his disfigurement have caused him. Of course in the show, the speech is given by Littlefinger. Who else? When Sandor’s father died and Gregor was due to come into his inheritance, he fled home, probably fearing his brother’s further wrath (after all..they did supposedly have a sister once) and turned up on the Lannister’s doorstep, ready to serve as their faithful Hound. All he wanted to do was play with a toy and instead he got a faceful of hot coals, a lifelong phobia of fire and the feeling of loathing from everyone who sets their gaze upon his disfigured face. Cheer up Sandor, while you’re recuperating on the Quiet Isle, or so the theories say, you’re brother has been killed and reassembled into Qyburn’s monster. We hope that one day you will get your revenge!
Character: Mirri Maz Duur
Tragedy Score: This is not what I had planned for my life Tragic.
The Tragic Tale: Ok, so you are a daughter of a priestess in Lhazar called a godswife. The Lhazareen are a race of sheep farmers and their god is named The Great Shepherd. But you’re not a boring gal. After your mother teaches you the important songs and spells of your people you travel to the mysterious lands of Asshai where you study the techniques of the shadowbinders. You are now a future sheep herder priestess that can bend shadows to her will. You’re probably feeling pretty good about your future. So you decide to up the ante, you decide to round out your abilities and travel to even more mysterious places by studying the birth magic of the Jhogos Nhai. They ride zebras. They’re pretty cool. On your way home you pick up more techniques from Dothraki healers and an actual Westerosi maester. You are ready to live the life of a knowledgeable, powerful woman of your people.
That was probably the plan that Mirri Maz Duur had for her life. Before she was enslaved by the Dothraki, passed from Khalasar to Khalasar and eventually burned alive by some upstart Westerosi princess who was mad that you didn’t use your well-earned magics to raise her pillaging, slave-making husband back from the dead.
Tragedy Score: My husband is my father Tragic
The Tragic Tale: Gilly, named for the Gilly flower, probably the only nice thing your father did for you. Who are we kidding, there’s no way he named you. It was probably one of your sister/mothers. When we meet Gilly, Jon Snow and Samwell Tarly have gone beyond the Wall with Lord Commander Mormont (remember those innocent days before everyone was dead…and risen from the dead?), and have stopped at Craster’s Keep. Craster is a rather unsavory specimen of Wildling, whose rundown keep, if you can call it that, provided a convenient pit stop for the brothers of the Night’s Watch on their journeys beyond the Wall. Sam comes across a very pregnant Gilly and learns the awful truth of her tragic backstory, that she, like all of Craster’s wives, is also his daughter. She also happens to believe that she is pregnant with a boy and fears the worst for her child. As we now know, it is the boy children that Craster used to make offerings to the White Walkers (though we are still wondering what exactly they do with all of the random babies. Is there a White Walker Daycare out there in the frozen wastelands of the North?). Fear not Gilly, you are strong enough to rise from your tragic beginnings and hey, at least your awful father gives you something to bond with Sam over, which seems to be working out in your favor at the moment!
Character: Grey Worm
Tragedy Score: My actual name is Grey Worm Tragic.
The Tragic Tale: We don’t know much about Grey Worm’s early life. We know he was enslaved as a young boy in Astapor and began his training as an Unsullied warrior. That training is famously difficult, inhumane and psychologically torturous (remember, they are given puppies that they bond with and then have to kill. Puppy killing!). Grey Worm would have been fully castrated and fed a special wine to deaden his pain receptors. His training would have begun at 5 years of age and gone from sun up to sun down. Every day. The goal would be to break him and remove any semblance of individuality while simultaneously giving him fighting skills. Any failure during training results in death. They don’t even get to have names! They just draw tokens from a bucket every day with a type of vermin on it.
So I guess it now makes sense that Grey Worm chose to live with the name he had picked on the day that Daenerys Targaryen freed him. Even if it is vermin.
Character: Jorah Mormont
Tragedy Score: I just wanted to make my wife happy Tragic
The Tragic Tale: Before he was throwing himself at Daenerys, Jorah Mormont had another love. Lynesse Hightower was his second wife, a maid half his age that he met at a tourney held in honor of Robert Baratheon’s victory in the Greyjoy Rebellion. He begged for her favor and she granted it to him and it in turn granted him all of the luck in the world. He was named the champion of the tourney and he crowned her the Queen of Love and Beauty. At the end of it all, he asked her father for her hand in marriage and though she was further above him in station, he granted it just the same. Jorah was on top of the world and then it all came crashing down in the time it took to sail from Lannisport to Bear Island.
Lynesse as it turned out was not such a fan of Bear Island, and Jorah did everything he could to try and make her happy. He brought in a cook from Oldtown, a harp player from Lannisport, goldsmiths and jewelers and dressmakers. He drove himself so far into debt just trying to please her that in the end he had to make some less than savory choices to fund his grand gestures. He ended up selling poachers he found on his land into slavery, something good old, honorable Ned Stark would not stand for. Jorah took the coward’s way out and fled before he had to face the Warden of the North, taking Lynesse with him. He thought their love would be enough to sustain them, but well… Jorah isn’t exactly the authority on relationships. Eventually she left him for a Lysene merchant named Tregar Ormollen and he was left with nothing. No wife, no home, no money, and no prospects until chance came to serve a certain young dragon queen, who apparently looks just like his second wife. Way to go Jorah, you’d think you’d have learned your lesson by now, but here you are, forever in the friendzone and you even managed to dip into Jon Connington’s tragic life and steal his Greyscale affliction in the show!verse. Slow Clap.
Hello, we are Fire and Lunch! Five years ago, a bunch of superfans came together to celebrate their favorite book series over food, and the rest is history. You can find our in-depth analysis (complete with POP-toy gifs) of Game of Thrones, A Song of Ice and Fire, and other fantasy series on tumblr and twitter. If you’re into fast talking, intelligent discourse, and some pretty deep geek humor, check out our podcast, The Piecast.