I can’t say that I’ve been a long time fan of Game of Thrones. I wasn’t traveling the road to King’s Landing before it was cool, but when the band wagon left, I trailed eagerly behind. If we continue with the running-behind-the-band-wagon metaphor, I might land somewhere around ‘huge stitch in my side, but catching up to the pack’. I’ve successfully shot-gunned three seasons on HBO and have yet to miss an episode of the 4th. While I haven’t read any of the paperbacks yet, I’ve managed to read The Way of Cross & Dragon, a short story which many believe is a forerunner to the series (which I highly recommend), host a GoT viewing party complete with authentic GoT cuisine (from the cook book: A Feast of Ice & Fire), and meet the man himself, George R.R. Martin.
Am I catching up?
Oh who cares, it’s not a race. But one of the reasons I think it has been so easy for me, and perhaps for the masses as well, to jump into this world of Westeros is because of how simple, and familiar it feels, even though there is great depth and meaning we can read into it.
The case of the Dire Wolf
For instance, take the Dire Wolf. I had been talking with a friend about the series, before I had started watching, or reading, or cooking. She was talking about something or other (probably a character dying) and said something along the lines of ” . . . well of course, after they find the Dire Wolves . . . ” Blah blah blah. I’m there thinking “Oh of course, the Dire Wolves . . . Wait. The what?” Too this day, I still haven’t the slightest idea what makes them Dire Wolves as opposed to Giant Wolves, or Regular Wolves, or even just a Super Mangy Dog. But at first pass, I believed I knew exactly what she was talking about.
Google was less than helpful. Google ‘Dire Wolf’ and you will find approximately three things of significance. First you’ll find the Wikipedia entry for Dire Wolf, which was apparently a prehistoric breed of wolves that lived about 10,000 years ago. Next the GoT wiki, which is probably the most useful in a situation like the one I had found myself in. Finally, you’ll find some videos of the Grateful Dead performing their song, Dire Wolf. If you continue on, you’ll find references to ‘Dire Wolves’ as creepy type characters in about a million RPG’s, both video games and role playing games alike. Also, a link to a Dire Wolf breeding project in which dogs are being selected and bred together to create some abstract likeness to whatever we might currently conceive a Dire Wolf to have looked like. But none of that matters because now I’ve got the Dead cranked up and I’m looking for some mushrooms.
The Classic Rock Connection
All kidding aside, I think we cannot ignore the effect that The Grateful Dead might have had upon George R.R. Martin’s work. I’m not extremely familiar with the Dead’s work (although I greatly enjoy Casey Jones, Franklin’s Tower, and Touch of Grey) but some poking around the internet has opened my eyes to several coincidences:
Dark Star – Grateful dead song, also a character in GoT.
Mountains of the Moon – Another Grateful Dead song which is a location in Westeros
Dire Wolf – Grateful dead song. Sigil of house Stark and companions to Stark children.
The list goes on (I pulled these from this Reddit thread as I’ve not started the books yet)
These connections have done more than simply encourage me to begin reading the series myself (and continue to watch the HBO program), they’ve changed my impression of George R.R. Martin (for the better), and also cast a new light on some of the characters. A line from an interview with Robert Hunter (originally in Greatful Dead: The Music Never Stopped but accessed here) reads:
“Also, ‘Dire Wolf’ is; that monster, the Id; the subconscious–it’s that, too. Out there in a barren setting, stripped; there’s no setting really, just blank white, and these characters in the middle of it.”
The Transformation (conclusion)
Now, when I’m watching the series, I can no longer see these magnificent creatures as simply large wolves, but instead, manifestations of the each of the Stark family’s Id. It’s especially interesting given Bran’s abilities. What does it mean that Sansa’s was killed? Or that Jon Snow’s has been caged for most of season 4 (finally free though)?
What I had originally took for some simple (albeit awesome) wolves are now opportunities to further understand truly complex characters. This is the true beauty of the series.
Oh and here, in case you’d like some mellow jams . . .