In a television series where no character is safe, the innocent and noble characters naturally become more valuable to us. When the threat of death is ubiquitous, the audience is more likely to become more emotionally invested. In years past, principle characters suffered from a certain invulnerability in television; no amount of danger they confront is insurmountable. When the audience knows, almost to a certainty, that no lasting harm with visit them, the drama isn’t as pronounced or effective as it could be. When we expect a happy ending, and when that expectation isn’t ever violated, storytelling becomes predictable – it becomes boring.
A number of television shows have begun to address this, but none with such success as Game of Thrones. Certainly, Dexter Morgan’s girlfriend was slain by the Trinity Killer in season four of that woefully mismanaged series. And years before that, Curtis “Lemonhead” Lemansky was killed off near the end of FX’s flagship program The Shield. So, from The Sopranos to The Shield and Game of Thrones to The Walking Dead, the killing of important or beloved characters isn’t entirely a brand new phenomenon. It began in earnest about fifteen years ago with cable television; network dramas and serialized storytelling doesn’t allow for the kind of jolt killing a main character provides. And I’m confident that there is a whole legal and contractual end to this discussion that I know absolutely nothing about (other than, of course, when a character is killed, the actor no long has a role to play and is, in one way or another, removed from payroll). Game of Thrones, unlike its predecessors, has managed to take things to the next level, obliterating audience expectations with a spectacle of violence and the elimination of beloved characters unlike anything else in television.
Unlike Dexter or The Shield – or any other of the modern television dramas with the story-telling courage to kill main characters – Game of Thrones has developed a reputation for mass slayings. The Red Wedding, The Battle of Blackwater, the wildfire incident at the Sept of Baelor, and the Battle of the Bastards – these didn’t see a single linchpin character die abruptly and needlessly. No, no – Instead we witnessed entire factions, whole families, entire congregations meeting their violent end.
With the possibility for such narrative mayhem, audiences gravitate toward the honorable characters and worry about their fates. Jon Snow is certainly a fan favorite, but he still wields the sword, struggles with his conscience, and is conflicted about his upbringing and lineage. In later episodes, we even find sympathy for previously reviled characters like the incestuous Jaime Lannister, and even more sympathy for his dwarf brother Tyrion. Out of the entire ensemble, in my humblest of opinions, the most innocent character – perhaps aside from Hodor, whose mental incapacities automatically make him more sympathetic – is Samwell. A coward, he finds bravery when defending the innocent. He is not headstrong and he speaks true, never using his words or his sword to harm his brothers.
As I launch a new series of illustrated portraits – all of the characters in Game of Thrones – I decided to begin with the most likable and honorable of characters. So today, available at my online storefront, are prints of this illustration of Samwell Tarly of the Nights Watch, the most likable of the crows and the lover of books. I hope you enjoy these portraits as they become available.