‘You Win or You Die’ is the seventh episode of the first season of the HBO medieval fantasy television series Game of Thrones. The implausible blunders on the part of the most honourable people surrounding the death of King Robert are outrageous to see even if it is only fiction: e.g., a document without witnesses about the succession signed by the sick king on his bed. But worst of all, Ned doesn’t know that the Lannisters will make sure that Joffrey, Robert’s supposed son, is the immediate heir independently of the king’s will.
There is some truth to this whole story of the Starks from the north, who fare badly when they travel south. The Northmen don’t smell the tricks of the Southerners, just as the pure Aryans don’t smell the Mediterranean ways, especially of the Semites.
As night fell Ned was warned by Renly, the dying king’s brother, that Cercei Lannister would not care about King Robert’s last written will. Ned responds that he isn’t going to pre-empt an alleged Lannister coup by dragging frightened children from their beds, referring to Joffrey: the future teenage king who, in a couple more episodes, would have Ned Stark beheaded! This ninth-episode spoiler is worth mentioning now because that’s how, in the real world, white people with very different honour codes reason compared to people from the South, and I mean the real world, not this television series.
Back to the seventh episode. Ned had a second chance when Littlefinger also proposed a pre-emptive strike to the coup that the Lannisters could forge. But blind to his honourable Northman code Ned is unable to see what’s happening, and that he may be betrayed at any time by those who he trusts when the succession to the Iron Throne is in suspense.
But I don’t want to tell about the pathetic way this episode ends for Ned and the welfare of the Seven Kingdoms because I prefer to focus on something more important from the point of view of genuine spirituality. I mean the vows that Jon Snow and Sam Tarly take on the other side of the Wall.
In the novel there is a more numinous environment than what we see in this seventh episode. Martin’s prose reveals nine weirwood trees, all with carved faces, that is, heart trees. A heart tree is a weirwood tree that has a face carved into the wood of the trunk. Heart trees are sacred in the religion of the Old Gods of the Forest, the closest thing to a shrine that the old, dying religion still possesses. Jon is astonished to see the spectacle of these nine trees as he has never seen so many weirwoods together south of the Wall, let alone heart trees. It’s the first time in his life that he has crossed the wall. But we are now in the lands on the north side of the Wall where, long before, magic flourished before the arrival of the bearers of a new religion.
Let us remember that the heart tree is the symbol of this site, and instead of quoting what Jon and Sam said in the episode when kneeling before one of them, and reciting the oath that makes them members of the Night’s Watch (a military order which holds and guards the Wall to keep the wildlings from crossing into the Seven Kingdoms), I prefer to quote some lines that do not come from Martin’s pen:
Nicht in kalten Marmorsteinen,
Nicht in Tempeln, dumpf und tot:
In den frischen Eichenhainen
Webt und rauscht der deutsche Gott.
Not in cold marble stones,
Not in temples dull and dead:
In the fresh oak groves
Weaves and rustles the German god.
1 reply on “You win or you die”
Freie Kunst is the title of a poem published in 1813: one of Ludwig Uhland’s best-known lyrical works and a paradigm of German Romanticism.
Also, remember that the word numinous that I use above ‘is a term derived from the Latin numen, meaning “arousing spiritual or religious emotion; mysterious or awe-inspiring” [see the first pages of the essay of Rome vs. Judea in the sticky post about the numens]. The term was given its present sense by Rudolf Otto in his influential 1917 German book The Idea of the Holy. He also used the phrase mysterium tremendum as another description for the phenomenon. Otto’s concept of the numinous influenced several thinkers, including Carl Jung’.