This post will contain some WICKED spoilers from the books and the show! Just FYI!
There are all manner of heroes in A Song of Ice and Fire: obvious heroes like Jon Snow, who wrestles with his inner turmoil so much it’s a wonder he can even get past breakfast in the morning; Ned Stark, whose heroism was cut short (HEYOOOO!!!!) by both his rigid adherence to honor and his utter lack of self-preservation; Davos Seaworth, who can be as rigid as the fallen Lord of Winterfell but has four billion times the good sense, and SO FAR seems to be plugging right along, despite some pretty awesome fakeouts discussed below; less obvious heroes who at first seem to be terrible people and then either perform some selfless acts or see the error of their ways, like Sandor Clegane and Jaime Lannister; complex, flawed heroes like the MAGNIFICENT Tyrion Lannister, for whom no good deed goes unpunished; and simple, stalwart heroes like my personal all-time favorite, Brienne of Tarth.
But we aren’t here to talk about them today!
Today, I am focusing on a single, select group of heroes that have no other defining characteristic than offering more cushion for the pushin’. As before established, heroes come in all shapes and sizes in Westeros, and so do heroic deeds. Today, we’re giving some time to a group who need and deserve some recognition. Their deeds might not be writ large, but my gosh, GRRM sure writes THEM large! (yes that was a dumb joke; moving on)
Samwell Tarly on the show is pretty much the same as Sam in the books. He will literally be the first person to tell you how cowardly he is, but they gave him a bit more dignity in the show by skipping the parts where he wees himself in terror during battles with the Others. Sam is a gentle boy who loved songs, playing with his sisters, and literally, baskets of kittens. That’s one of his favorite things right there, I’m not being funny, he literally loves baskets of kittens. ADORABLE!!
Sam’s father is the terrifyingly badass Lord Randyll Tarly, who gave Sam the choice of either taking the black so Randyll’s younger, butch son could inherit his title, or having a fatal “accident.” Tarly the elder also practiced such gentle paternal techniques as beating the holy living fluff out of Sam, and chaining him up in a dungeon. So, given the choice between death and a suck life, Sam chose the suck life. Sam has absolutely no belief in himself, and despite the fact that he slays a White Walker, perhaps the FIRST White Walker in over eight thousand years to be slain by a human being, he is convinced it was an accident. The nickname that the other Night’s Watchmen give him, Sam The Slayer, is BADASS, but the name only embarrasses him. However, HE DID THAT. Maybe it was an accident, but either way, he did it. To paraphrase something Eddard Stark told Jon, a man can only be brave when he IS afraid. In that case Sam Tarly is one of the ballsiest men in the Seven Kingdoms.
Later in the books, Jon Snow sends Sam on a trip down to Oldtown to become a maester, and to watch over Aemon Targaryen, who is ancient and in danger of being burned by the red witch (long story). He travels with Gilly, and I am very pleased to say he loses his virginity during the sea voyage. It’s just too sweet! Sam’s story is awesome because while he’s not outwardly heroic, he’s also not exactly the usual type of anti-hero either: he’s shy, he blushes around women, is terrified of just about everyone, and is so useless in a battle he’s usually ignored by enemies because he poses no threat. Granted, there is a lot to dislike, but as a character he has come a long way. He challenges the reader by unflinchingly revealing all his flaws, but then redeems himself on the odd occasion he pulls off something heroic. I was CHEERING for him when he shanked that White Walker, AND when he nails Gilly for the first time – although to be fair, in the latter situation it was more her nailing him. Whatever! Good for Sam!
Varys the Spider
To be fair, Varys is described as “stout.” POV characters think of him as soft and effeminate, with his silks and powders. To further be fair, silk bathrobes are unforgiving on EVERYONE without a wardrobe wrangler, so it’s to Conleth Hill’s credit that he brings the character to life and makes him as riveting as he does.
POV characters think of Varys as duplicitous, untrustworthy, and scheming. The audience knows different: he really does try to help save people from themselves, but can’t compromise himself or his network of spies. He counsels Ned Stark on how to save himself, and to Stark’s credit he takes the advice, but Joffrey the Shitbag ruined that plan by just being his shitbag self and everyone knows how that turned out. Varys also tries to advise Tyrion from continuing his relationship with Shae, but when he sees that Tyrion is dead-set on seeing the whore he arranges for them to meet in secret. He does betray people, which is pretty far from heroic, but he only betrays people after they have already betrayed themselves.
Varys is nothing if not practical: as a Targaryen loyalist, he is trying to both hold the realm together and tear it apart just enough for Danaerys to arrive and reestablish the Targaryen dynasty. Varys helped spirit the Targareyn children away, and later, you find out that he also was instrumental in helping save (HUGE SPOILER HERE IT COMES!!!! ) Rhaegar Targaryen’s son, Aegon.
Though he’s not an actual fat guy per se, he does take epic amounts of shit about being a eunuch and generally disliked. However, he can change his appearance by using costumes and makeup (although by all accounts he makes a repulsive woman). It wouldn’t surprise me if, at the end of the series, Varys revealed himself to be seven feet tall and cut like a granite cliff face with hair down to his waist. If that happens, I’d like to take credit for being the first person to imagine the possibility, and I’m refusing to Google and see if someone else has come up with the same thing.
Strong Belwas has not yet appeared in the show. He shows up either at the end of A Clash of Kings or the beginning of A Storm of Swords, and is basically there to act as a distracter for the real meat and potatoes of the story, reintroducing Barristan Selmy (Note: maybe I’ll do an ‘Old People of ASOIAF’ next; Selmy would be king of that list). A former pit fighter, Belwas is a huge fat eunuch who seems like an oaf at first; he shows up, and basically acts as occasional comic relief, doing nothing but eating and sort of doofing around in the background. He has a sword, and a tiny iron vest he wears as armor. He is covered with scars, claiming that each cut represents a foe he has slain, as he allows them to make a single cut before he finishes them so everyone can know how many men he’s fought. Everyone sort of glances at each other and smiles, thinking he’s full of it.
During their march, Danaerys’s army comes up on a walled city. The city close up their walls and send out a single champion on horseback. The meaning is both clear and veiled: Dany can send out her own champion to fight the lancer, but there is no guarantee that the people will open their gates if her champion wins; the veiled meaning is that if she loses, she will look weak and foolish AND be out a champion. She looks over her little court of champions and decides to send out the one who hasn’t done a whole hell of a lot yet and wouldn’t be a big loss to Team Targaryen, Strong Belwas.
Belwas requests they make him a dish of liver and onions, which are his favorite ‘after battle’ food,’ draws his sword and absurdly tiny shield, lumbers out onto the battleground, and goes to work. However, when battle is joined, he moves like a fat tiger.
In thinking about Strong Belwas’s fighting technique, I am reminded of Bruce Lee’s adage of ‘Be like water.’ If Lee was a fan of ASOIAF he might have amended that adage to “Or jello. If you can’t be water, be jello.” Jello traps an enemy’s blade, conforms to whatever shape it’s dropped in, and springs back into shape once it’s freed. So too does Strong Belwas. He’s fast, he’s agile, and he lets the lancer get in a single cut before he finishes the guy like the last french fry. Then, rather than take a victory lap, Belwas drops his pants and takes a victory dump in the direction of the city’s no longer cheering crowds. Then he returns to Dany’s camp and requests the aforementioned liver and onions. After all, he did make some room.
Strong Belwas again proves himself when he inadvertently eats a poisoned dessert intended for Dany, surviving the poison because of his huge bulk. I have no idea what the future holds for the character, but I do love him so.
Illyrio Mopatis in the book has probably the cruelest description of all the fat guys on this list. He’s described as ‘lord of suet,’ ‘lord of cheese’, ‘vast’ and other unkind terms, by various POV characters. In the show he just looks like they added some padding to the actor.
Illyrio is a magister in Pentos, basically a super rich businessman. We meet him in the beginning of the series when he helps Viserys (remember him? he was AWFUL) arrange Danerys’s marriage to Khal Drogo. The fancy mansion that the Targeryens are staying in belong to him. He also gives Danaerys her dragon eggs.
Like Varys, much and more is said of Mopatis, and most of it is not too kind. Besides POV characters describing him as fat, he is also mistrusted and considered to be conniving and self-serving. Strong words, considering he sheltered the Targaryens and is helping Varys with his plans to restore them to the throne. It could just be that he’s a businessman with unusually long foresight – after all, whichever Targaryen takes the throne would remember the man who helped them, and that would be a good position to be in. Some make the facetious claim that if he had known the dragon eggs would hatch, he would have sat on them himself rather than give them to Danaerys.
However, as the reader I think he’s a bit more of an altruist, similar to Varys. Both of them grew up penniless on the streets of Pentos, and when he was young Mopatis was a sellsword who was incredibly lithe and fierce with a blade. Perhaps they both remember those days and are seeking to stabilize the realm for the benefit of smallfolk. After all, the smallfolk are the ones who pay the highest price when it comes to wars.
Mopatis sends Strong Belwas and Arstan Whitebeard to Dany as bodyguards. When Tyrion escapes King’s Landing, Mopatis helps him across the Narrow Sea and also sends him to Dany, chatting with Tyrion along the way. Tyrion mistrusts his motives, but I don’t know, I really think he’s just out to help the little people. He also states that Viserys had intended to sneak into Dany’s room the night before her wedding to Khal Drogo and steal her maidenhead, but he put a stop to that by posting guards outside her room.
Wyman Manderly appears at Winterfell early in A Game of Thrones, but I don’t believe he’s in the show, or if he is they didn’t introduce him. He shows up as one of the Stark bannermen to discuss things with Bran, who is acting as lord when everyone else is away. He is, without a doubt, my FAVORITE secret fat guy hero of the entire series.
Uncharitably but probably truthfully described as ‘Lord Too Fat To Sit a Horse,’ Manderly is the lord of White Harbor. Two of his sons are involved in the War of the Five Kings: one is taken captive by the enemy, and the other travels with Catelyn Stark, ultimately being murdered during the Red Wedding. One of his sons is visible in the show during the Wedding, a round-cheeked guy with a waxed mustache and a silver merman on his black shirt.
By the time Davos Seaworth makes his way to White Harbor in the fifth book to ask Manderly to support Stannis, Manderly has become paranoid and mistrustful. He has Freys in his charge as wards and allies, and so he immediately puts Davos to death. Later, another POV character reports that they have seen the Onion Knight’s head dipped in tar, his mouth stuffed with onions and put on a spike above the gates of White Harbor. Since Davos is another of my favorite characters, I was M A D that day. My boyfriend occasionally comes to check on me when I reading ASOIAF, usually when I start yelling. Sometimes my yelling is angry (GODDAMN IT CATELYN STOP DOING THINGS), sometimes my yelling is in disbelief (WTF THEY JUST CUT OFF JAIME’S HAND I CAN’T EVEN) and sometimes it’s in excitement (SAM FOUND BRAN AND RICKON! YEAAAHHHHHH!!). He just wants to know what kind of yelling it is. That day it was the ‘THIS BOOK KEEPS KILLING THE GOOD PEOPLE THIS IS ALL BULLSHIT’ kind of yelling. I am very passionate when I read.
It was all a ruse!
Davos has been chilling in the dungeon, and since he knows how to write now he can probably write the ‘Let’s Go!’ book of Westerosi dungeons since the man spends more time in them than anywhere else.
Wyman Manderly is NOT a turncloak – he is aware that his court is crawling with Frey spies, and he is FIERCELY loyal to Team Stark. He had to make it seem like he was putting Davos to death, even going so far as to kill some poor bastard who resembled the Onion Knight and putting his head on top of the gate. He has also found one of Theon’s underlings and gotten the true story of the Stark boys out of him: that Bran and Rickon are alive, and heading to the Wall. He charges Davos with the most awesome, dangerous, and heartfelt quest in the book, after Brienne of Tarth’s: finding Manderly’s young lost lords, Bran and Rickon, and bringing them home to White Harbor, safe. He knows for certain that Rickon is on the Isle of Skagos, so that is where Davos heads.
BUT THAT’S NOT ALL!!
Remember how I said that Manderly had a couple of Freys in his charge? And he was fiercely loyal to the Starks? And how EVERYONE in Westeros knows about the Red Wedding?
Manderly gets some sweet, sweet vengeance. Oh yeah.
He bakes them into a pie and serves them to Roose Bolton, Walder Frey, and some other Freys.
WYMAN THE PIEMAN, baby!
I had some friends who declared that they didn’t want to watch the show anymore after the Red Wedding. I honestly can’t blame them; I knew what was coming because I read the book, but even reading the book I nearly stood up and threw it across the room. Since it was my Kindle, I had to exercise restraint though. After I sat down and my blood pressure slowed down, I HAD to keep reading! SO MUCH GOOD STUFF happens in the second half of book 3 and beyond. I am hoping that seeing Joffrey buy it (GOD that day can’t come fast enough – even though i know it’s coming I CANNOT WAIT) will draw people back.
Anyway, I hope you enjoyed this little reemergence of my ramblings. I really do want to try and keep it up again. I have ideas for entries all the time and just can’t seem to work blogging into my schedule. I do enjoy it so!
Do YOU have a favorite character on GoT? Who is it? Why?
8 thoughts on “The Secret Heroes of A Song of Ice and Fire: Fat Guys”
Fantastic article on the unsung chubby dudes in Game of Thrones. Lord Manderly is simply the man!
One of my favorite regular joes is Quentyn Martell. I found him to be another case of a character not following the usual type.
He’s a prince, but an unambitious, boring, sad one. In any other fantasy (he’d be better looking) his plan to capture a dragon would have been dangerous, but would succeed.
Manderly is TOTALLY the man! I just reread Feast for Crows and realized he ALSO gets his son Wylis back with his ‘I didn’t really kill the Onion Knight’ ruse. Somehow I’d forgotten that part.
I know, poor Quentyn! I liked him and I thought he was going to be a great leader since he was learning about the world from the ground up, albeit from a distance, and would understand how his actions affect the realm. It seems like the characters who get out on their own among the smallfolk and ruffians get a better understanding of that: both the highborn ones like Brienne, Jaime, Arya, Sansa, Danerys, Jon Snow, and the lowborn ones, Varys, Mopatis, Davos… Or like Egg, from the Tales of Dunk and Egg. I hoped Quentyn would be one of those – there are enough ambitious, selfish jerks floating around that an unambitious one would have been a nice break. As you say, oh well! 🙂
Thank you for appreciating my affection for poor hapless Quentyn. I’m hoping his part doesn’t get minimized in the TV show.
I have neither read the books nor seen the show, but I still liked this post.
Excellent blog you have got here.. It’s difficult to find
high quality writing like yours these days. I
seriously appreciate people like you! Take care!!
What about Hot Pie and Fat Walda Frey? How come you left them out of the banquet?
Ahhhhh, I totally forgot about them! I will have to do an update!
Hot Pie is THE BEST. Walda Frey is … well she feels more like the butt of a joke but she has to have some sand to be married to Roose Bolton. I believe I’d have dramatically thrown myself off something very high rather than deal with that! 😀