Samwell Tarley from the Song of Ice and Fire books by George R.R. Martin and the Game of Thrones HBO series is the single most important character in both works. That’s right. I said it. I believe this is true because Sam represents us normal puny humans in so many painfully awkward and embarrassing ways and yet he also represents everything we truly aspire to be as humans.
When we first meet Sam he is a figure to be despised. He is such a weakling and a coward that he has given up his birthright without a fight and been banished to the Night’s Watch where he is unable to defend himself during arm’s practice with other raw recruits using dulled weapons. These actions made him such a target for bullies he might have been driven mad or suicidal if Jon Snow had not stepped in to both protect him and recruit other protectors. And yet, over the course of both the books and the television series, we see Sam grow and transform into a force to be reckoned with – a hero determined to save the world. So what is the thing about Samwell Tarley that makes him so important?
He is not a born hero. He is not an obvious hero. He is everyman. He is awkward and clumsy both physically and socially. He is distracted from his work by his personal interests. He is often lazy and sometimes greedy. He is jealous of his friends who are better looking, stronger, fitter, and more competent. In short, he is every one of us normal folk. This is important for stories, because while we can admire and love heroes we can get tired of their awesomeness too. It is human frailty and struggle that resonates with us and gives us hope that we too can overcome the challenges that life throws our way (even if we will hopefully never be forced to defend ourselves against White Walkers and Thenns).
It is all these traits that he shares with us non-heroes that makes Sam such an unlikely hero – and yet he is a better person than many of us and that is what makes him so heroic and someone we should all emulate. We early on see the important character traits that make Sam the remarkable person he is – even if he is not a classic hero. He is curious and thoughtful – always seeking knowledge. It becomes a standing joke among his friends that he knows things because he “read about it in a book.” However, he does more than read. He listens and observes. This is how he convinces Jon that being chosen to be the Lord Commander’s steward is actually a mark of favor and a clear indication he is being groomed for command. This is also how he convinces his brethren to elect Jon as Lord Commander.
As Sam grows into his own he becomes Jon Snow’s advisor and moral compass. Sam possesses a strong moral code. While he often does not follow the letter of the law (when it comes to his Night’s Watch Oath, for example), he does take the spirit of the law or oath very much to heart. For him, the key part of that oath is:
I am the sword in the darkness
I am the watcher on the walls
I am the shield that guards the realm of men
For Sam, that is both the big picture and the impetus for his decisions on a small scale, such as saving Gilly and her baby. It is his moral code that helps Sam save Jon when he tries to abandon his post on the Wall to join Robb Stark’s march to war. Not only does Sam save Jon from betraying his own vows, but he likely saved his life (think about the fate of the others who rode South with Robb). Sam is so open-hearted and kind that it is no wonder Gilly tries to recruit him to escape Craster’s Keep, but he also recognizes that she is more than a daughter-wife or a wildling – something our heroes do not. When Jon admonishes Sam about “stealing” Gilly. Sam’s response is simple: “It’s not stealing. She’s a person not a goat.”
However, it is this kindness and love for his friends and family that helps Sam become more heroic. Although he proves time and again unable to save himself from attack by bullies, wildlings, or White Walkers, when Gilly and her baby are threatened he wields his sword and when that is destroyed he grabs the next available weapon to continue to fight. He did not know he could win that fight, but he was willing to fight to the bitter end for someone else. Through his efforts to protect Gilly, and others, he learns “I’m not nothing anymore” and he stops cowering while others do his fighting for him. He picks up the weapons at hand to fight against the darkness and guard the realms of men. As Jon Snow notes in the show: “I’m glad the end of the world is working out for someone.” The end of the world is definitely working out for Sam who grows from a cowering boy into a fierce hero.
While it may well be that the popular theory that Samwell Tarley is in fact the narrator of the the Song of Ice and Fire (aka Game of Thrones) is true, that is not why I believe he is the most important character. I believe he is important because he represents us (the reader/viewer) through his human frailties, his wonderful heart, his character arc, and his heroic fight for the most important things. Do you believe Samwell Tarley is the most important Game of Thrones character? What do you think we can all learn from Samwell Tarley?
Photo credit: HBO
Tags: #Books, #Heroes, #Stories, #Storytelling