Say, what are we all to make of cousin Orson Lannister, lord of the beetles, distant relative to Tyrion Lannister, dispatched by a mule? "Game of Thrones" fans know of whom I speak: He was subject of a three-minute long monologue in Sunday night's eighth episode, "The Mountain and the Viper," and millions of viewers have been puzzling over him ever since.
Or at least one viewer has.
"What was it all about" -- his beetle carnage, in which Orson killed beetles by the score, "thung, thung, thung," as his rock came crashing down on their poor bodies. Tyrion asked his brother, Jaime, during the scene. The question was not as rhetorical as Jaime assumed: Tyrion knew "what it was all about" but before he could offer an answer, the bell tolled ... for him. (You can see the video again here.)
Here's another question: Why do I bring all this up again, four days after the episode, and after countless Internet ruminations on its meaning, most of them quite compelling?
Mostly because it's fun -- there's nothing like wasting idle time thinking about a beloved show.
I also bring it up because the end of the fourth season approaches, and true blue "GoT" fans are searching for the meaning-of-it-all much as Tyrion is. I bring it up because great series are like great books -- driven by something other than what is on screen, which is an idea, or thought, or philosophy that in some ways offers bearing to viewers as well. "GoT" is TV's best -- by far -- and so Tyrion's scene is worth the extra effort.
Tyrion -- Peter Dinklage, in probably his single finest scene -- threw down the gauntlet before all of us Sunday -- what does it all mean? And this morning I pick it up.
Here are some possible interpretations, call them my "over-thinks," of the now-famous, still-puzzling Orson Lord of the Beetles speech.
1.) The gods must be crazy. The most obvious interpretation certainly. Poor Orson -- thrown on his head, robbed of his faculties, and left with one primal instinct -- as expressed by he serial dispatch of the lowly beetle. It's Tyrion's own existential pain channeled through long-gone Orson. He's dead, and now I, too, approach the gallows for a crime I did not commit.
2.) The gods are not crazy because there are no gods. This is the logical extension of number 1; when the world is stripped of God or gods, there is nothing left to make sense of, and so the actions of man are meaningful only in and of themselves. So Orson kills off bugs. Who gives a dusty screw, to paraphrase Jaime. It's all meaningless anyway, and so is all human life, by association...
3.) Tryion -- and D. B. Weiss and David Benioff who created this scene out of whole cloth and did not draw it from the book -- was simply foreshadowing Ser Gregor Clegane's dispatch of Oberyn Martell, the latter's head also squashed like a beetle.
4.) Tyrion was deep-diving down to the fundamental nature of all existence in Westeros -- that Orson's dispatch of the beetle was no more or less significant than the internecine wars that end up killing all men in this world, an echo of this season's tagline, "All Men Must Die." All beetles must die too, until their executioner is himself dispatched.
5.) Orson is really named "Orsin" -- possibly a contraction of "original" and "sin." Of course, we can't know this for certain -- Weiss and Benioff created him, not George RR Martin, so it's impossible to tell what the spelling is. But I do like the idea of Orsin, a real name which in fact means "raised by a bear." A lovely thought, really, and almost like being raised by a direwolf, I would imagine, though messier.
But what then is original sin? Something you are born with, or which all men are born with? Dropped on his head, robbed of his brain, Orsin would seem to be the original man: Devoid of everything save his most basic instinct ... to kill. His sin is the sin of all men in Westeros.
The obvious problem with introducing the notion of "original sin" is that it opens doors that I assume Martin, Benioff and Weiss would rather not open -- namely a broader interpretation of "sin" as it relates to the Judeo-Christian tradition and how that would be applied to the universe that's been created here.
Except perhaps when you consider that "original sin" is also tied directly to the notion of "end times" -- another theme that "GoT" has explored and continues to, that sin cannot be expiated until all humans have died and been resurrected (the Augustan interpretation ... I warned you this was an over think). Resurrection is a major fact of "GoT.' A major resurrection, by the way, is just around the corner. No spoilers here.
6.) Shakespeare! What would literary tradition do without Shakespeare! He has not merely influenced Western thought but built Western thought, created all of the deep thoughts that we think today, and explore today, in every book you might reach for on any shelf filled with any play or novel..The notion of human sin, of what is correct conduct and what is incorrect conduct, of the relation of man to kings, and man to God. Of why we even exist in the first place -- to be or not to be. The Meaning of Everything.
The grand thing about "GoT" is that it is not some cute Easter egg hunt that forces rabid fans to the Internet to find the meaning of some sort of stray clue, the sort of game "Lost" played, for example. This is a universe unto itself, nothing here needs referral to some outside source in our "real world" for meaning. Martin has created a universe entirely self-supporting, with everything -- from warfare to economics to religion -- intricately built-in.
That's why it's great fantasy literature. Nevertheless, my hunch is that three very smart guys who have read widely and deeply could not help but adsorb words, thoughts and ideas from the greatest master of them all. it is simply impossible not to.
Martin has said some of his interpretations are simply an extension of his historical readings of the War of the Roses, the dynastic battles between the houses of Lancaster and York from the mid-1400s. Shakespeare also read deeply into those, of course, basing any number of historical plays on that long and bloody struggle; Richard III, for example, who has been compared widely to Tyrion, and even more to Stannis Baratheon.
But I like the idea of Tyrion's speech being drawn directly from "Measure for Measure," another of Shakespeare's great explorations into the nature of sin and redemption. In the third act, Claudio is begging his sister Isabella to save his life -- by sleeping with the evil Angelo. He's in a dungeon, about to be beheaded, but Isabella, who does not want to commit a mortal sin resists, and offers him these not so soothing words:
Darest thou die?
The sense of death is most in apprehension;
And the poor beetle, that we tread upon,
In corporal sufferance finds a pang as great
As when a giant dies.
7.) Finally this: Maybe Tyrion is simply comparing Orson (or Orsin?) to Jaime. Remember the litany of "cides" that he went through -- regicide, matricide and so on. Tyrion certainly understood what he was accused of, matricide (he had killed his mother in childbirth), regicide, and nepoticide -- the killing of his nephew. That's quite a litany but what of Jaime -- also the Kingslayer (who slew the mad king), attempted to kill his own nephew through marriage (nepoticide) and who knows who else he killed (besides his cousin too? That was the meaning behind Tyrion's question...) Maybe Tyrion is simply saying the wrong man faces execution -- or perhaps all his sins are manifest in so many others in the seven kingdoms. What did Orson's insane relentless slaughter of the beetles mean?
Simply that all of humankind is doomed -- by its own hand. Like that fly-infested pig's head in “Lord of the Flies,” all the totems of Westeros are empty, meaningless or forbears of doom. They cannot save anyone.