“On the morning of my eighteenth name day, my father came to me. ‘You’re almost a man now,’ he said, ‘but you’re not worthy of my land and title. Tomorrow, you’re going to take the black, forsake all claim to your inheritance and start north. If you do not,’ he said, ‘then we’ll have a hunt, and somewhere in these woods your horse will stumble, and you’ll be thrown from your saddle to die. Or so I’ll tell your mother. Nothing would please me more.’”
This tragic Game of Thrones story is recounted by Samwell Tarly when he’s challenged about why he came to Castle Black. Not because he was a criminal, or because he wanted to find glory in manning the bulwark against the wildlings, but because his father gave him an ultimatum: Take the black, or die.
When Sam is introduced, he’s a cowardly character, to the extent that he’s consistently labeled “craven” throughout the books. He’s a softie with a kind heart, but that’s usually his undoing. He’s not a fighter, preferring books to swords, and he’s the most overweight person at Castle Black when he arrives. “Ser Piggy” is just one of many nicknames he picks up at The Wall, another one being “Prince Pork-chop.”
Although George R.R. Martin writes point-of-view chapters for a plethora of major characters, he really writes from the heart when it comes to Samwell Tarly. “Tyrion might be who I want to be, but Sam is probably closer to who I actually am,” he explains, speaking at a San Diego Comic-Con panel. “The fat kid who likes to read books and doesn’t like to go up a lot of stairs.”
However, there are several other striking similarities between Sam and Martin. Like Sam, Martin didn’t have a thirst for violence. In fact, he was granted conscientious objector status after refusing to fight in Vietnam. He thought this war, like every other war, was stupid — a sentiment that is reflected throughout the entire Song of Ice and Fire oeuvre.
Sam has his own connections to documenting the inextricably intertwined strands of history and war, too. “I’m not writing A Chronicle of the Wars Following the Death of King Robert I so it can sit on the shelf unread,” Archmaester Ebrose tells a visibly puzzled Sam in season 7. “What, you don’t like the title? What would you call it, then?”
“Possibly something a bit more poetic,” Sam suggests. Ebrose immediately retorts, grumbling that they’re historians, not poets. However, perhaps he sees a distinction between poetry and history where there is none. Ebrose’s denouncement of poetry also recalls a scene from earlier in the series, during which Jon tells Sam about what it was like to be with a woman. After Sam presses him for more details, Jon, at a complete loss for words, exclaims that he’s “not a bleeding poet.”
While it’s definitely true that Jon Snow isn’t exactly a wordsmith, the same can’t be said for Sam, who has a remarkable command of the English language — remember, it was Sam who made the speech that won Jon the position of Lord Commander. With this in mind, perhaps Sam will take his own advice and record the events of Martin’s saga in the much more poetic A Song of Ice and Fire.
Aside from Sam’s suggestion of an indulgence in poetry, there’s actually a shot that directly implies the part he has to play. When he enters the Citadel for the first time, a massive, mechanical chandelier, or astrolabe, hangs over him. The significance of this lies in its resemblance to a similar mechanism in Game of Thrones’ title sequence. The device’s loops wrap ’round and ’round, inscribed with the cyclical nature of Westerosi history. Season 8’s opening credits introduce a new astrolabe — perhaps this one bears Sam’s own inscriptions of history, concerning the events that transpired between Robert’s Rebellion and the Long Night.
However, if Sam is to write these accounts for posterity, he needs to survive the imminent White Walker threat first. In the second episode of season 8, Bran finally divulges what the ominous Night King wants to achieve.“He wants to end this world,” he explains. “And I’m its memory.”
Sam, in true poetic fashion, responds. “That’s what death is, isn’t it?” he asks, rhetorically. “Forgetting. Being forgotten. ... If we forget where we’ve been, what we’ve done, we’re not men anymore. We’re just animals.”
This statement about the distinction between humanity and animals heavily resonates with something Archmaester Ebrose says back in season 7. “We are this world’s memory, Samwell Tarly,” he explains. “Without us, men would be little better than dogs.” However, although Ebrose recognizes the Citadel’s responsibility to document the history of the Seven Kingdoms, Sam uses the same point to go in another direction.
“Your memories don’t come from books,” he tells Bran. “Your stories aren’t just stories. If I wanted to erase the world of men, I’d start with you.” Bran’s greensight allows him to see events as they actually happened, so he doesn’t need to treat dated accounts with healthy skepticism. However, Bran is cold and detached, his identity as the Three-Eyed Raven essentially effacing his former humanity. As a result, Sam is far more fit for the task of ensuring that history is preserved.
Sam’s empathy and humanity guide him to where he needs to be. Realistically, Bran wouldn’t have found out about Jon’s legitimacy without Sam’s ability to weave fragmentary parts of the same story into a singular tale. Bran may be all-seeing, but it takes someone as emotionally intelligent as Sam to give these visions — this history — some much-needed context.
Although Martin and Sam are alike in many ways, and it seems that Sam’s destiny has been lined up every since he left Horn Hill for Castle Black at the beginning of the story, there is one other thing that lends to the theory that Sam is the author of A Song of Ice and Fire.
In many ways, Martin’s series draws influence from J.R.R. Tolkien’s legendarium. However, Martin has explicitly stated that he sought to produce something far more aligned with reality than other fantasy stories. In an interview with New Jersey Monthly, he addressed his complicated relationship with fantastical tropes:
It seemed to me that the historical fiction, particularly the historical fiction set during the Middle Ages, had an excitement to it and a grittiness and a realness to it that the fantasy novels lacked, even when they were supposedly set during a quasi-medieval period. I wanted to combine the best of both worlds, to almost write a historical novel about history that never happened.
As a student of the Citadel, a voracious reader, and — as Edd would put it — “Slayer of White Walkers, Lover of Ladies,” Sam is perhaps the most qualified prospective historian in Westeros at the moment. Although the Citadel’s maesters have far more experience with books, Sam knows the people in this story — he even played his own part in it.
Despite Martin’s resistance to Tolkienian ideas of valorous knights and plot-armored protagonists, he has essentially written a chubby, everyman, kindhearted character named Sam who is unwaveringly loyal to a protagonist on a mission of grave importance. At the end of the Lord of the Rings, Samwise Gamgee is the author that records the events of his odyssey with Frodo in an eponymous novel. At the end of Game of Thrones, perhaps another Sam from a different fantasy world will tell his own story. This would also explain why Jon is such a valiant and honorable character — because that’s how Sam sees him.
In terms of the end of Game of Thrones, the following passage appears in A Feast for Crows:
Sam thought of all the trials that he and Gilly suffered, Craster’s Keep and the death of the Old Bear, snow and ice and freezing winds, days and days and days of walking, the wights at Whitetree, Coldhands and the tree of ravens, the Wall, the Wall, the Wall, the Black Gate beneath the earth. What had it all been for? No happy choices and no happy endings.
“No happy endings” is the phrase that stands out in this instance. However, in the “Eastwatch” episode of the series, Sam quotes his own father, stating that he’s sick of reading about the achievements of better men. Instead of reading about them, perhaps he’s gearing up to record them — to become one of those better men himself. As we approach Game of Thrones’ highly anticipated conclusion, it’s starting to seem more and more likely that this is a tale recorded by one of its most genuine and intelligent characters.
Cian Maher is a freelance writer who sometimes spends more time replaying games than playing new ones, which is obviously problematic, but also very fun. If he could talk about Pokémon and Overwatch forever, he probably would.