I’m roughly 80% of the way through George R. R. Martin’s A Dance with Dragons, the somewhat-recently-released fifth book in the excellent A Song of Ice and Fire series, upon which the almost equally excellent Game of Thrones television series is based. I assume most people — and by “people,” I mean nerds like you who read where I write — are at least somewhat familiar with it. If you’re not, though, you should go out and read (or at least watch) it right away. It’s a “fantasy” series that I think would appeal to a whole lot of non-fantasy fans, as long as you don’t mind quite a bit more sex and violence than is strictly necessary, and it can really keep your mind occupied across those long months between early November and late March, during which no professional sports are played at all.
So anyway, today’s similes (which are, on a permanent basis, being moved from the weekend to the not-at-all-alliterative Monday and Tuesday…though I guess Monday’s offerings can become Metaphor Mondays without losing anything worth noting) all surround A Song of Ice and Fire. I’m going to try to paint with a very broad brush so as not to include anything one might consider a “spoiler,” and especially not anything that happens after the first book, since that’s what the HBO series has covered to date.
Mariano Rivera is like The Others.
“The Others,” or “The White Walkers,” are among the relatively few elements of TSOIAF that make the series a work of fantasy rather than a sort of alternate-historical fiction, and they’d also be at home in the horror genre. In Westeros (the continent on which ASOIAF is primarily based), they’re seen by most as mythical figures, a bit like banshees or zombies in our world, or a bit like Tolkien’s Nazguls, and are thought to exist only in legends and stories meant to frighten small children.
That is, of course, until they reappear, in the wild woods to the north, and start killin’ fools.
The Others are gaunt, with sunken cheeks and piercing eyes. They’re ancient and appear almost immortal. They don’t speak, but they bring cold with them wherever they go, and kill silently and indiscriminately. The people they kill are reanimated and come back to kill humans too, as big powerful wights. They’re totally badass, basically.
They look roughly like this:
Beyond having the look down pat, Mo Rivera is ancient and legendary, he’s a silent (or at least a very quiet) killer, and is often said to have ice in his veins and terrify his opponents. He goes for save number 600 and the all-time save record this week (and check out the picture in that article compared to the above), which is really important and will finally legitimize his career and make him the best closer ever, so he’s pretty much immortal, too.
In a lot of ways, Eddard (Ned) Stark — lord of Winterfell and the most powerful house in Westeros’ north — is more like Albert Pujols or something, strong and wise and, basically, just perfectly good.
But he does have one trait you might call a weakness: Stark is rigidly, almost fanatically devoted to what he views as his duty and to the letter of the law. Early in A Game of Thrones, this quality manifests itself in his decision to accept the request of Robert Baratheon, his king and his old friend, to travel far south to the capitol of the kingdom and essentially serve as Robert’s right-hand man, even though he has no personal desire to do so and it’s a severe inconvenience and strain on his family. Later, Robert dies (sorry — that’s in the first book and, what with it being called “Game of Thrones” and all, you probably had to figure a king was going to kick it pretty quickly). Stark uncovers some facts regarding Robert’s presumed descendants which, if the kingdom’s traditional rules of succession are followed, will lead to a result that threatens to throw the whole kingdom into chaos. And it’s a result that Stark doesn’t even particularly want in the first place. Nonetheless, to Stark, the rules are the rules, so he goes about trying to set things “right,” according to the rules, again risking serious harm to himself and his family in order to bring about a result he doesn’t actually want very much.
Bud Selig — and here, it’s officially “Major League Baseball,” fronted by spokesperson Joe Torre, but I choose to always translate these things to “Bud Selig” out of a combination of laziness and a desire for narrative consistency — is just like Ned Stark, but without any of those admirable qualities I glossed over above, just the stubbornness and senseless rigidity. See, on the tenth anniversary of September 11, 2001, baseball decided to bar the Mets and Yankees from wearing hats that would honor the New York fire and police departments, the way they did famously and powerfully in the aftermath of the original tragedy, instead mandating the team hat with a small American flag icon that the other teams would be wearing.
Torre’s explanation, in pertinent part, was “[w]e just felt all the major leagues are honoring the same way with the American flag on the uniform and the cap. This is a unanimity thing.” And that comes off as terribly weak, and rings incredibly hollow, in the wake of a move that has angered a whole lot of fans to no apparent purpose. Baseball had an obvious chance to reestablish a lot of goodwill that flowed out of those first games in late September of 2001 — and, more cynically, probably to sell some extra hats, if they wanted to — and instead came off (unintentionally, but entirely predictably) as disrespectful, short-sighted, stuffy and insensitive, all because they wanted to enforce “unanimity.” Among thirty teams scattered across fifteen stadiums on one day out of a six-month season.
As Craig Calcaterra said in the story linked above, ”[i]t’s mindless adherence to a rule and, ultimately, it’s heartless in effect.” The effects of Ned Stark’s adherence to rules were…well, they’re for you to find out. But the adherence was similarly mindless.
The MVP debate is like the War of the Five Kings.
So Robert dies, and there’s just a bit of a controversy over who will take over as king of Westeros. (Again, ahem, “Game of Thrones.”) In the aftermath, ultimately, five different men formally crown themselves king, and several other men and women have their eyes on the throne as well. Their claims all come from different places: some truly believe that under the laws of succession and tradition and all that, they are the rightful rulers. Some recognize that others have stronger claims to the throne, but believe they’re the better choices to rule because they’re smarter or more just or have been ordained for rule by whatever god(s) they believe in. Others make no pretension at all, and plan to take the throne because they just really want it, or think they’re powerful enough to make it happen. So a big war breaks out.
Our new writer Jason back on our home site, if I can put words in his mouth (and I can, I’m sort of his boss), makes a case that that’s kind of what’s happening with the MVP discussion: the argument isn’t so much over who the king (er, the MVP) is, but over what makes a king (MVP) in the first place. If everyone could agree on what quality or qualities would make one the proper king of Westeros, the War of the Five Kings would be avoided, and, well, the books probably just never would have happened. If everyone could agree on what makes a player “Most Valuable,” then there’d still be room for discussion, of course, since there’s no one established metric for establishing the [statistically-best player/the guy who most helped his team to the playoffs/the one who provided the most monetary value/etc.]. But the debate would be a much different one, and probably a much tamer one, than the one we have now. All the yelling about which player should be MVP is a bit pointless and counter-productive when everyone brings a different set of criteria to the table.
None of which is to suggest that all the different sets of criteria are equally valid, of course. I personally think that the only theory that actually makes any sense in context is the one where “most valuable” equals “best,” statistically, however you want to determine that. You develop your own ideas of who has the best claim to the throne while you’re reading ASOIAF, too. The point isn’t that all those different vantage points are right, just that they all exist, and that as long as they’re all battling each other, the overall debate over who “should” be the MVP just isn’t going to make sense.