They don’t have iPhones in George R.R. Martin’s book-turned-HBO epic “Game of Thrones,” but there’s the next best thing: ravens.
No, you won’t find Tolkien’s glowing magic balls to speed the story along. Westeros’ Seven Kingdoms send messages the old-fashioned way: a letter by horseback or, the book’s equivalent of a phone, by raven. Are douchebag ingrates sacking your castle? Send a raven! Did your wife just smack down the son of a dangerous rival? Send a raven and tell her to chill out! Are zombies are coming? In the name of the gods, send a damn raven!
At some point, though, you think: there’s got to be something else you can send! I know ravens are fast, but dear Mr. Martin: please consider other forms of bird-com. I won’t hold my breath for a reply, but in my free time, I’ve knocked out a clip-and-save guide to a bird carrier of Westeros. Fasten your seat belts, folks: I’m going to get medieval, yet super-nerdy, on your ass, starting… now!
It’s the iPhone 5 of imaginary animal messaging. If you have an important message to deliver, and you need to do it quickly with a good degree of stealth, it’s the premier bird of choice. For one, ravens are durable, thanks to their omnivorous appetites — on long-haul routes, they’re clever in foraging for carrion, insects, berries, fruit, small animals and — ew — food waste.
Neat trivia alert: ravens are one of the few species — along with bees, ants and humans — that can communicate about things that aren’t right in front of them. It’s called “displacement,” so if you’re dedicated, maybe you can teach a raven to deliver messages without sending an actual letter, so there’s no evidence. Think of it as Snapchat, except the bird doesn’t explode at the end. Ravens can also solve problems, making them among the more intelligent bird carriers — so if a Lannister or Stark tries to strike yours down, it stands a chance to wile its way out of a pickle. I don’t know how it’d hold up against a dragon, though.
Consider it the iPhone 6 of Westeros — it only exists in the minds of a select few. In Game of Thrones, it’s been seen by only one person: little Bran Stark — one of the far-flung, lost scions of the beleaguered House Stark, a crippled psychic tween that can inhabit animals’ bodies with his spirit and see visions of the past and future. Maybe one day Bran will figure out how to broadcast his powers as a kind of medieval 4G LTE service — or find a way to expand his network of ancient magical trees, which somehow connects to his psychic powers and lets him hear and see far-away things.
Bran sounds like the Steve Jobs of Westeros, a creative visionary that makes things the Seven Kingdoms don’t even know they need. With Martin still writing the sixth book, and the seventh, and supposedly last, just a set of figments in his imagination, I don’t dare predict what souped-up skills the three-eyed raven has in store. X-ray vision? Super-speed? Siri? Judging from Martin’s pace, we’ll have to wait about a decade to find out. He’s no Apple — he doesn’t churn out a book a year. He should give Tim Cook a call, or hire some copywriters in China. I’m sure Foxconn has plenty.
That’s what the uncouth, crazy-eyed Wildling tribes call the men of the Night’s Watch — those equally scruffy men who guard the giant wall of ice separating Westeros from the distant, but creeping, zombie threat in the far north. But little do they know crows make great potential messengers, if you can tame and train them. Crows are distantly related to ravens, so share the same omnivorous appetite and relative intelligence. They can also use tools, which make them enterprising little creatures in a pinch, and recognize human facial features, so they’re less likely to deliver messages to the wrong people. It’s not exactly BlackBerry encryption, but in Westeros, that’s as good as it gets.
Most messaging in Westeros is done by ravens, but pigeons, of course, have a long history as carriers in our boring, pedestrian, zombie-less world. They’ve sent messages as far back as the 6th century B.C., when Persian king Cyrus used them to communicate with parts of his far-flung empire. Pigeons also played a role in WW1 and WW2. But as the Seven Kingdoms enter into their own World War, they’ll want to start using pigeons as their primary means of communication. After all, how many ravens are there floating around? Pigeons aren’t as smart as ravens or crows, of course, so think of them like the feature phones of the bird realm.
Their dull color makes them harder to shoot down — sort of like that brick of a phone you always drop but never break. And they can fly home under any circumstance or distance, making them very good at what they’re meant for — just like a feature phone. And, of course, they breed fast, guaranteeing a plentiful supply for when all those ravens get shot down. Think of pigeons as the Nokia of Westeros. Someone call up a family — pigeons are an untapped business opportunity.
Random Lesser Cousins of a Noble Family
If you have a high-level, super-important message to send — say, your response to a treaty or marriage proposal — you don’t send a bird. No, if it’s important, you need confirmation, so you send a family member — the FedEx of Westeros. You can’t send any high-ranking lord, though, because if he dies, there goes your bloodline.
What’s an aristocrat to do?
You send a cousin or the younger son of a minor lord. They’re still family, technically, which means there’s still the pomp and circumstance, but they’re not family family. So if they die, you still have your lands. Sure, it sucks to send them behind enemy lines, but somebody has to do it, right? Very often if the recipient doesn’t like the message, it’s his head in a bag. But hey, this is war, and winter is coming.
If there’s anything that’s certain in the Game of Thrones, it’s that there’s no such thing as a guarantee — except a lot of sex, a nice dose of violence and plenty of gruesome deaths. ♦