'Game of Thrones': Magic Is Gathering

One way that Game of Thrones fans have wooed skeptics to their cause has been to insist that, though the show is fantasy, it's not, like, all wizards and spells and crazy creatures and all that.

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One way that Game of Thrones fans have wooed skeptics to their cause has been to insist that, though the show is fantasy, it's not, like, all wizards and spells and crazy creatures and all that. Yeah there are a few dragons, but mostly this is about people, regular human people, who struggle against one another. Like Rome. And, in some ways, that argument is true. We are not dealing with the high fantasy of Lord of the Rings here. But, as last night's episode of Game of Thrones displayed, there is certainly more magic than "just a few dragons."

Obviously spoilers abound, so please go away if you're going to get upset about that. Everyone else: Shall we talk about the shadow baby? At the end of the episode, mysterious red priestess Melisandre was smuggled onto the mainland by Stannis' righthand man Davos. She then proceeded to disrobe, revealing a pregnant belly, and gave birth right there in a rocky cave. Only, she didn't give birth to a squirming human baby, she gave birth to some sort of hissing creature made of shadows that sort of had hands and feet but also sort of didn't. It was a pretty crazy moment for a show that, while yes dealing with a few dragons and a few frozen zombies, mostly remains in unsupernatural territory. What we're wondering is, will there be backlash against this raising of the magical stakes?

Melisandre's shadow baby is probably the most fantasy thing we've seen so far on the show, and even in the books it comes as something of a bizarre shock. The chapter bears rereading at least once, just to make sure you did in fact read what you think you just read. George R.R. Martin is upping the ante here, proving not just that Melisandre isn't simply some rainmaker, but also that magic is indeed returning to the world and that a lot of it is sinister and potentially dangerous. That doesn't mean that the story starts to go magically bonkers all of a sudden, the Melisandre moment remains, even five books in, one of the more supernatural things to occur (well, some pretty funky stuff happens up in the North), but the scope of the story certainly continues to expand.

And while that's digestible in the books, given that you spend a lot more time with each event and can thus slowly acclimate to it, we're wondering how much people will care for it on television. An otherwise reasonably straightforward dynastic power struggle has now become something else entirely. (Though, to be fair, we don't yet know what this shadow baby is or means — well, some of us know, but sshhh.) That might not sit all that well with people who were lured to the show on the promise that it wasn't going to be all level-six mages and kooky crystals and all that stuff. Trust us, it's not, but... OK, yeah, there is maybe a little more magic stuff than we initially let on, but we just thought you could handle it! It's slowly meted out, the magic. Until, um, it gets sort of crazy, but that's kinda far away! And so much cool non-magic stuff happens in the interim. Stick with it, won't you?

Our guess is that most people will be intrigued by this development rather than repelled. The scene, after all, was done pretty effectively. It's not the easiest thing to draw a mental picture of when reading, so there wasn't much setup for disappointment going in. Mostly the birth was gross and unsettling and, for the uninitiated we'd imagine, pretty surprising. This whole Game of Thrones thing is gonna go there, guys! But that's a good thing, right? You're not scared off now, are you? Please don't be.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.