Hot Pie serves a heartwarming helping of comfort food in an otherwise bleak and violent world.
The fantastical world of HBO’s Game of Thrones is filled with many things: Dragons, zombie armies, magic, sex, violence, scheming, and lots and lots of wine. Food, too, has played a somewhat pivotal role on the series, as both a symbol of love and a vehicle for revenge. But while we’ve seen food onscreen, we’ve rarely seen those who make it. Just one Game of Thrones character stands out as the culinary king of Westeros, the bully-turned-affable baker Hot Pie.
Hot Pie was introduced in season one of the series as an orphan (and, although it’s never explicitly stated on screen, a baker’s apprentice) being carted from King’s Landing to The Wall along with one of the show’s pluckiest (and deadliest) protagonists, Arya Stark, to join the Night’s Watch in defending the world from what lies beyond The Wall. Hot Pie begins his parallel journey as a jerky little blowhard, spouting half-truths and exaggerations, and picking on Arya, threatening to kick her to death for her sword. Hardly a glimmer exists of the comfortable, cuddly character he is destined to become by season seven. When faced with the very real danger of Tywin Lannister’s hired assassins, the death of his previous (equally snotty) companion, and a torturous prison camp, Hot Pie’s tone changes dramatically. He goes from pompous pre-teen to scared little boy, gaining a respect for the much smarter and steelier Arya in the process.
But what Hot Pie lacks in combat and strategizing, he makes up for with the one skill he does have: baking. Despite the fact that the Brotherhood Without Banners safely delivers him to the Inn at the Crossroads in season three, only to exchange his services as payment for all their meals, it’s Hot Pie’s delicious brown bread that, he insists, won over the innkeeper’s heart. (After all, what good is an indentured baker if he can’t bake?) The gig allows Hot Pie to lay low, avoiding the wave of battles and would-be-king slayings that are sweeping the continent. It’s a safe move and a shrewd one.
Beyond giving him job security, Hot Pie understands that his trade is also an expressive medium. As Arya departs the inn, Hot Pie bakes his friend a farewell gift of brown bread shaped like the Stark family mascot, a direwolf. Sure, it looks so much like something Nicole Byer would laugh-scream at on Nailed It! that it takes Arya a minute to make heads or tails of it, but it’s an act of love nonetheless. And Arya says it’s really good. The kid’s got chops, if not in the decorating department.
We lose track of Hot Pie during seasons five and six, but by season seven when Brienne of Tarth and her squire Podrick set out from the inn to find Arya, his second attempt at a gift of direwolf-shaped brown bread looks nearly good enough to earn a coveted Paul Hollywood handshake on the Great British Baking Show. With that, Hot Pie shows he’s capable of self-improvement.
Hot Pie’s dedication to perfecting a dish doesn’t stop there, as his quest to make the best savory pies in the Riverlands illustrates. In discussing kidney pie, he extolls the virtues of both sourcing choice calf’s kidneys rather than beef kidneys, and frankly won’t shut up about how important it is to get the gravy just right. “You cannot give up on the gravy,” he urges. “No gravy, no pie. Simple as that.” Honestly, if that’s not on a T-shirt at the Inn at the Crossroads gift shop, it should be.
However, some of Hot Pie’s pastry prowess is cause for a raised eyebrow or two. Throughout the first four seasons, two of Hot Pies few speaking scenes include him prattling on about pie making. In a nod to old habits dying hard, Hot Pie boasts about having all the secrets to great pie crust (which he’s willing to share liberally at the drop of nothing). However, his tricks of the trade aren’t exactly sound baking advice.
Take, for example, the first baking tip we get from Hot Pie in season three when he tells the armorer’s apprentice (and potential heir to the Iron Throne) Gendry that crushing and roasting sour cherry pits to sprinkle onto the pie crust really kicks it up a notch. Firstly, cherry pits themselves may or may not be the most palatable ingredient both in taste and texture, however, the nut inside the pit does have some potential, as it’s akin to a tiny cherry-flavored almond. The one drawback? Cherry nuts (and the insides of other stone fruit pits) . No, a dash of cherry pits on your pie won’t likely kill you, and yes, if you cook the pits, the poisoning effect is neutralized. Still, it’s not the most ideal flavor enhancer. But maybe Hot Pie is just super conscious about food waste? We’ll have to take his word that it’s worth the effort.
Then there’s that damned brown butter pie crust. “The secret is browning the butter before making the dough,” he says. “Most people don’t do that ‘cause it takes up too much time.”
There might be another reason most people don’t do that. Butter in pie dough is there to add fat and release steam, creating layers and flakiness in the final product. Browned butter, by virtue of being cooked down, has lost some of that water content, meaning it won’t as effectively flake up the crust. If you’re going for a denser crust, then that’s fine — there is indeed a hot water pie crust recipe the calls for lard, flour, and boiling water to melt the fat, and, yes, you could use browned butter in place of the lard. But historically speaking, hot water-style pie crusts were mostly made as cooking and serving vessels (hence the sturdier pastry), not meant as part of the finished dish. But customers at the Inn seem to be eating their crusts, and whether that was always the norm and Hot Pie improved upon the existing edible crust, or whether it became the norm because Hot Pie browned his butter thus making his crusts craveable, good on him. The fact that anyone wants to eat pie crust that’s essentially just filling in for a ramekin is a noteworthy achievement.
Related: The Best Pie Dishes
That brings up another issue with Hot Pie’s culinary chops. As viewers, we’re more than likely considering his dishes via our own preferences. But what are the palates of Westerosians like? Just as desirable flavors and textures can vary from culture to culture in our very real world, so too could they be similar-yet-different in Westeros, not to mention regionally between Winterfell and King’s Landing or The Iron Islands and Dorne. While the food in Game of Thrones tends toward Middle Ages-era cuisine found in places like Britain, perhaps their perception of good pastries is slightly different than ours. Then again, considering how much bread and wine they eat, it can’t be too far off.
Now, there is, it must be said, a that purports Hot Pie is actually the first domino that eventually brings down part of the Wall in season seven. Had he not told Arya her brother Jon Snow was alive and ruling the North, she would have continued on her missing to King’s Landing to assassinate Cersei, meaning Jon and Queen Danaerys wouldn’t have needed to travel beyond the Wall to catch a wight, and wouldn’t have lost a dragon to the Night King in the process. By that logic, a lot of GoT characters are culpable for a lot of little moments that ended up snowballing into tragedy. Hot Pie was just being honest with his friend. Arya made the choice to change her plans. (Thank you for indulging this digression.)
Whether or not we get to see Hot Pie again in the final season, we’ve seen his character arc in what might be the most heartwarming narrative of the entire series. Hot Pie has grown as a person. He understands that making food is an expression of love in a way that would make Queer Eye’s Antoni Porowski well up and go in for a hug. He’s learned that quality often takes time, and that constant experimentation and practice will not only improve one's recipes but improve one’s self. For Hot Pie, cooking has been therapeutic and lifesaving, preserving his status as one of just 18 recurring characters who have remained alive since season one. As Hot Pie tells Arya in season seven, “I’m a survivor, like you.” Oh, Hot Pie!
Perhaps he really will survive, serving up at least a small slice of comfort in a final season that’s sure to see the downfall of many beloved characters. Who knows? He could end up as royal baker to whoever finally takes the Iron Throne!
Or, you know, he might die. This is Game of Thrones, after all.