How Game of Thrones Reflects Life (no, don’t groan)
My more academic friends are quick to dismiss Game of Thrones as a sex-and-swordplay soap opera with silly names, but it’s been pointed out by many that George R R Martin’s cycle of ‘The Song of Ice and Fire’ books follow a theology and social structure much closer to our own heritage than, say ‘Lord of the Rings’.
In this sense they are far less whimsical than they first appear, even in the TV version (particularly after the franchise-securing first season), with many parallels to our history: the more sophisticated clans in one half overrule the less developed ones in the other, the societies formed for the return of deposed kings, the feudalism, the sense of natural selection, cruelty and loss, the differing religions, mistrust between the social classes, empire building, the indivisibility of church and state, slavery, a permanent underclass, courts of politically unfaithful acolytes and war seen as a way of filling coffers, all guided by a tangible remembrance of history.
Hardly a scene passes without someone recalling relatives in earlier times. The campfire storytelling of old legends feels appropriate, as does the emphasis on base appetites. There’s generally too much open mention of sex (if this was to follow a real pattern the upper classes would never speak of it and the lower orders would simply do it rather than the other way around), but much rings true. Of course there are the supernatural elements to contend with, but even these feel like half-remembered legends rather than real events.
The cycle also works on a dynastic level of ‘us and them’, with fathers and mothers determined to leave inheritances to children and gain traction over other families. In a world where many of us are self-made and watch in appalled fascination as the children of the rich squander the opportunities they’ve been handed, this has great resonance. My only cavil is the jumble of British accents that probably blur together in American ears, but sound alarmingly regional to us.
The series that gave the world ‘sexposition’ – the idea that the boring historical stuff can be absorbed if the speaker delivers the sermon in a brothel – largely loses its sauciness after the early seasons as the writings of Machiavelli and Sun-Tzu are foregrounded, meaning there’s more to chew on here than in the average TV series. That’s down to Martin, a talented fantasy writer with decades of experience – and more proof that stories are best told by a single person, not a committee. It’s also a mark of the kind of commitment HBO seems to bring to everything, making the BBC’s ‘War and Peace’ look coy and corseted by comparison.
For decades ITV was seen as the tarty sister of prim BBC – now British channels have powerful competition in the form of the new US formats. A golden time for television? Perhaps, if only because it shows us the utter poverty of Hollywood films in the 21st century.