Game of Thrones and the harsh realities hidden behind its high-fantasy
Let’s face it. Whether you’ve only watched an episode or two, obsess over it like it’s your job, or you pride yourself on “not seeing what the big deal is,” it’s undeniable; HBO’s hugely popular high fantasy series, Game Of Thrones, is a globally recognized pop culture behemoth.
Regardless of your relationship to the show, when considering the big picture, it’s easy to understand the mass appeal. For one, it’s a visual feast filled with blockbuster quality CGI, lavish set designs, and it’s shot on location around the world in awe inducing natural landscapes. The story itself has whip sharp writing and carries all the hallmarks of Tolkien style high fantasy; castles, knights, witches, dragons, all are found in varying degrees throughout. For those who seek out and enjoy these types of storylines, it’s plain to see that Game of Thrones is designed from the ground up to be pure escapist fiction of the highest caliber.
Or was it?
…drawing parallels eerily similar to that of the all-too-real threats facing our modern world. It is in this way that Game of Thrones acts just as much as allegory as it does popcorn entertainment.
I mean sure, the production quality is off the charts, but pure escapism, well… yes and no. When looking deeper, past the delicately crafted interpersonal drama and shiny fantasy veneer, a more contemporary picture reveals itself; drawing parallels eerily similar to that of the all-too-real threats facing our modern world. It is in this way that Game of Thrones acts just as much as allegory as it does popcorn entertainment. The show does this in many ways, but for the sake of the length of this article (and to spare you of too much nerdsplaining), I’ve boiled theses examples down to three.
Dragons > Weapons of Mass Destruction
…she managed to acquire all those and much more by leveraging the power of her flying, fire-breathing vehicles of carnage to nearly unstoppable proportions.
When first being introduced to the newly born dragons (Drogon, Rhaegal, and Viserion) at the end of season one, we learn that they are the only ones in the known world. The three become intrinsically connected to a royal outcast, Daenerys Targaryen, the last living member of House Targaryen and former ruling family of Westeros.
Daenerys at this point in the story had no armies, lands, or wealth of mention, just three small dragons, and a name. However, as the series developed, she managed to acquire all those and much more by leveraging the power of her flying, fire-breathing vehicles of carnage to nearly unstoppable proportions. Whoever controls the dragons controls the world; that’s about as straightforward of a metaphor for nuclear weapons as you’re going to find. Sadly, it’s not too difficult to make connections with Daenerys’s story and the current nuclear crisis on the Korean Peninsula. Like Daenerys, North Korea’s impoverished government raised their dragons from infancy. Reports over the last several months demonstrate that they have indeed learned to fly. All I can say is that for everyone’s sake, one can only pray that things never escalate to a point where they attempt to breathe fire.
The Iron Bank of Braavos > Corporate Money in Politics
The ruling classes of Westeros and Essos, these perceived pinnacles of control and power, are actually at the mercy of an independent investment organization, The Iron Bank.
Like many stories in the medieval fiction genre, in Game of Thrones, squabbling monarchies are at the heart of the conflict. With royal lineages, vast wealth, and pledged loyalties, this aspect of the story fits neatly into familiar fantasy territory. However, there is one particular difference. The ruling classes of Westeros and Essos, these perceived pinnacles of control and power, are actually at the mercy of an independent investment organization, The Iron Bank. A handful of power-hungry dynastic families volley for power in ways not dissimilar to how the Clintons, Bushes, and Kennedys have in American politics. And like American politics, in Game of Thrones, there’s a greed machine quietly hiding on the sidelines waiting to either turn a profit or collect it’s debt.
Tyrion Lannister puts it best, “One stone crumbles and another takes its place, and the temple holds its form for a thousand years or more. And that’s what the Iron Bank is, a temple. We all live in its shadow, and almost none of us know it. You can’t run from them; you can’t cheat them, you can’t sway them with excuses. If you owe them money and you don’t want to crumble yourself, you pay it back.”
The White Walkers > Climate Change
Of all the threats facing the many nations and feuding monarchies in the world of Game of Thrones, in the end, the fight against the Whites is the only one that actually matters.
Winter is Coming; The motto of House Stark and undisputed champ of Game of Thrones catch phrases. This statement, which repeats in ridiculous measure throughout the series, has inspired countless memes, parodies, and supercut videos. Although these three words have become humorous to the fan base, it’s never been a joke in the story, and as a pretty direct declaration of the looming threat of climate change, we probably shouldn’t scoff at it either.
Mainly, the motto references the coming of a long winter which brings with it an encroaching horde of frosty undead ghouls, the White Walkers. This army, ever-so-slowly making its way south from the arctic tundra, cannot be reasoned with or deterred from its mission, the total annihilation of humanity.
Of all the threats facing the many nations and feuding monarchies in the world of Game of Thrones, in the end, the fight against the Whites is the only one that actually matters. Unfortunately for the citizens of the Seven Kingdoms, many members of the elite have either dismissed the White’s existence entirely or have chosen to ignore them for self-serving power plays.