The Philosophy of “Game of Thrones”

The global popularity of “Game of Thrones” can be partly ascribed to the many themes raised throughout the eight seasons of the American television series. Behind the first veil of medieval fantasy lurk the ghosts of Hobbes and Machiavelli and their depiction of political power as the deadliest game of chess imaginable. To conquer the ultimate position of power is one thing, but to exercise authority over a long period of time proves a tremendous challenge for the heroes of the series.

Domination and subversion are at the heart of political and sexual intrigues which only highlight the strong feelings of identity and loyalty (or disloyalty) pervading the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros. Without the unwavering trust shared by some remarkable individuals, society would simply break apart. Such is one of the important lessons of “Game of Thrones”.

Shakespeare also seems to have inspired the most dramatic and tragic moments of betrayal and revenge enacted by characters in search of their truth beyond their mad quest for power at all costs. Marginalised figures like Tyrion, Brad or Jon Snow are not unlike the ridiculed outcast figures in ‘King Lear’ or ‘Macbeth’. All aspire to some kind of public recognition and above all, respect. George R.R Martin created a world dominated by genetic, social and moral diversity. The well-born do not necessarily have the special privilege of courage or integrity. Anyone can prove himself or herself above the rest through some outstanding act of bravery.

Women play a central part in the unfolding of the long saga and far from being stereotyped, they prove just as calculating and conniving as their male counterparts. Like them, they are prepared to ruse and behave with heartless determination. But where are the simple folk, the people, in all this? They are just as invisible as in Machiavelli’s princely autocrat’s survival manual. Their fears and aspirations are articulated through the mouths of demagogues pledging their allegiance to one kingdom or another. The White Walkers represent the ultimate threat to societies obsessed with stability, if not harmony. They may be seen as the latest form of evil in the guise of hordes of zombies, poised to engulf everything and everyone in their unstoppable march.

As a political ‘thought experiment’, “Game of Thrones” considers many disaster scenarios which leave the viewer fascinated as well as wiser as to the psychological and moral complexity of human relations as well as the extreme fragility of all artificial constructs, be they fantasy kingdoms and contemporary nation-states.

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