7 Brilliant Ways Game of Thrones Mirrors Modern Society

It’s rare that a fantasy television series will have a global impact of the same magnitude as Game of Thrones.

tyrionNot only has the hit HBO show raked in millions for the Northern Ireland economy, laid the ground for a thriving local film and TV industry and inspired a generation of die-hard fans across the world, it has also spoken to its audience in a way that is increasingly relevant to our social climate.

Yes, Game of Thrones is a parade of sword-wielding knights, magic trees and fire-breathing dragons. But beyond the mystical allusions are several underlying historical messages that remain more appropriate than ever.

Some might say I am intellectualizing the show a little too much or glorifying it beyond the realm of fantasy fiction, but I disagree. There is a reason GoT has enjoyed unmatchable international success rather than dissolve into the void of TV fads gone-by after the first season.
Of course, the original story by George R. R Martin (A Song of Ice and Fire) is incredibly well-written and HBO have employed a vast range of diverse and talented actors to bring the show to life. But we often falsely assume that stories in the fantasy genre are a form of escapism; an imaginary reality far removed from our own.

episode-31-11-1280In spite of the constant violence, blood magic and time traveling children, Game of Thrones fans very quickly connected with the storyline. Ironically, it’s relatable.

Vice columnist Clive Martin has categorically dismissed Game of Thrones, and the entire fantasy genre in fact, for its escapism. He said:“I’ve always seen it as a culture that tends to be adored by people who can’t quite deal with the chaos of the real world”

If there is a large degree of escapism offered by Game of Thrones, it is almost certainly tinged with recognition. Here are seven ways Game of Thrones draws great parallels with contemporary society and is a lot more relevant than we first might have believed…

Denial of Climate Change

Could the threat of the Army of the Dead and the fact that Winter Is Coming in Westeros (or has, in fact, arrived) be some sort of a societal mirror of our denial of climate change and the impact our lifestyles are having on the environment? Many theorists seem to believe so.

hardhomeCharli Carpenter, Political Scientist at the University of Massachusets, calls Game of Thrones a “collective action story”. In her article “Game of Thrones As Theory”, she says: “The story of the Northern Wall and the forces it holds at bay is about the mistaken belief that the industrial civilization can stand against the changing forces of nature.”

The noble houses are too busy squabbling over the Kingdom to recognise the real existential threat they are facing, no one really wants to admit that the Long Night is coming (except Jon Snow, of course, who has been going on about it from the start), and many characters deny the existence of the White Walkers entirely…ring a bell?

Call me a conspiracy theorist if you will, but the idea of an impending radical change in weather along with the threat of Death itself is undeniably a great reflection of our current environmental issues.

Increasing Awareness Of Political Corruption

One of GoT’s most obvious parallels with our own world is the representation of corrupt political systems, where those in power further their own aims at the cost of, well, everyone else.

trump2Historically, politicians have always been prone to duality and philandering, but as the working classes face increasing social and economic crises, division and unrest, this aspect of the show is now more relevant than ever. If anything, being based on medieval European history, it disturbingly reflects how little has changed within our political systems.

PM David Cameron, Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton and a host of other political figures have been embroiled in public scandals over recent years (“Piggate”, anyone?). The public are becoming increasingly aware of Western government corruption and our inability to rely or trust those in charge, just as GoT characters in the North have been rebelling against the Lannisters since Bran was thrown out of a tower after discovering siblings Cersei and Jaime in a…er…compromising position.

The Rise Of The Feminine Archetype

Let’s face it, at this point women are basically ruling the Seven Kingdoms. Female roles have changed and evolved throughout the 6 seasons, from victims to conquerors, from subordinates to rulers and major game players.

Daenerys, Yara, Cersei, Arya, Brienne, Sansa and even ten-year-old Lyanna Mormont have overpowered the patriarchy over the last two seasons and this correlates interestingly with the current theory that civilization is being driven by a rising feminine archetype.

Historically, societies have been predominantly governed by masculine energy which is said to be located in the left side of our brain and governs the part of us that is assertive, logical, analytical, controlling, aggressive, striving, organizing, rushing and always pushing to survive.

Many psychologists argue that the right side of the brain holds feminine qualities including that which is creative, intuitive, nurturing, receptive, surrendering, synthesizing, integrating, and has its roots in the heart rather than the mind. Regardless of our gender, we all have varying degrees of these male and female qualities and use both left and right brain to different extents.

Author Deepak Chopra was joined by scholar, philosopher and researcher Dr Jean Houston in 2013 to discuss feminine archetypes and how a rise in feminine qualities in both men and women is due to affect civilization. Check out the video here.

Religious Extremism

There have been many comparisons between Game of Thrones and events unfolding in the Middle East, and the militant actions of the Sparrows share stark similarities with the religious extremism we are seeing in other parts of the world.

ep60-ss03-1280Eugene Simon, who plays extremist monk Lancel Lannister in the show, said at the MCM Comic Con in London last year: “The fact that we were filming this season while current affairs are going on was even more harrowing. I couldn’t stop thinking ‘the timing of this is so terrifyingly inappropriate and appropriate.’ ”

The violent methods employed in the show, including torture and beheadings, are not dissimilar to those used by Islamic State groups, and the atmosphere of anxiety and uncertainty surrounding what the Faith Militant will do next is eerily familiar.

Capitalism And Neo-Feudalism

In many ways, GoT depicts the effects of capitalism on society; the advancing of the rich at the cost of the poor, the 1% versus the rest. But more disturbingly, it presents an unsettling amount of similarities with the direction in which society is moving that many are terming “Neo-Feudalism”.

60-omg-moment-512In 2014, US venture capitalist, Nick Hanauer, said in “Ultra-rich man’s letter: ‘To My Fellow Filthy Rich Americans: The Pitchforks Are Coming.’ ” (www.topinfopost.com): “Our country is rapidly becoming less a capitalist society and more a feudal society… If we don’t do something to fix the glaring inequities in this economy, the pitchforks are going to come for us.”

…I can just picture Tyrion Lannister saying this to Cersei and Tywin at a Small Council meeting.

Defined on Wikipedia as “a theorized contemporary rebirth of policies of governance, economy, and public life reminiscent of those present in many feudal societies, such as unequal rights and legal protections for common people and for nobility.”, Neo-Feudalism certainly fits the definition of a modern society where “individuals’ public lives are increasingly governed by business corporations” and “corporations have power similar to states’ governance powers.”

Academicalism hit the nail on the head: “Game of Thrones is not “escapist,” it’s an allegory of today’s new feudalism.”

Fear Of “The Other”

Encouraging a fear of “the other” has been common practice within government bodies and the media throughout the ages. Native American Indians, communists, Jews, homosexuals…the list of targeted groups goes on.

portrait-1532327_960_720 (1)Game of Thrones does a great job of reflecting this fear of “other”, how it drives both personal behaviour and societal practices, and how manufactured and unnecessary this fear-mongering process usually is.

The Dothraki are now the impending ‘threat’ from the east, which could certainly hint at modern day attitudes and generalizations towards Muslims and even refugees.

The Wildlings and those North of the Wall in Game of Thrones are treated with suspicion and disdain, and even the divide between the North and South of Westeros is marred by this age-old perception.

But what is important is that this Medieval mindset is STILL present. Historically, we tend to remake the same mistakes in cycles, and this fear of the “other” is still very much a driving force behind war and conflict.

A Consciousness Shift

New-Agers and modern day prophets have been noting a “consciousness shift” that has allegedly been occurring since the 1960’s, and there is actually plenty of evidence to suggest we could be dramatically shifting on a global scale, energetically, spiritually and even genetically.

ep60-ss10-1280Dr. Berrenda Fox, a holistic practitioner of the Avalon Wellness Centre in Mt Shasta, California, said in an interview with Patricia Resch: “There are major changes, (DNA) mutations that haven’t occurred, according to geneticists, since the time we supposedly came out of the water. We are making an evolutionary change, yet we don’t know what we are changing into.”

Game of Thrones fans have been quick to theorize about the show’s continual underlying messages that imply a shift in the way society is operated; a significant global change that abandons old social systems and gives birth to new, fairer and more balanced ones.

After all, Winter Is Coming. And after winter comes Spring, or A Dream of Spring, as George R.R Martin has titled the seventh book on which the series is based. The future lies in the hands of the newer generation, and young Game of Thrones characters like Bran Stark, Daenerys Targaryen, Yara Greyjoy and Lyanna Mormont are destroying archaic systems (slavery, pillaging and the idea that women cannot be rulers to name a few) to make way for a new era.

I think the important message here is that history has been repeating itself for hundreds of years and it is up to the younger generation to stop the cycle. In the words of Daenerys Targaryen herself: “I’m not going to stop the wheel, I’m going to break the wheel.”

ep59-ss06-1280And yet these young, “revolutionary” characters are not without their faults. There is no naive vision of a Utopian society, and their failings and inner conflicts display the enormous psychological complexities of both those within the show and the real world.

This is probably my favourite Game of Thrones/real-life parallel; the fantastic representation of moral ambiguity within the characters is more reflective of reality than any so-called “Reality TV Show”.

Characters are not defined as goodies and baddies (well, Ramsay Bolton may be an exception), situations are not black and white and this dichotomy is displayed in such a way that viewers are reminded that good and evil are inevitably woven into human nature.

In that vein, we can almost predict the nature of the ending while at the same time gain a little insight into the outcomes of our own social systems should they continue in the same way.

There won’t be a triumph over “good” and “bad”, the two will always be in constant motion. But a more effective, evolved channeling of these coexisting forces could be what actually shifts the world into a more peaceful state.


About the Author

Abby Williams
Belfast based author/writer specialising in entertainment, mental health and human interest.