Good Critical Thinking On The Many Social Statements Of HBO’s Most Viewed Program
The HBO series Game of Thrones has known extreme popularity and success in the United States and abroad. It boasted the highest ever viewing of an HBO episode (“Game of Thrones”). The series is based off the book series A Song of Ice and Fire by George R. R. Martin. When observing the world of the show, one observes striking parallels between Westeros, the world of Game of Thrones, and our own modern society. Feminist questions present themselves and women in Westeros deal with the issue of gaining acceptance in male dominated social constructs. Multiple main characters deal with an aversion to the cultural label of “lady” and strive for other career paths. Just as the people of Westeros work through feminist issues similar to our own society, they also tend to embrace a largely secular humanist worldview. Most characters spurn religion and those who identify as particularly pious prove to be fools, frauds, or treacherous. Finally, the people in Martin’s epic deal with the issue of sexual desire that does not line up with the traditional view of society. Bisexual and homoerotic desire is not widely accepted by civilized society in Westeros. Homosexual characters must hide their desires and those that do not are looked upon as an oddity.
One of the key protagonists of the story is Arya Stark. Arya is a prepubescent girl for most of the story who struggles with fitting into the typical mold of a lady. Arya is often mistaken for a boy because of the way she dresses, talks, and generally prefers swordplay to sewing. Her role as a women struggling with a gender role is an ongoing story arch throughout the series. An even more striking figure of the feminist plight is Brienne. Brienne is a beloved character who stands out among other women of Westeros. She is over six feet tall, natural muscular, and not traditionally beautiful. She has no desire to be a stereotypical lady, but instead pursues a career as a knight.
In keeping with her desire to fit a knightly mold, she displays many of the qualities of a traditional fairy tale knight. She is honorable and trustworthy. She holds duty as the highest standard and strives to serve whoever her sworn lord is. She is fiercely loyal, brave, and heroic. She is the archetypical picture of a classical knight, while bearing the seeming contradiction of being a woman. The feminist dialogue is displayed with Brienne’s pairing to the character Jaime. Jaime is a tall, strong, handsome, blonde knight known for his prowess on the battlefield, yet notorious for breaking his oath and killing the king he was sworn to protect. His outward knightly appearance, paired with an irreverent and unknightly attitude contrast well with Brienne’s classical knightly traits. The female Brienne is the ideal Knight in Shining Armor. Jaime is literally a Knight in Shining Armor, but proves to be utterly devoid of knightly qualities.
At the beginning of their time together, Jaime takes every opportunity to make cruel japes and comments about Brienne’s failure to live up to the traditional standard of womanhood. His consistent mockery mirrors what Brienne has dealt with her entire life. Throughout their time together, Brienne maintains her identity as a knight, while not compromising her femininity and womanhood to those who would seek to strip it from her. She does not choose to “become a man,” but instead maintains her female identity while achieving knighthood. Brienne’s struggle to infiltrate a largely male subculture is reminiscent of military women in western society, particularly those in the United States. Many still do not accept women’s roles in the military and military women deal with much criticism. Brienne is a fitting parallel to the woman warrior of today.
The feminist dialogue can be observed in Jaime’s evolving attitude toward Brienne. He begins the story mocking her just like everyone else. As their time together continues, he gains a gradual respect for her. By the end of their time together, he gains a profound love and companionship with her. Though, this affection is not a romantic one, but reads more like the bond between two soldiers or two brothers-in-arms. The pivotal moment in his evolving attitude toward her comes when he steps up in front of others and recognizes Brienne’s knightship in order to save her from a bear (The Bear and the Maiden Fair). An evil group of men has cast her into a pit with a bear in order to mock her. Jaime must stand up to the men, recognize her for her own identity, and endure the mockery in turn. Here, the audience and Jaime together reach a point of recognition of Brienne as a knight.
Westeros culture, though seemingly one based of the Middle Ages, appears to be more based off of a secular humanist worldview. The social climate appears as 21st century America might if America were a land of castles rules by monarchs. The common man generally has no respect for the gods or a god and religion takes a back seat to other, more important practices. Characters with whom the audience connects generally have a low view of religion and often struggle with doubts. A striking dialogue on religion can be seen in the character Davos. Davos is a knight who loyally serves King Stannis. He begins the story with a traditional loyalty to the gods. He spurns the seemingly positive advances of Melisandre, a woman who claims to represent a Lord of Light. As Davos butts heads with Melisandre, he also deals with many hardships that ultimately cause him to doubt his gods.
Davos struggles include the loss of two of his sons. His struggles with doubt about the existence of gods or whether a good god would allow bad things to happen to Davos, a mostly loyal and devout man. Davos’ doubts further culminate when he must vie for King Stannis’ good graces against the woman Melisandre. Melisandre serves the Lord of Light. Her mysterious new religion claims to be one of light and goodness that scatters the terrors of the dark. Davos suspects more treacherous motives and soon his fears are realized. Melisandre ultimately corrupts the just King Stannis and literally births some sort of black demon that murder Stannis’ foes.
Melisandre and her religion are doubtless meant to appear cultish and dark, yet her claims at serving a Lord of Light suggest am interesting parallel to the Christian church and the God who is often called a Light in the Darkness. Melisandre ultimately proves to be a dark and evil character serving a dark and evil force. At a critical point in the story, Melisandre births a demon that sneaks into the camp of rival king Renly Baratheon’s camp and assassinates him (The Ghost of Harrenhal). She uses this power again to eliminate another strong foe of Stannis’. Davos observes this corruption of the once just and noble Stannis is outraged. His inner dialogue and eventual outright challenging of the Red Woman displays a man struggling with a religious identity only to see a supposed positive religion proving to be dark and treacherous. The parallels between Davos and the doubt that many disenchanted churchgoers feel is obvious. The breaking away from church in America is thus paralleled neatly in Westeros.
A striking dialogue exists regarding the question of non-traditional sexual identity. Westeros mirrors modern western culture in its views of homosexuality and homoerotic desire. While multiple characters are homosexuals or deal with homosexual situations in one form or another, the practice is typically seen as shameful and most character keep their practices secret. While some seem largely accepting of homosexual practices, others are quite adverse to it. Various situations are created in which characters question their own sexuality and the sexuality of others. Likewise, the social acceptability of homosexual sex is sometimes discussed. The most prominent arbiter for the homosexual debate in the show enters in a later season and is named Oberyn Martell.
Oberyn comes from a culture that is separate from the more traditional European society. His comes from a southern, desert climate that geographical resembles North Africa/Portugal. He describes his culture as being generally more progressive and accepting of hedonistic practices such as extramarital sex and orgies. He enjoys sex with both men and women and on multiple occasions is asked by other characters to explain his sexuality. This allows the for a dialogue on homosexual and bisexual desire that mirrors the discussion that many are having in modern western society. Oberyn defines his sexuality in one scene in which his is amidst multiple naked men and women. He claims that he does not discriminate when it comes to sex. He states, “When it comes to war, I fight for Dorne; when it comes to love, I don't choose sides (Valar Dohaeris)." Oberyn’s character is courageous, heroic, and emphatic and is a beloved fan favorite. Thus, his thoughts on sexuality are more viewed in a positive light and he is celebrated for his free thinking.
Every artist is influenced by his culture; thus, every author’s world displays traits from his own world. Martin’s world is clearly based heavily on modern western culture, particularly that of America. His characters deal with many of the same socioeconomic issues that are prevalent issues of our own society. The feminist question is given considerable attention, most notably in the character of Brienne and other characters’ changing attitudes toward her. Religion plays less and less of a positive role throughout Westeros. Religion is viewed more and more as fraudulent or insidious. Finally, sexual bahaviors once viewed as entirely taboo gain recognition and acceptance slowly, through dialogue and communication. Main characters are the clear deliverers of the creator’s message. The influence of Game of Thrones cannot be denied. Record-breaking viewership aside, the show recently became the most pirated program of all time (“GOT Becomes Most Pirated”). Game of Thrones’ voice is loud. The writers are clearly not wasting their platform. Works Cited
Hibberd, James. "'Game of Thrones' Gets Record Ratings: Biggest Audience since 'Sopranos' Finale." Entertainment Weekly. Entertainment Weekly Inc, 7 Apr. 2014. Web. 25 Mar. 2015.
Martin, George R.R., David Benioff, and D. B. Weiss. "The Bear and the Maiden Fair." Game of Thrones. HBO. 12 May 2013. Television.
Martin, George R.R., David Benioff, and D. B. Weiss. "The Ghost of Harrenhal." Game of Thrones. HBO. 29 Apr. 2012. Television.
Martin, George R.R., David Benioff, and D. B. Weiss. "Valar Dohaeris." Game of Thrones. HBO. 31 Mar. 2013. Television.
McGregor, Jay. "Game Of Thrones Season Finale Becomes Most Pirated Show In History." Forbes. Forbes Magazine, 17 June 2014. Web. 26 Mar. 2015.