It’s hard to say anything new or interesting about Game of Thrones. Fan sites proliferate, and theories abound regarding which of the warring Westeros clans will end up ruling. When I first got hooked on it, I thought British history might provide a clue. After all, the two main families the story follows are the Starks and the Lannisters–read House of York vs House of Lancaster, and we’re back at the Wars of the Roses. The Starks are from the North, the Lannisters from the Midlands, and early on in the first season, the reigning monarch, King Robert Baratheon, a bluff and hearty sensualist could plausibly have been based on Henry Bolingbroke (Henry IV). And there’s a high medieval feel to it; tournaments, some semblance of chivalry, bear baiting, dynastic marriages. But there seem to be many other influences. The Dothraki seem based on Genghis Khan’s Mongols, the Ironborn feel really Viking to me, and the Great Wall to the north, obviously, could refer to, well, another Great Wall.
Basically, the show is about seven families competing for one throne. It’s about politics. It’s about scheming, fighting, alliances formed and betrayed. It’s also about medieval warfare–it’s really exceptionally, brutally violent. But it’s addictive, in part, because of the Game itself–which family will win, who will end up ruling? Watching the third season, I couldn’t help but notice that an actor named Will Tudor was in one episode, playing an exceedingly minor character named Olyvar. Felicitous name, that. Olyvar’s a character about as prominent in this series as Owen Tudor was in British politics ca. 1399–I therefore predict that Olyvar’s grandson will eventually ascend to the Iron Throne. And that his granddaughter will become England’s most formidable monarch.
Or, you know, get eaten by a dragon. ‘Cause I don’t really recall a lot of stuff about dragons in Shakespeare’s history plays. Shame that; woulda been nice to see what Shakespeare could have done with dragons.
But that’s one of the fascinating things about Game of Thrones. It’s a fantasy series. There’s magic, there are witches and magicians and also, sort of, zombies, and there are definitely dragons. But this isn’t like the Harry Potter universe, where magic is used to stir the soup. Magic is rare in Westeros. Right now, end of the third season, the dragons haven’t done all that much. That’s not to say that the dragons are irrelevant, or unimportant, or uninteresting–it’s more like they represent potential. At some point, Daenerys Targaryen, Mother of Dragons and the Dothraki Khaleesi will come to battle against the other armies of Westeros, and when she does, the dragons prove formidable.
But decisive? Who knows? After all, Daenerys’ dragons aren’t the only magical elements in play. Stannis Baratheon also has magic on his side; the priestess Melisandra, who seems to practice fire magic, including, apparently, the ability to raise the dead. And if Jon Snow ever makes it back from the North to help his half-brother, Robb Stark, he may bring zombies along too.
I’m a little constrained here–I don’t know if y’all reading this know the show. Or have read the books–which I have not done. And if you haven’t seen any episodes of the show, I’m not sure how to advise you. Saturday Night Live memorably spoofed the show, in a skit in which Game of Thrones employs a thirteen-year-old boy consultant. His job: to make sure there are naked women in every possible scene. The show has been accused of sexism for that reason, with good reason. So you know your own viewing preferences–be warned.
And yet, there are tremendously powerful female characters as well. Daenerys is incredibly compelling, as is Diana Rigg, as Olenna Tyrell. And of course, Cersei Lannister’s an amazing and strong character, though pure evil. And Brienne, the blonde Amazon warrior, is a great fighter, and a wonderfully rounded character. Her relationship with Jaime Lannister is one of the most interesting in the show.
So who is going to win? Who will emerge victorious? If you’ll forgive a little fan-boy speculation:
The Lannisters are in power now, end of Season Three. They’re rich and powerful, and Tywin is one tough old man–advised by the evil but brilliant forces of Cersei and Jaime. But King Joffrey is a disgusting, cowardly, vile, creepy little twerp. Ultimately Kings have to rule, and he’ll never prove up to the task. The brightest and best of the Lannisters, Tyrion, is also the one they never pay attention to, because he’s played by Peter Dinklage. I think he may ultimately desert his worthless sister and vicious father. And who knows about Jaime?
We all like the Starks, and root for them. But Robb Stark, for all his virtues, always struck me as good at tactics, but not at strategy; exactly the kind of general who wins every battle, but loses the war. And when he was betrayed and murdered, it was shocking and disturbing, but not terribly surprising–we all saw it coming a long way off. The Starks, however, still have their brightest members alive and kicking: the youngest–exiled Arya and crippled Bran, both of them children who seem capable of broader strategic planning than their brother ever seemed up to. Or their Mom: Catelyn, (the amazing Michelle Fairley) was also capable of the most appalling strategic blunders.
As for Stannis Baratheon, he’s got religion on his side, and magic, but he’s a lightweight. He’ll be the first to fall, I suspect. And the Tyrells are interestingly untrustworthy, but their scheming won’t lead to power, I think. Wealth, and influence, yes.
No, I really think it’s going to be Daenerys. What an incredible character. She’s grown, from a weak and frightened child, forced to marry by her brother, a terrified bride to a warrior husband. She learned to love, she became Dothraki. She’s learned how to inspire, how to conspire, how to lead. She’s the finest natural leader of all the clan captains. And she has dragons to fight for her.
Above all, though, it’s a great TV show. It’s amazingly complex and interesting. I mean, it has 200 characters, and seems completely willing to introduce new ones anytime. I came to it late, but I’m utterly addicted now.