Game of Thrones

Fausto Hernandez delves into the weirwood roots behind the Game of Thrones, the cultural phenomenon that has caused furor for its  plot twists and brazen scenes. Not merely a Sunday escapade, as the show is tailored to appeal to America today.

Eight million viewers tune in every Sunday to indulge in Game of Thrones, the heart-pounding tale George R.R. Martin has spun. An epic power struggle, spanning several great houses, captivatingly exotic locations and a talented cast’s tale of glory or doom. The show has pervaded popular culture, social media and even hosts glamorous season debuts in New York. Its widespread success begs the question: what’s the secret behind its stellar success?  

Perhaps, despite the fictitious setting, modern society has more in common with Westeros than we care to admit. From Danny’s destruction of the patriarchy that dominates the political hierarchy from Dorne to Vaes Dothrak, to the struggles of Brienne, a woman in a male professional environment (even if this is knighthood), the show highlights several key issues of gender, wealth inequality and discrimination, among others, as part of the adverse circumstances facing our mostly-endeared cast (few have an affinity for Iwan Rheon’s character, Ramsay Bolton).

The media has been capable of advancing an agenda, and Game of Thrones is no exception

in every story of Game of Thrones we see a key social issue being demarcated and the show taking a firmly progressive stance. For a pseudo-medieval setting in a paternalistic society, it has gratifyingly liberal values that resonate with current equality movements and prominent issues faced today. It makes the case that such maladies have always sickened society. Of course, the justification for the show’s notorious violence and nudity is realism, but in a sense, the depiction of such issues and struggles make the show much more realistic than its most mangled, explicit murder.

Daenerys’ conquest, specifically episode in which she boldly states that she will do the job better than any man, prompted loud cheers from all who watched it: she was actively dismantling the male supremacy through her fiery reform, might I add, with style. Sam’s underappreciated talents and ruddy complexion, a result of his lack of comformation to the male stereotypes of the era, invoke viewers’ pity and create empathy that may discourage at least one of the eight million viewers from mocking individuals based on their physique.

A fan favorite, Tyrion Lannister has not only propelled Peter Dinklage to fame, but has also made viewers reflect on the struggles of people challenged with circumstances most are free of, and having to toil long and hard to earn respect and recognition when some, like his brother Jaime, seem to have it all. The list goes on: Arya rebelled against the stringent etiquette and expectations of a lady of her class and is instead training to become a badass assassin, which is why we love her. Please, Benioff, let her live!

The Syrian refugee crisis and recent endemic of xenophobia throughout Europe and the United States may be best represented by John Snow’s wildling host: a great many minutes of airtime are devoted to conveying the nature of these misunderstood people, who despite their burly ways are as human at heart as lord Randyll Tarly of Horn Hill. Their talent is needed, but hindered by a Northern prejudice that dismisses them all as rapists, murderers and uncivilized. Sound familiar? They are even on the other side of a wall!

the theme of social inequality

Perhaps most striking of all, as a feudal tale, is the theme of social inequality and class that proliferates with each episode, which is fiercely attacked throughout the seasons. The aristocratic families of seemingly cemented wealth and power, in contrast to the beggars and sparrows, even echoes Senator Sanders’ crucial role in bringing attention to the social issue. The topic is criticized from Myca’s brutal slaughter (the butcher’s son who practiced wooden sword fighting with Aria in the first season) at Jeoffrey’s hands to the recent loss of power of the Lannisters and Tyrrells, as their oppression and festering disdain for the poor has spawned a formidable threat to their dominance.

Of course, the audience is drawn to realistic, human characters (despite their oversimplification in the series compared to the books, in order to better represent a blatant archetype) and the dragons may help to stave off the monotony of the audience’s weekly routine, but the show’s true success does not come from its majestic scenery, ever-improving special effects or formidable costumes.

complex moral issues

It comes from the reflection the show induces: complex moral issues and character transformations induct discussion on religion – where many interpretations and philosophies are represented, from egregiously pious hypocrisy to a spiritual philosophy that propagates peace – class, gender inequality, honor and ambition. Indeed, as we have seen in this election, National power struggles are often more brutal than Game of Throne’s bloodiest deaths, and often occur between established power figures.  Additionally, the most gratifying tales are those of initial suffering and hard-earned victory, a cornerstone of the American dream. Although, sometimes, life is harsh and virtue isn’t enough to secure a happy ending, even to your own wedding.

Game of Thrones is the embodiment of socially active media. It accurately represents many of today’s most pressing issues, even if they lack the plate mail and stone keeps in our daily lives. As the death toll rises and characters clamor for our favorite spot, let us not only be passive viewers who cheers for what we cherish, but be activists and revolutionaries in our own kingdoms. Let us play the Game of Thrones, and win.

Photo Credit: Sophie McAulay /

Fausto Hernandez is currently residing in Mexico City. So far he has experienced New York, Miami and London, his birthplace. Fausto was the fellow of 2015 Yale Global Scholars in Politics, Law and Economics,...

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