It’s that time of year again, our dear summer children. Game of Thrones will be returning to television for its seventh season, and we here at The NYRD, thought it would be a good time to delve into the series and -again- talk about why it resonates with modern viewing audiences. Now, let’s be clear, there is a lot of parallels we can obviously choose from: narcissistic mad rulers, climate change, and even over-the-top violence. However, we want to go a little deeper with this, so today we are going to be looking at Game of Thrones as an interregnum. What is an interregnum? Well, glad you asked…
A Song of Interregnum and Fire
George RR Martin loves to borrow from history when it comes to Game of Thrones, and the concept of the interregnum is no different. The world literally translates as “between reigns,” and historically refers to periods like the Great Interregnum, which started in 1250, when the Holy Roman Emperor died and there were no clear successors. It lasted for 23 years as various contenders vied, fought, and back-stabbed their way to the throne. Sound familiar?
More generally, the term has come to symbolize a period of time when societies and governments are in flux. It is a time often characterized by the breakdown of traditions, the decay of long-held values, and general upheaval and uncertainty. Look at the world of Game of Thrones. After Robert Baratheon dies, the seven kingdoms break down into literal warring factions over who should be king. The tradition-steeped Night’s Watch has decayed into little more than a ragtag group of criminals and misguided bastards. The Freys break longstanding and conventional morality to murder the Stark family while they dine under the protection of their roof. All of this is indicative of an interregnum, a time when it feels as if the very fabric of a familiar society is tearing itself apart.
It is also what makes Game of Thrones so fascinating to us in the modern world, because it could be argued that the world -and specifically America- is currently in an interregnum. Now, we’re not just talking about what’s going on this year, at this moment. After all, we may have a President with record low approval ratings, bags of governmental uncertainty, and plenty of people complaining that the very moral fiber of our civilization is unraveling faster that someone’s internal organs after they’ve been sliced by Valyrian steel. We are not even talking about our own impeding white walker doom that is constantly hanging over our heads. You see our interregnum and the success of Game of Thrones has nothing to do with Trump, or even Obama. We’re Americans, and we always exist in a constant state of interregnum.
Red, Blue, and White Walkers
The English Interregnum lasted from 1649 to 1660, and -similar to Robert’s Rebellion- it was preceded by a Civil War that ended in the execution of the former king, Charles I. After that, the English monarch and parliament were briefly replaced by a council and a lord protectorate. It ended when Charles II was put on throne and parliament was reestablished in 1660. The English Interregnum -like all the historical and non-dragon-related interregnums of our world- is significant because it marks a departure from business as usual, which for most of recorded history has been monarchies. Kings, queens, and their progeny ruled nations both big and small for centuries, and despite all the failings of monarchy -or even tyranny- the good ones do give a sort of steady and reliable structure.
However, we do not live in a monarchy. In fact, the United States of America was born and continues to exist in a sort of long interregnum. The colonists threw out the British monarchy and established a democracy, creating a cycle of short leadership and uncertain politics. Add to this that every decade, every year, and even every week, we now have some new piece of technology or social advancement that continues to disrupt our status quo. So, to many our world may seem more chaos than order. Regardless of where you fall on the political spectrum, we cannot shake a feeling of uncertainty when we think about a future under Obama, or under Trump, or under one of the Bushes, or under one of the Clintons, or under Hoover, or Johnson, or even Millard Fillmore. There is no guarantee that the things we value will be shared by the person in power for the next four to eight years. That means we have real stakes in each election. So, each election becomes like the War of Five Kings -or in the case of the GOP Primaries, the War of Five Kings and like Twenty Other Guys.
Our ancestors lived using the same technology and adhering to the same religious and philosophical understandings as their grandparents and their great grandparents. The most uncertain times they ever had were when the monarchy changed hands. In modern times, we experience that transfer of power every four years. Meanwhile, our grandparents and great grandparents are still trying to figure out how to set the clock on the VCR that we threw away ten years ago. Modern times moves fast, and whether its gay marriage or the newest iPhone, our lives are completely different than the one’s lived by any generation who preceded us. The interregnum of Game of Thrones is relatable to modern Americans because we live and work in constant political and moral ambiguity.
The Winds of What’s Next?
Politics in America have become hugely divided between left and right. It’s a gap that has been growing since the 80’s, and in this war of ideas, we like to paint our political side as the good guys, the smart ones, the just ones, etc. Yet, let’s face it, that’s a very wrong way of looking at the world, as Game of Thrones often shows. With the exception of one or two characters, no character is ever portrayed as truly good or truly bad. Our sympathies for people like Jamie, or the Hound, or even Cersei change all the time. So how come -in the real world- we don’t give the same courtesy to our own political adversaries, especially those on Ye Olde Facebook? Maybe if we started considering that, then maybe elections would feel less like the Red Wedding.
Another characteristic of an interregnum is that things can change. After the wars and the conflicts subside new traditions, new philosophies, and new values all arise. Let’s return to the example of the Night’s Watch. After the chaos of the last White Walker invasion, the Night’s Watch was established, as was the Wall. It was an entire new knightly order that broke boundaries of lineage, nationality, and even economic standing. Thousands of honorable men, both noble and common, manned castles and strongholds all along the Wall. They stood as silent and valiant watchers over the safety of the world. There is every indication that after the climax of Game of Thrones, the Night’s Watch may be reborn again, or something new entirely will arise to take its place.
The journeys of Daeny, Jon, and even Tyrion would not be possible in a world of stable leadership. Jon Snow is born a bastard, but he’s able to work his way up to great heights. So, yes, our world feels constantly in flux. Our politics, our culture, our values, and everything around us changes faster than a single human life span. In the days of our ancestors those types of changes took decades -if not centuries- except for periods of interregnum. We relate to Game of Thrones, because on some level we keenly understand the uncertainty, maybe more than any other generation in history. We live in a new paradigm, a perpetual interregnum, but that also means we are living in a era of perpetual possibility.