Ned Stark

The season finale of Game of Thrones has come and gone, but everyone is still talking about it. In terms of shock value this past season did not have the same impact as some of its former seasons. George RR martin’s masterpiece has always been hailed for its subversive nature. It has always been a tale that defies the expectations of its readers and watchers, but maybe it has just demonstrated that its most genius subversion is of itself. After all, Ned Stark died in season 1, but as season 7 has shown, he still wins and maybe Game of Thrones is not as unconventional as we would like to think.

Spoilers a-head… get it? because Ned Stark lost his… oh forget it.

The Disemboweled Head of the Family
Season 1 is all about Eddard Stark, the noble head of the most noble house in Westeros. Ned is strong, and brave, and caring, and everything you could want in a hero. He is honorable and trustworthy to a fault. He dies because of it. The first season of the shows gives us a pretty compelling argument that Ned Stark’s inability to adapt and scheme are what get him killed. He fails because he is too intractable in his morals and too unwilling to do unsavory, but necessary, things. Because of this, his family falls apart and the Starks -the oldest house in the seven kingdoms- are nearly wiped from the face of Westeros. Thus, season 1 sets up the main narrative of the show, where the moral die and the schemers gain power.

Except, no they don’t. Season 7 is a subversion of that very premise. If there is one thing that sticks out in this past season it is the lack of gut-wrenching turn of events. There were no Red Weddings or exploding churches, or any “Episode 9 Surprises.” Of course, there was no Episode 9, and this could -at least- partially be blamed on the fact that HBO has exceeded Martin’s original vision, -and is now purely writing Game of Thrones for viewers to enjoy- but we think there is more going on. After all, take a look at what happened in this season, the Starks are winning again. They are stronger than ever before.

Ned Stark may be dead, but his children are succeeding based upon the lessons and bonds that he taught them. To Ned, the idea of family was always the most important thing anyone could value. That was why the “argument” between Sansa and Arya never felt right through the entire season. Yes, they were two very different little girls, but nothing we knew of them suggested that either could be coerced into killing one another. That is because Ned Stark created a family bond that defied the scheming of Littlefinger, and in the end it was Petyr Baelish who finally got what he deserved, at the point of his own dagger. Granted they had some help from Professor Brandon Xavier, but it was still the values of Ned Stark that kept the sisters strong through suspicion.

You Know Nothing, Cersei Lannister
Jon Snow basically spent this entire season of Game of Thrones Jon Snowing his way through every situation. We may have learned that Jon is not really Ned’s biological son, but he is the most Ned Stark-like character on the show. His unbending morals and trustworthy nature could have gotten him killed more than once, but those were the very traits that saved him. At the beginning of the season he went to Daenerys, unarmed and virtually alone -except for Davos. All indications in past Game of Thrones episodes tell us that that is always a bad idea. Yet, Jon did it, and he not only got what he wanted, but that relationship of honor and trust -and unbridled Snow lust- is what got the Dragon Queen herself to come swooping down to save his beautiful cold behind when he was trapped by the Night King’s army.

At the climax of this past season, Jon refused to lie to Cersei. He refused to compromise his honor, which is the very thing Ned did in season 1. The elder Stark was killed because of it, but Jon was not. In fact, despite his unwillingness to lie, Cersei still -kinda- pledged her armies to fight the Night King, and Jon cemented his bond with Daenerys. Thus, he managed to not only avoid being killed by the meanest woman in Westeros, but won the love of the most powerful woman in Westeros. Maybe what George RR Martin -or at least HBO- is trying to tell us is that the kind of honor and loyalty displayed by the Starks may not always win in the short term, but in the long run it is the very thing that builds stable societies and earns trust among the powerful and the peasants alike.

The schemers like Littlefinger may win for a time, but in the end they get what they deserve. Cersei may rule -for a time- but her reign is like a castle made of sand. Once all the scheming is done you are only left with paranoia, fear, and a very small circle of people who are only invested in keeping you in power for their own benefit. Paranoia grows, fear fades, and eventually a better offer is going to come along for those she trusts. Even Daeny is more of a conqueror than a ruler. She earns the love of the people, but Game of Thrones has demonstrated that that is not enough. Jon Snow, with the lessons taught to him by Ned Stark, earns the respect of both noblemen and small folk. Honor and nobility are not easy. They are not shortcuts to power, but in the end they are the foundations that build kingdoms.

A Dragon! My Seven Kingdoms for a Dragon!
Now, you may have found this past season to be a bit of a let down. After all, Game of Thrones is supposed to be shocking. We are supposed to be constantly afraid for our favorite characters, and maybe we -secretly- even get a little satisfaction from external confirmation that strong morals only lead to disaster. Well, if history has show us anything it is that, such upheaval does not last forever. The interregnum always comes to a close, sooner or later. If you don’t believe us, than believe Shakespeare. Season 7 has really begun to remind us of the last half of Richard III.

For the less cultured out there, it is the play about a scheming Richard III who masterfully manipulates himself onto the throne of England. Unfortunately, once he reaches that position of power he learns that scheming is not enough to be a leader. He becomes consumed with paranoia, plagued by his past deeds, and eventually faces rebellions and desertion. He dies on the sword of a much more fit and honorable (and exiled) ruler. Does that sound at least a little familiar.

So, yes, Game of Thrones has spent six seasons subverting our expectations of heroes and villains and narrative story structure, but now it is subverting our expectations again. It turns out, that it is just a story, where there are heroes and villains and narrative structure. We are running out of main characters who can safely die without affecting the story’s ending, and we are learning that Ned Stark was right. His brand of honor may not always win, but it is the very thing that will restore peace and stability to Westeros. The Seven Kingdoms need a leader they can rely on and trust, like Ned Stark and like Jon Snow. Cersei and Littlefinger may kill, and scheme, and succeed in the moment, but in the end it is the memory and lessons of Ned Stark that will carry -not just Jon Snow- but the entire realm through the Long Night.

 

game of thrones

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.

Olympics

Hello and Valar Morghulis to all our viewers at home.

We want to welcome you back to our final week of coverage and our recap of the Westeros Olympics. It has been an exciting festival of talent and competition this year. Isn’t that right, Chuck?… Chuck?

Hold on, I’m being told that Chuck died. The note I have just been handed says that he was crushed to death by a falling bell after the Sept of Balor exploded. A truly horrible way to go, for such a decorated newsman. Let us have a moment of silence, and now we’re back.

I would like to welcome my guest co-host for today’s report, Ser Bronn of the Blackwater. Welcome, Ser Bronn.

You can cut the Ser, shite.

Right, of course… And now let’s take a look at some of the best and worst moments of these games so far. And as always, if you have not  been keeping up with the games, we want to remind you that there will be spoilers ahead.

10. Opening Ceremonies

Of course, we can’t forget the opening ceremonies, the pageantry, the parade of houses, and the unforgettable national anthem. It was quite a spectacular event. Don’t you agree Bronn?

Oh right. My favorite part was when all those musicians stood up and shot half the Stark team with crossbows. It really was… what word did you use… unforgettable pageantry.

Yes, that was unfortunate, but the Olympic torch burned brighter than I have ever seen it…

Well, it helped that that red witch put that little girl in the flame. I suppose, at least her screams drowned out all the moaning of those dying Stark men. A truly magical event, I’d say.

9. Diving

Well, the first event at least was an show of true poise and grace. The diving event has always been known as one of the most elegant and impressive expressions of sportsmanship and craft that these games have to offer. Taking bronze in the event was team Stark, with a somewhat of a sloppy dive from their young contender Brann.

It looked more like he was pushed to me.

The things we all do for love, but it was nothing compared to the performance by Lysa of team Arryn.

Aye, her screams of terror where truly elegant and impressive. It’s a long way down from that moon door. I know.

That meant that gold went to young Tommen of team Baratheon. His dive was perfect, well timed and with out the usual flailing that you so often get in this event. The audience could not have asked for a better performance and the judges agreed.

It’s only a shame he didn’t actually land in water.

8. Winemanship

This year the competition has been fierce in the wining department. The two strongest competitors by far were Samwise of team Tarly and Viserys of the Targaryen. Now Daenerys, Visery’s own sister, appeared to be a strong contender ever since she lost her dragons, but she is a relative unknown, and quickly got left behind.

Then, old Sammy boy went and found his dragon glass if you know what I mean.

I do not, but that was enough for Visery to find himself on the winner’s podium in this Olympic Wine competition. This seasoned veteran spent most of his time complaining about his lost throne, making vague and empty threats against his sister, even as he was molesting her, and basically perfecting the art of being a complete and utter loser.

He was a dick.

That is why so many people were thrilled to see him finally get the gold. It was certainly a memorable moment when that molten metal was poured over him like the true champion he is.

7. Trial by Combat

Next up is everyone’s favorite competition of these Olympic games, because everyone always seems to request it. Yes, we are talking about Trial by Combat, something my co-host knows a little about. Our viewers at home might remember you from your performance in the Trial by Combat event at the last Westeros Olympics, when you soundly defeated Ser Vardis Egan. What an exciting match that was.

Exciting? I threw his shiny metal arse out into a hundred foot free fall.

Yes, but you got the gold.

Well I got the only gold that matters to me. The shiny stuff I can use to pay for drink and women.

Yes, well this year’s gold medalist was Ser Gregor “The Mountain” Clegane. This giant of a man had his Lannister team worried for a bit as it looked like the underdog from team Martell, Oberyn, might walk away with the prize.

Ehh, that flashy pole dancer never stood a chance. All that jumping around and twirling. It looks good, but take it from me, that sort of shite is just a fancy way to die.

Well that is something that The Mountain certain drove home to Oberyn during their match.

Aye, he drove it home through his head?

6. Boating

Of course, the one event that people will be talking about for years to come with these Westros Olympics is the tragedy of the Boating competition. Stannis of team Baratheon looked like he had it all sowed up, but as we well know that was not meant to be.

Well it boats tend not to work when they’re o fire

Yes, it seems that due to pollution and flammable nature of the harbor Stannis’ victory was cut short, but it could have been worse. He could have caught Zika. So, by default the win went to the brother and sister team of Theon and Yarra of the Greyjoys.

I thought her name was Asha?

I don’t think it really matters. What does matter is that these two are making people stand up and take notice.

Aye, it’s a shame that Theon can no longer… you know… stand up and take notice.

A shame indeed, Bronn, a shame indeed.

5. Archery

One of the most traditional sports in these games is the Archery competition, and there have been many contenders in this category. Everyone from Joffrey of Baratheon to Myranda of team Bolton to those musicians who killed the Stark team. All have tried their hands at this event.

Aye, and most have died horrible deaths.

It does seem that if you live by the arrow than you die by the arrow, and that was certainly the fact for our bronze medal contender. Ygritte of the Wildling nation was a fan favorite here for a long time. She proved her archery skills by killing Pip a beloved friend of one Jon Snow, but he knew nothing about that. Unfortunately, she fell herself to an arrow by another contender, Olly of the Night’s Watch. The silver medal went to Ramsey of team Bolten for taking down a giant, but even that feat couldn’t  hold a candle to the gold medalist in this competition, Tyrion of team Lannister.

You got love that little sod. He pays well too.

Well a Lannister always pays his debts and he certainly proved that when he put one right between the heart of his father, Tywin. It was a moment that made the crowds cheer and question if killing someone on the toilet was going perhaps a bit too far.

I’d say that matters if they were done or not.

Thank you for that visual, Bronn.

4. 400 Meter Dash

There is only one name everyone is talking about in this event, Rickon of team Stark.

Poor little bastard.

As many of our viewers have pointed out on social media this scrappy Olympic Stark contender should have zigged when he instead zagged and paid the price in a heart breaking loss. It was a tragic end for this Cinderella story.

I mean c’mon. Serpentine patterns. Don’t they teach folks nothing up in those fancy castles.

Truer words were never spoken.

3. Pie Eating Contest

The pie eating contest is an honored and time-worn tradition of these Olympic games. For years the man to beat was the relatively unknown, Hot Pie.

I mean c’mon, it’s in the kids name.

True, but that was until this year when a new champion took home the gold, Joffrey of team Baratheon. He proved that no person out there could eat a pie like him.

Nor choke to death on one neither.

Sadly, during his gold medal attempt the young Baratheon boy choked to death on the very pie that won him the competition, turning as blue as the blueberries that were baked into the award winning pastry.

2. Scheming

This competition was neck and neck from the start, with Tywin of team Lannister seeming like the clear winner until his run was cut short.

Yeah, much like his shite.

Taking up his crown was his daughter Cersei, and certainly Eddard of team Stark would agree that she is a worthy opponent. Poor Ned finished dead last in this competition. It was the kind of performance where you just know heads are going to roll. Yet for Cersei, she found herself quickly faltering by making shaky alliances with religions and then resorting to naked terrorism in order to solver her problems.

Aye, but its effective.

True, but not the mark of a master schemer. Still, it was enough to land her the bronze in this Olympic event. The man known as Varys, on the other hand, showed that he is a master manipulator. He has expertly proved he could move pieces around the chess board whether they be Lannister, Targaryen or even Martell. Yet the silver medalist did not have the selfish ambition of our gold medalist, Petyr of team Arryn. Petyr, also known as Littlefinger, has proven himself a fierce competitor. He has plans within plans and even when his pawns think they have escaped his machinations they still find themselves calling upon him and his army of Arryn soldiers to bail them out of a slaughter at the gates of Winterfell.

He’s a prick.

Also true, but he is an effective one. It has earned him gold for now, but we’ll just have to wait and see if it ever earns him the iron.

1.Riding

One of the most exciting competitions to be held each Olympics is the riding competition, and I have to say Bronn that the Dothraki team made a strong showing. Many thought they would sweep this competition.

Well, they should. I mean they do everything but f**K their horses.

We’re on network TV, Bronn, not HBO. You can’t say those types of words here.

Well that’s just f**king perfect than isn’t it?

Unfortunately the Dothraki team was bested by none other than Daenerys of the Targaryen team. She has earned a gold medal that has been a long time in coming. For too long it looked like this girl was just going to live in obscurity, content to sit on the sidelines as the rest of the teams vied for dominance in this year’s Olympics. Up until this point many agreed that she has not living up to her potential.

Aye, but she is a cute little wench. I wouldn’t mind it if she rode me, if you know what I mean.

No, but it worth remembering that she is riding a dragon, Bronn.

I never said I was dumb enough to ask. I tend to like my girls a little less, fire proof.

Well that is all the time we have for you tonight. This has been the Westeros Olympics. So for all of us here in King’s Landing I am Mike Michelson here with Ser Bronn of the Blackwater wishing a good night and a safe tomorrow. If you missed any of the great events don’t worry we’ll be back in another two years for games such as Whitewalker Wrestling and Freestlye Wildling Skiing, because remember: Winter is Coming.

This weekend will see the release of two fairy tale inspired stories. The first is the movie, Huntsman: Winter’s War. We recommend that you don’t go see it, but we do recommend that you check out the second one, Game of Thrones. Yes, the story of sex, violence, and dragons returns this Sunday for its sixth season, but is it possible that the HBO fantasy drama is as much about fairy tales as it is about beheadings and boobies? Well, follow us down the road to grandma’s house as we set out to encounter big bad direwolves, giants, and a red witch or two. You might be surprised what we turn up, but don’t be surprised if we reveal spoilers for seasons 1-5.

Once Upon a Tyrion…
As everyone’s favorite Lannister might suggest, we need to first define the problem. What is a fairy tale? According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, a fairy tale is “a story (as for children) involving fantastic forces and beings (as fairies, wizards, and goblins),” or “a story in which improbable events lead to a happy ending.” We have to admit that both of those things are true about fairy tales, but does that match up with A Song of Ice and Fire, or Game of Thrones? Both definitely have fantastic forces and creatures, but they are certainly not for children, at least not for children who don’t want to grow up to be Ramsey Bolton. Nor are the George RR Martin novel series and its subsequent TV show filled with happy endings, just ask anyone named Stark or Snow. So how can we compare them with a fairy tale?

Let’s start with the commonalities. Game of Thrones has dragons and even giants, but admittedly there is not a lot of them. Daenerys has just three dragons, and we only ever see that one frost giant among the wildlings. Yet, we are told that such things were more numerous in the ancient days. Things like dragons, giants, and even magic were more plentiful in the stories that Old Nan used to tell Brann Stark before he went to bed. Now those were fairy tales. They were all about heroes defeating monsters, grumpkins, and grave evil to save the kingdoms and winning the hearts of fair maidens. They were filled with love and chivalry and all the things we think of when we hear the word “fairy tale.” In those stories, which took place during the aptly named Age of Heroes, the protagonist were always the good guys. They were able to win the day against all odds and beat back the darkness with the help of magic and courage, just like every fairy tale we know. Old Nan’s stories were always scary, but the improbable events still led to a happy ending. However, it also seems that in the land of Westeros many of those stories -which took place during the Long Night– might actually be true.

Compare those stories to the story we are witnessing in Game of Thrones, which still involve magic and fantastical elements, but the outcome is hardly certain. In fact, things like chivalry, heroism, or true love are usually rewarded with daggers in the dark or even a red wedding. Every good and heroic character -Ned, Robb, Jon- are dead. The most valiant knights are either a narcissistic incestuous cripple, or the Knight of Flowers, who has very little interest in winning a fair lady’s heart -if you know what we mean. The queen is a ruthless power-hungry dictator, the beautiful princess is a conniving schemer. The most heroic character is a disfigured Imp, and for four seasons we were all actively rooting for the death of a blonde-haired child-king. So we ask again? How can we call this a fairy tale?

Joffrey and the Beanstalk
In fact, it’s not a fairy tale, at least not as we consider them. Game of Thrones is a subversion of the fairy tale ideal. The true genius of George RR Martin’s work is that he is showing us what a fairy tale really is. All those old stories that Old Nan used to tell Brann Stark, we can guess that they were probably real. After all, we know that the white walkers are real. The giants are real. The Wall is real. The stories form the Age of Heroes actually happened, but they probably did not happen as their fairy tale versions suggest. One day, in the world of Westeros people may tell the fairy tale version of the great Mother of Dragons and her conquest of Westeros and how the seven kingdoms fought back the invasion of the Others and the new Long Night, but it won’t be this story. It won’t be Game of Thrones. It will be something else.

The fairy tale version of A Song of Ice and Fire will have some of the same elements, but homogenized and embellished. As human beings we like to fit events into simplistic narrative structures. Thus, for the audience and the characters, who have lived and watched the highs and lows of Game of Thrones the series finale might be satisfactory, but probably not “happy.” Yet, to the children of Westeros who will hear the story centuries later, safe in their beds, they will get the happy ending. They will get the true love and the brave knights and all the rest. To them there will be clear cut villains and valiant heroes, and they both may not be who you expect. Remember, history and fairy tales are written by the victors.

The stories those children hear may tell of the evil betrayals of Ned Stark or the vile crimes of Tyrion Lannister. Children may grow up learning that the sweet and generous King Joffery was killed on his wedding day or that Tywin Lannister was a saint and a caring father. Fairy tales tend to wash out the gray and replace it with black and white, but if there is one thing we can say about Game of Thrones, it is almost entirely filled with gray. With very few expectations there are no completely good or completely bad characters. They are all humans with hopes, desires, flaws, and nude bodies, all of which we -the audience- get to see… a lot. So, Martin is telling us  the real story behind that future fairy tale, which will be a story that has no room for nuisance or character flaws. All of that will be wiped out in favor of a neat narrative and a clear cut moral. Yet, maybe you still don’t believe this was George RR Martin’s intent all along. You might be right except…

Little Ned Riding Stark
… He has already painted us a clear picture of this very idea. Maybe the vague connection between the Age of Heroes and the trials of Jon Snow are too obscure, but Martin has given us an even more relevant example. The rebellion of Robert Baratheon and Eddard Stark has already become something of a fairy tale, and it has only been a single generation since they deposed the Mad King and took over the kingdom. Yet, all the elements are there. Brave Robert Baratheon -enraged by the abduction of his beloved Lyanna Stark- starts a war to win her back. Along with her brother and his best friend, Ned, they rally the forces of justice and good to overthrow the Mad King, Aerys Targaryan, and his evil son Rhaegar. Robert and his mighty war hammer defeat Rhaegar in single combat during the heroic Battle of the Trident, but alas he is too late to save his beloved Lyanna. Still, he heroically defeats the Mad King and justice rules over the lands of Westeros once again.

That is typically how that story is often portrayed whenever characters in Game of Thrones talk about it, but we have already had some hints at cracks in that fantastical façade. First of all, Aerys Targaryan was killed by Jamie Lannister, his own kingsguard, who stabbed him through the back. That is the sort of thing people are aware of, but often gets left out of the “official” story. This dichotomy is also most clearly seen with Rhaegar. Whenever Robert talked about him we got an image of a mad man composed of butchery and evil. Yet, whenever Daenerys -his sister- talks about him we get the sense of a warm, caring, and brave individual. Two completely separate ideas from two completely opposing view points. We are seeing how point of view colors the retelling of tales, and how it is the winners who most often write history and fairy tales. This is further proven by the many many hints that Lyanna Stark was not abducted and raped by Rhaegar, but that she was in love with him. -r+l=j- However, this sort of nuance does not work for a heroic tale of good versus evil, and is all but forgotten in the retellings.

In the end, Robert Baratheon became king and married the beautiful Cersi Lannister. To the story that was the happy ending, but to Robert it was clearly bitter sweet. Martin is showing us that in real life there rarely is a “happily ever after,” and he is doing so by using a genre that epitomizes that idea. Robert and Ned may have won the day, but happy endings are only about where the story stops, because if you keep following the lives of Ned and Robert you know that their stories don’t end so happily after all. From the very first season, Game of Thrones has been trying to prove this point. The books and the TV series have always been about subverting expectations and bucking tropes.

So we ask again, “is A Song of Ice and Fire and its TV show a fairy tale?” Yes, it is about fairy tale ideas, knights, magic, bravery, princesses and kings, but it is showing us the story before it gets cleaned and homogenized and becomes just another bed time retelling. All the other elements, the fantasy, the swordplay, the magic are there. Game of Thrones is a real-life fairy tale. It is meant to expose the truth behind fairy tales, because they may be great as stories, but that is all they are, stories. The world cannot always be defined by “Once upon a time,” and especially never by “Happily ever after…” But then again, maybe we’re wrong. Maybe Season 6 will prove that Jon Snow is only just unconscious, and waiting for Love’s True Kiss.

Winter is coming and you know what means, the holidays. Now is the time to check out The NYRD’s newest line of geeky and fun shirts from The NYRD Shop. For this holiday season get you and your loved ones an array of Game of Thrones/Avengers shirts. This marvelous mash-up features  the Westerosi houses of your favorite heroes. So get yours today, because if we can’t protect the Seven Kingdoms, you can be damn sure we’ll avenge them.

HRogHSHOHBanHRHBHWHFN-Shirt

The words of the Stark family are pretty straightforward. Unlike the other great houses they don’t “roar” or “not sow” or whatever it is the Tully’s do… swim, we’re assuming… Instead, the Stark words are a call to action and a reminder to never forget what waits just beyond the Wall. Yet, despite the ominous family motto, most of their southern and even northern cousins tend to forget that winter is indeed coming, and of all the fantastical elements in Game of Thrones, this denial of the inevitable is perhaps one of the most understandable. After all, it is a crime we are all guilty of in one form or another, and the people in Kings Landing and in other places have their hands full with worries other than snow and ice zombies.

Watchers on the Wall
The only group of people in all of Westeros who take the threat of the White Walkers seriously is the Night’s Watch. This chaste order of outcasts was established to maintain the Wall and “guard the realms of men.” The things they have been charged to guard against, White Walkers -or the Others- have mostly been relegated to fable and childhood nightmares. The Long Night occurred thousands of years in the past and most people in Westeros believe the tales to be nothing more than fantasy, like ghosts, goblins, or grumpkins. So even as the order urgently calls for more men and supply their pleas go unanswered by the great nations of the world.

It is unknown how many members of the Night’s Watch agree that the coming winter will bring a return of the White Walkers, but after the events of the past several seasons, we could probably agree that it would be at least 97%. Coincidentally, that is also the percentage of scientists that agree that climate change is real and it is happening. Like the Night’s Watch, our own chaste order of outcasts could also be considered a sort of “watcher on the wall.” It is their job to range the forests that lie north of all that is known. They are often forced to combat uncivilized wildling ideas in their quest to keep us safe, and worst of all they are seen as a necessary and minor annoyance by the ruling and the powerful of our land.

Perhaps, the allegory is a stretch, and George R. R. Martin never intended the connection to be made between his masterpiece work and the looming threat of global warming. However, authorial intent aside, the similarities are striking. His seminal work is based on an invisible looming force of change that is ultimately connected to intense and strange weather. The coming threat is slow and unbelievable, yet it threatens the known world, while politicians and armies squabble away unaffected and ultimately resistant to the knowledge of the approaching chaos.

You Know Nothing, Jon Snow
The threat in the fictional world is both staggering and real. Neither the Night’s Watch nor the audience can deny the existence of the White Walkers, but neither can we fault the Lannisters or the Tyrells for their willful ignorance. There is plenty we can fault them for, but maybe not for this. According to papers published by the Cultural Cognition Project at Yale Law, it is not simply a matter of “knowledge illiteracy” that stops a rational understanding of science fact. Most people unwittingly shape their world view and their identity based upon a multitude of ideologies, especially politics. Thus, when a person of an opposing view point presents arguments and even cold icy facts that prove something like White Walkers, certain people will tend to reject it and employ a confirmation bias. They will analyze the problem and extract the details that strengthen their already existing world view. In other words, people shape facts to confirm their opinions, instead of the other way around.

Even worse, confirmation bias seems to only get stronger with technology, like the Internet, where people can find like-minded individuals to shelter and grow their opinions from any opposition. In this way, we don’t really get a debate, so much as two separate jousting matches where each opponent is basically facing a straw man. Each knight may sometimes briefly pause in between charges to glare across a wide field at the opposing side, but there is never really any meaningful engagement or change.

Maybe where this analogy falls apart is the fact that the reluctance of the belief for the humans of Game of Thrones is almost understandable. With medieval level education and slow lines of bird-driven communication and rumor, they have the excuse of ignorance to ignore the fact that supposed make-believe monsters are in fact coming for them on the winds of a long winter chill. People in Dorn or the Riverlands, have no evidence to prove the existence of the Others. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for us and our looming threat. The evidence is all around us, and mounting faster than snow in Winterfell.

The Rains of Castamere
CO2 has passed the 400 part per million mark, which is the highest level since it has been in over 800,000 years, which only slightly longer ago than when Martin began writing his book series. Since the year 1900 temperatures around the world have increased almost a full degree, with the majority of the increase happening between 1970 and today. Even more damning, it is only the lower levels of the atmospheres that are increasing in temperature, thus confirming that it isn’t our sun that is getting hotter. If our current temperature change were due to solar activity then we would see a uniformed temperature increase throughout all levels of the atmosphere. The lower levels of the atmosphere is where the majority of CO2 is becoming trapped, and humans are responsible for 2,000 gigatons of it since 1870.

Much like the great houses of Game of Thrones, our own leaders have made it clear by their actions that they have more important things to worry about. Washington D. C. may not have the Sept of Baelor or the Red Keep, but the political maneuvering is no less real. Elections, wars, policy and cultural debates, sports, gun violence, and racism, we have no shortage of immediate problems that require attention. Climate change is nothing but a vague wind blowing down from the north. It seems like nothing to worry about, and nothing that can harm us, especially when there is so much around that can do us real harm. This kind of attitude is often classified as Optimism Bias, which is the belief that we, as individuals, are in less danger than those around us.

Optimism bias is why we think we will never get cancer or be in a plane crash. It’s why we think bad things only happen to other people and Sean Bean characters, and why we believe that any climate change problems will ultimately be a problem for the next generation and not us. Basically, if we can’t see the White Walkers than we do not believe they will do us any harm. That is just how our brain works, because our mental space is only so big.

Human beings only have so much concern they can fit in their head, whether it be about getting the kids to soccer practice, not getting fired from work, or making sure you are not shot to death by the musicians at your uncle’s wedding. Regardless of the reasons, it means we prioritize threats to our happiness and immediate well-being over future ones that seem distant and uncontrollable.

You Either Win or You Die
In 2011, 17 US citizens were killed worldwide in terrorist attacks, but 596,339 American were killed by heart disease, yet when it comes to issues that Americans care about from their elected officials most people will focus on terrorism as opposed to the vague fear of heart disease despite one being noticeably more likely than the other. It is also worth noting that approximately 600,000 deaths occurred worldwide as a result of weather-related natural disasters in the 90s, but again that is a statistic connected to a vague and uncontrollable menace. Our minds do not like thinking about problems we feel are out of our ability to influence. Our brain does not like to deal with problems we feel powerless to stop. That’s why we call it, an “Act of the God.” So we ignore them, and that means even people who acknowledge global warming may not see it as a threat. According to Scientific American, only 33% of the American general public believes climate change to be a serious problem, as opposed to 77% of scientists who say that is a serious problem.

Our leaders may not lose their head, but they know that in the Game of Elections you either win or you lose your pension. So, when every political move you make or enemy you create could mean your very real and immediate end in public office, it’s hard to push to for any real change against some far off threat, especially when their own constituency doesn’t even acknowledge it as a problem. Yet, rest assured, the night is dark and full of carbon dioxide, because if trends continue like this, by the end of this century Earth will be 4.7 F to 8.6 F degrees hotter (2.6 C to 4.8 C). The oceans will be a meter higher, and one third of all ocean life will be extinct. Unfortunately, unlike the Night’s Watch we will not be able to beat back our foes with weapons and dragon glass.

We like to talk to about George R. R. Martin’s epic tale in the light of our own past, equating situations, characters, and happenings to their historic counterparts, such as the events of the English War of the Roses. However, what if A Song of Ice and Fire and its subsequent HBO series is is not so much a nod to history but a true warning of what is to come? Any change will take all of us working together, and forcing this issue into prominence on the national stage. We will need to have an even greater resolve and a greater capacity for sacrifice and ingenuity, because our Wall will not stand forever.