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.

All we can say is that it is about time that all the graphic Muppet nudity and the gratuitous use of “words of the day” on Sesame Street are finally moving to their proper home among tamer shows such as True Blood and Game of Thrones. The Sesame Workshop just signed a new deal with the premium cable company, HBO. This move has been both criticized and welcomed, depending on whether or not you are one of the people affluent enough to afford HBO or if you are one of the people poor enough to steal HBO.

Starting in the Fall, new episodes of Sesame Street will air first on HBO and will be released for free on PBS nine months later. Though the episodes will still be available for free after their original air date many people, including the Parents Television Council, are still criticizing Sesame for the move. “In order to watch original episodes of the most iconic children’s program in television history, parents are now forced to fork over about $180 per year and subscribe to the most sexually explicit, most graphically violent television network in America.”

For their troubles, Sesame Street will be receiving a larger production budget -because HBO- and they will begin to produce 35 new episodes a year as opposed to the 18 they produce now. They will also be looking to creating a new Sesame spin-off show for kids. This move for Elmo, Bert, Ernie, and all the rest, came after a fall in their non-profit margins. With a drop off in DVD sales, the Sesame Workshop has been doing their best to stay afloat in a market now dominated by streaming television and movies.

We here at The NYRD, we suspect that this move by Sesame has more to do with the potential of streaming TV than any sort of unspoken desire by the Muppets to co-mingle with Colin Farrell and Vince Vaughn on the set of True Detective. HBO will offer the children’s programming a larger budget and a vehicle for direct streaming access to homes.

Additionally, as many parents already know, Sesame Street is no stranger when it comes to HBO programming:

We will hold our own reservations about this move until we see the fallout, but what do you think about it? Is it good or bad for Sesame Street and kids in general? Is this just the way TV is heading? Will Oscar the Grouch finally be able to start teaching kids four-letter words? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.


Photo courtesy: http://www.sesamestreet.org/