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Why Game of Thrones is the Perfect Show for the Modern Age


Why Game of Thrones is the Perfect Show for the Modern Age

Laurie Penny

By now, it feels as if George R R Martin – the author of Game of Thrones, narrative sadist and ruiner of all things beautiful and good – has been appointed scriptwriter for the news. I am not the first to observe this. Martin is famous for killing off everyone’s favourite characters and sending his stories careering into pits of bleak uncertainty just when you thought everything might turn out all right.


Game of Thrones is about the vain pursuit of power and control. People who chase these things in both real and fantasy worlds inevitably fail to achieve their ends in any lasting way, though they can certainly do incalculable damage along their brutal journeys to the grave.

If GoT has any redeeming quality at all, it's that it may yet serve to warn people of the futility of chasing power without conscience. I'm not counting on it though, as its commercial success serves only to further entrench a money-driven civilization in terminal decline.

The tits and dragons are entertaining though, electronic bread and circuses for the vast and increasingly coarse peasantry here at the decline and fall of the Empire of Industrial Capital.


I've never watched this show (or series), but I do want to compliment Ms. Penny on her own rich writing.

As a writer, I am quite aware of the prejudice FOR dystopian stories, horror, violence, and misogyny. Since I don't write any of these things, that's a factor in my personal struggle to get published (outside of my established genre).

About 6 years ago I attended a writer's workshop in California. It was sponsored by a children's publishing company and I thought I'd finally get to sit down with someone who appreciated my vision.

To the contrary, this publishing outfit was quite eagerly pushing (and profiting by) books about teenage vampires and the fortuitous violence brought upon their female prey (sometimes willing, to the extent masterful seduction suggests willing prey).

A few weeks ago I had an appointment with a literary agent. I was excited about the completion of a new script and thought this guy would see its merits. Instead, he compared my theme to his favorite series--"Breaking Bad." He was enamored with all the anti-social, even criminal things a man felt driven to do for the "noble" purpose of saving his family. (My script was a light-hearted comedy--totally opposite his sensibility.)

That's always the rationale for brutality... with family extended to represent nation, or tribe.

In any case, it was clear to me as an English Literature major back in my college days that most of the individuals celebrated as great writers WERE alcoholics.

The average alcoholic is highly depressed and likely holds a bleak view of life. Alcohol is like the antithesis of spirituality... born of the natural, organic sort.

I heard Susan Cheever interviewed on NPR about her findings as published in her book, "Drinking in America." It reads like a sportscaster's scorecard so I only made it half-way through. The bottom line is that a LOT of influential people were always under the influence.

This romance with the dark side of life, and largely depraved conditions has been conditioned.

When I was a kid my sisters and I had to eat EVERYTHING on our plates. And certain things--like liver and beets--I HATED. The argument my parents used was that one would develop a taste for these things.

Developing a taste has its utility. (Some of us remain firm about things we can NEVER like or love.) I happen to think that developing a TASTE for blood sport in literature and film--even when posited as fantasy--is the "entry level" drug for war and war fever.

Whenever strong depictions of aggression render human lives (lost) cheap, a certain conditioning remains in place. It also works subliminally.

The glorification with disorder, and random violence which Ms. Penny correctly analogizes to the facts of modern life in war-torn (and war-prone) zones may not be so random as she supposes.

When these images fill the unconscious minds of millions of persons, this shared focus works the magic of manifesting those very things, or their modern likenesses.

Ain't Hell grand?


Well those sorts of critiques veer into the territory of social conservatives, who chastise Hollywood for spreading cultural "deviancy".

I think the human imagination has a natural fascination with the macabre, though as you say, this taste for the morbid and grotesque can be and has been intentionally cultivated. I also think sex and violence have an uncomfortably close relationship that isn't much talked about. Procreation, after all, is at the foundation of all suffering and death. The Dalai Lama has talked about this, how sex and violence are strangely intertwined.

I also believe that in extremis, all literature, music, film, and art, degenerates into either complete meaninglessness or pornography. Hollywood has ramped up the button-pushing to such a level that most of their product (I won't call it art) is essentially pornographic: war porn, plain old porn, violence porn, emotional/sentimental porn.

Game of Thrones is the kind of phenomena that could only occur in a jaded culture that has imaginatively and spiritually exhausted itself. It's one slug of sex or violence or power-mongering after another to the point of numbness.


I'm amazed you got so worked-up over something so trivial. I'm doubting Laurie Penny will get similarly enraged. Maybe you can sue on her behalf?


One of the aspects of this exposition of GoT that comes through to me is: slay a dragon, and a new one pops up. The character replacing the old one becomes just as...what? Inane, violent, greedy, vain in a haphazard continuum? This truth fascinates us, reminding one of our frailities. GRR Martin happens to live and invest in community assets, i.e. the social commons, where I also live; he has a small art theater downtown and a larger entertainment complex in a blue collar neighborhood that young hip struggling artists work in, like and built. It seems quite positive, and is much appreciated.


The idea that The Game of Thrones is a mysoginous story is becoming a myth, and it isn't true. It is a very realistic story as set in an environment like that, as it was, say, England during the War of the Roses. Among the women, there are victims, schemers, heroes... Take Dany, she is the best character, a liberator of slaves, and she outgrows everybody else. But take Cersei, she is cruel and scheming, or take Arya, a PTSD warrior or assassin child, and yet she hasn't lost her compass of justice. Even the Iron girl is heroic... And Brienne? She is arguably the only person in Westeros with a sense of honour. Women are not always victims, there are many men who are also victims of the violent civil war, or the feudal and slavist societies. And yet every single character is an individual, regardless of their gender, transgender, or physical appearance (Tyrion is certainly the most interesting character, while Bran is promising a lot). It is wrong to class the work as mysoginist, it is true that the author makes no concession, and everyone may feel vexed if they want a classic romance of good and evil, à la Tolkien. It is not. It is a Game of Thrones. And every party goes to the kill. Look at the primary season now in the US. There has been no blood (so far). But is there fair play? I Think not. Ah, and I cannot avoid thinking that Hillary, mutatis mutandis, is very much like Cersei. And she is winning! Scruples are not for politics, even less so to ascend to a throne.


'The idea that The Game of Thrones is a mysoginous story '

Nothing says credibility more than an individual who cannot spell (or bother to figure out HOW to spell) the word constituting the basis of his argument.



I wonder if Hillary supporters and GoT fans are concerned they are electing President Cersei? I am. Anyway, big fan of the show, but I would not consider GoT dystopian, since the world is pretty alive at this point, anyway.
There are very terrible things that happen to women in the books that have not been in the show, but imo, it's the way it happens in the show, that is really worse. It ends up with really objectified sexualized violence that is done apparently for ratings? or who knows what. It's very frequent and happens to characters and in ways that does not happen in the books. I like this podcast, they cover one particular bad episode of the tv show.
That being said, I still really like the show, it is mostly well done, but of course, not comparable to the books (as usual for films and tv shows).


Interesting observations. I'm somewhat partial to dystopian stories (in fact I'm writing one), and I dunno if I follow you completely on the "negative books create negative world" logic. Dystopian stories allow for us to consider and explore the implications of current trajectories.

I am firmly of the opinion that literature reflects, it does not direct.


Dude who gives a damn about spelling? Seriously.


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I'd say the 'entry level' is meat consumption, once you've ingrained, as a totally unchallenged notion, the presumption that it's okay to cruelly slaughter other sentient creatures to supplement your daily diet, you're half way there already. “I believe as long as man tortures and kills animals, he will torture and kill humans as well—and wars will be waged—for killing must be practiced and learned on a small scale,” Edgar Kupfer-Koberwitz wrote in his “Dachau Diaries” while he was held in that Nazi concentration camp.

Not sure about that. Jane, Austen, Charles Dickens, D H Lawrence, Charlotte Bronte & all her sisters, Virginia Woolf, H G Wells, George Orwell, Aldous Huxley, Thomas Hardy, James Joyce, Samuel Beckett, Walter Scott, E M Forester, C S Lewis, JRR Tolkien, Oscar Wilde, George Eliot, etc, etc, none of these were alcholics.


You've got to be joking.


BS! He/she made some excellent, thoughtful points.


There are people who have never seen the show but nevertheless will post a long and mostly self centered rambling post anyway. And a follow up one later...lol. Life in absurdity!

For myself I think the quasi medieval/Renaissance setting of GOT is a camouflage which successfully permits all manner of macabre and sadomasochist artistic dabblings pushing the limits of family entertainment on the little screen (wall sized or not). Torture as metaphor...um...nah! Just plain old torture. Were GOT set in a more modern age it would be reviled as a grotesquerie and criticized as pandering to the perverted if presented as family entertainment. Thus the chain mail, sword and buckles and some really nice swashbuckler style boots on occasion. Hey torture was medieval right? Abu Gharib is over.

Kinky stuff about women too. Tell junior to do his homework, I don't want to miss this part! Everybody is so max! Max macho, max savage, max to the max and weird too. This is our psyche our bedraggled world presented in a form which we can more readily assimilate it. We desensitize don't we? There is the key. GOT allows us to equalize the psychological stresses. We do torture now though once we were the ones who didn't and the Nazis did. We too have our overlords our oligarchs who lord it over us but... the thing is about GOT...is where are the peasants? I mean Monty Pythonesque Marxist dialectics aside... Heck life as a peasant in Westeros with its dragons and whatnot is pretty interesting when you think about it.

You get the sense that GOT is us once again. Our democracy ... The democracy where even peasants have a say... Um, well we are supposed to. The ruling elites in Westeros or here aren't interested in what the little people have to say, are they? Not in Westeros it seems...or in our primaries. So amid the torture and a general bad neighborhood exists everywhere mentality... We watch GOT and see ourselves and go back to the real world, our world, where sans dragons and very nasty people swiping at people with swords from horseback... We feel the real world is not so bad after all.

Modern life with torture but not nearly so much and without the dragons but we do have drones and well... GOT just makes us feel better because our world isn't nearly as bad. Is it? Isn't that amazing?


"Game of Thrones"?. I wonder if I will ever get see a TV series like "The Waltons" or a movie like "The Bridges of Madison County", or (if you think I have some kind of simple-minded aversion to depictions of violence) "The English Patient" or "El Laberintino Del Fauno", ever again, before I die.

Becasue surely, this descent of all popular drama into a stereotyped formula of utterly puerile, comic-bookish, degrading gratuitous violence and misogyny - all of it moving at this furious, computer game-esque speed is not a good thing. Not at all. And lets not forget the commercial product tie-ins too. Along with the environment, capitalism is also destroying any hope for a functioning human society too.

Fuck capitalist Hollywood and everything it stands for.


...and specially licensed and trademarked "Game of Thrones"-themed beer from the Omegang Microbrewery in Cooperstown, New York....


The last scene in Game of Thrones should have remained the end; John Snow sprawled out, bleeding to death on the snow, below a cross labelled "traitor", murdered by his compatriots for trying to engender peace with the people on the far side of the ice-wall.

It happened 2000 years ago.