Peter Smith

Publications, Lectures and Other Stuff

Game of Thrones: A Political Science Perspective

A nice article by political scientist Charli Carpenter in Foreign Affairs on ‘Game of Thrones as Theory: It’s Not as Realist as It Seems — And That’s Good’ [link below].

Carpenter notes that both the books and TV series of GoT seem to present a Hobbsian universe of war of every man/woman against every other in the struggle for power. However, whilst harsh realities abound, she also detects countervailing motifs. The ‘deeper message’, she suggests is that ‘realism alone is unsatisfying and unsuccessful’, and that when ‘leaders disregard ethical norms, the needs of their small-folk, and the natural world’ they do so ‘at their own peril’. The self-interested struggle for power produces dysfunctional chaos rather than a stable balance, whilst ‘the pursuit of short-term objectives distracts players from the truly pressing issues of human survival and stability’.

Although many GoT characters are ruthless and conniving (and some of those who aren’t are shown to be fatally naive), several prevailing social norms are widely followed — e.g. obedience to oaths of fealty; the concept of the ‘king’s justice’, and rituals such as bread-breaking and arranged marriages undergird social relations. Again, following Thucydides, breaches of social rules are presented as leading to disorder and ruin.

Author George Martin also gives prominence to the views of social reality held by socially marginal figures, and notes the power they may have [as well as portraying the horrendous impact which the ‘Game’ of Thrones played by the elite impacts the lives of the poor and powerless]. He also develops complex and powerful female characters whose lives challenge the prevailing misogyny of the world he describes; presents many different points-of-view through the eyes of his characters; humanizes his monsters — a clear contrast to fantasy literature such as Lord of the Rings; and emphasizes the importance of soft power and the need for an awareness of wider threats to human well-being.

Dated 29 March 2012, the link is here:


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This entry was posted on April 6, 2014 by in Social Theory and tagged , .
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