• Monthly
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $other
  • use PayPal

ONE WEEK TO DOUBLE YOUR DONATION!

A generous CounterPuncher has offered a $25,000 matching grant. So for this week only, whatever you can donate will be doubled up to $25,000! If you have the means, please donate! If you already have done so, thank you for your support. All contributions are tax-deductible.
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

Game of Thrones and the Truth About Class (Spoiler Warning)

In the penultimate episode of Game of Thrones the city of King’s Landing is sacked and razed by Daenarys Targaryen and her armies. Viewers were as stunned as Jon Snow as they watched the story’s supposed heroine rain destruction upon the Lannister soldiers and the innocent from above while her forces did so from the more modest vantage point of the city streets. Like a fever-dream version of Dresden’s infamous destruction during WW2, the Breaker of Chains used Drogon to fire-bomb the city not unlike a fleet of B-29’s. The shock of the city’s destruction and the supposed heel-turn from one of the show’s most beloved characters has left in its wake a substantial number of people who dislike the narrative arc of Season 8 and see it as either poor writing or a betrayal of character development and, of course, the emotional investment of nearly a decade. Daenerys’ actions, however, should point us to another conclusion: Game of Thrones is a brilliant study of the structural constraints and pressures in a particular type of class society but more generally about the limitations of politics in any class society.

Understanding that there are structural paths built into a socio-economic system for its class actors can be difficult when we view a show like Game of Thrones through the eyes of mostly high-born protagonists. We believe Cersei, Dany, Jon, Sansa and the parade of would-be kings could have chosen differently and “broken the wheel.” On an interpersonal level this is true; Stannis didn’t have to burn his daughter to death any more than Joffrey or Ramsay Bolton had to engage in elaborate schemes of torture. But when we talk about structural paths and limitations, we cannot mean those small personal choices. Yet this also means far more than examining the character’s backstory for hints that they have always been this way or that. Dany is not this way because she is Dany – she is Dany because of the class position, privileges, and imperatives of being a member of the aristocracy.

Embedded into aristocratic society are the class and social relations that produce deference and domination, hierarchy and control. Medieval feudalism was defined by social class determined by birth (except in rare instances where commoners like Ser Bronn were knighted), and the ruling class was made up of warriors who depended on their relationship with the uppermost nobility on the one hand, and their enfeoffed peasantry on the other. Absolute monarchy, however stable it was in certain territories and eras, was at heart a brutal system of control and obedience. Where modern wars under capitalism tend to be fought for control over markets, feudal conflicts were over land and rank. Earlier this season Ser Bronn of the Blackwater explained this to Jaime and Tyrion when he said all the ancestors of the highborn aristocrats had been brigands and cutthroats in order to conquer and acquire the land, power, and wealth required to be a member of the nobility. The show has even displayed a sense of this with social climbers like the Boltons and Freys; if they had been successful they would have been the first – brutal – generation that achieved enough success to produce a highborn line.

It is in this sense that we must view Dany’s actions at King’s Landing. We may find them appalling war crimes – which indeed they are – but they are not out of place in medieval warfare or more importantly the demands of a struggle for the crown. Sacked cities were usually victims of an orgy of pillaging and wanton destruction. Dany had been successful, first in Essos and then Westeros, when she was willing to engage in brutal acts of conquest. She quite literally lost when advisors counselled restraint, because restraint is only possible within the confines of an absolutist system when there is an unequal power relationship. To be an absolute monarch means destruction of all your enemies; hence why Dany told Tyrion her mercy was towards future generations. Her actions in Essos as the “Breaker of Chains” presage this: the populations of slaves she freed were still subjects of her absolute rule, and she burned alive Khals and rebellious aristocrats. The utter destruction of King’s Landing makes perfect sense to a foreign monarch who feels she must destroy the physical manifestation of her enemy’s strength and force the remaining lords and commoners to submit to her rule.

It is also why only Olenna Tyrell, of all her advisors, gave her sound advice: Be A Dragon. Tyrion and Varys staggered from bad plan to worse over the last two seasons because they refused to admit that Dany’s quest to topple the old order could only come via apocalyptic force and the painful substitution of one hierarchical rule for another. The ties that bound would be ruptured and forged anew. Advice from the Imp and the Eunuch was far more suited for a time when absolute monarchy was established, stable, and could afford to act with mercy and restraint. One need look no further than this to realize why Tyrion and Varys seemed so lost as advisors to Dany once she crossed the Narrow Sea to Westeros.

Whatever happens in the series finale, Game of Thrones has done a service to fantasy storytelling by presenting a world bound by the strictures of class and having its characters play by those rules. There will be no democracy in Westeros, because the preconditions for large-scale representative government require first the development of an economic system (capitalism) that erodes the power of the nobility and empowers a class of commoners known as capitalists to come into direct conflict with aristocrats like the Lannisters, Starks, and Targaryens. At best, if Dany is defeated, we might see a constitutional monarchy under Jon Snow (Aegon Targaryen) bound by a Westerosi Magna Charta. But I wouldn’t hold my breath; Game of Thrones, like its real-world feudal counterpart, is likely to end in fire and ice, blood and battle.

More articles by:

Peter LaVenia received a PhD in Political Theory from the University at Albany, SUNY. He has been an activist and organizer for over 15 years and has worked for Ralph Nader in that capacity. He is currently the co-chair of the Green Party of New York, and can be reached on Twitter: @votelavenia.

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550
October 16, 2019
Patrick Cockburn
How Turkey’s Invasion of Syria Backfired on Erdogan
Chitrangada Choudhury – Aniket Aga
How Cotton Became a Headache in the Age of Climate Chaos
Jack Rasmus
US-China Mini-Trade Deal: Trump Takes the Money and Runs
Michael Welton
Communist Dictatorship in Our Midst
Robert Hunziker
Extinction Rebellion Sweeps the World
Peter A. Coclanis
Donald Trump as Artist
Chris Floyd
Byzantium Now: Time-Warping From Justinian to Trump
Steve Klinger
In For a Dime, in For a Dollar
Gary Leupp
The Maria Ramirez Story
Kim C. Domenico
It Serves Us Right To Suffer: Breaking Down Neoliberal Complacency
Kiley Blackman
Wildlife Killing Contests are Unethical
Colin Todhunter
Bayer Shareholders: Put Health and Nature First and Stop Funding This Company!
Andrés Castro
Looking Normal in Kew Gardens
October 15, 2019
Victor Grossman
The Berlin Wall, Thirty Years Later
Raouf Halaby
Kurdish Massacres: One of Britain’s Many Original Sins
Robert Fisk
Trump and Erdogan have Much in Common – and the Kurds will be the Tragic Victims of Their Idiocy
Ron Jacobs
Betrayal in the Levant
Wilma Salgado
Ecuador: Lenin Moreno’s Government Sacrifices the Poor to Satisfy the IMF
Ralph Nader
The Congress Has to Draw the Line
William A. Cohn
The Don Fought the Law…
John W. Whitehead
One Man Against the Monster: John Lennon vs. the Deep State
Lara Merling – Leo Baunach
Sovereign Debt Restructuring: Not Falling Prey to Vultures
Norman Solomon
The More Joe Biden Stumbles, the More Corporate Democrats Freak Out
Jim Britell
The Problem With Partnerships and Roundtables
Howard Lisnoff
More Incitement to Violence by Trump’s Fellow Travelers
Binoy Kampmark
University Woes: the Managerial Class Gets Uppity
Joe Emersberger
Media Smears, Political Persecution Set the Stage for Austerity and the Backlash Against It in Ecuador
Thomas Mountain
Ethiopia’s Abiy Ahmed Wins Nobel Peace Prize, But It Takes Two to Make Peace
Wim Laven
Citizens Must Remove Trump From Office
October 14, 2019
Ann Robertson - Bill Leumer
Class Struggle is Still the Issue
Mike Miller
Global Climate Strike: From Protest To Power?
Patrick Cockburn
As Turkey Prepares to Slice Through Syria, the US has Cleared a New Breeding Ground for Isis
John Feffer
Trump’s Undeclared State of Emergency
Dean Baker
The Economics and Politics of Financial Transactions Taxes and Wealth Taxes
Jonah Raskin
What Evil Empire?
Nino Pagliccia
The Apotheosis of Emperors
Evaggelos Vallianatos
A Passion for Writing
Basav Sen
The Oil Despots
Brett Wilkins
‘No Friend But the Mountains’: A History of US Betrayal of the Kurds
John Kendall Hawkins
Assange: Enema of the State
Scott Owen
Truth, Justice and Life
Thomas Knapp
“The Grid” is the Problem, Not the Solution
Rob Kall
Republicans Are Going to Remove Trump Soon
Cesar Chelala
Lebanon, Dreamland
Weekend Edition
October 11, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Becky Grant
CounterPunch in Peril?
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail