Game of Thrones: Amoral, Cruel, Gladiatorial...and Universal
Why is Game of Thrones universally acclaimed from the ends of Arizona to Shanghai, via Paris? And yet, other series that are just as excellent or mythical have not seen this result, i.e. The Wire, recognized as one of the best series in the world, a deserved title, but it still underperformed in terms of visibility. Not to mention Mad Men, a masterpiece of cynicism and hope in the world of advertising in the 1960s. There wasThe Sopranos, which clearly marked a departure from the classical series...there was The Shield, Desperate Housewives, Breaking Bad, etc....So why Games of Thrones?
Game of Thrones, like its very famous predecessor, Lord of the Rings, is written as what one would call "heroic fantasy," a fantastical Middle Age universe where dragons and magic cohabit with the world of men. This universe has two decisive advantages: firstly, it does not rely on a specific history like the history of France or the United States, nor is it linked to a specific culture, even if, in this case, it is strongly anchored in the western world. Secondly, heroic fantasy is apolitical. It is seldom that it deals with strong political themes (the death penalty, abortion, etc...). It generally features basic values: freedom, justice, but above all, the real evergreen of this universe: the eternal fight of good vs. evil. All of this is totally universal. Game of Thrones can therefore be read in any language and all cultures.
Another advantage, but this time one which heroic fantasy shares with science fiction: amazement. Whether it be dragons and castles, or spaceships and marvelous technology, heroic fantasy and science fiction have the potential to amaze like no other. Jules Verne, J.R.R. Tolkien and J.K. Rowling delighted us with their fabulous worlds. However, heroic fantasy's advantage is that it refers to a culture of fairytales of yesteryear better anchored in our imagination. Almost all the stories from our childhood, our favorite bedtime stories, are linked to an ancient time without modern technology. Heroic fantasy is science fiction conjugated in the past.
But universality does not stop at the universe… it is also in the conflict! And there, it is heavy. The writers create a laser sharp conflict concentrated on each character and in every scene. We are not talking about a telenovela kind of conflict. It is true conflict, indeed bleeding true. The show does not hesitate to make its characters suffer, to confront them with cruel choices (Daenerys and her revolt of slaves), heartbreaking dilemmas (Jon Snow and his wildling love), to make characters fight who should love each other (Jaime and Brienne of Tarth).
As a matter of fact, in this episode, death is all over, not a single character is immune— no one can forget the episode “The Rains of Castamere” (The Red Wedding), a real shock for fans where two major characters died at once and in a totally unexpected manner. We recall the comments on the Internet that day. Some fans were furious: their sympathetic and kind heroes had been killed! Some commentators were anticipating a revolt of fans and a serious audience decrease. Maybe even the end of the show. Let’s not forget here about the addictive power of conflict…Far from being weakened or buried, the show made a quantum leap in terms of audience.
The Red Wedding, a true magic trick, sends a clear message to the audience: we will dare to do anything! You will never be immune because none of the characters will be. The threat is clear; the audience — thanks to conflict — feels like they are part of the characters and therefore when one of them dies, they feel like they died with them. And that is how you create and manage conflict!
To be continued in Episode 2 : The universality of the characters