A Song of Ice and Fire and Global Warming

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A Song of Ice and Fire and Global Warming

Illustration: Akshita Monga

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fter weeks of non-stop spoilers, leaks, memes, and internet overreactions, the largest collective cultural experience of our times is coming to an end. You’d think I was talking about the American presidential elections or something of that magnitude, but I really just mean the conclusion of a season of Game of Thrones.

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With it shall end the countless debates waged between people who take the lives of fictional characters much more seriously than they do their own. The tendency to overanalyse the show’s themes is as commonplace among fans as regret is amongst Americans who voted for Trump. Theories about Jon’s parentage, Arya’s true identity, and who will finally sit on the Iron Throne fly thick and fast when the show is on air.

But buried under this mountain of geek gold is a portentous interpretation of Game of Thrones that turns it into a cautionary tale about the state of our world. This rollercoaster of tits and dragons that we’ve been riding for the last seven years is a veiled allegory about the threat of climate change. And this isn’t merely a theory put forth by fans who live and breathe GoT, attempting to impute more meaning to the show than necessary.   

On the surface, it’s an unlikely theory, but it gains credibility the longer you think about it. For starters, there are the constant hints about how “winter is coming”. Despite these ominous weather forecasts being bandied about in Westeros, the lords and ladies of the land choose to discover increasingly creative ways to kill each other. If there is another accurate parallel to the world that we occupy right now, please send me a message in a bottle about it.  

Right from the first season, the show made a point to steer clear of established escapist fantasy tropes, and ensured its world is far more rooted in reality than other works in the genre.

If the parallels still elude you, let me compare two ill-tempered, irrational blondes who have no real business holding a position anywhere close to head of state: Donald Trump and Cersei Lannister. Cersei choosing to ignore the army of the dead North of the Wall to focus on killing everyone who has wronged her is a lot like Donald Trump pulling out of the Paris Agreement and then threatening to rain fire and fury (the unwanted sequel to Hiroshima and Nagasaki) on North Korea.

And then there are the wildlings from north of the Wall. As winter set in and the White Walkers rose from their slumber, the wildlings were the worst hit. They lost their homes, their families, and their livelihoods. Still, because they had no representative to speak to the nobles, their plight was ignored. Just the way farmers in the Maldives and the Sundarbans won’t get a ticket to the next G8 summit when rising sea levels swallow their villages.

The most obvious parallel here would be the show’s Big Bad – the White Walkers. They are the literal personification of the oncoming cold. They make no distinctions between their victims, killing the bad guys as well as the good guys with equal detachment. Chilling. Implacable. An unstoppable force of nature, much like our planet’s changing climate.

It’s interpretations like this one that make GoT the defining TV show of our generation. Right from the first season, the show made a point to steer clear of established escapist fantasy tropes, and ensured its world is far more rooted in reality than other works in the genre. If Lord of the Rings were written by George RR Martin, Frodo wouldn’t have made it out of The Shire, let alone completed his trek to Mordor. Rather than embodying the lofty ideals we usually seek out in our heroes, GoT presents a tapestry of flawed characters riddled with human failings. If its depiction of people and personal relationships can be so true to life, it is only fitting that its themes reflect the same reality.

Game of Thrones

If the parallels still elude you, let me compare two ill-tempered, irrational blondes who have no real business holding a position anywhere close to head of state: Donald Trump and Cersei Lannister.

Image Credit: HBO

Right about now, I know what a fellow GoT nerd is going to say in the comments. Someone is going to point out that the climate change allegory does not hold true because the first book in Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series hit shelves in 1996. Those were simpler times, when Michael Jackson performed in Mumbai and Michael Jordan played basketball with the Looney Tunes. Climate change was not the looming bogeyman it is today. That the watershed moment for the climate change issue came ten years later, when Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth released in 2006 and added phrases like “carbon footprint” to our collective vocabulary. That we’re attaching too much importance to what are essentially Walking Dead zombies in a Conan the Barbarian setting.

But I beg to differ, dear GoT bro.

For me, the greatest achievement of the show is that it manages to stay relevant, despite it being a literary adaptation of a yet-to-be-completed series of novels. Whether the author intended it or not, the show has become a mirror to our world today. A world that is currently under threat from climate change.

The latest season might have drawn more criticism than its predecessors for a variety of reasons, but it’s also the season where this allegory has been brought to the fore. Finally, we got to see rulers make attempts to reach out to one another to jointly tackle the threat of winter. The usual political machinations and intricate plotting was discarded in favour of swift, decisive action. While some may rue the departure from GoT’s signature slow-burn style, the series has clearly grown larger than its source material.

It’s no longer just a TV adaptation of a particularly dark set of novels, it’s the crown jewel of the millennial zeitgeist, and if this generation isn’t more conscious than the one that came before, then winter will have well and truly come for us all. (Or summer, depending on what part of the hemisphere you live in.)   

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