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Like it or Not, GAME OF THRONES is Our Biggest Analogy for Climate Change

Like it or Not, GAME OF THRONES is Our Biggest Analogy for Climate Change

I don’t spend so much of my life studying George R.R. Martin‘s fictional history for A Song of Ice and Fire and Game of Thrones because I’m desperate for connections to the real world. I do it because it’s an escape from reality. He borrows from actual historical events, and a huge part of his story’s appeal is found in how he marries fantasy and realism, but the last thing I want to do on Sunday nights is to find myself thinking about the major political issues of our time when all I want to do is see some dragons.

But after last week’s episode, whether you or I like it or not—and no matter if the show’s creators ever meant for it to be this way—it’s impossible to deny that Game of Thrones has become our most prominent cultural analogy for climate change.

When Jon Snow told Daenerys about the Night King, it was the second time Tyrion had heard about the White Walkers from someone he trusted and respected. Years earlier, as acting Hand of the King, Tyrion received a letter at King’s Landing from Lord Commander Mormont that warned of the dead rising. He wasn’t sure if he believed what Mormont was claiming, but he knew Mormont was no liar. That earlier report had as much to do with Tyrion believing Jon as anything the King in the North said or did at Dragonstone.

And what did Tyrion do with that information? What did he do when he learned that all of mankind was at risk? Did he beseech Daenerys to forego her quest for the Iron Throne and head north with her dragons? Did he explain to her that it was Jorah’s father who first told him about the White Walkers, in a desperate attempt to make her accept the existential threat they all face?

No, he did nothing more than convince her to give away some some worthless dragonglass as a show of good faith. He probably does believe Jon, but taking the Iron Throne is far more important to him, so the White Walkers will have to wait for another day.

It might have been the most egregious reaction any character has had on the series yet.

It’s like being told your house is on fire and saying you’ll call the fire department after you finish cleaning the bathroom. Or like being told the planet is dying and saying you need to fix the economy first. The comparison between the indifference of Westerosi leaders towards the White Walkers and our world governments’ slow response to global warming isn’t new or hard to see. An icy threat from the north threatens to move south and wipe out life on the planet unless mankind unites to combat it, and soon. That goes for the both White Walkers and the ice caps.

Throughout the first six seasons of the series, which all began with a White Walker attack in the show’s first scene, characters have dismissed—and often laughed at—reports about the army of the dead. The Long Night was a tall tale, nothing more than a ghost story to frighten children into behaving. It’s actually more understandable why someone like Cersei rolled her eyes at the Lord Commander’s letter than it is to see why some refuse to accept scientific consensus. There are no researchers studying ice demons beyond the Wall producing tangible results.

Countless major characters have rejected the reports before—Ned Stark was skeptical, Baelish doesn’t really believe what Jon says about them, many brothers of the Night’s Watch refused to fully comprehend what they were being told about the White Walkers, so they killed their Lord Commander who only saved the wildlings to keep the army of the dead from growing—so this isn’t a new element to the show.

Even more troubling along the way have been the actions, or lack thereof, of characters who do believe in the White Walkers. Stannis took almost a full season to actually head to the Wall after learning about them, and then he marched on Winterfell. When Jon came back from the dead, he first planned on fleeing south before Ramsay’s letter kept him in the North, even though he had been at Hardhome and knew what was coming. Archmaester Ebrose believes Sam, but he won’t help him because he also believes everything will work out the way it always does.

Television shows aren’t watched in a vacuum, which is why the skepticism and indifference of the true threat facing the Seven Kingdoms has always created a tangential analogy to the issue of climate change. The people on the show care about power, no matter where their focus should really be, and big problems rarely have easy answers.

But last week’s episode, when one of the smartest characters on the show said he believed Jon, but then still turned his attention to something frivolous in comparison, it made the connection all the more impossible to ignore. Daenerys has dragons, and could potentially end the White Walker threat for good. It’s like if, while running for president, the campaign manager to either Bernie Sanders or John Kasich—who both believe in man-made climate change—were told their candidate could magically fix the problem if he left the campaign trail for a short while, but instead they had them knock on doors in New Hampshire.

I certainly wasn’t thrilled to find myself thinking about climate change when I watched Tyrion fail to warn Daenerys about the White Walkers. I don’t think showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss—or George R.R. Martin who started working on the novels in 1991—ever meant for Game of Thrones to become arguably the biggest cultural commentary we have on the issue. But that’s what it has become now, and it’s impossible to ignore.

As this world of magic, dragons, and blue-eyed ice monsters nears its end, it has accidentally said more about us and our crime of inaction than we might have ever thought or wanted, but since that’s what it has done, what will this fantasy ultimately have to say about the biggest real issue we face?

That depends on whether Jon continues to be a lone voice in the wilderness, begging for help that comes too late, or if mankind will unite and defeat the White Walkers together, before they are all destroyed apart.

Truthfully I’d rather not be thinking about any of that on Sunday night, even though I know that’s the problem.

What do you think? Do you see the analogy between what’s happening on Game of Thrones and the real world, or do we need to throw ice water on this comparison? Tell us what you think on the comments below.

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Images: HBO

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