The Agenda

John Lanchester on the Sources of the Popularity of George R. R. Martin’s Epic Fantasy Series

John Lanchester argues that Game of Thrones it reflects the uncertainty and anxiety of the post-crisis era:

In Westeros, seasons last not for months but for years, and are not predictable in duration. Nobody knows when – to borrow the minatory motto of the Starks – ‘winter is coming.’ At the start of Game of Thrones, summer has been going on for years, and the younger generation has no memory of anything else; the blithe young aristocrats who’ve grown up in this environment are, in Catelyn’s mordant judgment, ‘the knights of summer’. The first signs of autumn are at hand, however, and the maesters – they’re the caste of priest/doctor/scientists – have made an official announcement that winter is indeed on its way. A winter that is always notoriously hard, and can last not just years but a decade or more. It’s a huge all-encompassing environmental force, determining the lives of everyone, open-endedly. The climate change aspect of this is obvious to the contemporary audience, but there’s something more subtle and subtextual at work here too: another economic metaphor, another kind of difficult climate. Westeros is like our own world, in which hard times have arrived, and no one feels immune from their consequences, and no one knows how long the freeze will last. Our freeze is economic, but still. Put these two components together, and even the fantasy-averse, surely, can start to see the contemporary appeal of this story, this world. It’s a universe in which nobody is secure, and the climate is getting steadily harder, and no one knows when the good weather will return.

Though slightly overwrought, there is something to Lanchester’s thesis. 

Reihan Salam is president of the Manhattan Institute and a contributing editor of National Review.

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