I am a big fan of the GOT books and series, loving Season 7 and salivating at Season 8 to come. Great escapism and fantastic acting and camerawork. Part of what I love about GOT is how it far more ruthlessly than, say, Lord of the Rings, describes blind ambition, lust, treachery, human frailties, and the game of alliances. Where LOR has lofty being holding fast on their course for whole lifetimes, GOT has bumbling killers whose moments of goodness get them killed.
Ever since reading the first book though, I did not think of GOT as a serious attempt to describe or analyse human politics and religion. My gripe was not with the existence of magic in this fantasy world, or even various plot-twists that made no sense. There were three far more fundamental aspects of the books that told me the author either did not understand humanity or had no ambition to truly describe how human conflicts might go in an environment that has some supernatural elements but is otherwise ‘realistically human’:
- The existence of Noble Houses that have lasted for thousands of years in a situation where they are lords of their regions but the local religion is not about them. This simply is naive when it comes to how religions develop. The Roman emperors started to be thought of like gods within about about 100 years. The Chinese emperors and the Japanese similarly needed far less than thousands of years of dominance to become central figures in the religion of their regions. The fact that the same is not true in Westeros tells you that GOT does not have religion as humans know it and hence does not have humans as we know them. Indeed, even in the 7 Seasons of GOT, new religions have come from outside of the game of power, without its contents worshipping power itself.
- The longevity of noble houses for thousands of years that are constantly at war, but without constantly being wiped out and replaced by others. That is just ‘fantastical’. It has taken GOT merely 7 seasons to wipe out several ancient families that supposedly survived for thousands of years, but we’re supposed to buy into the idea that the starting line up had all these houses surviving warfare unscathed hitherto? This means GOT lacks believable history for the preceding 8000 years, whilst trying to create a believable history for 7 seasons.
- The existence of an independent guild of ‘Maesters’ whose institutions and roles have not been usurped by those in power. That is not how power works: such an easy source of influence would not be allowed to remain independent in any realistic game of power. Like religion hence, the independent trajectory of the Maesters and their citadel before and during the 7 Seasons belies how power games leave no avenue of influence alone.
So GOT is supposedly about the game of power, but it has left several realms of the human mind outside of it (history, religion, science). As such, it is mentally romantic escapism. I am tempted to speculate that the author left those realms alone because he couldn’t bare corrupting the realms he himself feels closest to: Tyrion could have said “If we truly love it, we lie about it.” And lie about it GRR Martin has. Deliberately, who knows?
And who cares? Long may the Games continue!