Game of Thrones: Get Ready to DIE!
Welcome to this special Wisecrack Edition on Game of Thrones & The Sopranos: Learning to Die Gracefully. We’re exploring how these shows make a statement about knowing your place and learning how to die gracefully in the face of your impending extinction.
Written by: Alec Opperman
Directed & Narrated by: Jared Bauer
Assistant Directors: Robert Tiemstra and Ben Peterson
Edited by: Ryan Hailey
Assistant Editor: Andrew Nishimura
Motion Graphics by: Drew Levin
Produced by: Jacob Salamon
Game of Thrones: Get Ready to DIE!
Hey Wisecrack. Jared here and today we’re discussing the show that made us never want to attend a wedding again- HBO’s fantasy epic, Game of Thrones. In a 2008 article in New York Magazine, showrunner David Benioff described Game of Thrones as “The Sopranos in Middle earth.” The Middle Earth comparison makes sense given the dragons, magic, fantasy lore, and an author with the middle initials “R.R.”. But what’s the connection with the Sopranos?
A quick stop on the world’s most reliable reference reveals that the relation between the two is an “intrigue-filled plot and dark tone.”Hmm.. that seems a little nebulous. I mean, Teen Wolf and Pretty Little Liarshave “intrigue-filled plots and dark tones”… it just doesn’t seem unique to Game of Thrones.
With a closer look there does seem to be something that brings these two television powerhouses together and it may not be what you think… the answer: the setting. They DO have similar leisure spots, after all. In all seriousness, they’re similar because they both take place during an “interregnum,” or a period of time when leadership is either unclear or in fux.
In the first season of Game of Thrones, King Robert Boratheon dies leaving various factions vying for their claim to be his successor. Some have even likened this to The Great Interregnum, a nearly 20 year period in which the Holy Roman Empire had no official ruler. Like the show, this era was characterized by strategic weddings, betrayals, and the significant impact of religious groups on the power struggle.
Likewise, In the first season of The Sopranos, Jackie Aprielle, the head of the new Jersey mob, dies of cancer leaving a lapse of leadership with no clear indication of who should take the reigns. Should it be Tony? Junior? Jackie’s brother Richie? What about Jackie Jr.? In both shows, this issue of succession remains problematic for much of the series.According to philosopher William Spanos an interregnum can also be characterized by an unknown future, or a cataclysmic change in reality. Think of the fall of Rome or the dawning of the Age of Aquarius.
In Game of Thrones, the White Walkers are coming and humanity faces death by snow zombie. In the Sopranos, Tony’s panic attacks signal a realization that his rise to power comes right as the Mob life is dying, largely due to RICO statutes and the FBI. His personality, “The Gary Cooper” type: the strong silent who took care of his own problems and didn’t act like a victim… is also slowly becoming extinct.
If you caught the Hardhome episode of Game of Thrones you might have come to the realization that humanity is basically fucked. Likewise, with the ever-expanding power of the FBI to prosecute organized crime, Tony and his boys are… well…also fucked. In precarious times like these people tend to either re-affirm their faith in a moral code or abandon it entirely.
The rules of Omertà, orthe code of honor and silence that is meant to preserve the lifestyle of organized crime, are being broken left and right. With the new severe penal sentence for drug trafficking, even the most loyal wiseguys are becoming FBI informants, because, well, they don’t serve Baked Ziti in the federal penitentiary. Tony, too, disregards the code when he talks to a psychologist (let alone a woman.) (And later, he beats Ralph despite the fact he’s a made man.)
In Game of Thrones, the systems of order that preserve humanity are also being broken. The viewers are reminded that “There must always be a Stark in Winterfell” goes to shit in and nobody quite knows what the consequences will be. The Night’s Watch is set up with support from the entire realm to preserve humanity but let’s face it, it’s falling apart. Only three of the nineteen castles are functioning, the children of the forest no longer give one hundred obsidian daggers every year like they used to, and most of the ranks of the guard are made up of bastards, thieves, and rapists.
While this comparison between two stellar TV shows may seem innocuous, it actually gets real, pretty quickly. To some, Game of Thrones isn’t just a fantasy epic with a ludicrous body count; it is an indication that OUR lives are about to be fucked. A quick google search reveals that one of the dominant interpretations of the Game of Thrones series is that the show is really about global warming. The theory goes something like this:
Basically we’re on the precipice of an extinction level event-what with rising sea levels, storms, massive displacements of population and refugee crisis, increase of diseases and super storms, ocean acidification, biodiversity loss, and all that fun stuff, yet everyone is fixated on other things like building walls, investigating scandalous emails, and the social impact of topless celebrity selfies.
Similarly, the white walkers are descending from the land of always winter to kill everyone, but the people of Westeros are too busy worrying about their own shit likethe war for the Iron Throne, chasing down Robert’s bastards to see their hair color, trekking across the globe to see if Dragons are back, giving their cats whimsical names, and lining the streets for a chance to see Queen Cersei’s boobs.
In the Sopranos it’s Goumauds, people coming in and out of jail, something about horses, and the New York versus New Jersey feud… when they should have been worrying about other things. Not to mention that some people tend to take the ostrich like approach to the coming apocalypse… you know, head in the sand when shit goes down.
In Roy Scranton’s book: Learning to Die in the Anthropocene: Reflections on the End of a Civilization he argues that we live in a new era characterized by man-made climate change. If the dinosaurs lived in the Triassic, the Jurassic, and the Cretaceous… we live in the Anthropocene, an age characterized by the “…advent of the human species as a geological force” Essentially, we have turned the corner and we’re already seeing the catastrophic consequences of fossil fuel addiction.
Instead of waiting for the renewable revolution, the banks, or the governments of the world to fix the problem—we need to understand that we’re all already dead. The only thing we can do, according to Scranton: learn how to die. Man… this video took a depressing turn.
So what does it mean to learn how to die? It means drastically altering our way of life, understanding that our current life choices aren’t working and, above all, accepting that there is no going back. Our way of life is, like so many wights, ALREADY dead.
Indeed, the key to surviving in Westeros seems to the ability to adapt, or to “learn how to die.” Characters who adapt under reality shattering circumstances tend to live…longer at least. Jaime Lannister, the legendary swordsman “dies” in a metaphorical sense when his sword hand is taken, but he learns to adapt and perseveres. Arya does all sorts of adapting in the name of survival: She works for one of the men responsible for killing her father (Taiwin), she disguises herself as a boy, and she even travels with the Hound even though she wants revenge against him. Not to mention when she goes to Bravos and is instructed by the Faceless Men that she must set aside her identity completely and become “no one.” Bran “dies” when he loses function in his legs, but this event causes him to focus on his powers and begin his true journey. Hodor.
Whereas character who can’t change simply die- like for real die. Ned Stark is so rigid in honoring the line of legitimate succession that he fails to prevent the Lannister takeover… and he ya know … Stannis refused to stray the course from Melisandre’s plan causing his army to desert and be overtaken by the Boltons, and Joffrey just couldn’t grow up, accept responsibility, and effectively rule.
It can be argued that Phil Leotardo’s tragic flaw was that he didn’t know how to die. His need to keep it ‘old school’, his homophobia and fear of anything that emasculates the macho mob (his hatred of Vito for being gay or Phil getting all pissed off because Johnny Sack cried this one time) all show show his inability to adapt to a world where someone like Gary Cooper no longer serves a purpose. He doesn’t understand that his way of life is dying. And he ya know….BOOM HEADSHOT
Or as Jaquen H’ghar states: Valar Maghulis: all men must die.
If, as Montaigne asserted, “To philosophize is to learn how to die,” then we have entered humanity’s most philosophical age, for this is precisely the problem of the Anthropocene. The rub now is that we have to learn to die not as individuals, but as a civilization.
Learning to die means living for others, like the Night’s Watch; giving up selfish desires for the greater
good. This is echoed by the sister phrase to Valar Morghulis, “Valar Dohaeris”…“all men must serve.”
And perhaps this is why all men dying and all men serving are two sides of the same coin. Knowing that all men must die comes with the responsibility of serving your part, of making your life count.
Perhaps it is up to the Tyrions, Samwell Tarleys, and Maesters of the world to reinvigorate a love of literature and philosophy necessary to create a new code… a new way of living before it’s too late. OR maybe it was always up to Jon Snow… and they’re all fucked. Or… not?
As for us here at Wisecrack, how do we feel about the anthropocene and climactic
cataclysm? Well we’ll let you know after season 6 ends.