The night is dark and full of terrors

So, you probably don’t watch HBO’s Game of Thrones, but you should.  The series (based on a series of novels, which I have not read because they are too long), is basically an alternate Medieval Europe, but with some magical/mystical elements thrown-in– primarily zombie-esque White Walkers and the classic fire-breathing dragons.  I’d actually prefer the show without these elements, but I’m fine enough with them in there as long as they don’t take the focus away from the realism of the human characters.  The show also has its own religious firmament of which most characters clearly believe in “the gods” who don’t seem to do much but be used in stock phrases, but there’s a small minority who believe in “The Lord of Light,” who’s catchphrase is the title of this post.

Okay, all well and good.  Thing is, last season, the Lord of Light seemed to show some pretty special power to directly interact in human affairs through a character who is a sort of priestess.  Not a fan of that.  Too magical and too easy.  Alright, not that big a problem, though.  In this week’s episode, though, the Lord of Light clearly demonstrated extreme supernatural interference into human affairs.  Alright, fair enough.  But the thing is the Lord of Light seems to be worshiped by just a fringe sect.  Yet he can have amazing supernatural influence (don’t want to spoil it, actually) in human affairs.  Meanwhile, the other gods are little more than “may the gods watch over you on your journey” phrases and that’s about it.  Now, this fails the test of realism.  If there was one god with totally awesome supernatural powers who actually used them and a bunch of other gods– real or not– who never seemed to do much of anything directly for his/her followers, those gods would get completely dominated in a real-world competition between religions.  Everybody in Westeros should be worshiping the Lord of Light– he actually does stuff.

Short version: either the Lord of Light should be the same essentially meaningless figurehead as the other gods or who should be the dominant god in Westeros; that he should be the only god to show genuine power yet be the object of worship of just a small fringe movement make no logical sense.  I don’t know whether to blame the show or George RR Martin, but either way I don’t like it.

About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State

6 Responses to The night is dark and full of terrors

  1. Matt Schneider says:

    Why did this get posted back to April 1, 2013? Are you dropping the ball?

  2. Mike from Canada says:

    I’ve read the books, and although it’s been a long time and the books are very long and packed and complex, I believe the Lord of Light is a new(ish) religion. I think.

    I think there is talk about “the old Gods”, how they used to do things for people, but now do not. They no longer listen to the people. In the books there are minor, shall we say, coincidences which point towards the old Gods still being active. At least this is how I read it. For example, the Stark family pray to the Old Gods. Just before their troubles befall them, they find the direwolf cubs and the dead wolf bitch. I think in the book it’s alluded to an omen, or gift of the Gods. Not the word ‘gift’ but similar. The grey direwolf is the House Stark sigil. These wolves save the lives of each of the Stark Children, except for the girl being held by the Lanisters, and she was partly responsible for the death of one of the wolves. The wolves are much more important in the books. Or I could just be reading more into them.

    Besides the length of the books, I’m having problems figuring out where the series is in comparison, and I don’t want to give anything away. The wolves become more important for the youngest Stark, and the connection to the old Gods becomes closer as his story grows.

    And can’t the same thing be said about Jesus when he appeared? He is said to have done miracles, but at the time he wasn’t worshiped by all. It took a considerable period of time for Christianity to spread, and a lot of people were not in the mood to change, no matter what miracles where claimed to have been done. Some people got down right obstinate. He still isn’t worshiped by a substantial percentage of the population. And we have TV and the internet to spread the word, rather then just word of mouth.

    My problem with the series is a winter that lasts years. How much food would you have to store to survive in good times never mind during war, which seem to rage on and off all the time in this world? It isn’t even winter yet and there is snow in many places. How much snow would be on the ground at the end of winter? A few hundred feet? Or an ice sheet, the start of glaciation? The population isn’t large, they don’t have any advanced food storage systems. The population is generally agrarian, and without knowledge of modern farming the production of food would have been barely above subsistence level. Lot’s of people died of starvation in the real world during hard winters before modern times. During the “year of no summer” uncountable numbers of people died of starvation.

    So I try not to think about it in the context of the show. Or that humans are continuing to expand their populations in the real world, even as we find growing evidence of our harming our planet to our great detriment.

    Winter is coming.

    • Steve Greene says:

      I’ve thought some about the Winter issue, but not as coherently. Of course, it’s possible that a Winter that really does last for years would mean 90% of all people of Westeros die and society crumbles. I also want to know how the people north of the Wall manage to feed themselves when there’s nothing green nor even any signs of animals to eat.

      • Mike from Canada says:

        I thought about the exact same thing. If there was an ocean, you can catch fish, or seals, or such. But animals can’t live off just snow. The one guy with all the wives/daughters, what the heck does he feed his pigs and daughters and wives? Where does he grow it?

        The first book says that summer, so far, has lasted 9 years. I don’t know how that works, as we measure years by one cycle of the seasons. The average length of summer is unknown. We also know that the ice creatures come out at winter. Sometimes when the winters come the ice men expand their reach and go on killing sprees. So I assume winter is just about to start. I don’t think the author Martin thought this out well, or he just decided to ignore the problems. A decade isn’t long enough to replace large losses during winter. But neither do we know how long winter is.

        Come to think of it, I do recall them showing the Castle Stark freezer, and it was row on row on row of hanging frozen carcasses. Where they come from in a land that is not far from the wall, and still has snow close to it, I don’t know. I imagine if we looked at a lot of things in the show it wouldn’t make much sense. I think you would have to cut a lot of trees down to keep warm for a very long winter too.

        I wonder if Martin is ever going to be able to finish the series. He’s one of the slowest published writers I’ve followed, and he has published a few books in between his epic series volumes.

        I think one thing is clear, I have too much time on my hands if I’m spending this much time talking about this stuff. I think I’ll go take my dog to the lake.

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