How Game of Thrones Turned History Into Mythology
With Game of Thrones Season 7 having come to a bloody end, we delve into how the show has gone from being about political manoeuvring to becoming a full-blown fantasy epic.
Now that Season 7 has wrapped up, we find ourselves faced with just one more season of Game of Thrones. A season that will comprise of just six episodes! So while it’s tempting to only look into the show’s future and ponder over unanswered questions as well as what we are all going to do with our lives once the final episode has aired, it’s also a good opportunity to look back on how far the show has come.
Season 7 was not without its flaws, but like every season so far it delivered some of the most spectacular TV you are likely to see all year. I can’t speak for everyone but I found myself forgetting that I was watching something made for TV and not a giant cinema screen. These sequences stand in stark contrast to the earlier seasons of Game of Thrones because despite being a fantasy show, those early years have a clear lack of large scale action.
There was an abundance of political manoeuvring, intriguing plot lines and character development, but the series didn’t make the foray into huge fantasy battles until ‘Blackwater’. But even then the action was between two human armies, with small fantasy elements peppered throughout. The season we just saw end featured dragons rampaging through an entire military force and a legion of undead warriors.
I should make it clear at this point that I am not going to say that Game of Thrones has been dumbed down or something along those lines. If anything, I think the show has transitioned from being about political manoeuvring to full-blown fantasy battles. The show was inevitably heading this way but to see it fully realised in the penultimate season is something to behold.
This transition is no surprise when you consider how George R. R. Martin is fascinated with the relationship between history and mythology. He created an epic fantasy saga but rather than turn to fantasy lore, his biggest influence has always been history. Martin makes several points throughout the saga about how this relationship is constructed from the viewpoint of those who possess power.
Viewers that love Game of Thrones yet aren’t fond of other genre TV series usually attribute their affection for the show as being down to the fact that it’s “gritty” and “realistic”. But what gives the show those traits are not its violent or sexual characteristics. It lies within the characters themselves. Much like actual history, Martin’s world is populated by characters that we are unable to categorise under simple labels of good or evil. They are flawed and motivated, with every decision they make reflecting that fact.
But now that the main conflict of the show has gone from being a series of power struggles between several different groups of people, to defending the realm against a hoard of ice zombies, are those labels of realism and uncertain morality still a factor? Clearly not, and yet Game of Thrones only continues to grow in popularity despite the fact that the aspects that made it most attractive to its audience are becoming less and less prevalent.
The reason why the series has maintained its strong fan base despite this shift in tone is similar to how Martin makes us empathise with certain characters. He gradually develops them to a point where their transition never feels jarring or out of place. It feels like the next logical step in an arc that has been in motion from the very beginning.
One of the best examples is Jaime Lannister, who began this saga as the incestuous, arrogant Kingslayer, but has slowly grown into one of the most empathetic characters in the show. Bit by bit he has shed an aspect of his old personality and gained a new outlook on the world around him. Much in the same way that we can marvel at how far the characters have come over the course of the show, we can do the same for its tone and style.
Furthermore, Game of Thrones didn’t just make that transition seamlessly, it made us look forward to it. We were ecstatic to see the dragons take flight, we were excited to see Jon Snow confront the White Walkers and we are waiting in anticipation to see what lies in store for Westeros as well as the characters that populate it. Through subtle storytelling methods, the creators of the series have succeeded in translating the core concept of Martin’s books into the show; the moment when history becomes mythology.