[Spoiler alert for the current season of Game of Thrones below. Consider yourself warned.]
HBO’s Game of Thrones television series has been a gigantic success for the premium cable network, combining War of the Roses-inspired medieval historical drama with fantasy elements like dragons and zombies to create escapist entertainment that has proven to be popular with both audiences and critics. What it’s not, obviously, is a scientific documentary. That didn’t stop ThinkProgress from complaining that the show featuring dragon-based warfare isn’t including enough content lecturing viewers about climate change.
In an article posted yesterday titled, “Game of Thrones is not about climate change after all as HBO wimps out,” ThinkProgress contributor Joe Romm complained that the showrunners had “literally shattered the entire metaphor” of the show as a warning about the dangers of climate change.
[Last chance to avoid spoilers. No whining if you continue reading past this point.]
Throughout its eight seasons, the show has followed two key narrative arcs, both of which present deadly threats to the characters. The first centers around the clashes between various noble family houses for political control of the realm of Westeros, with military tactics, court intrigues, and soap-opera-style romantic drama all factoring into how the fortunes of different houses rise and fall.
The second arc is about an ice demon called the “Night King” who has the power to reanimate human and animal corpses into an army of the dead, and the efforts of these forces to invade the lands to the south. In this fictional world, seasons are not regular portions of a year, but both summers and winters can last for years on end, and the long winter that was starting in season one ties into this season’s coming onslaught from the Night King and his ice zombie army.
ThinkProgress is unhappy because the show apparently wrapped up the Night King story line before the series finale airs in a few weeks, and mad that “[o]ne of the show’s heroes single-handedly ended the existential climate threat with a clever knife trick,” because “[i]n the real world, climate change is far too challenging a threat to be ended by one person.”
Romm is correct that George R.R. Martin, the author of the book series on which the show is based, told the New York Times that the Night King storyline on Game of Thrones was a “great parallel” to the climate change threat, but in that same article, Martin expressly passed on a question asking him how Game of Thrones “provides insights into the mind-sets and strategies of modern-day geopolitics.”
That’s because Martin is aware that the story he created is just that, a fictional story. And it is one that from the very first episode has followed both storylines of the human political conflicts and the ice zombie invasion threat.
For the sake of argument, let’s not get into the weeds of the climate change debate and pretend for this moment that ThinkProgress’ positions regarding both the seriousness of the threat and their recommended remedies are correct. Why does what a bunch of fictional characters do in a battle with dragons and ice zombies have anything to do with climate change?
The event that upset ThinkProgress was when Arya Stark defeated the Night King by stabbing him with a knife made from Valyrian steel, a material described as having magical properties. This is after another character, Daenerys Targaryen, fails to kill the Night King after her dragon blasts him with fire.
So, does ThinkProgress approve of the dragon fire failing to kill the Night King? What lesson are we mere mortals, with our pet housecats and corgis, supposed to learn from watching a fire-breathing dragon?
Seriously though, why does ThinkProgress’ climate change argument need to be validated by ice zombies? What difference does it make if the Night King was defeated by a partial coalition of Westerosi forces rather than all of them? Out of all possible environmental threats, the risk of Earth ceasing to follow its annual orbit around the sun is extremely unlikely for millions of years, so why is it so important to get lessons about a place where winter can last for years?
Why do liberal solutions so often require forcing everyone to follow the same program?
Looking at the problem from a different angle, what about the fact that Arya spent most of the series studying and practicing skills that made her capable of issuing the fatal blow in that crucial moment? It was far more than a momentary “clever knife trick,” but rather roughly a decade of the character’s life spent doing difficult and dangerous tasks that were physically, mentally, and emotionally taxing. She sought out a series of experts who offered her different types of training, from “dancing master” Syrio Forel, to Jacquen Haqar and the Faceless Men’s assassin training, to Sandor “the Hound” Clegane’s ruthless tactical skills, to Brienne of Tarth’s swordsmanship.
Perhaps that’s a better metaphor for the more prudent approach to climate change and other environmental challenges: rather than demanding the unified “involvement of all the world’s major powers” to march in lockstep, we should encourage the research and innovation that has historically — on our actual real planet earth, not the fictional world with the dragons — led to continued environmental improvements.
Western capitalism has created cleaner automobiles — including traditional gas-powered engines as well as hybrid and electric vehicles — and more efficient energy production. There’s a company in Texas that developed a way to produce energy from natural gas with zero emissions by using its own pressurized liquid CO2 as a working fluid to turn the factory turbines. When we shop for light bulbs these days, we can chose from incandescent, halogen, florescent, and LED bulbs, all of which are more energy efficient than previous generations of light bulbs. The manatee population in Florida has increased after years of enjoying safe havens in the warm water outflow from several power plants around the state.
There are many, many more examples like this, but none of these innovations came quickly or simply. No “clever knife tricks” to kill off the problem in seconds. They required expert scientists and innovators, entrepreneurial business leaders and venture capitalists, experimentation, time, failure after failure, all eventually leading to progress.
ThinkProgress is unhappy that a fictional television show about dragons failed to guilt trip everyone into giving up their personal automobiles or becoming vegan or whatever the latest cure touted by Green New Deal advocates may be. I’d rather cheer on the real world Arya Starks who are working hard to improve their skills and learn from experimentation to find innovative solutions.
Follow Sarah Rumpf on Twitter: @rumpfshaker.
Correction: This article originally said Arya Stark’s knife was dragon glass, when it actually was Valyrian steel — both of which are fictional materials with magical properties in a fictional fantasy story so either way, it’s silly for ThinkProgress to be upset about Arya sticking ’em with the pointy end and ruining their climate change narrative.