Game of Thrones = War of the Roses?

By on April 8, 2012

Laura Miller delves into the history behind the HBO series, which is loosely based on England’s War of the Roses. Kelly Devries comparesthe series to reality:

A medieval peasant working in the fields or a laborer toiling in the towns certainly had a more onerous life than a farmer or blue-collar worker today, but the degree of misery should not be overstated. Mundane and boring does not necessarily mean harsh, and harsh does not necessarily mean unhappy. Contemporaneous literary depictions such as Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales do not portray the daily existence or mindset of the lower classes as terrible, and the merciless brutality regularly suffered by the lower orders in fantasy works such as Martin’s does not reflect reality — not least because it would have been economically ludicrous for nobles to so abuse the people on whose productivity their own livelihoods depended.

Charli Carpenter draws lessons for contemporary world politics:

To be sure, life in Westeros is poor, nasty, brutish and short, and Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series and David Benioff and D.B. Weiss’ television program are laced with Hobbesian metaphors, Machiavellian intrigues, and Carr-like calculations of power. But the deeper message is that realism alone is unsatisfying and unsuccessful — that leaders disregard ethical norms, the needs of their small-folk, and the natural world at their own peril. Jockeying for power by self-interested actors produces not a stable balance but suboptimal chaos; gamesmanship and the pursuit of short-term objectives distracts players from the truly pressing issues of human survival and stability.

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