Episode 28: Transcript
Our Opinions Are Correct, Episode 28
Transcription by Keffy Kehrli
Charlie Jane: [00:00:00] Welcome to Our Opinions Are Correct, a podcast about the meaning of science fiction and fantasy. I’m Charlie Jane Anders, a science fiction writer who thinks a lot about science.
Annalee: [00:00:08] And I’m Annalee Newitz, a science journalist who writes science fiction.
Charlie Jane: [00:00:12] Today we’re going to talk about Game of Thrones, which comes back for its final season on April 14th. What do we love about Game of Thrones? What is this show still about at this point, and what are we hoping to learn from the final season in Westeros?
Annalee: [00:00:26] Duhn duhn duhhhhn.
[00:00:28] Intro music plays: Drums with a bass drop and more science fictional bells and percussion.
Charlie Jane: [00:00:54] By the way, before we get started, there are going to be a lot of spoilers for Game of Thrones. Everything that’s aired up until now. So, if you’re not caught up on Game of Thrones, first of all what have you been doing? But second of all, just be warned. Spoilers.
Annalee: [00:01:08] All right, so, I’m going to confess to you right now, Charlie Jane that the reason I have my phone sitting out here open and glowing is because I have a list of all the Game of Thrones characters that I pulled up on it because it’s so complicated at this point that I knew I would not remember everyone, certainly not all of their relationships. And, the one thing I am very confident in remembering is there are a fuck of a lot of Snow people, snow zombies, white walkers, we’ve got a zombie dragon now? A white walker dragon, basically.
Charlie Jane: [00:01:41] A zombie ice dragon, yeah.
Annalee: [00:01:43] It’s an ice dragon, but I’d like to point out that before we get into talking about really important things that I’m a little bit disappointed in the breath weapon situation. The living dragon should have fire. The ice dragon should have ice.
Charlie Jane: [00:01:55] Should. Yes, I agree.
Annalee: [00:01:55] Should. Not just blue fire. I think I’ve complained about this before.
Charlie Jane: [00:01:58] Yeah, that’s a rip-off.
Annalee: [00:02:00] It is a rip-off. As a dragon fan, I feel upset. But, really, what I want to ask you is, you know, is there anything to this show going on anymore, now, other than this apocalyptic battle between the living and the white walkers? Like, what else is even kind of happening?
Charlie Jane: [00:02:17] Yeah, I feel like around the time that they stopped having material from the books to draw from, Game of Thrones kind of turned more into a tentpole action series and much more into a just like, fast-paced action-adventure show with very occasional moments of statecraft and politics sandwiched in and at this point, almost everybody has been drawn into the fighting ice zombies storyline for the final season. The only person who is still kind of hanging out there not taking part in the ice zombie storyline is Cersei Lannister who is now the Queen of Westeros, and she’s the only character who is still committed to the stuff that we actually cared about in the show, which is a lot of the politics and the kind of questions of legitimacy of rule and everything. Everybody else is just basically like, zombie, zombie, zombie.
Annalee: [00:03:03] Yeah, it’s interesting that you bring up Cersei being the only one left who actually has a nation or any kind of notion of being a leader of something other than a magical group and it’s funny that this show went from being what a lot of people embraced as realism. Even though, of course, it’s set in a fantasy world. But it’s this kind of gritty realistic fantasy, to being just, all about fighting monsters. Monsters that have no kind of political meaning at all.
Charlie Jane: [00:03:32] The thing of it is, is that part of the design of Game of Thrones is that it gets more fantastical and more larger than life as it goes because you kind of start off with like a little hint of magic in a very realistic political landscape, and you end up with the magic gets bigger and bigger and bigger until it swallows everything up. And that’s kind of the story of Game of Thrones in a general sense. But also, if you follow the logic of like, the logic of Game of Thrones, the way that George R.R. Martin does in his books. It just gets more and more depressing. It gets more and more awful. You have food shortages. You have more and more problems caused by all the misrule by like Joffrey and honestly Daenerys and Cersei. They’re all terrible rulers. They all make terrible decisions that just cause huge problems and if you were gonna treat that realistically, the way George R.R. Martin does in the books that he’s published so far. It just gets more and more depressing and awful and it’s kind of a study in bad rulership.
Actually, we have a clip of George R.R. Martin talking about why he does that in the books.
G.R.R.M.: [00:04:31] You know, you look at Tolkien and at the end of the books, Sauron has been defeated, Aragorn is king and Tolkien just says that he ruled wisely and well for 500 years or whatever. And it’s easy to type, you know, he ruled wisely and well. But then you start asking yourself what, what does that constitute, wisely and well? I mean, what was his tax policy?
Charlie Jane: [00:04:58] As he says, it’s a reaction to Tolkien, where Tolkien is just like, King Aragorn ruled wisely, the end. And it’s like, what does that mean? How do you rule wisely in a fantasy kingdom? And those are the questions that George R.R. Martin is obsessed with and those are largely the questions that as the show has gone on, it’s kind of sidestepped.
Annalee: [00:05:15] I feel like the character of Tyrion, who’s one of my very favorite characters in the show and I think is a huge fan favorite is kind of the voice of politics in the show a lot of the time. He’s the voice of the person who’s trying to figure out the politics in a meaningful way. And also, looking for solutions that are progressive and humanitarian in some sense. And what the hell is he even doing in the show anymore? Like, what is his role at this point?
Charlie Jane: [00:05:42] Yeah, Tyrion is just sort of hanging out with Daenerys and being her advisor. But, because it’s Daenerys and she never listens to anybody anyway, and she just pouts and everything turns out great because she’s got dragons and she’s badass, and I don’t even know what I’m expecting from Tyrion in the final season other than like, a few quippy moments. I feel like that what he’s good for at this point.
[00:06:02] And similarly, Sansa, who’s another character who ought to be kind of the voice of Realpolitik and like understanding the political ramifications of this situation. I have a feeling that she’s just going to be stuck in this rivalry with her half-brother, I guess? Jon Snow. Where the two of them are going to be at loggerheads and it’s just going to turn into, like, a bitch fight, kind of. Or, you know, a slap fight. It’s gonna just be like sibling rivalry.
Annalee: [00:06:24] I just want Arya to assassinate everybody. Like, that’s the spin-off I want. Like, I want a spin-off that’s just Arya: Assassin.
Charlie Jane: [00:06:33] Same. Same.
Annalee: [00:06:33] And, just see her just kicking up some dust and, I don’t know. Maybe she’ll get, like a girlfriend or a boyfriend or both. Or, like, she can date a dragon. Like, that’s my end game.
Charlie Jane: [00:06:46] That would be awesome, yeah.
Annalee: [00:06:48] But speaking of actual, actual couples in this show. What is going to happen. So Daenerys and Jon Snow finally got together which was a thing that happened. And, how does that change things, like as we go into our end game, this final piece of season that we’re getting. What does that mean politically for the show? Where is that taking us, Charlie Jane?
Charlie Jane: [00:07:08] We’re supposed to think that Daenerys and Jon Snow getting together is some kind of like political solution to the problems of Westeros, because Jon Snow is the north and Daenerys is kind of the legitimate ruler of the south because she’s the Targaryen.
Annalee: [00:07:21] And the east, she’s the—
Charlie Jane: [00:07:22] Although Jon Snow is also a Targaryen…
Annalee: [00:07:24] —colonizer of the east.
Charlie Jane: [00:07:24] Yeah, she’s… you know. And the two of them together represent two different strands of politics in Westeros. They’re both exiles. They’re both outlaws who have been pushed out of their rightful homes, but they have different approaches, I guess. Daenerys is much more authoritarian and Jon Snow is much more kind of quasi-demo—well, he’s kind of democratic. He ran the Night’s Watch in a semi-democratic way.
Annalee: [00:07:49] Yeah, until he didn’t—
Charlie Jane: [00:07:49] He’s a liberalizing force. They’re both kind of liberalizers who want to bring in. They want to free the slaves in Daenerys’s case, they want to bring in the Wildlings in Jon Snow’s case. And so, there’s some hope that the two of them are going to create a better Westeros. It’s also, you know, obviously the show started with incest between Cersei and her brother Jaime and now it’s ending with incest between Daenerys and Jon Snow, who is Daenerys’s nephew. So, it’s like incest-ception. It’s basically like incest inside incest around incest.
Annalee: [00:08:16] Yeah, I mean, because the middle of the show is all incest, too. There’s just… every possible permutation of incest has happened. Can I just say, again, maybe the dragons should have sex. That could be incest, too, because they’re eggmates or something.
Charlie Jane: [00:08:32] Yeah, I mean, how are they gonna repopulation the dragon species otherwise?
Annalee: [00:08:37] I do think that the stuff around incest, though, is part Martin’s whole idea of talking about the problem of building a nation and the problem of politics in general because it’s a kind of… a metaphor, but also a literal instance of nepotism. Things being kept within families in a way that’s really twisted and that is kind of visiting something terrible on the next generation, whether that’s because they come out like Joffrey, or because they’re just stuck in this incredibly tight-knit family that’s almost its own eugenics project in a sense.
Charlie Jane: [00:09:14] Yeah.
Annalee: [00:09:14] And it’s, I mean, and we see that kind of coming up again and again. But that just kind of gives me nostalgia for Joffrey. Like, remember when he was the worst ruler that we could possibly imagine.
Charlie Jane: [00:09:28] It’s so funny, because when Joffrey was king on the show, you know, Obama was president in real life. We had kind of like, things were kind of okay. And now when I think back to Joffrey being king, I’m like, well, he wasn’t that bad. Like, compared to real life leadership that we’re experiencing right now, Joffrey was actually pretty good. And like, the thing about the incest—
Annalee: [00:09:45] I mean, he did try to murder all the people he was having sex with for a while.
Charlie Jane: [00:09:50] He tried to murder everybody, basically. He was kind of like the Caligula-slash-whatever of the show. Although, I keep hearing that Caligula got a bum rap. That you know.
Annalee: [00:09:59] I heard that about Nero recently, too. So, I don’t know.
Charlie Jane: [00:10:01] Yeah.
Annalee: [00:10:01] Yeah.
Charlie Jane: [00:10:01] But, the thing about incest that I wanted to say, is, you’re right that it’s kind of in a way a function of having royal families and having chosen people, that they just have to hook up with each other, and you know, Star Wars kind of dodged a bullet there with Luke and Leia. It’s interesting because part of the needle that the final season of Game of Thrones has to thread is that we have the question of political leadership, political legitimacy. Like, who’s the rightful Targaryen heir, if we care about that? Who’s the rightful heir to the throne under these complicated rules of succession. And then, on the other side, you’ve got this whole prophecy of the prince who was promised, which, Melisandre the red priestess kept going on about. And she decided at some point that Jon Snow might be the prince who was promised. She thought it was Stannis before. And so there’s like, the chosen one, kind of literal chosen one prophesied savior side of the equation. And then the political legitimacy side. They have to come together in a way that doesn’t feel cheap or kind of just silly. Which, is gonna be tricky because it’s two different kinds of chosen one narratives kind of being smooshed together a little bit.
Annalee: [00:11:05] And there’s also, to go back to what we started with. There’s also still that little shred of realism in the story where we’re contrasting how Daenerys is conducting herself now that she’s back in Westeros versus how she behaved in Essos where she was partly a white savior, just fitting into that completely old-school kind of white racist narrative of the idea that only a white person can save the brown people from themselves even though they seem like they’re doing a great job saving themselves. And then she kind of comes along and makes herself a despot. Makes herself basically an authoritarian ruler whose anti-slavery policies turn out to be a hell of a lot more complicated than she originally thought, and than we originally thought. And so there’s this kind of despotic, colonial, white savior situation happening in Essos. And then she’s coming back over to Westeros and there’s this, as you were saying, there’s this kind of vague sense that this is going to be somehow democratic or more democratic or it’s going to be better because the kids are taking over. Or, there’s some notion that this is going to be better for everybody
[00:12:16] Again, that’s sort of lurking in the background behind all this chosen one shit and all of this family drama. Like, what will the ultimate state be that we end up with? Are we going to have a nation? Are we going to have an empire? Is there any solution beyond just like having a giant fighty-pants moment with the white walkers? Do you think we’re gonna get past that and finally have a sense of how are we going to design this new state. Or is it just going to be, we slayed the dragon, we’re done. Everybody gets married and has babies.
Charlie Jane: [00:12:44] If I had to predict right now, my guess is that the show is gonna solve the problems of like leadership and who gets to be in charge and who deserves to be in charge. It’s going to solve those problems in a very distinctly Game of Thrones way by killing off almost everybody and whoever is left alive is the chosen ruler because they’re not dead. I think that, you know, I keep obsessing about like, if we do get to read the final two books of George R.R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire series, how is he going to deal with those questions? And I have a feeling he’s going to deal with those questions in a much more slow, methodical way that is going to involve a lot of, like, really complicated scenes of bad governance nad really beautifully described food over and over and over again. By the time he gets to the point where the show is now, he’s going to find his own way to resolve the crises of like Stannis and Walder Frey and the religious zealots who Cersei just blew up on the show. Those—all those situations are going to be—
Annalee: [00:13:44] Yeah. The Sparrow and his gang.
Charlie Jane: [00:13:45] And actually, still the question of how Daenerys’s rule in Meereen is going to be resolved. That still hasn’t been resolved in the books. There’s still evil wizards who are chasing after Daenerys. There’s still, like, zombie Catelyn Stark in the books. There’s a lot of stuff in the books that I think is going to create a much more complex situation and possibly make it—I think he wants to deprive us of easy answers. And I think the show at some point has decided easy answers are the easy way to go because it’s a television show. You’ve got to wrap it up.
Annalee: [00:14:15] Yeah, we’ve got to wrap it up. But let’s take a second just to recall that one of the things that really made the show endearing and riveting was the fact that it didn’t offer easy answers. And that first season that ended with Ned Stark dying. That was a great moment in television. And it’s not like there haven’t been television shows before that killed off a main character. But it’s usually after a long struggle and contract negotiations, or it’s a soap opera where people kind of have to die once in a while. But that made the show feel so—it made the show feel like the stakes were incredibly high and I… After that execution, I was all in. I was already all in, but then I was really like, okay, this is a show that’s taking seriously the idea that politics are fucking hard. And the fantasy world is not a happy place.
[00:15:06] Segment change music plays. Drums with a bass line including bass drops.
Charlie Jane: [00:15:20] More about Game of Thrones. Part of what really appealed to me about both the books and the TV show originally is that they’re kind of about modernity. They’re almost about the beginning of a Renaissance. Like, when the series, both the books and the TV show start, Westeros is kind of on the verge of almost an enlightenment. They are becoming more scientific. They’re getting rid of superstitions. They’re becoming more of a “modern” realm, and I think that Robert Baratheon is not a good king particularly, but he’s kind of a modernizing king. He’s a king who basically has created a state of peace and relative prosperity during his reign and people—when we meet people like Tyrion at the start of the series, they don’t really believe in the ice zombies. They don’t really believe in a lot of the stuff. They know that dragons were real because they have dragon skeletons lying around in the castle. But they don’t really believe in a lot of the superstitions from the past. Which, of course, turn out to all be true. And you know, there’s a little bit of like, we’re modern people and we don’t hold with all that old superstition. And there’s more, kind of, at least gesturing towards ideas of rule of law and protecting the rights of the peasants from the lords which is something that Ned Stark is actually very passionate about when he serves as the Hand of the King. There’s a lot of stuff like that and kind of the overall question of Game of Thrones is whether you can maintain that sense of modernity in a fantasy world where there are dragons and ice zombies and all these other things coming in to kind of disrupt the kind of predictable scientific worldview that someone like Tyrion adheres to.
[00:16:55] Here’s actually a clip from season one of Game of Thrones that really underlies the general themes of the show in terms of like, governance and legitimacy and what it means to be a ruler.
Clip: [00:17:04] Arthur: I am your king.
Peasant 1: Well, I didn’t vote for you!
Arthur: You don’t vote for kings.
Peasant 1: Well how did you become king, then?
Arthur: The lady of the lake, her arm clad in the purest shimmering samite, held aloft Excalibur from the bosom of the water signifying by divine providence that I, Arthur, was to carry Excalibur. That is why I’m your king.
Peasant 2: Listen, strange women lying in ponds distributing swords is no basis for system of government. Supreme executive power derives from a mandate from the masses, not from some farcical aquatic ceremony.
Arthur: Be quiet.
Peasant 2: Oh, but you can’t expect to wield supreme executive power just because some watery tart threw a sword at you.
Arthur: Shut up!
Peasant 2: Oh, but if I went ‘round sayin’ I was an emperor, just because some moistened bint had lobbed a scimitar at me, they’d put me away.
Arthur: Shut up, will you! Shut up!
Peasant 2: Ha! Now we see the violence inherent in the system!
Arthur: Shut up!
Peasant 2: Oh! Come and see the violence inherent in the system! Help! Help! I’m being repressed!
Arthur: Bloody peasant!
Charlie Jane: [00:18:04] So, I lied. That clip was actually not from Game of Thrones. It was from Monty Python and the Holy Grail. But I feel like it does—
Annalee: [00:18:11] Kind of same thing.
Charlie Jane: [00:18:13] But it does kind of underlie the central tension of Game of Thrones and it kind of—I feel like that scene from Monty Python and the Holy Grail in some ways is the seed out of which all of Game of Thrones grows. Because it’s this question of like—
Annalee: [00:18:24] And all of modern fantasy in a sense, with its moistened bints.
Charlie Jane: [00:18:27] Especially secondary world fantasy. This idea that like, on the one hand, you have these peasants who are like, we’re having a rational, democratic anarcho-socialist worldview in which we’re going to try to decide things in a communal way. And on the other hand you have King Arthur being like, “I’m king because some woman came out of the water and handed me a sword” or whatever. Or some watery tart threw a sword at you, or whatever. You know. It’s—that’s kind of like the heart of Game of Thrones, the tension between those two worldviews. And, you know, as Michael Palin says in that clip, now we see the violence inherent in the system. You know, that should be Game of Thrones’s motto.
Annalee: [00:19:10] So, I think this extremely important clip from Monty Python raises a question that we were talking about a little bit about earlier which is whether you really could have a modern government emerge out of a story like this where the peasants kind of take over and, you know, achieve some kind of social status that goes beyond the sort of ceremonial status that Daenerys’s sidekicks have. She has a sidekick who’s a former slave and she has a guard. He’s part of the… what’s the group called?
Charlie Jane: [00:19:43 Unsullied.
Annalee: [00:19:44] The unsullied, right. Two of the most prominent characters who are people of color in the story and they are supposed to kind of represent this underrepresented class of people. Not just people of color, but people who are peasants, who’ve been downtrodden and enslaved. Could something like that happen in Game of Thrones? I mean, it’s interesting that you feel like Game of Thrones is kind of modernus interruptus. I just made that up. That’s not really a thing. But it is. It’s modernism interrupted by a return to superstition.
Charlie Jane: [00:20:16] Right. And it is—it’s a very feudal society. I don’t think we ever get a hint that they’ve had anything like Magna Carta as such. But you do have all these scenes over and over again. One of the scenes that appears in Game of Thrones constantly is the kind of building a coalition of nobles scene. Which is like, something that we watch endlessly, like every other episode has Sansa Stark or Jon Snow or Daenerys or Cersei or somebody addressing a group of nobles and saying, “You know, here is why you should follow me. You’ve promised to follow me in the past and now I’m calling in the debt. But also, here’s why I’m right, and here’s why we have to fight this fight or else things are going to be bad,” and you know, usually there’s that awesome little girl who stands up and says, “Screw you all, I’m going to follow Jon Snark, or Jon Snow or whatever.”
[00:21:04] But, the building a coalition of nobles scene is like, one of the tropes of the show that we’ve witnessed I think, since the first season, it’s been in very season, there’s been a few of those scenes.
Annalee: [00:21:13] Yeah, it’s kind of these proto-Magna Carta moments.
Charlie Jane: [00:21:16] Yeah. And it is kind of, they’re reinforcing the social contract not between the ruler and the people, but between the ruler and the nobles. Between the individual nobles. And it’s kind of like calling in the banners or whatever it is they call it.
Annalee: [00:21:29] They’re also… their whole civilization as we know it is overshadowed by this ancient civilization that’s been lost. And we see glimpses of it.
Charlie Jane: [00:21:39] The First Men.
Annalee: [00:21:39] And we see the ruins which are very neo-classical. Not neo-classical, they’re classical-looking.
Charlie Jane: [00:21:45] Oh, those are the Valyrians. That’s like the Roman Empire over where.
Annalee: [00:21:49] Yeah, they are the Roman Empire. There’s also the First Men who I think of as being kind of the indigenous people of the narrative because they come from a time of monsters and the dragon bones always make me think of like the bones of wooly mammoths or something. You know, these huge megafauna that humans encountered when they first came to the Americas before they ate them all. So, I think of it as kind of this allegory for, exactly what you’re saying, that they’re kind of in this place where there’s been a classical world of learning and science that they’ve fallen away from. But the interesting thing is that as you were talking about this coalition building, and I was thinking of, oh, it’s the Magna Carta moment. You know, the Magna Carta moment is purely political. It’s a bunch of dudes banding together saying, like, hey, you know there’s a political threat. We need to band together to fight against a kind of political incursion or a military incursion. The threat that they are dealing with in Game of Thrones is climate change.
Charlie Jane: [00:22:49] Yeah. Absolutely.
Annalee: [00:22:49] And, that is always—I mean, of course, it’s embodied in the white walkers and things like that because that’s the real threat is like, a bunch of zombies are going to come and eat your head. But the original threat is that the climate is going to change and you’re going to have starvation and there’s going to be all this time of darkness and cold.
Charlie Jane: [00:23:06] Yeah, I’m not sure if the white walkers are climate change… I mean, they certainly are a metaphor like as a metanarrative for climate change, but—
Annalee: [00:23:14] They are climate refugees, basically.
Charlie Jane: [00:23:16] Well…
Annalee: [00:23:16] Well, no they’re not climate refugees.
Charlie Jane: [00:23:18] They’re not, no.
Annalee: [00:23:19] They’re coming with the winter, though, right?
Charlie Jane: [00:23:19] Yeah, but I mean, they’re kind of climate change. They’re kind of the black plague, the black death. And like, if we’re going to stick to that kind of medival kind of framework, they’re kind of the black death. They’re coming to make us all get sick and die.
Annalee: [00:23:34] And it’s the Renaissance, too, because the plagues continued up through the Rannaissance. Like, Samuel Pepys has all kinds of crazy shit in his diary about how—who was kind of a late Renaissance writer—and he talks about all his friends dying of the plague, and like, walking through London with plague signs on people’s doors and stuff. It’s pretty insane.
Charlie Jane: [00:23:54] That’s why he buried his cheese.
Annalee: [00:23:56] That’s right. And that’s why he spelled his last name so weirdly.
Charlie Jane: [00:23:59] Yeah, on the topic of like, the coalition building and on the question of the consent of the governed as they were talking about in that Monty Python clip, there was an actual clip from Game of Thrones which I think comes from season two where Varys kind of talks about how rulers do only really rule with the consent of the governed.
GoT Clip: [00:24:16] Power is a curious thing, my lord. Are you fond of riddles?
Why? Am I about to hear one?
Three great men sit in a room. A king, a priest, and a rich man. Between them stands a common sell-sword. Each great man bids the sell-sword kill the other two. Who lives? Who dies?
Charlie Jane: [00:24:38] That’s probably one of the most famous scenes from Game of Thrones that doesn’t involve somebody being killed and it’s basically Varys being like, “This sell-sword theoretically has all the power in that moment because he’s got the sword and everybody else is defenseless.” But he’s going to choose to follow someone’s orders and whose orders does he choose to follow? Is it, is he going to be led by religion? Is he going to be led by the divine right of kings? Is there something else? Is he going to be led by money? It’s this whole question of like, why do people obey the orders of kings when you’ve got a hundred people and one king and they could easily just kill the king if they wanted or do whatever. What makes them follow that authority? And it’s something that—it’s an unanswerable question within the framework of Game of Thrones and the answer is really that they should be moving towards some kind of constitutional monarchy or representative democracy with a king who’s a figurehead. Or queen. But, obviously that’s not going to happen within the framework of the show as it is now.
Annalee: [00:25:35] I’m going to return very briefly to my climate change point and then we can move back into talking just purely about statehood. But, I think it’s interesting because Game of Thrones is asking these questions about politics and coalition building and kind of offering us a bunch of weird answers. Like, we get things like, we should free the slaves. Or, we should turn to religion and worship the fire goddess, the red… fire… god…
Charlie Jane: [00:26:05] Or become a fundamentalist, like, you know.
Annalee: [00:26:07] Become a fundamentalist.
Charlie Jane: [00:26:08] The barefoot whatever. Anyway, go on.
Annalee: [00:26:08] Or, go over to the Iron Bank and become some kind of proto-capitalist. Although the Iron Bank, as every economist I know has complained to me doesn’t make any sense at all. It doesn’t have any real economic validity. And it wouldn’t kind of function the way we expect in that world. But to get to my point about climate change. The other thing that’s interesting is that climate change is written into the story as a fundamental threat and it’s something that we’re only now grappling with in the post-modern world. And so there’s this interesting way in which Game of Thrones is grappling with all this sort of early modern stuff, like you said, like finding ways of legitimizing new kinds of leadership, and building coalitions between empires. But also, battling a threat that is something we really have only just come to understand in this post-modern era. So, it’s almost jumping… it’s almost like Game of Thrones is jumping over modernity into our current era but without any of the technologies and industrialization. And that’s just a really interesting thought experiment. It’s kind of like… what would happen if people in the Renaissance had had to deal with climate change instead of early capitalism?
Charlie Jane: [00:27:25] Well, they did have a little ice age. When was the little ice age? That was right before the start of the Renaissance, I guess.
Annalee: [00:27:31] Yeah, there was the little ice age and a lot of scholars have written about how that did affect people pretty profoundly and probably led to some social changes just because there was starvation and social collapse. But, it’s nothing like climate change. It’s nothing…
Charlie Jane: [00:27:47] There’s no snow zombies.
Annalee: [00:27:47] Yeah, there’s no snow zombies, there’s no huge crops of farmland being turned into inland seas or whatever. So…
Charlie Jane: [00:27:56] To return to the question of like modernization. It’s interesting. I’m trying to think of fantasy, secondary-world fantasies where there has been modernization and it has coexisted with the magical and the supernatural. The only thing that comes to mind off the top of my head is Terry Pratchett’s Discworld books, where there are kind of, you know, stories about modernization and one of the final Discworld books is about, basically, the invention of the steam engine. And trains. And what that does to the relativity bucolic society of Discworld. And he has stories about cities and about the rulership of cities.
Annalee: [00:28:32] There’s also Charlie Stross’s Laundry Files series, which is… again, that’s sort of post-modern. It’s a post-industrial…
Charlie Jane: [00:28:37] And that’s more urban fantasy.
Annalee: [00:28:39] It’s not a secondary world, that’s right.
Charlie Jane: [00:28:40] I think urban fantasy frequently takes place in like, our world with technology and everything, but also with magic. But then you have secondary worlds which often are just like feudal and medieval, kind of.
Annalee: [00:28:51] What about Princess Mononoke?
Charlie Jane: [00:28:51] Oh, that’s interesting. I mean, that’s definitely about industrialization and it’s definitely about how that interacts with a magical world. So, actually, on the subject of the Iron Bank and how it can exist in—
Annalee: [00:29:05] Yeah, let’s get back to the Iron Bank.
Charlie Jane: [00:29:06] —Westeros. Because that’s something that really fascinates me. We actually have a clip from the most recent season, season seven, where Cersei Lannister goes to talk to the representative of the Iron Bank played by Mark Gatiss, who has been on Doctor Who and a bunch of other things.
GoT Clip: [00:29:18] The Iron Bank appreciates how you’ve cast off the yoke of superstition freeing the crown from elements who sought to subvert the rule of law.
The destruction of the Sept of Baelor was a tragic accident.
Indeed. But sometimes tragedies are necessary.
Charlie Jane: [00:29:33] And, what’s interesting there is that he actually, Mark Gatiss, the representative of the Iron Bank, actually says the words “rule of law.” And he says specifically to Cersei that the Iron Bank can’t function without the rule of law. And I think that might be the first time that anybody has said those words on Game of Thrones in that order. It’s interesting because he thinks that Cersei represents the rule of law. And the reason he thinks that is because she murdered all of the religious fundamentalists which he sees as like, a return to kind of normal governance and predictability. Like, blow up half the city, that’s awesome, we’re going to get back to basics.
Annalee: [00:30:06] Hey, as long as you do it in the name of rationality, it’s all good.
Charlie Jane: [00:30:08] Yeah, but it makes me wonder, you know. It kind of opens all these questions about rationality and about exactly what kind of rule of law the Iron Bank expects. And you’re right. It is kind of existing in a world where they don’t have the authority to really collect their debts. It’s not clear what they would do if Cersei defaulted.
Annalee: [00:30:26] It’s not a central bank.
Charlie Jane: [00:30:27] It’s not a central bank. It’s not a bank that’s like, FDIC insured. It’s existing in this kind of feudal structure and there were obviously money-lenders throughout the middle ages.
Annalee: [00:30:37] Yeah, it’s weird. There were money lenders, but they weren’t at that scale. They weren’t loaning money to nations. Nations might loan money to each other and we see that a lot. Still, today. But it kind of reminds me of the bank in Harry Potter where it’s just like, I imagine, just a bunch of rooms full of gold. This is just your safe deposit box but it’s medieval style. It’s one of these examples of Game of Thrones partly being delightful and partly being frustrating. By wanting to have everything, you know, wanting to have an allegory about modern banking, wanting to have an allegory about climate change and democracy and authoritarianism and putting it all in this kind of semi-medieval world because that’s just fun. The medieval world is fun. I guess George R.R. Martin thinks they had really good food. Um.
Charlie Jane: [00:31:28] They had capons and aurochs. They had aurochs.
Annalee: [00:31:30] Yeah. I mean, that’s more of a Neolithic thing, but sure. And they have swan pie and things like that. Always gotta love some swan pie.
Charlie Jane: [00:31:38] Swan pie. Mm, swan pie.
Annalee: [00:31:39] But, I think this is sort of the dead end of fantasy storytelling or allegorical storytelling in a way. Because you want to tell a story that is cohesive and makes reference to our primary world but at the same time you want to make it kind of fun and have some fighting an dhave some dragons and so you’re always running up against that problem.
Charlie Jane: [00:32:04] Right.
Annalee: [00:32:04] There’s, either you’re going to have the really complex allegory for statehood or you’re going to have dragon fights. And you can combine them but when you do combine them, often times you get a bit of a swan pie, I would say.
Charlie Jane: [00:32:18] I think that’s fair.
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Annalee: [00:32:34] So, for our final segment, we’ve got a couple of recommendations for you if you’re looking for something good to read or something good to fill the time when you’re on a long flight. Charlie, what are you recommending?
Charlie Jane: [00:32:45] So the book I’m reading right now is called, The Calculating Stars by Mary Robinette Kowal. Which is amazing. I’m still finishing up that one and then there’s another one in the series called The Fated Sky. And it’s basically set in an alternate version of the 1950s where there’s been a meteorite that hit the earth and has caused huge climate disruption and one person realizes that the earth is going to become uninhabitable within several years. And so, humans have to, using 1950s technology, colonize first the moon, and then Mars. And they have to, in the course of doing that. They have to overcome institutionalized sexism because otherwise, we’re not going to make it as a species. We have to let go of patriarchy before we can colonize space, which makes total sense to me.
Annalee: [00:33:33] Yeah, well.
Charlie Jane: [00:33:34] It’s amazing and it’s so scientifically—it’s full of all this amazing science and great characters.
Annalee: [00:33:37] And I know that Mary Robinette did a lot of research for it. Talked to astronauts, and has really gotten into space travel as just a hobby almost.
Charlie Jane: [00:33:49] Yeah, no, she really knows her stuff and it shows, and it’s such a great book and I’m excited to read the second one.
Annalee: [00:33:52] Yeah, and there’s a lot of buzz about it this year for awards season, too. I think we should look out for it to maybe win a Hugo or Nebula.
Charlie Jane: [00:33:59] Oh yeah.
Annalee: [00:34:01] And, my recommendation is also a series of books that have the first two books out. It’s Bannerless by Carrie Vaughn. That’s the first book and then the second book is called The Wild Dead and that’s the one that just came out. And the thing I love about these novels is that they are a hopeful post-apocalypse. They deal with what happens in California along the coast after climate change has hit the United States with so many disasters in a row that the country has finally crumbled. So there’s no one big disaster, it’s just exactly what we’re seeing right now where there’s flooding, there’s fires, there’s typhoons, and tornadoes and finally there’s just not enough money and not enough… there’s not enough center to the nation to hold together.
[00:34:53] And so, the people who live along the California coast are rebuilding and they have created an agricultural community of linked villages that are all along what I was imagining, as I was reading it, that they’re along the I-5, which is a freeway that goes all the way along the US coast from California up to Washington state. The freeway is inland, and of course, this is important because the coastline is being eroded away and each village has its own kind of products that it’s making or different kinds of arts that it can produce. But they’re all self-sustaining agricultural villages and the main character is—this is what I love about this novel. The main character is a detective whose job it is to try to solve murders mostly, but other kinds of crimes that happen in these linked villages who have formed this kind of culture along the freeway.
[00:35:47] It’s a, in some ways, all of the pleasures of a murder mystery plus the delight of the worldbuilding where we learn about how people are trying to maintain sustainable communities, because they’re all really committed to keeping their population low. To sharing all of the food they have within their communities and making sure that nobody gets more than anybody else. And so, it’s just the double delight of the main character is super interesting. The first novel does this thing that’s my favorite where we switch back and forth between something that’s happened in the past and then what’s going on in the present. And so we learn all about her backstory and then she solves this murder mystery in the present.
[00:36:29] And, The Wild Dead is going to continue that where you see this detective going on and solving more crimes. So, I loved it. I highly recommend it. It’s just so well written and it’s weirdly hopeful. Like I said, we see the horror of climate change but we also see the resilience of humans and how we might rebuild after a huge setback in our technologies and in our civilization.
Charlie Jane: [00:36:55] Well, thanks so much for listening. This has been Our Opinions Are Correct. You can find us on Twitter at @OOACpod and on Facebook at Our Opinions Are Correct. And also online as OurOpinionsAreCorrect.com. Please subscribe. Please leave a review on Apple or Google Podcasts or wherever else you can leave reviews.
Annalee: [00:37:13] And, we have a Patreon, so.
Charlie Jane: [00:37:15] And we have a Patreon.
Annalee: [00:37:17] So, please think about supporting us. We just met our first goal, which means we’re breaking even on this podcast. So anything we get beyond that goes toward actually maybe letting us get a little money for this and also hopefully hiring someone to help us out if we get enough for our next level of our goals on Patreon.
Charlie Jane: [00:37:35] That would be awesome.
Annalee: [00:37:36] So, thanks again and thanks to Veronica Simonetti, our producer here at—
Charlie Jane: [00:37:41] Amazing producer.
Annalee: [00:37:43] Our amazing producer, here at Women’s Audio Mission. And also thanks to Chris Palmer for providing the music.
Charlie Jane: [00:37:48] Yay.
Annalee: [00:37:48] All right.
Charlie Jane: [00:37:49] Bye!
Annalee: [00:37:50] Bye!
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