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RohinGupta

Game of Thrones Reviews

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Here I will be posting reviews of various aspect of Game of Thrones web series. Done according to tools learnt from The Romantic Manifesto and Eight Great Plays by Dr. Peikoff.

Introduction
 
Game of Thrones is a webseries by HBO. Having run for seven seasons so far, it has now become a cultural phenomenon. In all continents from Pacific to Atlantic to Indian Ocean, it now commands a passionate fan following.  Yet, more than just a decade back, there was a series F.R.I.E.N.D.S, that also had massive cultural impact. While having a similar level of impact, the two serials are drastically different.

Understanding nature and scope of this webseries can give insights into the world we live in, how it has changed, and where it is going. Most importantly though, I think the insights we gain here, will also help us to define our own sensibilities, motivations, thought process, and decision making. Because how our mind responds to artistic values, is often how our conscious, sub-conscious, and their connection is tuned.

Art being the fuel of mind, it’s important it goes through quality check and analysis, to help us move and rise in right direction. So let the dissection begin…
 
******SPOILER ALERT*********
 
Theme
 
The world this series projects is diverse. Geographically, culturally, even biological elements involved are vast. Yet there is an essence, the skeleton of an art work, which can be seen in every frame, every dialog, and beyond. The actions and reactions of characters, and therefore the storyline has this undercurrent. This essence extracted from more than 60hrs of run time is what we call The Theme.
 
“Primary motivations of humans”, this forms the main clause of theme. Primary motivations of humans, ranging from seeking revenge, to seeking political power, to seeking good of the masses, to seek to serve”. This forms the theme of the web series. I think it underscores the main, secondary, and tertiary aspects of the series. From beheading of Eddard Stark, to rise and rise of Daenerys, to Tyrion, Cersei, all the way down to Arya and Brienne of Tarth. I think this theme can explain the similarities of actions despite wide differences in individual circumstances.
 
Lust for asserting his power moves Joffrey against all reason. Applying principle of Liberty for freeing slaves in Essos, or breaking authoritarian wheel [metaphorically speaking] over masses in Westeros. This is what comes to be motivation of Danaerys. Motivations of Tyrion are little bit more complex, but can be understood as the combination of these elements. Service to those in power, whether it’s Tywin, or Joffery, or Daenerys. Objective being the good of masses, and also to assert his own power despite all odds. Denied to him by the nature of his physical being.
 
Cersei vacillates from revenge based motivations, to power for its own sake. (Though she rationalizes power lust and revenge by saying "its Game of Thrones, you win or you die"). Arya of course is clear case of revenge, though there is a positive variation which I will discuss when we go into the depth of her characterization. And Brianne of Tarth clear case of pursing to serve under oath. One might say that people like Bronn are motivated by money. But means of getting money is force of sword. So ultimately they are also motivated by power to force, in a narrower scope compared to Cersei though.
 
Similarly, I think we can understand the motivations of most of the characters, as well as the movement of various plot lines.
 
Review of Theme
 
Before I go into the analysis of different types of motivations, let’s look into the theme of motivation as such. How valuable is the theme? Is it worth exploring, to the extent that RR Martin has devoted 26 years and counting?
 
The answer is unambiguous Yes. Its motivated people that drive the world. Quest for truth and its tool logic, motivated Aristotle all his life. Most visible products are phone we use, and relative liberty we live in. Newton was motivated enough to apply Aristotelian logic to unleash principles of science. James Watt applied science to unleash technology. Steve Jobs combined key elements of Engineering, Business, and artistic sensibilities to unleash what he called tools for human mind. Passionate, motivated people move us and our world, no doubt about that.
 
Yes, there have been people in history (and also currently), motivated by revenge. World War I was triggered by one such vengeful assassination. Revenge can also have positive references. Its resentment towards the British policies that moved Benjamin Franklin towards warriors for Principles of Liberty. George Washington and other founding fathers of America clearly left a world much better for masses, than the one they entered in. Very similar to what Danaerys intends. Positive instances of quest for power.
 
But lust for power institutionalizing corrupt and irrational like Joffrey, is also littered in history. No need to go till Attila or Aurangzeb or Caeser, when you have recent examples of Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Ayotollah Khomeni, and Al Baghdadi backed by ideology of Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
 
While revenge and power lust are visibly lethal motivations. Motivation to serve can also be a double edged sword. Here again there are positive and negative references. One positive instance of service given in ancient world I can think is Chanakya. His service to Chadragupt ultimately brought concept of truth (Satyameva Jayate) to the collective conscious of ancient India. Though there was an element of revenge against Nanda dynasty, also in his motivation. Not very different from what Tyrion is doing with Danaerys.
 
The service derived from faith rather than reason is what’s the prime mover for Brianne of Tarth, and The Hound serving Joffrey earlier in the series. Brianne however escapes negative consequences, because the actions her service involved had relatively rational people. But The Hound serving Joffrey was forced to give disproportional punishment to people. The servitude of Manmohan Singh to Congress party, though different in particulars was similar in essence.
 
Some of the motivations indirectly relate to listed motivations of revenge, power, collective good, or servitude. Tywin Lannister’s(also later Cersei’s) vision of lasting legacy for e.g. is related to maintaining power. Though making world a better place would have formed a better legacy. Also Danaerys is attracted to Jon Snow, and the attraction serves as motivation for some of her actions. But reason behind attraction is similarity in their prime motivations. Thus feeling of love derived from similarities of values and corresponding motivations. So love is a derivative rather than a primary here.
 
Finally I share following clip to highlight a critical hole in the theme.
 
 
This is the video of Hot Pie explaining process of preparing really tasty and high quality pie to Brianne and Podrick. Though it’s just few minutes, it highlights most important motivation, otherwise missing in the series. The motivation to produce values. From harnessing existing fire to creating fire using stones, to cars, skyscrapers, genetic crops, and eCommerce. Businessmen and intellectuals (or the thought process behind their being) producing better and better material and spiritual values is what built modern civilization. If humans were motivated by just revenge, power, servitude, or even collective good without proper comprehension of production. Similar to motivations of all of the characters, then I doubt humanity would have even discovered agriculture.
 
So final take away for me as an audience is to understand the concept motivation, and how it relates to decision and action. But finally integrate the understanding to instances of production of goods, services and intellectual tools like logic. E.g. integration being integrating concept of Liberty by Danaerys, with production as in enlightenment era, through the concept of private contract enforced by government.

Then the webseries can act as a genuine fuel for the soul.

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CHAPTER 2

GAME OF THRONES – THE PLOT THEME

 

**************SPOILER ALERT********************
 
Plot Theme
 
A theme of what motivates humans can be realized in multiple forms to create a plot. A theme of what motivates humans can have modern context, as in The Godfather or Jerry McGuire. Or it can be extremely personal as in Pursuit of Happyness.
 
The scale here is world capturing, bigger than even The Godfather. Action takes place in two fictional continents in a fictional world. And time spanning across 8000-12000 years, if full story is considered.
 
It’s a fiction that is constructed by selective recreation from facts of reality. Facts ranging from Medieval Europe, to Mongol Herds, to modern Middle Eastern conflicts. Children of the Forest quite similar to contemporary tribals and environmentalists. White Walker zombies in some ways concretization of lethargic cultures of past and present. These specific elements help in building the plot theme from a more abstract theme.
 
Power struggle, its causes and consequences, in a fictional continent of Westeros. This is theplot theme.
 
From Stark plotline, to Lannisters and other Southern plotlines, to plotline in Essos. Every plot and sub-plot is connected to Iron Throne in some way. White Walkers, while very limited is known about them, also look like they want to dominate Westeros, based on legends and excavations. In that sense, they are also after Iron Throne in a metaphorical way.
 
Motivations other than quest for political power highlighted in the theme, from revenge to public good to servitude, are related to this power struggle. Starks carrying most of revenge part, earlier through Rob and later through Arya, is a consequence of harm done through power struggle. Good Daenerys pursues is good of people of Essos and Westros. The good of Essos is realized while building resources for Westeros conquest. Clash of Five kings, emanating from internal power struggle in Westeros, has made life of common people and even feudal lords miserable. Daenerys intends to break the wheel by recapturing Iron Throne of her ancestors. So her motivation of doing good is also connected to Iron Throne. Jon Snow works to protect people from White Walkers, who want to capture Westeros in in their second reincarnation. So Jon’s motivation is also related to this power struggle.
 
Similarly, allegiance of those serving is impacted by the wars in power struggle. Brianne and The Hound being few of the examples.
 
Finally, while specific movements of plots will be discussed in Plot chapters. In the theme part of plot we can discuss prime movers of plot. Essentially there are three independent plot lines. War of five Kings, Rise of Daenerys, and expansion of White Walkers. As is revealed in later seasons, manipulations of Peter Baelish are prime mover for the clash of five kings. Her brother Viserys, while now dead, starts the movement of events for Daenerys. Though their motivations are still not completely clear, we know for sure that zombie-parasitic nature of White Walkers makes them villainous. So basically, the evil is the prime mover of plots in all three scenarios, and good merely responds.  Responding either through revenge, servitude, or through its own quest for power.
Next section discusses evaluation of idea of evil as a prime mover, and deeper excavation of this idea in context of the webseries.
 
Review of Plot Theme
 
Criteria of evaluating the plot theme is relatability of plot elements. That is the elements used for translating Theme to a more concrete Plot Theme, how relatable these elements are for humans.
 
For better or for worse, power struggle of Kings, Tribals, and Priests, deeply impacted every civilization on earth. Even White Walkers can be related to Islamic invasions of Medieval Period, killing and converting tribes and civilizations, as they march on.  The Medieval world projected, apart from deep emphasis on hedonistic sex, is also very similar to medieval world of Asia and Europe. The feudal system, while not prevalent extensively in modern times, has still transmitted many of its attributes across centuries. The Ethics of Duty that is often called upon in interpersonal and social context, being the most dominant characteristic of feudalism.
 
So elements, except hedonistic and subjective view of sex, which make our present, are shown through the prism of past. This is quite inspiring aspect of series, because it connects evaluation of who we are, from where we have come.
 
The evil as the prime mover is the most disagreeable aspect of the plot theme. Not agreeable with facts of reality that is. If we look at history and pre-history of man, its productive aspect of man that has moved the humanity. Whether it’s improving stone tools to flints and javelins, or inventing stitching of clothes, or forward thinking that invented agriculture. True, for most part the productive activity was misrepresented and disproportionately exploited, as in Ancient Egypt through slavery and worship of death. But the fact remains, its productive that move the world, and evil can only manipulate the fruits of production like a parasite. Same is true for later prime movers, from Aristotle, to Newton, to Watt and Jobs. So literary work to be more meaningful, ought to reflect this critical aspect of humanity.
 
A small clarification. While at a normal level it’s true that Peter Baelish, Viserys, and White Walkers are the prime movers. But they derive psychological and existential powers from the good (or the weakness of good to be more specific). Jon Arryn’s oversight to understand what’s happening with Lysa, timid nature of Daenerys sanctioning his exploits, and children of forest misunderstanding sovereign power of their own creation. The evil prime movements at a deeper level are indeed just the creation of good. But this still does not salvage RR Martin from the false view of evil as the prime mover. In real world, as reflected in works of Ayn Rand, the role of good in getting things moving is much more visible.
 
 
So overall, the plot theme accurately translates theme, but with a mistaken view of prime mover.
 
 
 
 

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CHAPTER 3 - CHARACTER SKETCH OF DAENERYS

**************SPOILER ALERT********************
 
Introduction
 
Many a times I face dilemma while reviewing literary works. Whether I should give primacy to plot, or to characterization. And this confusion is mostly resolved by looking at the content to be reviewed. There are novels like Great Expectations by Charles Dickens, where major characters play little or no role in events. They just go with the flow of externally triggered events. And then there are works of Shakespeare or Victor Hugo, where characters often drive the plot. In such literature it makes sense to analyze characterization first. Game of Thrones is clear case of Romantic literature, plot driven by choices of characters. Converse being Naturalism of Dickens, and also some of the early 20th century writers like Ernest Hemmingway.
 
Having understood the key theme of this webseries, understanding characters becomes relatively simple. We need to separate out and classify motivations, and connect these to key actions. So connecting the threads of motivations, actions, and events, forms the essence of characterization. With this objective in mind, we begin the review of various characters of webseries.
 
Character Sketch of Daenerys
 
Looking at overall trajectory, she is one of the most well written characters. Moving from timid girl being pushed around, to the most powerful person in the world. Apart from the first episode, liberating people from slavery and plunder is her primary motivation. This is visible in various events, ranging from treatment to Dothraki captives to unsullied or slaves of Yunki and Mareen. Judging by the punishments she gives, from witch who sent Khal to comma, and also punishments to various slave owners for their brutalities. It’s clear that her love for liberty is driven by deep sense of Justice, rather than benevolence being an out of context absolute.
 
It is this purpose to liberate that determines her emotions also. So her emotion towards lovers also changes, depending on how connected they are to this purpose. Ranging from relatively weak feelings towards Daario Naharis of second sons, to quite strong ones towards Jon Snow. Khal Drogo, while antithesis of her principles, still commands her passion. Because at that time she is unsure of her true potentialities, since there are no Dragons with her. But as her growth in Season 1 itself shows, she applies reason to liberate her own soul first of all. Taking control of her intercourse with Drogo. Few impulsive decisions like burning Tarlys apart, she comes out as a rational person in her interactions, strategies, and selection of advisors.
 
One major troubling aspect in her character, and all relatively good people like Jon, Arya, Stannis etc. It is the role of supernatural in their rise. Daenerys is not harmed even after having contact with the extreme heat. Given the nature of biological beings, they are not capable of synthesizing fire within themselves. So Dragons also can be considered as supernatural. Though one can redeem this supernatural aspect to some extent, considering how dragons were raised, had many natural qualities similar to how children are raised.
 
So in that sense, writer is conveying that without aid of supernatural, good has no chance in this world. And by implication, to succeed in the natural world we live in, one has to deal with others through threats and force. Being dishonest and manipulative like Peter Baelish and Cersei. But the reality is that without honest thoughts a productive person will neither build efficient factory, nor select committed people. Survival of humans depend on fidelity towards facts of reality.
 
Conclusion being that character of Daenerys is good because of her full commitment to the principle of Liberty, and also trying her best to be rational. But if Dragons or their material counterparts like the jet planes were product of natural knowledge rather than supernatural, she would have been a perfect idol to emulate. Very much like Dagny Taggart, John Galt, Howard Roark, or Jean Valjean from classic Romantic literature.
 
Acting in the webseries
 
Daenerys is played by Emila Clarke. The skills here required great transformation of a person, but in subtle steps. This in turn required constant reinvention of sensibilities and corresponding expressions. The character has been accurately portrayed in this regard. Unlike negative powerful characters like Cersei and Eujon, who could afford to be reckless, Daenerys had to be less expressive. And should be seen as holding her calm even in desperate situations. This makes Emila a natural fit, despite limited acting abilities.
 
 
In Acting of Jon Snow part, I will explain further why there is limited room for expressiveness for these two. And why this is bad!
 

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