HBO’s hit series Game of Thrones “wimped out” by abandoning its climate change metaphor, Joe Romm of the left-wing website ThinkProgress writes.
The threat posed by the hit fantasy series’ villain, a frozen necromancer known as the Night King whose army of ice zombies seeks the destruction of all living beings, has long been regarded by some fans as a metaphor for climate change.
For the past eight seasons, as the show’s human characters clashed with each other for political power, the truly existential threat was the zombie army marching from the northern wastelands killing everything in its wake and enlisting the fallen into an ever-growing army of the dead. However, this threat was unseen by all but a handful of characters living in the northern realm, and much of the show’s drama centered on the desperate attempts of those in the know to alert the rest of the world to the growing danger – attempts which were largely met with disbelief or indifference.
The situation could easily be a metaphor for any number of unexpected dangers, but some Game of Thrones fans and even its creator have acknowledged the zombie army threat as analogous to climate change.
In a 2018 interview with the New York Times, George R.R. Martin, the author of the books the HBO series is based on, agreed with the interviewer’s suggestion that Game of Thrones can be seen as “a perfect metaphor for understanding climate change.”
It’s kind of ironic because I started writing “Game of Thrones” all the way back in 1991, long before anybody was talking about climate change. But there is — in a very broad sense — there’s a certain parallel there. And the people in Westeros are fighting their individual battles over power and status and wealth. And those are so distracting them that they’re ignoring the threat of “winter is coming,” which has the potential to destroy all of them and to destroy their world. And there is a great parallel there to, I think, what I see this planet doing here, where we’re fighting our own battles.
However “perfect” the metaphor may be, it didn’t prove to be the ultimate battle. (Spoilers ahead.) By the third episode of the final season, the zombie army was defeated, and the humans were back to squabbling amongst themselves for the ultimate prize of the Iron Throne.
Thus, HBO’s writers and showrunners “wimped out” and “literally shattered the entire metaphor,” according to Think Progress’ Romm:
One of the show’s heroes single-handedly ended the existential climate threat with a clever knife trick — abruptly returning the storyline to a conventional tale of humans fighting among themselves for political power.
In the real world, climate change is far too challenging a threat to be ended by one person — or even one battle that doesn’t include all of the major powers.
He laments that “short term political squabbles — namely, the fight for the Iron Throne in Westeros that would rule the Seven Kingdoms — interfered with the need for everyone to join together to fight the bigger threat.”
Romm also sees a parallel between the character Jon Snow’s valiant effort to alert the other realms to the zombie threat with the efforts of climate scientists to alert politicians.
“Jon figures out that the only way he is going to convince skeptics is by providing irrefutable evidence,” he writes. “For climate scientists, that often involves taking skeptical politicians up to the frozen north to see Greenland’s ice sheets melting before their very eyes.”
Romm quotes an article written last month by Eric Vilas-Boas at The Thrillist, who argued that “if the show is brave enough,” it will pursue its climate change metaphor to the very end by showing ice “envelope the land,” the main characters die, and “frozen, desiccated corpses of babes feast on the flesh of those still living in Winterfell.”
Alas, this was not to be.
“Ultimately, HBO wimped out, and left us with a simple, fantastical solution to their existential climate threat,” Romm mourns. “Our climate crisis, however, will not be defeated anywhere near as easily. We will require all the major polluters, including the United States, to join this battle if we are to have a serious shot at avoiding a catastrophic outcome.”
The penultimate episode of the series airs Sunday on HBO at 9:00 p.m. Eastern.