Game of Thrones and the Cycle of Death

It seems like the whole world is captivated by Game of Thrones, George RR Martin’s fantasy saga The Song of Ice and Fire and the TV series that it has inspired. At least many of my friends are and they have encouraged me to watch the show. After having seen most of the episodes, I can understand some of the appeal. But in certain ways, the fascination with it is perplexing, especially when it comes to death.

From the viewpoint of someone who enjoys reading and aspires to create compelling narratives, it is fascinating to see the popularity of a series whose creator is determined to kill off many of the most likable and magnetic characters.

It is also interesting that the millions of people anxiously anticipate the next installment to escape into a world where there is so much evil, gore, and death. To a great extent, entertainment is about escape. But why are people so eager run away to this morbid dystopia?

Perhaps the greatest fear in life is death, yet viewers eagerly tune in to watch actors tortured and killed in some of the cruelest and inhumane ways possible while eating popcorn in the comfort of their living rooms.

We know that the series is a made-up reality. Still, it is unsettling to see these fictional characters have their eyes gouged out and genitals cut off before they receive the coup de grace.

Martin has a particular talent for conjuring disgusting ways to make his characters meet their demises. This cruelty is an expression of the deep-seated sickness of human depravity that fills history books. As James Joyce once said, “history is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake.” Yet people willingly enter this dystopian nightmare to escape from reality.

This cruelty is not relegated to fiction or to the past. It is still played out daily and can be seen in the beheadings filmed by ISIS (Daesh), people maimed by land mines, tortured by waterboarding and other medieval techniques. These are only some of the horrid acts that mankind has been perpetrating for thousands of years. Shouldn’t we aspire to more in 2017?

Game Of Thrones and Hollywood

Although Game of Thrones may represent some of the most graphic horrors in popular entertainment, it is no outlier when it comes to pop culture. Violence sells. Hollywood turns out brutality in films daily, popular music is littered with violent lyrics and video games that are centered on violence remain some of the most admired.

This makes one wonder about the relationship between death as entertainment and the real thing. There is something within us that loves the thrill of being “scared to death” and we cherish our beloved monsters.

But given the freedom to select our pass times, why do we choose death for our leisure, something we are all desperately trying to escape in real life?

As a society, we advocate for the invention of drugs to reduce suffering and go to great lengths to mitigate pain; so why do we love to watch the torture and demise of others? Why would we not want to escape to something beautiful and peaceful?

Game of Thrones and the Cycle of Death and Power

When speaking to someone recently who is a big Game of Thrones enthusiast, I asked what draws people so much. She replied that it is about power; almost everyone thinks they deserve to sit on the Iron Throne.

The pursuit of power, a central theme in the history of the world, is constantly played out in Game of Thrones. It can be seen in the corruption of countless characters in the show.

So I asked my friend: isn’t humanity better than that? Are we all simply trying to claw ourselves to the top and gain sovereignty over each other? Is power really so intoxicating?

Even if it is such a dominant force and one succeeds to amass a great deal of power, it is a small weapon against the certainty of our own death.

Those willing to attain power by any means might not believe there is anything coming next. They might believe that they won’t face consequences in an afterlife if their present actions are justified by the short term gain of power and who is to say if they will face any. But is it worth the destruction of lives, deaths, and torture?

Or if they do believe that there is another reality after life, they are willing to gamble what they can gain in the meantime. No matter how we play it, like winter, death is coming.

We are all powerless against death. We cannot choose when we go or who dies when. Even the richest person in the world cannot be shielded from suffering.

George RR Martin the Necromancer

John Snow, like Lazarus and Frankenstein’s monster, is raised from the dead. In Snow’s case, we understand that this in fiction. But in reality, only the life force can beget life. It comes from reproduction whether sexual or budding. This reminds us that there is a level where we cannot play God because we do not have the capabilities to create life or elude death.

Although we can create aspects of life in many ways and also have the capability to take life, we cannot touch the unknowable mystery of creation. As Marcel Proust said in In Search of Lost Time: “The unknown element in the lives of other people is like that of nature, which each fresh scientific discovery merely reduces but does not abolish.”

Death Renders us all Powerless

We can never outrun death or touch the inevitable. Still, it is fascinating to see, in fiction and in reality, how some are driven by the lust for power. It is an interesting to see how taken up with this passion they are. Not only because they seem to be missing the capacity to have compassion for their fellows but also, oddly, they are trying to try to control, even for a short time, what is ultimately uncontrollable.

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Award-winning author of Death: An Exploration (2016) and Academic Betrayal (April 2017). For more info please visit: