Washington has nothing on ‘Game of Thrones’

Opinion: US senate seems tame after the cut and thrust of one of Barack Obama’s favourite series

I'd been hoping to get the flu. I hadn't had it in years, and there were so many television series I'd never seen – The Wire, Breaking Bad, House of Cards, True Detective – that required an extended convalescence.

When I finally succumbed to a fever and crumpled in bed a couple of weeks ago, I grabbed the clicker. The only series I had no interest in was Game of Thrones . I'm not really a Middle-earth sort of girl. I'd read about George RR Martin, author of A Song of Ice and Fire , the fantasy epic that is the basis of the HBO show. The bearded 65-year-old has been dubbed "the American Tolkien" by Time .

I had no interest in the murky male world of orcs, elves, hobbits, goblins and warrior dwarves. If I was to watch a period drama, I favoured ones with strong women in intriguing situations, like Mad Men , The Americans and Masters of Sex .

Besides, sounded too complicated for someone suffering from zombie brain. How could I fathom the agendas and plotlines of all the scheming lords and ladies, whores , bastards and sellswords of Westeros when even Martin has had to sometimes check with one of his superfans to make sure he’s keeping the feuding factions straight?


Obama's favourite
I decided to watch one episode just to see what the fuss was about. It is not only the most pirated show on the internet, but one of Barack Obama's favourites.

After a marathon of three seasons of Game and the beginning of the fourth, which started last night, I'm ready to forgo reality for fantasy. Who wants to cover Chris Christie's petty little revenge schemes in New Jersey once you've seen the gory revenge grandeur of the Red Wedding? Who wants to see W's portraits of leaders once you're used to King Joffrey putting leaders' heads on stakes?

Who wants to hear Hillary Clinton complain about a media double standard for women now you're accustomed to the win-don't-whine philosophy of Cersei, Daenerys, Melisandre, Margaery, Ygritte, Brienne and Arya? As it turns out, the show not only has strong women, but plenty of lethal ones as well.

It all seems so tame and meaningless in Washington after Westeros. Ted Cruz and Rand Paul wouldn’t survive a fortnight in King’s Landing.

Brocaded universe

I fell so deeply into the brocaded, incestuous universe – dubbed " Sopranos meets Middle-earth" by showrunner David Benioff – I couldn't climb out.

As Daniel Mendelsohn pointed out in The New York Review of Books , "People often talk about Tolkien as Martin's model, but the deep, Christianising sentimentality of the worldview expressed in Lord of the Rings is foreign to Martin, who has, if anything, a tart Thucydidean appreciation for the way in which political corruption can breed narrative corruption, too."

Martin’s larger Hundred Years’ War theme echoes Shakespeare. As he has pointed out, “the Starks and the Lannisters have nothing on the Capets and Plantagenets”. And as Mendelsohn writes, it is “the way in which the appetite for, and the use and abuse of, power fragments societies and individuals; in a world ruled by might, who is ‘right’?”

When a flattering adviser warns Cersei, the queen regent, that “knowledge is power,” she makes a feint to cut the man’s throat and then informs him, “Power is power”.

In the new season, Tywin Lannister explains to his grandson what makes a bad king: spending all your time whoring, hunting and drinking; being so gullible you don’t recognise the evil around you; being so pious you fast yourself into an early grave; and assuming that winning and ruling are the same thing.

“A wise king knows what he knows and what he doesn’t,” Tywin explains to the boy. “You’re young. A wise young king listens to his councillors and heeds their advice until he comes of age. The wisest of kings continue to listen to them long afterwards.”

Words to die by.