So it’s a thing now—to chat, post, go-off generally on how you’ve never seen Game of Thrones, don’t know no Game of Thrones, can’t stand the “G.O.T.” Some of this is honest apathy, nonchalant, “Sorry, just don’t know this stuff.” That perspective I certainly understand—I barely know who Kim Kardashian is myself. But for others, there is something more insidious going on. That’s right, there is an outright hostility toward the popularity of G.O.T. What is it? Is it the sex and violence? For some it may be. But I believe, deep down, there is something else at play—that’s right, somewhere between Jethro Tull, Dungeons & Dragons, and Revenge of the Nerds, what really gets the haters about G.O.T. is how it brings geek culture into the mainstream culture.
Imagine you see a geek at a bar (it happens—a lot of geeks make good money and enjoy good beer, right?) Imagine you see the same geek on a date with another geek—“Aw, look at those two little nerd-types out on a Friday night, aren’t they cute?” But then imagine this—you see a geek on a date on a Friday night and realize, “Hey wait a minute—what’s that D&D dude doing with the Miss All American Prom Queen? What’s that RPG chick doing on a date with the football star?” As Hamlet would say, there’s the rub. With the arrival of Game of Thrones, suddenly geek culture doesn’t know its place. Poindexter comes strutting into the club in a track-suit with diamond rings and an entourage. The Wall Street Journal is talking about nerd net worth. The President is referring to his office as the Iron Throne. You turn to your accountant husband to complain, but find he is halfway through A Storm of Swords. You tell your athlete wife a joke about the Throne-heads but she doesn’t laugh. This is a problem that needs to be thwarted, that deserves derision—geek culture is storming the gates of all we hold dear and must be stopped…
When I was a kid, to say you played Dungeons & Dragons was basically to say, “Hi, I don’t date. I’ve given up on a social life. PS, I suck at sports.” Not so anymore—it’s cool to post pictures of painted miniatures and having skills as a “dungeon master” is like being the lead singer for a band. RPG culture has developed a hip side, with all the positives and negatives that come with it. It could be argued much of this is owed to G.O.T.
But what about Harry Potter? Lord of the Rings, Twilight? True, these are popular fantasy stories. Yet none of them have a certain unique quality that G.O.T. possesses. Harry Potter, for all of its popularity among young and old is still mostly seen as a kids’ story. Twilight gets pigeonholed as teen romance. And while Lord of the Rings is arguably a forerunner of G.O.T., complete with a touch (but only a touch) of grimness, Lord of the Rings is ultimately Romantic with a capital “R” in that the good-guys prevail, the world is righted, light prevails over darkness and it reassures that epic fantasy is about saving the day.
What makes G.O.T, different is how it champions the beauty of Tragedy. It shows that the D&D players, the RPG fans, the nerd-world, can confront something the mainstream world usually has trouble contemplating, let alone enjoying—that is, real darkness, real tragedy. We are in the show’s last season, and we have yet to see whether George R.R. Martin’s once stated thesis—that the “bad guys” are just the “good guys for the other team”—will hold true to the end. But even at this point in the show’s narrative enough sympathetic characters have met tragic ends that we see this story, for all of its swords and dragons, has more to say more about real-world consequences than its critics want to admit. So let’s give it up for what fantasy can do when skill brings innovation to its clichés—it can make D&D as powerful as politics, give us a game where a checkmate is as potent as making—or losing—a touchdown.