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Game of Thrones: ‘Our Island Story’ for the HBO generation

7 April 2014

4:23 PM

7 April 2014

4:23 PM

When I was a boy I used to love the stories of the old kings of England, devouring book after book on the subject until I could rather involuntarily memorise all the dates (which has stuck with me, useless though this knowledge is, and stretches back before the Conquest, although once we get to the Edwys and Edwigs it gets a bit blurry).

My fascination with this long, bloody tale was not just an early indicator that I was a massive social inadequate, although that may be part of it; I loved those stories because they were fantastic. And as Game of Thrones starts tonight I’m comforted by the fact that I am not alone – for Thrones is essentially the Our Island Story for the HBO generation.

If you’re already sick to death of hearing about Game of Thrones, look away now, and certainly don’t go and buy my new ebook The Realm, on the historical parallels in the show, in particular the medieval English history that inspired George R.R. Martin. Buy it here and raise the fortunes of House West of Haringey.

Today I have already read ‘5 real life lessons from game of thrones’, a blogpost on why Nigel Farage is the Daenerys Targaryen of politics, and a piece on the ethics of loyalty in Game of Thrones(warning: this actually contains spoilers for Breaking Bad). There are even some Thrones wedding dress ideas (surely considering how weddings usually end up in Westeros, the worst idea ever). While former Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard is writing in the Guardian about how the show mirrors Aussie politics; indeed, we all remember that time when she shoved a sword through Tony Abbott’s face and kept his children hostage after his bannermen had sacked her house.

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Although we live in the golden age of television, American TV right now being at the same place as German music at the end of the 18th century, or Italian art at the beginning of the 16th, Game of Thrones has a particular cultural importance, even more so than SopranosThe Wire or Breaking Bad. And my feeling is that its cultural impact will last.

The main reason for its popularity is Martin’s storytelling skills, and the show’s ability to create sympathetic characters, which can make viewers overlook many faults. The fantasy element, once you get over the prejudice (like 95 per cent of Thrones fans, I feel obliged to add the caveat ‘but I’m not into fantasy’), is comfortingly distracting from our everyday woes, and I can at least be assured that whatever horror befalls a character, he won’t get cancer or hear from the Inland Revenue or anything else that keeps me up at night.

The violence I can take or leave; along with the sex, it just means it’ll be embarrassing watching it with the children when they’re old enough. And tonight’s episode has an extraordinary amount of bloodshed, including one killing during a tavern fight featuring a palm and a sharp instrument that out-Thrones most previous Thrones deaths.

But the episode also features the preparation for the wedding of Joffrey and Margaery Tyrell, and this aspect is more significant to the series than the violence or sex. Thrones is essentially about human existence as no longer experienced by people who have become W.E.I.R.D – western, educated, industrialised, rich, democratic.

Ours is an unnatural, atomised existence, and I don’t mean unnatural in a pejorative sense; rather we’ve been taken out of traditional human societies in which people are linked to their clans, an intricate part of which is the idea of marriage as a family alliance. We still find this sort of world rather fascinating, because it was ordered, simple and coherent, while ours is fluctuating and confusing, but Martin paints it as it really was – utterly awful.

Still, I hope the success of the programme encourages a revival in interest in the old kings of England, and gets people buying Our Island Story. By which I mean, obviously, I hope they buy my book.

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Show comments
  • manonthebus

    Are we living in the golden age of television? I don’t have Sky but that doesn’t matter because I do not consider American TV as worth watching. As for the rest of what we get, I think we left the golden age of TV behind during the mid-90s. Any TV programme with dragons in it ought to be a definite ‘miss’ for people with serious tastes in entertainment.

  • manonthebus

    Are we living in the golden age of television? I don’t have Sky but that doesn’t matter because I do not consider American TV as worth watching. As for the rest of what we get, I think we left the golden age of TV behind during the mid-90s. Any TV programme with dragons in it ought to be a definite ‘miss’ for people with serious tastes in entertainment.

    • Tony Quintus

      Once the Golden age of TV began it was never going to end, every year we get great new shows and still have all the previous ones to fill in the gaps.
      Oh, and your ideological aversion to American television is absurd, especially as GoT is filmed in Europe using a mostly european cast and crew, based on books inspired by events in european history.

      • La Fold

        Fully concur, American TV is light years ahead of anything the British has made in a good while. The Sopranos, The Wire, The Shield, Breaking Bad, Oz and Boardwalk Empire just to name a few show more ambition and are less patronising to the viewer than most of the dramatic output of the BBC whose idea of a gritty crime drama is Luther which was entertating but entertaing dross. (How many times can a policeman smash up his office before HR get a call?)
        Only thing close in recent years I can think of is Peaky Blinders.

        • Kennybhoy

          If you have not already seen them I can recommend the BBC’s “Line of Duty” and ITV’s “Whitechapel”.

          • La Fold

            Watched some of line of duty, the first and 2nd series. vicky mclure (i think thats her name, her out of this is england anyway) was superb as always but it didnt blow me away to be honest.
            Whitechapel was okay as well but still not outstanding, but then again i suppose its horse for courses.

            • Tony Quintus

              Try the BBC miniseries “The Shadow Line” in my opinion better than anything else in the last 5 years, Black Mirror is also rather good

              • La Fold

                I shall give a whirl, cheers.

    • La Fold

      Its actually pretty good to be fair, dragons and all.

  • Roisin

    “Although we live in the golden age of television, American TV right now being at the same place as German music at the end of the 18th century, or Italian art at the beginning of the 16th…”

    Horse faeces. Even the best programme on TV now isn’t a work of art on anything like the level of Mozart, et al.

    And Game of Thrones is s*** for teens.

    • La Fold

      Christ, its a television show based on a book about dragons and a big ice wall, get over it.
      And while we’re at it, is Wagner opera for teenagers since it has giants turning into dragons etc?

  • Jabez Foodbotham

    I watched an episode once ages ago, but the dialogue and action struck me as juvenile hokum for juveniles so I did not persevere. I guess I’ll have to sample it again to try to look for its higher quality values.

  • Nkaplan

    The Telegraph blog is surely mistaken, clearly it is (or was) Mrs T who is/ was Daenerys Targaryen not Farage. A strong minded and principled female leader, who loves liberty (she frees slaves) and inspires strong devotion among her mostly male supporters. Her most trusted allies are so dry they breathe fire!

    • Mrs Josephine Hyde-Hartley

      I have to say; I often wondered who was pulling her strings..

      Mrs.T. was a terrible actress and I personally couldn’t stand her ridiculous artificial drawl..one wonders who taught her to use such badly affected speech.

      • robbydot

        I have to say her speech annoyed me, a miscalculation I think.
        The rest of her was however, authentic.

  • FrankS2

    What’s the HBO generation? I guess I’m not part of it.

    • rtj1211

      I assume it is those folks who subscribe to the US cable company Home Box Office (aka HBO).

      I had to look it up on Google, as I’d never heard of it either!!

  • Raw England

    The beautiful White rulers within Game of Thrones is the Cultural Importance you speak of.

    • alabenn

      That the series is dominated by whites could just reflect, it was written by a white for mainly whites, if it was by an Asian in Asia it would reflect that and its mores.
      Please spare me the self loathing and guilt ridden complexes of the socialist white middle class.
      If you had seen or read the books, it actually reflects all races and traditions from the writers viewpoint, get off your broken backed high horse and FFS get a life.

      • Raw England

        You misunderstand. I’m VERY much pro-White, and Nationalist.

        I was saying it as a matter of fact: The beautiful thing about GOT is that it illustrates White Pride in a way.

        Its at its most stunning when Whites shimmer bright amongst the foreign hordes.

      • Raw England

        No problem, friend.

    • Samuel Kaine Wheeler

      When were purple eyes a European phenotype?

      • Raw England

        They were Fantasy, but White and Aryan nevertheless

  • asalord

    England: Our ISLAND History. Arrogance and ignorance.

    • MichtyMe

      Yes indeed, not an ISLAND but a PENINSULA……of Scotland.

      • AndrewMelville

        England is the mud on Scotland’s boots.

        • ramesesthegrumbler

          Aye, but the mud is rich and full of nutrients. How will you grow without it?

          • AndrewMelville

            Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that we don’t need England. If nothing else it makes a good land bridge to Wales.

            • robbydot

              You’d want to get to Wales?

              • AndrewMelville

                The land bridge is needed for the leek trade!

    • La Fold

      ZOOOOOOMER!

    • manonthebus

      Trust you to pick up on that one. I think the writer wrote merely “Our Island Story” for the HBO generation. England is referred to in a different context.

  • Tron

    Is it as good as The Larry Sanders Show?
    That lifted the lid on a really weird world. T.V. and the media.

    • Adele Scottish

      I love Game of Thrones, I don’t have a bad word to say about the show. Btw for all the fans on here have you seen this Game of Thrones hotel? http://goo.gl/Ttv7Cp

  • Ricky Strong

    “This blessed plot, this earth, this realm. This England, this nurse, this teaming womb of royal kings.”

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