Just ahead of last Sunday night’s season premiere of HBO’s epic Game of Thrones, Vanity Fair published an article linking the plot of the show to climate change. It’s a subject I happened to have mused on before, as the threat of the white walkers to Westeros really does mirror the collective threat of climate change to our civilization.
But going even further, the article attempts to determine which characters in the show correspond with real-life leaders in the climate change debate. They interview some of my UCLA Law colleagues on the subjects, with many comparisons I support. Here’s the Yara Greyjoy-Hillary Clinton one:
Neither of these women has done much about either the White Walkers or climate change. Still, Reich’s idea is too fun to ignore: “The feminist ass-kicker from the Iron Islands is definitely Hillary Clinton. There was that whole scene where [Yara] is going to become the king, and then this random dude shows up out of nowhere and everyone is like, ‘Yeah, this guy! He’s totally unqualified!’ ” When Yara’s uncle won, she disappeared. Clinton did the same—though not for good.
It’s actually an effective way to make climate change and its “cast of characters” accessible and interesting to the public, so I’m glad Vanity Fair ran this piece.
Of course, nothing beats the video of the show’s theme song sung by goats.
Perhaps with too much time on his hands, Vox writer Zack Beauchamp makes a surprisingly persuasive case that the “white walkers” in the popular Game of Thrones HBO show are really a metaphor for climate change:
The Children of the Forest are a nature-worshiping magical race who lived on Westeros before humanity’s arrival. After the humans came, they went to war with the Children of the Forest over territory. The creation of the White Walkers, powerful monsters specifically designed to kill humans, was the Children’s response.
So that means the White Walkers are a quasi-natural backlash to humanity’s growth and expansion. Today, they have spun out of anyone’s control and threaten the very foundations of human civilization. Yet humanity is ignoring the White Walker threat in favor of internal squabbling.
The parallels are interesting to think about for fans of the show. But the one thing missing in the analysis is a parallel to the economic factors in real life that prevent concerted action to address climate change.
In reality, many industries stand to lose out as we transition to clean energy, and they and their sympathizers are helping to underwrite the case against climate science and action. I don’t see that parallel in the Game of Thrones world, where inaction is more about political squabbling rather than an economic motivation not to confront the challenge.
But I suppose if you play out the analogy, then the fire-breathing dragons in the show could be like nuclear energy: a potential solution to the white walker challenge but one that carries the risk of meltdown.
So say a few researchers, pointing out that the climate change threat in the fantasy show (and films like “Snowpiercer”) offers a way to communicate the real-life dangers of climate change in the real world:
Elizabeth Trobaugh, who teaches a class on climate fiction in popular culture at Holyoke Community College in Massachusetts, believes they [popular depictions of climate change] help the cause.
“For many movie-goers, these climate fiction films might just be action films, but for many they are raising awareness and interest in the air,” she said.
But Ted Howell, who teaches a climate fiction class at Temple University in Philadelphia, said film-goers may be getting the wrong idea about what climate change looks like.
“Some people think (climate change) is going to be this massive tidal wave or giant snowstorm, but it’s actually slower than that,” he said.
As a fan of both the books and the show, I’ll be tuning in for the Season 5 premiere on Sunday. But maybe now I can also feel good that the show might be helping to advance discussions around climate science.
I hope HBO considers using this goat-themed retooling of the Game of Thrones theme music: