If US politics actually were the Game of Thrones

Republicans are up in arms, of course, over a photo the White House released, for the humorous White House Correspondents Dinner, showing President Obama sitting in the throne from the hit HBO series, Game of Thrones.

You might remember that conservatives found it knee-slapping funny when President George Bush prepared a video for the same dinner, in which Bush pretended to be looking for Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction under the furniture in the Oval Office.


4,487 Americans died in the Iraq War, while searching for those non-existent WMD that President Bush knew weren’t there. But no matter, joking about the justification for sending those Americans to their death is apparently “funny.”  But what’s not funny, is pretending President Obama is a fictional king in a fictional TV show where no real people are actually killed.


If you haven’t been watching Game of Thrones, then you are probably wondering what the other half of the country is talking and tweeting about.  And why in the world we’d write about it here on AMERICAblog.

Just what could be so compelling about a story in which half the principal cast get slaughtered each season, while the other half spend most of their time in bed with each other?

There are in fact more reasons to watch Game of Thrones than the sex and violence. Many of the plot lines are in fact thinly disguised references to actual English and European history in the age of chivalry, which author George R. R. Martin (Game of Thrones is originally a book) is attempting to show us was not very chivalrous at all.

Epic novels adapted for television frequently disappoint, but Game of Thrones delivers. Sets are expensive, expansive, lush and realistic. Costumes are detailed. Crowd scenes have actual crowds. And with two more published, and two planned, books to go in the series, expect the carnage and intrigue to continue for pretty much as long as Peter Dinklage is willing to play Tyrion.

Warning: Potential spoilers ahead.

A large part of the attraction of the series is the unpredictability, so I am going to avoid spoilers from the books that haven’t made it into the series yet.

Inevitably, some changes have been made from the books, but many of these can be seen as improvements. One of the most interesting recent changes being the introduction of the Iron Bank of Bravos much earlier than in the books. After three years of civil war, the Iron throne is deeply in debt and the gold mines that support the fabulous Lannister wealth have run dry. Viewers have been warned that Westeros is headed for a debt crisis, and the consequences of default will be dire.

Sound familiar? The US is of course trillions of dollars in debt to China and other creditors (though the US isn’t the only debtor-nation out there). But that isn’t the only parallel with US politics. The elites of Westeros spend their time engaged in petty feuds over their ‘right’ to rule, while completely ignoring the fates of the ‘smallfolk’. That attitude is common in US politics. When G.R.R. Martin’s characters refer to the bulk of the population as ‘smallfolk,’ he reminds us of Leona Helmsley’s statement “only the little people pay taxes”.

Many Game of Thrones characters are based on actual historical figures. Robert Baratheon is Henry VII, the victor in the wars of the roses. Cersei Lannister is Lucretia Borgia. King Joffrey is Caligula. But Game of Thrones can also be read as a roman à clef of contemporary US politics, albeit with players trying to put each other in jail and ruin their lives, rather than actually murdering each other.

Cersei Lanister

Cersei Lannister

Cersei Lannister might be the Sarah Palin of Westeros politics. She owes her position to a rash decision to make her the running mate on the Baratheon ticket. She is the only person who does not understand how far out of her depth she is.

If Cersei is Sarah, Robert Baratheon is John McCain. The only problems Robert is interested in are the ones that involve killing things, preferably people.

King Joffrey and Tyrion Lannister

King Joffrey and Tyrion Lannister

Their son Joffrey the Jerk is George W. Bush. An illegitimate ruler with a mile-long sadistic streak.

Tyrion is Obama. Despised in Westeros society for his looks, Tyrion is forced to live by his wits. As acting Prime Minister, Tyrion spends his time cleaning up the mess left by Robert and wins Joffrey’s war for him. But the Westeros elites dump him like a hot potato the minute the danger is passed and they believe they have no more need of him.

Tywin Lannister

Tywin Lannister

Tywin Lannister is Dick Cheney, the ruthless power behind the throne, who insists on the need for everyone to make sacrifices except for himself. Cheney’s Plame affair is Tywin Lannister’s Red Wedding: an act of callous betrayal.

Ned Stark is Bill Clinton, but in Westeros the Republican impeachment plot succeeds.

Arya Stark

Arya Stark

And since we have placed Bill, we must also find a Hillary, though Nancy Pelosi is a better Catelyn.

Who you pick for Hilary really depends on which side of the aisle you sit. Democrats might pick Arya Stark, but Republicans and Hillary-haters will pick the delightfully-devious Olenna Tyrell.

Olenna Tyrell.

Olenna Tyrell.

Tempting though it is to say that the scheming eunuch Lord Varys is Karl Rove, the comparison is rather too flattering to Rove. It is hard to imagine Varys fooling himself that Romney was winning when the election returns were showing the election was already lost. And it is impossible to believe that Rove would put his allegiance to the realm above his party. Former NSA directors Michael Hayden or Keith Alexander are a better fit.

Petyr Baelish

Petyr Baelish

And then there is Petyr Baelish, the minor aristocrat with a string of brothels whose lies and deceits start the war that sets the whole plot in motion. Step forward Rupert Murdoch, the man who brought soft porn to tabloid news and started a war that cost a half million lives just to improve his sales.

Few of the other principal characters spend a lot of time at King’s Landing so it makes little sense to look for parallels in Washington D.C. But as in what Digby calls ‘the village’ the elites of Westeros are willfully ignorant of the real threats to their power.

Mother of Dragons Daenerys Targaryen

Mother of Dragons Daenerys Targaryen

The first of these threats is Daenerys Targaryen who is an ocean away but does have three fire breathing dragons on her side. The dragons are the Westeros equivalent of nuclear weapons that can only be deployed by riders with the right Targaryen blood. There is clearly a day of reckoning in store but will the smallfolk of Westeros be overjoyed to see the return of a dynasty whose last member to rule attempted to burn down the capital with wildfire?

But the largest threat that is being ignored is the threat of the white walkers and their army of undead wights in the far North. The last time the white walkers came, they brought with them a winter that lasted for a generation: Like the US elites, the elites of Westeros are willfully ignorant of climate change.



And this brings us to the last member of the roman à clef: Charles and David Koch are Craster. Craster aids the nightswatch when it suits him and in return the Nights Watch overlooks the question of what became of Craster’s sons.

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