A Song of Chaos and Power 2

Posted in action, books, Drama, TV by jrahman on April 19, 2019

A friend quipped when I pointed out the parallels between Game of Thrones and Bangladesh — Wait, you telling me Hasina is Khaleesi and Khaleda is Cersei? Bhai ki deshe ferot jaben?

To anyone familiar with the show, the punchline of the ribbing is obvious.  But the joke is completely lost if one has never seen an episode.  Khaleesi is widely seen as the heroine of the show, and at least in the earlier seasons a veritable sex symbol.  Cersei, on the other hand, is the main antagonist, a bitter, manipulative woman with no regards for anyone other than herself.

You get the point my friend was making?  Good.  But — and as Ned Stark used to say, nothing before the word ‘but’ counts — this story is much more complicated than a fight between a good queen and a bad one, just as the battling begums is a sexist and inaccurate caricature of Bangladesh’s politics.  I will leave Bangladeshi politics for another time, and try to sketch out the story instead.

In the process, of course, there will be spoilers.  But to the uninitiated, this should not be a problem.  After all, we all know how the story of star-crossed lovers from feuding families end, but that does not stop us from enjoying adaptations set in Californian ganglands to the one starring Salman Shah.  I will, however, abstain from linking to the gazillion bytes of videos and blogs and discussion on the show and the books — do, or do not, indulge on your own.

Game of Thrones is a TV show produced by the HBO, adapted from a series called A Song of Ice and Fire by George RR Martin.  To the extent that the books are found in the fantasy shelves in any bookstore, that’s the genre of the series.  But this is not the stuff for little kids.  In the very first episode, for example, we see several beheadings, a rich dwarf in a bordello, and a boy being pushed out of a castle tower after he discovers the queen having sex with her twin brother — yes, you read that right, they do show this, and much, much more in the show (in fact, I was apprehensive of Disneyfication, and held off watching until they portrayed the Red Wedding accurately in the third season — but I get ahead of myself).  I would not let my kids anywhere near this for many years to come, and not before they have been through the entire Harry Potter saga, The Chronicles of NarniaHis Dark Materials Trilogy, and The Lord of the Rings.

Hopefully, by then Martin will have finished the books.  Or may be not.  The first book was published in 1996, and the fifth in 2012.  There are two more left, and considering his age and health, it is quite possible that the show’s ending will be the only one we will get.

Of course, grown ups need not read any of that stuff to enjoy the show, the first season of which is based on the first novel of the series — A Game of Thrones.  The first episode is titled winter is coming — the world where the saga is set has years-long seasons of variable and unpredictable length.

Yes, the story is not set in Earth, but in an earth-like planet, whose western continent — Westeros, think Britain but the size of South America — is our main concern.  A seven hundred feet high wall separates the northern, wild polar regions of the continent from the civilised realm of the Seven Kingdoms.  The realm was not always a united one.  That happened some 300 years before the events of the story, when a Targaryen prince and his two sister-wives — yes, they were into that stuff, something about keeping bloodlines pure much like the Pharaonic Egyptians, among others — invaded with their dragons.

Dragons, in this story, are not fantastic beasts.  They are animals that need food, lots of it, that bleed, and therefor can be killed.  They also can be huge — the size of a jumbo jet — and breathe fire.  That is, the Targaryens invaded Westeros with an air force of sorts. and the high families of Westeros eventually bent their knees (they don’t bow here) to the dragon-riding overlords.  Targaryens founded the capital city of King’s Landing, and ruled the realm from the Iron Throne until couple of decades before our time.  Over the years, the dragons died out, and the ruling dynasty was just another noble family.

The last Targaryen king was a paranoid pyromaniac — they called him the Mad King.  There was something between his son Rhaeger, and Lyanna Stark — daughter of a lord, betrothed to Robert Baratheon, another lord.  Note the word something, we will come back to this later, perhaps in a post of its own.  When the Starks sought the King’s intervention, they were burnt alive.  A rebellion ensued, ending in the death of the king at the hand of his guard — Jaime Lannister, son of Mad King’s Hand (Chief Minister or Wazir) who had switched side at the last minute.  Jaime earned the moniker Kingslayer, and his twin sister Cersei was married off to Robert, the new king.  All the Targaryens, save two children, were massacred.

Thus we have most, though not all, of the major powers — the Targaryens, Starks, Baratheon, and Lannisters.  At the beginning of the series, the northern nobleman Ned Stark — Lyanna’s brother — travels to King’s Landing to become Robert’s Hand.  The previous Hand was murdered, possibly by the Lannisters.  Ned soon discovers that things aren’t what they seem in the capital.  Robert dies.  His son and two brothers vie for the throne.  Ned is beheaded.  His daughter, Sansa, is taken hostage.  His son, Robb, is declared the King in the North.  The ensuing war is the subject of much of the next two books, and three seasons of the show, by the end of which, a lot of claimants to the throne are dead.  In the power vacuum emerges a fanatical religious order that derives its support from the commoners whose lives have been ruined by the war.  Cersei Lannister, the survivor in the capital, blows up the city’s major temple and kill whole bunch of people.

Meanwhile, remember the Targaryen kids who survived?  They are now grown up, living in the eastern continent of Essos — possibly larger than Eurasia, we only see part of it in the show or the books.  The daughter of the mad king, Daenerys Targaryen, is married off to a Dothraki Horse Lord — think Genghis Khan.  She gets three dragon eggs as wedding gift.  No one thinks they would actually hatch.  But after her brother and husband die, she manages to hatch them in dramatic circumstances.  With the aid of the dragons, she acquires armies, takes over Babylon-like city states, abolish slavery, and burn her enemies.  By the end of the sixth season, she has the support of Westerosis fed up with Cersei, and is ready to return home.

Okay, that’s a lot to take on.  And it gets more complicated.  All of this, it turns out, is a mere sideshow.

Remember that seven hundred feet wall, and years-long seasons with variable length?  A ten-year long summer is ending when the story begins.  North of the wall live wildlings, and White Walkers — ice zombies with blue eyes who can raise the dead, they are considered the stuff of legend by everyone, until it transpires that they are not.  They pose an existential threat to everyone, even though as of now — with only five episodes to go — we don’t actually know what they want.

(To be continued).


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