Tag: game of thrones (page 2 of 2)

Friday Nerd Blogging

Just in time for Game of Thrones‘ Season 2 (which happens inconveniently right in the middle of ISA), Foreign Affairs has posted this constructivist riposte to the foreign policy commentariat‘s realism-worship-fest from last Season (warning: contains Season 1 spoilers):

Commentary by foreign policy analysts on the first season of HBO’s Game of Thrones stressed its supposed underlying theme of political realism. Thus one writer claimed that the TV show and the George R.R. Martin novels on which it is based “clearly demonstrate the power of might over right,” and another agreed: “In this kind of harsh relative gains world, realpolitik should be the expected pattern of behavior.” But a closer look of Game of Thrones suggests a different take.

To be sure, life in Westeros is poor, nasty, brutish and short, and Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series and David Benioff’s television program are laced with Hobbesian metaphors, Machiavellian intrigues, and Carr-like calculations of power. But the deeper message is that realism alone is unsatisfying and unsuccessful — that leaders disregard ethical norms, the needs of their small-folk, and the natural world at their own peril. Jockeying for power by self-interested actors produces not a stable balance but suboptimal chaos; gamesmanship and the pursuit of short-term objectives distracts players from the truly pressing issues of human survival and stability.

Read the whole thing here; and Kelly DeVries’ excellent historical treatment here. And, if you’re not caught up on Season 1, here’s a helpful recap and commentary. And now, a fresh video:

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Friday Nerd Blogging

Simpsons Game of Thrones intro from tuan nguyen on Vimeo.

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Friday Nerd Blogging

Yes, it’s soon to be back. Now if you’ve read A Clash of Kings, you might rightly wonder who the “priest” is in this allegory, since while Season 2 will feature kings and rich men the only important religious figure is actually a woman. But if you’re read A Clash of Kings closely and obsessively you know that the narration by Varys in the trailer is only passingly related to setting up Season 2 itself, and is instead a more generic tale about political power that serves as part of the dialogue (and not a particularly important part at that)in a particular scene on p. 50.

“In a room sit three great men, a king, a priest, and a rich man with his gold. Between them stands a sellsword, a little man of common birth and no great mind. Each of the great ones bids him slay the other two. ‘Do it,’ says the king, ‘for I am your lawful ruler.’ ‘Do it,’ says the priest, ‘for I command you in the names of the gods.’ ‘Do it,’ says the rich man, ‘and all this gold shall be yours.’ So tell me—who lives and who dies?”

University of Michigan’s Karsten Smolinsk unpacks this riddle through a reading of political theory:

This is a riddle from the second book of the Game of Thrones series, a story set in a place much like our own Medieval Ages. The riddle is about the nature of power. Which is greatest?

Is it the power of the law wielded by the king? As Hobbes argued, submitting to the rule of a monarch is essential to preventing the state of nature. Saving the king maintains order in society. Killing the king could create a state of nature in which life is brutal and short.

Is it the power of religion wielded by the priest? Locke argued that belief in a god is the backbone of man’s morality. Most religions express beliefs about punishment or reward based on how people follow their religion’s moral code. Saving or killing the priest could decide one’s ultimate fate.

Is it the power of money wielded by the rich man? Hobbes believes that ultimately humans are selfish beings. Saving the rich man comes with the benefits of not only potentially securing one’s own survival, but one’s own comfort as well.

Or is it in fact the power of force wielded by the ordinary sellsword? In the riddle the three powerful men are in fact powerless before the man with sword. He could kill all three of them if he wanted to. Hobbes argued that force was the most important tool of the monarch. In the end sellsword’s own beliefs will dictate who he kills, suggesting that whichever power is greatest is simply the one that people believe to be the greatest.

In other words, power is what people make of it. What I believe is that this riddle, like other subtexts in the A Song of Ice and Fire arc, suggests that the underlying story Martin is telling is most consistent with constructivism, not political realism. More on this theme later in the semester. Meanwhile, to rephrase Smolinsk’s question put to students:

So which do you believe is greatest? Do you think force underlies all power? Do you think people posses a selfish nature that grants money the true power? Does law have power without force to back it? Or is belief itself the most powerful? Think back to the beginning of the semester. How do we form our beliefs?

As a good constructivist, my argument would be that law has power even without force to back it; and despite its realist veneer, now that I’ve finished A Dance with Dragons, I would argue the ASOIAF ultimately tells this particular story of power as well. What say you?

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Friday Nerd Blogging

My daughter loves the Game of Thrones story as told to her orally by my brother on a boat in Bali this summer. Yet she remains curiously unwilling to read the books or watch the HBO version with me. Apparently she might find it too hard on her stomach – puzzling, given her affinity for the eminently stomachable Hunger Games trilogy… perhaps to capture the teen sci-fi market George R. R. Martin should consider a final installment:

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Friday Nerd Blogging

How the author coded the characters either for “good” or “lawful” certainly beggars the imagination. That said, as an out and proud political scientist I cannot help but appreciate a handy 3×3 grid wherever I can get one… H/T selfishmeme

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Friday Nerd Blogging

George R. R. Martin to JK Rowling:

via GameofLOLs:

Harry Potter spoiler: Snape kills Dumbledore.

A Song of Ice and Fire spoiler: EVERYONE YOU LOVE IS KILLED

Oh about that? here is one awfully funny ASOIAF essay (I really do mean ‘awfully’).

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Friday Nerd Blogging

Funny 8-bit video-game style Game of Thrones Season 1 recap via College Humor. H/T YouBentMyWookie. Warning: spoilers and crudity.

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Friday Nerd Blogging: GoT IR?

I was recently asked whether Game of Thrones was going to become “the cult IR series of 2011.” My initial response, spouted on a FB update was, “it remains to be seen,” not least since by next Spring GoT will of course be competing with Blood and Chrome.)

As of today, however, “seen” it has clearly been, with multiple IR bloggers posting on various “IRGoT” themes. So I guess that answers that. We can look forward to a veritable bevy of GoT-blogging among IR types for the foreseeable future.

OK, let’s see, Steve suspects the show can best be viewed through the lens of cognitive psychology, and Dan thinks it demonstrates the timeless wisdom of realism. Pablo K, however, in a remarkable, wide-ranging piece at The Disorder of Things takes a more critical view, interrogating gender and racial imagery in Season One with all the tenderness of Gregor Clegane:

The most common female figure is that of the whore; the most common male one a loyal killer. Physically weak, generically meek, hopelessly devoted to their menfolk, the women of Westeros cower and sob at violence and prove useless at the calculations of politics. Catelyn Stark provokes outright war by bowing to her maternal urges and kidnapping Tyrion Lannister on slim evidence that he tried to kill her son, a decision unlikely to have been endorsed had she consulted with her husband, notorious as he is for bad decisions. Cersei Lannister, as Queen of the realm, fares better, managing to manoeuvre her son onto the throne, at which point he becomes a power-mad sociopath, forcing Tywin Lannister to send his own imp son to the capital to pick up the pieces and rule from behind the scenes. Which leaves Arya Stark, everyone’s favourite tomboy, protected from the solid binaries of Man and Woman by the relatively ungendered space of girlness. Thin and still flat-chested, she is able to pass, Shakespeare-like, as a boy. For now.

Married off to Drogo as the bargaining chip for his army, Daenerys Targaryen becomes the sock-poppet for a Game Of Thrones version of feminism… In a parody of anti-rape politics, it requires the authority of this high-born Queen to prevent the conquering Dothraki army from sexually violating the wives, mothers and daughters of the conquered… Wilful in spite of her relative fragility, Daenerys derives her determination from the male heir inside her… empowered by protective feminine impulses over her precious boy cargo, she transcends the pliant object we first encounter to become a commander of men, but only so long as she can claim to speak for their true Lord (wait until I tell Drogo about this!)

Burn! [Sorry…] Seriously, read the whole thing. The discussion of the heavily racialized Dothraki is pretty spot-on – “like Klingons without technology. Oh, and they’re quite swarthy.” The comments thread is also to be studied closely.

I do however see a few things differently from Pablo in terms of gender. I may develop a longer and more coherent essay on feminisms in GoT in due course (this one was drafted at 2am), but here are four initial thoughts:
1) Any discussion of gender in GoT needs to closely examine men as well as women. (To give only the most obvious example, the institution of bastardism is as fundamental to social relations in the show as are male/female hierarchies.) And let’s not exaggerate: the most common male character is not a “loyal killer,” it is (probably) a conflicted witness to killing. Of course there are loyal killers aplenty, but even more disloyal killers plus all manner of men and boys trying to avoid the profession: spies, cravens, eunuchs, squires, metal-smiths, clerks, and capitalists. And the male characters with whom we are most allowed to identify are those who embody an ambivalence toward violence and aim to wield it, if at all, justly. (That Martin means it this way is evident from the way he organizes his book chapters.) There is more complexity here than meets the eye.
2) The most common female character is certainly not the whore (Ros, Shae). It is the political figure – queens (Cersei, Daenerys), ladies of the realm (Catelyn, Lysa), or princesses (Sansa, Arya). But more importantly, it is simplistic to suggest that the female characters all follow any single gender archetype – different “ladies” do different things with their status and power, and even the “whores” are multi-dimensional. I see tremendous and fascinating variation in the way women are portrayed and their connections to gender and politics generally in their societies.
3) Pedagogically, one can usefully distinguish strong women from feminist characters in the show, and also different models of feminism with which Martin toys: i.e., there is not “a Game of Thrones version of feminism” but rather different representations of different feminisms that have analogues in global politics. First, there are many strong, smart women here – I certainly count Cersei and Catelyn among them, if not Sansa and Lysa – but this doesn’t necessarily make them feminist characters (in my view) since their frame of reference has nothing to do with overturning gender hierarchies. Arya, however, does embody a liberal feminist discourse: she insists on the right to take on ‘male’ roles but resists denying her own sex in order to do so. “Passing as a boy” is not her modus operandi but rather a strategy imposed on her, an eventual, temporary nod to traditional norms in a desperate bid for survival.
4) Consider Daenerys by comparison. I continue to disagree that Dany’s character simply reflects and reifies patriarchal norms. She does not, first of all, derive her determination from her male fetus, but rather from the friendship and mentorship of women who surround her (especially her handmaiden and later, at least for a time, a female priestess/healer), as well as the respect of powerful men (she has no time for those who disrespect her – her brother, Drogo’s men, duplicitous merchants).
True, it’s vital to interrogate what peculiar kind of gender ideology she represents. I would argue that Dany, in contrast both with Arya’s rejection of conventional gender norms and Cersei/Catelyn’s indifference to them, represents, for want of a more appropriate term, “state feminism” – her strategy is to accept and embody patriarchal gender archetypes long enough to achieve insider credibility. She then uses the formal power this gives her to engage tribal governors in the service of feminist ends, seeking common cause with other women across clan boundaries and attempting to alter the violent gender norms of her new society marginally in their favor, without questioning its foundations. But her embedded position within a violent, gendered governance structure means she can take this agenda only so far. Ultimately, Dany fails to question, empathize and comprehend the perspective of women with a different standpoint, so her best intentions turn on her and on the objects of her pity. Hers turns out to be the neo-colonial feminism of the white northerner bent on rescuing the oppressed (and in so doing obfuscating her society’s brutality to its ‘own women) rather than seeking to understand them. Failing in this effort this she turns oppressor to reconsolidate her own power base against the “other.”
Is this a patriarchy-affirming narrative? Certainly it is a narrative of patriarchy, illustrating its capacity to divide women against themselves despite their best intentions. But it is also a story of female agency and of identities that cut across and transcend sex and gender. The Maegi’s death represents the post-colonial feminist lesson about the limits of state/colonial feminism. We are meant to be sickened and shamed by it, and to be reminded that neither women nor feminism should be equated with nonviolence. The denouement of this chapter in Dothraki history should not be interpreted itself as being blindly orientalist or patriarchal but as tragically illustrative of the promise and pitfall of different feminist strategies.
Now, Pablo K would (I think) respond as follows:…

fiction is an important stage for tropes of war, diplomacy, sex and race, not least because we’re freed to engage in a more fulsome emotional investment precisely because it’s not real. Excepting professional researchers, activists and inveterate news addicts, the time spent with such representations outstrips that devoted to engaging them in the realm of contemporary politics.

Maybe. However since I’m thinking about this series primarily as a pedagogical tool, I hope I can be forgiven for thinking the series is – or can be understood as – more subversive than it means to appear. Thoughts?

*Though in fairness, the HBO version of Dany and Drogo’s first ride is very different than the book version.

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Friday Nerdism, A Day Early

Charli Carpenter has thrown down the gauntlet.  She has pondered (on facebook) whether/why IR folks have not been blogging about Game of Thrones.  Why?  Because we are tired.  Every episode is such great TV that we are left in awe.  Our brains are so focused on getting the names straight, understanding the dynamics within each family and between them, that we no brainpower left to use.

Spoilers lurk below:


Ok, that was an excuse.  The real reason is that I have not read the books yet, so my spelling of all of the names would suck.  But, let me use some simple IR theory to predict the next season’s key patterns (note that I am completely ignorant of what will happen since, again, I have not read the books).

First, we ought to see some balance of power dynamics with the various contenders shifting alliances.  We now have multiple contenders for throne: the Winterfell folks led by Robb, whatever forces Dany can bring together with her cute dragons, the two different brothers of the dead king, the Lannisters (easy to spot with their blond hair–and Charli is, suspiciously blond), and who else?  So, we might see King Robb ultimately bargain with Dany to join forces against the Lannisters, with Robb seeking a promise of allowing the north to secede.  If Dany is a rational actor, seeking to maximize her chances of successfully taking the throne, then she might go for this.  Of course, each side will face the problem of credible commitment as alliance partners often betray each other.  Once Dany wins (if she does), she could easily renege and refuse to recognize Winterfell’s independence.  It would not be the first time that a secessionist movement is betrayed.  (More on the IR of ethnic conflict applied down the road).

Second, there are other actors out there that might become greater threats.  Dany soon, yes, but then the walkers.  The Wall and the Rangers may not be enough to contain them.  Could perhaps an alliance be formed among the various forces when the Zombie threat becomes too great?  Drezner raises this possibility but presents too many theories for us to be certain.

Third, does democratic peace apply at all?  None of the actors has anything close to democracy (unless the Walkers have a representative political system, which I doubt).  But clearly Robb’s forces have willingly given consent to his leadership.  He originally compelled them via obligation, but now they have chosen (too much mead?) to give support to his secessionist effort.  So, if we focus on normative democratic peace arguments (as opposed to those focusing on structures or transparency), we might see what?  Well, given the absence of pseudo-democratic partners, um, never mind?

Fourth, first level analyses that focus on cognition and decision-making may be most appropriate because we have several actors that seem to be relatively unconstrained by institutions and norms.  Dany has only her dragons and a small coterie of ex-slaves and fallen horse folks, and she is in an alien world.  She does not know enough about the dragon past to have any clear set of normative restrictions and the identity is still pretty weak (what is implied by been a Dragon Queen in terms of adversaries, appropriate behavior and such?), so it is likely that her emotions (revenge for the assassination attempt) will drive her on.   Ned, late Ned, was imprisoned by his worldview.  The boy king is too young and too spoiled to buy into what is appropriate (no intersubjective identities and norms constraining him), demonstrated by rubbing his future consort’s face in the death of her father.  I am not sure that the Hand (Tyrian) will be able to restrain him, but, then again, the boy can be easily manipulated, right?

I will, for the moment, not apply constructivism since my previous musings at the Duck have proven that I am lousy constructivist.  I will say that identities matter. much in all of this  “A Lannister pays his debts.”  Ned and his honor.  That the ties of kinship bind the alliances thus far.  As I would expect.  But identities can be complex, containing multiple threads.  Will conflicting imperatives arise from a complex set of identities? Thus far, the only characters I can think of who fit this are Jon Snow (a semi-Stark and a Ranger) and Sansa (a Stark and soon to be married into the Lannisters).  Who else?  Oh, the bastard of the old King?  Hmmm.

As I have to catch upon on Obama’s Decision (almost as significant as Lebron’s), that is all for now, but please suggest to me alternative ways to apply IR theory.

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Friday Nerd Blogging

1: A mysterious little Father’s Day gift for certain Dads among us. Speculation here.

2: Your GoT satirical post of the week. (H/T Steve.)

3: No, I haven’t read it yet, though this is definitely on my summer beach-book-list. Judging by the critical reviews (Robopocalypse is being compared to World War Z) my immediate sense is that the zombie craze of which Drezner speaks may be coming to its end, and that Glen Weldon’s new novel may be the start of the latest greatest trend in ” post-apocalyptic chronicle of decimated humanity” fiction.

It may be the presence of this beating human heart beneath Robopocalpyse’s cold, genocidal surface that helps explain why Steven Spielberg has optioned, and plans to direct, the film version, due in 2013. The fact that Spielberg did so before Wilson had even finished his first draft, however, suggests that Hollywood sees something it likes in the way the book exploits our anxieties about artificial intelligence — something it finds very, very marketable.

(And not a moment too soon, if you ask me.) Now, back to work on my case study about autonomous warbots…

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Ned is dead, baby. Ned is dead.


So I have finally caught up on all the back episodes of Game of Thrones, so I know what the hell you are all talking about. I thought I’d take up Charli’s challenge about the paradigm that Dead Ned represents because I think that it says something deeper (always deeper) about something missing in IR theory these days.

Ned represents duty, honor and integrity as opposed to old school Machiavellianism (although I guess duty, honor and integrity are even more old school). But that is not liberalism, not at all. Those are all deeply conservative virtues. They are more romantic than rationalist, more nationalistic than internationalist. Who is Ned Stark loyal to? His king, despite that the fact that he rules arbitrarily. No liberal would do that. And I don’t recall Ned calling for some type of constitutional monarchy.


Ned Stark’s character is more in keeping with romanticism than English School enlightenment. That particular epoch stressed the organic rather than the deliberative nature of things. It was profoundly emotional rather than detached and Machiavellian. It was communitarian not individualist.

The problem with IR theory is that the constructivists tend to be liberal, focusing on nice things, cosmopolitan and global norms, to the detriment of any number of more common norms that promote duty to the state or the nation. And the neorealists neglect them because they are non-material in nature. So they fall between the stools. As a consequence, all kinds of interesting things remain unstudied. We can’t understand any number of wars and conflicts without paying attention to duty and honor and other romantic notions, particularly during the romantic period of the 19th and early 20th centuries. Constructivists are the ones to do it but they are too cosmpolitan. That was the natural first step but now they should dig deeper. In Steve Saideman’s oft quoted words, “Where else do we see such inter-subjectivity?” Make Ned undead.

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Friday Nerd Blogging

And so on.* H/T WinterisComingBitch. Scott Meslow ponders the human security implications of Ned’s choices.

*Oh, the pedagogical possibilities! Does Ned Stark represent constructivism? Or does he represent the mocking realist riposte to constructivists as naive fools? Or only a mockery of that riposte? (For readers not yet following Game of Thrones on HBO, this. For viewers who wish more depth on the Starks, this. To those viewers who’ve also already read the books, please no series spoilers in comments.)

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Friday Nerd Blogging

My partner had a different reaction than I did to Khal Drogo’s war speech in “You Win or You Die.” (Originally I was going to name this post “Over-Critical Acclaim for the Khal’s Speech.” Or, “Sex and Violence in Game of Thrones: Contributions of a Pro-Feminist, Anti-Chest-Thumping Standpoint.”*)

In the latest installment of our “Two Profs at Home Over-thinking” series, Stu and I discuss whether it is politically incorrect to appreciate Game of Thrones in all its nasty brutishness.

*With apologies to Bob Keohane. (Also far as invented languages go, Sunju Park Kang argues feminist IR qualifies.)

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