Why 'Game Of Thrones' Is Really An Allegory For Modern Britain

It's not fantasy at all, insists Westeros obsessive Sam Parker

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Spoilers alert. If you haven't seen all of Game of Thrones, then by the Gods, don't read on.

Quite how I, an avowed hater of anything 'fantasy', came to be obsessed with a show that ended last season with magic thunderbolts being thrown at sword-wielding skeletons has been troubling me even since I 'gave in' to Game Of Thrones all those months ago.

Tired of hearing others revel in the zeitgeist in what seemed like a foreign language, I took the plunge and found myself playing catch up – grudgingly at first, then devouring the HBO series with such intensity it gave me insomnia, staying up until 3am to watch four or five episodes on the trot before collapsing into fitful night terrors, Ned Stark or Tyrion Lannister or bloody Hodor waltzing through my head to the show's insane 3/4 signature theme tune.

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Hooked, like every other idiot, within three episodes, looking up maps of Westeros online, screaming in horror at the Red Wedding and falling so hard for Daenerys Targeryen in season 2 I devoted real portions of time to considering how, as her husband, I would cope with having three dragons in the house.

But more than anything the thought that preoccupied me was this: how did it happen? How did this show turn me, of all people, in to a fantasy geek?

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As a child I easily resisted Dungeons and Dragons, Star Wars and Lord of the Rings ("midgets with jewelry", as my friend put it). In my teens I developed a love for kitchen sink filmmakers and authors who wrote about the great truths of war and poverty. I decided, with the righteous certainty of youth, that realism was my bag, and make-believe worlds of knights and dragons were for pallid loser-virgins too cowed by the real world to appreciate its gritty poetry.

I maintained this stance until around episode three.

After that, George R. R. Martin had me not only hooked but questioning who I really was. Yes, his characters and dialogue were smarter and more nuanced than in Tolkien's portentous snore-fests. Yes, morality and consequences were infinitely more complex than in George Lucas's galaxy of Good versus Evil. But so what? Any number of shows is better in those regards than Game of Thrones, and none of them had giants riding mammoths in them. So it's a 'smart person's fantasy story' – big deal. There's enough smart person's real stories to tide me over forever.

Then it dawned on me, with a kind of elation, precisely why I am so deeply obsessed with this TV show. Game Of Thrones, more than The Wire or The Sopranos or Breaking Bad, reflects my world, because it's set in a version of 21st century Britain.

Think about it. The main plot revolves around two warring factions, the North and the South. The Northerners are noble, hardy folk with little interest in the trappings of wealth or power. Encapsulated by Ned Stark – and later, his children – they are strong and loyal but also, let's face it, a bit bloody thick.

Down south you have King's Landing, a place where grotesque wealth and abject poverty sit side by side and the Lannisters, a dynasty of crooks and liars who have every reason in the kingdom to be happy but are miserable, rule the roost at the expense of everyone else.

The North rejects the South as decadent and self-serving. The South dismisses the North as backwards and naïve. Time and again the South gets one over on the North because they're more shrewd, but immoral. The Northerners, meanwhile, either retain their dignity and shuffle back to the parochial shitholes they came from or head South for money and glory, all the while pontificating unconvincingly about the virtues of their abandoned homeland.

This is life in 21st Century Britain – minus the sword fights and direwolves – particularly if, like me, you made the journey from the North to London long ago.

It's all there, the posturing and prejudices that help create our nation's great geographical divide. Who are the Lannisters but Westminster's political elite in nicer tunics? What is King's Landing but London, playground of the wealthy? And what are the Starks but self-mythologising second placers with less money and a giant chip on their collective shoulder, living in Winterfell where, like Newcastle or Leeds, Winter is forever coming?

Then think about The Wildlings, who live the furthest North of them all, and refuse out of pride to 'kneel to the South'. They want to self-govern, but are oppressed and dismissed as savages. Who are they but the Scottish? (The Wall looked over by the Night's Watch was inspired by Hadrian's Wall, don't forget).

And the Iron Islands, in a state of ever-fluctuating independence from the mainland, a place where, in GRRM's words, "men spend their nights drinking ale and arguing over whose lot is worse, the fisherfolk who fight the sea or the farmers who scratch a crop from the poor thin soil." Tell me he's not talking about Ireland.

As for The Eyrie, an impenetrable land of valleys whose people hate the capital with a passion... well, let's just say there are probably leeks growing at the bottom of that moon door.

GRRM, a 65-year-old man from New Jersey, who grew up reading about British history from the Viking times to the War of Roses, has created a near-perfect allegory for how the 'kingdoms' of the UK view each other today. Even more than that, by creating a world where nothing good ever happens to anyone and the wrong people die every time, he provides an allegory for our downtrodden, pessimistic national outlook. The man is the most astute anglophile since Bill Bryson.

If you're British, then, Games of Thrones isn't a work of fantasy but allegorical realism. All of which, in a round about way, goes to prove that even though I'm going to spend the next few months counting the hours between episodes of season five, searching the web for plot rumours and dreaming of dragons, I am definitely, definitely not a fantasy geek. OK?

This article originally appeared on Esquire in 2014 and has been updated slightly.

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