In 'Game of Thrones,' the Bad Guy Always Wins, But That's What Makes it Awesome


We live in pessimist times. Back some years ago, the hero would fight for justice or love, defeat evil enemies on his own, and emerge triumphant after facing the tempting threat of corruption. This basic structure would pervade action movies from Schwarzenegger's and Stalone's, to science fiction and fantasy like The Empire Strikes Back, The Return of the Jedi and the Lord of the Rings. 

Other sagas would portray an optimistic outlook of progress like Start Trek. Even in movies like Total Recall, Rambo and Aliens, corrupted men are ultimately defeated, and in drama films like Titanic the main character suffers a heroic martyrdom, while in gangster movies like the Godfather and Goodfellas, criminals are portrayed in a romantic fashion. 

A series like Game of Thrones, with its endless pornographic scenes, its bloodthirsty struggles for power, the defeat and humiliation of principled heroes, the rule and triumph of arrogant, despotic, self-centered and cruel men, could have been unimaginable in the America previous to 9/11, the Iraq War and the 2008 massive financial fraud. 

In other contemporary stories like Avatar and Harry Potter, there is a patent nostalgia for pre-capitalist forms of society, as the main characters escape today's world for a rather fantastic and traditional environment. The point is, the contemporary American, and the Western citizen in general, is deeply disappointed by the current state of affairs of our civilization. Game of Thrones is the cynical expression of this world feeling, and that is why it is so successful.

Game of Thrones is the perfect example of what is bad government, and an unfair structure of society where justice and fairness is overwhelmed by corruption, greed, and all the rest of the capital sins. In an optimist America, where the average citizen thinks that anything is possible and that improvement of humanity has no end (especially after the fall of the Soviet Union), how come we are today obsessed with these stories that are so severely critical of the human condition? 

9/11 showed that"the end of history and the last man" was not achieved, the Iraq war, that America is not necessarily a force of freedom and democracy; and the 2008 financial fraud, that wealthy men cannot be trusted and that the free market can be an unfair economic arrangement. 

The political institutions are just as bad in credibility among the public, as the Gallup survey shows (check that the military, a repressive institution, tops the list), many of which are the supreme expressions of modern liberty. Even the dream of a united and strong Europe is in serious jeopardy. In an environment where all idols have been proven false, it is reasonable to expect that the average person will develop a cynical and pessimist taste for the corrupt and low.

Just as the environment of 16th century Italy prepared the ground for the astounding success of Machiavelli's "The Prince," something analogous is happening in our times. However, the 16th century had a rebirth in confidence and pride after the Reformation and Counter Reformation movements that reshaped European culture to boot. 

This could be the only solution to our current state of pessimism. That is, a serious nonpartisan initiative to reform the rules of the game of the American institutional life; its constitution, its financial system, and ultimately the way democracy works. Otherwise people will keep losing confidence in the political and economic system in which we live, bringing about a “delegitimation” of the way our society functions. 

History shows that, unless reforms bring about a significant change that adapts institutions to the times, dramatic outcomes usually follow. I think Obama's failure to achieve this has caused a widespread and deeper disappointment with the current state of affairs. In this kind of world it is the Ned Starks that are beheaded, and not the Joffrey Lannisters.