The Whiteness of Westeros

Caroline Siede suggests that Westeros has a race problem, and that the Lannisters should be black:

Here’s a question for Game Of Thrones fans: Why aren’t the Lannisters black?

The answer probably seems painfully obvious, at least if you’re a defender of the show: The world of Westeros is modeled after medieval England, so it would be inaccurate to have an ethnically diverse set of ruling families. This is also generally how the show’s cast and crew have responded to questions about the show’s diversity. For example, when asked why his series has a handful of black characters but no Asian ones, author George R.R. Martin wrote on his blog: “Well, Westeros is the fantasy analogue of the British Isles in its world, so it is a long, long way from the Asia analogue. There weren’t a lot of Asians in Yorkish England either.”

Meanwhile, actress Nathalie Emmanuel—who plays one of the few characters of color on the series—told The Telegraph: “We’re dealing with a fantasy world in an almost Medieval setting, set around a fantasy version of the British isles, where history tells us that a queen would have been white, generally.” Martin later wrote that “Westeros around 300 AC is nowhere near as diverse as 21st century America, of course,” seeming to forget that he created Westeros wholesale.

Image by Jemimus

Image by Jemimus

I should start by saying that Siede’s argument rests somewhat heavily on Westeros being roughly 130 times the size of Great Britain, which is something I believe has to be flat-out rejected for the story to work on any level. Siede also relies on “Once you have dragons, you have to be open to anything,” which is a mentality I also reject. I believe that stories beyond the supernatural have to be evaluated on their own terms, realistic and unrealistic, in the context of the world their story takes place in. With that out of the way…

Some will argue that it’s ridiculous that the Lannisters should be black. Others may argue that the first group is being racist or demonstrating their privilege or something. The truth, as I see it, is actually a bit more complicated than that. First, making the Lannisters black would seriously complicate the rest of the story, or at least require serious revision. But second, given the fictitious land of Westeros could actually be a lot more diverse than it is, and without really being a diversion from the story that Martin wanted to tell.

It is rather important to the story that the people of Westeros are not an especially enlightened lot. Even by medieval standards, where there were bits of democracy here and there (even if they existed under the thumb of a monarchy). The only real semblance of enlightenment is a degree of religious pluralism, with devotees of The Old Gods and New living side-by-side and tolerating one another especially well. But apart from that, Westeros being enlightened on matters of race would be oddly out of character. And the Lannisters in particular being of a different race would mess with their position in Westerosi society. Even if they owe their position due to mineral wealth of the Westerlands, the combination of sitting on valuable land and being different would likely have resulted in them losing the land. Either through a xenophobic alliance with the other kingdoms to take and divide the spoils, or simply being being dumped by the Targaryens once they got itchy with their dragons.

If we assume diversity on Westeros, it would most likely have occurred either through the non-whites being displaced natives (which, again, suggests Not Lannisters) or through separate arrivals to the land who somehow managed to hold on to their land rather than being pushed out. If the latter, then you would actually be more likely looking at people who are sitting on land that is, for whatever reason, not really worth going to war over. Not the Westerlands, but perhaps the Iron Islands or the Vale. It’s unknown how valuable The Vale is, but it is known that it’s a fortification dream. The Iron Islands seem easier to attack, but hold very little value. Unfortunately for the story, neither plays the sort of role that would likely satisfy those concerns of Westeros’ whiteness, because both live mostly on the periphery of the story, and the most prominent characters from each place are not ones you want to be the primary representative of a particular demographic.

The minority-ish (darkish-skinned, anyway) demographic that does exist is Dorne, which is established early on as a particularly difficult or unfruitful region to try to conquer. They were the only one of the kingdoms that actually wasn’t conquered. However, due to their being out of the way, kind of like the Iron Islands and Vale for that matter, they simply don’t play an especially large role.

That would make the best candidate… The North. So instead of asking why The Lannisters aren’t black, we should perhaps be asking about the Starks. The protagonists! The North has an unpleasant climate, a reasonably good defense position for invasion from its south, and has a security threat to its north but for a very large wall. I could very easily imagine the north being settled by a different race and more or less left alone. That might complicate the intermarriage plotlines (specifically Eddard and Catelyn), but The North is important enough that as a virtue of necessity I could see the rest of Westeros making its peace and finding a mutually beneficial arrangement that overlooks racial differences. It has the added benefit over The Vale and the Iron Islands in that those two can mostly be ignored, while mutual cooperation with The North would be to everyone’s benefit in the same way it’s to their benefit to be peaceful with their wealthy neighbors to the east.

The alternative to all of this, and perhaps preferable in Siede’s eyes, would be that instead of this kingdom or that one being from Someplace Else and of a different race, Westeros is a truly multiracial place where each corner of the continent was originally settled by some band of sailors from somewhere else. If the racial groups kind of balance each other out, then it would be more difficult to dislodge (for example) a black Lannister family. It could even be enough for everybody to make relative peace with one another on the racial front, again out of necessity.

So in that sense, Siede is right that they could have done more than they did, either Martin when he was originally writing it or the producers when they cast the show. At the very least, it would have made some of the minority characters that did exist to varying degrees of offensiveness less conspicuous. It might not be so bad to have non-white barbarians if they weren’t among the so-few minorities that appear.

Feature Image artwork by Zontal


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Will Truman is a former professional gearhead who is presently a stay-at-home father in the Mountain East. He has moved around frequently, having lived in six places since 2003, ranging from rural outposts to major metropolitan areas. He also writes fiction, when he finds the time. ...more →

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81 thoughts on “The Whiteness of Westeros

  1. It’s interesting that you identify the Starks as a good choice for being a separate ethnicity from the South. Martin clearly agreed since the North is populated by a different race to the South.

    The North (including North of the Wall) is populated by the First Men, so called because they were the first people to come to Westeros. They were the people who encountered the Green Men, and they adopted the gods of the Green Men. The Andals (the majority of Southerners) came later and brought their gods, The Seven, with them.

    On top of that you have the Rhoynar (in the books, the King of Westeros is described as “the King of the Andals, the Rhoynar and the First Men”, but I imagine they thought that was too much of a mouthful for TV). The Rhoynar are the Dornish, and played by everyone from Alexander Siddig (Sudanese) to Keisha Castle-Hughes (Maori). On top of that you have the Targaryans who are Valyrian, which doesn’t really have a real-world analogue.

    All said, Westeros is quite ethnically diverse. This seems to have escaped Siede because most of those ethnicities have fair skin, which is the way 21st Century Americans are used to judging ethnicity. But after all, the USA is the only country in the world and its particular racial dynamics are human universals, so of course she tries to apply that lens to a country that more closely resembles post-Roman Britain than the modern USA.

    After all, how exactly would people with skin dark enough to qualify as “People of Colour” have made it to Westeros, a place that for plot reasons needs to be close to the pole? There’s a simple one-word answer as to how people of African extraction ended up as far North as they did, but there isn’t a globe-spanning oceanic power in A Song of Ice and Fire, and people don’t evolve dark skin if their environment tends toward the cold and dark. There are of course dark-skinned people in the show, but they tend to be found in the Southern parts of Essos, where it is hot and sunny.

    Look, I’m all in favour of greater ethnic representation in media, but the ethnic mix of the various parts of this setting are there for a reason, not just as window dressing. And it turns out that in this particular case the central plot is focused on a part of the world that gets very cold, and evokes the history of late antiquity Britain. That means the main characters tend to go heavy on the white people.

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    • I’m not going to lie, if I had either created the story or made the show, I probably would have done the same things they did in this regard and for largely the same reasons. But if I had been told by a studio or an editor “You, you need to fix this”… I don’t think it would have been all that difficult to do so.

      As I say in the OP, I don’t think you can point to the dragons and magic and say that justifies anything, but I do think it can explain this! I can think of two ways that The North would have a mostly black population, both using the world’s magical geography and magical geology.

      The first is a magic current. They come up from the south and head for The Reach, but over and over again some magical current takes them north and that’s where they land. Then they get a foothold, and that becomes their place. Starting near the river, and then extending upwards over time.

      The second is a lost island. The Summer Island to Westeros’s Winter Island. Even though located away from the equator, it is the land of very long and very hot summers. The locals’ pigmentation is darker due to this. Then, something happens and people need to start leaving this place. A large number of them land in The North (one of the nearest locations) and settle it. By the time of the story, the Summer Island is gone. You can even make it a global warming parable, where it sank because all the snow on Absurdly High Northing Mountains (outside of the magical climate) melted.

      It’s easier if you’re Martin because you can draw a whole other mythology from this. However, if you’re the showrunners dealing with Martin’s original work, you can tweak a fair amount of the background because it’s mostly mentioned in passing if at all in the show.

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    • Far northern latitudes favor lighter skins, but if you start with darkhued people and you DON’T get that mutation, you still have pretty dark people at the northern reaches. Inuit, for example, aren’t all that fair-skinned. Neither are South Africans nor Native Peoples of Chile or Argentina.

      Somehow it seems really weird to call Alexander Siddig Sudanese… (He’s clearly of Berber ancestry).

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        • Alright, how about the Yaghan people of Tierra Del Fuego? At 54 degrees South – 54 degrees North being about even with York and Harrogate in England.

          The point remains a valid one – just because it’s set in roughly a fictionalized medieval England, doesn’t mean you need to say the history of human geography and migration throughout Western Europe is sacred to the storyline and must be applied without any reimagining.

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          • Westeros actually goes quite far south — much of Dorne is hot, sandy desert –and in both the book and the TV show, the Dornish are darker than the people further from further north. The Dothraki are steppe nomads and in both book and TV show are portrayed accordingly. AGoT really is diverse.

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            • The Dothraki aren’t supposed to be ethnically homogenous. They’re supposed to be about as white as the Poles and about as Asian as the Mongolians, and everything inbetween. They’re the original “we take anyone — by theft as often as not” people.

              The TV show, because of “cheap locals”, made both the Dothraki and most of Essos into black/arabians. Martin quite clearly had some Essos as lily white (whiter than Starks) and others as pitch black.

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  2. This makes as munch sense as me protesting why are none of the cultures in a fantasy novel Jewish? We know that fantasy authors can borrow shamelessly from the real world Middle Ages when creating their fantasy worlds. Its easier to take inspiration from history rather than trying to create a truly original set of cultures for your medieval setting. There are some exceptions but Jews are for the most part excluded from the list of borrowed cultures. When fantasy authors want to have a persecuted human ethnic group they are more likely to find inspiration in the Roma than the Jews. They are after all sexier than an ethnic group of religious people engaged in trades and commerce.

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      • Jews were mobile people to even if we preferred to remain settle. Jews and Roma make for different type of storytelling. I realize that the positive and negative images of Roma culture in popular culture work a lot better for stereotypical fantasy stories because they are depicted as more sensual and adventurous than Jews even in Jewish self-imagery. It still seems odd that medieval fantasies would contain counter-part cultures to everything but the Jews with a few exceptions.

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  3. If you go back to the British Isles of the first millennium, you’ll find two things. You’ll find a whole lot of white people and a whole lot of ethnic diversity. That is, you’ll find Celts and Angles and Saxons and Jutes and Danes and then eventually you’ll come to find Normans.

    The idea of diversity put forth in that particular hot take is based on dividing the world’s seven billion people into black, white and Asian. Incidentally, that is the same taxonomy that has been the basis for white supremacy for the last couple-few hundred years. Maybe we should stop doing that.

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    • I get what your trying to say but why do you think it would work? To a large extent, a lot of the centrist support for civil rights in the mid-20th century America was based on this idea of stopping to think about us as white, black, or whatever else. It didn’t work. The main beneficiaries of alleged race neutral policies are white people or people that can pass for whites in most circumstances. Regardless of how racial identities were originally constructed, they are real enough to most people to matter. Another probably with forgetting race as you advocate is it lets the perpetrators of racism off too easily. It reads like “sorry for the past few centuries of persecution but let bygones be bygones. Me bad. Okay.”

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      • It reads like “sorry for the past few centuries of persecution but let bygones be bygones. Me bad. Okay.”

        Fine, if that’s your interpretation, but it doesn’t read like that at all. I didn’t say anything about forgetting race or being race neutral. I said that it’s time we abandoned the categories explicitly created by white supremacy. I am guessing that we won’t, but that’s largely because white supremacy is still an idea with widespread support.

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  4. Here’s a question for Game Of Thrones fans: Why aren’t the Lannisters black?

    So, in the name of diversity, you’re going to make the main ‘bad guys’ black while keeping the main ‘good guys’ white? Ok, good luck with that.

    Yeah, the main (early books & show) plot is based on the War of the Roses, the world that was built is more Europe tilted 90 degrees than a supersized Britain. The Iron Isles are Scandinavians, the Stark lands are Scots, the Lannister lands (plus Frey Riverlands) are English, the Vale are Swiss, the Reach is French, the Stormlands (Baretheon) are Germans, Dorne is Moorish Spanish. Some of the Free Cities are Italian city-states, others are Byzantine/Alexandrian Levant.

    The geographic ‘oh, please’ I had with last night’s episode was being able to walk from the biome where Danny was found by the Dothraki to where she ended up in the episode. I also think the relationship between mountains and desert and prevailing winds doesn’t work (based on how both the dragon and Ser Friend Zone and Ser Friend Zone’s Friend were travelling, but I could just see being an error of the rule of 180)

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    • I think the geographic description here is roughly right; Martin need not exercise the “Europe turned sideways” thing too hard so we needn’t strain to make everything fit that model but it’s about right to me.

      But I disagree with the idea that the Lannisters are bad guys. Cersei is, well, unsympathetic, and Tywin was ruthless, but I don’t think we can call either Jaime or Tyrion evil. We think the Lannisters are all bad guys when the story begins because we identify with the Starks, their principal rivals, and Jaime and Cersei’s relationship is initially shocking and decadent. But over time, we see a lot of what makes them tick and it’s stuff we can recognize in ourselves.

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      • Yeah, the whole point of the story are the “scare quotes” around “bad guys” and “good guys”.

        But since we’re talking about superficial things, like skin color*, the incestuous regicidal bad parents are going to be the bad guys in the first season or two.

        *if anything, that’s my beef with Siede’s piece. You can’t want colorblind casting, or worse, have an entire extended family of one ethnic group, and then ignore the fact of the characters race and ethnicity in the plot. Not in a show that is about politics.

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        • Never mind that there are a few plot points based on uncertain parentage that would be more difficult to pull off if various characters became black.

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    • “So, in the name of diversity, you’re going to make the main ‘bad guys’ black while keeping the main ‘good guys’ white? Ok, good luck with that.”

      This was my take also.

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  5. Or you could go with the racial blindness that is currently de rigueur in the UK, in which black or white or Asian actors play any role irrespectively

    Which I find silly and off putting

    Some months ago I saw a Restoration comedy in London’s National Theatre, in which the leading female character. A rich, titled, heiress, was a beautiful black young lady. The fact that her mother and her no good blondish drunkard brother were white didn’t seem to faze anyone (except me – I could not suspend my disbelief enough to accept that they were mother and daughter)

    Without diminishing the thespian merits of the actress, can we at least keep all members of the same family reasonably of the same race, and of a race that matches the story? I don’t want to see Brad Pitt play Shaka Zulu just because he is a great actor. And I don’t want Idris Elba play a Viking.

    For sure, we can and should write better stories involving all races, and I’m happy to have s black person play a role where race is meaningless (Dr. Who for instance), but not when it is anachronistic, anageographic, or anafamilysh.

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    • Some of it depends on the type of production. Racially impartial casting in theater is less… I don’t know… jarring? Theater inherently relies on a lot of the “illusion” part of “illusion of reality.” With movies and TV it’s kind of different, but even then it depends on the kind of production. Take actor swaps (where an actor is replaced to play the same character) or repeated casting (where an actor who played a character in one episode plays a different in another one). Having Pam’s mother played by two different actors didn’t work, but it would have worked fine in most sitcoms. Repeat casting worked for Law & Order, but didn’t work in The Practice.

      A lot depends on the particulars.

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      • I think color blind casting works better for theater than movies because the set of the best theater production usually looks less realistic than most movie productions. Even if everything takes place in a living room and doesn’t involve anything that elaborate, there always tends to be a remainder that you are watching theater. This makes color blind casting work because its harder to break the illusion of disbelief. Movies and television are different because they can create more vivid and life like sets even for the most fantastic worlds. This makes color blind casting more jarring.

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    • Some months ago I saw a Restoration comedy in London’s National Theatre, in which the leading female character. A rich, titled, heiress, was a beautiful black young lady. The fact that her mother and her no good blondish drunkard brother were white didn’t seem to faze anyone (except me – I could not suspend my disbelief enough to accept that they were mother and daughter)

      Seems odd that you would need to suspend disbelief in a world where these two girls are biological twin sisters. Their father is white and mother is biracial.

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      • Genetics can get really fascinating at times. Its the same with Ashkenazi Jews. Most Ashkenazi Jews look fairly European but there are some distinctive Jewish features and on occasion the right genes are switched on and you get an Ashkenazi Jew that looks completely Mediterranean, olive skin, dark eyes, and dark curly hair even though the parents might be fair skinned.

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        • Things get super interesting when you start throwing in biracial folks in the mix. I’m of Egyptian descent and my wife is German/Irish with brown hair, brown eyes. My son has blonde curly hair (which will likely end up darkening), blue eyes, and already is darker than his mom.

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    • Honestly, I think Idris Elba would make a pretty good viking. Or psuedo-viking, if he’s playing one of the Iron Isles folks that suggests above.

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    • And while we’re at it, from now on: Hamlet’s mother is played by an actress at least ten years older than the actor playing Hamlet. No exceptions. Pay the extra to bring Helen Mirren in if you want eye candy in the role.

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  6. “Telling, don’t you think, that the people of color lived in a place called ‘Golden Tooth’?”
    “Well, actually, Golden Tooth is a Lefford holding…”
    “Did you just ‘well, actually’ me?”

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  7. Making the Lannisters black would probably prompt the exact same cries of racism as there are now. Making the Starks black would require some serious medieval vitamin d pills.

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      • Sansa’s mother was a Tully, not from the North, and a redhead.

        There is the fact that there’s an awful lot of fostering, whoring, and arranged marriages over great distances — that would do interesting stuff to the genes of the nobility at least.

        Given the Lannisters are famous for being blonde (this being a huge plot point) making them black blondes would look pretty unusual to American viewers. The Lannister bleach jobs looked bad enough as is.

        Braavos might have been a good choice. Nicely foreign from lily-white Westeros, but fiercely independent — doesn’t play into any (or many) unfortunate American stereotypes.

        But honestly, Westeros is a crapsack grim-dark world using a LOT of old fantasy tropes. Which means it’s ugly, and brutal, and violent, and plays with all sorts of nastiness. There’s an actual Mongol horde. There’s Vikings. There’s an awful lot of rape and barbarianism.

        I can’t help but think there’s a part of the casting choices that basically looks at some of those roles and thinks “Dear god. I need a Mongol horde. What ethnic look is going to be least troublesome for the show?” Because we’ve got a lot of racial baggage, and the last thing an expensive show wants to do is tie that modern baggage to a fantasy story.

        That being said, there really shouldn’t have been a problem casting more blacks in general. Nights and nobility all over King’s Landing? No reason that, say, Selmy couldn’t have been done by a black actor. I mean I get things like the Starks. You got Sean Bean. Ergo the rest of his family is gonna be white. Good call. But you’ve got Septons, and Kingsguards, and noblilty out the wazoo — two or three episodes and then dead or gone roles. Those don’t need to be so lily white.

        Stretching back, I recall two black characters of note — that pirate friend of Davos, the con-man Lord in Quarth. The one that got locked into his own vault.

        Maybe they’re getting saved for the Ghiscari Empire….:)

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            • Considering that in Howard’s original setting in the books, the personalities of black characters ran the full gamut from “noble savage” to “cannibalistic savage”, anything they did in the movies was going to be more enlightened.

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          • I think Braavos remains the best bet (assuming we don’t run into new information). It could (and honestly still could be done) as Greece with the equivalent of more cultural intermixing with Africa.

            In the long run, though, it was cast pretty much like the book was written — it was Europe (White, mostly Christian with those crazy white Norwegians and their tree worship or whatever), Vikings off the coast (also white), Mongol hordes to the East (luckily not connected by land), Greece (Braavos) off to the side. The ‘far off’ possibly extinct other empire is Ghiscari (Roman). And Valaryia is a big question mark and sort of the one that upset the Apple Cart, having WMDs.

            When Martin created the world he took Europe, England, and Asia and called it “Westeros’. Slaver’s bay was probably the Africa analogue, and I don’t blame anyone for deciding not to tie those guys to any particular skin color.

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        • The Lannisters as black blondes would be awesome. That’s a great way to say “nuh-uh, leave your racism at the door.”

          GRRM said that the Mongol Horde was supposed to be every ethnicity that they ran across, mixed together. Ergo no need to choose. The showrunners saw cheap local extras and hired who they could get.

          More blacks/Essos kin should have shown up during the whole Tourney — but the Lannisters were stacking everything their way, so the kingsguard and nobility in KL ought to be white.

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  8. I’m kind of shocked by all of this because I thought GoT had done a pretty good job with diversity, owing to it covering such a large geographic space. They have people that are lily white, black, vaguely arabic, etc. It seems to cover most of the bases.

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  9. While I am, of course, 100% on board with this criticism, I wondered when the first Game of Thrones book came out… I mean, even though GRRM should have known to include People of Color no matter when he wrote them, I wondered if this is a criticism that would have made sense when he wrote the first one.

    1996 seems to be when it was published and, if the last couple of books are any indication, he started writing Game of Thrones in 1978. (More seriously, he probably started writing it in 1993 or 1994.)

    To what extent are we criticizing art from 1996 for not capturing the zeitgeist of 2016?

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      • The show itself has flexed GRRM’s colors, to the point where they created the Great White Savior trope out of nothing canonical.

        (Of course, one can make the point that they are deconstructing the trope.)

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      • Correctable but we forget, in the present tense, that GoT was somewhat of a gamble by HBO. Had they known it’d be a mega-hit then adding diversity would have been a no-brainer but when it was a super expensive could be a dud HBO pilot? You can be sure they had no interest in getting creative with anything.

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        • Real fantasy movies have been a risky proposition before Jackson made the Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter. Hollywood knew that you could make money off of science fiction or science fantasy but actually fantasy was limited to books, cartoons, kid’s movie, and syndicated television shows. Big budget productions for adults were a no-no. It makes some sense that HBO wanted to be as safe as possible when they could when making Game of Thrones.

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  10. Noted Social Justice Warrior Ross Douthat agreed with the overall unreality of a continent the size of South America (which Westeros) is having the same basic customs and no real linguistic diversity along with being very homogenous race wise. But, the real weirdness is that the same families have been in charge for millenia. As Ross pointed out, it’d be as if the Yorks and Lancasters had ruled parts of England since the time of Babylon.

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    • We should not necessarily believe that the Houses’ claims to have ruled for thousands of years are true. The last 300 years or so of Westerosi history (since the Targaryen conquest) seems relatively reliable, but beyond that skepticism is in order.

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      • We should consider everybody an unreliable narrator. Including the actual narrator.

        Especially on the scale of Westeros. The 130-times figure makes no sense and is reverse-determined from what we can dismiss as an exaggeration.

        You can actually read what Douthat had to say, and more of my thoughts in the scale, by following the last link in the OP.

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        • Word of Fat Guy says it’s that big.

          I do think that the King was mostly the leader of a Confederacy (Please don’t mistake the leaders of the current houses as being the only powers — Bolton was rather clearly a power of the North before the Ned kicked Bucket) — there’s enough rebellions, etc even when there are dragons about.

          You’re very clearly dealing with an Inherited Right to Rule moral code — this doesn’t actually mean much of jack, honestly, in a society that can legitimize bastards. Daddy says “this kid fights well, and my kid is a moron. I name this kid mine, and the line continues…”

          The classic line is “It takes three generations to lose a fortune…” Well, with some amount of adoption/reverse-bastardization, you dilute that a good ways — and you have scions upon scions (see large world)… The karstarks, the offshoot Lannisters, etc.

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          • Word of fat guy does not comport with the story that fat guy actually told.

            There are confederate aspects to Westeros, but not the sort where it’s up to the king to please the people (which he can only really do by not governing). I suspect that, after the dragons, the role of the king – if he managed to hold everything together, would be either ceremonial or as a respected mediator for disputes between kingdoms. Not as any sort of leader.

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            • Robert’s pulling a Sun King — stopping the rest of the leaders from fighting against him by pulling them into a sustained competition for pride/prestige in Kings Landing. [I think the king before him was doing the same, just… he was far less good at not being cra-zay.]

              It really doesn’t matter how big the country is (France is pretty big, after all), so long as you’ve got enough of a shared ethos about “time to be pretty rather than fight”.

              The North basically governs itself, and so does Dorne, to the extent anyone cares. The Iron Islands are let alone in so far as they’re not worth taking over. The Reach is enough of a fortress to tell everyone else to piss off, so long as they aren’t trying to conquer everybody. How is this not a confederacy? The King leads some warbands, if one of the Earls gets out of hand…

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              • If they’re trying to curry favor with the king, rather than the other way around, then it’s not the sort of confederacy to which I refer (and to which I believe the kingdoms would revert as soon as the dragons wilt or the (apparent) death of the Targaryen dynasty at the latest or the death of Robert at the absolute latest.

                And size does matter here. We’re not talking about France, we’re talking about South America.

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              • The one thing that significantly different between Westeros and real world European capitals of yore and present day is that in the real world, the capitals are locii of economic activity the pre-exist the status of being the capital.

                Kings Landing is the pits, in comparison. It’s only important because the powers that be (outside powers at that) have said it’s important. (Though it does have a decent anchorage for that side of the continent, where decent ports are rare)

                I’m of the opinion that this is deliberate, and it’s Martin’s Americanness shining through, because after all Washington DC is the same way.

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        • I’d say the Starks are the only house where we can be extremely confident that their bloodline runs as far back as they claim, since their latent warging abilities fit pretty well into the notion that they were founded by Bran the Builder/The Last Hero/Azor Azhai.

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      • If there’s any form of adoption (and being able to legitimize bastards argues for that, as well as a less strict primogeniture), then it’s not completely outlandish that someone is willing to call themselves “ruler from XYZ line that has ruled for a thousand years”

        (and yes, people exaggerate. particularly nobles. You thank someone for a compliment because it’s a pretty lie, after all.)

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    • David Eddings at least provided a reason for this in his work and even than there was more cultural, social, and political change than there was in Westeros. Dragonlance isn’t great fantasy but at least the authors realized that representative institutions did exist in medieval polities.

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