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'Game of Thrones' And Marxist Class Conflict

08/05/2016 8:14 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:26 AM IST
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FILE - This file publicity image released by HBO shows Emilia Clarke as Daenerys Targaryen in a scene from "Game of Thrones." HBO plans to offer a stand-alone version of its popular video-streaming service, CEO Richard Plepler said at an investor meeting at parent Time Warner Inc. on Wednesday, Oct. 15, 2014. (AP Photo/HBO, Keith Bernstein, File)

When Karl Marx proposed his class conflict theory based on the society prevalent in the 19th century, little did he know that his brainchild would crystallize in a fictional land called Westeros well over a century later. While situating Marxist theory in a TV series, Game of Thrones may seem absurd, the parallels are undeniable.

Marx's theory of class sees society solely from an economic prism and relates all its maladies to the problem of possession--the haves and the have-nots. The former in this case is the bourgeoisie, the people who are few in number but who own the means of production, most of the property and the wealth, while the latter are the downtrodden, poor proletariats who have no option but to live at the behest of the bourgeoisie. Marx believes that the bourgeoisie has been exploiting the proletariats since time immemorial and this exploitation will continue until there is an intervention by the poor class.

The High Sparrow or the High Septon in the series aptly represents the proletariat class, which lives on the verge of death because of lack of resources.

The history of exploitation of the poor, according to Marx, is set into three stages of human society. The first being the stage of 'primitive commune' or the state of nature, where every member of society was happy, there was food and property for everyone and there was no poverty or social evils. Then, as the population grew, a paucity of resources resulted in the creation of two classes, one of which was stronger than the other and which possessed the giant share of food and property. By the end of the first stage, we had a society divided into two classes.

The second stage in Marx's theory is the most important one in this article because it is in this stage that the show Game of Thrones bases its civilization. In the second stage, the stronger lot, who owned most of the property and wealth, became monarchs and feudal lords, while the weaker section tilled the land and performed menial tasks on the property owned by their powerful masters. In the second stage, there is a clear distinction between who owns the property and wealth and who is poor and does not have resources.

In Game of Thrones, society is primarily divided into two classes of the second stage, the kings with their ministers and lords who own the land and property and lead a good life, and the 'others' who toil for their masters. Hence, the kings and lords of the Seven Kingdoms constitute the elite of the second stage and all the other residents form the proletariat.

The division of class and the concentration of wealth in the hands of a few lords create animosity and conflict between the two classes. In the given setup, the rich keep amassing more wealth and the poor become more downtrodden and there comes a point when the poor have nothing to resort to but violence in order to end the exploitation.

The High Sparrow during a heated conversation says to Jamie Lannister that even though they (proletariat) are insignificant... united they can topple an empire (the elite).

The High Sparrow or the High Septon in the series aptly represents the proletariat class, which lives on the verge of death because of lack of resources. It does not matter to this class as to who rules the kingdoms or who has the power because their priority is to keep themselves alive. The rich class or the kings and lords benefit from this situation because if the poor are provided with resources, their power and authority will be challenged. Hence, it suits the rich people to keep the poor people as they are.

Religion, then, becomes the opium of the masses or the proletariat. The High Sparrow gives the poor people a hope in the form of religion and when Cersei Lannister visits the High Sparrow to seek his help, the poor people get an opportunity to establish the 'dictatorship of the proletariat', as prescribed by Marx, in the form of 'faith militants.' In the events that follow, the power of the feudal lords and kings is taken over by the faith police led by the High Sparrow, who represents the poor people.

The most significant scene in this context is Episode 2 of Season 6 where the High Sparrow during a heated conversation says to Jamie Lannister that even though they (proletariat) are insignificant and poor, united they can topple an empire (the elite). This conversation has become the cornerstone of class conflict in the series and what follows later between these two factions would be interesting to see.

Daenerys Targaryen, after noticing the hardships and the plight of the unsullied, uses her dragons to bring about a revolution...

Another great example of class conflict can be seen in the war of Slaver's Bay where the Unsullied represent the proletariats, the slaves who are to follow the orders of their masters or face death. Daenerys Targaryen, although human, unleashes a form of revolution that the proletarians of Slaver's Bay need. Marx, in his theory, talked about a violent revolution that will result in change of regimes. Daenerys Targaryen, after noticing the hardships and the plight of the unsullied, uses her dragons to bring about a revolution by killing the slave masters and restoring the dictatorship of the proletariat, where the enslaved are freed and given the right to exist.

Both the instances mentioned above may not totally conform to Marxist theory, but surely one can relate these instances to the class conflict theory for a better understanding. I wonder what Marx would have thought if he were watching Game of Thrones in 2016 on some shady website.

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