The Atlantic Symposium on HBO’s Game of Thrones

The Atlantic has an online symposium on HBO’s adaptation of George R. R. Martin’s Game of Thrones. Here is an assessment by blogger and fantasy literature connoisseur Amber Taylor (the page that has Amber’s essay also includes links to the other reviews in the symposium):

HBO’s new adaptation of George R. R. Martin’s bestselling series of fantasy novels is yet more evidence that television, not motion pictures, is now where truly sweeping, complex stories are being told. Although I’ve been an evangelist of the books for years (even going so far as to have spare copies of Game of Thrones for ready lending and conversion), it’s heartening to see a fantasy narrative given a respectful and serious airing. Because magic is so peripheral in the early episodes of Game of Thrones, the fantasy trappings are not a long leap from these already familiar to viewers of shows like Rome, The Tudors, or The Borgias. And after they’ve been hooked by the characters and complex plot, even people normally allergic to swords and sorcery won’t be able to change the channel.

The other reviewers are also overwhelmingly positive. I can’t wait to watch the series myself!

For those who may not know, Martin’s still-unfinished series is a landmark in modern fantasy writing. As Amber points out, it takes a cynical and realistic view of medieval-like societies, and has lots of strong character development. I have a few reservations about it. For example, I think there are too many different viewpoint characters, and some of their stories tend to drag. Overall, however, it’s one of the greatest fantasy series of all time.

For constitutional law buffs, the series also makes some interesting points on constitutional political economy. Historically, one of the most important arguments for hereditary monarchy is that it is supposed to be efficient and that it reduces social conflict. Both points emphasized by Thomas Hobbes, among others. In more recent times, scholars such as Eric Posner have argued that monarchy was a more efficient form of government than a republican state in the ancient world.

Martin’s series explores what happens when the hereditary succession is disputed and people cannot agree on which pretender to the throne is the rightful ruler. He addresses the issue in a much more sophisticated way than any other epic fantasy. In the real world, succession crises have often dissipated the peace and efficiency that monarchy is supposed to provide. Conflicts over the throne were probably the most important cause of the fall of the Roman Empire, for example. Obviously, Martin is far from the first fiction writer to focus on the problem of monarchical succession. But his treatment of the issue may well be the best.

UPDATE: I have now watched the first episode, which was quite good. I think people who have not read the books should be able to follow it, despite the complex plot.