What do dragons, ice zombies teach about today’s politics? King’s prof explains

By Mark Guydish - [email protected]
Pavlac -

WILKES-BARRE — OK, we all — or at least most of us — are pretty sure there’s no such thing as dragons and ice zombies. So how do the machinations and travails of Westeros and Essos have any connection to current global politics?

“The ice zombies from the north marching south to kill all of humanity, this relates to global warming and climate change,” King’s College history professor Brian Pavlac suggested when asked how “Game of Thrones” relates to current global events. Dragons, he added, are a metaphor for nuclear weapons.

Pavlac will outline his view of the mega-hit HBO series Wednesday at noon during a 50-minute session open to the public. The talk is titled “Game of Thrones and Contemporary Global Conflict,” and Pavlac draws some dramatic connections between the TV series, the books by George R.R. Martin that inspired it, and current threats around the world.

“Martin is not a professional historian, but he is a well-read historian who made obvious connections to historical events, most famously the War of the Roses,” Pavlac said, referring to the 30-year clash between the houses of York and Lancaster for control of England that started in 1455.

The fact that Martin added dragons and zombies gives the story a contemporary sensibility precisely because they inject a destructive power that exists today, but didn’t in the Middle Ages, when “Game of Thrones” is set.

“Medieval society didn’t have weapons that could wipe each other out like we can now. The whole world could be gone in an hour if people start pushing buttons,” Pavlac said. And although Martin wrote the original books before “global warming” became a hot topic, Pavlac sees the ice zombies as representing how “the earth can sort of gang up on us to kill us.”

“Game of Thrones” offers a broader lesson, one many prefer not to consider, he added.

“The study of politics is the study of how we decide to apply violence or not to apply it,” he said. “The problem in ‘Game of Thrones’ is that war has become widespread and vast, like our Civil War or the War of the Roses. When violence becomes an inescapable problem, do you make the choice to be on top with as much cruelty and viciousness and possible, or do you work toward alliances and try to win with trust?”

The book and TV series mirror the modern fight against terrorism, he believes, by presenting “pretty stark moral dilemmas. Sometimes violence is absolutely compelled. Sometimes there is no pacifist solution because the pacifist dies. The question becomes how to use violence in the best, moral way.”

Pavlac recently edited and co-wrote “Game of Thrones versus History: Written in Blood,” a collection of essays on the historical connections in the book and TV series. He points out that fiction and history are often written in a similar vein, depicting heroes and villains. The difference, he argues, is that “history is written by the winners,” and not everyone will agree who is the villain.

“The shocking thing today is the rise of Nazis and Fascism. For the racists and Nazis, Hitler is still a hero, and for us he is still a villain. George R.R. Martin gets to write his history. His main point is that the villains sometimes win.”


By Mark Guydish

[email protected]


What: ‘Game of Thrones and Contemporary Global Conflict’ lecture

Who: King’s College History Professor Brian Pavlac

Where: Postupak Room, first floor of McGowan School of Business at the corner of North River and West Union streets

When: Noon on Wednesday, Oct. 11

Reach Mark Guydish at 570-991-6112 or on Twitter @TLMarkGuydish

Reach Mark Guydish at 570-991-6112 or on Twitter @TLMarkGuydish