This one was from my American Philosophy class. It was quite horrible to be honest. I couldn’t understand a thing. I was always weak at philosophy…It was quite scary to write a paper about it and then present, and then discuss it in my final exam… Thank God it was over with quite a satisfying result to boot. So, here it is. Pragmatism. This post is the last of my journey in posting old works from my University days. Hope that I can find something else to post or this bog may fall into deep hybernation period once again…
PRAGMATISM IN GAME OF THRONES
For the midterm paper of American Philosophy, I would like to use pragmatism in order to analyze the selected media. However, before I can go to the analysis, I have to know what pragmatism means. The word pragmatic itself is derived from the Greek word pragma that means action or affair. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, pragmatism means a reasonable and logical way of doing things or of thinking about problems that is based on dealing with specific situations instead of on ideas and theories. To understand this philosophy better, we need to understand the core value of it and “the core of pragmatism was the pragmatist maxim, a rule for clarifying the contents of hypotheses by tracing their ‘practical consequences’”. Based on my understanding, a pragmatist will act or do something based on the end result of it. Will it be useful for them or not. If there is no usefulness in doing so, then a pragmatist will not do it. With the understanding of the core value of pragmatism, I would like to analyze the antagonists in HBO original series, Game of Thrones.
Game of Thrones is an original series of HBO. It is an adaptation of the novels by George R.R. Martin entitled A Song of Ice and Fire. It tells the story of the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros. With many highborn families, lords, ladies, knights, and even kings, they come together in a journey to be the most powerful man, or family, in all the Seven Kingdoms. The story starts with the Starks, the ruling family in the North. The head of the family, Lord Eddard Stark is asked by King Robert, the King of Seven Kingdoms, to be his Hand of the King. Plots against Lord Eddard Stark start to arise when he becomes the Hand, mostly led by Cersei Lannister, the Queen. After the death of Lord Stark, Joffrey, Cersei’s son, becomes King of the Seven Kingdoms, and now the Lannisters are the most powerful family in the Seven Kingdoms. This marks the beginning of intricate plots throughout the series surrounding the throne of the Seven Kingdoms, the Iron Throne.
b. Pragmatism in Game of Thrones
Game of Thrones is one of the most complicated fantasy stories. With the fantasy element in its plot, people’s mind will most likely picture the story of heroes and heroines trying to destroy the evil force. However, in this series, there are no clear cut between who the good-guy is and who the bad-guy is. The distinction between right and wrong are so blurred that sometimes the viewer will like a character to only hate that character in the later episodes of the series. Some people look like they are good people while in fact they are the cruelest person. Some people look like they are so hateful but they turn out to be a good leader for the country. Nevertheless, there are still some characters in this series that make the audience grit their teeth in annoyance. In this paper I would like to analyze these characters by comparing them to the ‘protagonists’.
The first characters are the Lannisters, the wealthiest and most powerful family in the Seven Kingdoms. The characteristics of the Lannisters are they use everything and everyone for their own sake. I find it quite intriguing that these characters have the characteristics of a pragmatist in their personality. They weigh their options based on their usefulness for the family. One of the most pragmatic people in the family is Tywin Lannister. He sent his daughter, Cersei, to marry King Robert, the late King of the Seven Kingdoms, even though she did not want to in order to secure the position of the Lannisters in the Seven Kingdoms. He arranged a marriage between his son, Tyrion Lannister, and the late Lord Eddard Stark’s daughter, Sansa Stark, in order to secure his family’s position in the North seeing as the Starks is the ruling family in the Northern part of the Seven Kingdoms. He also arranged a re-marriage for his daughter to the heir of the house Tyrell, the second wealthiest family after the Lannister. He did what he did because they are useful for him and the legacy of his family name. The sons and daughters born to Tyrion and Sansa will be his key to the North because they will have Starks’ blood, but they will still be Lannisters. Thus they will still be under his control because they have Lannister’s blood. Same goes for Cersei’s future children with Loras Tyrell. Their union will unite the wealthiest and the second wealthiest family in the Seven Kingdoms and the Lannisters will be the most powerful family.
Another character that supports a pragmatist’s traits is Walder Frey. He is a rather minor character compared to the Lannisters, but his presence is creating the same reaction from the audience as the Lannisters. Walder Frey is the allies of the Starks, however, when the Stark’s army, led by Robb Stark, needs to cross the river that he is guarding, he does not provide the help they need. He breaks his promise to the late Lord Stark and they need to make a new agreement. One of his demands is for Robb Stark, the proclaimed King in the North, to marry one of his daughters or granddaughters. In return, he will open his gate for the army and give them his men to go into battle. The marriage will surely secure his position in the North. If Robb Stark wins the war, his daughter or granddaughter will be Queen in the North. I think, he does this knowing the fact that Robb Stark’s army has won every battle against the Lannister. Therefore, they have a rather big chance of winning the war. Without knowing that guarantee, I am not sure that Walder Frey will demand the marriage from Robb Stark. He sees the usefulness that Robb Stark will bring to him and his family and so he demands the marriage. When he no longer sees the usefulness of Robb Stark, he betrays them and pledges his alliance to Tywin Lannister.
These two characters can be categorized as the antagonists of this series, even though the line between the protagonists and the antagonists is extremely unclear. They both support pragmatist traits in their personality in the sense that they do what they do because they see it as something that is useful for them. However, when I see the supposed protagonists, they actually do what they do also because it is useful to them. I am taking two characters, Robb Stark and Daenerys Targaryen, as the examples. Robb Stark is leading an army to fight the Lannisters because his father has been falsely accused of treason and murdered brutally. He wants vengeance for his father’s death, therefore he goes into battle. He says that he does not want to be the King of the Seven Kingdoms and that he does not want the Iron Throne. He goes into war against the Lannisters because he has a larger cause, but is it still useful for him at the end? Yes, because he will get his revenge and his family will no longer be called as traitors. If he does not think that the war will result in something useful for him, he will not go into war. And he comes to this conclusion because of the fact that he has the army, his father’s allies support him, and he has not lost any battle yet. With these facts, he sees a chance to win and so he fights on, because he knows that the end result will be useful.
The same thing goes for Daenerys Targaryen, the last Targaryen to live in the land. She fights her way back to the Seven Kingdoms in order to regain her claim to the Iron Throne seeing as his ancestors are Kings of the Seven Kingdoms for a long time. She gathers people from many cities to be her army. She kills and destroys people and cities in her wake. Just like Robb Stark, she does it because when she takes one city, her army will increase in numbers. If she takes several cities, then her army will be huge. She does that also with the same idea of usefulness. However, similar to Robb Stark, she has a higher cause. She also wants revenge to the usurper of the throne and to take back what is rightfully hers. Moreover, even though she destroys cities, she releases the cities’ slaves and prisoners. She gives them a chance to become a free man and to follow her at their own will. She also does it for her personal gain, but with the higher cause of taking what is rightfully hers and her action of freeing the slaves, the audience is led to think that she is one of the ‘good-guy’.
These comparisons bring me to a question about why is it so. When actually they all have the same characteristic, what makes the audience see them in different light? I think that this is the result of the application of pragmatism. The idea of pragmatism is already ingrained in the American people. The writers of this series, whether it is consciously or unconsciously, then incorporate these traits of a pragmatist to all the characters. However, they put it in such a way that the audience can see the difference between the supposed antagonists and protagonists. In my opinion, with putting the higher cause instead of solely focusing on personal gain, the writers bring the audience’s focus into the focus that they want to show. In Daenerys and Robb’s case, for example, their cause for revenge, to clear the name after being falsely accused, to take back what is rightfully theirs, and to release slaves after gaining an army, these things will shift the audience’s focus to their good deeds. The audience will forget the fact that they actually do that also for their personal gain and for its usefulness. However, when the audience sees the acts of Tywin Lannister and Walder Frey, there is no apparent cause that they fight for, except for their own personal gain. There is no other cause that the writers offer to the audience, and so the audience will surely focus in the characters’ ambition. Therefore, when the audience sees Tywin Lannister and Walder Frey, they see two ambitious and selfish people who do things because they are useful to them. Meanwhile, when the audience sees Robb Stark and Daenerys Targaryen, they see wronged hero and heroine fighting for their honor and right.
From this distinction between the four characters I discussed above, I see how the writers write the characters and put them into the category of antagonists and protagonists. The ones with the more apparent pragmatist traits belong to the antagonists while the less apparent ones belong to the protagonists. Added with how the audience sees the characters in the same light with the writers so easily, I come to understand how we see things in terms of pragmatism. Because Game of Thrones is not only popular in America but also the world, there are supposed to be various understanding in regards to who belongs to the antagonists and who belongs to the protagonists. However, I find that most of the people watching the series agree with me in regards of who is the antagonist and who is the protagonist. I ask several people in English Department who watch the series about if they are asked to categorize the characters of Game of Thrones into the two categories, which character will be the antagonists and which one will be the protagonists. Most of them state that the Starks and Daenerys are the protagonists. On the other hand, they always state the Lannisters’ name first when they categorized these characters into the antagonist category.
From the fact that the writers of the series write the antagonists with such apparent pragmatist traits and added with the result of this little survey to represent the Indonesian viewers, I can see that most think that those who exhibit very apparent traits of pragmatism are most likely be the ‘bad-guy’ rather than the ‘good-guy’. Furthermore, this series is a product from the people and the people’s ideas and beliefs are reflected in it. Thus, seeing the distinction made by the writers in terms of the characters personality, I think that they also reflect how the American people, represented by the writers, see pragmatism in their daily life. The series reflects their attitude towards pragmatism and the reaction from the Indonesian audience also reflects their stance towards this philosophy.
Pragmatism is one of the philosophies that become the foundation of American people’s way of living. Through the series Game of Thrones we can also see how the American people nowadays react to the idea of pragmatism. Moreover, the series’ popularity allows me to also get the reaction of people from other countries regarding this American philosophy. In conclusion, their reactions towards the series reflect their belief and stance towards this idea, and that most of them think negatively towards the characters who exhibit more apparent traits of a pragmatist.