“Game of Thrones” (GoT) is back, baby! Thank the Old Gods and the New. Heck, I’ll even thank R’hllor (sorry Shireen). There is a hole in my heart that can only be filled by the NFL or by dragons, and for now that hole is filled.
Last Sunday, 17.4 million people tuned in for the Season Eight premiere, making it HBO’s most-watched one-day event ever, which is pretty amazing. Every year, the television series captures a more massive, more cultish audience, but why?
Is it the blood, sex and rock and roll? The unprecedented cinematic grandeur? The cast of deep characters? Or something else? For me, it’s a lot of things.
For my family, GoT has done it all. All the full-circle callbacks from the premiere—a King and Queen riding North together, a little boy climbing up a tree to get a view of the procession—made me reflect on how long “A Song of Ice and Fire” has been part of my life. My dad was reading “A Storm of Swords,” the third book of the GoT series, when his mother got sick. My hometown, Boston, endured the marathon bombing the same year the Red Wedding aired. And during our summer road trip in Iceland, my older brother Bradley introduced me to “Binge Mode: Game of Thrones,” a pop-culture podcast that made me want to drop science and go into radio.
Stories, like songs, come into our lives at very specific times. They glue themselves to moments and become the backgrounds of our memories. They serve as distractions and escapes. And sometimes, the best stories can even help you realize who you want to be. GoT has done this for me, and more.
The series has taught me plenty of concrete, straightforward lessons, too: you can only be brave when you’re scared, the dude who passes the (death) sentence should swing the sword. But there’s more subtle morality to think about as well.
Episodes of “Binge Mode” often discuss the theme of the family you choose. Yes, blood runs deep in Westeros (just ask Cersei and Jaime … yikes), but many of the story’s most meaningful relationships aren’t familial. Whether it’s Sam and Jon at the wall, Arya and Gendry on the road or Dany and Missandei in Meereen, these bonds show us that sometimes friendships can mean just as much, if not more, than family.
Graduation (like winter) is coming, and these days I’m thinking about this theme a lot. I didn’t have many close friends in high school, so I could not be more grateful for all my ride or dies from House Bowdoin.
(Hot-take: Our house words would either be: “Mules are Sterile,” “Intellectual Fearlessness” or “Sorry, in HL.”)
Another thing I’ve learned from GoT is that sometimes you need to focus on the big picture. The war against the Night King and the White Walkers is often discussed as an allegory for climate change.
As George R.R. Martin, the author of the book series, told The New York Times in 2018, “The people in Westeros are fighting their individual battles over power and status and wealth. And those are so distracting to them that they’re ignoring the threat of ‘winter is coming,’ which has the potential to destroy all of them and to destroy their world. And there is a great parallel there to, I think, what I see this planet doing here, where we’re fighting our own battles, he continued.
“While we’re tearing ourselves apart over this and expending so much energy, there exists this threat of climate change … and it really has the potential to destroy our world.”
There are so many important issues in our world. It’s really hard to put one over another. Still, sometimes I wish we had more leaders like Jon and Dany who could put the B.S. on the back burner and unite people against problems like the White Walkers, climate change and global inequality before it’s too late.
The last thing I will say about GoT—and, believe me, I could nerd out forever—is that this story reminds us to focus on the present and appreciate the little things. Ironically, this fantasy story helped me treasure reality.
In the beginning, Arya wanted to be a warrior, Sansa wanted to be Queen and Jon wanted to have purpose. In a way, most of the main characters have gotten what they wanted, but I bet they would trade it all away for one more peaceful, boring day in Winterfell’s courtyard.
Growing up, I wanted to be a Jedi Knight and a famous author. I still have aspirations, but now I don’t care as much about being a hero. Yes, I still want to have adventures and do something important with my life, but—and maybe in part because of GoT—I’d be really happy to stay close to home, spend time with family and friends and make some great podcasts.
Clayton Starr is a member of the Class of 2019.