National Post (Latest Edition)

The last must-watch pop show aimed at adults

Game of Thrones tackled big issues

- ALYSSA ROSENBERG

On the 10th anniversar­y of its debut, Game of Thrones, feels like the last true mustwatch for grown-ups. The void left behind says a lot about the state of pop culture and its ability to stir up real debates about big questions.

Game of Thrones was never for kids, and not just because of the copious number of naked sex workers, nor because of the show’s penchant for grotesque violence.

Rather, Game of Thrones was about questions that real adults struggle with. What is the most just and effective form of government? Can children of dreadful parents transcend their upbringing­s? How much deference do survivors of trauma deserve, especially when they’re determined to traumatize others? What depictions of violence shock viewers into new revelation­s, and which turn suffering into mere pornograph­y?

The series used a vast cast of characters to explore those questions and sent them on journeys that defied easy conclusion­s. To name only two examples, Daenerys Targaryen, played by Emilia Clarke, went from abused exiled princess, to liberator queen, to murderous tyrant. Sansa Stark, in a standout performanc­e by Sophie Turner, began as a spoiled daughter of privilege and a collaborat­or with a regime that attacked her family, only to emerge as a wise, independen­t leader.

Game of Thrones didn’t always stick the landing, most notably in a finale that gave up on the qualities that made the series so wonderful to debate. After eight seasons of exploring the flaws of every possible style of leadership, Game of Thrones declared “People love stories,” and that the person who knew the most of them should be king.

That’s the argument you’d make if you were advocating for a novelist-king, not telling a sophistica­ted story about power and human nature. It was a twist that reduced Game of Thrones to the sort of fantasy and fairy tale it had so ruthlessly dissected.

But the flaccid finale became a warning of what was to come in pop culture and politics at large.

Since Game of Thrones began its run, other stories and franchises that share its dual ambitions to be both extremely popular and genuinely provocativ­e have been few and far between. Jordan Peele’s horror movie about white liberalism, Get Out, is one such exception. Todd Phillips’s dark supervilla­in origin movie, Joker, might count as another, though it’s more an expression of nihilism than a coherent political argument. Meanwhile, Disney’s Marvel Cinematic Universe has conquered the world through careful cultivatio­n of the maximally profitable PG-13 rating.

Black Panther, the closest the franchise came to political provocatio­n, poses a scenario with no real-world

analogue: What if a wealthy and technologi­cally sophistica­ted African nation had declined to help the Black diaspora? The answer is not exactly groundbrea­king.

Game of Thrones put important questions in a new

and fantastica­l context and challenged the easy answers. Oh, and there were dragons. It’s a shame more storytelle­rs, and more audiences, have forgotten how entertaini­ng big ideas can be.

 ?? HBO ?? As fantasy entertainm­ent, Game of Thrones, starring Emilia Clarke as Daenerys Targaryen, challenged viewers weekly to think about issues of life and death — and kept
them entertaine­d at the same time.
HBO As fantasy entertainm­ent, Game of Thrones, starring Emilia Clarke as Daenerys Targaryen, challenged viewers weekly to think about issues of life and death — and kept them entertaine­d at the same time.

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