Five reasons Game of Thrones ending is a metaphor for the Arab Spring

Five reasons Game of Thrones ending is a metaphor for the Arab Spring
4 min read
21 May, 2019
*SPOILER ALERT* If you haven't watched the finale of GoT season 8, stop reading now!
Game of Thrones ran for eight years, almost as long as the Syrian war [HBO]
Game of Thrones has been running for eight whopping years, almost as long as the Syrian war, and on Sunday night, it all came to a (anti-) climactic end, with what's left of the Iron Throne passing on to a new king.

GoT fans are divided about whether they loved or hated the show, whose eighth season has been panned by critics for taking too many shortcuts.

However, there is good reason to believe there could have been no other kind of ending, because given that 'Song of Ice and Fire' is at its heart about civil war and rebellion, it was bound to end in fatigue and fatalism, with no justice served, just like in real life civil wars.

And what is the longest-running wave of rebellions and civil wars in the real world today?

Here's five reasons why the epic HBO series and its ending can serve as a kind of metaphor for the Arab Spring

#Reason 1: The series started in 2011, like the Arab Spring

The Arab Spring started in earnest in the early days of 2011, weeks after a Tunisian street vendor set himself on fire to protest harsh police treatment in a context of high unemployment, widespread youth disenfranchisement and heavy-handed autocratic regimes across the Middle East and North Africa.

The first episode of Game of Thrones aired on 17 April 2011, just as the uprising in Syria, after the contagion spread via Egypt, Libya and Yemen from Tunisia, was turning into a bloody armed rebellion.

In the months and years that followed, the writing in Game of Thrones may have subtly mirrored some of those events, but we'll come to that later.

#Reason 2: (Arab) Winter is coming!

The Arab Spring, a hopeful initial wave of peaceful protests, soon turned into an Arab Winter, much like the 'Winter' Game of Thrones' House Stark warns "is coming" in their sygil. 

While the Westerosi winter brought ghouls named the 'White Walkers', the Arab winter brought ghouls named 'ISIS' and regime death squads that both massacred thousands.

Arabs on the internet often made comparisons between the two villainous hordes, who brought death and darkness upon the land, both the fictional and real world variety.

#Reason 3: So many factions, you'd need a Middle East expert to keep count

By the time GoT's Arab Spring style rebellions and civil wars got going, the number of characters and factions mushroomed to the point that guidebooks had to be published to help everyone keep track.

In the real world, without oversimplifying, the situation was similar across the Middle East. In Tunisia, we had the holdovers, leftists, independents and Islamists returned from exile. In Egypt, Islamists, liberals, nationalists, regime holdovers and ambitious murderous generals. In Yemen, Houthis, Ali Abdullah Saleh, Islamists, Southern Separatists, al-Qaeda, and ISIS. In Iraq, ISIS, Baathists, Shia Islamists, nationalists, Kurds.

In Syria, the same. Then you had the revolutionary and counter-revolutionary forces backed by regional and foreign powers. And often these groups turned from allies to enemies then back to allies almost overnight. Then at the tail end of the Arab Spring, events brought us murderous characters such as Mohammed bin Salman, a rutheless entitled young son of an absolute monarch (I.e. Joffrey Baratheon).

Likewise in Westeros and Esos, myriad noble houses launched their own rebellions to claim the Iron Throne. Countless battles were fought and conspiracies were hatched as exiled monarchs plotted their return on the back of foreign mercenaries and jihadist-style 'volunteer fighters' aka the Dothraki.

#Reason 4: Westeros is not ready for Democracy

Often Orientalist pundits claim the Arab world is not ready for democracy. It's too traditional, too backwards and an experiment in democratic rule could quickly turn into chaos. 

Yet it is authocratic regimes and absolute monarchies that have brought the most chaos and instability, through incompetence and lack of accountability. 

At the end of the finale, Samwell Tarly suggests replacing hereditary rule with what sounds like democracy. Why not let everyone have a vote and decide who rules them, he suggests.

But the noble lords and ladies quickly burst into laughter, suggesting Westeros, like the Arab world, "is not ready for democracy".

#Reason 5: The ending

In the opening scenes, it is suggested without much subtelty that Danny's enforcer 'Greyworm' had become an ISIS-style executioner. Danny herself becomes a kind of madwoman beant on killing everyone standing between her and paradise, as Tyrion says,

Danny is then murdered, paving the way for the final resolution: After eight years of rebellion, war, famine, assassinations, and foreign meddling, the surviving factions of Westeros, fatigued and desperate, decide on a very Arab-style denouement.

A 'transitional council' chooses Brandon Stark as a sort of 'interim' king, a compromise figure who offends no one, while the real power still rests in the hands of the nobility and the army. 

A kind of transitional justice ensues, with warlords either exiled or demoted, while a long-oppressed region in the north gains self-rule, perhaps in a way that echoes Kurdish self-rule in war-battered Iraq and Syria. 

But like similar endings we've seen in Sudan, Algeria, Egypt, Yemen, and Libya, this solves nothing in Westeros in the end, and only lays the ground for the next wave of the...Westerosi Spring.

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